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Warriors, Wolves and Unlikely Heroes

Chapter Text

Podricks knees buckled when he realized that the man who had joined the little girl with the sword was Sandor Clegane. The Hound. There was a sudden tension in the air and Brienne could feel it too, judging by the way her hand had just tightened on the pommel of her Valyrian steel sword.

“That’s Sandor Clegane” he managed and Brienne went rigid.

The little girl circled the big beast of a man and stood beside him grasping her sword. It looked to Podrick as if she was readying for a fight, which he found absolutely baffling since he himself would think two, three, four and five times before even considering something as foolish as fighting Lady Brienne. Although standing next to the Hound might have had something to do with it.

“You are Arya Stark”. Briennes voice sounded hollow with the realization and Pods mouth fell open.

The Hound reached for his sword. What was Arya Stark doing traveling with the former sworn shield of the king? Was she his prisoner? Then why would he let her carry a sword? Why would he care enough about her to get between her and a broadsword wielded by a knight?

Brienne was trying to convince Arya to come with them and Clegane was refusing. He seemed to care for her and Pod found it strange that this didn’t come as a surprise to him. The Hound, with his burns, his lethal fighting skills and his foul temper would not have struck Podrick as the caring type if it wasn’t for Sansa. Sweet Lady Sansa with the sad smile.

He remembered the day of the bread riots and the way Lord Tyrion had been pacing his chambers afterwards. He had no need for Pod, since he had taken to gulp down his wine straight from the decanter, but didn’t dismiss him either. Lord Tyrion, who seldom looked shaken, was pale and sweating, muttering about idiot boy kings and the cursed womb of Queen Cersei. Podrick knew he didn’t mean it. He loved Prince Tommen and Princess Myrcella, but that love seemed to be outweighed by his hate for the king. That afternoon at least.

“.. and thank the heavens for Clegane” Lord Tyrion had said before emptying the last of the wine with one big swallow. Podrick thought he had seen a glint of tears in his masters eyes, but couldn’t be sure.

“That poor girl, as if it weren’t bad enough to be bethrowed to that monster of monarch, she is nearly dragged of by his charges.” Tyrion flung the empty winebottle at the wall and it shattered, raining tiny shards in the thousands over the floor. He slumped down in a chair. All the fight had gone out of him.

“She seems to have domesticated The Hound some how. A loyal dog rescuing the lonely wolf” Lord Tyrion had sighed with a sad smile. “ He growls and he barks, but seems to genuinely care for the girl” he said as if baffled by the concept.

Podrick had watched The Hound around Lady Sansa from that day on. Since Pod rarely said much people often forgot he was even in the room. To say that Sandor Clegane was kind towards her would have been stretching the truth. He did growl and he did bark, just as Lord Tyrion had put it. Most of the time he seemed to ignore her. And then there were the fleeting moments when The Hound would glance at Lady Sansa. Split seconds when Podrick could see that the beautiful girl with the red hair wasn’t as alone in King’s Landing as she she might think.

Swords were being drawn. Not fully unsheathed but the intent was there.

“Come with me Arya, Lady Brienne was begging the child, I will take you to safety”.

“Safety? Where the fuck's that? Her aunt in the Eyrie is dead. Her mother's dead. Her father's dead. Her brother's dead. Winterfell is a pile of rubble. There is no safety, you dumb bitch. You don't know that by now, you're the wrong one to watch over her.", The Hound spat.

Watch over her. The words rang loudly in Pods ears. Watch over her. Like he had been doing with Sansa. Protecting her. A guard dog in the shape of The Hound.

They had drawn their swords now.

Pod stumbled between the fearsome warriors towards Lady Arya with his hands outstretched, as if begging not to be cleaved in half by The Hounds sword.

“W-we know where Lady Sansa is” he stammered, forcing himself to meet Lady Arya’s eyes and then glancing over at The Hound.

She looked uncertain for a moment, making her face appear even younger than her years. Then her eyes grew hard and her jaw clenched. She raised her tiny sword and placed the point against Podricks jugular. Lady Brienne gasped, but did nothing. What could she do, he thought, charge the small girl she had sworn to protect?

“You’re r lying” the girl said with a voice dripping of venom. Pod could feel the skin on his neck splitting ever so lightly and beads of blood begun to trickle. He swallowed causing the blade to penetrate deeper. It may be a small sword but sharp as a razor, he thought as he tried to think of a way to convince Lady Arya. He glanced over to The Hound who was scowling at him as if trying to determine his sincerity by sheer force of a furrowed brow.

“Lord Baelish has her” he managed , locking eyes with The Hound, doing his very best to keep from shaking or worse, soil himself in front of two great fighters and what looked to be a tiny warrior in the making. For a split second Podrick saw what looked like genuine fear and worry flitting through the grey eyes of Sandor Clegane, and then it was gone and replaced by a white hot fury. In on quick stride he descended on Podrick, heaving him up in the air by his leather jerkin. He could hear Lady Brienne scream something but his ears didn’t seem to be working properly, with The Hound burnt face mere inches from his own, and he couldn’t make out what exactly.

“You are playing a very dangerous game, boy. Tell me why I shouldn’t split you open cunt to mouth with my fists for telling lies?” He rasped, so close to Podricks face that he could feel the mans voice reverberate through what little space was between them.
Pod felt like crying but managed to pull himself together long enough to shake his head.

“I-I promise I’m not, ser, we saw her at an inn a couple of days ago, I recognized her from court and Lord, Littlefinger too. He had many men with him so Lady Brienne wasn’t able to fight em all.” he managed. Then his bladder gave out and he pissed himself in front of one of Westeros most fearsome killers, his master and Lady Arya Stark.

“He’s not a ser” Lady Arya said, and looked at puddle that was forming beneath Pods dangling feet. Then she spoke to The Hound. “Why would he lie if he is scared enough of your gnarled face to wet himself just by looking at you”. She shrugged. “Might as well hear what he has to say”.
Podrick could feel the hands on his jerkin tightening and then, suddenly he was falling. He hit the ground with a thud, catching his breath and trembling all over.

“If a single lie slip past those quivering lips of yours I will let the little wolf practice her knife skills on your piss reaking flesh, boy”. A low growl sounded from deep in his scarred throat and he gave Pod a look that would have guaranteed a loss of bladder control if it hadn’t already emptied all over his own breeches and shoes.

“And you, he said, turning to Brienne, I trust that your not as stupid as you are ugly”. He spat at the ground in front of her.
Lady Brienne shot the Hound a disgusted look.

’”Are you?”, she asked with a calm voice.

The Hound stared at her for a moment and then turned to walk over to the horses.

“Have your squire make a fire, we have a rabbit for skinning” he said and sheeted his sword. He didn’t take the hand of the pommel, something Pod was sure Lady Brienne had noticed too.
She walked over to where he lay panting and reached out her hand. He took it and she hoisted him to his feet.

“You did good Podrick”, she said.

Pod nodded feebly and went to find sticks and kindling for the fire.

Chapter Text

Sansa was alive. She was alive. Alive and in the hands of Littlefinger. A man that was scum walking on two legs, with a shiteating grin and a greasy little beard that would have looked more at home between the legs of one of the whores in his service. The man was more cunning than the Spider and filthier than the Imp. And he had caught the Little Bird and put her in a new cage. She had escaped Kings landing and all the dirty, depraved Lannisters he himself had called masters until resently. If Sandor had been a religious man, he would have prayed to anyone that was willing to listen that she hadn’t gone from a bad situation to an even worse.

Shame washed over him when he thought of the last time he had seen the Little Bird. In her chambers, with a roaring battle being fought right outside her window. The world was tinted green and the air was full of the sounds of screaming men and the stench of death. She had been scared. He had been cruel. Why, he had asked himself then and why he asked himself now. Why did you bark and growl at her? Why did you willingly scare her when she was already terrified? Why did you leave her?

“You won’t hurt me” she’d said while the sky was burning. Her voice was wavering and the scared look in her eyes gave way to confusion and then understanding.

“No Little Bird, I won’t hurt you”. His own voice had barely been more than a whisper. And he had turned and walked away, leaving her standing in the darkness, cradling a doll. And he had hated himself. He still did.

He scratched Stranger between the ears. The little wolfbitch was staring at him. She had followed him over to the horses and was watching him as he rummaged through one of the saddlebags for a heel of stale bread and his wetstone.

“What?”, he snarled at her. “You got what you wanted, we’re going to sit down with pissboy and the ladyknight and have a little talk. Now stop staring or ill pluck your bloody eyes out”.

She was holding the rabbit by the foot and her thumb was nervously stroking the furr of the little creatures hind leg.

”Is Littlefinger one of the men who is worse than you”, the girl asked and kept her eyes fixed on his.

He was quiet for a moment.

“Some would say I’m worse for wielding the sword that is responsible for the blood on my hands. Littlefinger wouldn’t dirty himself with blades but he is covered in blood all the same”. Sandor said. He wouldn’t lie to the little wolf. She deserved better than lies.

“Do you think he is telling the truth, then? The boy?" she asked and kept fiddling with their dinner. "About Sansa I mean". Her eyes, that usually shone with defiance or an outright wish to kill him, were softer now, almost pleading.

"Don’t reckon why not. You said it yourself, that boy lacks both the brains and the balls to lie. When threatened or otherwise", Sandor said with a voice that sounded softer then he had intended to. “Tell you what. If we find Sansa and she is with Littlefinger, you get the honor of cutting up his smug face. Feed his little finger to the dogs. Gut him. And if the squire is lying you can practice your dancing on him instead”.

That was a lie. If they found Sansa with Littlefinger, no knight in the kingdom could stop him. He would be the one to end the conniving fuckers retched life.

Arya sighed and shrugged and together they walked over to where the boy and his master had begun lighting a fire.

Sandor had seen the boy almost daily in Kingslanding, scurrying after the Imp. He had never spoken to him though. Never even heard him speak if he could remember correctly. That was about the only thing the boy seemed to have in common with his cruel cousin, the kings fucking justice, Ilyn Payne.
He had always assumed the squire was simple or a bit slow, but Sandor had to hand it to the boy, it took some guts to do what he had done moments earlier. Sure, he had pissed himself, but he had kept his eyes fixed on Sandors, something men twice his size and thrice his age sometimes were to craven to manage. There had been no lies in his eyes, only fear and determination.

The little wolf had begun skinning the rabbit with an efficiency that seemed to impress the boy. Sandor sat down and, with at deliberately slow pace, started to sharpen his sword with the wetstone. The Tarthbitch tensed at the sight of his drawn steel but wasn’t stupid enough to try anything. Good. Don’t get any ideas, he thought and let the stone sing against the blades edge.

"When exactly did you see her?", the she-wolf asked, turning to the boy for an answer.

His master spoke in his stead.

"Podrick spotted her at an inn two days ago". She smiled at the boy and Sandor couldn’t help but think that with a name like that he sure as all hells would never have songs sung about him.

"How many men were with them", Sandor asked

"Ten", she answered. She big bitch looked ashamed. "I would have fought them, I swear, but she didn’t want to go with me". She looked pleadingly at the little wolf. “I truly am sorry, Lady Arya. For everything”.

The girl ran the rabbit through with a skewer and enough force to break its neck. It’s head hung limply as she leaned it next to the fire for roasting. She looked angry, but then again, she almost always did.

The Lady Knight looked miserable and then her face lit up for a brief moment.

“Pod, get the saddlebags”, she said and the boy scampered of to retrieve them for her. When he returned she searched through one of them an produced a cloth covered parcel.

“Your friend wanted you to have this” She handed it to the little wolf. “It might be a bit dry, it’s been a while since we saw him. He was the one who told us about you, that you were alive. And who your traveling companion might be”. She gave Sandor a quick look.

“Hotpie”, the girl whispered , as she held a piece of bread, shaped as a wolf, in her hands. “Of course he did, the idiot”. She smiled and tried to break of a piece of the wolf’s ear and it gave way with a loud crack. “Yeah, it is a bit old. That’s a shame, he makes good bread”.

“And kidney pie” Podrick mumbled to no one in particular.

Sandor moved the spit closer to the fire. His neck hurt and he was hungry and tired and frankly thankful that the Podboy had stepped in. Not that he would ever admit that to the people gathered around the fire, least of all the little wolf. He would have fought the Ladyknigt. Hells, he would have fought the entire kingsguard to keep the little shit safe.

”Shouldn’t we get moving”, the she-wolf asked him, with a slight tremor to her voice. ”What if they get away and we can’t find her again”. She tried to hide her anxiousness by admiring the stale wolfbread in her hand.

”Were they traveling in a wheelhouse?”, Sandor asked as he continued sharpening his blade. He had a hard time imagining Littlefinger on Horseback. Men like him belonged on silk pillows stuffed with rose petals.

“Yes, we saw one outside the inn”, the big woman replied. She looked him straight in the eye, as if the sight of his halfmelted face didn’t bother her one bit. “And traveling with that many knights it shouldn’t be hard to track them through the countryside” she added, addressing the little wolf with a smile that almost made her plain face more interesting to look at than a brick wall.

“Aye, no use in wasting a good rabbit, we’ll need our strength if we’re going to catch up with them anyways”, he added and rotated the spit again. He understood why she wanted to get going. Common sense and years in the saddle were the only things that stopped him from mounting Stranger and riding him day and night to get to her. Every moment she spent in the vile grasp of Littlefucker was a moment too long. But he was no use to the Little Bird weak and road-weary.

“We’ll eat and then we ride until nightfall. No use in having our horses go tumbling of a mountain, so we keep to daylight hours until we get out of these bloody hills” Sandor said.

Pod suddenly turned beet red and stared at his feet. The Lady knight looked exhausted and a bit embarrassed.

“About that” she said and scowled at the boy. “We lost our horses”.

If he hadn’t been so tired and with a stomach full of knots at the thought of Sansa in the company of Littlefinger, he would have laughed. He would have laughed and laughed and then he would have laughed some more. Imagining this beast of a woman traipsing around the wilderness in full armor with a squire that reeked of piss and no horses was just too much. Now it only made him mad.

“Well, fine fucking rescue party you are then” he spat at the ground. “How in the seven hells are you both not dead and rotting in the ground? And what bloody use are you to us if you can’t even manage a horse” he roared, getting more and mort aggravated as he spoke. Why was it his lot in life to be surrounded by idiots in armor.

“It was my fault”, Pod whispered. He was shaking again. “I tied up the horses and they were gone when we woke up “. And in an even lower whisper “Milady is a good Knight, one of the best.”

Arya looked at him with pity, as one would a kicked puppy or a crying toddler.

“I guess we have to share until we find some horses, then” she said with a shrug and went to see if the rabbit was ready.

Wine. Sandor would kill for some wine. He sighed loudly and gave the girl a halfhearted nod. This was going to be a rough couple of days, he was sure of it.

Chapter Text

She was sharing a horse with The Hound again. Podrick and Brienne rode together on Arya’s palfrey. There had been a lot of yelling when it came to settling who would be riding with who. Pod had offered to run next to the horse, to which The Hound had barked out something that Arya supposed was meant to sound like a laugh. Brienne had agreed that it might not get them where they needed to go any faster, but she had tried to sound kind to spare Pods feelings.
Brienne had suggested that she and Arya share the smaller horse, since it could take less weight than Stranger. That’s when the yelling had started. The Hound had bellowed at Brienne that he didn’t want his saddle smelling of piss for weeks to come and that she, and he had used some words that turned Briennes ears red, and her sorry excuse for a squire could jump of a cliff fro all he cared. Podrick looked miserable and Brienne had been fuming.

Arya suspected that it had less to do about who The Hound would be sharing his saddle with and more about who she would be riding with. He didn’t seem to trust Brienne.
The first night they all shared a fire had been tense and sleep didn’t come until long after she had recited her list. The night air seemed to be filled with noices. Podrick quietly snoring and the clank of metal when Brienne moved in her sleep. Or maybe she had been awake too. The fact that she slept in her armor spoke plainly enough. She had no desire to be killed in her sleep. Same could be said for The Hound. He had always been a quiet sleeper, scarcely making more sound than his slow, rasping breaths. That night he was silent, which meant he was awake. It had annoyed Arya grately that she found comfort in knowing that he was keeping guard.

“You smell foul”, she told him when the sun was midway through the sky on the third day in the saddle with The Hound. There was something more to his usual odor of sweat, leather and the stale oil he used to grease the joints of his armor. Something that smelled a bit like decay and death.

”And you smell like a field of fucking roses then i suppose”, he rasped. He sounded tired.

Arya looked up at him from where she sat, resting on Strangers broad neck. The Hound looked straight ahead, pretending that he didn’t know he was being watched. Her eyes fell on the filthy rag he had tied around his neck . It had once been white but was now a murky brown and looked to be sodden through with sweat. And blood. That was were he had been bitten by the man who traveled with Rorge. He had helped her cross a name of her list that day. For which she was grateful. Didn’t mean she had to take The Hounds name of it too. Not until they found Sansa anyways.

”Where are we?”, she asked him.

”Westeros”. He kept staring at the road.

 

She was becoming bored. Restless. Arya wanted to run. No. She wanted to chase. And catch. And kill Littlefinger. They were traveling as fast a they could, according to The Hound at least. Brienne had agreed. No use running the horses into the ground, she told her when Arya had been itching to keep going when they made camp the second night. She had kicked some dirt in the general direction of the Hound and he had threatened her a bit. And then Brienne had practiced blocking with Arya. With sticks since they didn’t have tourney swords and the large woman refused to use live steel.

 

“Why did you agree to go after Sansa” she asked The Hound after a while. From where she was sitting she couldn’t make out his eyes, when he was staring at the horizon. He was probably frowning as always, she thought.

“She’s your next of kin isn’t she”, he said in a gruff tone that suggested she was an idiot for even asking. Arya wasn’t buying it.

“And you think Littlefinger is going to give you a reward for stealing Sansa away?”, she asked.

The Hound was quiet for a moment. He was swaying slightly in the saddle.

“The little man is likely traveling with a sizable purse. Reckon he won’t miss it with his throat slit.” , The Hound rasped. His face, or what Arya could see of it, gave nothing away, but she was still not convinced.

“And you couldn’t find some more peasants to steal from instead”. She knew she was very close to making The Hound truly angry, but she was starting to get mad at him herself. Why was he lying to her?

“What is it with all these bloody questions? You should be training to become a fucking maester the way you carry on with all the whys and when’s. So,quit it before I shut you up for good”. He glared at Arya. As if that was supposed to scare her. So she stared right back, which seemed to make him more irritated than all the questions combined. His eyes went back to the road.

“Because i left her there”. His voice had gone quiet. He didn’t want the others to hear. “I left her with worse men than myself”.

Arya wasn’t expecting that. She didn’t say anything for a long while. The Hound was silent as well. Why had he left her? Why had he wanted to take her with him? Sansa was nothing to him. A prisoner to a guard. But he had saved her from being raped. If he was to be believed that is. Arya wasn’t sure if she did.

Stranger was starting to veer of the small path they were on. When The Hound let the big beast of a horse continue on its own she looked down and found the reins hanging loosely in his large hand. She shoved him in the ribs and but he still didn’t guide the horse onto the road.
When Arya reached for the reins she brushed her hand against the Hounds. It was scorching hot. She turned to look at him and saw that his head was lolling slightly to the side and his eyes were closed. One more swift elbow in the ribs without a response and she was getting worried.
Then she started panicking as the massive man behind her started slipping from the saddle.

“Help!” she screamed. “He’s going to fall! Sandor is going to fall of the horse!”

Chapter Text

The wheelhouse lurched and Sansa woke from a light sleep. Lord Baelish was watching her. He sat opposite her and smiled when he saw that she was awake. It made her feel uncomfortable. Not the watching per say, but the fact that he didn’t even have the decency to pretend that he had not been staring at her while she slept. It sometimes made Sansa feel like she was just object to be gawked at. An art piece he had acquired. Something pretty to look at.
It was ridiculous of course. If there was one thing she had learnt in recent years, it was that her worth lay solely in her Stark name.

 

“Sleep well, sweetling?”, Lord Baelish asked, brushing his thumb across her temple.

“A featherbed would have been more comfortable. When do we get to the next in?” she asked, leaning away from his touch.

She had become more bold since saving Lord Baelish from taking a trip through the moondoor. A year ago she would have been aghast at her own rudeness, but lessons had been learnt and she was a child no longer. Sansa saw no use in chirping pleasantries to Lord Baelish. With out her he would be dead. But then again, without him she would have faced the stranger herself. Even if he was the one who had arranged her culpability in the murder of the king.

“It will be a bit longer, I’m afraid”, he said, still keeping his eyes fixed on her.

The wheelhouse was dimly lit and the what little sky she could see through the window slits was cloudy and grey. Sansa found it strangely comforting. Gone where the days when the sun shone brightly and the sky was colored blue. When people, herself included, remarked on what a blessing the weather had been. When she had smiled and agreed, even though her heart was breaking and all she wanted to do was scream. This new sky suited her better, she thought as she peered through the slits. It felt more honest than the pale blue of King’s Landing.

Sansa sighed and rested her head against the wall of the wheelhouse. She knew she must look like a petulant child, unable to hide her frustration and boredom from Lord Baelish. This was how Arya had behaved in the wheelhouse with Queen Cersei and Sansa remembered how mortified she had been on her sisters behalf. Her sister hadn’t stopped at sighs though. She had rolled her eyes and kicked at the footrest until she had taken to standing with her face pressed against the wheelhouse window. As if hoping she could somehow escape by squeezing through the narrow slit. And escaped she had. She had been let out to ride with Ned after an agonizing hour during which Sansas face had been colored a deep shade of red in embarrassment. When Arya left it fell to Sansa to apologize for her sisters behavior and she had spent the rest of the day being the perfect little lady to make up for it. Not that it had mattered, Queen Cersei had barely said a word to her the whole time Sansa had been in her presence.

What she would not give to ride alongside her father and her sister one last time, Sansa thought. What would she not give up to be able to make the right choices instead of the wrong ones. What she would not do to be let out of the wheelhouse. To be free.

Lord Baelish knocked three times on the wall behind his headmand the wheelhouse stopped moving. Why were they stopping Sansa thought. He seemed to understand her confusion and. offered her his hand. She took it.

They had stopped next to a steep cliff. Spreading out beneath Sansa was a vast marshland. In the middle of it, surrounded by stagnant water and a light mist, were the ruins of a once great stone structure. Towers that had defended The North.

“That's Moat Cailin.” she said and her lips suddenly felt dry.

“Yes, a bit shabby, isn't it? You've been here before?” He asked, as if he didn’t know the answer already.

“On our way down to King's Landing with my father and Arya” Sansa said. She was beginning to understand.

“Where are you taking me?”. Her voice quivered.

“Home”, he answered.

“The Boltons have Winterfell”, she whispered.

Lord Baelish looked at her as she was a child. Waiting patiently for Sansa to catch up to him.

“Your marriage proposal, it wasn't for you”, she managed without her voice breaking.

He shook his head and Sansa felt as if she had been drenched head to toe in melting snow. She was shaking and didn’t know if it was from fear or anger. And suddenly she knew. She was furious.

“Roose Bolton murdered my brother. He betrayed my family.” Sansa clenched her fists.

“He did.” Lord Baelish said simply.

“He serves the Lannisters.” Sansa pleaded. Why did he refuse to see how impossible the very idea of her marriage to a Bolton was? How could he willingly be bringing her to wed a monster?

“For now.” he replied.

“I won't go”, she was shaking her head fervently.

“Winterfell is your home”.

“Not anymore.” It hurt Sansa uttering those words, but they were true. She didn’t have a home anymore.

“Always.”, he said. “You're a Stark. Dying your hair doesn't change that.
You're Sansa Stark, eldest surviving child of Ned and Catelyn Stark.
Your place is in the North.”

“I can't marry him. You can't make me”. Her voice was beginning to crack and tears were starting well up in her eyes.”He is a traitor. A murderer!”.

“You're not marrying Roose Bolton. No, you'll be marrying his son and heir Ramsay.
One day he'll be Warden of the North”. Lord Baelish looked at her as if this was somehow going to convince her. As if she would be swayed by promises of titles.

“No”, she whispered, biting back all the things she wanted to say. Foul words. Words she had learnt in King’s Landing but never said out loud.

“Sansa.” he said with a tone that sounded as a warning.

“No, you can't make me, I will starve myself! I will die before I have to go there.” She was panicking. The corset she wore felt too tight and she wanted to rip it of. She wanted to breath. To scream. To cry and beg and plead.

“I won't force you to do anything”, he said and walked towards her. “Don't you know by now how much I care for you? Say the word and we turn the horses around, but listen to me.”, he said, his face so close to Sansas she could feel his breath on her skin. She tried to back away, but he put his hands on the sides of her face, stroking her hair, and keeping her close to him.

“You've been running all your life. Terrible things happen to your family and you weep.
You sit alone in a darkened room mourning their fates. You've been a bystander to tragedy from the day they executed your father.” At this Lord Baelish shook her as if to wake her from a slumber. “Stop being a bystander. Do you hear me? Stop running. There's no justice in the world. Not unless we make it. You loved your family. Avenge them.” He looked at with a dangerous glint in his eyes.

Sansa wasn’t sure how she ended up back in the wheelhouse. Had her feet carried her or had she been floating? Her limbs felt foreign and her entire body felt as if submerged in honey. Was it her hand that was resting on the cushion beside her? It looked like hers but she couldn’t be sure. She ran her hand across the pillow. It was made of silk and the fabric, that should have felt soft to the touch, felt like, she searched for a word. Nothing. It felt like nothing. Sansa closed her eyes.
She was too numb to cry. Too tired to feel. So she kept her back straight and forced herself to be Sansa Stark. The version of her that was to be traded away, once again. The Sansa Stark of the north that could bare this kind of heartache without shattering. The other Sansa, the one who had been crying and begging on the cliff, might as well just drift away. Float out through the window slit and become one with the grey sky. She had earned it.

Chapter Text

Brienne didn’t even have time to get of her horse before The Hound had fallen from his saddle and hit the ground with a clanking thud. Arya kept screaming and Pod tumbled of their horse and skinned his knee. Brienne ran over to where the burnt man lay sprawled and caught the reins of his horse and the big beast tried to bite her. Arya jumped of Stranger and ran over to the Hound as Brienne tethered the horses to a nearby tree and she and Podrick joined the girl.

“Wake up”, Arya demanded and when his eyes remained closed she smacked him hard on his unscarred cheek. He groaned but his eyes remained closed.

“What happened?”, Brienne asked, as she knelt next to The Hound.

“He just started swaying and then he fell.”, the girl said, her face pale. “I think it might be his wound”. She swallowed.

“What wound?” Briennes eyes fell on the filthy scarf and was silently thankful he wasn’t injured somewhere she rather not be looking.

“He was bit on his neck a while ago”, Arya said and looked up at Brienne.

Brienne leaned closer to The Hound and the stench of decay became stronger. She started unwrapping the bandage with as much care as she could. The fabric made a sucking noice when she peeled it of the wound and when she removed it entirely some flesh and pus came with it.
It was bad. Really bad. Brienne had seen her fair share of injuries, on herself and ones she had inflicted on others. Many worse than the one before her now, but none with this level of putrefaction.The wound in the slope between the mans neck and his shoulder had begun festering. It was oozing liquid and the skin around it was bright red, swollen and slick with sweat.
Brienne put her hand against his forehead. He was burning up.

“That’s not good”. Arya didn’t seem to be able to take her eyes of the gaping hole i The Hounds neck. The man stirred a little and then went limp.

“No, Arya, it’s not”. Brienne wouldn’t lie to the girl.

“We have to clean it”, Podrick said which surprised both Brienne, and by the look of confusion on her face, Arya too. Her squire rarely spoke up if he didn’t have to. Only when it mattered it seemed.

Podrick looked like he wanted to throw up, but appeared determined to be of use.

“Yes Podrick, but with what exactly?”. She tried to keep from sounding annoyed but failed.

“We could burn it.”, Pod suggested. He was coming close to gagging from the looks of it.

“No, he hates fire.”, Arya said. She sounded unsure, as if she agreed with Podrick but was worried about the wishes of the big man she was kneeling next to.

“He might not make it otherwise”, Brienne said and put her hand on the girls slender shoulder in a weak attempt to comfort. “It might be too late as it is, but we have to try”. Brienne looked up at Podrick.

“Start a fire Podrick. Then you take Arya’s horse and you ride as fast as you can. Try to find a maester or herbs, wine and bandages. Ride as fast as you can and tell them your father is injured, say nothing about who’s with him.” Pod was nodding as Brienne spoke.

“I will make the fire, you go Pod, and hurry”, Arya said and stood up to look for firewood. “And be careful”, she added as an afterthought.

Podrick gave them each a tentative smile, then turned and ran towards the horses. He was off in no time and Brienne couldn’t help but feel a little proud. Not long ago the boy wasn’t even able to hold the reins properly and now he rode away on a galloping horse.

Arya was busy setting the fire and Brienne brougt a waterskin from one of the saddlebags Pod had left behind. She rummaged through the bag and found a tunic that didnt seem to be to dirty, ripped it in half and soaked it with water. The Hound had started to move. The fever made his movements slow and feeble.

"Please", he whispered. "Don’t burn me, please". His eyes fluttered open for a moment and Brienne saw raw fear reflected in them. The Hound was afraid and pleading with her. Something that came as a much bigger shock to her than seeing the rotting bite marks of a human in the mans flesh. She was quiet for a long while.

"First we have to clean it and with a little luck you might pass out from that.”, Brienne spoke plainly and put the soaked rag on The Hounds scorching brow. Gods how she hoped he would. For his sake and hers. Wrestling with such a big beast of a man while wielding a hot blade couldn’t end well for either of them. Something told Brienne that he wouldn’t though. A man as battle hardened as Clegane didn’t faint from something as trivial as pain.

Arya had built a small fire close to where Clegane had dropped from his horse. She was fidgeting with the skinning knife they used on game. It was a fine little blade, but It didn’t come close to the ones used by maesters for this kind of delicate work. Brienne racked her brain, trying to remember everything she had learnt about healing and wound care from her own schooling. She had to remove all the dead flesh or else the rot would continue its spread. This wasn’t going to be pleasant for either of them she thought and took a deep breath.

“I put some water on it.” Arya said and handed Brienne the blade.

“Good thinking.” she said and gave the girl a small smile Brienne knew probably looked more like a grimace. She was nervous now. On any given day she would have chosen a proper sword fight over this kind of precision work with a small blade. And the fact that when she wielded live steel the intention was often to kill. Not to try her hardest to keep from nicking an artery on the man that lay before her.

“Scream as much as you like but try not to punch me or anything while I’m holding a knife to your throat. That will end badly for you, not for me.”, Brienne said as she poured some water on his neck. At this the big man made a noice similar to a grunt, that was most likely supposed to be a laugh.

“I’ll try to behave.”, he rasped and coughed.

“And none of that, be still.”, Arya said and looked down at the Hound from where she was kneeling.

For a second Brienne thought Arya was about to reach out for Cleganes hand, but then she seemed to change her mind and settled her hands in her lap.

Brienne took a deep breath and then she sank the knife into the festering wound and The Hound screamed so loud that it was probably heard beyond The Wall.

Chapter Text

“Almost done” Brienne said and flicked a small piece of rotting flesh on the ground.

Sandor had stopped screaming a while ago. His face was pale and he was sweating a lot.

Arya had felt useless as Brienne started carving up his neck but that had quickly been replaced by a feeling of relief. Not only was she glad to be more than inches away from the reeking mess that used to be Sandors skin, but also because she doubted she could do what Brienne was doing. It confused Arya. Not to long ago she would have jumped at the chance to take a knife to The Hounds throat, but now it just made her feel bad. For him, Arya realized. When did that happen, she thought, as she stared down at the man who was sprawled on the ground in front of her.

”There we go.” Brienne said and wiped her hands on her breeches. She looken pleased with herself. “Arya, could you put the knife in the fire for me?” she said, turning away from Sandor.

The reaction was immediate. He moved fast for a man with a high fever and a gaping hole in his neck. Sandor got on his knees and tried to stand, only to sort of shuffle a few steps and then he collapsed on the ground. He was panting. Sweat was dripping from his brow and blood was seeping onto his tunic.

“Don’t you fucking dare”, he rasped and for a second Arya thought he was going to be sick.

“We have to burn it or else it’s going to putrefy all over again”, Brienne said with a calm voice. She sounded like a mother talking to a small child. Wrong approch, Arya thought.

"If you think i'll fucking spare you just cus you helped me clean the fucking wound, your bloody well mistaken”, he rasped, half leaning on his elbow. It looked like he was readying himself for another attempted escape.

"Spare me?", Brienne scoffed at him. "From what, bleeding on me?"

"I’ll fucking choke you if you come near me", He growled.

Arya thought his threat would have sounded a lot more intimidating if he wasn’t so short of breath.

"You’re being ridiculous", Brienne said. She looked both annoyed and frustrated.

 

Arya went over to the fire and put the small knife on a stone close to where the logs had turned to embers. She didn’t think Sandor was being ridiculous. He was afraid. What his brother had done to him was hard for Arya to even comprehend. Not just the pain of it all, but the fact that it had been family that caused that pain. What if Robb or Jon had shoved her face into a burning brazier when she was little? Arya shuddered at the thought.

She watched the flames dance while she waited for the knife to get hot. The heat from the fire felt nice in the cool mountain air. She leaned closer. It still felt good. Arya moved a little bit closer. It started to sting and the feeling of the hot air on her cheeks reminded Arya of the burning sensation of being slapped. She closed her eyes and breathed in the scent of fire. It smelled of home. Of dinners in the Great Hall and of evenings spent by the hearth, listening to Old Nan’s stories or Sansa singing. She couldn’t imagine a life where the smell of the flames was one she feared. Arya covered her hand with her sleeve and picked up the knife.

"Are you going to kill me?", she asked Sandor as she started to walk over to where he had dropped.

He eyed her suspiciously and then he groaned loudly as if in defeat.

"I might wail on you a bit if you get any closer", he said with a tired voice. His mouth was a thin, angry line but his eyes were sad.

She walked closer.

"No...", was all he managed.

Arya sunk to her knees beside him. He had closed his eyes, refusing to look at the knife in her hand.

She hated him. Didn’t she? Sandor made a sort of whimpering sound and Arya pretended not to hear. It felt odd watching such a big man make such pitiful noices. She could decide tomorrow how she felt about him.

Her hands were shaking slightly as she leaned closer to the mans head. Breathe, she thought.

"Your not alone", she whispered and pressed the hot blade against Sandor’s skin and then the there was silence no more, only screaming.

 

* * *

Arya and Brienne sat by the fire. Sandor slept under a couple of blankets close to where they were sitting. He had started to shiver once the sun set. The sound of his teeth chattering on occasion was the only sounds that came from the wounded man.

“He is still going to need some kind of medicin to help with the fever.”, Brienne said with a quiet voice.

Arya nodded.

“That was really brave, what you did”, Brienne said and smiled.

“He wasn’t going to hurt me.”, Arya said and shrugged. Sure, he had slapped her once, but she had tried to kill him, so it didn’t really count, she thought.

“Still, you cautorized a rather large wound. You did good.”, she said.

“I’m not afraid of blood.”, Arya said a bit offended.

“Did I say you were?”, the big woman looked amused. “All I’m saying is it’s one thing to take a blade to an ememy and another to use it on a friend. Even if it’s only to help".

Arya was quiet for a while. She was hungry and tired and wasn’t entirely sure she felt comfortable with Brienne calling Sandor her friend.

"How old were you when you killed your first man?”, she suddenly heard herself say.

Brienne looked surprised. She frowned slightly and regarded Arya carefully before speaking.

"Why do you want to know that, Arya?" She asked.

"Never mind", Arya said and started fiddling with the hem of her tunic.

"I was older than you are now, but not by much.” Brienne said.

"Did you like it.”, Arya asked without thinking.

Brienne looked her straight in the eye.

"Yes, I did." She said. “And I hated it too. I took the life of a man that wanted to hurt me", she said. "It felt good because I was able to defend myself".

"But if your not in danger, and it still feels good.” Arya asked. She brushed some dust of her breeches and avoided looking at Brienne.

“The world is a dangerous place, Arya”, Brienne said with a kind voice. “I could never begin to understand what you’ve been through, but that much I know for certain. If killing a man to make the world a safer place feels good, then so be it. But if you don’t come to terms with the fact that there will always be bad men, and that you cant kill them all, you will never be done. Safety comes from within, I believe. Give me a sword and the power to wield it and I can sleep soundly at night. And you will too.”

Arya was silent for a long time.

“If I kill the people on my list, the world will be a better place.”, Arya mumbled. She was bone tired and felt oddly exposed after what Brienne had just told her.

“That may be.”, the large woman said and got up to fetch their bedrolls.

Before Arya fell asleep that night, she recited her list with out Sandors name on it. He may be a bad man, she thought, but she felt safer knowing he was around.

Chapter Text

He woke to the sounds of commotion. His eyelids felt like they were nailed shut and he had to force them open, only to close them immediately when he was blinded by light. Am I dead?, was his first thougt. No. If he had died, there would surely be nothing but an endless pit of fire for him to roast in. Since Sandor felt as if he was frozen solid he must surely be alive.
He squinted and found himself lying under a heap of blankets, with the first morning rays shining him straight in the face. With what felt like an extraordinary amount of effort, he shielded his eyes from the sun and looked around to see where all the noice was coming from.

The first thing he noticed was that there were more horses in their little camp than there had been the day before. Two more, both harnessed to a rickety old wagon that looked about ready to collapse. The boy had returned and was beaming with pride. The little wolf and the big woman were both kneeling next to a large burlap sack and rummaging through its contents.

He tried to sit up but pain flared through his neck and radiated down the length of his arm causing him to groan loudly. How he loathed being this weak. This vulnerable. His head was spinning and he closed his eyes to keep from throwing up as the landscape around him seemed to shift and sway.

“You’re awake.”, the little wolf said and then he heard the soft thud as she sat down next to him on the grass.

He managed a low grunt and squinted at her.

“Podrick brought medicine.”, she said.

“Hmm.”, he rasped in response.

“And wine.”. At this the girl gave him a friendly punch on the arm that felt like she had clobbered him with a mallet.

“The wine is for the wound.”, the Tarthbitch said as she eyed the content of a small leather pouch. She sniffed its content and turned her face away in disgust. “Podrick, is this supposed to be made into tea?”.

The boy tried to speak but Sandor interrupted him.

“Wine is for drinking, woman” he coughed and did his best to scowl some sense into the Lady knight. He had earned some wine, damn it.

“Not this one”. She scowled back. “Pod, could you boil some water?”.

The little wolf looked amused and gave him a shrug when she saw he was looking at her.
He didn’t even have the energy to argue with the big woman. She was almost as stubborn as the little wolf and that was saying something, Sandor thought.

The content of the pouch had been thrown in the pot and the steam coming from it filled the camp with the sulphureous smell of rotting eggs.

“Wow, that smells almost as bad as your wound did yesterday.”, the little wolf said with a snort. She was smiling. He couldn’t even remember a time when she had looked so carefree. That would have been back at Winterfell, he supposed. When she was still a pup and her family hadn’t been cut up and scattered to the wind.

“Shut up and get me that wineskin.” he mumbled. Sandor closed his eyes and sleep found him before he heard the girl reply.

When he woke up the boy was leaning over him with a nervous look on his face. He was holding a cup and Sandor could smell the foul scented liquid from where he was standing.

“I guess you want me to drink that?”, he rasped.

“It will help with the healing.”, the boy said. He put a hand out tentatively and it took Sandor a moment to understand that he was supposed to take it. It bruised his ego somewhat, but he needed the help so Sandor took the hand that was being offered and pulled himself up with a groan. He could barely move his right hand without the wound flaring with pain and the area from his neck, down past his shoulder to his elbow was swollen and red.

“Hand it over then.”, Sandor said with a voice that sounded as tired as he himself felt.

The tea was cold and had a thick texture that reminded him of porridge cooked with too much water and not enough oat. The kind of porridge one could find in any military camp when ever it came time to break the fast. He had been a Lannister man all his life, but he would bet what little dignity he had left on the fact that the same vile sludge was served to soldiers all across Westeros, no matter what House they fought for.

It smelled worse than it tasted but it was hard to swallow it all down anyway. He peered over to the pile of supplies that had been stacked close to the wagon. He couldn’t spot the wineskin and supposed the big bitch had hidden it. This made him angrier than the fact that she had spent a good long while poking around with a knife in his neck yesterday.

The boy was still standing there.

“Would you like something to eat?” he asked and gave Sandor a small smile.

“Did you cook it?”, Sandor rasped with a grimace that probably made his face look even more hideous.

“We have cheese and bread.” It looked as if it was physically painful for the boy not to call him ser. It must be a bloody nightmare to travel with the three of them, Sandor thought.

He nodded as far as his neck would alllow him and the boy turned to fetch him some food.

* * *

Every move the wagon made on the gravel road hurt him something fierce. He tried his best to keep his grunts of pain to a minimum as he felt foolish enough as it was, being carted around like some little lordling in a gilded palanquin. Sandor took a large swig from the wineskin and then he cradled it to his chest. It had taken a day before the Tarthbitch finally relented and tossed him the bag of wine. She had been aiming for his head but Sandor had caught it before it hit him square in the face. As a sort of compromise he kept drinking the tea, without too much fuss, and the fever had passed but the pain remained.

Stranger, who was teathered to the cart, looked as miserable as Sandor himself felt. The little wolf and the big bitch were both riding in front and the boy was the one driving the wagon. They had all kept a safe distance from him since getting back on the road. No doubt to avoid being subjected to his foul mood.

He wanted nothing more than to be whole again so they could get moving in earnest. Sandor hated feeling useless and he hated being the one slowing the group down. With every passing moment he was stuck slouched in the rickety cart, Sansa was moving farther and farther away from him. At least they were going in the right dircetion. They had passed the inn where Sansa had last been seen a day ago and had kept to the Kingsroad in the direction given to them by the barkeep. The boy and the little wolf had stocked up on supplies and more wine. They didn’t stay the night at the inn since the big woman had deemed the risk of someone recognizing Sandors marred face too great. He had silently agreed with her.

 

When he didn’t think of Sansa or of wringing Littlefingers scrawny neck, his thoughts unwittingly drifted to Gregor. Sandor supposed it was because of the smell that had stuck to his clothes and lingered in his hair. The smell of his own flesh burning. The scent had faded over the days they had spent on the road but it was still there. The faintest reminder of pain and loss and family. Sandor glanced over his shoulder to where the little wolf was riding. She was talking to the big woman and words from their conversation drifted over to where Sandor lay huddled against some straw and a blanket. They were talking about the advantages of different fighting styles on the battlefield. The girl was trying to convince the Lady knight of the merits of water dancing. By the sounds of it the discussion was getting kind of heated.

Neither him nor the girl had mentioned the things the little wolf had whispered to him before she pressed the knife to his neck and the air filled with his screams. Sandor thougt it best to leave it be and she probably felt the same. Still, something had changed and he didn’t quite know how to behave around the little one anymore. So he kept acting as he always had and growled at her when ever he got the chance. And she kept mouthing of to him. Why mess with a winning concept, Sandor thought and took a long pull from the wineskin.

Chapter Text

Her intended was smiling. He took her hand in his and kissed it. Sansa had to suppress a repulsed shudder as she felt his lips against her skin. She returned his smile with a coy one of her own as she imagined all the ways she would punish the Bolton’s for their betrayal. Breathing the same air as the people responsible for her mothers and her brothers murders made her nauseous but she held her head high and remembered her courtesies.

Lord Baelish was standing next to Roose Bolton and he looked at her approvingly. She wanted to slap the smug grin of his face but instead she gave the current Lady of Winterfell a small curtsy. The girl gave her a broad smile and it occurred to Sansa that she was facing her own future good-mother. This was wrong. It was all wrong, she thought as her eyes skimmed her surroundings. If she lingered too long on any detail she would surely begin to weep. She was home but had never felt further from it. Banners with the gruesome sigil of the Bolton’s hung from every tower and soldiers, with shields painted with the flayed man, guarded the gates and turrets. Of all the things Lord Baelish had done to her, this was the most hurtful. He had forced her to return to a Winterfell that felt foreign to her and for that she hated him.

From where she stood she knew she only needed to turn her head slightly to see the place she had been standing when King Robert and the royal entourage poured through the gates of her childhood home. She had barely been able to stand still, she remembered. The finery of the procession was the most beautiful thing she had seen in her entire life, Sansa had thought. It was a fairytale come true and surely as splendid as anything conjured up in the great love stories. Ladies in gilded dresses, with hair braided in elaborat hairdos, and knights in golden armor. And then she had seen Joffrey. A handsome prince come to life from one of her songs.
What a silly little girl she’d been. How easily she had been fooled by a pretty face and the promise of a life in the Royal Palace. Sansa wanted to reach out to her younger self and shake some sense into her.

A hand on her shoulder jolted her out of her harrowing memories only to bring her into the equally painful present. She realized she had been quite for a long while and as she looked up she saw that it was the hand of her intended that was gently stroking her.

“Lady Sansa, you must be tired from your journey.”, Lord Ramsay said, blue eyes gleaming with something Sansa couldn’t put her finger on. He wore a frown that suggested his concern for his wife to be.

“Yes my lord, thank you for thoughtfulness, I’m afraid our travels have made me quite weary.”, Sansa said, and prayed to the Old Gods and the New, that he would not be the one to escort her to her room. She wasnt the least bit tired, on the contrary, she felt restless, but she wasn’t sure she could force her lips into a smile for much longer.

“Lady Walda will show you your chambers”, he said with a soft tone. “Forgive me, my Lady, I am needed elsewhere.” He tilted his head to the side slightly and regarded her with a smile before taking his leave. Sansa was relieved to see the back of him.

Lady Walda prattled on about this and that as she led her through the castle. Sansa quickly realized that she was not being taken to her old room, something she was very grateful for. The thought being trapped there, waiting to be married into a family of traitors and murderers would have been to much to bear.

She sunk down on the bed the very moment the door closed on Lady Walda and Sansa was alone. But the tears that had threatened to spill since her arrival didn’t come. She lay on the bed, still wrapped in her traveling cloak, for what felt like hours. The grey sky outside her window gave her little comfort today as it only filled her heart with longing. For something. Someone. She wasn’t sure why but the ache itself felt better than the emptiness that had taken root in her since she had learnt about her upcoming marriage. Sansa closed her eyes and fell into a restless sleep.

She was standing on the battlements of the Red Keep. The sky was ashen and great clouds were looming on the horizon. In front of her was a long wall of bloodied pikes. The lifeless eyes of her father stared into the nothingness in front of him. Besides him were the severed head of her mother and her brother. Further down the line she saw Lady’s and next to her Grey Wind’s. It should have filled the dreaming Sansa with dread, as it always did. This was not the first time she had had this nightmare and she always woke screaming and crying. But something was different this time. She felt calm.

On a lonely pike far from the others hung a single head. Red hair was swaying in the wind, covering the face, but Sansa already knew who was hiding underneath. It was her own.

She heard the faint clanking of armor coming from one of the stone archways that ran the lenght of the battlements. A large man came into view. He was wearing a dirty kingsguard cloak over a soot-colored armor. It was the Hound, Sansa realized. His hair, that always seemed to frame his face like a curtain, was pushed back and she could see his scars clearly. He leaned close to the severed head of Sansa Stark. The Hound stroked a strand of hair from her face and the lifeless eyes of her younger self came into view. They were glazed over and colered a dull blue and her lips were stained red with blood. The man looked at the dead girl for a long while and then he produced a kerchief from within his vambrace. He brought it to her lips and gently dabbed some of the blood away. His grey eyes had a soft look to them but the rest of his face was set in the same scowl he always wore.

“Save yourself some trouble girl. Give him what he wants". His voice sounded raw. He turned and looked at Sansa. Not the one with her head on a bloodied pike, but the one who was standing a few feet away watching the scene unfold. Their eyes met for a brief moment. And then she woke with a start. Someone was knocking on her door. Her heart was pounding and she quickly sat up. Why had she been dreaming about the Hound, she thought as she tried to find her bearings.

She walked across the room and opened the door. Lord Ramsay was waiting for her outside.

“Dinner will be served shortly, my Lady. Might I have the honor of escorting you to the Great Hall?” He asked

“Certainly, my Lord.” Sansa replied with a smile as she reluctantly took the hand that was being offered.

Chapter Text

Brienne brushed a thin coat of snow from her hair before entering the scorching heat of the smithy. She was closely followed by Arya, who rushed passed her to warm her hands at the forge. The blacksmith, a stout man with kind eyes, looked up from a piece of steel he was working and looked at the girl with surprise.

“Don’t be shy lass, by all means, you’re welcome to warm yourself by the fire.”, the man said and chuckled when Arya smiled apologetically, as she huddled even closer to the flames.

“It’s really cold today.”, the girl said. She was beaming and Brienne couldn’t help but give a smile of her own. Arya had been in a far better mood since they had crossed the Neck and ventured further north. It had been nighttime when the first snow had begun to fall. From her bedroll by the fire, Brienne had seen the girl slowly sit up, wrapped in a blanket. Podrick and Clegane had been fast asleep and Brienne didn’t want to impose on what felt to be a very private moment, so she had pretended she was sleeping as well. Arya had been sitting there, for a long time, watching the snow fall with a smile on her face. She looked peaceful. Like she truly belonged there, in a world rapidly turning white with frost0.

“Aye, It is. The blacksmith nodded in agreement and wiped his sootstained hand on his leather apron. “Might I be of service, or will a moment by the fire suffice?”.

“Actually, we were wondering if we might ask you some questions?” Brienne asked the man.

He regarded her for a moment.

“Ask away, we’ll see if I got some answers for you, milady.

“We are looking for a girl who is traveling in the company of Knights of the Vale and we wanted to know if they might have stopped here.”. Brienne hoped the man was smart enough to not ask questions regarding their mission to find Sansa. They had visited many places on their journey and one thing that seemed a common trait among the people this side of the Neck was the northern folks way of minding their own business. Brienne found it a welcome change from the idle gossip of the capitol and the Westerlands.

“There was a group traveling through these parts about a fortnight ago, couple of the horses needed shoeing.”, the blacksmith said. He looked at Arya, who was wiping melted snow from her sleeves and the front of her breeches.

“Did you happen to see which direction they went?” Brienne asked.

“No, but I can do you one better. I know where they were headed.” the man said and turned to face Brienne. “But first you tell me what business it is of yours where this lass is going.”

Brienne was quiet for a moment and then Arya spoke up.

“She belongs with us, not with the man she is traveling with, that is all you need to know.”, she said with a confidence befitting her station. At this the the blacksmith chuckled again.

“You’re a northerner, aren’t you?”, he said. “Where are you from?”

“Yes I am, I was born in Barrowton.” Arya quickly lied, with her head held high.

The blacksmith nodded his approval and leaned against his workbench.

“My niece works as a scullery maid for the Lord of House Cerwyn. They hosted two distinguished guests and some knights a while ago. Knights of the Vale, she said, and the same men that visited my smithy. The castle is not far from here.” The blacksmith folded his arms across his chest. He wasn’t smiling anymore. “The new Lord Cerwyn left a few days ago to go to a wedding.”

Arya’s eyes widened and Brienne felt a knot in her stomach. This didn’t bode well.

“A wedding?”, the girl said with a whisper.

The blacksmith nodded. His had a somber expression on his face.

“Rumors in the castle say that the son of the new warden of the north”, at this the man spat on the ground “is the one that is to be married. To the lass that was a guest of House Cerwyn.”. The mans eyes lingered on Arya, who looked like she wanted to bolt from the smithy and find the closest horse.

“Roose Bolton is the warden of the North”. Arya said slowly, as if she couldn’t comprehend what the man was telling her.

“Aye, he is.”. The blacksmith said gravely. “But if the lass you’re looking for is to be wed to his son, Ramsay, I would worry more about him than his old man”.

“How so?” Brienne asked, dreading the answer.

“It’s a grizzly business, milady”. The man said, with a deep sigh. “The former head of House Cerwyn, Lord Megder Cerwyn was loyal to the Starks. When Roose sent his bastard son to collect taxes, Lord Cerwyn refused. Wouldn’t kiss the boots of no damned traitor, was the word he used, my niece tells me. So, the boy skinned Lord Medger alive, and his wife and brother too. The screams could be heard far and wide. Made his son watch the horrid spectacle. The new Lord Cerwyn paid his taxes and now he is going to Winterfell to celebrate a marriage”. The blacksmith was shaking his head in disgust.

There was a long moment of silence as Brienne tried to wrap her head around what she had just been told. By the looks of it, Arya was also having trouble grasping the news the man had just given them.

“Thank you for your help.” Brienne said and reached for the purse she kept tied to her sword belt.

The man held his up his hand to stop her.

“Keep your coin, milady, the answers were free.” He said and moved over to the forge to resume his work.

Brienne nodded and turned to leave. Arya seemed deep in thought, her face set in a scowl that reminded Brienne somewhat of Clegane. They were half way out the door when a the man spoke again, now with a hushed tone.

“The North Remembers.” the blacksmith said before the smithy once again filled with the clanking of hammer on steel.

Chapter Text

“You are out of your bloody mind!”, he bellowed at her. Sandor could feel his pulse quickening with a rage that threatened to spill over into a need for bloodshed.

He was pacing the small clearing where they had made camp. In the gap between two great oak trees, was the large, dark silhouette of Winterfell against the night sky. They had been riding for days, scarcely stopping for more then an few hours to let the horses rest. Lack of sleep and the girl refusing to see reason, was beginning to push him over the edge.

“You’re the one being stupid, you big, stubborn aurochs.”, the little wolf snarled back at him, stomping her tiny feet like an angry child. Her fists were clenched and by the looks of it she was readying for a proper fight, Sandor thought.

“As far as plans go, I’m affraid it seems this might be our best shot.”, the Tarthbitch said with a quiet voice. Her face was set in a deep frown.

Sandor turned on his heel and stared at the big woman.

“You be quiet if you know what’s good for you, you dumb cunt.”. He was furious and the last thing he needed were the two womenfolk ganging up on him. Wasn’t the Tarthbitch supposed to be on his side in matters like this, anyways?

At this the boy seemed to straighten up and he hurried over to stand next to the big woman. Sandor shot him a look, daring him to speak up in defense of his master. The squire seemed to be smart enough to keep his trap shut. He stared at his feet for a moment. And then the idiot boy openend his mouth

“I will go with her.”, he said, with a force Sandor had not expected from him.

The big bitch put her hand on her squires shoulder and the little wolf shot the boy a quick smile.

Sandor groaned loudly and kicked a snow covered log in an effort to keep from wringing the boys bloody neck.

“What good will you do, she needs someone with her who can wield a sword without poking his own fucking eyes out”, Sandor spat.

“And you suppose that someone should be you?”, the girl asked with what almost looked like pity. Laced with a large amount of disdain.

“Aye, you could do bloody worse!”, he growled at her.

The little wolf was fast. She grabbed a stick from the ground and before he knew it she had smacked it across his right shoulder. Hard. The wound in his neck had healed but his arm was still somewhat swollen and even through his armor it felt like someone had taken a knife to him. He roared with pain and then he tried to aim a halfhearted kick at the little wolf, who easily danced away from him, further making her point. He was still not back to his full strength. He knew it. The girl knew it. They all did.

“Besides, there is no way that you will fit through the passage, either of you, she said and looked from Sandor to the big woman. “It will probably be a pretty narrow fit for you too, Pod” she said to the boy.

“I’m sure I will manage it somehow.”, he said with a small smile.

The little wolf turned to Sandor. She was standing with arms crossed, glaring at him.

“Guess its been decided.”, she said with a smug sounding tone that made Sandor want to murder something.

“You’re going to fucking die, you little shit. Is that what you want? You make it all the way through this freezing fucking wasteland you call a home just so some bastard with a title can skin you and hang your hide on his wall.” Sandor could hear his anger give way to something else. It sounded like he was pleading with her to see some fucking sense.

“It’s the only way”, the little wolf said. “And if anybody is going to do some skinning, it will be me.” she added, with her nose in the air and haughty grin playing on her lips. The smugness didn’t reach her eyes Sandor noticed. She had courage, he had to give her that, but the girl was also rash and overly confident when it came to her skill with a sword.

“If, and I say if, you’re going in there, you bloody well keep out of his way”, Sandor said, shoving a finger in her little face to show he meant business. “No fucking heroics. You might not be totally worthless with a blade, but don’t think for one fucking second that a man like that, bigger and older than you, wouldn’t kill you before you had time to draw your little needle.” Sandor turned his back on the little wolf and walked over to the log, where he slumped down, letting out a deep sigh in frustration.

He refused to openly agree to letting a little girl be the one to brave the monster lurking behind the mighty stonewalls of the castle that sat before them. Sandor took a deep breath and the cold air stung. What use was he if he couldn’t fight? How could he protect Sansa and the little wolf if he wasn’t able to properly swing a sword? With the anger seeping from his body it was plain as day that the girl’s plan was their only option. Even if he had been at his full strength it would have been a fools mission trying to get inside the castle walls with brute force. What was he going to do, launch an attack on Winterfell with two knights, one of them injured, a squire with two left feet and a small girl. The little wolf was right, Sandor reluctantly admitted to himself. A stealthy rescue was the only way to get to Sansa without guaranteeing a slow and painful death for the four of them.

The little wolf sat down next to him.

“I know what I’m doing, she said. “I won’t do anything you wouldn’t do.” At this she barked out a laugh and Sandor shot her an angry look. He didn’t find it amusing in the slightest.

“Just try not to be an idiot. I know it comes naturally to you and all, but try to fight it, alright.” He nudged her shoulder and the little wolf almost fell of the log. Sandor had a sinking feeling in his stomach at the thought of sending her in alone. Sure, the boy was going with her, but if that would be for better or for worse remained to be seen.

“Go over the plan again” Brienne said and leaned against a tree close to where Sandor and the girl were seated.

“My brother found this secret passage when we were little. Bran really liked to climb.”, she said with a sad smile.

Sandor remembered the boy. Small for his age, with hair the same color as the little wolf’s.

“I think he thought he was the only one who knew about it, but I followed him one day.”, she continued. “I used the passage to get out of Winterfell when I wanted to explore the forest. Or when I had made our septa angry.” She laughed, but it sounded a bit hollow to Sandor’s ears and he caught her glancing over her shoulder in the direction of the castle. Bet she never could have imagined she would one day be breaking into her own home, he thought.

 

* * *

Sandor rested against the trunk of a tree as he gazed at the looming stone structure that was Winterfell. He had volunteered to take the first watch and it had only taken moments for the others to fall asleep. The only sound that could be heard in the small clearing was soft breathing and the crackling of the fire. He would let them have their rest, Sandor thought. It was the least he could do. Anyways, he doubted sleep would find him.

The windows of the castle were all dark and the bright moonlight made the snow on the slanted roofs glisten. Which room was hers, Sandor wondered. Was she fast asleep or was she also awake with thoughts of the morrow? He hoped she was sleeping as soundly as her sister. He turned his head to where the little wolf lay curled up under some blankets, occasionally snoring quietly. She looked peaceful in sleep, as if she wouldn’t be risking life and limb the following night. He envied her that. Tomorrow he would be forced to wait. To worry. Not able to do anything but hope. And that had never been his strong suit. Sandor sighed and went to put some logs on the dwindling fire.

Chapter Text

Sansa ran her hands down the front of her wedding dress, smoothing away invisible wrinkles. She paced the room, trying to remain calm. The heat from the fire didn’t seem to reach through the dread and the fear and she shivered even though she was wearing a warm gown and a fur shawl.

There was a knock at the door.

“Yes?”, she said, her voice wavering slightly.

The door opened and Theon Greyjoy hesitantly entered the room. Her nerves gave way to a wave of disgust. What was he doing in her room? The rags he usually wore had been replaced with finery fit for a Lord and he looked cleaner than Sansa had seen him since finding him in the kennels. It felt like a bucket of ice cold water had been emptied over her head as it dawned on her. No. Her future husband couldn’t be this cruel, could he? Had Theon been sent to take her fathers stead?

He wouldn’t meet her eye as he spoke.

“I’ve come to escort you to the godswood my Lady”, he said. At least he had the decency to look ashamed, Sansa thought. Or was it fear that made him bow his head?

“If you please my lady, will you take my arm?”

“No.” The thought of him being closer to her than the few feet that separated them, made her skin crawl.

“Lord Ramsay, he says I’m to take your arm.” Theon said, his eyes flitting over something behind her, unable to find a fixed point to rest on.

“I’m not touching you.”, she said with as much venom as she could muster, in the hopes that it would keep her from weeping. He didn’t deserve her tears.

Theon looked close to tears himself. He stood bent and broken before her, but she could not, would not, pity him. If the man she had once thought of with fondness, had had it in him to feel pity, Bran and Rickon would still be alive. Sansa refused to spare him any such kindness.

“Please, he’ll punish me.” the man who called himself Reek begged.

Sansa could feel her sorrow give way to anger. How dared he?

“You think I care what he does to you?”, she spat and stormed passed Theon. She would walk down the aisle alone. With her head held high.

* * *

The godswood was as achingly beautiful as Sansa had remembered it. Lanterns on pikes,were strewn about the forest floor and snow was silently falling on the guests gathered to witness her marriage vows. In front of the great heart tree Ramsay and Roose stood waiting for her.

The only sound that seemed to be heard in the godswood was the gentle crunching of the snow as Sansas dress flowed across the ground. Theon walked ahead, holding a lantern. They stopped a few paces from where her intended was standing.

“Who comes before the old gods this night?” Roose Bolton asked with a solemn tone, his hands clasped infornt of him.

Theon swallowed and began to speak.

“Sansa, of the House Stark, comes here to be wed.” His voice rang out strong, but the hand in which he held the lantern, was shaking. “A woman grown. True born and noble, she comes to beg the blessings of the gods. Who comes to claim her?”. With his final words, Theon lowered his eyes to the ground.

Her intended took a step forward, his eyes fixed on Sansa.

“Ramsay of House Bolton. Heir to the dreadfort and Winterfell.” He turned his head to Theon, with a cruel smile playing on his lips. “Who gives her?”, he asked and there was a challenging note to his voice.

Theon’s gaze was fixed on the ground at Ramsay’s feet. His hand was no longer the only thing shaking, his whole body was too.

“Theon. Of House greyjoy. Who was...”. His voice cracked. “Who was her fathers ward.”

Sansa felt a twinge in her heart, only for it to almost stop when Roose spoke again.

“Lady Sansa, will you take this man?, he asked.

Silence filled the clearing. No, she wanted to scream. No, I will not. Please don’t make me.

Ramsay was looking at her expectantly. She was surrounded by guards with their shields painted with the sigil of a flayed man. Soon it would be hers. She would be a Bolton and would share the name of the people responsible for the death of her mother and her brother. Sansa Stark would be gone. Again. And she would wear a new name. Again. One she hadn’t asked for. One she was forced to accept.

“I take this man.”, Sansa said and with that her fate was sealed.

* * *

They walked in silence, Theon leading the way some paces in front of Sansa and her new husband. His back was bowed low and it looked like he wanted to sink through the ground. She glanced over at Ramsay. He had a sly grin plastered on his face and Sansa couldn’t help a shudder.

She had expected them to join the guests that were gathering in the Great Hall, but instead they were headed towards the stairs that led to the second floor.

Theon opened the door to a large room. Candles were lit around the room and her eyes fell on a large bed covered in furs. Her marriage bed, Sansa thought.

“Are you pleased my lady?”, Ramsay asked her.

She forced herself to nod.

“Good, I want you to be happy.”, he said as his face split into a grin that didn’t meet his eyes. “My father said you were still a virgin.” Ramsay continued.

Shame washed over Sansa as she looked over to the door, where Theon still lingered. He avoided her gaze and kept his head low.

“Yes.”, she answered, feeling the skin on her cheeks grow hot.

“Why?”, her Lord husband asked, taking a step towards Sansa. “Why are you still a virgin? Afraid of dwarves?” Ramsay asked her, with a dry chuckle. His eyes never seemed to blink and that unnerved Sansa more than anything else about him.

Her heart was beating so hard that Sansa wouldn’t have been surprised if the two men in the room could hear it through her chest.

“Lord Tyrion was kind, he was gentle. He never touched me.” she said.

“You’re not lying to me?” Ramsay asked.

“No, my lord.”, she answered.

“Lying to your husband on his wedding night, that would be a bad way to start a marriage.”

Ramsay moved closer, slowly raising his hand and cupped her cheek. His his hands were surprisingly soft and Sansa would have described his touch as gentle if it weren’t for the malicious grin her husband wore.

“We’re man and wife now, we should be honest with each other. Don’t you think?”, he asked.

“Yes.”, she whispered and closed her eyes as Ramsay leaned forward to kiss her and his lips briefly claimed hers.

“Good. Take of your clothes.”, her husband told her.

Sansa froze for a moment and then she turned her head to Theon, who made to shuffle out of the room. Relief flooded over her. At least until her husband spoke again.

“Oh no.” Ramsay said in a mocking tone. “No no, you stay here Reek, you watch.

To her horror she saw Theon stop and turn in the doorway, as he obeyed his master’s order. He returned to the room, eyes fixed on the floor.

Ramsay turned to Sansa again, smiling.

“Do I have to ask a second time?” Her husband’s jaw was clenched. “I hate asking a second time.”, Ramsay said and Sansa believed him.

She felt her heart fluttering in her chest as she walked over to the bed.

“Reek, I told you to watch.” Ramsay said, reprimanding Theon.

Sansa started to undo the laces at the edges of her sleeves. Her fingers trembled. She did it as slowly as she dared to, in the vain attempt to postpone the inevitable.

The door suddenly flew open with a resounding thump as it slammed in to the stone wall. Sansa turned on her heel and for a moment she couldn’t quite comprehend what she was looking at. Theon lay sprawled on the floor, knocked over by the door. Over him stood two boys, one of them holding a dagger and the other one armed with a candlestick. She couldn’t believe her eyes when she recognized Podrick Payne, Lord Tyrion’s squire. He was panting where he stood, arm outstretched, readying for a fight. Then Sansa turned to face the smaller of the two and her legs almost gave way and she wobbled a bit, grabbing hold of a chair that was nearby for support. It was no boy. It was her sister. It was Arya.

Arya pointed her dagger in the the direction of Ramsay, who had quickly regained his composure from the sudden turn their wedding night had taken.

“Sansa, get over here, we’ve come to rescue you.”, her sister said, all the while maintaining eye contact with Ramsay.

As if in a dream she could feel her feet moving and she was half way across the room when strong hands clasped her waist. The touch of cold steel on her neck stopped her in her tracks as her husband held a blade of his own against her throat.

“Not so fast, little wife. Ramsay’s breath was hot against her skin. “You’re not going anywhere.”

Chapter Text

They had been hiding amongst the trees at the edge of the Godswood since sundown. The plan was to join the guests as they were about to enter the Great Hall and then try to get to Sansa during the wedding feast. When the first Lord’s and Ladies’ started filing through the gates that separated the Godswood from the Winterfell’s courtyard, Arya and Podrick joined them, posing as squires that had gotten separated from their masters. No one seemed to take note of their presence and Arya breathed a sigh of relief.

The Great Hall was bathing in the soft glow of a thousand candles and the roaring fire from the hearth. Pod swiped a decanter from a nearby table in an attempt to blend in with the servants while Arya did her best to look as inconspicuous as possible. She tried to keep her head bowed low but couldn’t help glancing around the large hall. Memories flooded her as her eyes sought out the dais, where her father and mother used to be seated during the feasts of her childhood. Now it stood empty and Arya wondered what was keeping Sansa.

“Why aren’t they here yet?” she whispered to Pod, knowing full well he wouldn’t know the answer to that either.

Arya craned her neck to get a better view of the the Great Hall and to see if she could spot her sister among the people gathered there. Podrick gently nudged her, shaking his head and motioning for her to keep her head down. Arya doubted that anyone from her old household would recognize her, dressed as a boy and with her hair cut short when most probably assumed she was long dead. Besides, the people who served her family had been loyal and she couldn’t imagine any of them selling her out to the Bolton’s.

“I don’t see her.”, he said with a quiet voice as he leaned closer to Arya. His brow was furrowed.

“You don’t think..?” Arya began, as she felt her stomach drop to somewhere close to her knees.

Podrick surveyed the room once more and then he turned to Arya with a grim look on his face.

“Where would Lord Ramsay’s rooms be located?” he whispered to Arya.

“Second floor.”, she answered as she grabbed the sleeve of Pods tunic and pulled him in the direction of the stairs.

Arya led the way as they tried to move unnoticed through the Great Hall. When they reached the landing she let go of Pod. Her heart was racing and when Arya was sure that they were alone, she reached down and grabbed the dagger she had hidden in her boot. Sandor had given her his, as no one would believe a servant boy would ever have gotten his hands on a castle forged blade as fine as Needle. Before giving her the dagger, Sandor had sharpened it with the wetstone and then threatened her with a good thrashing should she bring it back any other way than clean.

The hallways were thankfully deserted save for a servant girl that scurried passed them with a frightened look on her face. Arya wondered if that meant they were getting closer to finding Ramsay and she quickened her step. As they turned a corner they heard the sound of a door closing. They were in a long hallway and Arya took of running, closely followed by Podrick, who stopped long enough to arm himself with a candlestick from a nearby alcove.

“Stay behind me.”, Podrick whispered when they reached the door they had heard close moments earlier. Arya did the opposite and pushed passed Pod, with her dagger in a firm grip as she slammed open the door with as much force as she could muster.

A lot of things happened at once. The door swung open, sending a man in its path toppling over and crashing to the floor. He tried to get to his feet but ended up crawling away from Arya and Podrick. The next thing she noticed was Sansa. She was standing by the bed, dressed in white and with her mouth hanging open in shock. She was swaying slightly and for a second Arya worried that her sister might faint. And then her eyes found Ramsay. His eyes widened in surprise for moment and then his face turned angry. He wasn’t an awfully large man but just by looking at him Arya knew he wasn’t the kind of man you wanted to cross. Ice cold tendrils of fear crept across her back and she took a deep breath to steady herself and then she spoke.

“Sansa, get over here, we’ve come to rescue you.” Arya said, motioning with her head for her sister to join her. She kept her eyes fixed on Ramsay, who now looked as though the whole situation was very amusing to him. Arya wanted to wipe the grin of his face, preferably by removing his lips and feeding them to him.

Sansa looked dazed but began stumbling towards them.

Ramsay moved with a speed it seemed none of them had been expecting. He grabbed Sansa and Arya could feel her stomach drop as she saw the glint of steel in the mans hand just as he pressed a blade against her sisters neck.

His arm snaked around Sansa’s waist as he pressed himself against her.

“Not so fast, little wife. You’re not going anywhere.”, Ramsay said with a breathy voice. He sneered at Arya, who stood frozen. If she gave up the dagger they were all as good as dead, she knew that. But if she didn’t. She didn’t even want to consider it.

Sansa caught Arya’s eye and shook her head ever so slightly.

“He can’t kill me, he needs me.” Sansa said, with a voice that sounded a lot more steady than Arya had expected from her sister at a moment like this. “I’m supposed to give him an heir. I’m no good to him dead.” She was clasping the hand in which Ramsay held the knife. It looked like she was struggling to keep from grimacing with the pain his knife was causing her.

Arya had to fight the urge to pounce on Ramsay as he pressed the blade harder against Sansas throat. Small beads of blood had started to trickle down on her white dress.

“Such a clever little wife you are.”, he said and released her from his grasp, only to strike Sansa hard across the face. The force of the blow caused her to loose her balance and she stumbled and hit the floor with a thud. Podrick rushed over to her side to help her up.

“You bastard, I’m going to gut you where you stand”, Arya screamed as her fear was replaced by fury.

Before she she could charge at Ramsay, the thin man lunged at her, knocking the wind out of her. He had been huddling against the wall since they entered the room but was now flailing his arms, trying to get the knife from her. For the briefest of moments Arya found it strange that the man hadn’t managed to subdue her. He was larger than her and close enough to easily wrestle the blade from her, yet he did none of those things. It seemed like he was bodily keeping her from going after Ramsay. So she did the only thing she could think of to remedy that. She aimed for the heart and pushed the dagger as hard as she could into the mans chest. Something than turned out to be more difficult when her target was moving. With a sickening crunch she pierced the mans breast bone, snagging what felt like a rib as she thrust the dagger deeper. He gasped and tried to suck in a deep breath, but only managed a pitiful wheezing noice. Blood was beginning to cover the hand in which she held the blade, making the handle slippery. As Arya tried to remove the knife, she started to back away from the man she had just stabbed. She looked up and found herself staring into a pair of familiar blue eyes. They were wide with shock and something Arya couldn’t understand. The boy she had grown up with had turned into a man she hardly recognized. Theon Greyjoy’s face almost looked peaceful, as he slowly sagged to the floor

“You’re going to pay for that.”, Ramsay snarled. He was furious now and had started moving towards her. Slowly. Knife in hand.

Podrick scrambled to get up and come to her aid, but Ramsay aimed a kick straight to the boys face and with a wet thud his boot made contact with Pod’s nose.

Arya held out the dagger she had managed to dislodge from Theon’s chest. Her hand was shaking slightly as she tried to remember everything she had learnt from Syrio. And from Sandor. The man that was moving towards her didn’t have armor and he didn’t have a big sword either. He did however have a look in his eyes that made Arya want to run and hide. But she wouldn’t. She would fight. And she would win.

Ramsay was laughing now. He circled her slowly. He was toying with her. Taunting her. He made swiping motions towards her with his knife, cutting through the air with a smile growing larger and more menacing every time she flinched and moved away.

“Never did understand why a girl would cut off her hair. Makes you look like a little boy. But i’m guessing that’s the point now, isn’t it? To pass for someone else?” Ramsay raised one eyebrow. “Why would a little girl show up here, trying to steal my new wife from me just when things were getting interesting? Do you recognize this girl, Reek?”, he asked Theon without taking his eyes of Arya.

Ramsay had stopped next to Theon. He was still breathing but his eyes were closed and the pool of blood in which he was sitting was steadily growing larger. His head was lolling to one side and his lack of response earned him a swift kick in the ribs from Ramsay. Theon gasped and his eyes shot open.

“Arya..” he whispered and then he coughed. The corners of his mouth were turning red.

“Well, isn’t this a treat. Two Stark girls for the price of one and the night is still young.” Ramsay said and licked his lips.

He leaned closer to Theon and gave the dying man a pat on the head. His eyes were turned away for a second but Arya saw her opportunity and pounced. She was aiming for Ramsay’s throat and her blade was inches away from slicing at the mans neck when he caught her hand in vice-like grip. And then his fist made contact with her stomach. That was what Arya first thought at least, as she doubled over in pain. Then Ramsay twisted the knife he had plunged into her and Arya screamed.

Chapter Text

Podrick could feel his nose breaking, as Ramsay’s boot made contact with his face. Blinding agony pulsed through him and for a moment he was sure that he was going to collapse from the pain. Stars danced across his vision as he tried to find his bearings. There was a slight ringing sound in his ears and Podrick had to grab hold of one of the bedposts when his head wouldn’t stop spinning. He took a tentative step towards Lady Sansa, who was still struggling to get up. The left side of her face, where Ramsay had struck her, had already started to swell.

“Well, isn’t this a treat. Two Stark girls for the price of one and the night is still young”., Ramsay said, with an almost gleeful tone in his voice.

Podrick turned his head just in time to see the blurred silhouette of Arya lunge at Ramsay. The world froze as he saw the man swiftly plunge his dagger into the stomach of the girl Podrick was there to protect. For a moment it felt as though all the air had been sucked from the room as silence fell. And then Arya screamed and Pod suddenly found himself forgetting about his broken nose, about Ramsay and everyone else around them.

Ramsay was holding Arya up by the front of her jerkin. Her little hands were clasped around his, as she tried to pry his fingers loose. The man was smiling as he slowly twisted the dagger, that was still lodged in her stomach and Arya let out another scream.

“If you come any closer I will rip her open and let her guts find a new home on my floor.”, Ramsay hissed, his eyes turning to Pod, who stopped in his tracks. He had no doubt in his mind that the man before him would make good on his threat.

From the corner of his eye, Podrick saw Lady Sansa get to her feet. She was swaying slightly, but started moving towards Ramsay, who was standing with his back against her. Podrick understood her intentions and tried to think of something to keep the mans attention fixed on him.

“Please, my Lord, let her go”. Podrick heard his own voice wavering. He took a step away from where Sansa was slowly creeping up on Ramsay. “She’s just a little girl.”

“A little girl who needs to be taught not to play with sharp objects.” Ramsay said and twisted the knife again. Arya let out a silent scream and a whimper. She tried to wriggle free from his grasp again, but it was in vain. Ramsay chuckled and and opened his mouth to speak again.

And then Lady Sansa was on him. She wrapped one arm around his neck, her fingers furiously digging into his flesh as she started clawing on his face. Ramsay howled in pain and anger as he dropped Arya, to wrestle away his new bride. She was taller but no match to the much stronger man and he had managed to untangle himself from her grasp before Podrick had time to react. Ramsay showed her hard and Lady Sansa fell to the floor.

Ramsay stood panting. Long, red welts were blooming across his face, where Lady Sansa nails had scratched him and blood was seeping from some of them. He held out his knife towards Podrick, his face contorted with rage.

“You may still choose your death, boy.” , Ramsay breathed. “Take your chances with me, now, and I give you my word that you will die slowly. I will keep you alive for days and days, while I remove every last inch of skin on you. Surrender, and I will give you a clean death.” The man sneered and Podrick knew he was lying. Not that it mattered, he would never willingly give up without a fight. He had made promises, to himself as well as others, and he would fight until his dying breath to honor them.

Ramsay’s back was to the window and the moonlight illuminated him from behind, casting his face in shadow. His arms were outstretched to the sides and the light reflected in the knife he was holding. It was still wet with Arya’s blood. Surely even the Stranger himself would balk at the sight of man like this, Podrick thought, trembling with fear. He took a steadying breath as he prepared to strike. And then the room once again filled with the sounds of screaming. For a moment Pod wondered if it was he himself that was the one making all the noice, but then his eyes found the source. It was Ramsay.

The man Ramsay had called Reek, was swaying on his knees. He held the dagger Arya had dropped and had driven it to the hilt into Ramsay’s thigh. Reek was drawing heaving breaths as he got to his feet and charged at Ramsay, who stubbled backwards with an almost comical look of surprise on his face. He toppled over and the window broke with a deafening crash as Ramsay fell from view. Reek sunk to the floor, his body wracked by sobs. His cheeks were wet with tears but he was smiling.

Podrick was shaking as he turned his attention to Arya, who lay slumped on the floor, eyes closed. She was still breathing, but she was unconscious and bleeding from the wound in her stomach.

Lady Sansa started to crawl to where Podrick was kneeling over Arya. Reek took a shuddering breath and grabbed her wrist as she passed him. He pulled her closer and whispered something Pod couldn’t hear in Lady Sansa’s ear. She froze for a moment, listening intently. Tears started to spill from her eyes and she looked at Reek for a moment. He had let go of her arm and his eyes stared back at her, unblinkingly. His face looked younger in death than it had done in life.

Lady Sansa stood up, tears streaming down her face as she tried to regain her composure. She looked at Arya’s limp form.

“Is she alive.” she whispered, wiping away tears with the back of her hand. She was trembling.

Strands of hair had come loose from her braided bun and the dress that had once been white was now covered at the hem and the front with the reddish brown blood from Reek, as well as her own. There was no way she could get through the castle undetected looking like that, Podrick thought as panic truly began to set in. He spun around, desperately searching for some means of escape. Some way for them to get out of this alive. His eyes fell on a cluster of melting candles on the mantle over the fireplace.

He picked up Arya, cradling her close to his chest and turned to Lady Sansa.

“You have to cover your dress, my Lady, and your hair.” Podrick told her as he motioned to the bed. “One of the blankets will do.”

She hurried over to the bed, grabbing a large grey piece of fabric and wrapped herself in it. He could still see some of the dress, but if his plan worked, nobody would hopefully notice. His heart was hammering in his chest.

“Get as many burning candles as you can carry, my Lady.” Podrick said as he kicked one of the larger candelabras towards the bed. The furs and bedding went up in flames faster then he had expected and a roaring fire engulfed the room as they hurriedly made for the door.

Chapter Text

Brienne cast a glance over her shoulder at the large man who was pacing the clearing. He didn’t look up and she returned her gaze to the South Gate of Winterfell. They were hiding in the tree line, horses readied and packed with what little things they had brought with them. Pod had procured an extra sleeping roll for Lady Sansa and some other supplies from the village that was located close to the castle.

“Do you see anything?” Clegane rasped, an unmistakable edge to his voice. He was worried, she could tell. Brienne would have felt sorry for the man if he hadn’t passed their time, waiting, barking insults at her with regular intervals. She had reached the point where she almost took some pleasure from seeing Clegane stewing in his own misery. Almost.

“No.”, she said. “And you wouldn’t have to ask if you stopped moving for a second and came to have a look for yourself.”

He muttered something she couldn’t hear and then he joined her, scowling at the castle as if the stonewalls themselves were to blame for Arya’s and Podrick’s prolonged absence. The field that spanned the area between the gate and the place they were waiting was covered in darkness, making it almost impossible for them to see anything. Brienne told herself that this was a good thing, that it would be easier for them to get away undetected in the pitch black of the night. But as much as she tried to reason with herself, she couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that something had gone wrong.

Clegane made a low, growling sound deep in his throat and resumed his pacing. He was clenching an unclenching his fists, making his leather gloves squeak with the movement. It was getting on Brienne’s nerves.

“How the fuck did all you morons manage to get me to agree to this asinine plane.”. He kept his voice down, but it was clear that what he really wanted to do was rage at her. With a swift kick he sent a small rock flying, stirring up snow and dirt from the ground. It seem to bring him little comfort though and with a deep sigh he went over to his beast of a horse and started scratching it between the ears, absentmindedly.

“It was the only way and you know it.” Brienne snapped at him. She was worried herself and trying her best not to show it and she would have expected better composure from a seasoned warrior like Clegane. His concern would have almost been endearing if he hadn’t been acting like a sullen child because of it.

“If they get hurt...”, he said, without finishing the sentence, which surely would have ended in some kind of empty threat, Brienne thought. He was looking at the castle now, mouth gaping as if he had spotted something.

At first Brienne couldn’t see what he was looking at, but then a glint of light caught her eye. It was an orange glow that was playing of the castle walls. And then the night erupted with the noice of screaming people and Brienne understood what was happening. Winterfell was burning.

Clegane stood frozen to the spot as smoke began to billow up from the part of the castle Brienne estimated the Great Keep would be located in.

From somewhere close she could hear the panting breaths of someone running.

“Get your sword ready, just in case.” Brienne told Clegane, drawing Oathkeeper from its scabbard. She stared into the darkness of the field, holding her breath as she heard the sound of Clegane unsheathing his own sword.

The shape of two figures emerged from the dark. They were running and for a moment Brienne’s heart sank. Why were there only two? What had happened? The faces of Podrick and Lady Sansa became visible and relief flooded her for a moment. And then it was replaced by fear. Where was Arya? Her eyes drifted to the bundle Pod was cradling in his arms and she had her answer.

Podrick reached the clearing first, with Lady Sansa a few steps behind him. They were both winded and looked exhausted and Brienne hurried over to take Arya from Pod, who looked like he would keel over at any moment. He was sweating profusely and his breath came in short bursts that turned to a fine mist in the cold night air. Arya groaned faintly when Brienne wrapped her up in her own cloak. The little girl weighed next to nothing and her face was twisted in pain.

Lady Sansa, who was barely able to stand upright, was leaning against a tree trying to catch her breath. Her eyes focused on Brienne as if she only now noticed that there was someone in the clearing besides herself, her sister and Pod. Confusion was written all over her pale face. She was bruised and bloodied and she looked dazed, as if she couldn’t quite understand what was happening around her.

Clegane moved out from the shadow of a tree and the moonlight fell on his marred face. A twig snapped under his boot and the noice made Lady Sansa turn her head towards him and the source of the sound. Her eyes fell on Clegane, instantly growing wide with shock. She was swaying slightly on the spot as she slowly shook her head.

“No, no. It can’t.. No...”, she whispered. The words had barely left her lips as her eyes fluttered close and then she was falling, collapsing on the snowy ground with a small thud.

Clegane looked as if someone had stuck him with a mallet. He wasn’t moving an inch.

Podrick had mounted his horse, bringing Arya’s palfrey in tow and Brienne herself moved towards her own horse. They had now time to waste. She gently placed Arya in the saddle and then joined her, cradling the girl to her chest while putting pressure against her stomach to control the bleeding.

“Grab her Clegane! We have to move! NOW!” Brienne screamed at the man, who thankfully listened.

He hurried over to where Lady Sansa had dropped and scooped her up with ease before mounting Stranger. His face was unreadable as he nodded to Brienne, signaling that he was ready to go.

The air was filled with the smell of smoke as they left the clearing behind and rode into the night. Brienne turned her head towards the boy. He was wiping away tears and she pretended not to notice. In her arms Arya stirred a little and Brienne urged her horse to move faster, sending it into a gallop. They had to find shelter and they had to find it fast, she thought. Before it was too late.

Chapter Text

The world was moving, but Sansa herself was lying still. She was surrounded by darkness, cocooned in rough, scratching fabric and nestled against something cold. Something made of metal. Her head was spinning and her body ached and as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes, she tried to figure out where she had woken up.

The last thing she could remember was that she had been running. Faster and further than she ever had before. The skirts of her white dress had made it hard to move forward and the corset she was wearing constricted her breathing. Her lungs were threatening to burst with the effort and she had stopped to catch her breath. Sansa had been scared, but she had also felt free. For the first time in years she was running instead of waiting. Instead of hiding.

And then she had seen him. The Hound. Emerging from the shadows in his soot-grey armor, just as he had been in her dream. Sansa had felt her knees give way. She wasn’t free. She was still in Winterfell. Still a prisoner at Ramsay’s mercy. After that it all went dark.

Sansa looked up and saw the face of Sandor Clegane. For a moment she was still convinced it was all a dream. A very vivid one, but a dream nonetheless. Why else would he be here, Sansa thought as she tried to take in more of her surroundings. They were riding in a forest. The cold night air nipped at her face and her mouth felt dry. A faint scent of smoke lingered around her and she wondered if something close to them was burning. With a sinking feeling she realized that the smell came from her dress. From her hair. She had been surrounded by flames. With that the memories came flooding back, crushing her with the weight of it all. The wedding in the Godswood. Her wedding. Ramsay’s cruel words. Theon lying on the floor, crying and bleeding. And Arya. Her little sister. Her little sisters face, writhing in pain. The fear Sansa had been feeling earlier that night came back with a renewed force. It was scratching at her insides, like a feral animal, trying to claw its way to the surface. Panic gripped her, as she struggled to sit up.

“Don’t fret girl, I mean you no harm.”, the Hound rasped, his voice low and far more gentle than she had ever heard it before.

“Arya..?”. , she began.

“Alive.”, he answered, clearing his throat. “Not in good shape, though.”

Sansa let out a breath that came out sounding more like a sob than an exhale.

“She’s a fighter, the little one.”, the Hound added. “And to stubborn to die on us like this.” There was the faintest tremor when he spoke. So faint that Sansa was sure she had imagined it.

“Where is she?”, Sansa asked. All she could see from where she was sitting was the black silhouettes of the trees that surrounded them.

“They’re close. She rides with Lady Brienne.”, he said. He sounded as tired as Sansa herself felt.

She was wrapped up in the Hound’s cloak, resting against him as they rode through the forest. For a little while Sansa allowed herself to just breathe. Her mind had been racing, trying to catch up with reality. Now she only felt numb. There were too many questions needing answers, but only one that truly mattered at the moment. Would Arya make it?

They had been riding in silence for a while when Podrick’s face suddenly appeared in Sansa’s line of vision. He gave her a quick smile that didn’t reached his eyes. His face was set in a worried frown and his nose was swollen. Blood had dried in streaks on his upper lip and chin.

“There is an old cottage up ahead.” Podrick said. “From the looks of it, it’s abandoned.”

The Hound nodded in reply and steered his horse off the beaten path after Podrick.

 

The reached a clearing in the forest. Dawn was breaking, coloring the horizon and the snow covered ground a pale pink. Some stars were still strewn across the vast sky above them. In the early morning light, she could see and old, wooden structure in the middle of the clearing. A hunting lodge, most likely.

The Hound dismounted with ease and reached for Sansa, to help her from the saddle. He avoided her eyes as he lifted her and gently set her down. Her legs were stiff from riding and when her feet touched the ground she almost stumbled. Without looking, she knew that her knees were bruised and scraped from when she had been knocked to the floor by Ramsay.

Lady Brienne was waiting for them at the entrance of the cottage as Podrick hurried passed her, carrying saddlebags from the horses. Arya lay deathly still in the large woman’s arms. Sansa could feel tears stinging in the corner of her eyes, but she quickly wiped them away.

The old cottage was damp and dark and comprised of a single room. The ceiling was low and she could hear the Hound mutter some curses as he thumped his head on a wooden beam upon entering it.

Podrick had hastily covered a straw pallet in the corner of the room with a couple of blankets and Lady Brienne gingerly placed Arya on the makeshift bed.

Pod was kneeling by a simple hearth that was located in the center of the room, beneath a chimney made up of a hole in the roof. He was working some dry kindling he had produced from one of the bags and soon the cottage was illuminated by the soft glow from the flames.

In the light of the fire, Sansa saw Arya more clearly. She looked so small in sleep. So fragile. Sansa couldn’t remember ever seeing her sister this way. Even when they had been children, nothing seemed to dampen her sisters spirit. Skinned knees or bumps and bruises, nothing had kept Arya from seeking out further trouble. But this was not one of the small injuries she had sustained in childhood, Sansa reminded herself. This was a real injury. With real consequences.

Lady Brienne gently lifted the fabric of Arya’s tunic, revealing her stomach. The skin was sticky with blood and she wiped away some of it with a cloth Pod handed to her. Sansa felt light headed as the wound became visible. A gash with jagged edges ran a few inches across her sisters stomach.

“We need to tend to the wound.”, Lady Brienne said, wiping her brow. “Do we still have some wine, Clegane.”

“Aye, some.”, he rasped in response. “We ought to sew her up. No need to stick hot pokers in the girl.” There was an edge to his voice now. He was leaning against the wall, neck bent to keep from hitting his head on the ceiling. He glared at the large woman.

“I agree.”, Lady Brienne said and shot him a look.

Podrick had already placed a small cauldron on the fire and had unraveled a parcel containing needle and thread. The Hound tossed him a wineskin he had kept in his own saddlebag and Pod caught it and emptied it in the cauldron.

“I can do it.” Sansa heard herself say. She was as surprised by the statement as the rest of the group seemed to be, by the looks on their faces.

“My Lady, I can do it. Maybe it would be better?”, Lady Brienne said, sounding worried, which only made Sansa more determined.

“I know how to sew. And I would wager I am as skilled with a needle as you are with a sword.” Sansa said with as much confident as she could muster.

The Hound barked out a hollow laugh.

“Stitching up skin is a different matter to the silks you’re used to, girl.”, he said, not entirely unkind.

“Podrick, would you hand me the needle, please.” Sansa said, ignoring him as she held her head high.

“Are you sure that is wise my lady” Lady Brienne asked her.

“I think Lady Sansa is more than capable.” Podrick mumbled, as he handed Sansa needle and thread. He gave her an encouraging nod and a faint smile. His nose was was slightly crooked from where Ramsay’s boot had made contact with it and from the way he spoke she could tell he wasn’t able to breathe through it.

She knelt next to Arya. The light from the fire was not ideal for the task at hand, but she could make do if she squinted her eyes a little. Lady Brienne stayed by her side, ready to take over if Sansa wasn’t able to go through with it.

She took a steadying breath and began her work. When the needle pierced the skin, she immediately regretted her decision. It was different from the stitches she was used to, of course it was. The sound was the worst and it kept reminding her that she wasn’t simply working on the hem of a dress or the embroidery on a kerchief, but on the closing of a wound. A wound caused by her husband to her little sister. So Sansa began to hum. It helped a little and she kept working. Be brave, she thought. Be brave like Arya.

Chapter Text

It was late afternoon and the clearing was filled with the last rays of the sun. Sandor shielded his eyes as he gazed towards the tree line and the way from whence they came. He could see nothing or no one that threatened to disturb the peace and he returned his attention to Stranger. The other horses had already been fed and watered and were now resting. The big beast shifted his weight and the snow crunched beneath his hooves, as Sandor slowly scratched him between the ears. Stranger gave a loud snort in appreciation. He stood tethered away from the other a animals since he couldn’t be trusted not to nip or kick anyone that ventured too close to him. Stranger had a mean streak, but he had always seemed to accept Sandor’s presence.

“Silly beast.” he rasped and gave the horse a final pat, before he went in search of firewood. What little had been left in the cabin by its previous owner was either damp or rotten and utterly useless to fuel the flames.

 

He yawned and straightened his back. It had been mid morning when they finally turned in. The duty of the first watch had fallen on the big woman and Sandor had unraveled his bedroll in a corner of the cabin. He had chosen his sleeping spot on the other end from where the Little Bird slept. She rested on the floor by the cot her sister occupied. The little wolf had not awoken, but her breathing had been steady and the bleeding had stopped.

Sandor had been bone tired and dropped to the floor as soon the opportunity was given. Sleep would not find him, though. As soon as he would close his eyes, memories from the previous evening danced across his vision.

His stomach lurched as he remembered seeing the boy running towards him. It had been too dark at first, but as he got closer Sandor had noticed that the squire was carrying something in his arms. A tiny bundle. The little wolf was cradled to the boys chest. The fear that had gripped him in that moment was something Sandor hadn’t been prepared for. He was a battle hardened warrior. He had seen death and dying. Caused much of it himself. He had seen suffering in all its forms, but seeing the little girls pained face caught him completely of guard. The little wolf wasn’t supposed to be hurting like that.

He had quickly given up any hope of getting some sleep. Sandor had gotten up and relieved the big woman of her duties. She wasn’t stupid enough to question him when he offered to stand watch in her stead, but she gave him a puzzled look before she turned in.

 

Sandor kept an eye on the cabin, as he searched the forest floor for twigs and branches for the fire. He strongly doubted that they would be expecting company anytime soon, though. Not with the way the little wolf and the boy had left Winterfell. He had gotten a hasty summary of the evenings events from the boy when they rode through the forest. The lad had been weary and Sandor suspected that he had left a few things out to spare the others the gory details of how the little wolf sustained her wounds. What little he had said, had been enough. Sandor could feel his blood rising, just thinking about what the squire told him. He huffed out a breath that left his mouth in a cloud of white mist. As much as he hated that fucking bastard lord, he hated himself more for putting the little one in harms way.

 

The sun was sinking closer to the horizon when Sandor returned to the cabin. He stooped low, and went inside, where he gently put the firewood down next to the hearth, as to not wake the others. It was dark in the small room and his eyes had to adjust to the faint glow of the embers before he could see anything. When he did, the first thing he noticed was that the bedroll next to the cot was empty. The Little Bird was gone.

Sandor stumbled from the cabin, thumping his head hard on the doorway in the process. Sputtering some curses and rubbing his forehead, he scanned the clearing in search for the Little Bird. Panic surged through him, pulsing in his veins like liquid fire. His heart was beating so hard that he was sure it would hammer its way through both ribs and armor. Where was she? His eyes fell on a narrow line of footprints in the snow. His heart sank as he saw that they led back in the direction of the road. Was she trying to run away, he thought as he followed the tracks. Would she really leave her sister like this?

The dying light made finding her easy. Amongst the white of the snowy ground and the murky brown of the tree trunks, her red hair stood out like a beacon. The Little Bird was standing a stones throw from the dirt road that split the forest in two.

The moment he laid eyes on her the fear he’d felt turned to anger. There were plenty of dangers in the forest, even without the looming threat of the Bolton’s coming to claim their revenge.

“Do you have a death wish, girl?” he roared at her, as he got closer to her.

The Little Bird didn’t even flinch. She turned towards him, slowly, and the look on her face stopped Sandor dead in his tracks. It was the same as the one she had worn when she first laid eyes in him back in the forest of Winterfell. She looked so frightened that Sandor almost backed away from her.

“What if he survived?”, the Little Bird whispered. She looked him straight in the eye, unwavering.

“What are you doing out here by yourself?”, he said, trying to soften his voice somewhat.

“He has dogs. He uses them to hunt.” She swallowed hard. There was something she wasn’t telling him. “What if they come after us?”

“I would reckon they have bigger problems to tend to at the moment.” Sandor rasped. “As for the bastard, I heard he flew out a window. Won’t be doing no hunting if he did.”

“He could have survived.”, she whispered, glancing over her shoulder towards the empty road.

“Aye, he could have.” Sandor didn’t want to frighten her further, but he would not lie to the Little Bird either. The girl had been told enough lies to last her a lifetime and he would do her no favors by further filling her head with empty words.

The Little Bird was quiet for a while. The worry that was written all over her face slowly gave way to something else. She frowned slightly and he could see that she was trembling. It took Sandor a moment to understand that it was from anger rather than fear.

“I won’t let him take me. Or Arya. I won’t.”, she said with resolve. The Little Bird clenched her fists as she spoke.

“I won’t let him take you either.”, he said, gravely. “Neither of you.”

“You wouldn’t, would you?” She said slowly. It sounded more like a statement than a question.

The Little Bird looked up at him. She searched his face, as if trying discern any signs of a lie. It felt like she was delving into the depths of his very soul and he suddenly felt vulnerable. She had never looked at him with that much confident before. In King’s Landing she had chirped and curtsied, ever polite but always avoiding his gaze. Until the last night he spent at the Red Keep, that was. That night he had forced her to look him in the eye. Now she did so willingly. It unnerved him and he turned away from her, clearing his throat before he spoke.

“We better get back. I won’t have you catch a chill, not when we came so far to save you.”, he rasped.

The Little Bird nodded. She seemed to be deep in thought. They walked together through the forest in silence. When they returned to the clearing the boy was waiting for them. He was smiling from ear to ear.

“She’s awake, Arya is awake.”, he called to them before he hurried back inside the cabin.

Chapter Text

She woke to the sounds of snoring. At first Arya wasn’t sure where she was. The air around her smelled like the crypts of Winterfell. It had a thick sort of quality to it, that she could almost taste. Like years of dust and mildew that had collected in it somehow had made it come alive. Did that mean she was dead, Arya thought. Had she died in the room with Ramsay and been put to rest beside her father in the dark tunnels beneath her childhood home? She tried to move, but her body protested. No, that couldn’t be it. If she was dead there would be no pain. That was reserved for the living. Arya wondered if that meant that she was more alive in this moment than she had ever been before.

Everything hurt. Her arms. Her legs. Even the simple act of trying to open her eyes stung, as her lashes were stuck to the skin from sleep. She forced them open and found herself staring up at a couple of wood beams in the ceiling of a dimly lit room.

Her stomach hurt most of all. It felt as though someone had repeatedly punched her in her belly. That was at least partly true, Arya thought as she tried to sit up. She immediately fell back down in her cot. She had been punched. The difference being that the man that had done the punching had done so whilst holding a knife. Arya groaned in pain and the room fell silent. The snoring had stopped.

“Arya?”, she heard a familiar voice ask from somewhere on the other side of the room. Podrick was on his feet in no time and hurried over to where she lay, unable to move.

The commotion made by Pod managed to wake Brienne, who sat up and looked around the room to see what was going on. The big woman reached for her sword but then her eyes fell on Arya and she visibly relaxed

 

Podrick knelt by Arya’s bedside. His nose was black and blue and she understood why he might be snoring more than usual. It looked painful and the skin on the tip of his nose had been rubbed clean of.

“How are you feeling?”, he asked, with a worried smile. He looked very relieved to see her awake. “Do you need me to get you anything?”.

Brienne had joined him by her bedside and was surveying Arya with a concerned frown on her face.

“Water.” she croaked. They looked taken aback by the sound of her voice and she tried to clear her throat. It made her sound like a sickly toad, she thought and couldn’t help but smile a little. That seemed to calm the other two somewhat.

Pod nodded and went to fetch a waterskin for her.

“You had us really worried there for a while.”, Brienne said as she sat down down next to her.

Arya gave her an apologetic shrug, as the big woman helped her into a sitting position. Arya was panting from the pain and had broken a sweat by the time she had been propped up against some rolled up blankets. She was grateful for the water. Nothing had ever tasted so sweet and she gulped down most of content of the waterskin.

“Where is Sansa?” she asked as soon as she was finished. Her voice was almost back to normal. The small room she was in was empty except for her and the two others.

“I’ll go look.”, Podrick offered and disappeared through the door.

“I better check the stitches. Your sister did a good job with them.”, Brienne said, as she started to roll up her tunic. “We had some ointment left from when...”

She was interrupted by the sound of a strangled sob and Arya looked up to see her sister standing in the doorway. She was covering her mouth with her hand, as tears streamed down her cheeks. Her face was bruised a nasty shade of purple on one side and she had a few scrapes on the other cheek. She was still wearing her wedding dress and it looked filthy even by Arya’s standards.

 

Arya felt slightly embarrassed where she lay, unable to move without help and with everybody staring at her with worry in their eyes. Sansa hurried over to her and fell to her knees by the cot. She reached out as if to hug Arya, but stopped herself, her arms slumping down at her sides. She seemed to be afraid to touch Arya. As if it would somehow hurt her further.

“I thought I’d lost you.” she whispered, tears spilling from her blue eyes.

Arya gave her sister an awkward pat on the shoulder, searching for something to say that would make her stop crying.

Thankfully, Sandor choose that moment to make an appearance. His head poked through the door of the cabin, and then the rest of the large man followed. He looked even taller than usual, standing in the small room, hunched over to avoid bumping his head on the ceiling. Sandor seemed lost for words, which greatly irritated Arya, since he was the only one she had relied upon to not make the situation any more awkward. She hated when people fussed over her. It made her feel like a child and she hadn’t been one of those for a good long while now.

“I lost your knife.” she said and peered up at him.

He stared back at her for a moment and then he shook his head slightly and sighed.

“Guess you owe me a new one, then.”, he said with a smirk.

Arya snorted a laugh but it died in her throat. Laughing hurt something fierce and felt like she was being stabbed all over again. She made an involuntary whimper. The others had tact enough to pretend not to notice. Everybody but her sister that was. Sansa’s lip trembled as she looked at her sister and Arya almost got annoyed with her.

Brienne seemed to notice and started to unravel the bandages, as she spoke.

“We still have some of the tea from when Clegane was injured, could you make some, Pod?” She said.

Sansa turned to Brienne, a confused look on her face, as she wiped away some tears.

“Do it outside, for fuck sakes, or else we will all be sleeping in a place that smells like a rotting pile of pig shit.”, Sandor rasped over his shoulder in Pod’s direction.

Arya managed a small giggle and turned to face her.

“I wouldn’t be laughing if I were you.” Sandor said, his mouth contorted in a grin that made his face look even more crooked than usual. “You’re the one that’s about to drink that foul smelling thing.” He chuckled as he followed Pod outside to help with the fire.

Brienne had unwrapped most of the bandages and was down to the final layer. Dried blood had glued the fabric to Arya’s skin and it stung when Brienne peeled them off. She winced slightly and looked down at her stomach. Arya had first thought she had misheard the big woman when she said that Sansa was the one that had sewn her up. It went against everything she thought she knew about her sister. But there was no mistaking her sisters work. Neat little rows of stitches ran across her lower belly. Arya had owned clothes with worse stitching than the ones that now held together her skin.

“Septa Mordane would have been proud of your needlework.” Arya said and grinned as she looked up at her sister. Sansa didn’t find it funny in the least and started bawling again.

“It’s not funny Arya, you could have been killed.”, Sansa said and frowned down at Arya, as she wiped some of the tears away with the back of her hand.

Sansa looked so much like their mother had, whenever she used to scold them when they were little. The likeness was uncanny and Arya didn’t feel like laughing anymore. She suddenly felt very tired.

“But I didn’t, Sansa. I’m fine.” she said and smiled at her sister. “Everything will be fine.”

 

* * *

 

She had fallen asleep shortly after Brienne had forced her to drink the vile tea. It was night when she awoke again. The little cottage was quiet, so she guessed that meant that Podrick was standing guard outside. All she could hear was the slow breathing of the others as they slept and the occasional crackle of the fire.

In the quiet of the night she allowed herself to feel. The anger she had felt back at Winterfell washed over her and with it came the fear. The helplessness. The memory of a pain she wished she would never feel again.

When she closed her eyes she could see Ramsay staring down at her. A leering grin on his face as he twisted the knife. What it felt like to have cold steel digging around her insides. She hadn’t been able to move. She had been at his mercy. She had felt weak. Unable to move. Unable to fight back. It reminded her of the day her father had been killed at the steps of Baelor’s Sept. How she had been so close to him but powerless to save him. How she had never truly felt as insignificant as she had done in that moment.

Arya opened her eyes and stared up at the darkness above her. Tears stung in the corner of her eyes and she wiped them away furiously.

She must have made some sort of noice, because she could hear her sister stirring on the floor next to her. Sansa was quite but Arya knew she was awake. She could feel her sisters hand searching for Arya’s in the dark. She took it and felt Sansa’s warm fingers grasp her own and Arya held her sisters hand as she drifted into a dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

Her dress was beginning to smell. Sansa wrinkled her nose as she looked down at it. The hem was the color of muck and only a few patches of fabric were still the original bone white. Worst was the blood. Her own as well as Arya’s. And Theon’s. It was caked on thick in places and smeared in others. She shuddered as she thought of how it got there.

With all that had been going on she hadn’t spared the state of her dress single thought until now.
It wasn’t as if she was the only one that had developed somewhat of an odor. They all smelled, since none of them wanted to brave the freezing waters of the stream that ran through the forest close to the clearing.

Arya had woken up the day before yesterday. The mood in the camp had shifted after that and they all seemed very relieved to see her awake. Sansa could still sense a restlessness in the two warriors, though. Her sister still had trouble moving around and they had all agreed that it would be better to wait a while before they started moving again. All except Arya, who was adamant that she would be able to ride. The Hound had said that they would leave within the hour as soon as Arya could walk the length of the cabin without doubling over with pain. Arya had strained herself until she was slick with sweat trying to get up from the cot and the Hound had finally roared at her to stop. She had ripped some of her stitches and she had sheepishly agreed to stay in bed for a while.

Sansa stared at at a particularly nasty stain on the dress and wondered who the blood had belonged to. No. This wouldn’t do, Sansa thought. She couldn’t borrow clothes from Arya. Sansa was more than a head taller than her sister. She wasn’t even sure her sister owned anything other than the clothes on her back and a spare. The same was probably true for Podrick, who was closer to Sansa lengthwise. She couldn’t imagine ever asking him, though. He would probably burst into flames from sheer embarrassment. In King’s Landing, when he had squired for Lord Tyrion, he would often turn crimson whenever she addressed him and sometimes it would be enough for Sansa to enter a room for him to get flustered.

Lady Brienne was sitting outside the cabin, soaking up the morning sun as she polished a piece of armor with a well worn rag. Sansa cleared her throat and spoke.

“Do you have any clothes that I might borrow?” Sansa asked.

Lady Brienne turned a bright shade of red.

“Of course, my Lady, I should have realized.” She said, as she got up and headed inside the cabin.

Sansa followed her and peeked over Lady Brienne’s shoulder as she rummaged through one of the saddlebags. They both kept quiet since Arya was still asleep. She produced a pair of brown breeches and a pale blue tunic, that she handed to Sansa.

“They’re going to be too large, my Lady.”, Brienne said with a hushed tone and turned back to the bag. She found a small leather belt that she gave to Sansa and helped her to unbutton the dress, before she left the cabin.

Sansa let the dress fall to the floor. She felt lighter than she had in a long time and she kicked the wedding dress away from herself, for good measure.

The tunic Lady Brienne had lent her was much too large for for her, but not compared to the breeches. They hung of her and if it wasn’t for the belt she wouldn’t have been able to walk in them without dropping them. She searched the bags and found some string that she used to tie up the sleeves with, so she could make use of her hands without getting tangled in the fabric.
She had never worn breeches before and the sensation wasn’t all that unpleasant.

A loud cackling laugh came from the cot and Sansa turned around in time for the laughter to turn into a coughing fit.

“You look really pretty, Sansa.” Arya said, with a snort. She was grinning from ear to ear.

“Shut up.” Sansa said. She couldn’t help a smile of her own, knowing full well that she must look ridiculous in clothes that were far too big for her. Sansa went to fetch cheese and a piece of stale bread that was left over from when they had broken their fast that morning.

Silence fell as Arya began to dig into the cheese. This was the first time they had been alone together since their reunion and Sansa didn’t know what to say. There were so many unanswered questions she had about the time they had been apart.

“How did you escape King’s Landing?” Sansa heard herself ask.

Arya stilled, but didn’t look up. She was quiet for a while, as she fidgeted with a piece of cheese. She rolled it between her fingers, but didn’t eat it.

“A man named Yoren from the Night’s Watch helped me. I traveled north with him and some others for a while.” Arya said with a shrug.

Sansa didn’t want to press further so she waited for her sister to continue.

“I traveled with the Brotherhood Without Banners too. Me and Gendry.” Arya said without elaborating. “That’s when I met Sandor.”

Sansa raised her eyebrow. She had never heard her sister call the Hound by his given name before.

“How did you end up traveling with him?” Sansa asked.

“He sort of stole me from the Brotherhood. They were going to sell me. He was too, but that didn’t work out.” Arya said and reached for the waterskin Pod had left by her bed.

Sansa had often thought about her sister since that awful day at the steps of Baelor’s Sept. On bad days, she had imagined Arya in ways that rivaled the horrors she saw in her nightmares. There had been no good days. How could a child her sisters age ever survive alone in a world so full of cruelty and deceit.

The thought of her wild little sister roaming the wilderness in the company of one of Westeros most fearsome warriors, was something she never could have imagined, trapped in her room at the Red Keep. The thought brought her comfort and she couldn’t help but smile.

Arya looked up at Sansa, her face suddenly somber.

“Is it true that he saved you from a mob?”. Arya’s eyes were wide and she was no longer playing with her food.

Sansa felt as though her sister had emptied a bucket full of ice water over her head, as the memories came flooding back. She could feel the panic rising in her chest, just as it had done that day, when she pinned to the ground by someone much stronger. What it had felt like to be groped and pawed at by men who wanted her dead. Sansa remembered the relief she had felt when the man had been pulled of her by hands wearing grey gauntlets.

She felt herself nod. Arya was silent for a moment, as if searching for words that would suffice.

“I’m sorry that happened to you, Sansa.”, Arya whispered.

“It’s in the past.”. Sansa busied herself by reaching for one of the saddlebags. “I think I saw some dried fruit in here before, would you like some?”

“Sure.” Arya said with a small smile.

 

* * *

 

Her fingers were cold to the point of becoming numb and she almost dropped the old pail. She had found it in the cabin where it was gathering dust and had decided to use it to bring some water up to the cabin. Sansa had filled it to the brim and the water sloshed around in the bucket as she walked, spilling half of it on the ground.

Arya had fallen asleep again and Sansa had decided that she would pass the time by mending her sisters jerkin, something Arya would probably have refused if she were awake. It had been crumpled up on the floor and the fabric was so filthy that Sansa wouldn’t have been surprised if it had suddenly sprouted legs of its own and crawled out of the cabin. The jerkin would have to be washed before she started work mending it.

Sansa struggled with the bucket when strong fingers grasped the handle and took it from her with ease. Startled, she jumped and almost tripped over a branch. She looked up and saw the scarred face of the Hound, staring back at her. One eyebrow raised, he gave Sansa a crooked smile. He was carrying two dead rabbits from the traps he and Podrick had set the other night.

“Easy now, I only meant to help.”, he rasped, with an amused look on his face.

One of the sleeves had come loose from its bindings and Sansa wiped her brow with it.

“I think I overdid it.” she said, a bit embarrassed, as she looked behind her at the trail of water she had left in the snow.

“Aye, it seems like it.”, he said and followed her gaze. Ice were already forming where the water had spilled.

They started back towards the clearing. She peered up at him. He looked different from the man she had known in King’s Landing. Some of the anger he had been carrying had seemed to dissipate. He still scowled most of the time, but he also smiled. She had never seen him smile during her time in the capitol.

Sansa swallowed. She remembered his response when she had thanked him for saving her from the mob during the Bread Riots. He had been cruel then, when she had only tried to show her gratitude. She steeled herself.

“Thank you for looking after my sister.” Sansa’s voice was even when she spoke and as she looked up at the Hound, she could see surprise reflect in his eyes instead of anger.

He was quiet for a moment. They were nearing the tree line.

“I should have done the same for you.”, he said, without looking at her. He was scowling again.

“But you did.”, Sansa said, confused.

Before either of them could speak again, the silence was interrupted by the whinnying of horses and the clanking of metal. Through a gap in the trees she could see armored men entering the clearing on horseback. Her knees threatened to give way when she saw what was painted on their shields. The flayed man of House Bolton.

The Hound took her by the shoulder and shook her slightly. She looked up at him, as she could feel terror tightening its grip on her.

“Get in the cabin and stay there, do you understand me?”, he rasped.

Sansa nodded and the Hound reached for his sword.

“Run.”, he roared, over his shoulder as he rushed to join Lady Brienne and Podrick against the Bolton’s.

Chapter Text

Dressed in clothes too big for her, wearing breeches instead of skirts and with her hair loosely braided, she had never been more beautiful to him than she was in that moment. She was carrying a bucket, filled to the brim with water, and she looked intent on completing her task without spilling its content. He had never seen the Little Bird like this before. Free from all the constraints of King’s Landing. Free from the ever present threat of beatings and from the company of wicked tongues speaking wicked words. Free from her gilded cage.

She lost her balance and wobbled slightly, almost dropping the pail. Sandor walked up next to her and grabbed the handle from her. The Little Bird must not have heard him coming, focused as she was on what she was carrying, because she flinched and almost tripped when she realized she was not alone in the forest.

“Easy now, I only meant to help”., Sandor told he.

The Little Bird looked up at him, cheeks red from the cold and from the exertion. Strands of hair stuck to her forehead and she wiped her brow with her sleeve as she smiled.

“I think I overdid it.”, she said, and if it wasn’t for the chill in the air, he might have thought she was blushing a bit.

“Aye, It seems like it.”, Sandor agreed, trying to refrain from outright laughing at the Little Bird. He didn’t want to ruffle her feathers more than need be, not when she looked as carefree as she did now, walking beside him in the snow covered forest.

 

“Thank you for looking after my sister.”, the Little Bird said, when they had walked in silence for a while.

The words she had spoken almost stopped Sandor dead in his tracks. A mailed fist to the gut would have come as less of a surprise, he thought, and it would probably have been more pleasant. Where was this coming from? Why did she feel the need to thank him? He didn’t deserve her gratitude, not when he had failed her so miserably, time and time again. He had left her in King’s Landing to face the ridicule and the beatings alone. He had left her with the Lannisters, to be married of to the Imp, a man known for his whoring ways and his deviant appetites. Caring for the little wolf had been one decent act against a lifetime of bad ones.

“I should have done the same for you.”, Sandor said, unable to look her in the eye as he spoke.

“But you did.”, she said and she sounded confused.

He looked at her, then. If it wasn’t for the sincerity in her eyes and the questioning way she looked at him, Sandor would have thought that the Little Bird was mocking him.

Before he could ask what in the seven hells she was talking about, the silence in the forest was broken by sounds coming from the clearing. The sounds of hooves tearing up the ground and of steel being drawn.

He unsheathed his own sword and looked over at the Little Bird. She stood frozen in fear, mouth agape and her eyes wide. She looked ready to sink to the ground, but there was no time for that now. He took a firm grip on her slender shoulders and shook her slightly, forcing her to look him in the eye.

“Get in the cabin and stay there, do you understand me?”, he rasped and she slowly nodded. Some of the fear in her seemed to give way to determination

“Run.”, Sandor roared, as he ran through the tree line and out into the clearing. Horses carrying men with Bolton sigil emblazoned on their chests were gathering on an open patch of ground. Facing them, with swords drawn, were big woman and the boy, who had both been quick to action. They had placed themselves between the cabin and the Bolton men, and Sandor joined them. In the corner of his eye he could see a red head of hair disappear into the open door of the cabin and he breathed a sigh of relief. Not only for her sake, but for the little wolf, who would surely try to do something stupid, like hobbling to join the fight, if her sisters wasn’t there to restrain her.e

“Nice of you to join us. Took you long enough,” the big woman said. There was a slight edge to her voice and Sandor could tell that she was relieved to see him.

There were about a dozen men in all. The man who Sandor surmised was their leader, had dismounted and was walking towards them. He was bald and and almost as tall as Sandor, with a weak chin and teeth stained brown. When his eyes fell on Sandor, the man looked surprised for a moment and then his face split in a wide grin, revealing the fact that he lacked several of his molars. He wouldn’t have any left when he was done with the man, Sandor thought, and gripped his sword tighter.

 

“Well, well, look what we got here.” The bald man spat, coloring the snow a filthy yellow where it landed. “The Hound has come out of hiding. Your pelt will fetch a nice price from the Lannisters I reckon.”

“Come here and get it then.”, Sandor rasped, and the bald mans face fell. He was all talk and they both knew it. Sandor raised his sword, readying for a fight, but the man was not done talking.

“Hand over the Stark girls and I will award the rest of you a quick death.”, the man said with a sneer that twisted his already ugly face into an even uglier one.

Some of his men snickered at this and Sandor made a low growling sound deep in his throat, silencing the lot of them. One of them, a greenboy with beady little eyes, looked as though he was about to shit himself, but the rest of the Bolton men seemed to be made of somewhat sterner stuff.

“Won’t do the same for you, you bald cunt.”, he rasped as he stared down the man. At least the fucker had the decency to look scared, if only for a moment.

“Lord Ramsay wouldn’t be pleased if he let us have all the fun. He’s awfully bored now, with his leg on the mend. Says he’s looking forward to be reunited with his wife and his good-sister. But you would make a fine plaything, what with you being a warrior and all. You won’t break as easily as the little girlies, won’t you.” , the bald man said, with a smile that made Sandor’s skin crawl.

The bastard was still alive. Sandor could feel his stomach churn and his blood rising. There was no option other than sending these men to meet the Stanger, preferably in many, small pieces. Sandor would never allow them to get their filthy hands on the girls. Fear and anger sung in his veins. He kept his face passive, something he had had a lifetimes worth of practice doing, serving the Lannisters. He wouldn’t give the bald fucker the satisfaction of knowing that his little speech had rattled Sandor to his very core.

“No wonder he’s bored if he’s surrounded by talkers the likes of you.” Sandor rasped.

“Your doing a fair bit of talking yourself, Clegane. Why don’t we get on with it.” The big woman said, her eyes trained on the man in front of her.

“Aye, lets.”, he said, and charged at the closest of the Bolton men. With one swift move, he sliced through the air and sent one of them to the ground with a long gash running across his chest.

Sandor parried a blow from a sword and sent the owner of it flying with a kick to the mans stomach. Pain throbbed through his own arm, which wasn’t yet back to its original strength, and he gritted his teath in an effort to bear it. The man lay on his back, wheezing and panting when Sandor drove his blade into the mans throat, causing his final breath to leave him as a wet, gurgling noice.

The clearing had come alive with the sounds of metal singing against metal and the stench of blood already hung thick in the air. Adrenaline surged through Sandor, making the pain in his arm dull slightly.

A scrawny man charged against Sandor, but seemed to think better of it and turned on his heel and started running in the opposite direction. Sandor cut him down with one stroke of his sword and the man fell to the ground, painting the snow red where he lay sprawled.

Sandor turned his head and saw that the big woman was fighting two men at once. She wielded her Valyrian steel with expert precision as she parried one blow and slashed at her other attacker as the first one stumbled. She gave a mighty roar as she brought her sword down on one of the men, cutting through his armor, and nearly severing his arm. The other man fared no better, as her sword pierced his leather jerkin before finding his heart. As he sagged to the ground, the big woman had already turned in search of further prey.

The snow did nothing to muffle the sounds of men dying all around him. Shrieks of pain and the groans of the half dead spurred him on as Sandor found himself face to face with the leader of the Bolton men. White mist came in bursts from the bald mans nose and mouth. He hacked with his sword against Sandor’s. The man was strong but uncoordinated and when Sandor met his blow, he lost his balance and dropped his sword.

Without a blade in his hand the man restored to charging at Sandor, and hit him square in the chest, knocking the wind out of him. The bald fucker was too close to Sandor, affording him no room to use his sword as he rained punches across Sandor’s face. He landed a blow to Sandor’s gut, causing him to double over with the pain. The man scrambled for his sword and as his hand gripped the pommel, Sandor saw his opportunity. His sword cut through the air and glint of sunshine caught in the sleek steel surface a it severed the bald cunts head from his shoulder. It bounced and then rolled a few feet, coming to rest face down in the blood stained snow

Sandor turned around. The boy who had up until that point been able to keep his own, was now sprawled on his back, felled by the largest of the Bolton men. He parried blow after blow as the large man hacked at him relentlessly. Before Sandor could come to the boys aid, the Bolton man stilled in shock. He groaned and looked down at his stomach, through which a blade protruded.
With a kick to mans back, the big woman removed her sword and the man sank to the ground with a whimper.

Sandor reached down and pulled the boy to his feet. He was panting, and his already swollen nose was bleeding profusely.

“You’re getting better.”, Sandor said and gave the boy a pat on the back which caused him to stumble.

The ground of the clearing was full of the dead and the dying. One of the men was dragging himself towards the horses when the big woman put her sword through his heart.

“Pod, we have to make sure there are no survivors. Can’t risk word getting back to the Bolton’s. They must have sent out more search parties then just this one. Clegane, tell the girls we’re leaving.”

Sandor nodded and turned towards the cabin. The door was closed and he felt it best to announce himself, lest he wanted to be skewered by the little wolfs needle if he simply barged in.

“It’s me, the fights over.”, he said to the door.

It immediately swung open and the Little Bird stared up at him. Her eyes were wide with fear and he realized too late that he must look a fright, his face and armor covered in the blood.

“Are you hurt.” she whispered, reaching out a hand towards his face. He caught it before she could touch him, and squeezed it briefly before letting it go. He didn’t want her hands dirty with the blood of those men.

“No, it’s not mine. Well, most of it’s not, anyways.”, he said and grabbed a piece of cloth from within his vambrace, and wiped away some of the blood from his face.

A look of relief flooded the Little Birds face. She looked close to tears which made Sandor feel slightly uncomfortable. Before she could respond, he spoke again.

“We can’t stay here anymore.”, he rasped.

She nodded and went into the cabin to start gathering what little things they had brought with them.

Chapter Text

Arya lay pressed against Briennes chest as they rode across a snow covered field. It was a cloudless night and the moonlight made it possible for them to navigate through the darkness.
The girl had been putting on a brave face for the first few hours, but the constant bumps and turns of the horse was causing her a great deal of pain by the sound of her occasional whimpers. Her stitches had not had time to heal properly and Brienne herself knew how painful it could be, spending hours on horseback when wounded.

“It will only be a little while longer and then we make camp for the night.”, Brienne said, as they passed through a rougher patch of terrain and Arya groaned lightly.

If it was up to Brienne they would ride through the night and into the next. There were guaranteed to be a lot more men out looking for them than the ones who had found their hideout. Lady Sansa had been a valuable asset to the Bolton’s and without her it would be that much harder to hold the North. They wouldn’t just let her slip through their fingers without a fight.

Brienne looked down at Arya. The girl sat limply rested in front of her in the saddle with her head bowed low. One more hour, Brienne thought. Maybe two. Then they could stop and let the Arya rest for a while.

“When did you meet my mother?” Her voice was scarcely more than a whisper.

The girls question pulled Brienne’s thoughts away from the looming threat of the Bolton’s for the first time since they left the clearing. They hadn’t talked about Lady Catelyn since that day in the mountains, when she had first met Arya. Neither of them had seemed eager to broach the subject. Until now.

“I met Lady Catelyn when I came to pledge my life to Renly Baratheon. Your mother was in the camp, speaking on behalf of your brother.” Brienne said with a gentle voice. It was a truthful answer, but she suspected it wasn’t the kind of thing Arya had hoped to hear.

Arya was silent for a moment before she spoke again.

“What was she like? When you met her.” Her voice was soft and it made her sound younger than her years.

“She was a remarkable woman. Fierce and proud. She missed you very much, I know that for a fact. Your mother was ready to commit treason against your brother to save you and your sister from the Lannisters.” Brienne said, as she steered her horse away from a particularly rocky part of the field.

Brienne could feel the girl stir against her chest and when she looked down, Arya was staring up at her. She was as pale as the snow around them and the dark circles that was forming under her eyes made her look gaunt.

“Really?” she asked. There was a range of emotions written across Arya’s face. Confusion and surprise were the most noticeable ones, but there was something else too. Pride, perhaps.

“She loved you very much and she was prepared to do anything to see you safe. I will honor her wish until the day I die.”, Brienne said.

The rode in silence for a while. Arya seemed deep in thought.

“You remind me of her.” Brienne said.

“Me?”, Arya asked, incredulously.

“Yes you.” she said, with a half smile.

“People always say that about Sansa.”, the girl said, with a slightly sullen tone in her voice.

“Well, I can’t deny the resemblance.” Brienne said. Lady Sansa and her mother both shared a sort of regal quality. “I’m sure they have a great number of things in common. But so do you. The Lady Catelyn I had the privilege of serving, was one of the strongest women I have ever known. She was brave. She was fearless when it came to protecting the people she loved. She would have fought tooth and nail to see her family safe. All of those things, she shared with you.

Arya was quiet for a long time. Brienne assumed she was caught of in memories of her mother. After a while she looked down at the girl. Only part of her face was visible, but Brienne could see that her eyes were closed. Arya was resting quietly, her breathing steady. She had fallen asleep.

Chapter Text

Sansa woke to the sound of whispering voices. Arya was snoring lightly beside her in the bedroll. She kept her eyes closed and listened.

“See anything?”, the low rasp of the Hound cut through the silence.

“Nothing.”, Lady Brienne answered in a hushed tone. “But this far north there is probably an equal risk of running into wildling raiders. I think I’m more worried about them actually. “

“Aye. And they are likely to be a bit more subtle than those bloody Bolton’s.”, he said, with a dry chuckle. “I’ll take over now, get some rest.”

She could hear Lady Brienne move over to her own bedroll, located on the other side of the small fire. Moments later, she was asleep, judging by the sounds of her steady breathing.

Sansa tried to get comfortable again, but the fur they were sleeping on did little to cushion the ground beneath. Every inch of her body felt sore and every movement she made caused her muscles to ache. She had never spent much time in the saddle before and never for hours at the time. Thankfully, the horse she was riding did most of the work for her. It was a gentle mannered palfrey the Hound had picked out for her, out of the horses left behind by the slain Bolton men. She was chestnut in color and had a seemingly endless patience with Sansa as a rider.

Sansa looked down at her sister. Arya lay curled up against her. The deep frown lines she wore during the day and the hours in the saddle, were faded in sleep.

There was nothing to be done about the state of her wound other than to keep it clean and give her that vile smelling tea to drink. As for the pain it caused Arya, all they could do was to let her rest as much as possible.

The day they left the clearing, they had been riding for hours and hours. When they had made camp, late that night, she and Lady Brienne had examined the wound on Arya’s stomach. Some of the stitches had ripped, but there wasn’t much bleeding, which had been something at least.

 

That same night, as they were sharing what little food they had left, Lady Brienne had told Sansa where they were headed. She should have been able to figure it out by herself. It was the only thing they could do, really.

The first days after she had been rescued, Sansa had been worried that she might still be dreaming, and she had thought it best not to question too much of what was going on around her.
She still woke up most morning, confused by the fact that she was lying on the snow covered ground, instead of in a feather bed. When she went to sleep each night, she feared that she would wake up the next day, back in Winterfell with Ramsay. But she never did. And she never would.
Soon they would be safe. They were heading further north, away from the Bolton’s. To the Wall and Castle Black, where they would take refuge with the Brothers of the Night’s Watch. Where they would be reunited with Jon.

The prospect of seeing Jon again was keeping her sisters spirits up, even though she spent every waking moment in pain. Sansa was looking forward to seeing him as well. It had been so long since she had seen him. A part of her couldn’t help but wonder if he in turn would be less than pleased to see her, considering how she had treated him in the past. She had never been outright vicious towards him when they were children. Sansa had been polite to him, but she had never made any effort to make him feel like he truly belonged at Winterfell. On the contrary, she had been quick to remind him of the fact that he didn’t share the same status as the other siblings. That they were Starks and that he was a Snow.

Arya had never seemed bothered by the fact that Jon only shared blood with them on their fathers side. At times this lack of understanding had bothered Sansa when she was younger. It had even made her angry with her sister. The way Arya had called him brother, had made Sansa insist on adding the word “half” whenever she would talk about Jon. To spare their mothers feelings. Sansa might have succeeded with appeasing some of the resentment her sisters comments caused their mother, but it had been at their brothers expense. She had never stopped to think about Jon’s feelings and the hurt her words might bring him.

Sansa could feel a knot forming in her stomach, and she knew it was guilt. It was the ever present, gnawing feeling she felt whenever she thought of Jon. She took a deep breath, willing herself to think of something else.

She looked up at the sky above them. Countless stars glittered across the dark blue expanse. A few pale clouds slowly drifted in front of the moon, making it look like it was draped in wisps of grey silk.

Sansa peered over the edge of the bedroll. The Hound was sitting a few feet away from where she lay. His back was to the fire and he was leaning against a tree stump, elbows resting on his knees. The light from the flames painted shadows in the snow and across the blanket that covered his broad shoulder.

She remembered how scared she had been that day in the clearing. When the Bolton’s had come for her. There had been nothing to do but wait. And the there had been a knock at the door. He was standing outside, covered in blood and her heart had stopped.

She had feared him in King’s Landing. In the beginning at least. He had seemed to relish her fear and had taunted her with it. The Hound had been cruel and so full of anger that she had scarcely been able to look at him without flinching. As time passed she had come to know what it truely was to be frightened of someone. The way Joffrey had caused shivers to snake down her spine. How the very sight of Ser Meryn Trant could make her tremble. How rapidly her heart had been beating when she had been trapped in the stable with those men. What it felt like when Ramsay had kissed her, on her wedding night.

The Hound knew how to play the part of a brute. Of a monster. He had perfected his performance to the point where people looked at him as nothing more than the fearsome Hound. A man who was good for nothing but the violence he could cause with a stroke of the sword. She had bought the act for a while, but not anymore. Sansa knew that he would never be one of those men. The ones that would hurt her. She had nothing to fear from him. She had known that for some time now.

That day in the clearing she had felt another kind of fear. Sansa had been truly afraid that she was going to lose him.

Arya suddenly snorted in her sleep, making a surprisingly loud noice for someone so little.

The Hound turned his head towards the sound and in an instance his eyes found hers. He lifted his eyebrow at her and Sansa quickly closed her eyes. She could feel her cheeks grow hot from embarrassment and she was grateful for the darkness that he wouldn’t be able to see the bright shade of red her face had turned.

Sansa could hear a low rumbling noise and realized that he was laughing quietly. Warmth spread deep in her stomach at the sound and she was sure that even her ears were blushing by this point. Her heart was racing. He knew she had been watching him

“Better get some sleep Little Bird, we have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.” He rasped.

Chapter Text

Podrick hesitated for a moment. He was standing next to his horse, that stood tethered at the outskirts of a small village. The houses were draped in darkness and the only light he could see came from the windows of a little inn.

Earlier that day they had passed the village at a distance. Podrick had wanted to stop then, but he had kept his mouth shut as he had seen no reason to argue with Lady Brienne, nor with the Hound. They would have both deemed it too risky. That they might be recognized or that the villiagers would turn them over to the Bolton’s. He understood their reasoning. Of course he did. But that didn’t mean he agreed with their decision.

They were still far from the Wall and Arya was spending her every waking moment in agony. She didn’t complain but it was plain to see. Every time she failed to suppress a groan of pain it transported him back to that horrid place. To that room. With that man. And her screams.
It was his fault that she had been hurt. He was supposed to protect her and he had failed. He had failed her miserably.

She didn’t blame him. Arya had told him so herself. Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling that there must have been something he could have done to spare her the pain. And now he could. And he would.

Podrick had reached the inn. He took a deep breath and opened the door.

 

An elderly woman was wiping the tables of a small dining room and she looked up at him when he entered the room. She eyed him suspiciously as she slung the rag over her shoulder.

“I beg your pardon, I know it’s very late...” Podrick began, but was interrupted by the old woman.

“It is. Best just state your business, then.”, she said, and wiped her hands on the well worn apron she wore.

Podrick had prepared a speech while he rode through the woods. He had to lie and he had to do it convincingly. Since the woman didn’t seem all that impressed with his attempts at being polite, he decided that a more direct approach might be better.

“My brother is hurt and he needs something for the pain.”, he managed and looked her straight in the eye.

A look of amusement spread across her face and she lifted an eyebrow.

“You think me a maester, boy?” she said, with a chuckle as dry as her skin was wrinkled.

Podrick didn’t really know what to reply to that, but the woman spared him having to come up with a reply, when she spoke again.

“You’re no northerner, are you?, she said, and it was more of a statement than a question.

He shook his head, knowing that she wouldn’t be fooled.

“So why are you this far north then?”. The old woman leaned against one of the tables she had been cleaning.

“I’ve- we’ve come to join the Watch, me and my brother.” Podrick said, trying not to falter on his words.

A kernal of truth is all you need to make any lie believable, Lord Tyrion hand once told him. They were going to the Wall. And Arya was hurt. Those thing were true at least.

“Join? Of your own free will?” She scoffed. “Only thieves and rapers go to the wall these days, and they go in chains.” The old woman peered at him, eyes a milky grey the same color as her wispy hair.

“Better honest work than a life on the streets.” he said.

Podrick could think of fates far worse than becoming a Brother of the Night’s Watch. He had seen how people lived their whole lives in the gutters of Flea Bottom. People who went from cradle to grave surrounded by filth. Compared to that, little else could be worse.

She studied him for a while.

“You’re brother, what’s wrong with him?”, the old woman asked.

“He slipped and fell.” Podrick said. “His wrist got hurt in the fall and he’s in a lot of pain.”

“Why isn’t he with you?”, she asked. She seemed more relaxed now than when he had first walked into the little dining room.

“I didn’t want to wake him.” Podrick said. That in itself was also half true, he figured. Arya needed all the sleep she could get. “And I didn’t want to get his hopes up.”

The old woman gave him a small smile and gave him a quick nod. It looked as if she was done sizing him up and had decided if he was trustworthy or not.

“Tell you what”, she said. “I’ll see if my niece is up. She’s no maester but she knows herbs and the like.”

She walked over to where Pod was standing and pushed him into a chair. Considering her old age, the woman was surprisingly strong. Before she left, she fetched him bowl of soup from a large cauldron that hung above the fire.

He finished the soup in a few large gulps, hungry and cold as he was from riding all day and half the night. It was made with onions and pieces of mutton and tasted better than anything he had ever tasted before, after weeks living of his own cooking.

When she came back she was carrying a small burlap sack in one of her wrinkled hands. She pulled out a small vial of a white liquid and held it up to the light as if to inspect it. Then she handed it to Pod.

“Milk of the poppy. Use it sparingly.”, she said. “My niece also threw in a few supplies she thought might come in handy. You see, she’s got boys of her own, your age I reckon. They’re also in the habit of getting all kinds of scrapes and bruises.” The old woman wore a broad smile now and any traces of distrust that had been visible before, were gone.

Podrick felt an overwhelming amount of gratitude towards the old woman and he struggled to find words that would show how much this meant to him. He fumbled with the straps of the purse that Lord Tyrion had given him. There were still some coins left.

When he reached out his hand to give her the money she grasped it with both of her own. She gave his hand a little squeeze and when she let go the coins were still resting in the palm of his hand.

“Best of luck.” she said. “The brothers can use all the hands they can get.”

* * *

Dawn was breaking as he reached their camp. He was so exhausted that he had almost fallen asleep as he rode through the forest. Podrick staggered from the saddle and tied the reins to a nearby tree.

A large hand brusquely grabbed his shoulder and yanked him around. Podrick stood face to face with the Hound. He looked furious. Pod no longer felt tired, he was wide awake and terrified.

“Where the fuck have you been.” the Hound growled, and poked Pod hard in the chest with his finger.

Lady Brienne appeared next to the large man. She looked even angrier than the Hound did, and Pod swallowed hard. Lady Sansa was walking towards them, concern written across her face.

“Why would you sneak off in the middle of the night?” Lady Brienne screamed at him, her face red.

“I’m sorry, my Lady, I am.” Podrick stammered.

“That’s on you.” The Hound rounded on Lady Brienne “If this one manages to sneak past you, you’re not fit to guard a fucking pile of shit.”

Lady Brienne was seething with anger.

“Where have you been?” Lady Sansa asked, as if trying to diffuse the tension.

He held out the bag to her and she took it. Lady Sansa opened it and searched through the bag.

“Is this..?, she asked, and looked up at him. Her eyes were wide and her mouth agape and Podrick knew that she had found the small vial of white liquid.

He nodded.

“Oh, Podrick, thank you.”, Lady Sansa whispered. She had tears in her eyes.

The others stared at the vial in her hands.

“How did you get this, Podrick?” Lady Brienne didn’t sound angry anymore, she sounded worried.

“A woman gave it to me, I told her it was for my brother. I think she believed me, my Lady.” Podrick said. “I said nothing about who it really was for.”

The Hound was silent. He looked relieved and a Podrick knew it wasn’t just because nobody would be coming after them. It was because of Arya. Pod had seen the Hound flinch whenever she would groan in pain, and he knew that it bothered the large man as much as it did him.

Lady Brienne gave him an awkward pat on the back and she even managed a small smile before she and Lady Sansa hurried back to where Arya was resting.

“That was a foolish thing you did.”, the Hound rasped and turned to walk after the others. “Thank you.”

Chapter Text

It was late afternoon and the sun was beginning to set. The last rays of the sun bounced of Brienne’s sword, as it cut through the air. The rippled patterns on the surface of the Valyrian steel made the blade come alive in the dying light. It looked like the sword was made of a swirling liquid instead of a solid metal.

Arya’s fingers itched for a blade of her own as she watched the great knight and her squire sparring. She could tell by Brienne’s stance, what move the large woman was about to make. Podrick could not, and Arya almost sighed when Brienne smacked him across the side of his leg with the flat side of her sword. It was a hard blow and it sent Pod tumbling to the ground, where he landed in a pile of snow. She could hear Sandor snort a laugh, from where he sat behind her by the fire.

Arya knew she could have avoided the sword, if it had been she who was sparring with Brienne instead of Podrick. She was sure of it. But instead she sat bundled up in blankets and furs by the fire, bored and miserable. She couldn’t move either, as Sansa lay curled up with her head in Arya’s lap, sound asleep and with her mouth slightly agape.

“You have to keep an eye on my sword arm, Podrick. It will tell you where I aim to strike.”, Brienne said, as she helped him up.

Podrick dusted some snow from his backside and nodded as he readied himself for a new attack. He looked very determined and Arya had to admit she was impressed by his perseverance. No matter how many times he got knocked down, he always came back for more.

“And don’t play bloody nice with her, boy.”, Sandor said. “She’s be better than you so you’ll have to fight dirty if you want to beat her. No more knightly shit, won’t do you any good.”

Sandor yawned and stretched out his long legs. He was sitting on a tree stump, a few feet away from the fire. He looked tired, but seemed to be in a good mood considering he had been stuck sharing his horse with Arya all day. She was still too weak to ride by herself.

Two rabbits were roasting over the flames and the smell that wafted through the air made Arya’s mouth water. Her appetite had slowly returned over the passed few days and she could feel her stomach rumbling at the thought of dinner.

The drop of the white liquid that Brienne put in her tea every morning made her sleep through most of the days ride. The pain wasn’t too bad when they weren’t moving, even without milk of the poppy. They still kept a slow pace and Arya suspected that is was not only on her account. Sansa tired more easily than the others. She had never been especially fond of riding when they were younger and now they spent most of the day in the saddle.

Podrick charged at Brienne, who easily parried his blow. The swooping sound the metal made when the swords collided again and again sent a tingle down Arya’s spine. It was beautiful.

“When do you think I will be able to start training again?”, she asked Sandor, as she she watched Pod take another hit. He managed to stay upright for this one.

“When you don’t need your sisters help every time you need to take a piss.” he rasped with a crooked grin.

“Shut up.” she huffed. She didn’t raise her voice since she didn’t want to wake Sansa.

He was right and they both knew it. She was far from ready to resume her training.

Arya considered making a snowball to have something to hurl at his stupid face. She decided against it though, since that would mean she had to untangle herself from the warm furs and sticking her hands into the cold snow. Besides, if he decided to retaliate, she imagined getting pelted with snowballs from Sandor could result in some serious injuries. Arya settled with shooting him a dirty look instead.

“You can sulk all you want, won’t make those cuts heal any faster.”, he said and turned the spits the rabbits hung from.

She scowled at him for a moment before pointedly turning away from him to look at the sparring instead. Podrick dodged a hit and swung the flat side of his sword against Briennes stomach, knocking the wind right out of her. She exhaled a big puff of air that glinted like silver in the dimming light, but then she straightened up, scowling at Podrick. For a second it looked like Pod was about to apologize, but then he scrambled away, as she swung at him full force. She sent him flying with a blow to his back and he landed face first on the ground.

Sandor barked out a laugh and Brienne turned to him with an annoyed look before she went to help her squire to his feet.

“Tell you what, when we get to that freezing hellhole by the Wall I’ll teach you proper fighting, none of that water dancing shit the Braavosi taught you.” Sandor rasped.

She turned to him in surprise. He had an amused look on his face.

“You would?”, she asked him suspiciously. “Why?”

“Cause you’re not half bad.”, he said. “But you’ll need skills that don’t involve you prancing around like an idiot.”

He sounded sincere, even with a smirk playing on his lips.

“It’s not shit.”, Arya protested.

“It’s shit.”, he rasped and reached to turn the spit again.

Grease dripped from one of the rabbits and sizzled when it landed on one of the burning logs. The sound was loud enough to make Sansa stir in her sleep. Arya stilled and held her breath for moment, hoping her sister wouldn’t wake up. She had seemed so tired when they made camp, dragging her feet and trying and failing to stifle one yawn after another.

Soon they would arrive at Castle Black. Soon they would all have warm beds to sleep in and plenty of food to eat. Soon she would get to see Jon again. Arya’s heart soared at the thought of seeing her brother again. She knew everything would be alright as soon as she met Jon.

Chapter Text

The snow crunched beneath Sandor’s feet as he knelt in the snow. He fastened one of the snares to a branch in the undergrowth and mumbled a few choice words he was going to repeat to the boy when he got back to their camp. It had somehow fallen to Sandor to set the trap each night instead of the bloody squire.

He stood up and searched the area for another good spot for a snare. Light shone through the naked canopy of the winter trees and painted the forest floor with their spindly shadows. He hadn’t strayed too far from the place they had set up camp and Sandor was reluctant to do so.

There had been no sign of the Bolton men since they had left the clearing. Sandor and the big woman had made sure their pursuers would have a hard time finding them. They had weaved through the Northern wilderness, taking care to avoid the King’s Road and any populated areas.

The threat of Wildling raids concerned him more. They were said to be fierce warriors, born holding spears and daggers and Sandor reckoned one of them could do more damage than a handful of Bolton men, judging by what kind of fuckers the bastard Lord had sent after them.

A twig snapped behind him and the sound cut through the silence of the forest like the crack of a whip. His hand was on the pommel of his sword in an instance as he spun on his heel towards the source of the noice.

Standing on the narrow path his boots had made in the snow, was the Little Bird. She had stopped mid stride when he turned to face her. Her cheeks and the tip of her nose were a rosy red and her lips were parted slightly as if in surprise. How he had manage to startle her, when she was the one who had snuck up on him, he would never know.

He stared at her for a moment, baffled as to why she had followed him into the forest.

“You shouldn’t be walking out here alone, Little Bird. There are far worse creatures lurking in these woods than old dogs.”, he rasped.

She frowned slightly at this. Her hair hung loosely around her shoulders and where the light touched it, her red strands lit up like flames. She walked towards him with a tentative smile playing on her lips.

“I was just hoping you could teach me how to set traps?”, the Little Bird asked him.

“Planning on taking off, are you?”, he said.

She looked taken aback by his accusation and hurried to explain herself.

“No, why would I...”. She trailed of when she realized that he had been joking.

Her cheeks turned a slightly darker shade of red as she blushed and Sandor couldn’t help but chuckle. The Little Bird had always made it easy to tease her.

She pursed her lips and shot him a look that reminded him of the way the little wolf would scowl at him.

The Little Bird managed to look the part of a Lady, even without finery such as silk dresses and gold jewelry. She didn’t need any of it.

“Will you show me or not?”, she said, with her head held high.

He nodded. He understood her reasoning behind wanting to learn how to set traps. Nothing made you feel more powerless than not being able to provide for your own most basic needs. Her sister had taught her how to build a fire. He could teach her how to hunt.

“I’ll show you.” Sandor rasped and a smile lit up her face.

He undid one of the snares so he was left with a plain piece of string. Sandor had been making snares since he was just a boy, but he had never had to teach anyone how to do it. The knowledge was buried in his fingers and was something he barely reflected on and he had to think the process through in his mind before he showed her how it was done.

The Little Bird leaned in closer to get a better look, and as she did, a strand of her hair grazed his hand and Sandor had to suppress a shudder. Thankfully she didn’t seem to notice, as she was studying his fingers with rapt attention as he wove the string into a loop. He cleared his throat before he spoke.

“To make the noose you have to tie a knot that will give way when the rabbit touches the string.”, Sandor explained.

“Is that it?”. She seemed surprised as he handed her the piece of string. “That doesn’t seem too difficult.”

The Little Bird took it from him and with nimble fingers she quickly replicated the knot he had taught her. She held out one of her hands and tried the knot by putting it through the loop and pulling down. The noose closed tight around her wrist and she smiled as she untangled herself from the trap.

“I never said it would be.”, he rasped. “The next part is where it gets tricky, though. You’ll have to think like the little buggers, to know how to catch them.”

Amusement spread across her beautiful face and she laughed.

“And you know what’s in the mind of a rabbit?”, she asked.

He nodded, as he tried and failed to look somber.

“Animals, just as humans are creatures of habit.”, Sandor said, as he pointed to a set of tracks in the snow. They were the size of a coin and ran in even rows through the shrubbery. “Find a a road well traveled and you won’t go hungry, Little Bird.”

They followed the tracks to point where the rabbits path narrowed between a boulder and a tree trunk. It was the perfect spot to put the trap.

“Tie it to this here branch.” He rasped. “Next time the rabbit passes through, the knot will do the rest and we have supper for tomorrow.”

She knelt in the snow and fastened the trap with her delicate fingers. The Little Bird got to her feet with a proud look on her face.

“I helped.” she said, as she beamed up at him.

“Aye, you did, Little Bird.”, he said, and returned her smile.

It was getting late, so they started to make their way back. Sandor reckoned they could set a few traps on the way, to further the chances of them catching something during the night.

“Next you’ll want to learn how to skin a rabbit , I suppose.”, he said, with a grin. He still remembered how close she had come to being sick all over their dinner, when the little wolf had tried to show her how it was done.

She wrinkled her nose slightly, but then her face turned to one of determination and she nodded.

They walked in silence for a while, and then the Little Bird stopped, and turned to him.

“What did you mean when you said that you wished you had saved me too.”, she asked.

His heart had begun to beat faster and in the quiet of the forest Sandor wondered if the Little Bird was able to hear it. When he didn’t answer, she elaborated, thinking perhaps that he might not remember. As if he could forget.

“Before the Bolton men arrived.”, she added.

“I meant what I said, Little Bird.”, he sighed.

“You did save me. You saved me more than once.”, she said, with a tone that made it sound as if she was imploring him to see reason.

He turned away from her and started walking again.

“You saved me from those men.” she whispered.

Sandor froze, but didn’t turn around. He didn’t want to look at the Little Bird while she sung him some story she had made up in her head where he played the part of some valiant knight. When she pretended that the one who saved her was a brave man in armor, when the truth was that it had been a rabid dog who came for her that day. A rabid dog who tore at his prey, spilling their guts and wringing their necks, as the Little Bird lay quivering on the ground.

Nothing about that day was the stuff of songs. He hadn’t been brave. He had been terrified. As terrified as he had been the night the Blackwater had been burning. But he hadn’t managed to save her then.

Sandor turned to her.

“Aye, I saved you from the rats. But then I turned craven and left you with the lions.“, Sandor barked, as anger surged through him.

She didn’t even flinch when he raised his voice.

“You mean Tyrion.”, the Little Bird said slowly. Her blue eyes found his before she quickly looked away. She was blushing again. “He.. he was good to me. He was.”

Sandor could feel the rage inside of him subside, leaving nothing but an empty despair in its wake. He turned from her once more.

“You didn’t leave me, Sandor. I chose to stay”. The Little Bird’s voice rang clear through the cold air.

He almost turned around at the sound of his name coming from her lips. But the other words she had spoken stopped him. They laced their way into his heart and gripped it like a vice.

She had chosen to stay in the Red Keep, in the middle of a burning battle, rather than following him to freedom. He had given her little reason to trust him. Drunk and covered in the blood of Stannis’s men, he had barged into her chambers. He had screamed at her. The Little Bird had been wise not to go with him

“Best get back to the others. They’ll be wondering where we’ve gone.” Sandor said, over his shoulder, hoping she wouldn’t hear the wavering of his voice.

Chapter Text

Brienne shielded her face in the crook of her arm as the howling wind whipped up snow from the ground and sent it flying in gusts of icy air. She flexed her fingers on the reins. They had gone stiff from the cold.

Few things in life had ever made Brienne feel small, but as she gazed up at the massive ice structure in front of them, she felt no larger than the tiniest of critters. The Wall stretched as far as her eye could see, and towered above them higher and higher as they rode closer. It seemed to emanate a bone chilling cold, that even the many layers she wore was unable shield against.

All of the members of their little group seemed taken by the eerie beauty of the Wall. All expect Clegane. He had been unusually sullen as of late, but the prospect of a warm bed and a meal consisting of something other than rabbits, seemed to put even him in a slightly more cheerful mood.

Arya rode ahead of the rest of them. She had been the first one in the saddle each morning for the better part of a week, and the last one to dismount each night. If it had been up to the girl, they wouldn’t have stopped to eat or sleep, Brienne was sure of it.

“Did I tell you about when he gave me Needle?”, Arya asked, over her shoulder.

“Yes. Yes, you did.”, Brienne said. She couldn’t help but smile. Arya’s anticipation was infectious and even Clegane managed a crooked grin.

“Why did you name your sword Needle?” Podrick asked Arya, humoring her. They all knew how the story went by now.

“Because all the best swords have names.”, Arya said. Clegane scoffed, but she ignored him and continued. “And because I was rubbish at sewing.”

Brienne looked over at Lady Sansa, who was trying to stifle a laugh.

“Are you gonna tell your brother what you did to get that skinny fucking blade back.” Clegane rasped, as a smirk stretched across his marred face .

That was a story Brienne hadn’t heard and by the looks of it, neither had Lady Sansa. She looked over at her sister, questioningly.

“What did you do?” Lady Sansa asked, a hint of worry in her voice.

Arya glanced back at Lady Sansa. She was frowning slightly and she had a guarded look on her face, as if she was deciding whether or not this was a story suitable for her sisters ears. Clegane decided for her.

“She stormed an inn full of soldiers, is what she did. Could have gotten us both killed, but she had to get her hands on that bloody sword.”. Clegane was shaking his head, but he looked more amused than angry.

“Well I got it back, didn’t I.”, Arya said, and patted her cloak near her hip, where it concealed the thin sword.

Clegane made a noise that sounded like something between a growl and a dry chuckle.

“It was a dumb fucking move.” he rasped.

By the look on Lady Sansa’s face, she wholeheartedly agreed with Clegane’s statement.

 

* * *

As they rode up to the gates of Castle Black, a shiver trailed down Brienne’s spine and it was not because of the cold. Something about this austere looking structure, made of stone and weathered wood, gave her an uneasy feeling.

They stopped a few feet from the gate and Brienne looked up at the walkway that ran atop the castle wall. A sallow skinned boy with a narrow face, peered down at them. The grim expression he wore made it seem as if he was truly one with his surroundings.

“Who goes there?”, he called out to them.

Brienne cleared her throat.

“My name is Brienne of Tarth and I’m here asking for shelter on behalf of Lady Sansa Stark and Lady Arya Stark.”, she called out.

The boy’s eyes widened and with shuffling steps, he disappeared from view.

Nothing happened for a while and Brienne considered shouting up at the empty walkway, in the hopes that someone else might be passing by who could open the gate. Just as she was about to open her mouth, the silence was broken by the deafening blast of a horn. It was a low rumbling noise that made the hair on the back of Brienne’s neck stand on end and it reverberated into her very core. Something was wrong. She could feel it. Brienne looked over her shoulder and caught Clegane’s eye. He could feel it to, judging by the scowl on his face and the subtle shift he made in the saddle, to better reach his sword.

The gate opened with the creaking sound of very old wood and rusty hinges. As they rode through, they were flanked by men dressed in black from head to toe. Some were old and some were young, but every single man they passed regarded them suspiciously.

As they dismounted, the narrow faced boy hurried towards them. He looked to be about the same age as Pod, but it was plain to see that he had had a significantly harder start in life than her squire.

“You’ve come at a bad time, milady” the boy said in a hushed tone.

Before he could continue, he was interrupted by the arrival of a man with curly, grey hair and beady eyes.

“Who the fuck opened the gate?”, the man bellowed, as he came to a stop in front of Brienne. “And who the fuck are you?”

Clegane walked up and stood beside her, effectively shielding the girls from view.

“We are here to seek shelter...” Brienne began.

“Why would I give you shelter?”, the man snarled.

Before either Brienne could react, Arya had pushed passed her and faced the curly haired man.

“Where is Jon Snow? He can tell you who we are.”, she said. There was an urgency in her voice, that told Brienne that Arya too could sense that something was wrong.

“He’s no longer with us.”, the curly haired man said, with a sneer. “And you’re not welcome here.”

He moved towards Arya, as if he was about to usher her towards the gate, but before he could reach her, she had pressed the tip of Needle into the man’s jugular. His mouth fell open in surprise, as he tried to back away from her. She followed, her knuckles white where she gripped his black cloak.

“Where is he?”, she hissed, pushing the blade further into his skin.

“He was murdered.”, the narrow faced boy said, his voice breaking. “By him.”

Arya let out a drawn out scream, and as her tiny frame was wracked by sobs, she ran the curly haired man’s throat clean through with her sword.

Chapter Text

Sansa’s head was spinning as her world came tumbling down around her. The news of her brothers death had stopped her heart from beating and left a hollow feeling in her chest. Moments later, it was racing, as she saw the man that Arya had stabbed, sink to the ground.

Blood formed a pink froth in the corners of his mouth as he reached for his throat, trying desperately to cover the wound with his hands. It was no use and with a final gurgling noice and a wet cough, the man who had killed their brother stopped moving.

Arya stood over him, shaking with silent sobs. Sansa wanted to go to her. To hold her. To comfort her sister, but her legs wouldn’t move. She stood frozen to the ground.

The yard had gone deathly quiet and then the sound of metal scraping against metal filled the air, as several men unsheathed their swords at once.

Lady Brienne and Sandor both reached for their swords and Arya raised Needle. Blood was still dripping from the thin blade, leaving flecks of red in the snow where she stood.

“Grab her!”, a bearded man with broad shoulders, shouted. Fury gleamed in his dark eyes as pointed his sword at Arya.

Only some of the men who had gathered in the yard seemed to share his anger. Most of them looked more surprised than outraged.

“The fuck you will.” Sandor snarled as he took a step towards Arya.

He reached out and hoisted her up in the air by the fabric of her cloak. She was screaming and kicking, trying her best to get free from his grasp. In her struggle she managed to smack Sandor hard across the face and Sansa saw him wince slightly.

“I’m going to kill him.”, Arya screeched. Her cheeks were streaked with tears and she was panting.

“You already did.” Sandor told her in a gentle voice, as he handed her over to Podrick. “Don’t let go of her even if she fucking bites you, understood?”, he added to Pod, who nodded as he clasped Arya tight to his chest.

Before Sandor turned back towards the men, he glance over at Sansa for a moment. His eyes found hers and she could see the sadness reflected in them, mirroring her own. A breath hitched in her throat as the realization of what had happened washed over her.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to go, she thought. Jon was supposed to be alive and welcoming them with open arms. For week she had worried. That he wouldn’t be happy to see her. That he would turn his back on her the moment she arrived in Castle Black. That he would resent her for how she had treated him when they were children. Now she would have accepted his scorn gladly, if it meant he was still alive.

Podrick was trying his best to calm Arya. She was clawing at him, trying to force him to let her go, but he refused. Sansa had finally regained control of her legs and she hurried over to her sister. Arya looked up at her and Sansa could see the anger her sister was carrying give way to the deepest of sorrow. Her sister released a breath and stopped struggling with Pod. Defeated, she hung limply in his arms.

Sansa hadn’t realized she was crying until the edges of her vision started to get blurred by tears. She wiped them away and clasped Arya’s hand in her own.

“Hand the little bitch over.”, the bearded man said, as he spat on the ground. “She killed the Lord Commander of the Nights Watch, she needs to pay.”

As some of the men readied their swords, others were stepping away from the fight. They seemed to be reluctant to take up arms against their own sworn brothers, but were equally unwilling to face two fully armored warriors in combat.

“Seems to me like he had it coming.”, Lady Brienne said, her voice as cold as the winter winds that blew across the yard.

The bearded man let out a roar as he swung his sword at Lady Brienne. She deflected his blow with ease and parried several more as two other men joined the first one against her. The sounds of clanking metal reverberated through the yard, as a gut wrenching fear gripped Sansa so tight it threatened to smother her. What if Jon wasn’t the only one she would loose today?

Sandor was fighting three men at once. He elbowed one of the men in the face, shattering the man’s teeth as he sent him flying. A large man with pale blue eyes kept hacking at Sandor with his sword, causing him to stumble backwards. Sansa felt as thought the blood in her veins had frozen to ice. She wanted to look away, but couldn’t.

A loud growling noise drowned out the sounds coming from the fray, as a flash of something white came bounding past Sansa. As the direwolf sunk its teeth into the man who had been fighting Sandor, she recognized it. It was Ghost. Jon’s wolf had come to their aid and stood snarling between them and the men of the Watch.

Ghost had leapt from one of the walkways and was followed by a group of men who came pouring down the stairs.

The men who had been fighting Sandor and Lady Brienne had dropped their swords, as they were now the ones who were outnumbered. That and the fact that they had just seen one of their own being torn apart by a wolf the size of a small horse.

 

Two of the men that had followed Ghost were making their way towards Sandor and Brienne, and they were lowering their swords as they went. One of them, a man with lanky, brown hair shouted to the men who were gathering around them in the yard.

“Seize the ones responsible for this mess.”, he said, with a grim look on his face. “Go on!”

They listened to him, grabbing the men who moments earlier had called for justice for the man who Arya had slain.

Sandor and Lady Brienne still had their swords raised as the lanky haired man came to a stop a few feet from them. The other man wasn’t wearing black like the rest of the Brothers of the Watch and he was holding his hands up in front of him, as a sign of peace.

“Who are you?”, Lady Brienne asked. She still had a firm grip on the pommel of her sword.

“My name is Ser Davos Seaworth.”, he said, with a quick bow of his head. Then he looked over at Arya. He had kind eyes and looked sincere as he spoke to her sister. “I was a friend of your brothers. He was a brave man, a good man. I’’m truly sorry for your loss.”

The lanky haired man nodded at this.

“We have been guarding his body.”, he said, with a strained voice.

Arya had resumed her struggle and with a nod from Sandor, Podrick gently put her down on the ground.

Ghost came running towards her and she fell to her knees, opening her arms to the great wolf. His white coat was stained red and he whined as Arya buried her face in his neck. With a another pang of sorrow, Sansa remembered Lady. There had been too much death, Sansa thought, and she felt so tired that she was barely able to stand upright.

Arya got to her feet one hand resting on Ghost, as if for support.

“Take me to him.” Arya demanded, as she stared at Ser Davos. She wasn’t crying anymore.

He regarded her for a moment.

“Certainly, my Lady.”, he said and bowed once again.

They followed Ser Davos up the stairs and into a short corridor. He held the door open to Arya, who walked straight through it, with Ghost at her heel.

Sansa hesitated before entering the room. She didn’t want to add Jon’s face to her nightmares. She still remembered the last time she had seen him alive. Before King’s Landing. Before her family had been scattered to the winds. Before they one by one had died and left her behind.

A hand was placed on her shoulder and she knew who it belonged to before she looked up. Sandor was standing next to her, his face somber.

She wanted answers. Why had this happened? Why had they killed him? Why were the gods so cruel? Sansa felt numb. She wanted nothing more than to find a quiet corner where she could rest. Where she could sleep and hopefully not dream.

“Why?”, was all she managed, as she faced the door. The wood was as gnarled as everything else in Castle Black.

“I don’t know, Little Bird,” Sandor said, as he gently squeezed her shoulder.

Sansa took a deep breath before she opened the door.

Chapter Text

Arya slowly reached out her hand towards him. Jon’s skin was so pale it almost looked translucent and the moment her fingertips ghosted his cheek, she instantly regretted touching him. He was so cold. Too cold. She quickly pulled away, but the sensation lingered on her fingers, as if the biting chill of Jon’s skin had burnt her.

Being in this room, with him, should have made everything feel more real. At least that was what she had expected as she walked through the door. Instead she felt like she had been submerged in water, the moment she had laid eyes on him. Arya still wasn’t sure if this had all just been a hideous dream, one she could wake up from at any moment. She squeezed her hand into a fist, letting her nails dig deep into the skin of her palm.

Beside her Ghost whined. It was a pitiful noice, and one that would surely have brought tears to he eyes if she had any left to shed. He nudged her leg and she stroked the wolves head.

Arya had seen dead men before. She had seen men die. Some of them by her own hand. She knew what it looked like when life left a persons eyes. Standing here next to Jon was something else entirely.

His face was still that of the brother she’d grown up with, but it looked sunken and hollow, as if whatever had made it Jon, was gone. It had vanished with his last breath and left an empty shell behind.

Arya could hear Sansa let out a ragged breath from somewhere close behind her. She didn’t turn around.

“It’s not him anymore.” Arya whispered. It wasn’t.

Her sister gently draped an arm over Arya’s shoulders. Tears stung in her eyes as Sansa pulled her close.

Arya didn’t know long they stood next to Jon’s body. It could have been minutes or hours, even.
Neither of them spoke and the only sounds in the room came from the occasional creaking of the door as it opened and closed and new mourners entered to pay their respect.

“May I have a moment of your time.” A mans voice rang out, and Arya almost jumped.

Both Arya and Sansa turned around. There were a lot of people in the room now. Sandor stood leaning against a wall close to her and beside him stood Brienne and Pod.

By the expression on his face, Arya guessed the man who had spoken was the man who was called Ser Davos. He looked slightly nervous where he stood and it was clear to her that he had something to say.

Sansa, who never failed to be polite, spoke.

“Yes, Ser Davos?”, she said, and her voice sounded hollow even through her pleasantries.

He cleared his throat.

“My apologizes for interrupting, my Lady. This might seem strange, I myself can’t quite make sense of it.” He paused for a moment, as if trying to think of a way to phrase his next sentence. “I’m not sure this will work, but there is someone here who might be able to help.”

“Help?” Sansa said slowly.

And then Arya saw her. She stood huddled just outside the door, almost one with the shadows if it hadn’t been for her dress. Even in the dim light of the corridor, the red fabric stood out as a beacon. It was the Red Woman. The witch who had taken Gendry. The priestess who had bought him from the Brotherhood like he was a piece of cattle.

“You!” Arya hissed, as she bounded towards the doorway.

Ser Davos and the others looked taken aback by her outburst, but the Red Woman’s expression remained the same. She avoided Arya’s eyes but she knew that the witch had recognized her.

Before Arya could reach her, Ser Davos blocked her path.

“You’ve met, I take it?”, he asked her.

Sansa was at her side again, clasping Arya’s arm tightly. Sandor was no longe leaning against the wall and Lady Brienne had taken a few steps closer to Ser Davos.

“She bought my friend from the Brotherhood to perform witchcraft on him.” Arya snarled, as she tried to push past Ser Davos, but he wouldn’t budge. “What did you do to Gendry?” She screamed at the Red Woman.

Ser Davos sighed.

“Would this friend of yours happen to be a young man trained as a blacksmith?”, he asked her.

Arya stopped struggling and with her mouth agape she stared up at Ser Davos.

“How do you know that?” she asked him, suspiciously.

Davos ran his hand across his scalp with his gloved hands and took a deep breath.

“I see no point in keeping this a secret any longer.” He glanced over his shoulder at the Red Woman. “She brought him with her to Dragonstone. The boy is safe, I set him free, and last I saw him, he was still in one piece. Tell her the boy got away.”.

The Red woman nodded. She looked different from how Arya had remembered her. The witch she had met outside the cave that day, had exuded power and confidence. The woman who was standing before her lacked both those things and more. She looked broken.

“But why is she here?” Sansa said, her confusion apparent.

Arya knew. She knew what power those who worshipped the fire god possessed. She had seen it with her own eyes at Sandor’s trial. They could raise the dead.

“He thinks she can bring Jon back to life.” Arya said.

“What? You can’t surely...” her sister began but Ser Davos interrupted her and glanced over at Arya as he spoke.

“There is no love lost between me and her, believe you me.”, Davos said, with a huff. “But she has powers. She can do things that defy everything I thought I know about life. I’ve witnessed some of those things myself. If there is a chance...”

Arya’s heart was beating so fast it hurt.

“Can you do it.”, Arya asked.

“I don’t know.”, the Red Woman said. “I’ve seen it done, but it was many years ago.”

“But you’re willing to try?”. Sansa sounded as if she was close to tears.

“Yes.”

Her head was spinning. She didn’t want the Red Woman anywhere near Jon. What if he came back different? What if he came back wrong? Arya looked around the room. They were all looking at her. Waiting for her to make a decision. Even Sansa was staring at her, eyes wide and brimming with tears. One question scared her more than the others combined. What if he didn’t come back?

Arya turned to Sandor. He would never lie to her. He would tell her if he thought this was a bad idea. He was the only one in the room who wouldn’t just tell her what she wanted to hear. Before she could ask him, he spoke.

“You saw for yourself what happend to Dondarrion in that cave.” Sandor motioned towards the Red Woman. “If this one can work the same magic as they used on him, I wager it’s worth a try.”

Arya took a deep breath, and faced the Red Woman.

“Do it.” Arya said. “And don’t fail.”

 

* * *

They were waiting in the corridor as they prepared Jon for the ritual. Arya had been reluctant to leave, but had agreed as long as she could be in the room when it was performed. Ghost had stayed by Jon’s side.

The wooden floor sighed as Arya paced the corridor. Podrick and Brienne had gone to take care of the horses and Sansa had given up any effort to act ladylike and sat slumped on the floor with her back to the wall. Sandor was standing with his arms crossed as he looked out into the darkness of the yard.

“Do you think it will work?”, she asked him.

“Does it look like I’m one of those bloody fire worshipers?”, Sandor rasped. His voice was tired but not unkind.

Arya shrugged and kept pacing.

“I’m not a believer, but I trust my sword.” Sandor added. “Dondarrion was dead the moment he hit the ground. Then he wasn’t.”

The door creaked open and Davos beckoned for them to enter the room.

Jon lay naked on the table, cover only by a piece of cloth and Ghost was lying on the floor beneath him. The blood that covered his chest and his stomach almost looked black in the dim light coming from the flames in the fireplace. It had come from a number of wounds that stood out on his pale skin. The man that Arya had killed hadn’t been alone, he couldn’t have. There were other men responsible for his murder and they were still drawing breath. They wouldn’t be for long though.

Arya would never forget the pain she had felt when Ramsay’s knife had pierced her stomach. The blinding agony as her flesh had given way to the metal blade. Jon had felt the same pain. Over and over and over again. She clenched her fist to keep from crying.

The Red Woman had been leaning over Jon, but as soon as they entered the room she turned to face them.

“You have to be silent while I perform the ritual. I can’t concentrate otherwise.”, the Red Woman said. She was frowning and looked nervous as she added. “I make no promises.”

Arya nodded.

Sansa held her hand as the Red Woman picked up a sponge from a nearby bucket of water.
She circled Jon and stared to wash away the blood on his chest. While she worked, she whispered words in a language Arya had never heard before. It sounded strange. Frightening. She shivered even though the room was warm.

The Red Woman used shears to cut some of Jon’s hair. Her voice grew louder as she chanted and Sansa squeezed Arya’s hand tighter.

And then she stopped. Jon wasn’t moving and when the Red Woman turned towards them, it was with a look of defeat written across her face.

Arya’s knees buckled and she would have fallen to the floor if it wasn’t for Sansa. Her sister held onto her and hugged her close. No, she thought, it was supposed to work. Why hadn’t it worked?

“You did it wrong, do it again.” Arya screamed, as she untangled herself from Sansa’s embrace.

The Red Woman was backing away from her as Arya reached for her scabbard. It was empty and she remembered that Needle had been taken away from her earlier, in the yard. Arya was just about to settle for using her fists instead of her sword, when Ghost suddenly stood up. The direwolf had sensed something and was whining louder than he had been before, as he crouched next to Jon.

Every single pair of eyes in the room was staring at the wolf and his master, as Jon suddenly sat up. He was panting so hard that the table shook and as he tried to stand up, he staggered. Arya caught him before he fell, but he was to heavy for her to support and they both sagged to the floor.

His eyes had trouble focusing, but when they did, they found hers.

“No... You can’t be.” His voice was hoarse. “Are you...?”

“No, and neither are you.”, Arya said, as tears of joy streamed down her face.

Chapter Text

The sky was pitch black save for some dark blue streaks near the horizon. It would be morning soon and that would mark the end of what felt like one of the longest days in Sandor’s life.

He was sitting on the topmost step of the staircase that led to the room where the witch had worked her magic. Sandor had taken his leave not long after the ritual had been done and the boy had been brought back to life. He reckoned they could use some time as a family to get reacquainted with each other, and the man called Davos seemed to have the same idea.

Sandor had chosen to stay behind because the idea of the girls wandering around the dark castle alone would have kept him awake anyways. It was common knowledge that many of the Brothers of the Watch had ended up in this frozen hellscape as punishment for crimes such as raping and thieving. They might have sworn a sacred oath once they took the black, but Sandor doubted a few words would cary any meaning for a raper if he was given the opportunity.

 

So, he waited. Sandor wasn’t particularly worried for the little wolves sake. He had handed her back her precious needle once it had become apparent that she wouldn’t be doing anymore stabbing with it. Tonight anyways. He doubted anyone would be foolish enough to try something with her. Not after the way she had skewered a man twice her size in plain view of at least a couple of dozen Brothers of the Watch. Still, it couldn’t hurt to be too cautious.

The yard lay empty and steeped in darkness and any stragglers that had lingered there after the ritual had went to bed long ago. Sandor stifled a yawn and took a swig from the lukewarm cup of ale the squire had brought him a while back. That and some stale bread that to a man as hungry as Sandor was, had tasted as good as if it had been fresh from the oven.

He longed for bed. Any flat surface would have sufficed. If the Brothers had told him he was to sleep on some mouldy hay in the stables, he would have welcomed the offer. Any place would do, as long as he would be spared having to wake up with a face full of fucking snow in the morning.

He sighed and stretched his legs so they wouldn’t fall asleep.

The door behind him opened with the low, wailing sound of rusted hinges and old wood. Sandor turned to see the Little Bird standing there. She had a surprised look on her face, as if she didn’t expect to find him waiting. Her eyes were puffy from crying and dark circles had begun to form under her eyes. The Little Bird looked as tired as Sandor himself felt, but she still managed to give him a weary smile.

He was about to stand up to let her through, when she strode over to where he was sitting and sat down next to him on the narrow step of the staircase.

“Aren’t you cold?”, she asked him, once she was seated.

He shook his head. The winds seemed to leave this part of the yard alone and the warm ale had kept him relatively comfortable while he waited.

“The squire gave me this.”, he rasped, and held up the nearly empty cup.

She reached for the cup and Sandor handed it to her with a sly grin. The Little Bird was used to finer things than ale made solely for the purpose of keeping men warm. She took a swig and immediately spluttered and coughed.

“This is awful.”, the Little Bird said, her nose wrinkled in disgust, as she carefully wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.

She laughed as she put the cup down on the landing and gave it a little shove. It slid to a stop a few feet away. Sandor nodded. He’d have thought that the men who took the black would at least have something decent to drink, as they spent their lives guarding a massive block of ice.

“How’s he doing?” Sandor asked, and glanced over at her.

The carefree smile she’d worn a moment ago was gone in an instant. With a sinking feeling in his stomach, Sandor wondered how often she felt the need to wear a mask in his presence.

She sighed and looked away from him and her brow was furrowed as she spoke.

“I don’t know. Arya wouldn’t stop talking and he sort of let her. I let her. I can’t even begin to imagine what he must have been through.”, the Little Bird said, a slight tremor to her voice.

She stared up at the sky. The dark blue streaks had spread across the vastness above them, and were chasing the darkest hues of the night away.

Sandor had tried and failed to wrap his head around what he had seen happen to Dondarrion in that cave. And he hadn’t been murdered by his own men.

“Do you think he will be alright?”, she asked.

“He will be alive to find out now at least, Little Bird.”, Sandor said with a gentle voice, but it still came out sounding rougher than he had intended. “And you and your sister won’t be alone, you’ll have one person left who’s family. That’s something.”

The Little Bird turned to him and he could see that she was close to tears. Worry was etched across her pretty face and she hesitated a moment before she spoke.

“Bran and Rickon might not be dead.”, she whispered.

Sandor was not expecting the Little Bird to broach the subject of her two younger brothers. He had never spoken to her about it and as far as he knew, neither had her sister.

As the rest of the Kingdoms were war torn and ravaged by famine and raiders, news traveled slowly. There were too many other gruesome stories to be told, and it wasn’t until they reached the North that they heard about what the Ironborn cunts had done to the two remaining Stark boys. The little wolf had been quiet for days after that.

“What makes you think that, Little Bird?”, he rasped.

“Theon told me. Right before he died.” the Little Bird said in a hushed tone. “He said it wasn’t their body’s he burned. That they managed to get away.”.

Silence stretched out between them. Sandor was trying to find something comforting to tell her, as he suddenly felt a light thud against his shoulder. As he looked down he saw that the Little Bird was resting her head against him.

For a moment Sandor couldn’t remember how to breathe. The Little Bird would feel every breath he took and a part of him was worried what she would think if he suddenly stopped altogether.

“Have you told your sister?”, Sandor rasped.

He could feel her shaking her head against his shoulder.

Sandor didn’t have to ask her why she had kept a secret such as this to herself. He understood why. Even if the Stark boys were alive, that didn’t mean that fate would ever be kind enough to bring them back together. The Little Bird didn’t want her sister waiting for something that might never happen. It could turn out to be a painful gift. Giving someone hope where there wasn’t any before.

“There’s no use in dwelling on that now.” Sandor rasped. “Not with the day you’ve had.”

They sat in silence for a while and he wondered what the Little Bird might be thinking of. Her head still rested against his cloak.

“I was scared when the fighting started.”, she whispered. “If Ghost hadn’t stopped him...”

Sandor was about to put an arm around her for comfort, but thought better of it.

“We wouldn’t have let anything happen to you. Or your sister.”, he rasped.

“I know.”, she whispered and she sounded half asleep.

Her breathing had slowed and when he looked down at her he could see that her eyes were closed. Sandor didn’t want her to fall asleep. Not here, at least. He couldn’t very well carry her through the dark castle back to her quarters.

“You’re not falling asleep are you now, Little Bird?”, he rasped and nudged her lightly with his shoulder.

The confused look on her face told him that was exactly what she had been doing.

“Best get you to your room. I would have reckoned you were tired of sleeping out in the open, Little Bird.”, Sandor said.

He pulled her to her feet and she yawned widely as they made their way down the stairs. Flecks of pink and yellow had started to appear on the horizon and the sky had turned a lighter shade of blue. Dawn would soon be breaking and Sandor wasn’t tired anymore.

Chapter Text

Snow slowly fell on the men who had gathered in the yard, coating their black cloaks with specks of white. The Wall loomed behind the gallows, stretching upwards almost as far as Podrick’s eye could see. It almost looked as if it was silently judging the men who were about to be executed. They had sworn to defend the Wall and by turning their blades on one of their own, they had broken a sacred oath. For that, they would pay with their life.

Pod was standing next to Lady Brienne. Her armor had been polished to a sheen for the occasion and she had a stern look on her face. On his other side stood Lady Sansa with hands clasped in front of her as they waited.

Nooses had already been placed around the necks of the men who had murdered Lord Commander. One of them was old enough to be called a man at least. The other was still a boy. The two other men who had taken part in the deed, were already dead and had been burnt on a pyre without ceremony. One of them was the man that Arya had killed the day they arrived at Castle Black, and the other was the one who had been ripped apart by the white wolf.

 

Podrick still wasn’t entirely sure what had happened the night when the Lord Commander Jon Snow was murdered. Rumors among the men suggested it had something to do with the Wildlings. They had arrived by the thousands yesterday morning and set up camp just outside the walls of Castle Black. That, along with the pending execution had put most of the Brothers on edge.

The sound of feet shuffling was the only thing that was heard in the yard as the crowd parted to make a path for the Lord Commander. All eyes were fixed on the man who, only days prior, had been dead. He avoided the stares of the men as he made his way over to the gallows. Podrick wondered what it would feel like to be the one in charge of your own murderers execution. Judging by the somber look on the Lord Commanders face, it probably didn’t feel too good.

As he reached the gallows, he stopped in front of the men who were about to be executed.

“If you have any last words, now is the time.”, he said. His voice was low, but could probably be heard all the way to the back considering how eerily quiet the yard was.

“You shouldn’t be alive. It’s not right.”, said the older of the two prisoners. His voice was shaking as he stared at the Lord Commander in disbelief.

“Neither was killing me.”, he answered, a touch of venom to his tone.

The Lord Commander walked over to the boy. From where he stood, perched on a wooden plank, he was taller than his executioner. He kept silent, mouth tightly shut and with an almost petulant look on his young face. Podrick wondered what he would do if he were in the boys shoes. Would he stand proud at deaths door? Would it matter?

The swooping sound of the Lord Commander’s sword cut through the air and severed the rope that would cause the traitors to drop. It was followed by the creaking noise the nooses made as their strength was suddenly tested by the weight of the men. Podrick shivered as his eyes fell on the feet of the hanged. They danced midair for what felt like an eternity and then they stopped.

Pod glanced over at Lady Sansa. She had seen a fair share of executions in her young life and so had he. Being part of the court during King Joffrey’s rule, it had almost been considered commonplace to watch people being killed and tortured in all manner of ways. Podrick had never gotten used to the sight. Lady Sansa always had a vacant look in her eyes during those times. As if her body was present for the horrors that took place in the Great Hall or the courtyard, but her spirit was somewhere else entirely.

This execution was different. Lady Sansa stared directly at the traitors who had killed her brother and she wouldn’t look away. Her face was hard with anger and her lips pursed. He had never seen her like this.

A hush rippled through the crowd and Pod turned his head towards the gallows again. The traitors faces had turned blue and their lifeless eyes remained open as they gently swung in their nooses.
The Lord Commander had removed his cloak and handed it to one of his Brothers, before he turned and walked back to his quarters without as much as a glance at the executed traitors or anyone from the crowd.

Podrick didn’t understand what had just happened and why the yard had suddenly come alive with whispers. He looked up and saw the Hound standing next to him. The man seemed to sense Pods confusion.

“Guess the Watch will have to find themselves a new Lord Commander to govern this frozen shithole.”, he rasped, before he headed towards the Hall.

Chapter Text

“You better not start bawling when I knock you to the ground, you hear me?”, Sandor rasped as he and Arya faced each other, tourney swords drawn.

“Likewise”, Arya said with a smirk, as she twirled her sword between her fingers with ease.

Sansa couldn’t help but smile at this and some of the men that had gathered in the yard laughed out loud. Quite a few Brothers had turned up to watch the sparring match between the infamous Hound and the little sister of their former Lord Commander, a girl less than half his size. All Sandor had to do was glance over at them and they all fell silent at once. He towered over every single man in the yard, and even without his reputation, he made for an imposing figure.

Lady Brienne stood leaning against a wooden pillar with her arms crossed and Podrick sat on an overturned bucket next to her.

They had only been guests at Castle Black for a few days, but Sansa could already feel the effects a cozy bed and regular meals, was having on her. The thing that she treasured most about being 6 was the fact that she wasn’t constantly running from something. From the Bolton’s. She was safe here. They all were, and the fact neither of them had to be in a constant state of vigilance seemed to do wonders for all of them.

Sansa worked the hem of the fabric, with her needle. She had missed sewing while they were on the road, and at her request, Jon had sent one of the Brothers to Mole’s Town for supplies. He had brought back some fabrics and leather and he had also found Sansa a new dress. It was dark grey and simple, but she gladly traded it for the the breeches and tunic she had borrowed from Lady Brienne.

“I fail to see how it’s fair that you should wear all that armor, Clegane, when she has none.” Ser Davos said.

He was sitting next to Sansa on the bench she often used when she was sewing. Ser Davos seemed to be one of the few men who wasn’t outright scared of Sandor and that made her like him even more. The main reason, though, was that he was the one who had suggested that they should try to bring Jon back. For that she owed him a lifetime of gratitude.

“I have to say I agree with Ser Davos.”, Sansa said, as she made the finishing stitches on a tunic for Jon.

When she looked up from her work, she caught Sandor staring at her with an amused grin. His eyebrow was raised and there was a look in his eye she couldn’t quite understand. The moment lasted for only a second but it was enough to make her heart beat a little faster in her chest. She let her gaze fall to the fabric she was clutching in her hand and prayed she wasn’t blushing. Had she just suggested, in front of a gathering crowd, that Sandor should undress?

When she looked up again, his face was turned to Ser Davos as he removed his vambrace with deft fingers. He did it with such ease that it was clear he had done it a thousand times before. As far as far Sansa knew, he had never had a squire to help him with that sort of thing.

“You think a man who would go after a little girl cares about what’s fucking fair?” Sandor said as he started to unclasp the buckles that held together his breast plate.

“Hey!”, Arya said with an indignant tone.

Sandor turned to towards her, and she glared up at him defiantly. He pointed a warning finger in her face.

“Lets get one thing clear.”, he barked. “You are a little girl, and if you don’t want to be a little dead girl, you need to get that through your thick skull. I am bigger than you and I am better than you. So don’t start fights that you don’t know you’ll be able to finish.”

Arya scowled at him for a long while before she finally nodded.

Sandor dropped his chest piece to the ground with a clanking thud. Sansa had rarely, if ever, seen him without his armor, whether it was soot gray or golden. The edges of a large scar peeked through the collar of his tunic. It was an angry pink color as opposed to the faded scars on his face, and she knew that meant this injury was more recent. She swallowed hard as she thought of what else was hiding underneath his clothes and how much pain he must have had to endure.

Arya raised her sword and begun a series of complicated moves as she started towards Sandor. Before she could reach him, he smacked the sword right out of her hand with his own. It landed with a hollow thud a few feet away from her.

“None of that dancing shit.”, Sandor said, as Arya scrambled for her sword.

She looked frustrated as she charged at him again, and even more so when he quickly stepped out of her way and placed the tip of his sword against her neck.

“Dead.” He rasped. “Make use of your height. Or lack thereof.”, Sandor said with a grin.

That earned him a swift smack of the sword from Arya to his calf.

“Good, go for whatever part you can reach.”, Lady Brienne called out.

Next Arya went for his stomach, but he almost layzily deflected her attempt, and with a swift stroke of his own sword it landed above her heart.

“Dead.”, he rasped.

Arya was getting angry now. She moved towards Sandor and managed to get within his range of motion. As he backed away, raising his sword to deflect against hers, she hacked at it with all her might. Before she could even comprehend what had happened, Sansa saw her little sister take a hit to the head with Sandor’s sword, and she stumbled backwards and fell to the ground, hard.

A hushed whisper rippled through the crowd of onlookers. Sansa and Ser Davos were both on their feet as Sandor rushed over to Arya, panic reflected in his grey eyes.

She was lying face down in the snow, completely still. Sandor bent down beside her and gently nudged her shoulder. Arya moved with impressive speed as she pressed the tourney sword against this throat.

“Dead.”, she said, and pressed the blunt edge harder into his jugular.

A roar of laughter erupted amongst the men and Lady Brienne wolf whistled as Sandor reached out and pulled Arya to her feet.

“You’re a little shit, you know that?”, he growled, but Sansa could see relief behind the irritation.

“And you are surprisingly easy to fool.”, she said, grinning from ear to ear.

Sandor straightened up and ran his hand through his hair with an exasperated sigh. Then he smiled. It was crooked, but genuine. When he smiled like that, Sansa could see the man that was hiding beneath years of anger and resentment.

Sandor stooped to pick up the sword he had dropped when he hurried over to Arya. As he did so, she found herself staring down his tunic. The straps at the neck had come undone slightly in the scuffle and she could see part of his chest and his shoulder from where she was standing.

“Truly impressive.”, Ser Davos suddenly said.

Sansa whipped towards him. She had forgotten that he was standing next to her.

“What..?”, she stammered.

He was looking at her with a knowing smile and she could feel herself blush.

“Your sister getting the better of a skilled warrior such as Clegane, my Lady.”, Ser Davos clarified.

“Yes. Yes it was very clever of her.”, Sansa managed. “I’m afraid the weather is getting to be a bit too cold for my liking, Ser Davos, if you will please excuse me.”

“Certainly my Lady”, he said with a bow, as she gathered her sewing equipment and hurried across the yard to her chambers.

She wasn’t the least bit cold. Quite the opposite, actually.

Sansa closed the door behind her and sunk down on the bed. She sat there for only a moment before she got to her feet and started pacing the small room. Her window overlooked the yard, and she could hear the clanking of the tourney swords begin anew.

With a few strides, she was standing by the window. Sansa peered out of it, and through the old, blurry glass, she could see that Sandor was sparring with one of the Brothers. He wasn’t holding back anymore, and the man soon yielded.

She had always been impressed by his prowess when it came to sword fighting. Ever since she had seen him take on the Mountain to save Ser Loras, she had known that he was an exceptional swordsman. Back then, during the first tourney they had attended in King’s Landing, all she truly wanted was for Ser Loras to notice her. He had been so beautiful with his golden curls and his polished armor. Sansa had been looking at the Knight of Flowers then, with feelings that belonged to that of a girl.
What she felt now, as she looked down at Sandor from her window, was something else entirely.

Something had been brewing underneath the surface for some time now, but Sansa hadn’t been able to put a name on the feeling. It was the inexplicable need to be near him that she had misinterpreted as a desire to feel safe. He was strong and brave and she knew he would never let any harm come to her. But it was more than that. She could see that now.

The sparring was over and most of the men were headed towards the Hall. Arya seemed almost giddy as she danced around Lady Brienne and Ser Davos. Sandor was the last to leave the yard, after he had gathered his armor from the ground. As he went to join the others, he suddenly looked up and their eyes met.

Sansa quickly moved away from the window, not wanting him to know that she had been spying on him. She leaned against the cold, stonewall, feeling flushed. Her heart was hammering in her chest. Was she in love with Sandor?

Chapter Text

Arya was sitting cross legged in front of the fireplace with Ghost snuggled up beside her.
The heat from the flames stung her face, but it was a welcome change to chill that seemed to seep through the walls of the rest of the castle. She picked up a walnut from the burlap pouch in her lap and put it on the floor, where she crushed its shell with the bottom of her cup.

“Catch.”, she called to Jon, as she tossed him the walnut.

He was sitting by the desk pouring over a book and looked up just in time for the nut to hit him square in the face. Arya snorted a laugh that was loud enough to wake the direwolf from its slumber and Ghost huffed his annoyance before he curled up closer to her.

“Thanks.”, he said, as he gave her a tired smile.

Sansa and Arya had been spending most evenings with Jon since arriving at Castle Black, and this one had been no exception. Her sister had excused herself early tonight but Arya wasn’t the least bit tired so she chose to stay behind.

“Where did you find those?”, Jon asked, without looking up from the old book he was reading.

“In one of the storages. Some of them have gone bad” she said.

More than half of the walnuts were covered in black, gooey mold , but there were still some decent ones left in the pouch. She had been exploring the castle during the past few days and found it less exiting than she had imagined. Arya had pictured a massive stronghold, full of winding corridors and large dungeons full of old weapons and armors from the days of Bran the Builder. Instead she found herself growing restless when the castle turned out to be nothing more than a heap of old wood and stone.

“Take Ghost with you next time.” Jon said, as he flipped through the pages.

Arya nodded and crushed another walnut and popped it into her mouth. She regretted it instantly and almost retched before she spat it out on the floor. It tasted of wet earth and decay.

“Maybe you shouldn’t eat those.”, Jon said with a laugh and Arya couldn’t help but agree with him.

Jon headed over to the old bookcase that stood next to the fireplace. As he reached for a scroll on the topmost shelf, she could see him flinch. He made no sound but it was apparent to Arya that her brother was in pain.

“Do they still hurt?”, Arya asked.

He turned to her with a quizzical look on his face. For a moment it seemed as if he was debating wether or not he should pretend that he didn’t understand what she was talking about. Then he sighed and sat down in a chair by the fire. He stared at his hands as he spoke.

“Yes.”, he said. “Yes they do. But the alternative is worse.”

They hadn’t talked about what happened to him the night he was murdered and Arya suspected that Jon wanted to keep it that way.

There were so many things they had avoided to talk about during the evenings they spent together. Conversation had almost always been limited to reminiscing about happier times from their childhoods or telling tales of adventures.

Jon had talked about the vast beauty that lay beyond the Wall and about his friend Sam and the last Lord Commander. Arya had told her siblings about Syrio and her dancing lessons. She never mentioned Harrenhal or the horrors she had witnessed when she and Sandor reached the Twins for Robb’s wedding. Sansa would ask polite questions and she nodded a lot, but she rarely spoke about her time alone in King’s Landing.

They never talked about their father. Or about Robb. Or any of their other family members, for that matter.

Arya hesitated.

“Mine hurt for a long time, but they don’t anymore.”, she said, trying to keep her tone light and matter-of-fact.

They hadn’t talked about that either. About the night she was stabbed. The wound had healed now, and left a gnarled scar that ran the length of her stomach. It no longer caused her any pain but on really cold days, it would ache a bit.

“Yours?”, Jon asked, his voice full of concern.

Arya nodded and turned her attention to Ghost. She scratched him behind the ears and the large wolf closed his eyes.

“It happened the night we rescued Sansa.”, she said, as she stared into the flames. Arya patted her stomach where the scar was located. “I wasn’t as fast as Ramsay.”

Silence stretched out between them and the only sound that could be heard, was the crackling of the fire.

“Arya...” Jon began. His voice sounded choked. “I’m so sorry that happened to you. I’m so sorry about everything.”

She turned and saw that he had buried his face in his hands. When he looked up, Arya was overwhelmed by the sadness reflected in his eyes.

“I should have left this place long ago. I should have tried to find you.”, he said, his voice breaking.

“Don’t be stupid Jon.”, Arya said in a gentle tone. “What were you supposed to do, we were halfway across the country. There was nothing you could do.”

“I wanted to leave. I almost did.”, he said with a sigh. “I came close to deserting when I heard about what Theon had done to the boys.”

Arya could feel a lump forming in her throat and she swallowed hard.

“I killed him. I killed Theon.”, she said, trying to sound strong. She failed miserably and her voice came out as a squeak.

Jon looked taken aback for a moment, before composing himself.

“When?”, he asked.

“He was there, at Winterfell. The Bolton’s kept him as a prisoner. I stabbed him in the chest before Ramsay got to me.”. The words left her mouth in such a haste that they almost bled together.

Jon looked at her with a pained expression on his face.

“I wish I had more time. I should have made him suffer.”, she spat.

Arya could feel angry tears well up in her eyes and she hated herself almost as much as she hated Theon. She wiped them away before they could fall. He didn’t deserve a single tear to be shed on his account. Not after what he had done to her family.

She had thought a lot about him during their journey north, to Castle Black. He was a murderer. A filthy traitor. She had repaid his treachery by taking his life, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t enough. Not after what he had done to her brothers. To her family.

Arya had once counted him as kin. Sure, he had been arrogant and full of himself, but she had grown up with him. Played games with him in the courtyard. Theon had always been the one she would turn to when she wanted to pull a prank on someone. Robb took his duty as the oldest of the Stark children seriously and would never join her and Jon was too kind. But not Theon. He seemed to have an endless supply of ideas when it came to mischief and it was him who taught her one of her favorite pranks. Theon had shown her how to stuff sheep dung down a mattress and sew up the hole and Arya couldn’t count how many times she had used it on Sansa.

Whenever she thought of him now, all she could think about was the sound her knife had made when it pierced his chest.

Arya couldn’t keep the tears at bay any longer and she hid her face from Jon so he wouldn’t see. She was ashamed.

“I didn’t hate Olly. “ Jon suddenly said.

She turned to him, mouth agape in shock. Olly was the boy who had been executed for Jon’s murder. She had felt nothing but a burning hatred towards him as he dangled from the rope, legs twitching when his face turned blue.

“But he killed you.”, she said, incredulously. He had every right to hate the boy, so why didn’t he, Arya, thought.

Jon shrugged.

“Yes.”, he said. “But before he did that I considered him my friend. Things aren’t always black and white Arya, it’s alright for you to be conflicted about things like this. You know that right?”

She was silent for a moment.

“Theon was the one who pushed Ramsey out of the window. Without him we would all be dead.” she whispered.

Jon regarded her for a moment before he sighed.

“For that he will always have my gratitude.” Jon said with a gentle voice. The same voice he often used when she was little. “That doesn’t mean I forgive him for what he did to Bran and Rickon. Or to Robb.”

She didn’t know if she agreed with him but she still nodded. As she stared into the flames she silently thanked Theon for saving them that night.

Chapter Text

Brienne slammed open the doors to the Hall and as her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she spotted Clegane. He was sitting alone at a table in the back of the large room. She was fuming as she made her way towards him and the men around her seemed to notice. A young man scurried out of her way, with a frightened look on his face, which earned him some laughs from the other Brothers. Brienne ignored them.

He looked up as she approached and his face immediately twisted into a scowl.

“You better get that beast of yours under control, Clegane.” Brienne spat.

“What the fuck are you on about.”, he rasped, before taking a swig from his cup.

“Your horse.” Brienne hissed. “It kicked me.”

Clegane scoffed and looked at her as if she had just told him Pod had sprouted wings or something.

“If Stranger kicked you, you wouldn’t bloody well be walking around.”, he said, before he returned to his ale.

He had been in a foul mood lately and so had his horse. Not that either of them we’re especially pleasant even on a good day.

Brienne had been tending to her own horse when the vicious beast had walked up behind her. When she turned he was looming over her and when she tried to back up he had smacked her hard on her leg as he reared, nostrils flaring and teeth bared. She knew that if Stranger had truly meant her harm, she would have had to crawl out of the stables with shattered bones instead of a blooming bruise on her thigh.

Brienne was tired and she was angry and didn’t want to deal with Clegane on top of everything else, so she decided to show him that she was in no mood for his snarky comments. She put her hand on the pommel of Oathbreaker as she spoke.

“Then I might have to defend myself next time so I don’t end up a cripple.”, she said.

His frown grew deeper as he glared up at her.

“You wouldn’t.”, he rasped.

No. She wouldn’t. That beast of a horse was the most mean spirited animal Brienne had ever met, but she would never stoop so low as to use a blade on it.

“Care to find out.”, Brienne said.

Clegane moved to stand and as he did so, he swayed slightly. It was quite clear that the man had had more than one cup of ale to drink that evening. He mumbled what she guessed were some choice words about her as he walked passed her out of the Hall. She considered it an improvement that he had chosen to keep his foul language to himself rather than saying it straight to her face. But then again, he was drunk and she still had her hand on Oathkeeper. Maybe he thought it best not to push his luck.

Podrick was waiting for them outside and he looked visibly relieved to see Clegane. When they entered the stables they found Stanger happily munching on a bale of hay that Brienne had dropped when she fled. None of the other animals dared approaching what was supposed to be their dinner as well and they stood huddled as far away from the massive warhorse as possible. The beast had somehow managed to knock over the large water trough and the floor was covered by puddles interspersed with sopping wet hay.

“Will you go get some more water, Podrick?”, Brienne said with a sigh.

He nodded and hurried out of the stables, no doubt relieved to put as much distance between himself and Stranger as possible.

Clegane walked up to his horse and grabbed the reins. When he had tied them to a sturdy looking pole, he stroked the beasts muzzle and Stranger leaned in to his touch. He made a snort of appreciation as Clegane scratched him behind his ears.

“From now on you better make damn sure he is securely tethered.”, she said as she divvied what was left of the hay amongst the other horses.

Clegane sighed. His back was turned to her but she thought she could see him nod.

“It’s not his fault.”, he said. All the spite and anger had seemed to drain from him and he sounded tired. “He’s not made for this, being cooped up in this frozen hellhole. Neither of us are. We don’t belong here.”

“What are you saying?”, Brienne asked, confused.

“I’m not saying anything.”, Clegane said, and his voice was cold and hard once more.

Where was this coming from, Brienne thought. Was he thinking of leaving Castle Black? Would he really turn and run when he had fought so hard to bring the Stark girls here alive?

“I never took you for a fool Clegane, which is what you are if you leave. Where would you even go?”, she asked him.

“Didn’t say I would now, did I.”, he barked at her.

“No, but it sounds like your thinking about it.”, she said.

Clegane shrugged and and fed his horse a handful of oats. He still kept his back towards her.

“The girls would be heartbroken.”, she said, and she was surprised to hear the gentleness in her own voice.

He snorted.

“They’d live.”, he rasped.

“Why?” Brienne asked him.

Clegane turned to face her then.

“You can’t tell me you enjoy spending your fucking days, sitting around with nothing to do.”, he spat. “You fulfilled your bloody oath. So did I. Their safe. What use are you to them now?”

Brienne was just about to speak when she was interrupted by a loud thud. It was followed by the sound of water sloshing all over the floor and she spun around in the direction of the noice. Podrick was standing in the doorway, drenched in water from the bucket he had just dropped. Judging by look of shame on the boy’s face, he had been eavesdropping. Clegane seemed to notice as well.

“Do you need me to hold your fucking hand while you feed the horses or am I free to go?”, he growled.

Clegane didn’t wait for a reply and he pushed passed Pod and headed out the door.

* * *

The yard lay dark and empty as they left the stables. A solitary figure was standing guard on one of the walkways. From several feet away Brienne could see that the man, despite his thick cloak with fur trimmings, was shivering and suddenly her evening didn’t look quite as bad in comparison.

Podrick had been quiet as they worked, but it was clear that something was bothering the boy.
As they reached the tower where guests of the Watch were housed, he had finally mustered enough courage to voice his concerns.

“Do you really think he would leave, my Lady?” Podrick asked her, as they walked up the winding stairs of the tower

“I don’t know, Podrick.” Brienne sighed. She truly didn’t. “Clegane isn’t exactly easy to read, but it sure sounded as if he were thinking about it.”

When they reached their floor, Brienne stilled for a moment and listened. She thought she had heard a noice coming from the stairway. Something that sounded like footsteps. The tower lay silent. Maybe it was the wind, Brienne thought.

Chapter Text

Sandor slammed the chamber door shut behind him and kicked it once for good measure before he slumped down on his bed, as he cursed himself for being a blabbering fool.

He had spent the better part of the evening staring down into his cup and by the time the big woman found him, Sandor had been properly drunk on the pisswater the Brothers of the Watch called ale.

She had been furious with him because of Stranger and when it had become clear that she wouldn’t leave him alone with his drink and his thoughts, he had followed her to the stables.

When he had left there a while later, Sandor had sobered up quite a bit, but by then it was already too late. He had already opened his big fucking mouth and told her things he didn’t truly mean. Or maybe he did. He wasn’t sure himself, and now the big woman acted as if he had already started to gather his things for the journey.

Sandor sighed and started to remove his armor. He let the pieces fall to the floor one by one and the clanking sound they made, echoed between the walls of the stone chamber.

Thoughts about the past and the future had plagued him for the last few weeks and as life moved in a slow pace at Castle Black, Sandor was afforded plenty of time to dwell on the things that was bothering him.

The Little Bird had scarcely uttered more than a handful of words to him for more than a fortnight and it had become painfully obvious that she was avoiding him. If they ever found themselves alone together she would quickly spout a string of courteous apologies before excusing herself in a haste.

It reminded him of their encounters in King’s Landing. All the familiarity that they shared during their time on the road was gone and it had been replaced with empty words and nervous chirping on her part.

He stared up at the ceiling. His head was spinning and wasn’t only because of the ale. Why was he still here when he had done what he had set out to do? He had brought the Little Bird and her sister to safety, so why did he linger? What must she think of him, walking around the castle like a ghost from the past, Sandor thought. Did he remind her of King’s Landing? Did she think of the everything the had been subjected to while he stood silent and watched?

 

* * *

Sandor must have fallen asleep because he was suddenly jerked awake by the sound of urgent knocking on his chamber door. It took him a while to find his bearings, as he was still half drunk. His head wasn’t spinning anymore. It was throbbing with what, come morning would surely be one of the worst hangovers of his life.

The knocking continued and the noise sent arrows of blinding pain through his skull. He stumbled over to the door, more concerned with making the sound stop, than finding out who was causing it.

“Calm down, for fuck’s sake.”, Sandor growled as he opened the door.

A flurry of red hair whirled passed him and before he could stop her, the Little Bird had stormed into his bedchamber.

Her eyes were wide and she was trembling. Before he could open his mouth to speak, she interrupted him.

“Are you leaving?”, she asked, her voice breathy as if she had been running.

He was shocked to see anger reflected in her pretty face.

“Have you lost your bloody mind Little Bird?“, he rasped and it came out sounding a lot harsher than he had intended. “You can’t just barge into my room in the middle of the night.”

As the proper little Lady she had been brought up to be, he was surprised that he even had to remind her of this fact. Was there one thing that was drilled into the heads of highborn girls, it was that they should under no circumstances be alone with a man in his chambers, after dark. The Little Bird was well aware of this fact, but judging by the look on her face, she couldn’t care less.

“Why shouldn’t I?” she hissed. “You came to my room, uninvited, and then you left. You left me and now you’re going to do it again. Why?”

Some of the resolve she had had when she entered the room seemed to have dissipated and he could see a glint of tears in the corner of her eyes.

He wanted to reach out and wipe them away before they fell. He wanted to reassure her that he would stay. That he would do anything she asked. Sandor cleared his throat before he spoke.

“I’m not leaving.”, he said with a voice that sounded as if it belonged to a tired old man. “But you are. We can talk about this in the morning, Little Bird.”

He held the door open, hoping she would leave and save him the embarrassment of having to explain himself to her.

The Little Bird folded her arms over her chest in a gesture that told him that she wasn’t going anywhere.

“Why would you even think about leaving?”, the Little Bird asked, her voice hollow.

Sandor ran his hand through his hair and sighed.

“An old guard dog needs someone to guard, Little Bird. You and your sister are safe here with your brother.”, he rasped.

She frowned slightly and stared up at him with those big, blue eyes.

“Don’t talk about yourself like that.”, she whispered. “You’re more than that, you have to know that Sandor.”

His heart was beating so hard in his chest that it felt like it was about to burst. If he had ever been anything more than just a guard dog, it had been because of her. Any decent act he had ever done and anything that was good and pure in his life was because of her. Because of the Little Bird.

He wanted her to leave before he told her these things and scared her out of her wits. This could wait until the morning. When he was sober, the sun was up and she wasn’t standing in the middle of his bedchamber, looking up at him with those eyes.

“Please Sansa.”, he rasped and motioned to the door.

Her mouth fell open slightly and she stared up at him. When she didn’t move, Sandor did the only thing he could do. He turned and stalked out of his own chamber, leaving her behind.

He wasn’t sure where he was going at this hour, dressed in nothing but his tunic and a pair of breeches. All he knew was that he had to get away from her, even if the alternative was that he would freeze to death in the fucking snow.

Sandor was halfway down the stairs when the Little Bird caught up to him.

“Look at me.” she demanded, as her hand grasped his arm and she yanked hard.

He turned to her then, taken aback by the force in her voice.

She was standing two steps above him in the winding staircase, making her taller than him by a few inches. The Little Bird seemed to be at a loss for words and with a pinch of guilt, he could see that the tears in her eyes now streaked her pale cheeks.

And then she leaned in against him, closing the gap between them, as her lips found his with trembling uncertainty. His heart stopped and the world fell away. Gone was his splitting headache and the nagging feeling of unease from before. Gone were the questions and and his need for answers. There was only her.

He took a step closer to her and returned her kiss with the hunger of a starving man. The Little Bird didn’t seem to know where to put her hands and after a moment she hesitantly settled on his shoulders, close to his neck. Sandor could barely feel them, so light was her touch.

She was soft under his fingers and against his lips as he pressed down hard on her sweet mouth. Stands of silken hair fell agains his face and he brushed them aside with his thumb. As he did so, he could feel the wetness on her cheeks and his heart sank. Sandor broke the kiss and rested his forehead against hers, unable to let go just yet.

For a moment his mind had been blissfully unaware of anything that wasn’t related to the sensation of being this close to her. Touching her. Breathing in her scent. Now it all came crashing back with a vengeance, and the fear and the doubts threatened to drown him.

Why was she doing this? Was it because he was leaving? What was she afraid would happen if he wasn’t there to protect her?

Sandor’s stomach lurched and for a moment he was afraid he was going to be sick. He was no better than the rest of them. The beasts who took from her. Men who promised to keep her safe, but never from themselves and never without a price.

“I won’t leave, Little Bird.”, he rasped, unable to look her in the eye. “Go get some rest. It’s late.”

He placed a gentle kiss on the top of her head before he turned and walked down the stairs. She didn’t follow.

Chapter Text

“Are you going to eat that?”, Arya asked, pulling Sansa from her daydream.

Her sister didn’t wait for a response and she leaned across the table and grabbed a few strips of dried meat form Sansa’s plate.

“Hm?”, Sansa mumbled as she looked up from her porridge. “No, go ahead, I’m not that hungry.”

She caught Jon’s eye as Arya wolfed down the whole thing in one bite, barely taking the time to chew it. He smiled and Sansa knew why. A lot of things had changed over the past few years but Arya’s appetite still remained the same.

With a pang of sorrow she remember the meals they used to share in the Great Hall. Their father had always found it very amusing that someone as little as Arya could possibly eat so much food.

“Thanks.” Arya said, with a garbled voice.

The tables around them in the Hall were full of men enjoying a warm meal before the days work was set to begin. It was particularly cold outside today and many of the Brothers seemed to take their time, prolonging the moment until they had to brave the weather.

The doors to the Hall creaked open and Sansa glanced up to see who had entered. Every time she heard the noise her eyes flew to the door and her heart started to beat faster.

Sandor was usually one of the first ones to arrive in the morning, but today he must have overslept. Sansa could feel the heat rising in her cheeks and she silently prayed to the old gods and the new, that no one could see her blushing. Picturing him in bed would likely turn her face crimson, so she tried not to let her mind stray.

“Are you coming with us today, my Lady?”, Ser Davos asked her, before he took a sip of hot cider.

Sansa suddenly felt like blushing for a whole other reason. She hadn’t been listening to a single word of the conversation going on around her and she had no idea what he was talking about.

“Where would that be, Ser Davos?, she hesitantly asked, hoping he didn’t think her very rude.

He smiled and was just about to speak, when he was interrupted by Arya.

“We were just talking about it.”, she said. “Weren’t you listening?”

No. Sansa hadn’t been listening and she was getting annoyed with her sister for pointing that out to the whole table.

“We’re going to the wildling camp, my Lady.”, Podrick helpfully interjected.

Sansa smiled at the squire, grateful that he had come to the rescue.

“Are you feeling alright, my Lady?” Lady Brienne asked her, as she regarded Sansa carefully.

“Yes, of course.” Sansa hurriedly answered. “I didn’t sleep very well, I think I’m just a bit tired, that’s all.”

That was a lie. Even though she hadn’t slept a wink, Sansa was far from tired. She was wide awake.

“Tormund is going to show us a place where the game is good. He even found a few deer trails.”, Jon said.

“That sounds interesting.” Sansa said, with a polite smile.

Arya snorted loudly in her cup which caused her to sputter and cough. Lady Brienne patted her on the back.

“Yes, Sansa, hurry to your room and fetch your bow and arrow.”, Arya wheezed, as she wiped tears of laugher from her eyes and water from her chin.

Sansa glared at Arya.

“On second thought, I think I might be a bit hungry after all.”, Sansa said in a haughty tone, as she retrieved what was left of the dried meat Arya had taken from her plate.

Arya’s face fell, earring Sansa a round of applause from the table.

The doors opened only to let in a few more men eager to break their fast. She didn’t even have to look at their faces to know that none of them was Sandor. He stood a head taller than the tallest man at Castle Black.

She smiled down at her porridge as her thoughts drifted back to the kiss she had shared with him yesterday. Her lips had been tingling for hours afterwards and they still did a bit, even though Sansa was sure it was only because she imagined it.

Never in a thousand years would she ever have thought she could be so bold as she had been last night. She had been so scared, and so very angry, terrified that he might be leaving. Sansa had searched for the right words to convince him to stay. To stay with her. And then she had realized that words wouldn’t do. That he wouldn’t listen. So she kissed him. For those few moments before he returned her kiss, time seemed to move agonizingly slow. When he finally did, all of that had melted away. All the anger and the fear. All her worries.

He had pressed his lips against hers with such fervor it almost bordered on painful and at the same time he had been gentle in a way that had almost surprised her coming from such a large man.

She herself had been nothing more than a heap of fumbling limbs as she tried to figure out what to do with her hands, but her nerves had soon settle as she sunk deeper into their kiss.

Sansa didn’t know kissing could feel like that. Like her entire body was alight and every fiber in her body was singing with his touch. She had been kissed before, but it had never been like that.

The few times Petyr grew quiet and leaned closer to her, she had known what was expected of her and she would reluctantly return his chaste kisses. The only thought that had been going through her mind on those occasions was that she wished it would go no further.

The same could not be said for her kiss with Sandor, she thought, and a shiver ran down her spine.

Arya’s spoon fell to the table with a loud clatter and Sansa was pulled back to reality.

“No way.” Arya said in a loud voice. “The best fighters in the world come from Braavos. They have Water dancing and Faceless Men.”

Ser Davos smiled at Arya, clearly amused by the conviction in her voice.

“I beg to differ. have seen first hand what the Dothraki can do, and I’m telling you they are the fiercest fighters the world has ever known.”. Ser Davos turned to Lady Brienne. “No offense, my Lady

“None taken. From what I’ve been told about them, I might even have to agree with you on that one.”, Lady Brienne said.

Arya looked annoyed and turned to Jon.

“Jon, what do you think.” she demanded.

Jon held up his hands in surrender, as he got up from the table.

“I think it’s time for some more cider.”, he said, and ruffled Arya’s hair as he passed her on his way to the canteen.

Ser Davos chuckled and Arya shot him a look.

“Have you ever seen a Faceless Man fight? Nothing beats them.”, she said.

“Have you?” Ser Davos asked her with a surprised tone.

Arya grew quiet and stared down at her plate.

“Clegane, you’re a military man, would you care to help us settle an argument.” Ser Davos suddenly said.

Sansa looked up to see him standing there at the edge of their table, holding a cup and piece of bread. She wanted to fling her arms around his neck and kiss him then and there, but the feeling soon changed from one of excitement to a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.

Sandor didn’t even spare her a glance and it looked like he was reluctant to join them.

“Who would win in a fight, a Faceless Man or a Dothraki screamer?”, Ser Davos continued.

“Whichever one wants it more, I suppose.”, Sandor rasped, before he turned and left the Hall.

Chapter Text

“Ouch.” Sansa suddenly cried out.

Arya looked up just in time to see her sister toss the half finished jerkin on the bed in a very unladylike manner. She couldn’t help but smile. It was only on rare occasions that Sansa would abandon her courtesies and Arya always loved every single minute of it.

It was the third time Sansa had pricked her finger on the the needle. She usually wasn’t this clumsy. Arya chalked it up to the cold draft coming from the sole window of the chamber. It was making her hands slightly stiff, and the same was probably true for her sister.

“You’re going to stain it if you keep that up.” Arya said, as she put another log on the fire.

“Don’t you think I know that.” Sansa snapped, as she searched for a kerchief to wipe away the blood.

When she couldn’t find one she settled for sucking on her finger, something their Septa would have pitched a proper fit about when they were younger.

Arya shrugged and looked down at the large square of fabric that was spread out on the floor in front of her. She deeply regretted mentioning to her sister that she was bored. As soon as the words had left her mouth, she knew she had made a mistake, because now she had been given a whole set of tasks and they all involved sewing.

Sansa had drawn up neat patterns on a piece of simple, wool fabric the color of ash. Arya couldn’t comprehend how her sister was able to make such straight lines, when she herself had trouble tracing them with her scissors.

“Please Arya, the edges are all jagged.” Sansa shrieked, snatching the fabric from Arya’s hands to examine it. “I’m going to have to redo everything.”

Arya saw her chance for escape and took it.

“You’re so much better at this sort of thing than I am.”, Arya sighed. “Maybe I should leave you to it. So it’s done right, I mean.

“Maybe you should.” Sansa said, as she smoothed the fabric down, likely trying to figure out a way to salvage the mess Arya had made of it.

That was all she needed to hear, and she bolted for the door.

“Sorry about the edges.”, Arya called over her shoulder, as she left the chamber.

“I bet you are.”, her sisters lofty voice drifted after her as Arya reached the staircase.

She ran down the winding steps, taking them two at a time. The relief she felt that she was no longer stuck doing chores, quickly vanished however, when she remembered that she now had nothing to do. She would have liked to spend the day with Jon, but he was having some sort of meeting with the others, and she wasn’t allowed to join.

Arya came to a halt outside Sandor’s chamber. He had refused to train her ever since she had tricked him into thinking that she had passed out. She didn’t know he could be such a sore loser but she figured he must probably getting just as bored as Arya was, sitting around doing nothing all day.

She knocked on his door and waited. After a long silence she knocked again. From somewhere inside the chamber, she could hear the creak of what sounded like chair legs.

“Who is it?”, Sandor’s muffled voice barked.

“Arya.”, she answered.

She could hear his shuffling steps as he made his way to the door and then he cracked it open. He peered out at her, eying her suspiciously.

“What do you want?”, he rasped.

The chamber behind him lay dark and his face was steeped in shadow. What little she could see of him looked worse than usual. He looked haggard, like he hadn’t slept or eaten in days. Sandor scowled down at her, his brow set in a deep frown that only made his scars stand out even more.

“I wanted to see if you had changed your mind about training me.”, she said. “I promise I won’t play dead.”

“I’m busy.”, he said, irritated.

“Doing what?”, Arya demanded, as she herself was getting annoyed, even angry.

She knew what he was doing. She may be young, but she wasn’t stupid. His breath smelled like stale ale and he was swaying slightly. He was blind drunk and wasn’t even midday yet.

“None of your fucking business.” Sandor growled. “Find someone else to bother.”

With that, he slammed the door shut in her face, leaving Arya stunned and furious on the other side.

“Fine.”, she yelled, as she kicked the door a couple of times for good measure.

She left the tower behind, cursing Sandor as she went. Part of her felt foolish for thinking he would want to spend time with her. He had made it pretty clear the last few days that he didn’t want any company, hardly leaving his room for a bite to eat. Still, he didn’t have to be so rude to her, Arya thought as she crossed the yard, in search of something to relieve her boredom.

Brienne and Pod where nowhere to be found, so she decided she would pay the Wall a visit. It was the only thing remotely interesting to be found at Castle Black, which of course meant that she wasn’t allowed to enjoy it. The men who guarded the lifts refused to let her go up alone and she suspected they were acting on Jon’s orders.

A week after their arrival at Castle Black, she had found a place at the base of the Wall, where no one ever seemed to go. It was the perfect spot to hide whenever she needed to be by herself. Or whenever she was forced to.

Arya sunk to the ground, her back to the ragged, freezing cold surface. In her mind, she had always pictured ice as something smooth. Something white in color or translucent.The Wall was neither of those things. The ice she was now leaning against was uneven and rough and the same steely grey as the clouds above her.

She leaned her head back and stared up at massive structure that towered above her. She could scarcely tell where the Wall ended and the sky began. It was a dizzying feeling, and a slightly humbling one too. For as long as she could remember, Arya had always been a head shorter than most of the people she met. It was something she had been forced to get used to. It had even become something she could use to her advantage. But looking up at the Wall, she felt tiny. Insignificant. Like a speck of dust in the wind. She wasn’t sure she liked the feeling.

Arya was shivering by the time she left her hiding place. She glances up at the window to Jon’s chamber and made a decision. The meeting was probably still going, but she had to at least ask. Maybe he would take pity on her and let her join them. After all, she was training to become a warrior, she could handle whatever it was they were talking about. Surely Jon knew that.

When she reached his door she hesitated a moment, her hand hovering over the weathered old wood, unsure if she should knock. And then she heard a raised voice, coming from inside the chamber. It belonged to Jon.

She knew she shouldn’t eavesdrop, but curiosity got the better of her, as it often did. Arya pressed her ear against the door and listened.

“You weren’t there.”, Jon said with a pained voice. “You didn’t see what happened at Hardhome.”

“I saw it in the fire.”, the Red Woman retorted.

“That’s not the same thing. They’re coming for us and you think your god will be able to help?” Jon said.

His voice was trembling and Arya felt a cold shiver run down her back. What were they talking about? Why did he sound so afraid? Jon was never afraid.

“The Lord of Light brought you back to life.”, Red Woman reminded him in a tone that made Arya want to slap her.

“I know.” Jon sighed, after a long silence. “But that doesn’t mean I know what he wants from me. I had trouble killing one of those things, and they have an army. I can’t do this alone.”

Arya leaned closer to the door, her heart racing.

“No one is asking you to.” Ser Davos said.

“We will all have our parts to play.” The Red Woman added.

“What do you think about all of this Tormund?”, Jon said.

“The dead are marching. We’re going to need all the gods when can get. If the witch is right, that’s a good thing. If not, you’re descent with a sword.”, Tormund said, with a chuckle.

 

Arya must have made some sort of noice, because the door she was leaning against, suddenly swung open and she fell head first into Jon’s chamber. When she looked up, they were all staring at her. Ser Davos looked worried and the Red Woman was clearly annoyed by her sudden entrance.

Jon pulled her to her feet. He didn’t look angry. He looked defeated, which was somehow much worse.

“What did you hear?”, he asked her in a voice that was both gentle and tired.

His dark eyes had always held a wisdom far beyond his years. That was what their father always used to say, at least. Now they looked like the eyes of a man who had seen too much.

“Sit down. There are some things I need to tell you.”, Jon said, as he placed his hand on her shoulder and led her towards a chair by the fire.

Chapter Text

Sandor took a large swig of ale before sloppily putting the cup back on the table, spilling its content in the process. He cursed loudly as the foul liquid started to drip from the table and onto his boots and his breeches, but he was too tired and too drunk to move.

He wasn’t sure how long he had been sitting there, alone in the darkened Hall. The embers in the hearth had still been glowing when he arrived, but they had long since died out, leaving the room as cold as it was dark. Sandor knew he made a pitiful sight. A grown man, one of the deadliest warriors of the Seven Kingdoms, sneaking down for ale and leftover food in the cover of the night.

A few miserable days had passed since Sandor awoke with one of the worst bloody hangovers of his entire life, which was saying something since he had suffered through quite a few. He had spent the better part of the morning on the floor of his chamber, cradling a bucket as his head threatened to split opened with blinding agony. The strain of trying to remember what the hell had happened the day before did nothing to ease the pain.

Sandor could vaguely recall a blurry argument with the big woman about his horse. And he could remember that he had been drinking, but that didn’t count, since the evidence of that could be found at the bottom of the bucket.

Once he had been able to stand on his own two feet without swaying, Sandor had staggered down to the Hall, hoping that a bite of food would settle his stomach.

The Little Bird had been sitting in the spot where he now sat, but instead of moonlight pouring through the window, it had been sunlight, and it had made her hair shine like gilded flames. She didn’t notice him at first and he let his gaze linger for a moment. And then the memories of the nights events had come crashing back to him with the force that threatened to knock him to the ground.

They had been arguing. He had turned his back on her but she had followed. She had been upset. He had been drunk and angry. And then... In the tower where she slept, the beast who had sworn to protect her, had been more than ready to devour the sweet Little Bird whole.

Sandor reached for his cup, but found it empty.

He should have apologized. He should have crawled to her on his hands and knees and begged for her forgiveness. He should at least have had the fucking decency to face her instead of hiding in the shadows like bloody coward.

There were few things in life that frightened Sandor enough to turn craven and the Little Bird was apparently one of them. He dreaded the possibility of looking into her eyes, her beautiful blue eyes, only to find that the fear had returned to them. The fear he was used to see in them, back in King’s Landing.

Sandor ran his hand through his hair with a sigh. He felt the edges of his scar where they began in his jagged hairline, and with calloused fingers he traced it all the way down to his jaw. He shuddered.

Bits and pieces had returned to him since that first morning, but they had all been muddled by his drunken mind and he could scarcely make any sense of them.

The few things he did remember from that night, he had tried his best to forget. Something that had proven to be damn near impossible. No matter how much ale he drank, he couldn’t forget the taste of her. The way she smelled and how soft her lips had felt against his. The way he had wanted her. Needed her. And no matter how drunk he got, he could still remember the tears on her cheeks when he pulled away from her.

Sandor fumbled after the flagon of ale when he saw something move out of the corner of his eye.
He tensed, wondering if he had finally gone mad, when he saw the Little Bird briskly walking across the empty yard.

His shock gave way to anger, and he stumbled to his feet. What the fuck was she doing, wandering around the castle at this hour, Sandor thought, as he made his way through the Hall.

The moon was full and it bathed the yard in light, making it easy to spot her footsteps in the snow. He followed them to one of the walkways on the south side of the castle. Sandor slowly climbed the stairs and when he got to the topmost step, he saw her.

The Little Bird was standing by the railing, staring out over the cold and barren wasteland that separated Castle Black from the rest of the kingdoms. It felt like it had been a lifetime ago since they crossed the icy plain, seeking shelter from the Bolton’s.

Sandor hesitated for a moment, unsure if he should announce his presence or skulk away before she noticed him. The sound of crunching snow under his boot made the desison for him.

She quickly turned toward the noice, and when her eyes found his they widened in surprise. It only lasted a moment, though, before her face went blank and she stared at him with a vacant indifference. It was the face she so often had worn in King’s Landing and Sandor winced, knowing he was the cause of it.

“What are you doing out here, Little Bird?”, he asked her.

He had no right asking, he knew that, but he had to say something.

“I couldn’t sleep.”, she said, and turned away from him, staring out at the frozen landscape.

“So you thought it best to take a midnight stroll?”, he rasped.

She sighed and the breath that left her turned to a cloud of glinting ice in the moonlight.

“I thought you weren’t speaking to me.”, the Little Bird said, as she turned to face him.

She didn’t look angry. Her face was completely devoid of emotion.

“Little Bird...”, he said, feebly.

He couldn’t find the words, but she spared him the trouble.

“You’re not the only one who wants to leave this place, you know.”, she said, and he could hear anger brewing under the composed surface. “Do you think I enjoy hiding here while my husband walks the Halls of my ancestors in my stead?” The word husband left her mouth dripping with venom. “I risk my freedom and my life if I ever want to leave this place. I have traded one cage for another. You are free to leave, so why don’t you?”

He gaped at her. This wasn’t what he had expected to hear from her.

She wasn’t finished. Her face had taken on a hardened quality now, and to his horror he could see that her lip was trembling.

“Why are you still here?”, She hissed at him. What’s keeping you in this place.”

She was closer to him now than she had been a moment ago. The Little Bird looked him straight in the eye, as if searching for some unspoken truth there. Something that could explain things to her in a way that he hadn’t been able to.

Sandor swallowed hard. This was it. He couldn’t hide anymore.

“You.”, he rasped.

He tried look away from her but she placed both her hands on either side of his face, forcing him to meet her gaze. Sandor squirmed under her touch. She could feel every single ridge and every piece of gnarled flesh under her fingertips, but she didn’t seem to care.

“Then why have you been avoiding me?”, she whispered.

“Because I’m a bloody fool, Little Bird.” He said, voice thick with emotion.

Her breath hitched and and she smiled up at him. It was all the confirmation he needed.

Sandor bent down and seized her lips with his own, eliciting a sweet moan from the Little Bird, that made him that much more eager to deepen the kiss. She was pressed flush against his body and he could feel her sway slightly as she tried to steady herself with her hands on his chest.

As tall as she was, she still had to stand on her tiptoes to reach him and with a low growl he lifted her at the waist, bringing her closer to him. The Little Bird wound her arms tight around his neck as she kissed him slowly, sweetly.

Sandor wasn’t sure how long they had been standing there, but when they came up for air he noticed that she was shivering.

“Are you cold Little Bird?”, he rasped against her lips.

“I don’t care.”, breathed against him.

He gently put her down and reluctantly let go of her entirely, as he loosened the clasps on his cloak. The Little Bird looked up at him with hooded eyes, her lips slightly swollen, as he draped it around her shoulders. She curled her arms around him, as she rested her head against his chest.

“Promise me you won’t be a bloody fool tomorrow.”, she said sleepily.

“I promise, Little Bird.”, he rasped, as he held her tight.

Chapter Text

Sansa fiddled with one of the laces on her gown as she nervously paced her chamber. Part of her wondered if she had made a mistake. He was a grown man and she hadn’t been brought up a fool. She had heard enough gossip in King’s Landing to know what a man could expect if he found himself with an invitation to a Lady’s bedchamber in the middle of the night.

The other part of her was giddy with anticipation at seeing him again. Alone. They hadn’t been in the same room since this morning and just thinking about that moment made her feel flushed.

She had been seated when he entered the Hall. Sandor’s eyes had immediately found hers and the look he had given her had sent shivers down her spine. It was dark and laced with desire and made all kinds of thoughts appear in her mind. None of them suitable to dwell on in the company of her brother and sister. Sansa had been forced to pretend to drop her spoon on the floor to have an excuse to hide her face from view, since her cheeks had been furiously blushing.

When she had finally felt it was safe to emerge from beneath the table, Sandor wasn’t looking at her anymore, but she could see the traces of a dark smirk on his lips.

A faint knocking sound came from the door and Sansa’s heart leapt into her throat. She took a deep breath and then she opened it.

Sandor was standing in the dimly lit hallway. He wasn’t wearing his armor only a simple pair of breeches and a tunic. Even without his armor he still made an imposing sight.

He made no move towards her, and if it wasn’t for the hint of a mischievous grin he wore, she would have thought that he was as nervous as she was. Every single shred of doubt she had felt before was quickly washed away, now that he was here. With her. Alone.

Without uttering a word, she flung her arms around his neck and he caught her, lifting her off her feet as he held her tight. Sansa clumsily pressed her lips against his, with an eagerness that would have made her embarrassed if it wasn’t for the need that she felt and the response he was giving her. A deep groan from the back of his throat told her he didn’t mind. He didn’t mind at all.

“That’s the kind of welcome I can get used too, Little Bird.”, he mumbled against her lips and she could tell that he was smiling.

“I wasn’t sure you would show up”, she said, breathlessly, as Sandor carried her into the chamber and shut the door behind him with his foot.

“If the Lady summons me, it’s my duty to comply.”, he said.

She knew he was only jesting, but Sansa wasn’t sure she liked how that made her sound. It reminded her of Cersei in a way.

“I didn’t summon you, I asked you.”, she said, as she trailed kisses against the course stubble on his chin. “If you have other, more pressing engagements, you’re free to see to them instead.”

Sandor made a sound between a growl and a chuckle and pressed her closer to him, making her squeal in delight.

“Not bloody likely Little Bird, I’m right where I want to be.”, he rasped, before he kissed her with a fervor that took her breath away.

“Good.” She hummed against his lips.

Sansa let her hands wander from his neck and into his hair and the low groan he made in response, made it feel like her insides were melting. That quickly changed, when she suddenly found herself being placed on her bed. Sandor didn’t break their kiss, as he slowly hovered above her and she could feel her heart thumping faster.

Somehow, every kiss and every caress felt more intimate, now that it was taking place on a bed.
Her hands rested lightly on his upper arms, and even through his tunic, she could feel his muscles ripple and stretch as he shifted above her.

Sansa parted her lips and he deepened the kiss with his tongue, and she shivered as spikes of pleasure shot through her body. Every fiber of her being tingled as if waking from a deep sleep and she found herself gripping his arms harder.

Sandor’s hand, that had been resting against her waist since he put her down, had now started to slowly move upwards, towards her chest. He lightly traced the outline of her lower breast. Sansa gasped as he ghosted his thumb over the fabric of her dress, where her nipple was located.

Her skirts had been rucked up to her knees by his movements above her and when his hand started to travel south down her body, she tensed. Sansa knew that he had noticed because he suddenly froze.

He pulled away from her and rolled over on his side.

“Is everything alright, Little Bird?”, he rasped and the look of concern on his face was too much for her.

Sansa quickly sat up. She avoided his gaze, as she spoke.

“I’m sorry. I don’t..., I shouldn’t have.” She blabbered, trying to find the right words to explain. “I-I don’t think I’m ready. For that.”

Sandor sat up next to her and grasped her chin, gently forcing her to look him in the eye.

“Never think you owe me a single thing, Little Bird. Not ever. Do you hear me.”, he rasped, and she nodded slowly. “If anyone should fucking apologize, it should be me. Acting like some over eager bloody greenboy.”

He stroked her cheek and Sansa could feel some of the tension leave her body. She still felt she owed him more of an explanation, though.

“I’ve never...”, she breathed, glancing down at the bed.

The look on Sandors face changed from one of concern to one of confusion.

“Never what?”, he said slowly and then realization seemed to hit him and his eyes went wide. “Are you telling me you’re still a maid?

Sansa nodded, knowing her face was probably the same shade of red as her hair.

“But you were married to the fucking Imp.” Sandor said, completely baffled.

“I told you, Tyrion was kind to me.” Sansa said, emphasizing Tyrion’s name.

He didn’t deserve to be called such cruel things, Sansa thought. That was something Sandor surely should be able to empathize with.

“I thought you were just bloody chirping, Little Bird. I could never have imagined he would ever be so decent...”, Sandor’s voice trailed off. There was a look in his eyes she couldn’t quite place.

Suddenly he grabbed her arm and with one swift move, he had pulled her onto his lap. She was sure he would kiss her, but instead he just cradled her to his chest. Sansa snaked her arms around his waist and let herself relax in his embrace.

“Thank the gods.”, he whispered, against the crown of her head.

It felt strange hearing Sandor say such things, seeing he was the least religious man she had ever met.

They stayed like that for a long while. With her head against his chest, she could feel his heartbeat. When it had gone from a rapid thumping to a slow and steady beat, he looked down at her.

He was shaking his head and he almost looked amused, as he spoke.

“So your telling me you were married to the bloody Imp and traveled with Littlefinger and you still remain a maid?” He said incredulously, but the relief in his eyes was unmistakable.

She frowned up at him, suddenly feeling slightly offended.

“I would never have bedded Lord Baelish.”, she said, with indignation.

“That’s not what I was saying, Little Bird.”, Sandor rasped, as he gently stroked away a strand of hair from her face. “I never thought those bastards would have left the choice up to you.”

Her mouth suddenly felt dry and the prickle of fear she had so often felt in the company of men returned. Not with full force, more like the remnants of a feeling or the hazy memory of a nightmare. She knew what he meant. She had been left to the mercy of Tyrion and Petyr, and she had been lucky enough that they both had some semblance of honor when it came to her.

 

“Ramsay wouldn’t have.”, she whispered.

She looked down at her hands and could see that they were trembling. Tears stung in the corners of her eyes. Just saying his name was enough to bring back memories of that awful night.

“He was going to make Theon watch.”, she blurted out, before she could stop herself. “He said it would be fitting for him to see me become a woman.”, Sansa hissed, as the tears began to stream down her face in earnest.

She could feel Sandor tense beneath her, but he didn’t say anything, he just held her close to his chest.

No matter how much she had tried, she was sure she would never forget that night. The fear. The humiliation she had felt. She had been so utterly helpless against him. Against the cruelty of the man she had been tied to in marriage. A man who owned her. Who could do with her what he pleased.

She let her tears flow freely as she allowed herself to feel. She wasn’t alone anymore. Sandor’s arms wrapped tightly around her. Warm and strong and safe.

Somehow she found herself lying on the bed again, but this time she wasn’t afraid. She sobbed against him until there were no more tears to be shed. First then did he speak.

“No man will ever lay his hands on you again, or I will cut them off and feed them to Stranger.”, Sandor rasped.

She could feel the vibrations of his voice through his chest and she found herself smiling.

“I like your hands.”, she whispered and peered up at him from where she lay nestled against him

He looked down at her, his eyebrow raised.

“Then they’re all yours, Little Bird.”, he chuckled.

* * *

Beams of early morning light shone through the window when Sansa awoke. She was still wrapped tightly against Sandor. Even in sleep he seemed determined to keep her close.

“Sandor.” She whispered as she lightly pushed against him, trying to wake him. “It’s morning.”

He blinked a couple of times before he yawned. Sandor shielded his eyes against the sunlight and looked down at her, with at tired smile.

“Aye, so it would seem.”, he said, placing a kiss on her forehead.

Sandor untangled himself from their embrace and stood up, stretching his arms out.

“Best if you go down first, Little Bird.”, he rasped. “So they don’t get suspicious.”

She nodded and left, but not before stealing a single kiss from him.

Sansa took the stairs two at the time. A weight had been lifted from her shoulders last night and it felt as though she was soaring. She felt free for the first time since she had set foot in King’s Landing.

She opened the doors and found the Hall deathly silent. It wasn’t empty though. With a sinking feeling in her stomach she saw that they all sat gathered, with somber faces. Waiting. Her heart began to race. She looked over at Arya, who sat next to Ser Davos, and to her horror she saw that she looked visibly nervous. What had happened? What could possibly make her fierce little sister nervous?

Jon stood up from his seat and when she got closer to him, he put a hand on her shoulder, gently ushering her to her place at the table. She could see that he was holding something in his hand. A scroll. He held it out to her and she didn’t need to look at the sigil to know who it was from.

“A raven came this morning.” Jon said, and cleared his throat. “It’s from Ramsay.”

Chapter Text

Podrick stared down onto his plate as he felt his stomach turn. Only moments ago, he had been eager to gobble down this mornings porridge, but that was before the letter ha arrived. And before he had seen the look on Lady Sansa’s face when she was told the news. Now the thought of ever having another bite made Pod nauseous.

They knew where they were, the Bolton’s. Of course they knew. Pod had known Castle Black was the only sensible option for them to run to, and clearly so had Ramsay. Still, he had hoped the Bolton’s would just leave them alone once they were safe under the protection of the Watch. It had been wishful thinking, and Podrick knew that that seldom led to any good.

 

After Lady Sansa had arrived, Arya had suggested that they wait for the Hound too. So they had, and Pod found himself trying to recall if he had ever suffered through a more uncomfortable silence in all his life, than the one that followed. He couldn’t and it seemed to stretch on forever, until the Hound finally showed up. Then Pod had felt a different kind of discomfort, as he watched the tall warriors face turn ashen when he heard the news.

The expressions on the faces of the ones who sat gathered around the table varied when it came to emotion. Lady Sansa looked like she wanted nothing more than to flee the Hall and her brother’s brow was set in deep worry lines. The Hound was scowling, but that was nothing new Pod reckoned. He looked over at Arya. Her face was impassive, but something in the way she kept glancing over at the scroll, told Pod that she was dreading the content of the letter as much as he was.

If he felt terrified, he couldn’t even begin to imagine what the two girls must be feeling. Arya’s screams from that night echoed through Pod’s mind and the cup in his hand trembled slightly. He put it down, hoping no one had noticed, but when he met Ser Davos kindly inquisitive eyes, he knew the old man had seen his hand shake.

“Go on, read the damned thing.”, the Hound grumbled.

Jon raised his eyebrow at this, but didn’t say anything. He sighed as he unrolled the scroll and then he began to read.

“To the traitor and bastard Jon Snow. You allowed thousands of wildlings past the Wall. You have betrayed your own kind. You have betrayed the north. Winterfell is mine, come and see. Your brother Rickon is in my dungeon...”. Jon’s voice trailed off.

“He’s lying.” Arya said in tone that dripped with venom. “Rickon is dead, does he really think we’re that stupid?”

“I don’t think he is.”, Lady Sansa said in a low, but steady voice. “Lying, I mean.”

Every single head turned in her direction.

“What do you mean?”, Jon asked her.

Lady Sansa stared down at the table, unable to meet her siblings questioning eyes.

“Theon told me, before he died.”, she said. “He told me he couldn’t find Rickon and Bran, so he burned the bodies of two farmboys instead.”

The silence that fell was deafening and Pod felt grateful to Lady Brienne when she broke it.

“How do you know he wasn’t lying, my Lady?”, she gently asked her.

“I don’t think he would lie with his dying breath. I believed him.”, Sansa whispered.

Arya suddenly stood up, banging her small fists against the table. She was furious.

“You knew! You knew all this time, and you didn’t tell us.”, Arya hissed, as she leaned closer to her sister across the table. “What right did you have, keeping something like that from us. They’re our brothers too, Sansa.” She motioned at Jon, who remained quiet.

Lady Sansa looked up at Arya. It was her turn to look angry now, as she stared up at her sister.

“Don’t you think I know that.”, she said, defensively. “And now that you know, how does it feel Arya? How does it feel knowing they’re out there, but you’re unable to reach them? Protect them. How did you think It felt when you left King’s Landing? Waking up every morning and not knowing if you were dead or just wishing you were.”

Jon placed his hand on Arya’s shoulder and she slowly returned to her seat, but she was still glaring at her sister.

“Still, you had no right.” Arya muttered, folding her arms over her chest.

“I know.”, Lady Sansa nodded and stared down at her hands.

“Did Theon say anything else about them?”, Jon asked her gently.

“Only that he was sorry.”, she whispered.

Jon sighed again and returned his attention to the letter.

“I want my bride back. Send her to me, bastard, and I will not trouble you or your wildling lovers.
Keep her from me and I will ride north and slaughter every wildling man, woman, and babe living under your protection. You will watch as I skin them living. You...", Jon stopped reading.

“Go on.” Lady Sansa urged him.

“It’s more of the same.”, he said and shook his head.

Lady Sansa snatched the letter from his hand and cleared her throat before she started to read aloud.

"You will watch as my soldiers take turns raping your sister. You will watch as my dogs devour your wild little brother. Then I will spoon your eyes from their sockets and let my dogs do the rest. Come and see. Ramsay Bolton, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North.” Lady Sansa let a wavering breath escape her as she put the scroll down on the table.

If it was almost unbarabele for Pod to hear those words leave her mouth, he didn’t even wasn’t to imagine what it was like speaking them.

Most of those who sat gathered around the table had kept their heads down as Lady Sansa read out loud the horrid things her husband had planned for her, but not the Hound. He was staring straight ahead, his mouth set in a thin line. One of his hands rested on the tabled, and it was clenched into a fist so tightly that his knuckles had turned white as snow. He didn’t like what he had heard either.

"Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North?” Jon’s voice sounded hollow.

“His father must be dead.”. Arya was frowning.

“And now he has Rickon.”, Lady Sansa said.

Jon looked at her with pleading eyes,

“We don’t know that.”, he mumbled.

“Yes, we do.”, she said with conviction.

“How many men does he have?” Tormund asked.

Lady Sansa looked over at him, shaking her head.

“I don’t know.”, she said, tears welling up in her eyes.

“How many do you have?”, Jon asked the wildling leader

“That can march and fight? 2,000. The rest are children and old people.”, he answered.

Lady Sansa took her brother’s hand.

“You're the son of the last true Warden of the North. Northern families are loyal.
They'll fight for you if you ask.”, she said. “A monster has taken our home and our brother. We have to go back to Winterfell and save them both.”

Arya nodded slowly.

He hated seeing them like this, Lady Sansa and Arya. Most of all he hated Ramsay for putting them through this. Adding to their pain when they had already been through so much. Too much. He was no knight but he had taken a vow nonetheless. A vow to protect them.

“I will fight for your cause my Lady”, Pod said.

She looked up at him, clearly surprised to hear him speak, and then she gave him a warm smile.

“Thank you Podrick.”, she said softly.

“Well that settles it. This war is as good as fucking won already then.”, the Hound rasped, and took a swig from his cup.

His eyes remained fixed on Pod for a while, and then he gave him as small nod. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the nod came from the Hound, a man that wasn’t known for saying please or thank you , Podrick could have sworn that it was meant as a form of gratitude.

Chapter Text

The bitter winds howled through the yard as they tore at the blanket of snow that had gathered there, whipping it from the ground and sending it flying through the air in icy gusts. Brienne kept her head down as she left the council meeting. Despite the unforgiving weather, she felt relived to finally be able to stretch her legs after a particularly long day cooped up in the Hall.

They had spent a lot of time talking. Planning. Pouring over maps and discussing strategies. No matter how they tried to twist and turn things to work in the favor, they always seemed to arrive at the same conclusion. They needed men but couldn’t count on the Northern houses to supply them.

Lady Sansa seemed to put far more confidence in the Lords of the North than her brother did. Brienne could understand where his mistrust came from. Jon wasn’t true born. Growing up, he had probably not earned the same respect as his sisters had from his fathers bannermen. Although she wasn’t a bastard, she knew all too well what it felt like to be treated as if she was worth less than her peers.

Brienne shielded her face against the wind as she began to to cross the yard towards the tower where she slept. The prospect of a warm bed made her quicken her steps, when she was suddenly stopped by a hand that firmly gripped her shoulder. When she turned around she found that it belonged to Clegane.

“Let’s take a walk.”, he rasped, as he let her go.

That was the first thing he had said to her all day. During the meetings he was sparse with his words and seldom spoke more than two or three words at the time.

“You certainly picked a fine evening for it.”, Brienne said, as she pulled her cloak tighter around her shoulder.

He scowled at her but by the way he stood hunched she could tell he was freezing too.

“Don’t start.”, he grumbled. “I need to talk to you.”

Brienne squinted at him through the swirling snow. Something about his demeanor struck her as odd. There was an urgency to his tone that told her something was truly bothering him.

“Alright.”, she said.

They walked in silence until he stopped under one of the small, jutting roofs that ran alongside parts of the stone walls. Here they were somewhat shielded from the wind and the snow and they were also a safe distance away from the nearest guard.

She regarded him carefully where he stood. The two of them rarely spoke and she was comfortable with keeping it that way, if she was being honest, but she was getting curious now.
What business did Clegane have with her that could warrant such secrecy?

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair before he spoke.

“If this all goes to shit, I need you to tell me that you will do everything in your power to keep them safe.”, he rasped.

She didn’t have to ask who he meant by them.

“What do you think I have been doing for the past months?”, Brienne asked him.

He huffed and his breath left him in a cloud of white mist.

“That brother of theirs has an army to lead.”, Clegane said. “That leaves you and me to see to their safety. To take them away if need be. I won’t let that filthy, fucking bastard get his hands on them.”

“And you think I will?”, she asked.

“I need to know that I can count on you.”, he said in a low voice, barely much louder than a whisper.

Brienne would have been insulted by the fact that he felt that he needed to ask, if it wasn’t for the almost pleading tone with which he did the asking. He did count on her. He just needed the words said aloud.

“I took an oath to protect them and protect them I have.”, Brienne said. “Why would this time be any different.”

“I don’t care what promises you made to their dead mother.”, Clegane growled, and his frustration was apparent. “I don’t give two shits about honor and oaths can be bloody broken. I’m asking you if you care? If you care about them?”

She could see him swallow hard but he kept his eyes fixed on hers with a glare that would have made a seasoned warrior quake in his boots.

“As if they were my own blood.”, she told him, as she glared right back at him.

It was no lie. At first she had been driven by the promises she had made Lady Catelyn. The vow she took to keep her daughters safe. Along the way she had quickly discovered that her own feelings towards the Stark girls were more than enough to cause her to fight tooth and nail to ensure their survival. She loved them. She truly did.

“Good.”, he rasped, before he turned and started across the yard in a brisk pace.

There was something quite endearing in the way the gruff warrior had visibly relaxed when she had told him how she felt about Arya and Lady Sansa, Brienne found herself thinking. He was still one of most unpleasant people she had ever met, but the way he looked out for the girls made even his foul language and his general rudeness forgivable.

She knew why he needed to know. Why he had to make sure. He was worried and so was she.
Ever since the arrival of the letter, an uneasy feeling had plagued her waking hours. And some of her dreams too.

Hearing Lady Sansa read aloud the vile things that would await her at the hands of her husband should they fail, had sent chills down her spine. It had brought back memories from the time Brienne herself had spent at the mercy of Bolton men. Memories she had tried and failed forget.

Brienne gripped the pommel of her sword. Squeezing the cold metal always helped when she thought about that night, the night when she herself had come close to being raped. She knew what it felt like to be powerless. Stripped of any means to defend herself. Held down by multiple sets of hands that she was unable to resist.

Brienne shivered and it wasn’t entirely because of the cold night air. She had always been taller and stronger than most and she had always been able to rely on those things to protect herself.

When it came to this war, the war against the Bolton’s, the only thing Lady Sansa could do was rely on others to fight for her cause. For her safety. Brienne would rather die than let her down.

Chapter Text

Sandor brushed the snow from his hair and tossed his cloak over chair that sat by the fire. His fingers were stiff from being out in the cold and he fumbled slightly with the clasps on his leather jerkin. All in all, the day had gone better than he had expected.

It had been a long day, the last one before they were leaving for war, and most of the others seemed to be on edge. After his talk with the big woman, Sandor felt more at ease than he had since before the fucking letter had arrived. Knowing she cared had lifted a weight of his shoulders.

He had just finished kicking off his boots when there was a knock at the door. When he opened it, he was surprised to find the Little Bird waiting for him on the other side. He was usually the one who would do the knocking and usually much later than this. Half the bloody castle was probably still awake.

“Little Bird..?”, he began, but she interrupted him.

“I couldn’t wait.”, she said, with a shy smile, as she pushed passed him and entered the chamber, closing the door behind her.

Come to think of it, neither could Sandor. He picked her up by the waist and pressed her against the wall and kissed her hard. Her fingers found their way into his hair as she deepened the kiss, delving her tongue into his mouth. She had brought her legs up around him, but only halfway, leaving a space between them as he held her up. A part of him was relieved, considering how hard he’d grown as soon as he had opened the door.

Ever since the first time he accidentally fell asleep in her bed, they had made it a habit to spend their nights together, but they never did more than kiss. Sandor would never have thought that he could enjoy such a simple act without taking things further.

Whenever he had been with a woman in the past, kissing seemed like a waste of time and a waste of coin. Besides, few of the women he had paid, were willing to come close enough to his scarred face for that to even be considered an option.

The Little Bird pulled away from him slightly and looked up at him, her brow slightly furrowed.

“I was thinking...”, she said, her voice wavering a bit. “Tonight, maybe we should... You know. Do that.”

Sandor leaned back and stared down at her, but didn’t let her go. At first he didn’t understand, but then he saw her nervously glance over at the bed and he almost barked out a laugh.

The Little Bird could chirp pretty words about a heap of dung and make it sound like one of her bloody songs, but he reckoned she didn’t know a proper way to ask what she had just tried to ask. He knew it would but cruel to tease her, but Sandor couldn’t resist, knowing how sweet she looked when she blushed.

“Do what?”, he said, feigning ignorance.

“You know.”, she said, a hint of color already becoming noticeable on her cheeks.

“Is the word you’re searching for fuck, Little Bird?”, he said, barlely able to keep from smiling when she turned a bright shade of red from the roots of her hair and all the way down to where he couldn’t see.

The Little Bird glared up at him, well aware of the fact that he was making fun of her. She smacked him in the chest with her small fist as she wriggled against him, trying to get down. He placed her gently on her feet, expecting her to storm off, but she stayed where she was.

“Don’t be so crude.”, she admonished him, but he could see the hint of s smile on her lips.

He brushed a strand of hair from her face and placed a kiss near her temple.

“If you turn crimson without even saying the word Little Bird, I’m thinking you might not be ready to do the deed itself.”, he rasped.

She shrugged a little as she looked up at him with those beautiful blue eye. There was a sadness in them that he hadn’t noticed before.

“What’s wrong?”, he asked.

She shook her head and then she suddenly threw her arms around his waist and squeezed him tight. Sandor was a bit confused, but he wrapped his arms around her and for a moment they held each other in silence.

“What if you die, before we...”, she whispered, her voice muffled against the fabric of his tunic. “What if you die?”

He sighed.

“I won’t lie to you, Little Bird, I might.”, he rasped, as he held her close. “But know this. I’ve fought in my fair share of battles and I’m still standing. I went to war under a fucking Lannister banner.
Now that I have something worth fighting for, do you think the Bolton’s will stand a bloody chance?”

The Little Bird looked up at him again, still pressed firmly against him and smiled.

“So we wait?”, she asked.

If someone would have told Sandor a couple of months ago that he would one day find himself turning down the Little Bird as she asked him to bed her, he would have relieved that person of their head for telling such fucking lies.

She deserved better. She deserved a far better man than him and she deserved better than bedding a man solely out of fear that he might die. That didn’t mean they couldn’t make their last night in a warm bed, memorable.

“You know, there are other things we can do, Little Bird.”, he rasped.

She swallowed, the look on her face equal parts nerves and excitement.

“Show me.”, she said, as she pulled him over to the bed, where she laid down.

He followed her, his heart thumping hard in his chest. Sandor climbed on top of her, seizing her lips with his own. Her arms were around his neck at first, but then she slowly let the wander down his back.

She broke the kiss and looked up at him with a tentative smile.

“Could you take this off?”, she whispered and and gently tugged on the front of his tunic.

Sandor chuckled darkly as he obliged her, sitting up in bed and removing it.

The chuckle died in his throat when he saw the way she was looking at him. The shy look from earlier was gone as she let her eyes skim over his chest and arms. There was a look on the Little Birds face that he had never seen before. A look he could best describe as hunger.

She reached out a slender hand towards him and lightly brushed it against the dark hair that covered his chest and Sandor shivered. He leaned down and kissed her neck. Sandor pushed her skirts up and slowly moved his hand up her leg to where her stockings ended, just above the knee.

“Do you want me to stop, Little Bird?”, he rasped against her neck.

“No.”, she answered, breathlessly.

His fingers traced the edge of the stockings before he continued. Her skin was soft. Softer than he could have imagined. When he reached the warmth between her legs, Sandor bit back a groan, when he noticed how wet she was.

The Little Bird gasped as he stroked his finger over her smallclothes, just above her opening. She shifted a little, granting him better access and he made the most of it.

Sandor was lying on his side and looking down at her, he knew he had never seen anything as beautiful in his entire life. Her red hair spilled across the pillow and her eyes were closed. She was completely lost in the moment, and he wished it would never end.

He slipped his hand underneath the fabric of her smallclothes and he brushed against her soft curls before he reached her opening. Sandor slowly ran his finger between her folds and was rewarded with a low moan from the Little Bird. Her breathing was becoming more rapid, as he drew circles against the wetness between her legs.

She arched her back and he picked up his pace when he saw that she was biting her bottom lip. Sandor reckoned that meant he was doing something right. That, and the fact that the sounds that were coming from her was becoming louder. He leaned down and kissed her, trying to stifle some of the noises she was making, afraid that someone might hear her.

She kissed him back with a fervor that grew and grew until it stopped entirely, as he felt her tense up against him and then go slack, as she moaned against his lips.

Her hair was mussed and her face flushed when she rolled onto her side and burrowed closer to Sandor.

“That was incredible.”, she whispered and he could feel her warm breath tickle his chest.

Sandor kissed the top of her head, glad that she couldn’t see the smug look on his face. He was ridiculously pleased with himself.

He wanted to stay, to watch her like this, but his cock had grown so hard it was straining painfully against his breeches. Sandor reckoned he could quickly sneak of to the privy and take himself in hand, and be back before she had fallen asleep.

Sandor was about to sit up when the Little Bird pressed the palm of her hand against his chest, making it clear that she didn’t want him to move. Then she began to move it across his stomach and downward until the tips of her fingers rested just above the lacings of his breeches.

“Do you want me to stop?”, she asked.

Chapter Text

“Do you want me to stop.”, she asked him, as her hand came to rest on his lower stomach.

Her fingers gently brushed against the waistband of his breeches as she mimicked the teasingly slow way he had lingered at the edge of her stockings.

Her cheek was resting against the coarse hair that covered his chest, and she could feel him moving beneath her. When she turned to face him, she could see that he was halfway seated, resting on his elbows with a questioning look in his eyes. She raised her eyebrow, daring him to speak.

“Not one bit.”, he rasped, and she could feel a tingle run down her spine.

Even in the dim light of the dying fire, she could clearly see the bulging outline in his breeches and she suddenly felt a lot less bold than she had only moments ago, but she was determined to see this through. Partly because she felt it was only fair, considering how wonderful he had made her feel just now. How he had seemed to know precisely where and how to touch her to make her nerves sing.

Another part of her ached with curiosity to see him fully. Sansa had felt him against her a couple of times during the nights they spent together, but he had always worn his tunic, which had kept much of that area out of view.

Sansa reached for the laces of his breeches and with a pull of the knot that held them together, they fell open a little. A thousand different thoughts ran through her head as she reached down, beyond the waistline. What if she wouldn’t be able to please him, the way he had pleased her? What if she wouldn’t be brave enough to finish what she started?

Then she felt him beneath the tips of her fingers and all those thoughts were replaced by new ones. One of them being that his breeches were still in the way, and she pushed the fabric further apart, freeing him. Sansa reached out and touched him. She was surprised at how soft his skin was there. The rest of it was hard and hot and large.

Sansa clasped her hand around him, encircling him, before she tentatively stroked him once up and down his length. She was rewarded with a sharp intake of breath from Sandor, making her smile.

She repeated the motion a few times, when Sandor’s hand suddenly closed around hers, tightening her grip around him. Then he let go, kissing the top of her head, as his fingers languidly moved through her hair.

She pulled at him, keeping her grip as firm as he had shown her as she picked up her pace a little.

“Am I doing it right?”, she asked him, as she continued stroking him.

He chuckled, but it sounded a bit unsteady.

“You’re doing just fine, Little Bird.”, he breathed.

With her head resting against his chest, she could hear that his heart was beating faster and harder. Her arm was growing tired, but it was worth it, listening to him and knowing she was the one making him feel this way. It filled her with a sense of power Sansa had never expected to feel at a time like this. In bed with a man.

She gently rubbed her nose against his chest and then she placed a warm kiss right above the place where his heart was located. Then she decided to try something new. Sansa let her thumb glide over his tip, and Sandor grunted in response. She could feel the muscles in his stomach contracting and then she heard a low groan from the back of his throat that reverberated through his chest. His hips jerked and suddenly she felt something warm and wet on her hand.

After a few moments, Sandor bent down a seized her lips, kissing her slowly. Then he left the bed. His breeches hung low on his hips and Sansa couldn’t help admiring the view, as he rummaged through one of his saddlebags. When he returned to her side, he gave her a piece of cloth so she could wipe her hands. Sandor lay back in bed and pulled her close to him.

“Did you like it?”, she said, a grin spreading on her face. She knew the answer, but still had to ask.

He laughed. A rumbling sound she could feel to her very core.

“What do you think, Little Bird?, Sandor mumbled lazily. He sounded half asleep already.

She lay there for a while, both tired and wide awake. When she looked up at him she saw that his eyes were closed. Sansa craned her neck and placed a kiss on his scarred cheek, but he didn’t move. He was fast asleep.

She had believed him when he told her he would survive the months to come. She had known it then, that she was being naive, but she wanted him to be right. Sandor was strong and brave and the best fighter she had ever seen, and he had sounded so sure of himself. So certain that he would walk away from this war straight into her waiting arms.

Even in sleep he held her close, a human shield against the dangers that lurked beyond the safety of their embrace. She wanted to stay. To curl up close and never leave. But she couldn’t.

Sansa carefully untangled herself from him and slipped out of bed. She tiptoed across the cold floor, picking up Sandor’s cloak and her shoes as she went. She also found a candle and with the faint glow from the burning wick to guide her, she ventured out into the night.

It was late and the castle lay silent. The snow crunched under her feet as she hurried across the yard. The cloak was much to big for her, and she had to hold it up so it wouldn’t drag along the ground. She didn’t mind though. It smelled of him.

Sansa found the door to the rookery and pushed it open. The chamber that lay beyond was dark and dank and reeked of mold and bird droppings. Several large cages cowered one of the walls and the moment she entered the chamber, they ravens all began to stir. Most of them merely glared at her as she passed their cages, but a few of them started making noises and flapping their wings. She passed them quickly, and the birds soon settled.

There was a small desk in one of the corners of the rookery and beside it was a small chest. In it she found quill and ink as well as a few pieces of parchment. Sansa’s hand was shaking slightly as she jotted down the words she knew she had to write.

She held the candle out in front of her as she tried to find the right raven. The light flickered and writing on the cages was barely legible, but after a few moments she found it. The label that simply read, the Eyrie.

Sansa had never handled a raven before. That was usually the maester of the castles duty. The bird seemed to be mild mannered, though and it held still as she tied the scroll to one of its legs.

“Be safe.”, she whispered to the raven, who in turn flapped it’s wings and cawed.

Sansa watched as the raven flew across the night sky, soon becoming on with the darkness. She closed her eyes and prayed. She prayed the bird would arrive safely at its destination. She prayed that her letter would find its way into the right hands. She prayed to the Old Gods and the New that this war wouldn’t rob her of the ones she loved.

Chapter Text

The icy waves crashed against the ship and Arya slid sideways a few inches on the well worn wooden bench. She grabbed onto the table and yanked herself back to her place. So far, the journey across the Bay of Ice, had not been disappointing. The sea surrounding Bear Island was said to be as fierce as the warriors that lived there, and if that was true, Arya couldn’t wait until they arrived.

Ser Davos looked up and smiled at her. He was the only one expect for Arya and the crew, who had been spared the seasickness that had all the others bedridden. The storm had raged for hours but he didn’t seem bothered by it, so Arya figured she shouldn’t either.

Ser Davos was passing the time whittling a small piece of wood. She watched as his knife cut through the wood like it was made of butter, with speed and precision that shouldn’t be possible. She was barely able to sit up straight and if someone had asked her to try to do the same, she would probably be missing a hand by now.

“How are you able to do that without cutting yourself?”, Arya asked, incredulously.

She pressed her palms against the table as the next wave hit and this time she wobbled a bit, but stayed put.

“It’s something you pick up once you’ve earned your sea legs I suppose.”, he said, with a chuckle. “I once knew a man who could juggle half a dozen eggs as the ship we were on was being thrashed by waves, fifty feet high.”

The ship jolted once more and Arya held on hard to the table. There were no windows in the cabin and she figured that might be for the best. The howling of the wind grew louder and louder outside and everything that wasn’t nailed down moved with the motion of the ship. She didn’t need to see the waves to know they were huge.

“Have you ever seen storm like this before?”, Arya asked him.

He looked up at her.

“I think the seafaring northerners would call this a mild breeze.”, Ser Davos said, with a wry smile. “But yes, on the seas I sailed, this would have been considered quite the storm. I wouldn’t worry, though, we seem to be in capable hands.”

Arya wasn’t worried, but that didn’t mean she was entirely comfortable with the situation either. And they were in capable hands, even she could see that and she knew nothing about the sailing. With weatherworn faces and stern expressions, the men who ran the ship looked like they had crawled out of the sea itself. She doubted they would surrender to the waves without a proper fight.

The lantern above the table swung from side to side and the pool of light beneath it danced across the cabin.

“What’s the worst storm you ever saw?”, she asked him.

Ser Davos didn’t look up and kept whittling the piece of wood in his hand.

“When I first set foot on a ship, I was still a lad. First voyage I ever made and we sailed straight into a storm that put this one to shame.”, Ser Davos said with a grin, as he shook his head. “l was sick for three days and three nights and when I was done being sick, it was my job to clean up the messes the others hade made. Buckets full, and that was from the ones who had a somewhat decent aim. The rest was on the floor in river. After that I was cured of my seasickness. So, in a way, it might have been the best storm I ever saw.”

Arya snorted loudly when he was done with his story and he chuckled.

“Sansa managed to get some in her hair. A lot actually.”, Arya said with a sneer.

They shared a cabin and as soon as the storm had started Sansa had turned a sickly shade of green and Arya had quickly fled once her sister started to retch.

Ser Davos looked up and regarded her carefully for moment.

“You’ve still not patched things up with your sister I take it?”, he asked.

Arya shrugged. Things had been tense between her and Sansa since the day the letter arrived. They barely spoke and never about anything that had to do with their brothers.

“She should have told me.” There was no need to elaborate, Ser Davos had been there that day, when Sansa had told them about Bran and Rickon.

Ser Davos hummed and nodded as turned the piece of wood he was working over in his hand, but he didn’t say anything.

“She always thinks she knows what’s best just because she is older.”, Arya said, disappointed in herself that her voice sounded almost petulant.

“As I recall, she said she wanted to spare you the knowledge.”, Ser Davos said.

“Spare me? Spare me from what?”, Arya said, louder than she had intended. “I know the world can be a horrible place. I’ve seen things that would make her scream her lungs raw and faint.”

Ser Davos looked up from his carving and smiled. It didn’t reach his eyes. There was a sadness to them she hadn’t seen in him before.

“Maybe that’s why.”, he said. “Maybe she thinks you had to grow up too fast.”

“I’m not a child.”, Arya hissed.

Ser Davos cocked his head to one side and was silent for a moment. Then he sighed.

“I never understood why people say that as if it’s a bad thing. Being a child.”

Arya knew why. It was the same reason people talked about being born a woman as if it was a curse. As if it somehow made you vulnerable. As if it meant you could easily be broken. Arya refused to be seen that way. By anyone, least of all her sister.

Something told her Ser Davos knew too.

“I was born in Flea Bottom and we were dirt poor. I had to grow up fast. So I wanted my sons to be able to have that. To have a chance to be children. To give them something I didn’t have.” Ser Davos said.

He was silent for a while.

She didn’t know Ser Davos had sons. His eyes were suddenly filled with a sorrow that made Arya hesitant to asks further questions about them.

Ser Davos continued.

“That’s something to hold onto. The view of the world through a child’s eyes. There’s no shame in that.”, he said.

Arya nodded slowly, unsure of what to say.

“These horrible things you’ve seen, have you told your sister about them?”, Ser Davos asked her.

Arya swallowed and stared down at her hands. She hadn’t told anyone about Harrenhal, not even Jon. The only one she had ever come close to telling was Sandor, and that was only because he had known. The moment she had told him she had been captured by his brothers men, he had known. There had been no need for words.

“No.”, she said.

“Why.”, he asked.

Arya looked up at him again.

“It would just upset them.”, she said, slowly.

He smiled at her again. His kind eyes held something she would have called pity if it was anybody else looking at her that way, but coming from him, it felt more like silent understanding.

Ser Davos used the tip of his knife to make two small holes in the wood he had been working and turned it over in his hands a few times. Then he blew on it, sending a tiny cloud of sawdust flying before he got to his feet.

“I reckon it’s time for this old sailor to hit the hay. I bid you goodnight.”, he said, as he placed the small wooden figurine on the table. “To keep you company.”

As he walked out the door, Arya picked up the figurine. She hadn’t noticed what it was before, but as she cradled it in her hands, she could see that it was a small wolf. It was proudly turning its tiny snout upwards, as if it was howling at an imaginary moon.

She brushed her finger against the grooves that was made in the wood to symbolize fur and suddenly felt like crying. Memories of Nymeria flooded over her in the same unrelenting way as the waves that crashed against the ship. It threatened to drown her. Swallow her whole and drag her to the bottom of a sea of sorrow and pain.

She wouldn’t let it. Slowly she stood and with a heavy heart, she decided that she could use some sleep too.

Arya pushed open the door to the cabin she shared with her sister and the stench she was greeted with almost made her gag.

“Sansa?”, she asked the dark room.

A small whimper came from one of the cots. Sansa lay sprawled atop the bedding with one arm dangling over the side, close to a bucket that needed to be emptied. From the looks of it, she had missed it a few times, and there was sick on the floor too.

Arya suddenly felt a sting of guilt. After she had been stabbed, Sansa had done everything in her power to help Arya through her recovery. She had sewed her up, helped her wash and held her hand when she had been scared. The least Arya could do now was to clean up this mess.

She started by cleaning the floor. The ocean had settled a bit which made it easier to get around without stumbling all the time. She dumped the contents of the bucket out of the small window and then she brought some water so she could wash away the worst of the stench.

Then she turned her attention to Sansa. Arya saw no point in helping her change, the storm wasn’t over and she would likely be sick again. She settled for dabbing some water on the stains, but she soon gave up when she realized it wasn’t helping much.

Sansa’s hair was plastered against her face and neck and Arya rummaged around for a bit until she found her sisters brush. She dunked it in water and started combing it through Sansa’s hair.

“Thank you.”, Sansa whispered.

Arya kept brushing, but she with gentler strokes now than when she had started.

“Well, I’ve got to sleep in this mess too, so it’s not just me trying to be nice you know.”

Sansa made a weak noice that Arya supposed was meant to be a laugh.

She was about to leave the cot when Sansa grasped her hand. Arya leaned back against the wall and Sansa crept closer. Her red hair spilled across her back and Arya gathered it up and parted it before she made a clumsy attempt at braiding it. It turned out better than she had expected and when she proudly looked down at Sansa to show her, she saw that her sister had fallen asleep.

Chapter Text

Sandor took a swig from his cup. The ale was dark and strong and far better than the one they served at the Wall. It still tasted like piss, though. That was the one and only thing he missed about King’s Landing. The wine.

He had found a quiet spot in the courtyard and that was were he was going to stay until the fucking meeting was over. His first impression of Bear Island was neither good nor bad as far as welcomes went. Sandor had expected worse and silently kicked himself for hoping it would be better. It was as clear as day that he was not wanted there, but none of the islanders had come at him with their sword drawn. That was something, at least.

Within the bowels of the castle, people had gawked at him as if he had been born with two heads instead of one. His reputation had preceded him judging by the way he turned heads and was followed by whispers.

He was used to people staring. They had done just that ever since his face had been pressed to the embers. This time it was different though. This time, there was no advantage to be gained by being recognized as the fearsome Hound. No enemies to be sent running when they saw his mangled face. Now there were only allies to be lost when they found out that he would join the ranks against the Bolton’s.

They had all been too polite to ask it of him, but he could tell that both Snow and Davos were relieved when Sandor had chosen to wait outside. He was no fool. He knew how it would look. Bringing a Lannister turncloak when begging for aid from a Northern house, was by no means a strategical move.

He was roused from his thoughts when he suddenly heard voices echoing from one of the passages that led to the courtyard. Sandor smiled when he heard the Little Bird chirping her pleasantries. He hoped it meant the meeting had gone well.

“This truly is a splendid view, my Lady.”, she said, as she stepped out into the open air.

She was walking next to a child, a girl with a stern expression and the gait of someone thrice her size and many years older.

“Aye, we have a good vantage point.”, the girl said, with a curt nod. “Should the ironborn scum set foot here, we can see them coming for miles.”

The Little Bird hummed in agreement, as she was skimming the courtyard with her eyes, searching for something. As they fell on him, a faint smile lit up her face and he knew she had found what she was looking for. She quickly looked away and turned to the girl.

“I was wondering if I might trouble you for directions to your godswood, my Lady?”, she said, in a slightly raised voice. “It has been so long since I had the opportunity to pray in the presence of a heart tree”

Sandor perked his ears, but kept his face impassive as he stared down into his cup.

“It’s no trouble.”, the girl said matter of factly. “It may not be as fine as the one in Winterfell, but we have one all the same, just as all the other respectable houses in the North. Follow that path, you won’t miss it. Would you like me to send someone with you?”

“Oh, it’s kind of you to ask, my Lady, but I would like a moment alone in prayer.”, the Little Bird chirped.

Sandor heard the gentle sweeping sound her skirts made when she walked in the snow. He glanced up and saw her disappear amongst the trees.

He forced himself to stay back until he had finished his ale, one agonizingly slow sip at the time. It wouldn’t look good if he stood up and bolted after her, even if that was what he longed to do.

They hadn’t been alone together since the last night they spent together at Castle Black. The had broken their fast together and had supper in the evenings, but it was always in the company of the others. It had been sweet torture, being so close to her without being able to touch her. Talking about the weather and other things that were just as idiotic, when he wanted to tell her how much he missed her. It had been a fucking nightmare, slow and drawn out and still, Sandor found himself content. Maybe even happy.

Sandor stood up and followed the path that led to the godswood. The sun hung low in the sky and its last rays barely made their way into the dense forest. He strained his eyes, trying to catch a glimpse of her red hair amongst the trees. Sandor suddenly felt like a fool. Here he was, stalking the Little Bird through the forest, as if she was prey and he a predator.

Sandor shook his head and couldn’t help but chuckle to himself, as the verse from a song came to him unbidden.

“What’s so funny?”, the Little Bird asked.

He could feel her slender hand brush against his back and when he turned around she gave him no time to answer. She threw her hands around his neck and as she kissed him a smile still played on Sandor’s lips, as he thought about the bear and maiden fair.

“I missed you, Little Bird.”, he rasped, as he grazed her cheek with his thumb.

She made an incoherent noise that Sandor reckoned was meant as a reply, before she deepened the kiss with a fervor.

He pulled her closer, enveloping her in an embrace. She belonged in his arms. Feeling her against him washed away the dreary waiting and the lonely nights, until all that was left was her.

The Little Bird was standing on her tiptoes, reaching for him. Sandor pushed her up against the trunk of a tree, bringing her up to his level so he wouldn’t have to stoop to kiss her.

Her skirts were tangled, and with the way he was pinning her to the tree, it seemed to make it difficult for her to move. She wiggled against him, trying to bring her legs up and around his hips, but to no avail.

Sandor helped her, rucking her skirts up and she responded by squeezing her thighs tight around him. His cock strained against his breeches and he groaned when he felt the heat coming from the place between her legs. Then he felt her heels digging into the back of his hips as she brought him closer to her.

He pushed his hand further in underneath the fabric of her skirts as he kneaded the soft skin of her thighs. She gasped as he slowly ground himself against her. Her fingers were in his hair, but her touch was far from as delicate as it used to be. She was grabbing him in a way that told him she had missed this just as much as he had.

When the Little Bird started moving her hips against him, he was sure he would be done for sooner than his pride would allow. The sweet noises she made as she trailed kisses across his jawline spurred him on. He was so close but he wanted to be closer. He wanted to feel her surround him fully, wet and warm and willing.

Then she tensed.

“No!”, she suddenly shrieked. “No, don’t.”

Before he even had time to pull away from her a piercing pain shot through his backside. He grunted loudly, and he almost dropped her.

The Little Bird was scrambling, frantic, as she tried to get down. He let go and when she found her footing, Sandor spun around.

The Little Wolf was standing behind him, her tiny sword raise and pointed squarely in his face. She was shaking with rage, and as he stood there, dumbfounded, he thought he saw a glint of tears in her eyes. From the tip of her blade, small beads of blood dripped onto the snow below. His blood.

“Get away from her.”, she hissed. “Now.”

Chapter Text

She had been so nervous as she waited for him in the godswood. A thousand thoughts had run through Sansa’s mind, as time passed and he was nowhere to be seen. What if he hadn’t understood her meaning when she told Lady Lyanna that she wanted to pray by the heart tree? What if he didn’t turn up?

Then she heard him. His low, dark chuckle that always seemed to make her weak at the knees. He had been standing there, alone in the forest, smiling to himself. Sansa had abandoned all efforts to approach him with a semblance of composure and then she had flung herself into his arms.

Lightheaded and breathless, she melted to his touch. It felt so good when he moved against her. So very good. And then everything went horribly wrong.

By chance, she had opened her eyes and that was when she had seen it. A glint of steel and then the person who wielded it. Arya. She had screamed, but to no avail, as her sister plunged her sword into Sandor.

Moments later, Sansa found herself back on the ground, as Sandor turned to face Arya.

“What the fucks the matter with you?”, he roared.

His back was to Sansa and she could see a tiny tear in his breeches, right in the middle of his left buttock. Blood had already begun to seep through the fabric, staining it with a red so dark it almost looked black.

“Sansa.”, Arya said, in an almost pleading tone.

What had she done, Sansa thought. How could she? Had Arya completely lost her mind? Panic surged through her as Sansa stumbled passed him on unsteady feet. And then she tripped on her cloak and fell face first into the snow. As she got to her knees Sandor tried to help her up, but was stopped by Arya, who pressed Needle hard against his shoulder.

“Don’t you dare.”, Arya hissed, her voice as cold as the air in Sansa’s lungs.

Sandor growled and smacked the sword away with such force that the blade soared through the air and landed with a thud so where out of view. Arya must have been holding on to the pommel with a tight grip, because the movement sent her flying as well.

“You can’t just go around stabbing people like that, Arya.” she said, trying hard to keep her voice from shaking. She didn’t succeed.

Arya got to her feet. She was trembling, her face contorted with rage and something else. Grief, Sansa realized. And then she saw the tears that had begun to stream down her sisters cheeks and she knew why her sister had attacked Sandor.

Sansa almost felt ill as she understood what Arya must have thought was happening. Sandor had noticed the tears as well and by the stricken look on his face, he must have drawn the same conclusion. He took a step backwards as Arya moved towards him, her breath shallow and her mouth twisted in a feral snarl. Her fists were clenched and it looked like she was readying for a fight.

Sansa grasped her sister by the shoulders and shook her, harder than she had meant to, until Arya finally looked up at her instead of at Sandor.

“It’s not what you think.”, Sansa said with as much strength as she could muster considering the circumstances. “He wasn’t doing that, I swear.”

At first it looked like her sister had barely heard a word of what she was saying. Arya frowned up at her and then her anger slowly gave way to confusion.

“He wasn’t hurting you?”, she asked, and the words came out strangled.

“You’re the only one doing the fucking hurtin‘ here .”, Sandor snapped.

Sansa could hear the pain in his voice and she knew it wasn’t because he had just been stabbed.
Arya turned her head towards him and scowled before she proceed to wipe away her tears with the back of her hand.

“This wasn’t the best way for you to find out about this, about us.”, Sansa said with trepidation, not really knowing what else there was to say at a time like this.

“No shit.” Sandor huffed.

“So you wanted this?”, Arya asked incredulously and pointed from her to Sandor.

Sandor’s face twisted in anger and he straightened to his full height.

“Don’t go poking your bloody finger at me, you’ve done enough of that already you little shit.”, he barked.

“Sandor!”, Sansa exclaimed, “You’re not helping.”

“I’m not helping? She’s the one who bloody stabbed me.” Sandor spat on the ground

Arya took a step towards him.

“Keep talking. I haven’t decided if I should geld you or not.”, Arya hissed.

Sandor opened his mouth, but Sansa interrupted him.

“Maybe it would be best if I talk to Arya alone.”, Sansa said, and when it looked like he was about to argue, she added. “Please.”

He sighed and then he reluctantly nodded. It was clear that he still had things left to say. Mostly curse words, she supposed.

Arya was calm enough now and her sword was far away, so Sansa deemed it safe enough to approach Sandor now. She put her hand on his arm and squeezed it, hoping this small act was enough to convey how she felt. With a twinge of guilt, she saw that his shoulders were slumped. She didn’t want him to leave things like this.

“Are you going to be alright?”, she asked.

He barked out a laugh, short and harsh and lacking any humor.

“It’s just a scratch.”, he growled, as he stalked away towards the castle. “But its a good fucking thing the rabid little pup doesn’t have any real claws.”

Sansa watched him go. She wondered how things could ever be the same between the three of them after this. They were both so stubborn, her sister and Sandor. She sighed. She had to start somewhere.

Arya was staring at a tiny speck of blood in the snow where Sandor had been standing. Her nose was red and she wiped it with her sleeve. She looked vulnerable and far younger than her years.

Sansa took her hand and gently led her over to a large oak. It’s roots were large and some of them were free from snow. She sat down on one of them and pulled Arya with her.

They sat in silence for a while. Neither of them seemed to know where to start.

“It looked really bad Sansa.”, Arya said after a while, her voice hollow. “I thought...”

Her voice trailed off and she was shaking her head, as if trying to remove the image of her sister being pressed up against a tree by Sandor.

“I know. But he didn’t hurt me, I promise.”, she said.

“Why then?”, Arya said, almost accusatory. “Why were you doing that? With him?”

Sansa swallowed hard. She knew that the only way she could make things right was to tell the truth.

“Because I wanted to.”, she said quietly. “And he did too.”

Arya scrunched up her nose, disbelief written across her face in bold letters.

“How long?”, she asked.

“Since Castle Black.”, Sansa answered.

“But why? He’s really old, Sansa.”, she said with a grimace. “And ugly.”

“He’s not that old.”, she said, and swatted Arya on the arm. “And I don’t find him ugly. Not in the least.”

Arya was shaking her head in disbelief, but she was smiling too.

“I never figured you could ever feel those kinds of things for a man like him. I mean, when you were younger all you could talk about were knights and princes. Young and fair with golden hair.” The last part Arya said in a singsongy voice.

“You mean like Joffrey?” Sansa asked.

Just saying his name made her skin crawl.

Arya was quiet for a while.

“Well, he’s a better choice than Joffrey, I will give you that.”, she snorted.

Sansa hesitated. When she imagined saying the words, she had never thought her sister would be the first one to hear them. It felt strange, but she needed Arya to understand.

“I love him, Arya.”, Sansa said. “Very much.”

Her sisters eyes went wide and she shook her head again.

“I guess that explains a few things.”, she said.

“What things?” Sansa asked.

Arya shrugged.

“Why he cared so much. I never understood it then, it made no sense. Why he would agree to come and find you. There was nothing in it for him. No money.” she said. “I think he has felt the same for you for a long time.”

Chapter Text

“Arya?”, a voice called, pulling her from her thoughts.

When she looked up, she saw that it was Jon who had said her name. He was sitting opposite her at the large table in the dining hall of Mormont’s Keep and judging by the look of amusement on his face he had probably called it more than once.

“What?”, she said, confused.

A feast had been prepared in their honor, but as soon as they sat down to eat it had turned into yet another war council. She had stopped listening when they started discussing how many blankets and furs would be suitable for each of Lady Mormont’s men to bring with them.

“Never mind, I can get it myself.”, Jon said, as he reached across the table and grabbed a large bowl that was sitting right beside her.

“Sorry.”, she mumbled.

Jon just smiled.

“Where’s your head at this evening?”, he asked, as he ladled up a large portion of mutton stew on his plate.

Sansa, who was seated next to Jon, immediately tensed up and she nervously glanced over at Arya.

“I’m just tired I guess.”, she shrugged.

“That doesn’t usually have have much of an effect on your appetite.”, Jon said.

“I’m fine.”, she sighed, and rolled her eyes.

For good measure she stuffed half a piece of kidney pie into her mouth, making both Jon and Sansa laugh.

In truth she wasn’t fine. No matter how hard she tried to ignore it, her mind kept circling back to what she had seen in the godswood a couple of hours ago.

After the meeting in the Great Hall she had decided it was time to explore the Island. At least that was what she had told Jon she was going to do. She had known he wouldn’t let her out of his sight if she had told him the real reason she wanted to take a stroll in the woods. She desperately wanted to see one of the bears of Bear Island.

Ever since she was little she had been fascinated by tales of this place. Of the island that was full of brave warrior women and the great, big beasts that roamed its forests. They had bears back in the Wolfswood too, but Arya was sure that the ones who lived in these parts of the north was something else entirely.

The first thing that caught her attention were the noises. Labored breaths and the sounds of grunting. She had been more curios than afraid. And then she had seen them. Most of Sansa had been obscured by the body of a man who towered over her, pinning her to the trunk of a tree. His large hands had been mercilessly digging into the pale flesh of her sisters thighs as a wordless cry escaped Sansa’s lips.

Arya’s had wanted to weep then, seeing her sister like that. Thinking back on it, knowing what she now knew, it made her feel mortified enough to want to sink through the floor.

Arya glanced down the length of the table to the very end of it where Sandor was sitting. He was scowling down into his cup with such ferocity that the man closest to him, one of Lyanna’s men, looked slightly uncomfortable.

She had known it was Sandor the instant she saw them together in the godswood. Event though his back was to her, she had known. Still, she didn’t want to believe her eyes as she stood there, stunned and frozen to the spot as her world collapsed around her. Then her anger had taken control of her and she had sprung into action.

Some of that anger had lingered even after Sansa had told her what was going on, and Arya wasn’t sure if she was ready to let it go just yet. It was the only thing that made sense at the moment.

Lady Lyanna suddenly cleared her throat and then she spoke with a voice that rang out louder than it had during previous conversations.

“My advisors have raised some concerns about the loyalty amongst your men.”, Lady Lyanna said, and one of the men who flanked her nodded gravely.

The din in the dining hall slowed to a halt and all that could be heard were the sounds of utensils and cups being placed back on the table.

“I can assure you, my Lady, all those who fight for our cause are true of heart.”, Sansa said, and there was a slight edge to her voice.

Lady Lyanna’s frown deepened.

“And the same goes for wildlings as well as turncloak I take it?”, she said.

It was clear that she was talking about Sandor. Arya clenched her fists in her lap.

Jon sat up straight.

“Yes it does.”, he said. “I trust every man and woman in our ranks with my life and the lives of my sisters.”

Lady Lyanna leaned back in her chair but she kept her eyes fixed on Jon.

“Even a former Lannisterman?”, she asked, incredulously.

Silence fell.

Then the scraping sound of chair legs against stone broke it and when Arya turned her head she saw that Sandor had stood up. He didn’t say anything, he simply walked out of the Hall without sparing a single glance at those who were still seated.

Sansa watched him go. She looked close to tears.

“As I said...”, Jon began, but Arya interrupted him.

“If it’s Sandor Clegane you’re talking about, there’s no need for you to worry, my Lady.”, Arya said, with as much venom as she could muster. “And if the children of your former liege lord puts their faith in him, I don’t see why you shouldn’t.”

Sansa’s mouth had dropped open and Lady Lyanna was glaring at Arya, but she thought she could see a hint of approval on the little girls stern face.

Arya stood up and swiped half a loaf of bread from the table, and then, as an afterthought, she reached for cup and a flagon of ale as well, before left to look for Sandor.

 

She found him in the stables. He was tending to his horse, and as soon as Arya approached them, Stranger reared its massive head and brayed loudly.

Sandor glanced over his shoulder and when he saw that it was her he huffed out a breath before he returned his attention to horse.

“Come for some more target practicing, have you.”, he grunted. “Hush you silly beast.”, he added in gentler tone to Stranger, as he scratched it behind one ear.

“Not right now.” she said.

He turned to face her. His arms were folded across his chest, but he didn’t look angry. He looked tired and worn, which was somehow worse. Like the events of the day had been enough to defeat even him.

Arya held out the flagon of ale and he soon relented, grudgingly accepting her peace offering.
Sandor ignored the cup and took a large swig straight from the flagon.

“So, you had your little talk with your sister.”, he rasped, wiping ale from his beard with the back of his hand. “Still planning on cutting my cock off?”,

She glared at him.

“Not if you keep it in your breeches when I’m around.”, she retorted.

Sandor chuckled.

“Fair enough.”, he said, as he slumped down on a large bale of hay.

Arya felt a twinge of guilt when she saw him wince, as he sat down.

“So that was why you decided to come north?”, she asked him. “For her?“

He sighed.

“I came because I wanted to see her safe. Both of you.”, he said and spat on the ground. “I never thought this would happen. Her and me. I still don’t bloody understand it.”

“That makes two of us then.”, Arya said, before she took a large chunk out of the loaf and grinned at him.

They sat in silence for a while and Sandor had finished the flagon before either of them spoke again.

“If you ever hurt her, in any way, I will gut you and use your own bowels to strangle you.”, Arya said, with low voice.

He raised his eyebrow at her and then he sneered.

“Wouldn’t expect any less from you.”, he rasped.

“Good.”, she said, plopping another bite of bread into her mouth.

Sandor took a deep breath. He was staring down at his hands.

“You know I would never do anything to hurt her, don’t you.”, he said, and there was an almost pleading tone to his voice.

She knew. Somewhere deep down she had known his words to be true even when she saw them in the godswood.

“I know.”, she said.

Sandor leaned forwards and took a piece of bread from Arya.

“It’s a low fucking blow, stabbing a man in the arse.”, he rasped, before taking a bite.

“It was the only part I could reach.”, she said, sheepishly.

Sandor barked out a laugh.

“What if I had been doing what you thought I was doing?”, he suddenly said. “If you’re going to stab someone three times your size, you better make fucking sure they can’t come after you. I can run even if my arse hurts.”

“How then?”, she asked.

He angled his boot towards Arya so she could see the back of it. Then he drew a line across it, just above the heel.

“You go for the tendons.”, he said with a grin. “Even someone as short as you should be able to reach those.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure this is the right place?”, Brienne asked, as she pulled the reins and came to a halt
outside the dilapidated ruins of an old barn.

Lady Sansa rode up beside her.

“It must be.”, she answered, but she didn’t look as confident as the words she had spoken.

They had ridden through the countryside for the better part of an hour and Brienne hoped they had taken the trip in vain. The place showed no signs of life but she knew looks could be deceiving. There were no other buildings located in the vicinity and with a sinking feeling in her stomach she knew that Lady Sansa was right. The barn had been chosen for a purpose. Far away from prying eyes it was the perfect spot. Secluded. Secret. And the last place she wished to step her foot inside.

Brienne dismounted and then she assisted Lady Sansa down from her horse.

“Stay back, my Lady.”, Brienne said, as she moved closer to the barn door. It was hanging off its hinges, and she carefully peeked through it. “I’m going to check if it’s safe.”

“There’s not going to be an ambush, he will come alone.” Lady Sansa said, as she pushed passed Brienne, through the door.

The inside of the barn was dark aside from a few spots where the roof had caved in and the sunshine shone through. It was large and full of debris. As Brienne’s eyes slowly adjusted to the dim lighting, her unease about agreeing to come to this place grew more and more. Not that she had had much say in the matter to begin with.

Earlier in the day, Lady Sansa had asked Brienne if she would escort her for a ride. The army had made camp a few days march from Deepwood, and she had wanted to enjoy the scenery of the coastline before they headed further inland, Lady Sansa had told her.

It was not until they were halfway to their destination before the truth came out. Brienne had wanted to turn back, but Lady Sansa refused, leaving her little choice but to follow. She would never leave the girl to venture out alone on such a perilous mission.

Brienne gripped the pommel of her sword tight as she squinted, as she tried to make out any possible dangers that might be lurking in the unfamiliar nooks and crannies of the barn.

Here and there, snow had gathered in piles underneath the open sky. It was the sound of footsteps crunching against the snow that alerted Brienne to the fact that they were not alone. She pulled her sword from its scabbard with one swift move and readied herself.

“Sansa.”, a silken voice came from the shadows.

A man stepped into view from behind a heap of murky wood and fallen ceiling beams. He was short in stature, with a peppered beard and beady eyes. She instantly recognized him and her skin crawled as he walked up to them, smiling.

“Lord Baelish.”, Lady Sansa said, with a nod towards the man.

“I was surprised to receive your letter.”, he said. “I feared the worst when I heard you had been taken.”

Rescued was the word Brienne would have used, but she wasn’t there to do the talking. She was there to wield her sword if need be. A part of her hoped he would give her cause enough to plunge her blade into his chest. She settled for shooting him a look of disdain that he didn’t even have the decency to acknowledge.

Lady Sansa looked calm and collected as she spoke.

“Did you know about Ramsay?”, she asked.

Littlefinger cocked his head to his side and was silent for a moment.

“Know what exactly, Sansa?” He regarded her for a moment. “That you left him in a heap of broken bones with Winterfell in flames? Yes, I heard about that.”

Lady Sansa’s face hardened.

“That was a far kinder fate than he deserved.”, she said. “He walk the halls of my ancestral home and now he claims the title of my father. Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North.”

Littlefinger folded his arms across his chest.

“And this, us meeting like this, it’s not just a social visit I take it? Why are we here, Sansa?”, he asked.

“We’re going to war.”, she simply stated.

He nodded, his sly smile never slipping from his lips.

“And you want my assistance with that?”, he mused.

“Yes.”, she answered.

Littlefinger took a step closer to Lady Sansa.

“As Lord Protector of the Vale, I serve the interests of young lord Robin Arryn. How will he stand to benefit from the involvement in a battle between northerners?”, he asked.

Lady Sansa’s eyes narrowed.

“Petyr, I know your reach goes far beyond that of the of a silent guardian.”, she said with a sharp tone. “I’m not a child anymore. Don’t treat me one.”

Littlefinger eyes momentarily flitted from Lady Sansa’s face. If the girl had noticed his roaming stare she certainly showed no sign of it.

“I apologize if I have offended you.”, he said, drawling.

Lady Sansa smoothed down the fabric on the front of her dress. It was a simple dress, made from rough wool, but with her head held high and her back as straight as an arrow, she managed to make it look regal.

“You were right when you told me that I had been a bystander to tragedy. I have let horrible things happen to me and the ones I love without lifting a finger.” Lady Sansa said .”I refuse to do so anymore. I will not see the North in the hands of that monster.”

There was a flicker of emotion in the man’s eyes as she spoke. Something that almost looked like pride. As soon as she was finished, it disappeared and his face assumed a look of concern.

“War has its costs.”, Littlefinger said, with a mocking tone of gravity. “The losses could become substantial.”

“You once told me that most men spend their lives avoiding danger, only to die.”, Lady Sansa said, as she inched towards him slightly. “You also told me that you would risk everything to get what you want.”

Brienne had never seen Lady Sansa like this. She knew the girl had a strength within her that her soft spoken nature only hinted at from time to time, but this was something else entirely. She exuded the same poised grace and and the same fierceness as Lady Catelyn.

“And what do I want?”, Littlefinger said with smug smile, but it was clear that he was intrigued.

“After we’ve won I will walk through the gates of my home a widow.”, Lady Sansa said slowly. “Once we reclaim Winterfell and I am back where I belong, I intend to remain there. And I intend to marry again.”

For a brief moment the smile on Littlefinger’s face was gone and he looked more surprised than anything else.

Brienne’s heart was beating rapidly. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Was Lady Sansa suggesting that she would take his hand in marriage? Was she willing to sacrifice herself in order to secure more men for their cause?

“I’m sure we can come to some sort of arrangement.”, he said, and the lecherous grin on his face made Brienne sick to her stomach.

* * *

The sun was beginning to set as they began their journey to the camp. They rode in silence for a while until Brienne couldn’t hold her tongue any longer.

“You can’t trust that man, my Lady. He’s dangerous.”, she said.

Lady Sansa said nothing.

When several minutes had passed without an response, Brienne continued.

“You don’t have to do this.”, she pleaded. “You don’t have to make any sort of bargain with him.”

“Don’t I?”, Lady Sansa asked. There was a chill to her voice.

“No, my Lady, you don’t. And if you don’t mind me saying, you shouldn’t. We will find some other way.”, Brienne said.

Lady Sansa’s eyes were fixed on the road ahead.

“You have your sword and I have my claim.”, she said, sharply. “I don’t see why you should be able to wield yours and I not mine.”

Chapter Text

The light from the fires was rapidly fading as they made their way across the snowy plain, leaving the camp behind them. It would have been next to impossible to find their way in the darkness, had it not been for the clear skies above and the moon that illuminated their path.

Arya walked with confident steps and Sansa hurried after her, trying her best not to trip. They hadn’t said a word to each other since her sister came and fetched her from their tent.

She had planned on discreetly speaking to Sandor over supper, to ask him to meet up with her later, but when she and Lady Brienne returned most of the others had already tucked in for the night and he was nowhere to be found. So, she had asked her sister to help her arrange a meeting with him. Arya hadn’t exactly been thrilled and Sansa had felt bad for involving her, but it couldn’t be helped. She had to speak to Sandor.

The sound of running water broke the silence as they reached a slope in the landscape and Arya pointed to a small path.

“He’s down there.” Arya said. “I’m staying here to make sure no one interrupts you.” The last part she said with a slight grimace before she sauntered off, leaving Sansa on her own.

The incline was steep and she stumbled a few times, but she managed to make it down to the riverbed without breaking any bones. As she looked around she spotted a pinprick of flickering light far of in the distance. The light from a torch.

Sansa took a deep breath and with the cold night air stinging her lungs, she began to walk.
The meeting with Littlefinger had left her more rattled than she had anticipated. Being back with him she had felt more vulnerable than she had in a long time, but it would all be worth it if it meant that she could keep the people she loved safe. Now she could only hope that she would be able to convince Sandor that what she had done, she had done for the greater good.

He was standing by the rivers edge. With his dark hair and cloak, his large frame loomed over the water like a shadow come to life. Sandor must have heard her approaching because he turned around and she saw a look of amusement on his face. He was smiling, but there was a dark glint in his eyes that would have made her weak in the knees under any other circumstances.

“Your sister seemed pretty pissed to be used as a messenger.”, he chuckled.

“I needed to see you.”, she said, as she closed the distance between them.

“I’m not complaining.”, he rasped, as he bent down and seized her lips with his own.

His hands moved up under her cloak, slowly running them up and down her back as he deepened the kiss, but she was so nervous she was barely able to enjoy it. He seemed to sense it and pulled away from her with a worried look on his face.

“Is everything alright, Little Bird?”, he asked.

“There is something I need to tell you.”, she said with a small voice, relinquishing herself from his embrace.

“So tell me.”, he said, as his thumb grazed her cheek.

“I met with Littlefinger today.”, Sansa said, trying to sound calmer than she felt. “He has agreed to pledge the Knights of the Vale to our cause.”

As soon as the words left her mouth his body language changed. He took a step backwards, staring at her with steely eyes. Any signs of the gentleness he had shown her moments earlier, was gone in an instance, leaving only harshness and anger behind.

“You what?”. Sandor’s voice was low and menacing. “Are you out of your fucking mind?”

Sansa said nothing.

“He could have taken you straight back to the Bolton’s.”, he continued, as he began to pace the riverbed. “Did you think of that?”

Besides the anger, pain was etched across his face and Sansa desperately wanted to make it go away. To kiss him. Comfort him. Instead she remained where she was.

“I-I brought Lady Brienne with me.”, she said.

He whipped around and glared at her.

“Well that makes it bloody alright then.”, he snarled.

“He came alone. I was never in any danger.”, she tried to explain.

Sandor shook his head. The skin of his scarred cheek strained as he grimaced in frustration.

“Why? Why would you do something so bloody foolish?”, he asked. “You can’t trust that piece of shit. I thought you would have learnt at least that much from your time in King’s Landing.”

Sansa was trembling now. He was being unfair, speaking to her as if she were some simpleton who willingly traipsed to her own doom. She knew Littlefinger could never be trusted. She had known it for a long time now. All she had hoped for was that Sandor would at least trust her.

“We need men. He has an army. If anything, it would have been foolish not to ask for his help.”, she said.

“Help?”, he barked. “You think he wants to help you?”

She hesitated. Considering how angry he had already become, she wasn’t sure she should tell him everything that had been said in the abandoned old barn. So she decide that half truths would have to be enough. For now at least.

“I convinced him that it would be more advantageous for him if the Stark’s held Winterfell instead of the Bolton’s.”, she said.

Sandor scoffed.

“And you think he will give you an army just for that?“, he said. “No. That smug little cunt sold you to that bastard to begin with. Why the fuck would he go to war against him now?”

Sansa swallowed.

“Without a Stark at Winterfell and without me by Ramsay’s side, the North will never truly be as strong as it once was. Littlefinger knows that.”, she tried to explain. “As a Stark I will...”

His face twisted and he let out an exasperated groan.

“Give it a rest with that fucking name of yours.”, he snarled. “You think you can bargain with that bloody title of yours that easily? And what happened to the rest of the Stark’s who were daft enough to do the same?”

It felt as though he had struck her. Sansa blinked a few times as she backed away from him.
At that moment it wasn’t Sandor who stood before her but the Hound. Angry. Cruel. Spiteful. That in itself hurt more than the words he had just spoken.

“How can you say that?” She breathed, tears already welling in her eyes. “How can you stand there and speak to me as if I don’t know?” Her voice sounded shrill to her own ears. “They are dead and I don’t want you or Jon or anybody else to join them.”

Sandor seemed to regret his words because his face softened.

“I didn’t...”, he began, as he took a step towards her.

He tried to embrace her but she resisted, knowing that the moment he held her in his arms she would burst into tears. Sandor wrestled with her, refusing to let her go but he was holding onto her with a gentleness that contradicted his stature. Eventually she relented and sagged against him as she wept openly.

“It’s all I have. My name. It is the only thing I have to offer.” Angry tears spilled from Sansa’s eyes, but most of them were form heartache.

He hugged her tighter to his chest.

“That’s the dumbest bloody thing I ever heard you say, Sansa.”, he said, in a soothing voice as he stroked her hair. “Tell me you don’t actually believe that?”

She looked up at him.

“I don’t know how to fight. All I can do is stand back and watch as you go of to war.”, she sniffled. “You have saved me so many times. And I can’t do the same for you.”

Sansa burrowed her head against his chest. The metal studs of his armor were cold against her cheek but she didn’t care. If it weren’t for the sound of the water from the stream and his slow and steady breathing, she knew she would have been close enough to hear his heart beating. She had stopped crying. For the most part. Now and then a shuddering breath and a whimpering sob rocked through her. With his arms wrapped around her, he felt so alive. So strong. As if nothing could ever harm him. She wanted nothing more than to stay there forever.

When she had calmed down somewhat, he spoke.

“Lannister. Bolton. Stark. Anyone who looks at you and see a name might as well be blind”, he rasped. “And as far as saving goes you already have. Saved me.”

“I love you.”, she whispered against him.

He was silent for a long time, long enough for Sansa to grow anxious. Then she could feel him let go of a breath he had been holding.

“I love you, too.”, he rasped, his voice thick with emotion.

Chapter Text

The mood in the tent had gone from bad to worse and Sandor knew that he was only partly to blame. Bone weary from the days march, they had all gathered to discuss the upcoming treaty with House Glover. Tired faces and stifled yawns had turned to worried frowns and mumbled concern as Sansa told them the same thing the had told Sandor last night.

The little wolf had sprung to her feet, snarling in much of the same way as Sandor himself had done yesterday. After a few stern words from their brother, she now sat quiet and scowling as her sister tried to answer the barrage of questions that came from Davos and Snow.

She was doing well. Looking at her now, she might as well have been attending some sort of social gathering rather than a bloody warcouncil. She held her head high and if she was nervous she never let on. Gone were the tears from the meeting but the river and in their stead he saw a poised determination that made her look the part of a queen.

Most of the questions had to do with trust. Or the lack thereof. No one in the tent seemed especially pleased that Sansa had taken it upon herself to arrange a meeting with Littlefinger. Sandor was relieved to see that her brother was no fool. He asked the right questions and so did Davos.

Sandor had made a decision last night. Come to think of it, he had probably made it a long time ago. Long before he even came north. He would do her bidding, whatever it may be.

The thought of Littlefinger so much as breathing the same air as Sansa still made his blood boil, but as he held her close, he had made her a promise. He would support her in this. He would try to swallow his anger and let Littlefinger and his men come to their aid. He would let her save him.

As he looked over at her, fiery red hair and full of conviction, he wondered if she truly understood the power she held over him. Sandor had growled and barked at her by the river, but even then, as he had been gripped by fear and anger, he had known that he would do anything that she asked of him. Even if it meant that he would be forced to watch her strike a deal with Littlefinger. The fact that she was worried enough about him that she would make such a bargain still felt as though the gods were playing some sort of elaborate jape at his expense.

He was jerked from his thoughts by a sharp elbow to the rib and when he looked down he saw that it belonged to the little wolf. She was staring at him with an accusatory frown on her face.

“Was this why she needed to see you?”, she whispered. “Did you know she was going to do this?”

Sandor glared down at her.

“Of course I fucking didn’t.”, he huffed, more than a little offended that she would believe such a thing. “You think I would’ve been sitting here with my thumb up my arse If she was going off to meet with that cunt?”

She didn’t say anything but she seemed somewhat placated by his answer.

Sandor shot the big woman a look and she had the decency to stare down at her feet. He wasn’t truly angry with her, not anymore at least. He had been furious last night. With her. With Sansa. With himself. In truth he was glad the big woman had gone with her. Someone had to be there to protect Sansa. It still stung that he hadn’t been the one she asked, though.

“You know it’s the only way, Jon.”, Sansa said. She sounded impatient. “Lord Baelish is waiting for a raven. He said he can have the troops ready in a fortnight. If you agree I can send one to him this very evening.”

The boy had dark circles under his eyes and he was looking at his sister with the tired eyes of someone twice his age.

“That may very well be the case, but you can’t just spring this upon me, expecting an immediate response.”, he said.

Sansa’s arms were folded tightly across her chest.

“You know I’m right.”, she said.

Snow sighed.

“It’s late and we have an early start in the morning. We will speak more about this tomorrow.”, he said.

The creaking of chairs and the shuffling of feet filled the tent and Sandor was a few feet from the entrance when he heard Snow speak once more.

“Clegane, might I have a word with you?”, he asked.

From the corner of his eye, Sandor saw how two pairs of eyes immediately darted over to him. When he glanced over at them, he saw that both sisters were looking at him nervously. Sansa even seemed reluctant to leave until the little wolf grabbed her by the hand and ushered her out of the tent.

“Aye.”, he simply said.

Sandor wasn’t worried. If the boy in front of him had known what was going on behind his back, Sandor’s head and cock would likely already be mounted on a pike.

He remained standing until the boy motioned for him to sit, which he did.

Maps lay scattered all over the makeshift table and Snow moved some of them out of the way as he placed a flagon of ale and two cups in front of them.

“First of all, I haven’t thanked you properly for what you did for my sisters and for that I’m sorry.”, he said.

This was not what Sandor had expected to hear.

“No need. You already did.”, he rasped

The first night they spent at Castle Black he had thanked Sandor and the others. Pale faced and shaken and back from the dead, but he had still remembered his manners.

“I owe you a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.”, he said solemnly.

Sandor grunted in response and took a swig of ale. When he looked up he saw that the boy was regarding him intently. As if sensing Sandor’s unease at his gratitude, he changed the subject.

“You’re a military man.”, he said. “Could we make it without Littlefingers men?”

By the look of defeat in the boys dark eyes, Sandor could tell he already knew the answer.

He cleared his throat before he spoke.

“The Bolton’s hold the advantage of a fortified castle as well as a greater number of men.”

The boy nodded slowly as if he was considering Sandor’s words and weighing them carefully.

“From what I’ve heard of this man, I can’t say I’m particularly glad that we might soon find ourselves in his debt.”, he said. “Arya had some very colorful words to say about him.”

He smiled, but his eyes remained wistful.

“He’s a smug cunt and whoremonger.”, Sandor said. “He’s scum of the worst kind but he has an army.”

“Sansa has never spoken to me of him until this very night.”, Snow said. “I fear she might be placing her trust in the wrong hands.”

Sandor took another swig of ale. It was a foul liquid but one he welcomed all the same.

“You should listen to your sister.”, he rasped. “If she says she can handle him, she can.”

The boy stared down into his own cup, as if lost in thought.

“She’s very different from the girl I grew up with.”, he said, after a while. “I wish I could have been there for her.”

“King’s Landing wasn’t kind to her.”, he agreed. “She’s already payed for her fathers and her brothers decisions. And payed dearly.”

A pained look flitted across the boy’s face at the mentioned of his dead kin.

“What about Robb?”, he asked.

It was becoming clear to Sandor that Sansa had left her brother in the dark about more than Littlefinger.

“The king had her stripped and beaten in front of the whole court when the young wolf won the battle of Oxcross.”, Sandor said. “She knows what happens to the ones who are left alive. Seeing as you and I may die a warriors death on the battlefield, it seems only fair to me that she should have a say in how we prevent that.”

Snow was staring down at one of the maps on the table. It showed the Houses of the North. The list of possible allies was even shorter now than when they left Castle Black.

“You’re right. She is right. We need his forces. We do.”, he said. “I’m going to accept the offer first thing in the morning.”

Sandor nodded. This was what he had wanted to hear. For Sansa’s sake. What she had fought for. That didn’t mean he enjoyed the thought that Littlefinger would soon be joining them. On the contrary. The thought almost made him sick to his stomach.

“I need the eyes and ears of someone I can trust to lead Littlefinger’s men.” Snow said. “That is why, when the time comes, I will name you as commander of the Knights of the Vale.”

Sandor gaped at him.

“I reckon they won’t be pleased with that.”, he rasped after a while, still stunned by the offer he had just been made.

Snow chuckled slightly, the expression on his face somewhere between a frown and a smile.

“Then you will have to win them over I guess.”, he said. “Let’s make sure we don’t make one more enemy instead of another ally.”

Chapter Text

Arya landed with a heavy thud on the bed. It was soft and warm and she wanted nothing more than to burrow beneath the blankets and furs and stay there forever. After weeks on the road she figured she had earned it.

“Don’t get too comfortable.”, she heard Sansa say. “It’s your turn next.”

Her sister was soaking in the large tub that had been brought up to their chamber. The comforting scent of lavender oil and soap that lay heavy in the air only served to make Arya long for sleep even more.

“I’ll do it tomorrow.”, she mumbled against the pillows.

She could hear the water slosh around as her sister moved in the tub. Arya didn’t have to look up to know that Sansa was glaring at her, presumably getting ready to do some scolding.

“Do you really want to be the reason the maids have to carry all that water up here again in the morning?, Sansa asked.

Arya groaned loudly and sat up, dangling her feet over the edge of the bed, as she silently cursed the fact that her sister had a point. Lord Glover’s servants had scrambled around the castle, trying to ready chambers for their unannounced guests as well as cook a suitable meal for far greater numbers than they were used to. The fact that the wildling army were camped only a stones throw away from their gates probably didn’t help matters much.

Arya had been pretty impressed by the way Sansa had handled Lord Glover. He had been reluctant to even let them inside his courtyard, let alone into the castle itself. Her sister had spoken to him with unflinching conviction and in the end Lord Glover had relented, agreeing to a meeting with them. Arya had kept Sandor company outside and after hours of deliberation, they were finally invited to stay.

Arya shrugged off her clothes as Sansa got out of the bath and wrapped herself in a morning robe. She sunk into the tub. The water was still warm and it felt nice even though she would have preferred to stay in bed. She hadn’t know how dirty she was until the water, that had been relatively clear after Sansa’s bath, turned a murky grey brownish color.

“And don’t forget the soap.”, her sister said.

Arya rolled her eyes.

“I know how to take a bath, Sansa.”, she said.

Her sister was sitting by the fire trying to untangle some knots in her hair with a comb.

“I asked Lord Glover if we could borrow some clothes until I get ours mended and washed.”, Sansa said, pointing to a pile fabric that had been left on a chair.

Arya peered over the side of the tub, eyeing the clothes suspiciously. She could definitely see that some of them had lacings on them that clearly belonged to a dress. If Sansa thought she could convince Arya to wear those, she would be sorely mistaken.

Her sister winced as she worked on a particular stubborn knot.

“Yours are from a servant.”, she said, and with a triumphant smile she managed to pull the comb through her hair. “I told Lord Glover that you wouldn’t mind. His son is only little. The breeches might be a bit large, but if you wear them with a belt it should be fine.

Arya gaped at her sister.

“Thank you.”, she managed after a few moments.

“Hm?”, Sansa said, as she looked up at Arya.

“I will thank Lord Glover tomorrow.”, she said.

* * *

She awoke to the sound of creaking floorboards. As Arya blinked the sleep from her eyes she noticed that the space next to her on the bed was empty. Then she heard the door softly close and she realized that she was alone in the chamber.

She pulled the blankets tighter around herself. Arya had always strongly believed that rules were meant to be stretched and if they couldn’t be, they probably should be broken. Sansa had never shared that belief. She had done what she had been told and never even questioned why things were the way they were.

It was well after midnight and there was only one place Sansa could be going. Sneaking around the castle corridors, unescorted, at this hour, she was definitely breaking several of the rules their Septa had taught them.

Arya yawned. Good for her, was the last thing she thought before she drifted back to sleep.

Chapter Text

Nothing had ever sounded more deafeningly loud than her footsteps did against the stone floor. She might as well have been stomping through the corridors of Deepwood Motte in full armor, Sansa thought as she hurried through the castle. Everything looked so different now from what it had looked like during the day, but she was fairly certain she would be able to find her way.

Sandor was housed on the floor below hers and Sansa had made sure she knew exactly which chamber was his. He shared a corridor with Lady Brienne and Ser Davos. It wouldn’t look good if she turned up at their doorstep in the middle of the night wearing only her morning robe.

When she finally reached his door she was almost too scared to knock. What if she had misremembered? What would she say if someone other than Sandor opened it?

The stone floor was so cold she could feel it through her slippers and she nervously shifted her weight from one foot to the other as she tried to gather some courage. In the end it was neither her frozen feet nor a sudden surge of bravery that compelled her to softly rap her knuckles against the door. It was the desperate need to see him that made the decision for her.

She heard movements from inside the chamber and then the door swung open and Sansa let go of a sigh of relief. Sandor was standing on the other side with a look of mild surprise that soon turned into a grin when she pushed passed him without an invitation.

“Can’t keep away can you?”, he rasped, with a glint in his eye.

Before she could answer he grabbed her by the waist and pulled her close, seizing her lips with his own. There was an urgency to the kiss that left her breathless and wanting more. She deepened it and slid her tongue against his. Sandor groaned and the sound sent shivers down her spine.

“You don’t seem to mind.”, she said, when they came up for air a few moments later.

“Mind?” He barked out a laugh and shook his head. “I’ll show you just how much I mind you turning up here in the middle of the night.”

Sandor picked her up and lifted her so they were face to face. Pressed close to his chest she could feel the warmth of him and the firmness of his muscles even through the layers of clothing that separated them. Layers she couldn’t wait to shed. He buried his face in the crook of her neck and inhaled deeply.

“You smell so bloody good.”, he growled against her skin, and Sansa laughed, wrapping her arms around his shoulders.

He placed an open mouthed kiss against her neck and gently sucked the skin there, causing her to moan with the sensation.

“I had a bath.”, she mumbled, surprised she could form a coherent sentence while Sandor was doing what he was doing.

He stopped and looked at her, his eyebrow raised in amusement.

“So did I, and I sure don’t smell like that.”, he said with a dark chuckle. “You smell like summer.”

Sansa leaned forward and brushed her lips against his.

“Take me to bed.”, she whispered.

He didn’t answer but simply did what he had been told, walking her over to the bed and placing her on the furs before joining her. Sandor climbed on top of her and slipped one hand inside her robe settling it at her waist. She wanted to feel his skin against hers. She wanted to touch. She wanted to taste him.

Sansa tugged at his tunic and Sandor stood up and removed it in one swift motion, dropping it haphazardly on the floor. In the warm light from the fireplace she could see more of him than she had ever done before. His breeches hung low on his hips, and his broad chest was dusted with coars black hair. Underneath it she saw the countless silvery scars that were scattered across his skin. Some were large and some were small and she wanted to trace every single one of them with her lips to kiss the hurt away, even though she knew it had long since faded.

“You’re beautiful.”, he rasped.

She sat up.

“So are you.”, she said, putting as much of herself into those three words as she could. She wanted him to know that she meant it.

His lips curled into a half smile and he shook his head.

Before he could say anything, she reached for the strap that held her morning robe together. She loosened it and let the soft fabric slip from her shoulders. Sandor wasn’t smiling anymore. The look in his eye would have frightened her if it had been anybody but him gazing down at her that way. Now it only made her squirm. In a very good way.

She grabbed the hem of her shift and pulled it over her head, leaving her naked in front of him, save for her smallclothes. He swallowed hard and now it was Sansa’s turn to smile. The tall, fierce warrior that towered over her seemed taken aback by what she had just done.

Warmth was pooling in the pit of her stomach and she desperately wanted him to join her but he seemed to have something else in mind. Sandor reached for her feet and with a gentle pull he brought her to the edge of the bed. He knelt before her and slowly pushed her knees apart. Sansa suddenly felt her cheeks grow hot and she stared up at the ceiling for a moment, too shy to look him in the face. A thousand thoughts ran through her mind and then none at all as his lips brushed against her skin. Starting just above her ankle he began trailing kisses up her legs, alternating between quick pecks and the kind where she could almost feel his teeth grazing against her.
He focused particular attention to her inner thighs and she found herself growing impatient. She pushed herself closer to him and felt the vibrations of his voice when he gave a wicked chuckle.

“So eager..” he said, his voice low and laced with desire and she could feel him smiling against her skin.

She would have been mortified by her own boldness but all thoughts of manners and courtesy’s
escaped her mind as Sandor slowly removed her smallclothes. He let his hand glide up her belly and towards her breasts and when he ghosted his thumb over one of her nipples, she could feel it grow harder.

“Please.”, she begged.

His beard tickled her thigh and his hot breath was so close to her core that she almost whimpered in anticipation. She had expected him to use his fingers, just as he had done the last time, and she gasped in surprise when she felt his mouth against the place between her legs.

“Oh gods.”, she breathed.

The moment his tongue touched her most sensitive spot she almost bolted upright in bed. Spikes of pleasure shot through her and Sandor seemed to notice, focusing his efforts there. He twirled his tounge round and round until she was panting.

The sensation was building. The scent of him in the air. The scent of herself. Sandor’s lips against her. A low moan escaped her and then a few more until he gently settled his hand over her mouth.
He wasn’t covering it, but the sounds she made were muffled somewhat. In the heat of the moment she had completely forgotten their need for discretion and that the sounds of a woman’s moans coming from Sandor’s chamber would surely raise a few questions.

She felt his finger at her opening and then he slipped it inside. It didn’t hurt. On the contrary. The fullness of it there heightened the sensation of what he was doing with his tongue. She grasped the furs beneath her as a wave of tingling warmth erupted, spreading through her body until she lay limp on the bed.

Sandor crawled down beside her. He had a pleased look on his face, bordering on smug. He had earned it, Sansa thought.

“Thank you.” she said breathlessly.

He grinned.

“You’re most welcome.”, he said, in a mock tone of courtesy.

Sansa moved closer to him, placing unsteady kisses on his chest until her heartbeat returned to normal. It took longer than she had expected. When she shifted her leg, she felt his hardness against her. She reached down, and rubbed him through the fabric of his breeches with the palm of her hand.

“I want you.”, she whispered.

“I’m right here.”, he rasped, as he stroked her naked back.

Sandor trailed his fingers up to the nape of her neck and into her hair as he gazed down at her
with a smirk, daring her. He wanted her to say the words and Sansa suddenly felt shy once more. But two could play that game she thought, as she began to undo the laces on his breeches. The the angle was all wrong and she couldn’t see what she was doing and after a few moments of struggling with them, Sandor reached down and helped her. He made no move take them off completely.

She looked up at him, willing herself to keep her eyes fixed on his.

“I want you inside.”, she said.

Few things ever seemed to render Sandor speechless, but this certainly did and Sansa felt quite proud of herself. After a long silence, that was only interrupted by the crackling of the fire, he closed the gap between them until his face was mere inches from hers.

“Are you sure?”, he asked.

There was a strange quality to his voice that she had never heard before and couldn’t quite place. Soft and and almost hesitant.

“Yes.”, she answered.

Sansa remembered how he had felt against her in the godwood. She had wanted him then, so much she was sure she was about to burst into flame. Now that she was about to get her wish, she found that she felt calmer than she ever would have thought possible. She wanted to be close to him. As close as she could get. She wanted to know what it felt like to lie with the one she loved.

He bent down and kissed her. Slow at first and then with a fervor.

Sandor broke the kiss and by the way he looked down upon her, she could tell that he was nervous. Sansa smiled and reached up her hand, cupping his scarred cheek. His eyes were a stormy grey and his brow furrowed.

“I can’t stop it hurting, Sansa.”, he said, in a low voice

“I know.”, she said.

He reached down and eased her legs further apart until she was cradling him between her thighs. His other hand remained somewhere out of view and then she felt a light pressure against her opening.

“I‘ll stay like this.” he rasped, as he stroked a few strands of hair away from her face. “Move when you feel ready.”

Sansa took a deep breath. She pushed down a little. It didn’t hurt at first but the pressure grew as she sunk lower. Above her she could hear Sandor groan and spurred on by the noise, she pushed down harder.

She gasped in pain, shutting her eyes tightly as a searing sensation tore through her. When she opened them Sandor was staring down at her with a look of concern.

“Do you want to stop?”, he asked.

She shook her head.

“No, I’m fine.” she said. “But go slow. And kiss me.”

He obliged, bending down and gently kissing her as she adjusted to the feel of him. Sandor started to move slowly and she could feel him trembling with the effort. It still hurt, but the pain was more of a dull ache now than the tearing sensation from before.

She slipped her arms around his neck and held onto him as he moved within her. He picked up his pace a little. She let her fingers roam freely across his back.

“I love you.”, she whispered, against his scarred cheek.

Sandor’s hips jerked against her a few times.

“Sansa..”. Her name left him as strangled cry, a sound that in any other context would have signaled pain rather than pleasure.

He pulled out of her quickly and she hissed as he left her, surprised that it hurt so much on the way out.

With labored breathing he leaned his forehead against her chest. Sandor pressed a trembling kiss on her collarbone. His skin was damp with sweat and so was hers.

“I love you, too”. Sandor said, with a ragged breath, as he rested between her thighs. “I love you so much.”

She held him close. The act had been nowhere near as pleasurable as the things he had done to her with his mouth, but it left her body tingling and she was smiling from ear to ear. Feeling him so vulnerable and utterly spent against her now, somehow made her feel invincible. The man she loved, who loved her back, had found comfort in her. The look in his eyes before he removed himself from her, had no traces of harshness or pain. The past had melted away and with it the weight of the world on his shoulders. The only thing that remained, was the two of them.

Chapter Text

Sansa gently stroked his hair. She was humming to herself, or maybe it was meant for him and Sandor could feel the vibrations of her voice through her chest. His forehead rested between her pert teats and he was still reeling from a release that had been powerful enough to send stars dancing across his vision. Sandor felt like weeping. From joy or sorrow, he did not know.

The words too good to be true had been echoing in the back of his mind ever since Sansa kissed him in the tower. They had been ringing in his ears as she feel asleep in his arms. As she wrapped her slender fingers around his cock their last night at Castle Black. The words had become a deafening roar as they exchanged I love yous by the river.

It had been like a verse from one of her bloody songs and Sandor had known from an early age that the likes of him never deserved a happy ending. He had half expected to wake up back in the wilderness by his lonesome. Or worse. Back in King’s Landing, in the gutter of Flea Bottom having slept off the wine from a night of whoring and fighting. Either of those options would have made more fucking sense than anything had done for a good long while now.

Sansa’s skin was damp and the smell of her now was even better than it had been before. The scent of flowers were now mingled with her sweat and his and he wanted nothing more than to taste it. Sandor moved his head to the side a little, relishing the feel of her soft skin against his. He sucked one of her pink nipples into his mouth and Sansa groaned as he flicked his tongue over it in the same way he had done to the place between her legs.

Then the effort of holding his head up became too much and he returned to the spot between her teats and she continued stroking his hair. He wanted to make a home there.

Moments ago, as she lay beneath him, willingly spreading her legs, Sandor had balked at the task before him. He had longed to plunge into her, to feel her surrounding him, but his nerves got the better of him. He had never bedded a maid before. More importantly, he had never bedded anyone he gave a damn about. Or someone who gave a damn about him.

Sansa had reached up and touched his mangled face. She had sought to comfort him when it rightly should have been the other way around. There had been nothing but truth in her blue eyes and that’s when he understood. This was no dream. It wasn’t a song. It was something far better. It was real and Sandor didn’t know if that terrified him more than the alternative.

He could feel her moving beneath him and then she spoke.

“Sandor?”, she said.

He tore himself from her chest and looked up. Her hair was mussed and some of her red curls were plastered to her damp brow. Her lips were a bit swollen from the kisses they had shared and they had never looked more inviting.

“You’re sort of crushing me.”, she said, with an apologetic smile.

Shit, Sandor thought, as he shifted his weight off of her and onto his elbows. He held onto her as he rolled over on his back, bringing her with him. He wasn’t ready for there to be anything but skin between them. Sansa laughed as she came to rest on him, draped across his chest.

“Better?”, he rasped.

“Much.”, she answered.

Sandor stroked her back as glanced over to the place where she had been lying whilst the deed was being done. The fire was burning low, but he could still make out the small, dark stain on the sheet and he felt a surge of guilt. He would have to get rid of the linens unless he wanted some nosy chambermaids gossip to be heard all over the castle. Things like this tended to spread like fucking wildfire once someone got wind of it. He didn’t want that. He didn’t want Sansa to have to live with those rumors.

Sandor slowly rubbed her thigh, moving his hand upwards until he reached the juncture of her thigh.

“Does it hurt?”, he asked, dreading the answer.

“No.”, she said. “It just aches a bit.“

Not knowing what to say, he placed a kiss on the top of her head and kept quiet.

“I liked it.”, she said, after a while. Her voice was soft and she sounded half asleep.

“You did, did you?”, he rasped, as he let his hands slide to her backside, where he gave her arse a little squeeze.

She made a noise that was somewhere between laughter and an exhale.

“And I liked what you did with your mouth.”, she whispered.

He couldn’t see her face from this angle, but he could have sworn he could hear her blushing.

“The pleasure was all mine.”, he said, with a dark chuckle.

“I think it was at least partly mine.”, she said.

Sandor barked out a laugh. He couldn’t argue. The way she had been writhing and moaning it would have been obvious to anyone who wasn’t a fool or a bloody greenboy that she had been enjoying herself.

Sansa was quiet for a long time and he was sure she had fallen asleep when he suddenly felt her finger move across his upper arm.

“What happened here?”, she asked, and he reckoned she was talking about one of his many scars.

“A blade happened.”, he said.

“From war?”, she asked.

He honestly didn’t remember when and why and how he had gotten that particular scar. The same went for most of his injuries and he didn’t really care. The ones he did remember however, he wish he could forget.

“Might have been from a drunken brawl too.”, he rasped. “If you find that sort of thing interesting, I can show you one of the newer ones. There’s a pretty pink one on my arse given to me by an angry little wolf.”

She propped herself up on her lower arms and looked him straight in the eye.

“Maybe later.”, she said, with a mischievous grin that turned into a yawn. She dropped her head back onto his chest. “Do you think they will miss us if we stay like this forever?”

He grinned.

“Aye, I think they will.”, Sandor said. “And I don’t want to piss off your sister again.”

She sighed and he felt her nodding against him.

“No, I don’t want her poking anymore holes in you.”, Sansa said, as she burrowed closer.

He wrapped his arms tightly around her and it wasn’t long before her breathing had slowed. She had fallen asleep. He knew he would had to wake her eventually. In a few hours the corridors would be full of servants preparing for the day to come.

The thought of banishing her from his bed and sending her out into the cold made him feel ill. He didn’t mind sneaking around, hiding the thing that was between them, but she deserved better. She deserved better than him. He knew that. Of course he did. But as of this night he also knew, that for better or worse, Sansa loved him. It was no trick. No cruel jest.

As he watched her sleep, Sandor vowed that he would do whatever it took to become the sort of man she deserved. One that was worthy of her love. And he knew he would enjoy every single moment of it.

Chapter Text

Relief had just been one of the words that came to Podrick’s mind when Lord Glover agreed to let them stay in his castle. During the evening that followed their arrival at Deepwood Motte, words like gratitude and safe haven had popped into his head. Now, as he made his way to the training yard he felt something he didn’t have the name for. Something that could be closest described as hope but felt infinitely stronger than that.

If all went well at the meeting today they would have one more ally in their fight against Ramsay. A great northern House that would take up arms on their behalf. Podrick wasn’t quite sure he understood the politics of the North, but he did understand how valuable Lord Glover’s men would be against the Bolton army.

The castle was bustling with people and but the yard lay empty. No one, besides him, seemed willing to venture outside in the snow and the freezing cold. Podrick had just been shooed out of the way by a frantic looking chambermaid carrying a heap of linens and earlier in the day, one of the cooks had almost smacked him with a spoon when he tried to help himself to a few winter apples. Therefor, Pod felt it was probably best to wait for Lady Brienne somewhere he wouldn’t be in the way.

Even thought his bed was made of straw and he shared a chamber with several other servants, Podrick felt more rested than he had in weeks. He had even managed to get an early start on all his chores. After he fed and watered the horses, he had brought all their dirty clothes down to the laundry and after that he had buffed both their saddles until they looked as good as new. That was the deal. When he was done with his squiring duties for the day, they would sparr. Now, all he had to do was find a way to pass the time until the meeting was over.

War was soon upon them and he wanted to be as prepared for it as possible. Lady Brienne seemed to agree and she had doubled the time they used for training each day. It had been grueling work when they were on the road, but he knew it would be worth it in the end. Every time Podrick longed for a break he thought of the Battle of the Blackwater. About the death and despair he had witnessed that night. Even in his sleep his mind never strayed far from the green flames and the sounds of dying men. This time he wanted to face the enemy instead of stabbing them in the back. If he was to die, he wanted to do it in an honorable way.

The snow crunched beneath his boots as he walked over to the fenced in area used for sparring. Podrick figured he could practice his stance while he waited. No matter how hard he tried, Lady Brienne always seemed to find fault with the way he stood. It was just his luck, being born with two left feet, Pod thought as he approached the training yard.

He wasn’t alone, he quickly learned. Clegane was sitting on a bench with his back against the castle wall. From a distance it almost looked like he was sleeping and Pod wondered if he would be able to sneak away before the warrior noticed him.

He wasn’t out right scared of the man anymore. If Lord Tyrion was here, he would probably have used the more diplomatic term cautious to describe Pod’s approach to the large man.
They had traveled far together and endured hardship and happier times, but he rarely found himself alone with Clegane and had no problem keeping it that way.

As he was about to turn on his heel and make his way back to his chamber, the warrior spoke.

“She’s still in there with the rest of them.”, he rasped.

“Who?”, Pod said, momentarily confused.

“The big woman.”, he said, with a snide grin. “The one you’re waiting on to tan your bloody hide.”

The man wasn’t wrong, but it stung all the same.

Pod racked his brain for something to say but came up with nothing. Just as he was wondering if it would be best to just scurry off and find some quiet corner in the castle, he spotted a slight figure walking towards them. It was Arya. She walked surefooted through the snow with one hand on Needle, as the sword bounced against her hip with every step she took.

“Is the meeting over?”, Pod asked, when she got closer.

“They just brought out the maps.”, she said with a grim look on her face and Clegane barked out a laugh.

“Looks like you won’t have anyone to wield your little blade against, then.”, he chuckled.

Podrick looked down at his sword. It was nicked in places and had a few nasty scratches on the flat side, but he wouldn’t have used the word little to describe it. It was a perfectly average sized blade.

“Were you going to sparr?”, Arya said, with excitement lighting up her face. “I can fight you.”

Podrick’s stomach sank.

“Well, that sounds like an fine idea, doesn’t it boy?”, he rasped. There was a dangerous glint in his eye that told Podrick that it would be best to do as he was told.

“I-I was waiting for Lady Brienne...”, he said, feebly.

Arya frowned.

“But she’s not around is she?”, she said. “Are you scared?”, she added in a taunting voice.

Truth be told, he was. Mainly that he would accidentally hurt her. He knew that she was better than him but she was also tiny and Podrick had gotten used to training with someone about four times the size of the girl that stood before him. Running full force into Lady Brienne barely made her stumble, but Pod doubted the same could be said for Arya.

But there was no use in arguing with her. She had already unsheathed Needle and was walking with confident steps into the training area. There was nothing else for him to do but follow.

Clegane yawned loudly and Arya snapped her head towards him.

“Tired?”, she said, in a scathing tone.

The large warrior stretched out his legs and moved his head from side to side. Even from ten feet away Pod could hear the bones in his neck cracking.

“Shut up and fight.”, Clegane said, with a grin. “But no live steel.”

She stuck her tongue out at him but obeyed and went to pick up a tourney sword that someone had left on the ground. Podrick found one too and said a quick prayer that neither of them would wind up poking an eye out or something.

Arya pushed the hair out of her face as she circled him, doing strange little leaps and odd movements he had learnt was called water dancing.

“Go on, give me the best you’ve got.”, Arya said, as she twirled her sword in her hands.

When it became obvious to her that he wasn’t going to make the first move, she did it instead.

With one fluid motion she breached the gap between them and before he knew what had happened, the wooden point of her blade was firmly pressed against his throat.

A brilliant smile played on her lips and Pod lumbered backwards, getting ready for the next blow.

Podrick lunged at her, but intentionally aimed a little to the left of her and he stumbled a bit when she easily danced away from the blow.

“You’re doing her no fucking favors by playing nice.”, Clegane rasped.

Pod nodded and swung his sword through the air. She parried it and the clanking of the wood echoed through the training yard. The air was filled with the clouds of their breath and Podrick felt alive. Judging by the look on Arya’s face she was enjoying herself too. Even Clegane seemed to be in a good mood.

Arya crouched low and brought her blade down against the back of his knees, knocking him off his feet. Lying on his back in the snow, catching his breath, Pod noticed that the weren’t alone anymore.

Looking up, he saw that a stocky built northern was leaning against the fence, staring down at Podrick with narrow eyes. He had a jug in his hand and his nose looked like an overripe plum. It would have been a safe bet to guess that the man liked his wine. Pod scrambled to his feet and dusted the snow of his breeches.

“You’re a right cunt, aren’t you?”, the man slurred, swaying slightly as he regarded Pod with a look of disgust on his face. “A man that lets a little girl make a fool of him like that has no fucking business holding a sword.”

Podrick felt his ears go red but he didn’t say anything. Arya scowled at the man but it was Clegane who spoke.

“The boy can hold his own.”, he rasped.

The stocky man stood up straight, puffing out his barrel chest and spilling some of the content of his jug, coloring the snow bright red where it landed.

“Says who?”, he spat.

Arya was shaking her head. She looked more amused now than angry and Pod knew why. The drunk had just made a big mistake.

Clegane stood up, stretching to his full height. He towered over the man with his teeth bared as he turned, showing the drunk the scarred side of his face. The northerner paled as he recognized the man he had just insulted.

“Says the Hound.”, Clegane growled

“I-I...”, the man began.

It looked like he wanted nothing more than to sink through the ground. He would probably have preferred to make a run for it, but he was shaking so bad that it was a wonder that he remained standing. Podrick almost felt bad for him. Almost.

“Piss off before I make them use you as target practice.”, he rasped. “I’ve never seen a man killed by a wooden sword. Should be interesting.”

As the drunk made a hasty retreat, Pod couldn’t help but smile.

“What are you grinning about?”, Clegane said, as he fixed him with a stony glare. “You’re still shit. So keep practicing.”

He stalked off, leaving Pod alone with Arya. She walked up beside him and patted him on the shoulder.

“Cheer up, he gave you a compliment.”, she said. “Let’s fight.”

Then she smacked him hard in the ribs with her tourney sword, knocking the wind and some of his pride out of Podrick.

Chapter Text

Sandor stood by the washbasin, scrubbing his skin raw to remove the black grease stains.
He glanced over to the fur he had hastily placed in front of the fire. Sansa sat perched on top of it, holding her hands close to the flames for warmth.

He hadn’t expected her and had frankly been surprised that she had managed to sneak through the corridors without bumping into any of the new houseguest. The castle was filled to the fucking brim with the arrival of knights and the heads of lesser houses. Everywhere he looked, seasoned northerners glared back at him and their squires scurried out of his way, terrified by the sight of his scarred face.

It had been three days since the night when he took her maidenhead and in the time since, they had barely been able to lay eyes on each other. Only once had they been alone together and then only for a few bittersweet moments that had left him more frustrated than anything else. Saying that they had been alone would be fucking stretching it, he thought. Sandor had escorted Sansa and the little wolf to their chamber late one evening and when they got there, the girl had been gracious enough to allow them a goodnight kiss. The little shit had only managed to spoil the mood somewhat, by making gagging noises from inside the chamber.

Sandor refused to spend his nights pining over Sansa like some lovesick greenboy and that was why he had taken to oiling his armor every night. There was no need to since neither it nor him had seen any sort of fighting for what felt like a bloody lifetime, but it kept his hands busy. He had meticulously worked every nook and cranny of leather and metal until the thing had taken on a sheen that was brighter than when he had first purchased it. So that was what he had been doing when someone knocked on his door.

When he opened it she had been standing there in her morning robe, shivering but with a big smile on her lips. His first instinct had been to scoop her up and envelope her in his arms to force the chill from her bones, but his hands had been filthy and he didn’t want to stain her pretty nightshift.

And now she was sitting here, in his chamber, regaling him with the adventures of her evening and the close call she had had with a couple of chambermaids in the stairwell.

“There were three of them and they wouldn’t stop talking.”, Sansa said, flexing her fingers against the flames. “I had to hide in an alcove.”

Sandor barked out a laugh at the scandalized look on her face and she furrowed her brow slightly.

“It not funny.”, she admonished.

“It’s a little funny.”, he rasped.

“At least now I know what they think of Jon.”, she giggled. “They had some rather colorful things to say about him.”

“And what was that?”, he said, as he wiped his hands on a rag.

Sandor had seen the way the womenfolk looked at the commander. It was the same wherever they went. They leered at him with the hunger of a pack of ravenous dogs, lusting after a juicy bone.

Sansa scrunched up her nose.

“I can tell you this much..”, she said. “Not a single one of them would have minded to take a trip down south with him.”

She turned her attention back to the fire with a shiver, but Sandor could see that she was smiling to herself, pleased with her clever innuendo.

Sandor sunk to the floor beside her, keeping a safe distance from the hearth. She seemed to sense his wariness and scooted closer to him. He grabbed ahold of her ankle and removed the slipper she was wearing. Her feet were as cold as ice and he wrapped his large hands around them, rubbing them to bring some warmth back into her skin.

“That feels nice.”, she sighed.

Sandor pressed the heel of his hand into the arch of her foot and she made a little noice that sent his blood boiling.

Sansa crawled over too him and standing on her knees she placed a light kiss on his lips. She slipped her arms around his neck, down beneath the collar of his tunic and her cold hands made him jump. Instead of removing them, she let them wander further down his back, sending jolts of anticipation through his body.

“Best get you properly warmed up.”, he rasped, against her mouth.

“And how do you suppose we do that?”, she asked.

Sandor grabbed her by the hips and pulled her into his lap and she yelped in surprise. She settled against him and the wiggling motion caused his cock to grow harder. Sansa seemed to notice because her movement became more deliberate as she ground herself against him. Even through the fabric that separated them, he could feel her need for him.

He let his hands drift up under her shift and when he reached the soft skin of her upper thighs he noticed she wasn’t wearing any smallclothes.

“Did you forget something?”, he said, cocking an eyebrow at her.

She leaned back a little and looked him in the eye with a coy smile.

“No.”, she answered, with a husky tone.

She would be the death of him one day, Sandor thought, as a low growl escaped his throat. But it would sure as all the hells be a magnificent bloody way to go.

Sansa kissed him, deeper this time, sliding her tongue against his, agonizingly slowly.

He squeezed her arse and she rocked against him. Sandor let his hands wander further still and when his fingers reached her damp curls, she let out a small moan. She was so wet. For him.

Sansa reached down in turn and with hurried fingers she began working on his laces. When he sprung free, she made to lie down on her back but Sandor held onto her. He wanted to watch her. He wanted to see her on top of him whilst he was buried inside of her. She seemed confused at first, but then it seemed to dawn on her and she smiled. It wasn’t one of her usual smiles, the gentle and sweet kind that could melt a heart as bruised and battered as his own. No. This was something else entirely. It dripped with desire and it drove him mad with wanting.

She propped herself up, holding onto his shoulders as Sandor guided himself to her entrance.
Sansa let out a low moan as she impaled herself on him, slowly sinking down his shaft and enveloping him in her warm wetness. Her eyes widened briefly and then she closed them.

Sansa stilled for a moment, adjusting to the feel of him and then she hesitantly started to move.
Sandor groaned and tightened his grip on her hips, helping her along until she had found a rhythm.

“You feel so good.”, he said, with a strained voice. “So fucking good.”

She placed an unsteady kiss on his lips.

He leaned back, resting on his elbows, giving her more freedom to move and she took it. He kept his hands firmly at her waist, holding her steady. Sandor had never in his retched life seen anything as glorious as the women straddling him. Her hands were resting on his chest and her fingers dug into his tunic as she rode him.

She still wore her shift but in the warm light of the fire, it left little to the imagination. He reached up and traced the bottom of one of her teats. Her nipples poked through the fabric and in his hunger to taste her, Sandor sat up and gave it a quick suck, making the shift cling to her skin.

Sansa gasped loudly, but she was beginning to falter. Her moves were becoming more erratic and he could tell that she was tired.

Sandor gathered her up in his arms and lay her down on the fur in one swift motion. She brought her legs up, making her hold on him even tighter and Sandor let out a slew of curse words under his breath. Sansa didn’t seem to mind though. If anything, he thought he could see something resembling pride in her beautiful blue eyes.

He thrusted into her in a way he hadn’t been able to the first time he bedded her and she moaned.
Sandor felt her hands, warm now and a little clammy, move up under his tunic as he labored above her. Then they began traveling downwards and before he knew it, he felt her nails scraping the skin on his arse. Not enough to make it hurt, but enough to send him over the edge.

Sandor yanked himself out of her with not a moment to spare, spilling his seed on her thighs instead of inside of her as he bit back a roar of pleasure. He rolled off her, breathing like a blown horse.

Even through the clouded haze of his release, he still felt a twinge of guilt. He would have to be more careful if he didn’t want to put a bastard in her belly.

She was panting slightly, but he had seen none of the signs that the same had happened for her.

“Did you..?”, he asked.

She shook her head, but smiled, pulling him in for a kiss that he soon broke to catch his breath.
He would have to remedy that, Sandor thought, as he bent over her and undid the laces on her shift. He lowered his head and caught her nipple in his mouth once more, drawing a low groan from her throat. With one flick of his tongue, he savored her, noting she tasted both salty and sweet.

He let his hand drift and hiked the fabric of her shift up. Slowly moving through her folds, he found the spot that had made her sing such lovely songs before. He let his thumb remain there, drawing circles against her sensitive flesh, as he slipped one of his fingers inside her. She arched to his touch and he added another, setting a faster pace. Her chest was heaving now and he kept working her over until Sansa leaned her head back, moaning loudly.

Sandor gathered her up in his arms and pressed her close to him. Her breath came in hot gusts that tickled the skin on his neck and he grinned to himself. They lay like that for a long time, both of them too spent to speak.

He was wondering if he had anything left of the bread and cheese he had brought up to his chamber, when she spoke.

“Why don’t you call me Little Bird anymore?”, she asked.

Sandor sighed. He didn’t know what bloody words to use to explain to her why. Why he had stopped calling her that.

The night she told him about the deal she made with Littlefinger, Sandor had realized something. He had been angry. Furious. He had wanted to strangle every man who had ever looked upon Sansa and seen a claim. He had wanted to gut those who had dared to use her as a stepping stone to greatness. A pawn to be played. Fools who saw a title and a name and nothing more.

It had felt like someone dropped a bucket full of ice water over his head when it dawned on him. He could easily be lumped in with the rest of them. The men who had wanted to make Sansa into something that suited them.

Little Bird he had called her. He had said the words with spite, mocking her for her songs and for letting herself be locked away in a gilded cage. That was how he had chosen to see her. That was the name he had given her. Now that he had allowed himself to see her, truly see her, he knew that he had been as fucking as blind as the rest of them. He knew that despite her pretty feathers and her gentle heart she had claws and fangs. She was a wolf of the north as well as a beautiful songbird. She was Sansa.

“I figured you’d grown out of it.”, he simply said, hoping there wouldn’t be more questions on the matter.

“Maybe you’re right.”, he heard her say.

She burrowed closer.

“I wouldn’t mind it if you called me it sometimes.”, she added.

He placed a lingering kiss on the crown of her head.

“Whatever you say, Little Bird.”, he rasped, knowing he could never refuse her a single thing.

Chapter Text

Sansa spared him a final glance before she gently closed the door behind her. She knew she would regret not waking Sandor before she left, to steal one final kiss and few sweet words, but he looked so peaceful. None of his frown lines were present in sleep, making his scars the only reminder of a life full of hardship.

It would still be hours until the servants rose to begin their day, but when Sandor had started to lightly snore, she had known that it would be up to her to keep awake this time. In the warmth of his embrace, that was easier said than done, and Sansa had decided it would probably be for the best if she snuck back to her chamber now, rather than risking having to do so in broad daylight.

There was a chill in the air and she pulled her night robe tighter around herself.

“My Lady?”, a mans voice called out from behind her and Sansa’s blood froze.

She turned around. Ser Davos was standing in the half light of the corridor, clutching a leather bound book to his chest. He had a puzzled look on his face.

“Ser Davos, what are you doing here.”, she chirped, regretting her words immediately.

His chamber was located on this floor. Hers was not.

The man before her didn’t smile like he usually did. His brow was furrowed in concern as he stared from her to the door behind her.

“I could ask you the same, my Lady.”, he said.

Sansa swallowed hard.

“I-I had to ask Lady Brienne about an important matter,” she said, as she desperately racked her brain for anything that could warrant a visit to her in the middle of the night.

He regarded her for a moment before he spoke.

“That’s not her chamber.”, Ser Davos said, slowly. “That’s Clegane’s.”

The look he gave her told her there was no reason to lie anymore. He was a clever man and even a halfwit could have worked out why Sansa was leaving Sandor’s chamber at this hour.

“Please don’t tell anyone.”, she whispered, as panic gripped her, making it hard to breathe. “No one can know.”

Ser Davos cleared his throat.

“I’m afraid I can’t make any such promise, my Lady.”, he said.

Her heart was racing and her mouth suddenly felt very dry.

“Please, you don’t understand...” Sansa began, but Ser Davos interrupted her.

“I understand that things like this is a whole nother matter for high borns.” he said, as he motioned to Sandor’s chamber. “Give your brother some credit, the man is nothing if not a bit unconventional himself.”

She was swaying slightly. Ser Davos seemed to notice and he gave her his arm and Sansa took it.

“We will tell him come morning my Lady. Don’t fret.”, he said, as they walked through the empty corridor.

* * *

Arya was sitting at the foot of the bed as Sansa nervously paced the room. Her sister kept picking at a loose thread on her new tunic, winding and unwinding it around her fingers. Sansa could already see that the edges closest to the thread had begun to fray and it wouldn’t be long until there was a sizable hole in the garment. It didn’t matter, she thought.

“It’s not like he’s going to hurt him.”, Arya said.

“Well, you weren’t exactly thrilled when you found out.”, Sansa snapped.

“As long as you don’t do what I saw you do in front of Jon, I’m guessing he won’t be half as mad as I was.”, she snorted.

Sansa glared at her. That wasn’t what she was worried about. Not until now, at least.

There was a knock at the door and both Sansa and Arya jumped at the sound.

Ser Davos was waiting for her outside. Sansa gave him a quick nod and the man gave her a small smile in response. A smile that didn’t reach his eyes. He looked truly uncomfortable as they started towards Jon’s chamber. She could have easily spared him a few kind words, but something prevented her from doing so. Sansa understood why he felt the need to tell Jon, she did. Still, a part of her resented him for doing his duty.

Dawn was breaking outside the arched windows as they arrived at Jon’s door. Lord Glover had granted her brother the largest guest chamber in the castle. It came with a solar attached and that’s where they found Jon.

He was sitting at a desk, both elbows resting at the cluttered surface, as he studied a map. It showed a stretch of land covered by trees. The Wolfswood. Carved pieces symbolizing the different Houses were littered across the parchment and Sansa noted that the flayed man of the Bolton’s was finally outnumbered by the sigil of the Stark’s. All they had to do now was to keep it that way.

Jon motioned for her to sit and she did.

“You needed to speak to me?.”, Jon said. He sounded tired but managed a smile that turned Sansa’s stomach to knots.

She straightened up in her chair. Sansa had resolved that she would make no excuses. Why should she have to? She looked her brother straight in the eye as she spoke.

“Ser Davos found me leaving Sandor’s chamber during the night.”, she said, keeping her voice level.

The face Jon made would probably have been the same as if she had reached across his desk and slapped him. He stared at her with a look of confusion and utter disbelief that soon gave way to anger.

“And why where you in his chamber in the middle of the night?”, he asked.

Sansa said nothing. It was enough to confirm any suspicions either of the men before her might have had.

Jon’s arm was resting on the map between them and she could see that he was clenching his fist.

“Has he forced you to do anything you didn’t want to do?”, he asked, his voice low and menacing.

She shook her head.

“Anything I did with him, I did because I love him.”, she said, “And he loves me.”

Jon gaped at her and Ser Davos did too.

“You love him?”. Jon’s words were stilted, as if he was sounding them out in his head first, trying and failing to make sense of what she was telling him.

“Yes.”, she said, as she folded her arms across her chest. “Very much.”

”You know better than this.”, he said, with a heavy sigh. “This isn’t like you, Sansa.”

Anger flared through her.

“Why?”, she snapped. “Because I am no longer an obedient little girl? Because I have chosen a man who cares for me, instead of waiting for someone else to make that decision for me? Twice I’ve been married, against my will. Were you hoping to trade me off a third time?”

She was seething and she knew she was being unfair, but she didn’t care.

“That’s not what I meant.”, Jon said. “Don’t put words in my mouth.”

Her brother buried his head in his hands and he was quite for a long time.

“You don’t want a bastard child, Sansa.”, he said, gently. “You don’t. It wouldn’t be fair to either of you.”

There was a sorrow in his voice that made her want to reach out to him. It washed away all the anger she had felt towards him moments earlier and left her feeling bone weary and close to tears. She reached for a cup that was standing on the desk. It was half empty and she drained it all in one large gulp. It was ale, lukewarm with a foul taste, but she felt strengthened by it nonetheless.

“You can’t tell anyone else.”, she said, after a while. “Lord Baelish can’t know about Sandor and me, he can’t.”

Jon looked up.

“Why not?”, he asked.

She took a deep breath.

“Because I might have insinuated that when all this is over, I would marry him.”, she said. “He wouldn’t have helped us if he didn’t think there was anything to be gained by his involvement. I did what I had to do.”

Her brother leaned back in his chair.

“And still you went to Clegane’s chamber, knowing what you knew?”. Jon said. “If Ser Davos could so easily stumble upon this secret of yours, what’s stopping others from finding out.”

Sansa stared down at her hands. Shame was undoubtedly reddening her ears and she felt like a fool. He was right. She should have been more careful.

Jon continued.

“You were right. We wouldn’t have gotten this far without Littlefinger’s men.”, he said. “That was your doing. But I will not have you ruin our chances, not for any reason.”

“I won’t, I promise.”, she whispered, tears stinging in the corners of her eyes.

“Ser Davos, will you fetch Clegane.”, he said. “And lady Brienne.”

Ser Davos nodded and left the room. Sansa’s felt her legs move and she was suddenly standing.

“What are you going to do?”. Even to her own ears her voice sounded shrill.

He searched for something amongst the parchments and books that were strewn about his desk and found a small scroll. From what remained of the broken sigil, she recognized the tiny mockingbird that had left its imprint on the wax.

“I received a raven from Littlefinger last night.”, Jon said, as he handed her the scroll. “He will be arriving this afternoon. His troops at stationed a days march from here. I will send Clegane to join them.”

Her heart thumped hard in her chest. If her brother had commanded her to, she would have stayed far from Sandor’s chamber. It would have hurt to be away from him, but she would at least have been able to see him. Fleeting glances and few words now and then might have been enough, but the thought of having to give that up as well, was too much. She couldn’t.

“No. You can’t.”, she blurted, as she wiped away a few angry tears. “I won’t visit him again, I swear. You can’t send him away. You can’t be that cruel.”

Jon stood up and slammed his fist against the desk, sending the carved figures of flayed men and wolves alike, flying. Sansa stumbled backwards. She had never seen her brother this angry.

“Cruel?”, he roared. “If I’m being cruel then you are being selfish, Sansa. This isn’t just about you.
Rickon needs us to win this battle. The North needs us to win this battle. Every man, woman and child needs us to win this battle.”

Sansa was trembling. Her tears flowed freely now and she hated herself for the sniveling sounds that escaped her with every breath she took.

Jon seemed to soften somewhat at the sight of her.

“When all of this is done, we will deal with Littlefinger, but until then, you will finish what you started.”, he said.

She wiped her nose on her sleeve and nodded slowly. Jon sunk down in his chair once more but Sansa remained on her feet. Neither of them seemed to have anything left to say.

The silence was broken by a hesitant knock.

“Come in.”, Jon sighed. It looked as though the time that had passed since Sansa walked into his solar had aged him by a decade. She didn’t even want to know what state their discussion had left her in.

The door swung open. Sandor was standing there, next to Ser Davos. The scowl he wore vanished the second he laid eyes on her. The worried expression that replaced it, made her want to weep even harder.

“Leave us, Sansa.” Jon said, and there was an edge to his voice that told her it would be best to obey.

Chapter Text

Sandor was having the sweetest of dreams. Or was it a memory? Sansa was straddling him. Uninhibited, without a single stitch covering her, she rocked against him, her pale skin glowing in the light of the fire. Her hair fell like liquid flames across her shoulders and Sandor knew she wouldn’t burn him if he reached out and ran his fingers through her tresses. He was just about to when a loud, thumping noice jolted him from sleep.

It was morning and he had fallen asleep. To his relief, he saw that Sansa had not. She must have slipped away in the night but the scent of her lingered in the blankets and furs that lay strewn on the floor.

The thumping continued. Someone was at the door.

“For fuck’s sake.”, he muttered, as he got to his feet.

His back ached. Sandor was used to sleeping rough and he reckoned he must have spent as many nights on the ground as he had in a featherbed. The cold stone of a castles floor had now been proven as unforgiving a place to rest as frozen dirt.

He yanked the door open and found Davos waiting on the other side, a grim look on his weathered face. Sandor instantly knew that something was wrong.

“I need you come with me.”, Davos said. “The commander wants a word with you”

Sandor’s gut told him that this wasn’t going to be a bloody social call.

“What about?”, he asked, gruffly.

The old man cleared his throat. It was plain to see that he wanted to be elsewhere.

“It’s about you.”, he said, and then he lowered his voice. “And lady Sansa.”

If his years in King’s Landing had taught Sandor anything it was the importance of keeping a straight face, so that was what he did now, schooling his features into a mask of indifference. Without knowing if the commander had proof or only an inkling, he reckoned it best not to give too much away.

“Give me a minute.”, he rasped, as he turned his back on Davos and closed the door.

Sandor splashed some water on his face and wiped it off with a rag, trying to banish any remnants of sleep. He contemplated downing whatever was left in the wineskin that lay on the table, but though better of it. A clear head was what he needed now.

 

When they entered the commanders chamber it became glaringly obvious that the cat was out of the fucking bag. Sansa’s eyes were red-rimmed and puffy from crying. When she saw him she made a noice that was somewhere between a sob and a hiccup. He wanted to cross the room in a few long strides and hold her close until whatever caused those tears felt like a distant fucking memory. Instead he remained frozen to the spot.

Sandor searched her face and could find no harm done to her. No bruises or marks had been made on her in anger. He had never taken her brother for a beater of women, but when it came to honor, men had been known to do a lot worse than that for even lesser offenses. Relief flooded him. First and foremost for Sansa’s sake, but also on account of the whole bloody army that was camped outside the castle walls. It wouldn’t be good for moral if the commander was to loose his both his hands so close to the battle.

“Leave us, Sansa.”, Snow said.

She stared down at her feet for a moment and when she looked up again, determination was written across her tearstained face. Before he knew it, Sansa flung her arms around his neck and kissed him right on the lips, almost sending him tumbling backwards in surprise. Her brother and Davos were surely gawking at the display, he didn’t care. There was a finality about her embrace that made his insides churn and he returned the salty kiss she placed on his mouth with trembling lips.

She stood on her tiptoes and whispered in his ear.

“I’m sorry.” Her hot breath tickled his ear and his cheek.

Then she relinquished herself from his grasp and before he could ask why, she had dashed out of the chamber.

Davos at least seemed to have had the decency to look away but her brother had been eyeing them, as if trying to make sense of what he was seeing. Sandor reckoned he couldn’t blame the man for that.

With a nod, Davos took his leave.

Snow, who had been sitting behind his desk, stood up.

“Sit.”, he said, and Sandor did what he was told.

“I suppose you will want my balls for this.”, he rasped, as he glared at the man before him.

Snow said nothing, but he put his hand on the hilt of his blade and gripped it firmly, as he glared right back. To his credit, the man held Sandor’s gaze without ever straying to his scars.

He hadn’t unsheathed his sword, but Sandor could tell he was itching to do so. Even though they had traveled together for a long time, he had never seen the man fight but someone so young wouldn’t have been put in charge of the Watch if he didn’t know how to handle a blade. That and the fact that he didn’t seem to balk at the thought of going up against a seasoned warrior such as Sandor himself.

It didn’t matter. If it came to blows, Sandor would be the first to yield. He couldn’t do that to either Sansa nor the little wolf. He couldn’t fight their brother. They had already lost him once, they shouldn’t have to bare it a second time.

The commander pulled his blade from its scabbard. He made no move to strike though. Instead he rested it in his hands, holding it close to his face as if studying the rippled steel. It was Valyrian. No doubt about it. Then he spoke with a low voice.

“This sword is the only thing I have that is of any true value.”, he said, as he turned the blade over in his hands. “That and my sisters. You brought them back to me.”

Sandor grunted in response.

“It’s Valyrian steel.”, he said.

“I might not have been brought up in a fucking castle, but I know that much.“, Sandor retorted.

Snow raised an eyebrow and then he continued to speak.

“There are a lot of people who would give me a sizeble purse for this sword. It’s fit for a fine Lord.”, he said. “If I were to sell it and give you the gold, would you leave the North and never return?”

Sandor snorted.

“I bedded your sister and now you mean to give me a reward.”, he rasped. “I didn’t take you for a bloody fool.”

Fire burned behind the commanders dark eyes as he narrowed them and frowned.

“Careful now.” There was an unmistakable edge to his voice. “A less understanding man would have you flogged for calling your commander a fool. Some might even have seen you strung up. Or cut your balls off.”

“And you are one of those understanding men, I suppose?”, he rasped.

“I am trying to be, but my patience is wearing thin.”, Snow said.

“Keep your gold.” Sandor growled.” Keep your fucking sword. I know what you are trying to do. You’re asking me to give her up. That’s not up to you. It’s up to her. If she wants me gone, all she has to do is ask and I will.”

The commander sheathed his sword and then he sat down. Silence stretched on between them for a long while. He was still regarding Sandor and the fire in his eyes was gone. It was replaced by something that looked a lot like relief. And resignation.

“You love her?”, he asked.

Sandor scowled at him for a moment and then he nodded.

“Aye.”, he said.

Snow leaned back in his chair.

“Would you die for her?”, he asked.

“Without a second thought.”, Sandor rasped.

“Would you let her do the same for you?”, the man before him asked. “Would you let her put herself in harms way to save your life?”

She already had once, but Sandor would be damned if he ever let her do something so reckless ever again.

“Of course I bloody wouldn’t.”, he spat. “And if you’re asking if I know my place, my worth, in the grand scheme of things, then the answer is yes. I know a thousand men the same as me, could never be worth one of her.”

Snow frowned.

“Then why?, he asked, with a flash of anger. “Why are you risking her safety by meeting with her like this?”

Safety? What was he talking about, Sandor thought. He knew that what he and Sansa had been doing, sneaking around in the dead of night, wouldn’t put her in a favorable light if anyone should ever find out. It sure as all the hells would send people talking. Gossip and cruel words would follow, but he had been risking her reputation by bedding her, not her safety.

“What the fuck are you on about.”, he asked.

Snow looked vexed as well.

“If Littlefinger finds out what you both have been going around his back, do you imagine he would be pleased? With her or with you?“, he asked.

Sandor felt as if he had taken a mallet to the chest.

“What did she do?” His voice was a low rumble and he could feel dread seeping into the very fiber of his being.

“I guess she didn’t tell you either.”, Snow sighed. “She has made him believe that she will agree to wed him once this is all over. I trust you know that I would never let him get his hands on her and I suspect the same can be said for you?”

Sandor nodded slowly. He felt close to heaving. Littlefinger was a cunning man. A cunt and a piece of shit, but not someone easily played. Rumors around King’s Landing spoke of a man who was quick to revenge and who preferred it to be bloody.

“What would you have me do.”, he said, after a while.

“I told her I would send you ahead to meet up with the Knights of the Vale.”, Snow said. “Littlefinger is arriving at Deepwood Motte tonight and you can’t be here then.”

“Do as you see fit.”, Sandor said.

There was no fight left in him. Snow was right. He couldn’t be anywhere near her. Littlefinger would surely know something was amiss. He might not have been the Master of Whispers, but he had just as many eyes and ears as the eunuch.

 

* * *

What little things he owned had been hastily packed and it was with a heavy heart that Sandor made his way down to the stables. It was snowing and the yard was almost empty, save for a few servants and stable boys. And Sansa.

She was trying her hardest to look as if she had any business being there, but she stuck out like a sore thumb. Her pretty blue dress was being dragged in the grey, trudged up snow and she had probably ruined her slippers stepping in horse dung.

From afar he could see a couple of chambermaids gawking and he didn’t need to hear what they were whispering to know that it was about Sansa.

Her face lit up as he drew closer. With cheeks rosy red in the cold, she looked even lovelier than she had done in his dream. Sandor wanted to kiss her. Hug her close and tell her he loved her. Instead he walked passed her, barely acknowledging her presence.

”Lady Sansa.”, he managed, keeping his voice rough and indifferent.

He didn’t look at her. He couldn’t. If he did, they would surely know. All of them. Every servant and maid who in this moment kept their fucking eyes trained on the highborn Lady who deigned to visit the stables by herself.

With his back to her, she spoke.

”Ser.”, Sansa said, and for the first time in his life, he didn’t correct her.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t fair. The words rang through Brienne’s mind, louder and louder until she was barely aware of the rhythmic thumping of the horses hooves against the frozen ground. None of it was. She had known that for a long time. Ever since she was a child. Ever since she was a young girl who stood a head or two taller than her suitors. Brienne had made her peace with the fact that life would never be that. Fair to her.

The moment the Commander broke the news about Clegane’s involvement with Lady Sansa,
the word fair lost all its meaning to her. Sweet, kindhearted, beautiful Lady Sansa. What was fair and just about her fate? What cruelty had the girl had to endure that made her seek comfort in the arms of a brute and a murderer?

Nothing had been taken by force. Her brother had made that abundantly clear. He had frowned as he described Sansa’s feeling for Clegane as love. As if he himself was unsure of what to make of the whole situation. Love? The very notion was absurd. Ridiculous. It went against everything Brienne thought she knew about the world.

She hadn’t raised any of her concerns with the Commander nor had she questioned the man’s decision. Instead she had done what had been asked of her. She would go with Clegane to the place where the Knights of the Vale had made their camp and she would see to it that he didn’t try to leave.

Clegane was riding ahead on that black beast of a horse. A fitting steed for a man that was at least part animal himself, Brienne thought, as her grasp on the reins tightened. His dirty cloak was billowing behind him. It would have been so easy to just reach out and yank it hard. Seeing him sprawled out in the snow would do little to dampen the fury that was brewing within her, but it would at least be a start.

As if he had been listening in on her thoughts, Clegane came to a sudden halt. They had reached a small clearing in the woods and Brienne could hear the sounds of running water.

“There’s a stream over there.”, he rasped, as he dismounted. “We ought to water the horses now.”

Brienne was seething as she swung her leg over the side of her horse. She wasn’t even aware of the fact that her fingers had clenched into a fist, before her knuckles landed square on Clegane’s nose, with a satisfying crunch of cartilage. The large man staggered backwards but remained standing. He stared at her but made no move to strike her back. Instead he bared his teeth, as his lips curled into a vicious, red grin.

“I guess he told you then.”, Clegane rasped, wiping blood from his nose with the back of his hand.

Gusts of air left her lungs in rapid succession. She was panting with rage.

“Who gave you the right?”, she bellowed. “Who gave you the right to lay your hands on her?”

He narrowed his eyes at her.

“She bloody well did.”, he spat, before adding, in a snide tone. “Jealous?”

Brienne swung again and this time she struck his jaw, knocking the smugness from his face with a wet thud. Her knuckles stung, but it was a soothing kind of pain. A righteous kind of pain.

“You were meant to protect her!”, Brienne hissed. “Not..” She couldn’t even finish the sentence. Bed her. He wasn’t supposed to have bed her.

Clegane swayed where he stood. He wasn’t looking at her anymore. He was looking beyond her, in the direction from whence they came. For a brief moment it looked as though he was about to collapse. Then his eyes fixed on hers once more and they were filled with a fury that rivaled her own.

“Go on. Do it.” he snarled. “Show me you mean it, you dumb cunt.”

She obliged. Brienne put all her weight and all her anger behind the blow. When her fist made contact with his scarred cheek, Clegane grunted in pain and then he sagged to the ground on his knees. He stayed there, slumped in the snow.

“I left her with him.”, he said after a while. His voice was hollow and it sounded as if he was talking to himself, rather than to anyone else in particular.

Brienne stared at the sight before her. Clegane looked so pitiful that she didn’t know if she wanted to kick him or pat him on the back. All the fight had gone out him along with the anger, the hate and the resentment, leaving a husk of a man behind. She had never seen him looking so vulnerable. Not even when she had been digging through the rotten wound on his neck with knife.

Podrick carefully reached out his hand to the man, as if he was afraid he might get bitten if he ventured to close. He was holding a threadbare kerchief that the felled warrior reluctantly accepted, pressing it against his bloodied nose.

Clegane looked up at her, his beard streaked red. He was scowling but his eyes were sad rather than angry. It unnerved her more than if he had suddenly drawn his sword against her.

“I would have been more careful had I known about her deal with that cunt.”, he rasped.

Brienne felt a pinch of guilt. She had known about lady Sansa’s bargain with Littlefinger. She had been sworn to secrecy, but there had been many a dark night since, when she had thought about breaking that vow. Now she wished she had.

“You shouldn’t have let it go this far either way.”, she said. “Do you honestly think you can build any kind of a future with her? Do you think that is what she truly deserves?”

Clegane made a motion with his head that was somewhere between a nod and a shake. He remained on his knees in the snow, back bent and shoulders slumped. He looked heartbroken.

For a long time, in the beginning, Brienne had doubted there was even a heart to be found, beating inside the chest of the brutish warrior. As the weeks had grown into months, she had started to see proof of the contrary.

Behind the harsh, rude exterior, she had come to learn that he cared. He cared a great deal in fact. She had seen him worry himself half to death about both of the Stark girls. He had cursed and raged and threatened, but in his own way, he had cared. But love? Was he truly in love?

 

* * *

None of them had spoken since they left the clearing. Now and then there came a gurgling sort of noice from Clegane. She must have broken his nose. Brienne actually felt bad, but not enough to apologize to the man.

Something was clearly bothering Podrick. He kept glancing at her sideways, as if he wished to speak but was afraid to.

“Just spit it out Pod.”, she sighed.

”You weren’t in King’s Landing, my Lady.”, he said, in a hushed tone. “You didn’t see what they put her through.”

The boy’s eyes were filled with sorrow.

“Clegane was there for her when no one else dared to.”, Pod said. “Expect for Lord Tyrion.”, he added with a small smile.

Brienne frowned.

“And you think that justifies what he is doing to her now?”, she asked. “What if she becomes with child? What then? Will it be considered a bastard or a Bolton? Which is worse, Pod?”

“No, my Lady, that’s not what I’m saying.”, he said. His cheeks were bright red and it was obvious that the topic of discussion was making him flustered.

“What then?”, she snapped, getting annoyed with her squire.

He swallowed.

“Lord Tyrion couldn’t protect her other than with his words. They weren’t always enough.”, he said. Podrick motioned towards Clegane, who was riding ahead of them. “In a room full of knights and fine lords, he was the only one who gave her a cloak when Lady Sansa had been stripped and beaten. I think that is the kind of man she deserves. One who is willing to protect her.”

Chapter Text

Arya cracked open the door and peered inside the chamber. The flames in the hearth were burning low and there was a chill in the air that made her shudder. Her eyes quickly found Sansa.

She was lying on the bed, sprawled above the covers. Her face was buried in the crook of her arm and she didn’t stir when Arya entered. The noises she had been making before had ceased and there was a stillness to the chamber that seemed almost eerie.

Her sister had been inconsolable when she returned from her meeting with Jon. Between sobs and wet sniffles she had learnt that Sandor had been sent ahead to join the Knights of the Vale at their camp. Arya hadn’t known the human body could hold so many tears.

Nothing she had thought of to do had seemed to be able to comfort Sansa. The few soothing words she had managed had fallen on deaf ears and she had tried to awkwardly stroke her sisters hair. It didn’t help. None of it did.

Arya had fetched food and sweets from the kitchen for her and even some wine but that had backfired spectacularly. She had understood why when she held the drink close to her face and the smell reminded her of the one thing she was trying to distract Sansa from thinking of. Sandor. That had sent her sister bawling even harder and eventually, Arya had simply left the chamber.

She felt bad for fleeing, but she had never been particularly good at consoling people and had apparently not made any headway in that area over time. Especially in matters of the heart.

“They’re at the gates.”, Arya said, tentatively. “Jon says you should be there to welcome them. I can tell him you’re not up for it if you like.”

“No.”, came Sansa’s voice drifting from the bed. It sounded as if she were a thousand years old and had spent her life doing nothing but crying.

She sat up. Her movements were sluggish and slow and it looked like her arms and legs had been cast in heavy, invisible irons, that weighed her down.

“Are you sure?”, Arya asked.

Sansa nodded as she pushed herself to stand, making the whole process look almost painful.
Her face was pale. Paler than usual. She went over to the washbasin and splashed her face with water as Arya put a few logs on the fire, bathing the chamber in a warm glow.

When she turned her back on the flames she saw that Sansa was standing in front of the looking glass that hung on the wall by the window. She was staring at her reflection with unfocused eyes, as if she was looking at something that lay beyond the shiny surface. Something that Arya couldn’t see.

“Sansa..?”, Arya began.

Her sister seemed to snap back to reality and she turned towards Arya. Sansa took a deep breath, straightened her back and when she exhaled, she was another person entirely. Her demeanor was poised and calm, as she carefully smoothed down the front of her dress. Then she pinched her cheeks and when her hands returned to her sides, they were a rosy red and healthy looking.

The Sansa that stood before her showed no signs that she had been crying her eyes out only hours before. She looked almost serene and it unnerved Arya to see her sister so easily trading one face for another.

 

They were the last to arrive in the courtyard. Arya noted the annoyed look Lord Glover gave them as they took their place amongst those who stood gathered to welcome Littlefinger to the castle.

Jon looked even more glum than usual. He had always been very serious, even as a child, but he had always had a smile in store for Arya. She didn’t have one for him today and she ignored him as the gates opened to admit the new arrivals. For the first time in her life, Arya had found herself angry with her brother. She didn’t have long to dwell on the feeling though, as her eyes were quickly drawn to the rider of the first horse in the procession.

Her stomach dropped. The last time she had seen that man she had almost been scared out of her wits. Scared that he would recognize her. Scared that he would give her secrets away and sell her out to the Lannisters.

Needle hung against her hip and Arya squeezed the handle. This was not Harrenhal and she was not serving as a cupbearer to Tywin Lannister. They were in the North and she was surrounded by friends and family.

Littlefinger was wearing a fur trimmed cloak, a garment far too luxurious for a journey on horseback. The lack of creases on the cloak and the way the man sat in the saddle, made her certain that he had only mounted the horse for show. Just as the thought occurred to her, a wheelhouse passed through the gates and Arya would have felt safe betting her sword on the fact that he had been sitting in it until the castle came into view.

 

Jon shook Littlefinger’s hand and so did Lord Glover. Then it was Sansa’s turn to greet the man.

“Lord Baelish.”, she said, with a calm and collected voice. “I hope your journey has been agreeable.”

Littlefinger smiled, putting his hands on Sansa’s shoulders and squeezed.

“Call me Petyr.”, he said, and his smile widened.

Arya cringed. She didn’t have to look in Jon’s direction to know he was doing the same.

“Petyr.”, Sansa said, returning his smile.

Littlefinger turned to Arya. When their eyes met, he cocked his head to the side, ever so slightly. She hated the way she felt beneath his gaze. As if she had found herself without clothes on her back in the middle of the courtyard. She hated him for making her feel that way.

“Ah, Lady Arya.”, he said in a silken voice that made her want to smack him in the face. “How you have grown.”

She let her eyes wander from his clean cut hair to the silver mockingbird that fastened his coat.

“You haven’t.”, she said, her mouth a thin, sour line, as she glared at him.

Beside her, Sansa gasped in shock.

“Arya.”, she tutted, in a manner that sounded so much like their mother that it was almost painful.

Littlefinger kept smiling, but it didn’t reach his eyes.

“Now, now, it’s alright.”, he said. “The girl is quick witted, it should be encouraged, not reprimanded.”

He leaned closer to her.

“A girl with the hair of a boy, I almost didn’t recognized you with your hair this short.”, he continued. “Is it new?”

That was all Arya needed. She felt almost ill as she realized that he had recognized her. Back in Tywin’s solar. He had known it was her, but he had kept his mouth shut. Why?

 

* * *

Arya was dragging her feet as she and Sansa made their way back to the chamber. The feast had been as dull as it had been long and she couldn’t wait until she was tucked beneath the furs in bed.

Her sister had been quiet since they left the Hall, but judging by the dark circles that was forming beneath her eyes, she likely felt the same. She had behaved like the perfect Lady all throughout the evening, exchanging pleasantries and smiling. Arya on the other hand, had barely said a word during their supper, and still felt more tired than she ever had before.

The only thing good that had come of the whole thing, was that the decision had been made that they should leave at first light the following morning. The smile Sansa gave when she heard the news, was the only genuine one she had made all day.

Jon had offered to see them to their chamber, but Arya had said no. The hurt look in his eyes almost made her forget why she was angry with him, but then she remembered the sobs and wails his decision had caused and she had turned on her heel and followed Sansa.

It felt strange not having Sandor around. Wrong even. He was usually the one who escorted them to their chamber and she missed his mangled face more than she thought she would.

It felt like a lifetime ago since he stole her from the Brotherhood. She had wanted him dead then and she had wanted it to be done by her hands. Arya would have laughed, thinking about it, if the day hadn’t been so awful. She was glad she hadn’t crossed his name off her list and she hoped that no one else would do it for her.

Sansa dropped like a sack of potatoes onto the bed, not even bothering to take her clothes off. It had been ages since Arya herself wore a dress and then it had only been the loose kind made for little girls. The ones her sister wore, with all their layers and laces, made sitting and even breathing look uncomfortable. She couldn’t imagine sleeping in one.

Arya walked over to the bed. She stared down at the complicated lacings on her sisters dress, unsure of where to start untying them. She reached down to move Sansa’s hair out of the way, and when she brushed against her skin, Arya flinched.

“Sansa.”, she gasped. “You’re burning up.”

Standing this close, she could see that Sansa’s face and neck were covered in beads of sweat.

“I’ll go fetch the maester.”, she said, and turned, when her sisters hands suddenly grabbed her, holding her still with an surprisingly strong grip.

“Don’t.”, she said. “They will make me stay behind. I have to go with you when you leave. Please.

Arya felt herself nod.

Chapter Text

Sansa was shivering. Even through the layers upon layers of clothing she was wearing, the cold somehow found a way of seeping in, sending chills through her. Or maybe it was coming from her. Maybe her very bones had turned to ice during the night.

The wheelhouse jolted and Sansa felt herself limply rocking with the motion. Her body ached and the prospect of having to sit upright for a full day on the stiff upholstery, made her want to whimper aloud. It would all be worth it in the end though, Sansa thought, as she pulled the shawls closer around her shoulders. Being left behind would have been a hundred times worse. A thousand.

She missed Sandor so much it hurt. Even now, when she had no more tears to shed, the lump in her throat and the almost physical sense of emptiness he had left behind, didn’t so much as waver.

Arya sat pressed down beside her on the narrow bench, a small shield of comfort and warmth.
She had insisted on riding in the wheelhouse together with Sansa and Petyr. Her heart ached with love for her little sister, who was clearly trying, albeit failing to make it look like nothing was wrong.

Both Jon and Ser Davos had seemed surprised when Arya had announced that she wouldn’t be riding up front with them. She had never been one to turn down an opportunity for fresh air and a place in the saddle, but she had saved it somewhat by saying that she didn’t want to ride with the likes of them. That had shut both of the men up quickly.

Arya had worked tirelessly through the night and into the morning, helping Sansa dress and bathe. She had even managed to sneak some medicine from the maester’s solar. The brown liquid she had brought back had only served to make Sansa drowsy and had done nothing to help bring the fever down.

She leaned her head against the window frame and watched as rows and rows of trees glided past outside. The shadows made by the trunks on the snow played tricks on her mind, making it look as though dark figures were dancing, weaving in and out amongst the trees in the forest. It was oddly comforting.

 

“Sansa?”, she heard Littlefinger’s voice ask.

With a start she realized she had been nodding off.

“Oh.”, she said. “I must have dozed off.”. Her mouth felt dry and was coated with something that tasted very bad.

As she opened her eyes, she saw Petyr leaning forwards, regarding her with unblinking eyes.

“Rough night?”, he asked. His concern might have almost seemed genuine if it wasn’t for the small smirk that always seemed to play on his lips.

Arya gently shoved Sansa with her shoulder in a jovial manner.

“Yeah.” her sister said, ignoring the fact that Littlefinger hadn’t been addressing her. “It must have been something I ate. I kept Sansa up all night. Both ends.”, Arya said, in a loud whisper. “I feel just fine now, thanks for asking.”

Littlefinger furrowed his brow as he looked over at Arya, his mouth curled faintly in disgust.

“Well, that’s good to hear.”, he said, in a klipped tone.

Sansa nodded in agreement and nothing was said after that. It wasn’t long before she had drifted off once more.

 

From beyond the veil of sleep came a ringing sound. It grew louder and louder. Sansa was jerked awake as the wheelhouse suddenly came to a halt. She must have been asleep for hours. The shadows had grown longer and the trees around them darker. What was making that noice? Why had they stopped?

Her confusion turned to a deep sense of dread as she realized that what she was hearing wasn’t ringing. It was a guttural wailing. Someone was screaming.

Arya flung open the door and was gone before Sansa could stop her.

“I’m sure it’s nothing.” Petyr said, but she wasn’t listening. Ice cold tendrils of fear snaked down her back as she untangled herself from her blankets and followed her sister.

The sun hung low in the sky but the light that was sifting through the treetops seemed awfully bright, stinging her eyes and making Sansa squint. She shielded them and looked around. A group of soldiers stood gathered beneath a great oak. Their backs were to Sansa and she couldn’t see what they were looking at.

Arya hurried towards her, face ashen.

“Don’t look Sansa.”, her sister said, shaking. “Just go back inside.”

“What going on?”, she asked, her voice hoarse, as she pushed passed Arya, making her way over to the men.

One of them was kneeling beside the tree. The noises were coming from him. Lord Glover was standing next to the soldier, his face somber. Sansa had been too busy staring at the crying man to notice the body. When she finally looked up, she saw her. Hung from two lengths of rope were the remains of a woman. Her eyes were glazed over and her mouth was ajar, as if frozen in a silent scream.

The first thought that entered Sansa’s fevered mind, was that the woman was peculiarly dressed, wearing clothing entirely made of a brownish red. She almost screamed as the sheer horror of realization hit her. The woman wasn’t wearing clothes at all. Neither was she wearing any skin.

Sansa jumped as a small hand found hers and squeezed. Arya was standing beside her, so close that she could feel the tremors that ran through her little sister.

“It’s his wife.”, the man next to Sansa whispered to one of the other soldiers.

Anger. Fear. Sadness. Sansa had no name for the feeling that washed over her. This was Ramsay’s doing, she knew it. When the screams erupted from every direction, Sansa didn’t have to look to know that the woman who was hanging from the oak tree wasn’t the only one. The soldiers were dispersing, no doubt heading out into the forest to look for loved ones of their own, flayed and strung up as food for the crows.

Sansa didn’t move. She couldn’t. She was unable to tear her eyes from sight before her. The woman was young. Not much older than Sansa. Long locks of what must have been a golden blond color had turned murky brown and hung in clumps from her head. Her flesh was raw and glistening, covered with an icy sheen. She must be so awfully cold, Sansa thought, swaying where she stood. Why wasn’t anyone giving her their cloak?

She could feel her knees growing weak and Sansa stumbled even though she was standing still.
Strong arms caught her before she fell. She turned her head slowly and found herself in Jon’s firm grasp. His dark eyes were wide and he was saying something but Sansa couldn’t hear what. It was as though she was underwater and every word her brother spoke seemed muffled.

Jon shook her slightly, bringing her to her senses.

“Go back to the wheelhouse.”, he said, softly.

She shook her head.

“My husband did this...” she tried to explain. “They’re here because of us.”

“This isn’t your fault, Sansa.”, Arya said. “We’re going to kill him for this. He’s going to die slowly.”

She relinquished herself from Jon’s grasp.

“We need to get her down.”, she said, as she made her way to the oak tree where the woman hung. “Someone help, please.”

The remaining men stood as if frozen to the ground. She saw terrror in some of the men’s eyes and tears in others. They were reluctant to touch her and Sansa couldn’t blame them.

The metallic stench of blood almost made her gag as she started working on the ties that held the flayed woman suspended in the air. She took great care not to brush her fingers against the naked flesh of her wrists as she did, knowing that she would surely start crying if she did. She had to stay strong.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a mass of red hair and was gently pushed aside by Tormund, who had produced a large knife from his belt. Lord Glover looked as though he was about to stop the wildling man, but did nothing, as Tormund started working her ties with his knife. Jon joined him and together they carefully cradled the flayed woman and put her on the ground.

The soldier was crying harder now, but he was making no sounds, his shaking shoulders the only thing making his pain known. Sansa removed one of the shawls she was wearing and draped it over the woman. She felt an almost overwhelming sense of relief as she looked down at the woman. It was foolish, she knew. Just because her naked flesh was now covered, it didn’t mean she wasn’t still dead. Gone. Ripped from the world of the living by Ramsay.

Sansa’s head was spinning. He would pay for this. He would pay for this with his life, she thought. The trees around her started to tilt and then it all went black.

Chapter Text

Podrick held up the wooden bowl to his face and studied its content. The sky was cloudy and dark but in the light of the fire he could see that the color of the stew was a grayish brown. He scrunched his nose up and took a bite. Given the same ingredients he doubted even he could come up with an end result that was as horrible as what they served at camp. The stew managed the questionable feat of being both watered down and full of lumps at the same time. Still, it was hot and Pod was not one to turn down a meal. He ladled a spoonful of the sludge into his mouth and pretended he was eating a piece of the delicious venison he had tasted his last night at Deepwood Motte.

Clegane was sitting some ways away from the fire . A steaming bowl stood next to him, ignored, as he took a pull on the wineskin he was clutching in his hand. He had barely said a word since they arrived. Other than him and Podrick, there was scarcely anyone around. Their tent was located at the outskirts of the vast camp and none of the neighboring knights and squires seemed especially interested in the peace and quiet. In the middle of the sea of tents was a large canteen and that’s where most of the men spent both their days and nights. Judging by the state of the food that was served there, he suspected they were doing a lot more drinking than eating.

The welcome they had received when they arrived had not been warm but at least it had not been hostile. It had been made clear, however, that they were seen as outsiders. As they were two former Lannister men and a female warrior, Pod understood where they were coming from, even though he found it unfair.

It would have been nice to stay closer to the bustle at the center of the camp. Then he would at least have had a reason, other than curiosity, to venture close to the bonfires where the Knights shared wine and stories. Pod would have loved to listen to them tell tales of great battles, tourney victories and jousts between legendary fighters.

As long as he could remember, that had been his dream. To become a knight. Now it didn’t seem to matter as much anymore. Lady Brienne wasn’t a knight and neither was Clegane and they were the bravest and fiercest warriors he had ever known. If he could be just a sliver as good as either of them, Podrick would consider himself as fine as any knight.

He looked up and saw that Clegane still hadn’t touched his supper.

“Would you like me to go look for some bread and cheese.”, he asked the man.

Clegane turned his head slightly and Pod had to brace himself to keep from cringing. With the bruises that accompanied his scars, it was almost painful looking at his face. The man didn’t seem to care though. His hurt lay further down than skindeep.

“No.”, he answered, his voice rougher than usual, but he didn’t sound angry.

Pod returned to his stew and nothing more was said. He had just finished the last piece of unidentifiable meat in his bowl, when he saw Lady Brienne approaching. She walked in a brisk pace and was carrying a tightly wrapped parcel in her hands.

She hadn’t said a word to Clegane since the clearing, but neither had she punched him. Podrick figured that was probably as good as it was going to get. Lady Brienne didn’t spare the man as much as a single glance as she sat down beside Pod on the log. By the way her brow was creased, he could tell that something was bothering her.

“Is something the matter, my Lady?”, he asked, worried.

She gave him a questioning look.

“Why would you think that?”, she said, sounding slightly irritated.

Lady Brienne cleared her throat and thrust the parcel into his hands as if it was a piece of hot coal stinging her.

“You have been a decent squire, Podrick.”, she said, her eyes fixed on the fire. “Consider this a token of my appreciation.”

Pod stared down at the parcel in his hands. From the weight and feel of it, he knew what it was, even though he didn’t dare hope. He unwrapped it with careful, clammy fingers and he couldn’t help the small gasp he made as he saw what was inside. The smooth metal surface shone orange and white in the light of the fire and even without touching it, he knew the edge was as sharp as they came.

He held up the sword, lacing his fingers around the pommel, as he admired it. It was lightweight, without any decorations. A practical blade and castle forged. It was beautiful.

“You will have to use your old scabbard, the leather maker wasn’t finished with the one I ordered before we had to leave.”, she said, scowling in Clegane’s direction.

He felt tears welling in his eyes and had to use all his might to force them away. She must have noticed anyways, because now she looked truly uncomfortable.

“I-It’s too much, my Lady.”, he stammered.

“Nonsense.”, she said with a stern voice. “You needed a new one and this will do the job nicely.”

“Thank you.”, he managed.

The words weren’t enough, but he would never have dared trying to embrace her to show his gratitude. Instead he stuck out his hand. Her features softened somewhat and she took it, shaking it brusquely.

“Your welcome, Pod.”, she said. “We will train with it tomorrow, so you get used to the balance of it.”

He nodded and smiled, not trusting his voice to properly carry without wavering.

It was purely by chance that he noticed the thing flying in a great arch across the night sky. At first Podrick thought it was a shooting star, but it was moving too fast, glowing red like embers. By the time he realized what it was, both Lady Brienne and Clegane had gotten to their feet. It was a flaming arrow. No. It was a hundred flaming arrows.

Fear gripped him as he watched them inevitably reach their destination. As soon as the arrows hit their targets, shouts could be heard from all around the camp accompanied by the panicked whinnying of horses.

The air seemed to stand still and then, with a whooshing sound Podrick would never forget, the canvas of the tents all caught fire at the same time. Roaring flames shot upwards and clouds of smoke billowed all around them.

“We have to leave!”, Lady Brienne bellowed, as she made her way to untie their horses. “There is no chance at containing it. Move!”

Podrick’s feet obeyed before he could think to move them. Out of the corner of his eye he saw that Clegane was standing still, frozen to the ground. When he turned around, he saw the expression on the man’s face. If Pod was frightened by the flames, it was noting compared to the terror that was written across Clegane’s face. His marred face. His burned face.

Many were the times when Pod had thought of the pain it must have caused the man to get scars like that. Whenever he burnt the roof of his mouth on hot soup or his fingers rearranging the logs in the fireplace, he thought of Clegane.

Pod looked down at his sword. He held it firm as he hurried towards the man. Clegane’s eyes were wide with fear and his body so rigid it looked as though he was about to snap in half.

Podrick grasped the man’s arm and looked him straight in the eye, as he tried to make his voice sound calmer than he was.

“We have to leave.”, he said, and then he held his sword up for Clegane to see. “If the flames get me, will you put me out of my misery?” Podrick swallowed. “I can do the same for you.”

Chapter Text

The early morning air was bitterly cold and Sandor grudgingly tossed another log on the fire. He had kept it small and on the verge of dying, waiting to feed the flames until the very last moment before they were about to be snuffed out.

Hunger drove them flickering around the wood, licking it clean of bark and twigs, before devouring it whole. The flames taunted him as they grew larger, their shadows dancing across the forest floor, painting it yellow and orange and red.

Sandor stood up and with a swift kick and a few muttered curses, he sent a a heap of snow flying, smothering the fire completely. He panted where he stood as the anger and despair from the past few days threatened to crash down upon him, burying him like he had just done the flames.

Stranger reared his head and whinnied, stomping his hooves and pulling at the rope with which he was tethered.

“The fuck are you on about?”, Sandor bellowed, glaring over his shoulder at his horse.

He regretted his harshness towards the beast immediately. He walked over to him, removing one of his gloves as he went. His hand was numb from the cold but Strangers skin was warm and comforting as he scratched the animal between its ears.

“I meant nothing by it.”, he rasped, and Stranger snorted in content.

Sandor sighed and looked around the clearing. The sun hade barely dragged itself up over the horizon.

If asked, he wouldn’t have been able to give a straight fucking answer as to how he ended up in this dreary place. One moment he had been drowning in his cups and the next thing he knew the whole world was set ablaze. If it hadn’t been for the fact that he had barely eaten in days, Sandor was sure he would have soiled himself as soon as the arrows stared raining down. After that, everything went blurry and if he was being honest, that suited him just fine. He didn’t need any more memories of things that were burning.

When he came to, he had been sprawled out in the snow of the clearing and he had not been alone. The big woman had been staring down at him. The look in her eyes had made Sandor long for the way she had been glaring at him right before she was about to punch him. She had looked at him with pity. That hurt worse than if she had knocked the teeth straight out of his fucking mouth.

She and the squire had left soon after, but Sandor had remained. He had stayed in this freezing, fucking place for two days, cursing and raging. And hiding. He would rather have endured a flogging or even a short drop at the end of a rope than hurry back to the camp. Not until smell of burning flesh was gone at least.

He had brought some of the smell with him when he ran. His clothes still reeked with it. With the scent of smoke and misery. It reminded him of childhood. Of Gregor and of blinding pain. As much as he longed for a warm bed and a wineskin, the one thing he longed for more than both those things, was to shed his clothes and bury them.

Sandor took a deep breath and tried to will the memories away as he begun to saddle Stranger. He gave the beast on final pat before he mounted him.

Whatever quarrels he had with the big woman, at least she had managed to untie his horse and save him from the blaze. For that she had his gratitude. Not that he would ever tell her that, Sandor thought.

 

Sandor had never felt more like a dog than he did as he made his way towards camp. Tail tucked between his legs and skulking back, ready for a thrashing. A dog and a craven, who had been hiding out in the woods until the charred bodies had been dealt with.

As he rode up to the field where the camp had once stood, Sandor was surprised to see that there was still some tents left unscathed. When he drew closer he saw that the banners that hung from pikes all around the area where not just the blue of House Arryn. His heart leapt in his chest as he recognized the wolf of the Stark’s. Sansa was here.

The earth was scorched in places and the ground was trudged up and muddy. The men he passed in search of a familiar face, all wore the same expression. The bone weary look of someone who had seen enough death to last a lifetime.

Out of the corner of his eye, Sandor suddenly saw a flurry of a shape sprinting towards him. He whipped around just in time to see the little wolf. She was aiming straight for his midsection and for a moment he was sure she was about to start pummeling him with her tiny fists.

That was why he was all the more surprised when she threw her arms around his waist and hugged him tight. Sandor stared down at her brown mop of hair and gave her an awkward pat on the head, not knowing what else to do.

She wasn’t the sentimental type and neither was he, and it only took a few moments before the little wolf seemed to remember that fact. She gave him a sharp kick on the shin and then, for good measure, she pushed at him hard. Sandor barely felt it and the impact she made caused her to stumbled backwards.

“What the...”, he began, but the girl interrupted him.

“Where were you?”, the little wolf shrieked.

Now that her face wasn’t pressed against his breastplate he noticed how haggard she looked. She had dark circles under her eyes and by the state of her hair it seemed not even Sansa had managed to convince her to pull a brush through it.

“I’m back now, ain’t I?”, he spat, but it came sounding more sullen than he would have liked.

“She was worried.”, The little wolf said, accusatory.

There was something else beneath the girls anger. Relief he realized. Something told him, Sansa hadn’t been the only one fretting.

He felt a pang of guilt. He shouldn’t have stayed away for this long. He should have been here waiting for Sansa. For both of them.

“She..”, the girl began, hesitantly, but she never got to finish the sentence. Her voice trailed off as her eyes fixed on something behind him.

“Clegane.”, a voice rang out, and Sandor turned on his heel.

Snow was walking towards him, his brow furrowed.

The little wolf gave her brother an icy glare before she stalked away without saying another word. Sandor found it strange, since the girl usually had nothing but smiles for her father’s bastard.

“Commander.”, he said, with a slight nod towards the younger man.

Snow regarded him for a moment before he spoke.

“Did you find them?”, he asked.

Sandor raised an eyebrow in confusion. Snow continued before he could ask what in all the hells he was talking about.

“Lady Brienne and Podrick were kind enough to explain some things to me and the others when you didn’t return.”, he said. “They told me that you had taken it upon yourself to go after the Bolton men who we’re responsible for the fire. Did you find them?”

Sandor almost gaped but managed to keep a straight face.

“No.”, he simply said.

By the solemn look on Snows face, Sandor knew that the young man had seen through the lie. He saw no pity behind his dark eyes. No anger neither.

“Lord Royce has made it very clear what his feelings towards the Bolton’s are.”, he said. “We will have their support, the ones that are left anyways. We have a true ally in them I think, not just a bought one.”

That was good news but Snow didn’t look pleased. He sighed.

“Walk with me Clegane.” he said, and Sandor obeyed.

There were barely any soldiers around and when they had passed a few row of tents, Snow spoke again.

“Sansa has taken ill.”, he said, in a low voice. “The maester says she will pull through.”

Sandor stopped dead in his tracks. He could feel his blood pumping through his veins with such ferocity that he could almost hear it.

“Where is she?”, he growled. “Take me to her. Now.”

Snow narrowed his eyes.

“You forget yourself Clegane.”, he warned, his tone cold.

“Please.”, Sandor managed.

The young man cleared his throat and when he spoke, his voice was louder than before.

“I will be needing a full report on your findings, Clegane.”, he said and then he started walking again.

There was nothing to do but follow, so that was what Sandor did.

The commander led him into his tent. It was sparsely furnished with a table and a few chairs, but Snow walked passed them, continuing all the way to the back, where his pallet bed was located.

“With everything going on I felt it best to keep the girls close to me.”, he said and motioned to a canvas partitioner.

Sandor couldn’t help but agree, but said nothing. Instead he scowled at the man.

“I’m not your enemy, Clegane.”, Snow said, his voice tired, as he lifted the partitioner. “She’s been asking for you. I will stay here.”

Sandor didn’t wait for the man to change his mind and walked straight through the opening that led to Sansa’s tent.

A small brazier was located in the middle of it, making the temperature slightly more bearable than it was outside. The light from the embers cast a warm glow around them. Sansa lay bundled up beneath a pile of blankets and furs. His stomach lurched when he saw how pale she was. Her skin was the color of watered down milk with an almost bluish tint to it. Sandor must have made some sort of noice, because her eyes suddenly flew open.

A wave of relief washed over him as he saw how her face lit up at the sight of him. Then her bottom lip began to quiver and Sandor surmised that she must have noticed the bruises.

“Sandor.”, she whimpered.

With two large strides he was at her side. She was struggling with her beddings, trying and failing to sit up. He sunk to the floor and wrapped her up tightly in his arms, blankets and all, and pulled her close to his chest. Sansa had managed to free one of her arms and returned his embrace.
There was some strength left in her, he could feel it as her hand found its way to the back of his neck and into his hair.

She held onto him in a way that made him want to weep. As if she was trying to claw her way closer to him. As if she was afraid he was a part of a fevered dream and would disappear if she loosened her grip on him for just a moment.

“Little Bird.”, he whispered, as he rocked her in his arms.

He could feel the cold tip of her nose against his throat and knew that she could likely hear every frantic beat of his heart.

“You’re hurt.”, she said, her voice wavering.

Sandor stroked her hair. It was damp and tussled, but was still as vibrantly red as ever.

“I’m the one visiting your sickbed and you’re worried about a few scrapes and bruises, Little Bird?” he asked.

“It looks like you fought a bear or something.”, she said, with a hollow cough that was probably meant to sound like a laugh.

He smiled and kissed the top of her head. Sansa was leaning halfway out of her pallet bed. It was too narrow for him to sit on its edge. This wouldn’t do, he thought.

Sandor relinquished her from his grasp and stood up.

“Don’t go.” she said, with a hurt look on her face.

He gave her a crooked grin.

“You think me a fool Little Bird?”, he asked her, softly. “Why would I leave when I finally have you all to myself again.”

He made quick work of his armor and when he had removed everything down to his tunic and breeches, Sandor knelt down beside her pallet. She was still halfway seated and she moved a little when his intention became clear. He crawled down into the soft bed and pulled Sansa into his lap. Just sitting up seemed to have exerted a lot of strength from her and she leaned against him.

He lowered himself down, pulling her with him, until she lay draped across his chest. She burrowed close to him, shivering slightly. Sandor smiled when he realized this was how they had ended up after the first time he had bedded her. She had been naked then and his fingers had traced every part of her, reveling in her glory. Now he found himself wishing she was wearing more layers. He reached out and grabbed a couple of more blankets and covered both her and him with them.

“I love you.”, she said, her voice muffled against his chest.

Sandor wrapped his arms around her.

“I love you too, Little Bird.”, he rasped.

She was softly snoring no more than a few moments after he had uttered the words and it wasn’t long until Sandor joined her in a dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

Arya pressed the pillow down hard over her ears in an effort to block out some of the noise. It didn’t help. Not one bit.

Since fleeing King’s Landing, she had traveled with many men and boys. With the Brotherhood and the recruits for the Wall. With Sandor. One thing they generally had in common was that they snored. Some louder than others. Hot Pie came to mind when she tried to remember which of her traveling companions who had been the worst to share a fire with during the nights on the road.

None of them, Arya decided, made as much noise in their sleep as Sansa did with a stuffy nose. Her sister was making a sound that was somewhere between a gurgle and a wheeze, like someone sawing through sinew and bone.

At first Arya had found her sisters snoring pretty funny. Sansa would have been mortified if she knew exactly how unladylike some of the noises she made in her sleep was. Now, when it had been over an hour since Arya gave up any hope of drifting off herself, the snoring was slowly driving her mad.

She sat up and for a brief moment she almost contemplated flinging her pillow at Sansa, before thinking better of it. She knew it was a good thing that her sister was finally sleeping soundly instead of tossing and turning as she had been for the past few nights. The trouble was that the same could be said for Arya. She had watched over Sansa since she had taken ill, and she was exhausted to the point where she almost felt like weeping.

A sliver of light made its way through the partitioner that separated her tent from her brothers.
Jon must be having trouble sleeping too, she thought. She hadn’t spoken to him since they left Deepwood Motte. Arya wrapped a blanket around her shoulders and pushed the canvas aside.

Jon was sitting at the the small table in the middle of the tent, carefully studying the map that lay before him. He didn’t notice her at first, but Ghost did. The great, white wolf, who had been curled up at his masters feet, padded over to Arya and nudged her gently with his big head. His fur was soft beneath her fingers as she scratched his back, and she could feel some of the tension leaving her shoulders. Nothing filled her with equal measures of comfort and sorrow as being close to Jon’s wolf.

Her brother looked up at her in surprise, and when she gave him a quick nod, he smiled before returning to his work. She quickly tiptoed over the cold ground and sunk down in the chair opposite him. A plate full of cheese and bread stood untouched beside him and he pushed it over to her without taking his eyes off the map.

Her stomach grumbled and she didn’t have to be asked twice before she tucking into the food. They sat in silence as she ate. Arya glanced at him. Jon looked tired and worn, as if the events of the past few days had taken a larger toll on him than on all the other men combined. Those who had remained at least.

The morning after they had found the bodies in the woods, she had learned that most of Lord Glover’s men had deserted. Sansa had, delirious with fever, blamed herself and Arya knew that Jon felt the same, even though he never said so outright. That was one of the things that separated her from her siblings. Both Sansa and Jon were quick to shoulder other people’s sins as their own. They had big hearts and, sometimes, too little sense for their own good. In that way, Arya had more in common with Sandor. The only person she blamed for all of this was Ramsay. And one way or another, she was going to make him pay.

There wasn’t a single crumb left on the plate when she was finished. Jon looked up, and when he noticed that she had finished a meal large enough for a grown man, he smiled again.

Arya had never been angry with her brother before. When she was little, she had gotten in fights with all of her siblings. All except him. He was the one she had turned to when Rickon was being a pain or when Robb wouldn’t let her train in the yard. He had always been there, with words that were kind or made her laugh.

Back in Winterfell, barely a day had gone by without her becoming at least irritated with Sansa. Sometimes she had outright hated her sister. But seeing her fall apart because of a decision Jon had made, one that Arya had not agreed with, had turned things on its head. For the first time in her life, she had chosen her sisters side.

So much had changed since she was a child. Some for the better and most for the worse. One thing she never thought would change, though, was how she saw Jon. He was her big brother, and growing up, she had doubted he could be wrong about anything. When he had welcomed Littlefinger into their midst the same day he sent Sandor away, Arya had learnt that even Jon could make mistakes and that had shaken her to her very core.

 

“So, are you still mad at me, then?”, Jon suddenly asked.

 

“That depends.”, she said, making a motion that was somewhere between a shrug and shaking her head. “Are you going to send him away again?”

“I will do as I see fit and I won’t apologize for it, Arya.” he said, sighing. “But, no, I’m not going to send Clegane away.”

“Then I guess we’re good.”, she said, trying her best to sound casual in an effort to hide the relief she felt. Both over the fact that Sandor was back to stay and that her first fight with Jon seemed to be over.

“I guess we are.”, he said.

She could tell he was relieved too.

Arya crawled to her knees in the chair to get a better view of the map. It had once been dominated by the tiny wooden wolves that symbolized House Stark. Now, the flayed man of House Bolton seemed to be taking up more space than it had before. Carved, bleeding men dotted the parchment in great numbers, almost completely covering the scribbled words beneath them. Winterfell. Arya shuddered.

“What happens now?”, she asked.

Jon’s shoulders visibly slumped.

“We keep going.”, he said.

“Do we have enough men?”. Arya had heard enough whispers around the camp to know the answer to that question, but she still wanted him to say it.

Jon regarded her for a moment, as if sizing her up, trying to decide if she was ready for an honest answer. Arya straightened her back and stared directly at him.

“It not looking good.”, he finally said. “The fire drove most of the horses away and wounded and killed many of the men. We don’t have enough food for a siege. Our only chance of winning is on the battlefield, and even then, I’m not sure we have enough soldiers.”

Arya felt her stomach turn and a tingling chill crept up her spine. She was scared and so was Jon.
She could tell by the way he kept pouring over the maps and numbers and by the constant frown that was etched on his face.

“What are we going to do?”, she asked.

Jon looked at her, his face suddenly stern.

“We aren’t going to do anything.”, he said, slowly, putting great emphasis on the word we. “This is my responsibility. You are my responsibility. I can’t have you anywhere near the battle. You know that right?”

She leaned back in the chair, rolling her eyes.

“I’m serious, Arya.”, he continued. “You will stay back. Keep Sansa company.”

Arya wanted to scream at him. How could he expect her to sit cooped up in a tent, waiting and worrying like some sort of swooning Lady? How could he expect her to do nothing when he and the others went off to fight that monster?

“Promise me.”, he said, his voice low and his dark eyes worried.

“I promise I won’t set foot on the battlefield.”, she said, crossing her arms over her chest.

Arya intended to do what her brother had asked. She wouldn’t go near the battlefield. She didn’t need to anyways. Her plan could be easily executed without breaking her word to Jon.

Chapter Text

Ramsay ran his tongue up her neck, savoring the taste of her skin. It carried a saltiness and a tang that could only be achieved by true exertion. Myranda had been busy. He could smell it on her.

She had been scouting the woods during the night, counting heads and and horses of the occupants in the Bastards camp and she had brought back good news. With every laughable detail she had recounted about the state of his opponents, she had shed a piece of clothing, until she stood, naked as her name day before him.

Ramsay was sitting on the edge of the bed, as Myranda straddled him. She wasted no time before starting to wriggle and writhe on top of him like a pale snake. Even with his breeches on he knew she was ready for him.

“They don’t stand a chance.”, she moaned, as she rubbed herself against his lap.

His mind was elsewhere. On the Stark’s to be specific. They had proven to be a resilient bunch. True northern stock and just as hardy as the tales of old would suggest. Neither the gift he had left for them in the woods, nor the large fire his men had set, had been able to deter the bastard and his men from coming knocking at his door.

Their forces may have been depleted but that didn’t mean they would surrender as easily as he had hoped. A part of him was impressed. A larger part was annoyed.

Myrandas fingers eagerly begun working his lacings but he stopped her. She knew he had somewhere to be.

“Stay.”, she whined. “You’re the Lord of Winterfell. Let them wait a little while longer.”

He leaned back, his face aghast with mock horror.

“That would be awfully rude, now wouldn’t it.”, he admonished. “I’m going to meet my goodbrother for the first time. I wouldn’t want his first impression of me to be tainted by my tardiness.”

He raked his nails along her thighs.

“Maybe, if I’m lucky, he will bring my lovely little wife with him.” Ramsay mused.

Myranda’s face hardened. She made it so easy sometimes. Almost too easy. Then she dug her fingers deep into his upper arm, hard, as she pressed herself against him.

“Myranda.”, he warned. “I have obligations to take care of.”

She angled her upper body closer to his face, shoving her pert little teats against him like a bite sized treat. As she shifted her weight in his lap, she managed to put too much pressure on his injured leg. Throbbing jolts of pain coursed through him and with it came white hot rage. Myranda’s eyes went wide and he knew that she had seen the pain on his face.

Ramsay’s hand shot up and encircled her teat before she had any time to react and he squeezed until his knuckles whitened. Her rosy bud peaked through his fingers, vulnerable and appetizing, and he fought the urge to give it a little suck. Myranda met his eyes as a throaty groan escaped her lips. She didn’t scream. She knew not to scream. Once she did, she knew he wouldn’t be able to stop himself and he had made it very clear that he had other matters to take care of.

He relinquished his grip on her and she carefully slid off of him and onto the bed.

“Good girl.”, he said, as he stood up.

“And one more thing.”, he continued. “Ready a bath before I return.”

Myranda got to her knees and crawled to the edge of the bed.

“For you?”, she cooed.

He cocked his head to one side slightly and shook it.

“Will you be joining me, then?”, she asked.

Ramsay redid the laces on his breeches and swung his cloak around his shoulders, smoothing it out until it looked presentable.

“So I can stew in your filth with you?”, he said, his nose crinkled in disgust. “Honestly, Myranda, if you get any riper I might have to send you down to the kennels to sleep.”

Myranda slumped down on the furs, pouting. Angry pink marks were already forming on her pale flesh. Bruises blooming in the shape of his hand. She made such a pretty canvas. Ramsay would have liked to stay a while and admire his work, but sadly, he couldn’t.

Once the meeting was over he would inspect them closer. As much as he loved the vivid red of a freshly formed bruise, the matured kind was his favorite. He found few things truly as beautiful as the color of battered skin after the blues and purples had faded, leaving green with hints of yellow.

 

Ramsay drove the heel of his boot into the flank of his horse and the beast reared it’s head and quickened it’s pace. The dull ache Myranda had left in his leg reminded him of Reek and his jaw clenched. His blood pulsed through him in sharp bursts of liquid fury whenever he though about that night. When Reek became Theon again.

His servants betrayal had hurt far worse than the broken bones said betrayal had caused him. Bones could be mended and his had, almost completely, but the mere though of Reek’s face as he had pushed him out of the window was enough to set his anger ablaze.

He had been his masterpiece. Reek. Or so Ramsay had thought. A beautiful surrender of spirit and will. The taming of a spoiled boy into an obedient, loyal creature. That had all been taken away from Ramsay on his wedding night. That and his bride. His claim to the north.

Prickles of anger ran across his skin like goose pimples, as he tightened his grasp on the reins. This wouldn’t do, Ramsay thought. He needed to remain calm. At least until the meeting was over. He closed his eyes for a brief moment, willing the fury away. With one great exhale, he felt ready to meet his goodbrother at last.

 

They were waiting for him beyond the hill. A dreary bunch, silently glaring at him as he approached. His eyes immediately found Sansa’s. To her credit, she didn’t look away. His sweet, treacherous little wife. She sat, straight as an arrow in her saddle, looking at him with something Ramsay guessed was supposed to resemble disgust. It came across as fear instead and that, more than anything else about her, delighted him.

“My beloved wife.”, he said, with a smile. “I have missed you terribly.”

He could see the tendons in her long, white neck stretching as she swallowed hard and a tingle spread through his body. She truly was a sight to behold. If there was one thing he could remark upon, though, it would be her hair. It was all well and good with red tresses on a woman, but he certainly hoped his sons wouldn’t inherit this particular feature from her.

“Thank you for returning Lady Bolton safely.”, he said, schooling his face into a stern expression, as his gaze fell upon the bastard. “Now, dismount and kneel before me. Surrender your army and proclaim me the true lord of Winterfell and the Warden of the North. I will pardon your for deserting the nights watch and I will pardon these treasonous lords for betraying my House.”

The bastard regarded him, calmly. Silent. Stoic. It annoyed Ramsay. It annoyed him greatly.

“Come, bastard.”, he continued. “You don't have the men, you don't have the horses, and you don't have Winterfell. Why lead those poor souls into slaughter? There's no need for a battle. Get off your horse and kneel. I'm a man of mercy.”

“You’re nothing but a cowardly swine.”, his goodsister hissed, rudely interrupting him.

Her face was contorted with rage, making her even uglier than she had been before. Sitting next to her sister did her no favors and he doubted they even came from the same womb. She was a mousy little thing with the hair of a boy but something about her intrigued him. More so than her Sansa ever had.

Ramsay was glad to see that the girls life hadn’t been stopped short by their dance in the tower. When he had pushed his blade into her flesh and made her sing. There was fire in this girl and Ramsay couldn’t wait to be the one to snuff it out for good.

He chuckled.

“Now, now.” Ramsay chided. “That’s not the proper way to speak to your goodbrother, now is it?”

“You’re dead.”, she said, through gritted teeth. “You just don’t know it yet.”

The large man who was sitting next to her gave a faint smirk. His face was a gnarled mass of scar tissue and at the slight pull of his lips, the burns seemed to ripple all the way up to his eye.

“The Hound.”, Ramsay said. The man before him needed no introduction. “Maybe I will make you the new kennel master of Winterfell once this has all been dealt with. Would you like that? There will be plenty of bitches in heat for you to pass the time with.”

“Maybe I’ll shove my fist so far down your fucking throat, bastard, that you will suck yourself as I pull your cock from your bloody mouth.”, The Hound said, with an almost lazy arrogance.

His eyes however, told another story. There was a seething hatred within them. Ramsay also noticed the unmistakable twitch in the man’s right arm. The Hound was itching to wreak bloody vengeance on him. But why? He wasn’t here for the money, that was for sure. The bastard barely had food enough for his soldiers, let alone coin to pay a mercenary who was known all across the Seven Kingdoms.

Ramsay found himself less interested in the why with every passing moment, as the large man glared at him, unflinching.

He had grown bored of the whimpers and wails of people who would tremble as soon as they learnt his name. Sure, sometimes they made for entertaining playthings, but Ramsay loved a challenge. And he was sure that the beast in front of him would provide him with it. He would enjoy watching the scarred man bleed. And a man that large would take a long time to drain.

“My, my.” Ramsay said, turning his eyes towards the bastard. “You sure know how to pick your allies.”

“We have shared interests.”, the bastard’s voice came drawling. “But you’re right. There's no need for a battle. Thousands of men don't need to die. Only one of us. Let's end this the old way. You against me.”

Fury surged through him, clawing and scratching at Ramsay’s innards. Who was he to sit there, so infuriatingly calm, and challenge him to one on one combat? Did the bastard think him a fool?

“I keep hearing stories about you, bastard.”, Ramsay said. “The way people in the North talk about you, you're the greatest swordsman who ever walked. Maybe you are that good. Maybe not. I don't know if I'd beat you. But I know that my army will beat yours. I have six thousand men. You have, what, half that?”

“Aye, you have the numbers.”, he said. “Will your men want to fight for you when they hear you wouldn't fight for them?”

Ramsay pressed the reins hard into the palm of his hand. So hard, they would surely leave a welt.

“He's good.”, Ramsay said. “Very good. Tell me, will you let your little brother die because you're too proud to surrender?”

Pain briefly flitted across the bastards face, before he resumed his somber mask.

“How do we know you have him?”, his sweet little wife asked.

Ramsay gave a nod to Smalljon Umber, who produced the head of a wolf from a leather pouch. He tossed it and it landed, with a satisfying thunk, on the cold ground at Sansa’s feet. She stared at it, unblinking.

“Now, if you want to save..”, Ramsay began, but he was interrupted.

“You're going to die tomorrow, Lord Bolton.”, his wife said, slowly. “Sleep well.”

And with that she rode off, without as much as a single glance over her shoulder.

 

“She's a fine woman, your sister.”, Ramsay said, and he meant it. He truly did. “I look forward to having her back in my bed.”

“And you're all fine-looking men. Well, not all of you, but meat is meat.”, he continued, his eyes lingering on the Hound. “My dogs are desperate to meet you. I haven't fed them for seven days.
They're ravenous. I wonder which parts they'll try first. Your eyes? Your balls? We'll find out soon enough. In the morning, then, bastard.”

 

The towering gates of Winterfell had never felt more inviting as he rode through them, leaving its former inhabitants out there, in the cold. Where they belonged. The north was his now. He had earned it. He was Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. He had earned it more than most. It was his right, if not by birth than by his own making. That weighed heavier than being brought up in a castle. With tutors and lord father. Feasts and feather beds. He had proved himself and the North was his price. When all of this was done, there would be no Stark’s left to question his claim. He would grind the bones of the dead to dust and scatter it to the wind and then he would put a babe in his sweet wife’s belly.

Chapter Text

Sansa pushed down the hood of her cloak and glanced around, squinting against the darkness. Surrounded on all sides by the black tree trunks of great oaks, all alone save for a thousand shadows, she should have been afraid. She should rightly have been terrified. Instead, she felt calmer and more confident than she could remember feeling for a long time.

The sky above was littered with stars and and the moon was full, safely guiding her step as she picked up her pace. Sansa was getting slightly winded, trudging through the snow and the sound of her breathing was accompanied only by the gentle whooshing of her skirts against the forest floor. Other than that, the night lay silent.

She knew that Winterfell was somewhere to her right, hidden behind a wall of trees. Her home. She had walked these woods as a child. Not nearly as often as her other siblings, who loved nothing more than climbing and hunting for small game, but often enough for the trees that surrounded her to feel familiar. Sansa had never been here unescorted, though. Her septa would not have considered it a proper pastime for a young Lady to roam around the woods alone.

What she was doing right now was anything but ladylike. Sneaking off to meet Sandor. Emboldened by a few cups of wine, she had slipped him a small piece of parchment after supper. She had reveled in the flicker of surprise she could see in his grey eyes as she passed it to him. Then his expression had changed. The faintest trace of a wicked grin had pulled at his lips and that had been enough for Sansa to become flustered enough to flee to her tent.

 

Through a gap in the trees Sansa could see the light of a small fire, a beacon in the black of night. He was already waiting for her, she realized. The note had instructed him to meet her in the clearing. The same spot where they had been reunited many months ago on her wedding night.

Sansa crept closer, gathering up her skirts to keep them from making any noice, as she peered through the trees at the man she loved. Sandor sat hunched on ground, some ways away from the fire. He seemed to be deep in thought, she could see no other explanation as to why he had not heard her approaching. Suddenly shy, she allowed herself a moment to just watch him, waiting for her. They hadn’t been alone since the day he came to her tent and then she had been almost fully convinced that he was just another one of her fevered dreams, brought on by longing and fear.

As she took a step forward her foot landed on a buried twig, snapping it in half with a loud crack. Sandor’s eyes shot up immediately and when they met hers all of Sansa’s nerves were quelled. He made a move to stand, but before he even had time to untangle himself from his cloak, she was on him, flinging herself into his embrace. She landed hard in his lap, and Sandor grunted slightly as he wrapped his arms around her.

“You shouldn’t sneak up on a man like that, Little Bird.”, he rasped, but he didn’t sound annoyed or angry. Even with her face buried in his neck, she knew he was smiling down upon her. “What if I had mistaken you for some nosy Bolton men?”

“Did I scare you?”, she asked, leaning back so she could get a good look at him.

“You sure did.”, he grated, trying and failing to remain serious. “Can’t you feel me quaking in my bloody boots, Little Bird?”

She couldn’t but sitting in his lap, Sansa could feel other things. Things that sent her blood boiling with want and need. And a desire to tease. She brushed her lips slowly against his, barely touching them with her own. Then, when he tried to deepen the kiss, she wiggled her bottom against him. She smiled when Sandor broke the kiss and a low groan escaped him.

“You little minx.”, he rasped.

His large hand brushed her cheek. It was a gentle caress, soft and sweet, but the dark smile he gave her was full of promise. Sandor dove for her neck, grazing it with his teeth before planting his lips above her pulse point, giving it a quick suck. His hot breath against her skin sent jolts of pleasure trailing down her body. Down, down, down they went, reaching her very core and setting it alight with anticipation.

She moaned softly and Sandor tensed. He moved his hand up into her hair, splaying his fingers agains the back of her head and then his arms tightened around her, lifting her closer to him. Before she knew what had happened, Sansa found herself flat on her back with Sandor above her. In the dim light of the fire, she hadn’t noticed that he had brought a fur and blankets with him, but now that she did, she was glad that at least one of them had thought of it.

“So.”, she said, teasingly. “You knew we were going to be spending our time lying down, did you?”

He gave her a crooked smile.

“A man can hope.”, he rasped, and bent down for another kiss.

Sandor ground himself against her and Sansa bucked her hips to meet him. When he stopped moving, a little while later, she found herself truly disappointed and a bit confused. He broke their kiss, only to place a softer one on her forehead.

“Fuck..”, he breathed, against her hairline.

Sandor looked down at her and she could see that his eyes were full of concern.

“Are you cold?, he suddenly asked.

“Not one bit.”, she said, and it was the truth.

Sansa reached up and stroked his scarred cheek and for the briefest of moments, he leaned into her touch, closing his eyes before moving his head away from her hand. Her heart skipped a beat. Sandor had allowed her to touch him there, but this was the first time he hadn’t flinched.

“I’m not sure this was the best idea.”, he rasped. “You being out here, in the cold.”

With that, she understood his hesitation. He had been treating her as if she was made of glass ever since she had taken ill, even though the maester had declared her healthy mere days after Sandor had arrived at their camp.

Sansa reached down between them and lightly traced the bulge she found there with her fingertips. At least part of him didn’t seem to have any doubts about what they were about to do.

“You better make sure you keep me warm, then”, she whispered.

Her boldness had the desired effect and Sandor groaned and began to move again.

“I will do my very best, Little Bird.”, he growled and Sansa shrieked a giggle as he peppered her face with kisses.

Leaning on one hand, he made sure that his cloak covered both of them, before bending down and seizing her lips, kissing her deep and hard. She reached for his lacings and felt an unreasonable amount of pride when she managed to untie them on her first try.

Sandor glanced down at her.

“You’re getting good at that.”, he rasped, his amusement at her happy grin apparent.

She smacked him against the chest

“I aim to please.” she said, trying for a husky tone, but failing as she couldn’t help but giggle.

The laughter died in her throat when Sandor sat up on his knees and gently grabbed her ankle, slowly sliding his hand up her leg. His grey eyes glinted black in the dark. She shivered when saw that he was biting his bottom lip, looking at her with a hungry expression that made her ache for him in a way that was almost painful.

“Sandor.” she begged, her breath hitching.

He obliged, making quick work of her smallclothes before yanking down his breeches. Then he was on top of her, his weight and warmth so very welcome. Sansa gasped loudly as he entered her in one swift stroke.

Sandor stilled within her, letting her adjust to him. She still wasn’t used to the sensation. It felt strange, but in a good way. A very good way. Then he started to move. Slowly at first. Careful strokes that sent prickle of pleasure all through her body.

Sansa let her hands drift, exploring his large frame as he labored above her. Even though they were both fully clothed, she felt closer to him now than she ever had before. Cradling him between her legs, under the starry sky, it felt as though they were the only two people left in the world.

Sandor kissed her, brushing his tongue against hers. His thrusts came faster now and with every movement he made, he was sending her closer to the edge. When he slipped his hand between them and his fingers found the spot between her legs, she moaned loudly, grasping his upper arms hard. He rubbed circles into her sensitive flesh and with the fullness of him inside of her she was soon panting beneath him. Sansa was looking into his eyes as the world around them fell away, leaving only him and rippling waves of pleasure.

Sandor jerked his hips against her a few times and then he rolled off of her, making a drawn out, guttural noice that made her smile where she lay, sated and safe. And happy.

Whenever she had thought about this night, the night before the battle, she had always pictured herself broken, with a tear stained face and frightened out of her mind for the safety of the ones that she loved. She had never, not even for a moment, imagined that she would actually feel hopeful. Strong. Confident that for once things would go their way.

Sansa had been sure that the meeting wit Ramsay would leave her rattled, but the opposite had happened. Seeing him earlier in the day, with Sandor by her side, she saw him for what he really was. A man, not a monster. And men could be slain.

 

“Warm enough?”, Sandor said, after a while, and when she turned towards him she saw the smug grin he wore on his face.

Words weren’t enough to describe how she felt so Sansa said nothing at first.

“He will die tomorrow.”, she said, slowly. “He will die and you will live. And I will be free to marry whomever I please.”

Sandor wasn’t smiling anymore.

Sansa reached out her hand, placing it over his heart. She could feel it beating, hard and fast beneath her fingertips.

“I don’t deserve you, Little Bird.” He was shaking his head and looking at her as if she had lost her mind. He was trying to make light of the situation, but she could see real fear in his eyes. Sandor believed his words to be true.

Even lying down, he towered above her. Sansa sat up, sitting cross legged next to his face, her hand still resting on his chest.

“The same could be said about me, I suppose.”, she replied, calmly. “I’ve been wed twice. I’m the daughter of a traitor and the sister of one too. I gave my maidenhood to a man out of wedlock, making me an adulterous whore in the eyes of many. Since titles mean nothing to you, you could probably make a better match, don’t you think?”

He was gaping at her by the time she was finished and he looked both angry and hurt.

“Don’t.”, he rasped. “I know what you are doing, but never say those fucking things about yourself, ever again, Sansa.”

“I won’t.”, she said. “If you promise you won’t say anything bad about the man I love. Ever again.”

Sandor took the hand she had placed over his heart and held it in his own. Rough and warm, it completely enveloped her own. He pulled her into his arms and hugged her tight. His breathing had become ragged and she gently stroked his shoulder and then his cheek.

“I am yours.”, she whispered.

“And you are all mine, Little Bird.”, he rasped, his voice thick.

 

 

The camp lay silent as Sansa made her way back to her tent. She scarcely dared to breath as she neared the gap in the canvas she had used to sneak out in the first place. Jon had been very understanding so far, but she doubted he would be if he knew what she had been up to tonight with Sandor.

Something was different. She knew it before she knew what had changed. The tent was still sealed but it didn’t look the same as when she had left it. Then she noticed what was wrong. Her own footprints in the snow had been joined by a second pair, smaller ones. They were leading away from the tent.

No, Sansa thought. She couldn’t have. Could she? Of course she could. Her wild little sister. Her brave little sister. Her foolish little sister.

Sansa didn’t care who heard as she ripped the flap open and barged inside. Panic gripped her, threatening to smother her as her fears were confirmed. Arya’s cot stood empty.

“Jon!”, she screamed, her voice shrill and piercing in the silence. “Arya is missing!”

Chapter Text

Arya let out a hissing breath of pain, silently cursing the offending piece of stone that had scraped her knee. Her skin stung and even in the pitch black darkness, she knew she must have torn a big hole in her breeches. She shrugged it off and blindly reached for the next jutting stone to find purchase.

This wouldn’t have been the first time she had ruined a piece of clothing whilst climbing through the walls of Winterfell, Arya thought. It seemed almost fitting in a way. When she was little, she had often torn her skirts on branches or stained her shoes in the mud. Once, she had even managed to set fire to her cloak when wearing it. Bran and Rickon had been equally careless but Arya had always been the one to receive the worst scoldings for doing the same as her brothers.

The unfairness of it all wasn’t lost on her and nothing had changed since she was a child. She had realized that much when Jon had forbidden her from watching the battle. Because she was a girl. If she had been born a boy, she might have even been allowed to fight. At the very least, she wouldn’t have been sent away to cower as her brother went to war.

Even though some things had stayed the same, the climb through the walls of Winterfell was nothing like it had been when she was a child. Despite running the risk of going to bed without supper, she had loved braving the narrow space that had been left in the stone. It had been an adventure. A secret. Bran may have found it but Arya had quickly made his hideout her own.

 

The air within the walls smelled of damp dust and mold, but still carried a chill that was making her fingers stiff and her nose runny. Her knee ached and the raw wetness that was forming on her scraped skin told her it was probably bleeding pretty badly. It didn’t matter though. She had been through worse, even before she was stabbed by Ramsay. And soon she would get to return the favor.

With Needle strapped to her back and a small dagger hidden in her boot, she felt confident. Nervous and a bit scared, but confident. Ramsay would die tonight and she would be the one to make sure that no one had to join him.

Arya was doing it for all of them, she told herself. For the ones who were going into battle tomorrow. But deep down she knew that was only part of it. In truth, she needed to be the one to end his life. To know that her blade hade been the reason Ramsay drew his final breath. Maybe then the nightmares would stop.

The last stretch of the passageway required no climbing but was even more narrow than the rest of it. It had been small miracle that Podrick hadn’t gotten stuck here the last time they made the journey.

The black of night seemed impossibly bright as Arya slipped through the crack in the wall. She blinked a few times as the godswood before her came into view. Out in the open, she suddenly felt a surge of fear prickle at her neck. She willed it away, taking comfort in the cold steel that rested against her spine.

Arya grabbed the dagger from her boot, gripping it tightly. She could do this, she thought. She could and she would. She was small and could easily hide pretty much anywhere. She knew every nook and cranny of Winterfell and this time she wouldn’t be slowed down by Podrick either. He had been brave in his own way, but had not been the most stealthy of companions.

The crunch of snow beneath her feet sounded impossibly loud in the stillness of the godswood. She crouched low and carefully made her way through the dead shrubbery that scattered the forest floor. Now she only needed to find out where Ramsay slept and then she would poke him full of holes.

Harsh hands grasped Arya’s shoulders, yanking her roughly from the ground in one fell swoop. She barely had time to react before the dagger was wrenched away from her. Kicking and scratching, she fought to reach Needle, but it was of no use. The man that was carrying her didn’t even seem to mind her attempts to free herself.

“A wild little thing, are you not?”, a voice came drifting through the darkness.

Ramsay stepped into her line of sight and Arya felt her stomach drop. He was smiling at her. That soulless grin full of white teeth and ill intentions.

“You’re not terribly bright, are you?”, he continued. “Are you here to kill me?”

Arya aimed a kick towards him and was rewarded with a sharp jolt of pain as her captor shook her hard.

“Yes.”, she hissed, glaring at Ramsay.

The look of amusement on his face made her both frightened and angry.

“Well, well. We will see about that.”, he said. “But first things first. I think it’s time we get reacquainted, dear goodsister.”

Chapter Text

Lady Sansa was crying. Brienne could see the tears and the shaking of the girls shoulders, but any sound that escaped her seemed muffled. Far away. So where the words of comfort coming from her brother and the keening from the direwolf.

Brienne swayed slightly where she stood, unable to truly comprehend the turn of events that had taken place during the past hour. It had all begun when Podrick shook her from her restless slumber, bringing the horrid news with him.

Lady Sansa had barely made any sense in between sobs, but she had pointed them to the piece of canvas that was hanging loosely from the tent. Tiny footprints were leading away from it. Arya had wandered into the night and she had not come back yet.

There had been other footsteps too, she noticed. Larger ones, but still small. If the commander had seen them, he didn’t say anything about it. There seemed to be a silent understanding amongst them that this was not the time to broach such a topic. The evidence spoke loudly enough on its own. Lady Sansa had also left the tent. It didn’t take a particularly brilliant mind to work out where she had gone to. Or whom she had been meeting.

Brienne had shuffled some snow over the larger footsteps before they went in search of Arya. The tracks themselves had been easy enough to follow on their own, but there had been no need to. As soon as Ghost had caught the scent of the girl, he had shot off into the night. When they finally caught up with the great wolf, they found him at the edge of the field that lay between the camp and Winterfell. It had been heart wrenching to hear the beast making the most pitiful whining noises Brienne had ever heard. Beside her, the commander had looked close to tears himself.

The walls of the castle loomed over them, even at a distance. Even though she couldn’t see them, Brienne knew that the battlements was surely littered with archers. The girl had gone where they couldn’t follow and the plan of action now was to wait.

They were gathered in the commanders tent where fresh wood had been placed on the fires. The flames rose high from the braziers, making the space hot as a furnace. Brienne welcomed the heat. A prickle of ice cold dread had burrowed its way into her chest and made itself a home there. She hoped the flames would melt it. Banish it from her heart. It was the wishes of a child or a fool. She knew that. The fear she felt would only dissipate when Arya was safe again. If Arya would ever be safe again.

 

“I know it Jon.” Lady Sansa hiccuped. “He has her.”

The commander put his hand on his sister shoulder. He seemed to be struggling with what to do with her fear and grief. And probably his own.

“She could have changed her mind.”, he said, in a feeble attempt to comfort her.

“She took Needle.”, Lady Sansa said, raising her voice and turning away from Jon so that his hand slipped away from her.

Brienne stared down at her feet. She was standing next to Ser Davos. The man had barely opened his mouth since the search began. Even in times of distress, he always had words of comfort to offer. The silence coming from him unnerved her almost as much as seeing lady Sansa’s tear streaked face.

“Even if he has her, that doesn’t mean he will kill her.”, came the drawling voice of Littlefinger. “You can take comfort in the fact that she will most likely be used to bargain with.”

Lady Sansa stopped crying long enough to glare at the small man.

“And what could we give him in return?”, The commander said. It looked like he wanted to wipe the ever present smile from the man’s face.

Littlefinger was just about to respond when Clegane stepped into the tent. He wore his usual mask of indifference, but his eyes betrayed him briefly, reflecting surprise and confusion. He let his gaze drift across the room. Brienne almost let out a sigh of relief when his eyes didn’t linger too long on Lady Sansa.

“What the fuck is going on?”, he rasped.

“She’s missing.”Sansa sobbed, but she remained seated. “Arya. She has gone to kill Ramsay, I’m sure of it.”

Even though the mere sight of Clegane still made her want to punch him, it hurt to see him receive the news. The large man sort of froze to the spot, slack jawed with eyes unblinking. If the situation hadn’t been so dire, he would have looked almost comical. Now it made her want to sink trough the frozen ground.

That was the one thing she had found to be almost endearing when it came to Clegane. The man was hewn out of a rough piece of stone, unpolished and full of jagged edges, but there was love in his heart for the girl. For Arya. There seemed to be an understanding between the two, a bond of sorts, that made her think of squabbling siblings. Of family.

“Why?”, was all Clegane could muster, but by the looks of it, he already knew the answer.

The commander shook his head and Lady Sansa let go of a ragged breath. No one said anything for a while. All the why’s and what if’s were to painful to ponder.

Littlefinger broke the silence.

“I must say, Clegane, I’m impressed.”, he said sweetly. “I admire your strong constitution. It’s the night before a battle and with half the camp searching for Lady Arya, you still managed to sleep through it all until now?”

Brienne’s heart thumped wildly in her chest. Littlefinger hade arrived at the commanders tent shortly after she did. Whilst Lady Sansa had made no excuses for her whereabouts to Brienne, she had quickly changed her story as soon as he had joined them.

She had been sound asleep, Lady Sansa had told him. She had only noticed Arya was gone when she woke up in need of some water, she had sobbed. All Brienne could do was hope the leacherous little man believed her.

Now she knew he hadn’t.

“I assure you, Lord Baelish.”, Brienne scoffed. “If you had consumed as much wine as Clegane here did tonight, you would sleep like a babe as well.”

Ser Davos laughed. It sounded hollow.

“Aye, Clegane knows how to empty a wineskin.”, he said.

“I found the only way to properly wake the man is with a swift kick to his ribs.”, Brienne continued.

She didn’t have to reach all that deep down inside of her to find a sufficient sting of distaste with which to deliver her lie. The sight of him still made her angry.

Clegane looked her straight in the eye, his mouth a thin line of fury, but again, his eyes told a different story. She saw a hint of gratitude within them. And so much sorrow that she almost grew weak at the knees.

Chapter Text

Arya groaned lightly, but the sound ended up leaving her mouth a whimper. She tried to open her eyes. It felt as though someone had taken a hammer to her head. Or maybe an axe. It throbbed and pulsed with a splitting pain that made her want to heave, but she was convinced the effort it would take would likely be the death of her.

Her lids felt heavy and when she managed to pry them open she found herself sitting in a darkened chamber. The only light came from a few candles, flickering softly from windowsills and a table that stood nearby. She blinked a few times trying to focus on something other than the blurry shapes of shadows. Arya’s heart sank when she realized where she had woken up. It took every ounce of strength she had not to close her eyes again, screwing them shut tightly and pretending she was still in the safety of the camp. It was too late. She had already seen the scorched walls of what had once been Ramsay’s bedchamber.

The memories came flooding back all at once. It must only have been a few hours ago since Arya lay tucked down in her warm bed, waiting for Sansa leave. Her stomach had been churning with nerves as she had gone over her plan in her head. A plan she now knew had failed. It felt as though years had passed since she snuck out of the tent. Since the climb. Since her capture.

She must have given the man who was carrying her one too many kicks and scratches because after she had been taken, her memory went blank. It wasn’t too difficult to imagine what had happened. He had probably given her a thump on the head and she had been out like a light.
She must also have bit her cheek during the struggle because her mouth tasted of the unmistakable, metallic tang of blood.

As Arya tried to move her arms to check for other injuries, she noticed something that made her forget the pain in her head, filling her with dread that tightened over her chest like a vice. She was tied to chair, unable to move.

Arya froze as she noticed that one of the shadows by the door was moving. A deafening sound erupted from the darkness, causing her to flinch as the noise burrowed inside her throbbing head.

Ramsay stepped out into to the faint circle of light by the table. He was clapping his hands together loudly and smiling at her, baring his teeth in a grin that made her want to run. Run far, far, from this chamber and the madman within it.

“Ah, good. Very good.” Ramsay said, as he casually walked up to her, stopping a few feet away and cocking his head to the side. “I was afraid you were going to sleep the night away, dear goodsister. That would have been awfully disappointing. I was looking forward to get to know you.”

Arya said nothing.

“Cat got your tongue?”, he said, with a pitying look on his pale face.

Arya didn’t trust her voice not to go all squeaky or tremble, so she decide to go with a more nonverbal approach. She willed herself to focus on the hate she had for the man before her instead of the fear of what he might do to her. And then she leaned her head back, aimed and spat on the floor at Ramsay’s feet, leaving a small, dark stain on the uneven stone.

The twitch that briefly appeared at the corner of the man’s eye told her that she had gone too far. Ramsay reached for something on his belt and Arya braced herself. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing she was afraid of him.

Instead of a knife, however, he produced a kerchief.

“Well, that wasn’t very ladylike.”, he said, through clenched teeth.

He bent down so that his face was mere inches away from hers. Arya shivered as she felt a gust of his breath, hot and damp, on her skin. Ramsay grabbed her face in one hand, pinching her cheeks together as he leaned in closer. His grasp was like iron, making it impossible for her to properly close her mouth and she was left pouting at him like some sort of stranded fish. With his other hand, he gently dabbed at the corner of her mouth with his kerchief. It came away bloody.

“I must say, I would have thought you had learned some proper manners, growing up in a castle.”, he said, as he examined the stained piece of cloth, running his thumb over the red blotches.

The stinging sensation his fingers had left on her skin seemed to have cleared her head somewhat.

“Where is my brother?”, Arya demanded. “What have you done with him?”

Ramsay turned his back on her and made his way over to the table where he grabbed a chair.

“Ah, young lord Rickon.”, he tutted, as he walked back to her. “Your brother is probably sleeping right now. Safe and sound in my dungeon. He’s a dull little boy. All he does is sleep and sleep.”

Arya’s heart clenched at the thought of Rickon, locked away and waiting to be rescued.

“Did you hurt him?”, she hissed, straining against the ropes until she could feel them drawing blood from her wrists.

He set the chair down in front of her and sat down.

“It took a lot of guts to do what you did tonight.”, he said, ignoring her question. “Especially considering the mess I made of them the last time you where here. It’s a wonder you still have some left.”

As if on cue, the throbbing ache she sometimes felt in her scar, flared once more. Arya could feel a cold sweat setting in, coating her brow with it.

Ramsay’s eyes skimmed over her face, from her mouth to her forehead, surely noticing the way she had reacted to his words.

“Come on. That was funny.”, he said with a pout. “A tailor made pun deserves at least a little chuckle, don’t you think?”

”I hope you choke on your lousy puns.”, she snarled, aiming a kick at him that didn’t reach it’s target.

Ramsay shook his head and sighed.

“To think the honorable Lord Eddard Stark raised such feral little children.”, he admonished. “What would he say if he saw you now, spitting and snarling like a rabid beast?”

Arya straightened her spine and lifted her chin. She was shaking.

“He would have been proud.”, she said. Her voice didn’t sound as her own. It was hollow. Weak.

“Is that so?” Ramsay asked, not convinced.

He was right. Ramsay was right. The moment the lie left her mouth, she had seen her father’s face before her. He would have been scared. So scared. He would not have been proud, he would have been terrified for her safety. She remembered the day he died. How, even when he was walking to his doom, he still looked out for her. It suddenly felt like she was falling. The lurching sensation in her stomach made it hard to draw breath.

To her horror, Arya felt her bottom lip begin to tremble. Tears stung the corners of her eyes and she suddenly felt so very small.

Other faces swam before her minds eye too. Jon’s. Sansa’s. When would they find out she was missing? Had they already? Arya had managed to do the exact opposite of what she had intended.

For weeks she had noticed her brother growing more quiet and the dark circles under his eyes had grown bigger. Sansa on the other hand always seemed to have a slightly frantic look on her face when she thought no one was looking. And the crying. Every night she cried, when she thought Arya had fallen asleep.

They had both been scared. Probably as scared as she was now. Instead of solving things she had given her siblings one more reason to worry.

“Now, now, no tears.”, he said. “You were doing so good. Stomping in here, all angry and set to kill me. Show me what a brave little wolf you are, Lady Stark.”

Arya closed her eyes, trying to will the tears away. Shame tore through her, burning away at the last little scraps of dignity she had left. If she died tonight, she didn’t want this to be how she spent her last moments. Afraid and weeping.

Suddenly, another face appeared, brought forth from somewhere within. Somewhere Ramsay couldn’t reach. It was Sandor’s face. His grey eyes seemed to stare into her soul, the color of steel and equally unyielding. You’re not dead yet, they seemed to say. So quit whining. Keep it together.

Sandor didn’t look worried. He looked angry. Arya dug down deep within, searching for the fury she knew was still in there, somewhere.

She opened her eyes slowly and looked straight into Ramsay’s pale blue ones.

“Whatever happens to me, I will be avenged.”, she said, putting as much defiance behind the words as she could muster.

Ramsay’s mouth split into a deranged grin and he started to laugh. A cold, humorless sound that echoed off of the burnt walls.

“Does that really matter?”, he asked, when he had calmed down. “Does that truly bring you comfort? And who do you think will be doing the avenging? Come nightfall tomorrow, they will all be dead.”

Ramsay moved to the edge of his seat. He reached his hand out towards her and then he stopped, looking over his shoulder at the door and then towards the window. He placed his other hand behind his ear and pretended to be listening intently.

“I guess we’re alone.”, he said, after a while. “And that means we can get down to business undisturbed.”

He reached for the hem of her tunic and Arya almost screamed when she realized what he intended to do. Pain she could take. She had before. But this. No. Not this.

“If you touch me I will kill you.”, she shrieked. “I will bite anything that comes near me.”

Ramsay looked from his hand to her face and then he let it drop, his nose crinkled in disgust.

“Touch you?”, he spat. “Is that what you think I’m going to do? Touch you as a man touches a woman?”

He suddenly looked angry.

“You?”, he continued. “An ugly little child. Who do you take me for?”

Relief flooded over her, but it was to be short lived.

“I will make you a promise, dear goodsister. I will not touch you with my hands, only with this.”, he said, as he pulled a knife from his belt and held it up between them.

The steel glinted in the candle light and she could see that the blade was wickedly sharp.

Ramsay placed the edge of the knife against the center of her chest and slowly let it drift downwards. It was a light scrape, but she could still feel it through her clothes. When he reached the hem of her shirt she felt the urge to weep again. And the urge to kill.

He pushed the fabric upwards with his blade, reveling her stomach to him. And her scar.

His eyes lit up in a way that made her shudder.

“Now this,”, he exclaimed. “Is truly a sight to behold.”

Ramsay got to one knee and studied her scar closer. The tip of the blade was lightly digging into her skin and Arya held her breath in the fear that one wrong movement would cause it to plunge it further.

She flinched when she suddenly felt the knife move again. Ramsay grabbed her leg and skimmed the blade down to her hip. Her mouth was a bloodless line as he put more pressure on it and scraped the length of her thigh and down to her knee. When he reached her boot, he made short work of its laces with one quick cut. Ramsay yanked it off and tossed it on the floor.

“What are you doing?”, she gasped.

He smiled and she could feel the cold sting of his steel against her naked foot.

“Just some preparations for tomorrow.”, he said calmly. “Don’t worry. You will still be able to walk. Sort of.”

Chapter Text

The field lay deathly quiet. It felt as though the very air stood still. As if it somehow sensed what was about to take place on this day. On this field. A clash between houses and, as far as Pod was concerned, a clash between good and evil.

He had never known that a gathering of so many people could make so little noice. The sound of thousands of men drawing breath, in itself, should surely have been louder than this, Pod thought as he looked over his shoulder at the men lined up behind him. Or maybe not. They all stood still as statues, wildling, knight and foot soldier alike. Faces hard and eyes sharp, waiting for the signal to strike. It was a sight that was both comforting and terrifying at the same time. Knowing that he would fight alongside these men. These warriors.

Podrick turned to face the field again. A wall of Bolton men stood waiting for them on the other side. There was no doubt in his mind that they looked equally as fierce up close as the men behind him.

It was awfully cold but Podrick was sweating. His brow was sticky and damp and he could feel his hair beginning to plaster to it. He wiped his sleeve across his forehead. It wouldn’t do if the sweat began to trickle into his eyes when he fought. Pod knew he wasn’t particularly good with his blade. That meant all his other senses had to be on high alert if he wanted to be able to do at least a little bit of damage to the Bolton’s.

Podrick was beginning to regret the porridge he had broken the fast with. It had only been a couple of spoonfuls, but what little he had managed to eat, was now making itself known in wave after wave of nausea.

Even though he had barely been able to stomach the meal, it had filled him with both a sense of relief as well as a nervous, jittery feeling he supposed was normal right before a battle. Either way, at the time, the cold bowl of porridge had felt like a blessing. It had signified the end to one of the most horrible nights Pod had ever experienced in his life. It had meant that he was one single meal from knowing the fate of the north. And more importantly. The fate of Arya.

Lady Brienne had seemed to share his feelings, though she didn’t even attempt a few bites. As it turned out, she hadn’t been able to eat something even if she wanted too. Clegane had come to fetch her moments after they sat down. With one look at his grim face, she had stood up and followed him.

When she came back a while late, she seemed to be deep in thought. When he had asked what the Clegane wanted, she had promptly told Pod to mind his own business.

 

Podrick tried his best not to look at the bodies. They were hung from great crosses and set alight, flames licking at their raw flesh. The smell of charred meat drifted across the field and Pod almost gagged.

He shook his head, trying to to rid himself of the thoughts that came unbidden. Thoughts he had tried and failed not to think. What would happen if they lost? What would be done to them if they were taken prisoners?

It would surely count as bad luck, to think of such things right before the battle, but Pod couldn’t help it. He saw a field covered with bleeding bodies. And with those that would never bleed again. If he were to die, he prayed it would be here. Outside. With honor. Not in some dungeon, stripped of his skin and his dignity. Podrick hoped for the third option. That he would live. He didn’t want to die today.

The ground rumbled slightly and Pod was pulled from his thoughts. He glanced to his left and found his eyes drifting upwards for an impossible long time until they settled on the face of the giant. His heart leapt in his chest and for the first time in the presence of the massive man, it was with hope instead of fear or apprehension. With him on their side, the surely stood a chance at least.

Suddenly he saw a small ripple run through the gathered Bolton men on the far left, as they parted to let someone pass. A man on a horse rode through the ranks. They were far away, but Pod could see that he was followed by a curly headed boy, bound at the hands and led by a rope. That must be Rickon, he thought.

Out of the corner of his eye, Pod saw movement on the other side of the opposing army. Ramsay rode out onto the field and stopped. He too was holding a rope. He gave a good yank on it. Arya fell to her knees beside the horse and, losing her balance, she went head first into the mud.

 

Bile rose in Podrick’s throat and with it came his morning meal. She slowly rose to her feet and stood tall next to Ramsay. Or as tall as someone of her tiny stature could, anyways. He couldn’t see her features clearly from this distance, but was sure she wore a face of defiance. Pod swallowed the mouth full of sick down, along with the fear and helplessness he felt. If Arya could be brave standing next to that monster of a man, so could he.

Ramsay raised a knife and all of Podrick’s determination vanished. Then the man reached down and cut the ties that bound the girl. The same thing was happening on the other side of the gathered men, where Rickon’s hands were freed as well.

And then he saw that Ramsay was reaching for his bow.

Pod could hear a sharp intake of breath from Lady Brienne. As he turned towards her, he could see her tensing in her stirrups. Her knuckles where white against the reins and he could see that she was fighting the impulse to go. To help. To save Lady Catelyn’s children.

“Don’t.”, Clegane warned. His voice was hard as stone, but calm.

Surprisingly enough, Lady Brienne seemed to listen to him. She sank back in her saddle, but her cheeks were red with the effort of doing nothing.

Podrick didn’t want to look but he did anyways. The signal was given and then, at once, Arya and Rickon began to run. Ramsay was loading his bow.

Something was wrong, Pod thought, as the girl started to move. It was a ridiculous thing to think. Everything was wrong. Horribly wrong.

He had seen her run, quick as a hare, for long stretches of time. Now she was merely hobbling along, staggering with the effort. What had happened to her feet?

There was a sudden commotion to his right and Pod tore his eyes from Arya. It took a moment for him to register what he was seeing. The Lord Commander was laying flat on his back on the ground and by the looks of it, he had been pulled from his horse. He was struggling to get up, his face a mask of fury.

Then he heard a loud neighing sound. Stranger reared up on his hind legs, snorting and braying and then they were off. Clegane urged the beast faster and faster out onto the field, where Ramsay’s arrows were beginning to fly.

Chapter Text

Thundering hooves and the sound of his own heart frantically beating in his ears drowned out everything else. The shouts of anger and confusion from the soldiers and likely from Snow himself were barely louder than a drunken whisper behind him and Sandor ignored them.

There would be consequences for his actions, he knew that much. Being a military man for most of his life he knew what he had just done wouldn’t go unpunished. He would likely be flogged for pulling the commander from his saddle, but he didn’t care. As far as Sandor was concerned, the only thing that mattered now was getting to the little wolf before the bastard caught her with one of his arrows.

He had managed to grab a small shield from one of the soldiers that was standing close by. As soon as he had seen the little wolf and the other Stark pup, he had known what was about to happen.

Sandor tightened his grasp on the handle of the shield and the other on the reins as the ground beneath him became a blur of mud and snow. He didn’t know if he had ever ridden this hard and fast and still, he wasn’t sure it would be enough. That he would make it in time.

The little wolf was hobbling along, hunched over and moving to and fro in an effort to dodge her attacker. Behind her, the archers were loading their bows and Ramsay kept firing his, alternating between aiming at the girl and her brother.

He prayed the arrows wouldn’t find their target. He prayed Stranger wouldn’t slip and lose his footing in the mud. He prayed to God’s he didn’t believe in. Hells, Sandor would’ve prayed to the rotting corpse of Joffrey if it meant he would reach her before it was too late.

His eyes were on the her and only her. He wouldn’t be able to get to them both, it was as simple as that. They were on either side of the field. The choice was barely a choice, but that didn’t mean it was an easy one to make. The boy was kin. Not his, but he was a Stark and a brother.

Hurtling through the field, trying to save her own neck, the little wolf managed to solve the problem for him. She was still far away and the only thing he could hear was the faint sound of her voice, high pitched and frantic, as she called out to the the boy. He seemed confused at first and then he suddenly veered off from the straight line he had been running. He was heading for one of the large wooden crosses. A place to hide.

Somewhere in the middle of all the panic and the fear, Sandor felt a surge of pride for the girl. Even when her own life was on the line, she thought of her family. Reckless and brave and loyal. And an idiot, which was how she had gotten herself into this mess, Sandor thought as he urged his horse forward.

The archers were standing at the ready. All they needed now was the command and then the sky would be full of soaring metal. Sandor leaned closer to Stranger’s neck and brought his hand up to stroke the beast. His skin was warm and Sandor could feel the tendons working beneath, drawn taut as the animal was pushed to its limit.

“I’m sorry, boy.”, he whispered soothingly.

He truly was. There had never lived a better horse than Stranger.

 

The little wolf was close now. His eyes met hers. They were full of terror. She reached out her hand to him as she ran. Just as he was about to grab it, he heard the whoosh of another arrow. And then she stumbled and fell.

Sandor didn’t know if his heart had stopped beating or if it was thumping so rapidly in his chest that he didn’t feel it anymore. The little wolf made a noise that sounded more surprised than pained as the arrow pierced her shoulder.

In the distance he heard a roar. An order. The archers were aiming high and he knew that he only had a moment. Sandor hurled himself off of his horse and hit the ground running. Stranger stopped short a few feet ahead of them once he noticed he had lost his rider.

The little wolf was curled up on the ground. Sandor dove down beside her, careful not to disturb the arrow that was protruding from her. He bent over her tiny frame, flinging the shield over himself just as the arrows began to rain.

Stranger took the brunt of it all. With his face pressed close to the little wolf’s matted hair, Sandor didn’t watch him die, but he heard every bit of it. The animal let out a proud whinny, a loud, piercing noise that cut though the air like a blade. It was brought short by the sickening thunks of arrows and followed by a wet, squelching thud as Stranger hit the muddy ground.

 

He had to get her somewhere safe. Or at least safer. Safer than the middle of a battlefield. The closest of the burning crosses was only a quick sprint away, but it was a distance that felt like it might as well have been a few hundred miles. Sandor took a steadying breath and gathered the little wolf close to him as he got to his knees. Glancing over at his faithful horse, he realized that the animal had fallen in a way that had shielded them from the worst of the attack.

Then Sandor began to run. The girl was as light as air, a small bundle in his arms. It felt as though someone was pummeling him with iron fists as the sharp metal points of the arrows bounced off his armor. They would leave some nasty bruises, he knew that from previous experience. The rest lodged themselves in the already battered shield.

In the midst of it all, a thought came to him that nearly made him laugh. In all his life Sandor would never have thought the day would come when he would run towards a fucking fire as if it were a safe haven.

He had nearly made it when a burning pain shot through his leg. Sandor grunted loudly, but kept running and with the last of his effort, he managed to make it to safety. He sunk to the ground and gently placed the little wolf in front of him. The stench from the burning corpse was foul, but he found himself barely minding it.

Sandor looked down at the girl. She was half seated, unable to lie down properly on account of the arrow. Her hair was plastered to her face and a sheen of sweat glistened on her skin. Her eyes were large and panicked.

“I-I’m.. I-I”, she stuttered, as she gulped for air. She was squinting up at him, trying to focus her gaze.

“Quiet, girl.”, he said as gently as he could. “Save your breath.”

She tried to nod, but the movement must have hurt her shoulder because she winced instead.
Sometimes he forgot how young she really was. She always acted so tough and she was quick witted on top of that. Now she truly looked her age. A scared child. That unnerved him more than the burning corpse next to them or the blare of horns in the distance that signified the beginning of the battle.

With a sinking feeling, Sandor noticed she wasn’t wearing her boots. His stomach lurched violently at the sight of the bloody bandages that was wrapped around one of her feet. Bandages that ended abruptly where some of her toes should have been.

He blinked a few times, unable to make sense of what he was seeing. The rage that explode within him when he finally understood was made of scorching metal and screaming bones and blood. It was pure, unadulterated hatred towards the Bolton bastard and it hurt more than all the bruises on his back and chest combined. It hurt even more to swallow it down and bury it for the moment, but that was what he did. She needed comfort now. Not his curses.

 

“Your leg.”, she said, after a while.

Sandor followed her gaze to the arrow that had lodged itself in his thigh. He bent down and snapped the arrow in two, close to the wound. It would be bloody work to get it out later, but it was better this way if he was going to be of any fucking use on the field. He didn’t know if there would even be an after to worry about. All that mattered now was keeping the little one safe.

“There.”, he rasped, when he was done. “All better.”

She looked down at the arrow that protruded from her small shoulder and, knowing what was about to come, braced herself. The little wolf pressed her lips together into a bloodless line that was even paler than the rest of her face, which was saying something. She was a ghostly shade of white, the color of stale milk.

 

“This is gonna hurt.”, Sandor grunted. He said it more to steel himself than to prepare the little wolf. She wasn’t a fool and she had been injured enough times to know what was waiting.

When she rolled her eyes, he almost gave a sigh of relief. There was still some of the girl he knew left in her, despite what Ramsay might have done to her.

“Just do it.”, she said, with gritted teeth.

So he did. She turned her face away as he made the hole in her tunic a bit bigger. There was a fair amount of blood around the wound, but not enough for it to be mortal. The little wolf didn’t make a single sound as he worked, but when he was done he could see that she had been crying. Sandor pretended he didn’t notice.

“Is it really bad?, she asked, nodding towards her shoulder, as she discreetly wiped the tears from her muddy cheeks.

He was no maester, but he had seen more wounds than half the Citadel combined. It wasn’t bad but it didn’t look good either.

“Don’t worry. You best believe I’m going to get you out of here alive.”, he rasped. “If only so I can thump you for being such a bloody idiot.”

Her face scrunched up and she made a noise that reminded him of a squealing pig. For a horrifyingly long moment Sandor was sure she was about to start bawling. Then he realized that she was trying to laugh.

“Sansa would never let you.”, she wheezed, but then her eyes became serious and he could see the worry that lay beneath.

“I wouldn’t be all too sure about that if I were you.”, he rasped. “She might want to be the one doing the thumping after what you put her through.”

Sandor gave the little one a crooked smile, keeping one eye on the battlefield and the slowly approaching Bolton men.

“Was she very worried?”, she asked, her voice barely above a whisper. “And Jon..?”

Sandor had promised her he would never lie to her, but given the state she was in, he felt it best not to be too blunt. He had to suppress an involuntary shudder as he thought about the look in Sansa’s blue eyes when he saw her in Snow’s tent. It had looked as if her heart was a hairsbreadth from shattering.

“What do you think?”, he asked, with a snort.

She stared down in her lap.

“I thought I could...”, she began, her voice trembling slightly. “But I couldn’t. I couldn’t fight him. I couldn’t do anything.”

There were questions he wanted to ask her. About Ramsay. About what had been done to her by the sick bastard. Questions that had plagued him through the night and into the light of day. Questions he wasn’t sure he wanted her to answer. There was no time for them anyways.

The familiar clinking noise of men marching towards bloodshed filled the air. The faint rumble of a thousand feet shook the ground beneath them as the opposing army’s edged closer to each other.

“What’s done is done.”, he said.

Sandor stood up. His leg ached, but it was nothing he couldn’t handle. The place they were hiding was closer to the Bolton side of the field than the Stark’s. He was going to have to fight like he never had fought before, he knew that as he saw the men approaching.

“I will stay close.”, he told her as he unsheathed his sword. “And for what it’s worth, I think what you did was brave, as well as bloody stupid.”

The little wolf looked up at him. Her face was strangely calm as she nodded towards him.

“Thank you Sandor.”, she said. She was shivering.

A grim thought ran through his head as he turned his back to her. At least the burning corpse would keep her warm.

The soldiers were closing in on him and Sandor allowed himself to unleash all of the anger that he felt. Throbbing rage coursed through his veins as his first blow landed, cleaving a stout Bolton man nearly in half. A roar filled the air and as he hacked away at those who dared approach him, Sandor realized that it was coming from him.

Chapter Text

“Your brother made it very clear..”, Ser Davos pleaded with her.

The lines on his face had deepened and it looked like the man had aged several years in the span of a night. Sansa could relate to that feeling. She felt worn. Torn. Her muscles were wound so tight that it had become a chore just to breath.

“Jon is not here.”, she said. “And as far as I know, being his sister does not make me your prisoner to guard.”

The old man flinched slightly and she felt a sting of guilt.

Sansa was being unfair and she knew it. She had been the one to agree to this arrangement in the first place. Why had she, though? Agreed to hide when the others were risking their lives?

Sansa looked down at the hem of her dress and tried to will the trembling of her bottom lip away. She had agree because of the pained look in Jon’s eye as he begged her. Because of the silent words spoken by Sandor. He had been standing quietly off to the side as she argued with her brother. His stormy grey gaze held hers and she had known that the felt the same. He wanted her to stay behind as well.

Sansa felt a hand on her shoulder, gently squeezing it.

“Sansa.” The sound of Littlefinger’s silken tongue suddenly made her angry. “Be reasonable.”

She shrugged it of with more force than necessary.

“Don’t.”, she snapped. The thought of his fingers touching her made Sansa’s skin crawl.

Ser Davos tensed and made a step towards her. Littlefinger’s eyes briefly hardened but then his face split open in a cloyingly sweet smile and he made a bow towards her before tucking his hands beneath his cloak. A sign that he intended to keep them to himself. For now at least, Sansa thought.

“As you wish.”, he simply said.

Sansa knew his smile was far from genuine. In a past life she might have cared about offending him. Even men she had found despicable and who’s actions had been neither kind nor honorable, she had treated with as much respect as she had been able to muster. Mustn’t be rude, a small voice had chimed inside her head. Chirping Sandor had called it and she would do what he had always told her to. Stop.

“I’m going.”, Sansa said.

“You’re putting me in a difficult position, my Lady.”, Ser Davos sighed.

“Then I will make it easy for you, Ser.”, she said, tartly. “Do you mean to detain me? Because that is the only way you will make me wait here for another moment.”

Her entire body was shaking and he could most likely tell.

“Will you allow me to escort you at least, my Lady?”, Ser Davos asked, giving her his arm.

“I will.”, she answered, trying for haughty but failing miserably.

 

They were not far from the battlefield. She could hear the blare of horns in the distance. The horses were readied and waiting for them in a clearing. She had overheard Jon talk to Ser Davos about an escape route. It was all nonsense and Sansa was sure even her brother knew it.

Ramsay had dogs. If Jon lost she would be hunted and found no matter how hard they pushed their horses. No. They were playing pretend. Just like when they were little. Jon would ride into battle knowing one of his sister was safe and she wouldn’t take that away from him.

Sandor didn’t believe in fairy stories. He knew what would happen if they lost. She took comfort in that knowledge. That he would do all in his power to stay alive. For her. And for Arya. Her throat closed up and the hand that rested on Ser Davos arm trembled when she was reminded of just how high the stakes were today.

Sansa had had months to prepare herself for this day. Now she didn’t just face the possibility that Sandor might not come back to her. That Jon and Brienne and Podrick or Rickon might not come back to her. Now Arya’s life was in Ramsay hands as well and the thought made her weak in the knees.

They were nearing the top of the hill that looked down upon the battlefield. Sansa braced herself but was still unprepared for what she witnessed when they reached it.

She had seen death. Witnessed torture and dismemberments. She had seen it all in the green glow from the burning wildfire. Now, in broad daylight, the sight of two armies charging towards each other made her feel ill. It struck her with the force of a mallet. The magnitude of it all.

Sansa was grateful to Ser Davos in that moment. He was tightly grasping her arm and lightly patting it with his gloved hand. If he hadn’t, she would surely have dropped where she stood.

Chapter Text

The world around Brienne seemed to slow down and an eerie calm descended upon her. It felt as though she could see things more clearly. Feel things more clearly. As if she was truly one with the screaming sea of soldiers, knights and wildlings that were making their way across the field.

Power surged up from all around her, from the men at her sides, until it enveloped her completely. It was raw and blunt and felt almost primal. Forged from blood and steel and honed over centuries. It was beautiful and frightening all at once and it made her focus on what was truly needed of her.

Arya was too far away and Brienne couldn’t make out what had happened to her. All she knew was that she had been shot and Clegane too.

Brienne breathed through her nose. Slow, deliberate breaths. She kept her eyes trained on the thousands of soldiers that were rapidly approaching. For all his faults, she knew she could trust Clegane to care for the girl. She had to let him do his part. As for Rickon, the last she had seen of him, he was cowering behind one of the wooden crosses. Relatively safe thanks to his sister.

She was vaguely aware that Podrick was swaying dangerously in his saddle, but she could do nothing for him, not while her own horse was in full gallop. The only thing she could do now was ready herself for the impact.

Brienne tightened her grasp on Oathkeeper. The gilded hilt was cold in her hands, but she found it comforting as she looked upon the faces of the Bolton men, fast approaching. Rage and bloodlust were written on some of them. Determination and fear on some of the others.

A sense of relief suddenly washed over Brienne. It was a feeling that had no business on the battlefield, but she welcomed it anyways. She would finally be doing her part to see that no more harm came to the Stark girls. Or any of them, for that matter.

 

Then suddenly, everything was moving fast, faster than she had anticipated. With a deafening roar, the two armies collided. The brave cries of her fellow men were quickly turned to sounds of clanking metal, panicked whinnies and a different kind of screaming. Pained and frenzied.

It was quickly becoming apparent to Brienne that being mounted gave her no advantage. The ground beneath her was a slippery mess, half of it mud and the other half covered in patches of snow and ice. Sooner or later she would come crashing down, and if she was unlucky, the horse would fall atop of her.

She swung her leg over the side of her horse and dismounted. Brienne landed and stumbled slightly but found her footing just in time to deflect a blow from a Bolton solider. Her steel sung a high note as the blunt edge of a rusted sword met hers. He was leering at her, giving her a toothy grin showing rows of rotted teeth and the black gaps between. She sidestepped with ease and the man followed. Before he could move to strike again, she brought her sword up and slashed his head of with one fell swoop.

Brienne could hear the thud the head made as it hit the ground, but did not see it. She had already turned on her heel by the time the man fell down dead. Another Bolton man was running towards her, younger than the first. Maybe too young. It didn’t matter. Any man or boy who came at her with a drawn sword was her enemy.

She swung Oathkeeper at the soldier and struck him just above his clavicle in the dip of his mudcaked neck. Blood spurted from the wound and the man sunk to his knees, his gurgling death rattle adding to the din of the battle.

 

The ground was no longer sodden with only the melting snow but with blood as well. It was pooling in tiny ponds of brownish red. Her feet sunk deep each time she stopped moving them. A man wearing the colors of House Glover was lying face down in the mess, wounded and too weak to get up. He was struggling to lift his head and Brienne hurried over and pulled him onto his back, giving him a chance to breath. The sucking gasp for air he made was cut short when an arrow hit him square in the chest, turning it to a rasping wheeze as life left him.

Arrows coming from the Bolton side were beging to rain down on them, sparing neither friend nor foe in their path of destruction. Men were dying all around her and Brienne scrambled to find some shelter. She refused to die. Not while Ramsay was still alive. She grabbed a shield from a dead knight and held it above her head as she wielded her Valyrian steel at anyone who got in her way.

 

A mighty roar came from somewhere to her left and Brienne turned towards the noise just in time to see a Bolton man being flung up in the air. The giant was bellowing with fury as he used a club, the size of a small tree, against the soldiers. He stomped on some and sent the rest flying in heaps of broken bones. The men closest to him were fleeing in panic, scrambling to get as far away from the giant as possible.

One brave man, or possibly a very foolish one, charged at the giant with a large spear. For a brief moment, Brienne felt the absurd urge to laugh out loud. It looked like a mouse charging at a lion armed with a splinter.

The giant grabbed the man by his ankles and, with a sickeningly loud thunk, he smashed the soldier against the ground. With equal measures of horror and fascination, Brienne watched the giant use the mangled corpse instead of the club, flinging it at the soldiers to clear a path for himself.

She had never seen anything like it and had to tear her eyes away from the spectacle. It was a good thing that she did because she found herself face to face with a man that she recognized.

He was panting and his hair was tussled and dirty, but there was no mistaking him. It was the man she had met the day before. The man who had tossed the wolf head on the ground at Lady Sansa’s feet. Lord Umber.

His face split in a grin of recognition as he took a step towards her.

“Ah, the tall bitch.”, he sneered, his beady eyes gleaming. “I was hoping I would run into you.” He brought his blade down to the level of his crotch. Blood dripped from it, thick and dark, as the man made a crude gesture towards her. “I was hoping to run this into you.”

Brienne didn’t dignify that with a response. Instead she put all her weight behind the thrust she aimed at him. What the man lacked in manners he more than easily made up for in skill with his blade. She was barely able to dodge the fearsome blow he brought down upon her with his broadsword.

The man laughed when she shuffled to her left, likely thinking that she was about to flee. Brienne refused to give him the satisfaction. She held her blade out between them, sizing the man up, which only caused him to laugh harder.

Brienne was about to charge at him once more when something whooshed past her, almost knocking her to the ground. A flurry of white fur dove at Lord Umber. He must have been unprepared for the sudden appearance of a direwolf on the battlefield because he barely managed to raise his blade against the beast.

Ghost went straight for his throat, sinking its long yellow fangs into the man’s flesh as Lord Umber bellowed in pain. His screams were cut short when the wolf shook its great head and ripped his throat out.

Its white muzzle was dripping red as the large beast bounded off in search of its master.

 

Suddenly a sharp pain shot through Brienne’s back and she the next thing she knew, she was sprawled out in the mud. The wind had been knocked out of her and when she tried to draw breath, her lungs burned as if they had been set ablaze. She managed to pull herself up on her elbows.

The air hung thick with the smell of blood and voided guts and Brienne gagged as she tried to get to her feet. In front of her, a panicked horse was rearing on its hind legs before bolting straight ahead, not caring who or what was knocked down in its path. That must have been what hit her, she thought as she struggled to get her limbs to work properly again.

Then she felt hands grasping her, pulling her upwards. When she looked up, she saw that they belonged to Pod.

The boy’s face was dirty and he was bleeding from a large gash in his eyebrow but he was smiling down on her. Together they managed to get her to her feet.

“Thank you.”, she panted.

“It was nothing, my Lady.” Pod managed, breathless from the effort it had taken to wrestle her up from the ground.

The edge of her vision was blurry and Brienne wondered if she had hit her head in the fall. She must have, because she didn’t see it coming. Podrick did, though.

He stepped out in front of her, his blade held high.

A soldier was standing in front of them. Brienne readied to strike but then she realized that she was no longer holding Oathkeeper.

She frantically scanned the ground for her sword. Half buried in the mud, she saw the rippled surface of Valyrian steel and hurried to retrieve it.

Her back was to the boy and the soldier when she heard a groan of pain. With a panicked leap of her heart she grabbed the hilt and spun around, just in time to see Podrick sink to his knees.

Chapter Text

Sandor didn’t know how long he had been hacking away at oncoming soldiers. It could have been hours. Minutes. A lifetime. This was what he had been born to do. Fight. Kill. Win.

The Lannister’s had seen it in him from the beginning. Before he had even grown hair on his chest or on his balls. They had given him a place to lay his head and a promise that his blade would never stay dry for long. They had delivered on that promise and he had fought for them. Slaughtered for them. Nothing had been sweeter. Until he met her.

Sandor’s sword cut through the boiled leather armor of a soldier as if it was made of butter. The man made a strangled noise in his throat and then he fell to the ground, twitching before he grew still.

Something felt different, Sandor thought. Different compared to all the other battles in which he had fought. The stench was the same. The numb ache in his shoulder from wielding his sword was the same. The grunts and the screams were too.

No. This was different because of the why, he realized. He wasn’t fighting for the golden haired cunts or for the boy king he loathed. Sandor was fighting for something pure. Something clean and soft and warm. He was fighting for a family. Not just the Little Bird’s kin. A family that might one day be his.

The realization almost made him laugh.

All his life, Sandor had thought that hope would be the death of him. That it would make him weak willed and daft like the knights in Sansa’s stories. That it would dull his blade and slake his bloodlust. That it would put stars in his fucking eyes that would cloud his vision.

He had pittied his fellow soldiers. Men who went to war dreaming of the woman they had left behind. He had thought them fools. He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Now when his blade cut and cleaved, he thought of Sansa’s smile. Of the little wolf and him
sparing in the yard. Seven hells, Sandor wouldn’t even mind calling Snow his good brother.

Suddenly he noticed that he was cutting through nothing but air. There were no more soldiers coming at him. He was standing on his own and at his feet lay the result of his efforts. Sandor gaped at the mess. He had quickly lost count of the men he had slain during the fight and judging by the scattering of limbs before him, he would have a hard time doing the numbers now. No wonder the soldiers were giving him a wide berth.

Sandor turned back towards the little wolf. He had left her with the shield propped up for cover and he hadn’t strayed far from the burning cross. Panicked gripped him hard when he saw that someone was kneeling by the girl’s side. His grasp on the hilt of his blade slackened when he saw that it was her brother. Beside him crouched the great white wolf.

The red bearded wilding was with him, as well two other stern looking fuckers clad entirely in pelts. One of them carried a massive bronze axe that looked to have been put to great use. It was easy to tell, since he hadn’t bothered wiping it clean.

The ginger nodded when he saw Sandor looking and he returned the greeting with a noncommittal shrug.

Sandor wiped his sweat soaked brow. The back of his hand came away bloody but he was too tired to wonder how much of it was his own. His leg was throbbing and he was breathing like a blown horse. Some knicks and bruises was all the Bolton cunts had managed to give him. That and a pretty deep gash on his upper arm. The man who had slashed at him had probably wished he hadn’t ass Sandor caved his skull in with his pommel.

He decided it was best to ignore the ache for now and turned his attention towards the little wolf. Snow was worriedly prodding at his sisters shoulder and she was making a half arsed attempt at sitting up straight. He could see that the man was trembling. Sandor wondered if he had noticed the girl’s missing toes yet. He shuddered and felt his heart begin to pound with anger once more.

At least she seemed to be in better spirits now that her brother had joined them. The wolf was nudging at the girl, whining loudly and she clumsily tried to scratch its ears.

“I’m fine.”, she huffed, trying to roll her eyes but only managed a sluggish blinking. She was squirming as Snow inspected the broken arrow, but soon gave up, too weak to struggle. “Did Rickon..?”, she breathed.

Her brother squeezed her hand in his and gave her a wary smile.

“He’s safe.”, he said. “Thanks to you.”

The little wolf didn’t smile back. She shrugged her good shoulder slightly, avoiding her brother’s gaze. Instead her eyes drifted over to Sandor.

He had been standing off to the side, not wanting to impose.

“Sandor..”, she gasped, her eyes growing wide at the sight of him.

He couldn’t blame her. The blood smeared on his face and armor probably didn’t do him any favors as far as looks went.

“It’s not mine.”, he rasped. “Most of it’s not, anyways.”

Snow looked up at him as well. Half his face was scraped up and dirty. It was likely injuries he had gotten when he was pulled from the horse. Sandor had expected to find anger staring back at him. Maybe even hatred.

He had not been prepared for the overwhelming amount of gratitude in the man’s eyes.

Snow rose to his feet.

“We have to get her out of here.”, he said.

Sandor shook his head. It was a lousy idea. Fighting ones way though a battlefield alone was difficult. Carrying someone injured, even someone as small as the little wolf would be almost impossible.

“It’s too dangerous.”, he rasped.

“Sandor..” the little wolf began, but her brother interrupted her.

“She will be in danger here too.”, Snow argued.

“He’s..” the girl spoke a little louder but now it was Sandor’s turn to cut her off.

“I hadn’t bloody noticed.”, he growled, gesturing to the bleeding pile of corpses he had left behind trying to protect her.

A harsh clanging noice rang out. He looked down.

The little wolf’s cheeks were red with anger. She was banging at the shield with her fists and when she had both her brother’s and Sandor’s attention, she pointed towards the battlefield. Her voice was shrill when she spoke.

“He’s getting away!”, she hissed. “Ramsay is leaving.”

 

Sandor whipped his head to where she was pointing. She was right. The bastard was turning tails, leaving his men to fight alone. The battle was still raging but it was clear who had the upper hand.

Sandor felt the corners of his mouth twitch as they spread into a feral grin. They were winning and the Bolton cunt knew it too.

“We will guard her.”, the ginger suddenly said. “He’s yours to kill.”

For a moment Sandor wasn’t sure if the wildling was speaking to him or to his commander.

Snow looked like he wanted to stay with his sister.

“Ghost. Stay.”, he said and the beast dutifully sat down on its haunches next to the girl.

Snow hesitated before placing a quick kiss on the crown of the girl’s head and then he was off, running straight onto the field in search of a horse.

Sandor’s fingers itched on the hilt of his blade but his feet wouldn’t move. His first instinct had always been to run. Run towards danger. Run towards the kill. Now he felt the need to stay as well. To shield. To protect.

 

A prickling sensation on his neck made Sandor lift his gaze. It was the feeling he got whenever he felt himself being watched. Squinting, he searched the ridge that overlooked the battlefield. For the briefest of moments, Sandor was sure that he had seen a head of red hair glowing like an ember in the distance.

He felt a small tug on the leg of his breeches and reluctantly tore his eyes from the ridge. The little wolf was clutching at the fabric so hard that her knuckles were turning white as bone.

“Go.” The word left her mouth as a hoarse whisper. She was glaring up at him with an intensity he had never seen in her before. “Kill him.”

Sandor stared at her for a moment. Long enough for the fierceness in her eyes to turn into pleading.

 

“Just don’t fucking die while I’m gone, alright.”, he rasped, trying and failing to give her a carefree grin.

“I won’t if you won’t.”, she forced a laugh, that immediately turned into a cough.

 

Sandor quickly found a masterless horse and as soon as he was sitting in the saddle, he urged the animal forward.

By the looks of it, Ramsay was trying his best to make a quiet getaway. The fury Sandor had felt before came back with a vengeance. This had been his doing. That craven cunt had brought them here, urged them to fight and now he was scurrying back to hide behind his walls. Back to his stolen home where he spent his time cutting into little girls.

“COWARD.”, Sandor bellowed, as he rode, spit flying everywhere. “Stay and fight, you fucking cunt!”

The men he passed looked up a him, momentarily confused. More and more heads were turning towards Ramsay.

The ground started to rumble beneath him. The giant must have noticed the commotion as well, because he had stared to run. Soldiers from both armies scurried out of his way, as he roared with anger.

Even with a head start, the giant easily surpassed Sandor’s horse, quickly gaining on Snow as well.

Seeing the giant running at full speed towards them, the soldiers that were left guarding the bastard quickly fled. Sandor would likely had done the same if he was in their shoes. After he had fucking soiled himself.

The only one who remained by Ramsay’s side was a woman. Sitting stock still in her saddle, she was firing arrow upon arrow at the giant. He swatted them away as if they were flies.
She would have been a pretty girl, Sandor reckoned, if her face wasn’t twisted in a snarl. Now she looked half crazed and barely human.

Reaching for another arrow from her quiver, the girl found it empty. It would likely not have made much of a difference if it had been fully stocked, because now the giant had reached her. He put his full weight behind the blow and sent her flying with a punch that could have felled a fucking tree.

Ramsay was fumbling with his own bow when the giant ripped him out of the saddle. The faint popping sound that could be heard told Sandor that the bastards bone had likely been yanked clean from the socket as he was pulled into the air.

 

As the horns blew the Bolton’s surrender, Sandor glared up at the man dangling in the giants grasp. He was suspended by the wrist of his mangled and limp arm and his pale skin was covered in a sheen of sweat. His breathing was ragged and his brow was creased in anger and pain but his eyes told a different story. They were full of fear.

Sandor smiled. It was over.

Chapter Text

Her hair was plastered to her skin with sweat by the time she reached the gates of Winterfell. The hem of her dress was sopping wet with muddy water and so heavy that it made walking difficult, let alone running. But she had run. She had slipped. She had cursed her skirts and she had clumsily bumped into more than a few of the soldiers that were making their way into the castle.

The throngs of people that were gathered outside the gates had made it impossible to travel on horseback and they had dismounted as soon as they reached the road leading up to Winterfell. Sansa hadn’t thought twice about what she was doing as she had tossed the reins to Ser Davos and left him and Littlefinger behind as she began to run. They had called out for her to stop but she hadn’t listened and if they had tried to follow her they had soon given up.

Her heart had leapt in her chest each time she passed soldiers carrying a gurney and each time she had felt a pinch of relief when she didn’t recognize the face of the injured. Sansa was sure she would feel guilty about that relief later, when she knew for sure if her loved ones were
among the wounded. For now, she decided, it was alright to take comfort in it.

 

Standing on the hill and watching the battle unfold, it had been impossible to make out the faces of the men who were fighting. Once the shields bearing the House colors had been broken, discarded or dirtied beyond recognition, they had looked one and the same to her, no matter how hard she strained her eyes. The only one that had stood out was the giant. It would have been impossible to miss him.

 

Tall, stone walls suddenly surrounded her on all sides. Sansa had been so focused on getting inside the gates quickly, without knocking anyone over, that she had forgotten what lay on the other side. Her home.

There was no time to dwell on it though, Sansa decided, as she hurried across the courtyard, looking for her family.

She found her sister first.

“Arya!”, Sansa shrieked, as she pushed her way over to her.

Her sister was very pale, with large dark circles under her eyes, but when she looked up and saw Sansa, she smiled. Arya sat propped up on an overturned barrel with a blanket wrapped tightly around her. She was accompanied by Tormund and a maester that was tending to her. One of her shoulders was bared and she winced slightly as the maester applied a thick, green poultice to it.

On the ground next to him were the broken and bloodied pieces of an arrow, as well as a couple of rags, stained red. Sansa swallowed hard. Arya had been shot, but she was sitting up and smiling. She would be alright.

The vice like grip of worry that had been crushing her so tightly since yesterday, loosened considerably and allowed her to breath. Then came the tears. They were streaming down her face by the time she reached her sister.

“Please don’t cry, Sansa.”, Arya begged, as she struggled to free her other arm from the blanket. When she finally did, she reached for Sansa. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Sansa tentatively grasped the hand that had been offered and clasped it tightly. It took several deep breathes before she was able to speak without risking the words leaving her mouth a whimper.

“Just promise me you will never do something like that ever again.”, she said, half laughing as her sobs turned to hiccups.

“I won’t.”, she said, quietly.

Arya hissed slightly, between clenched teeth, as the maester carfully dressed the wound. When he was done, he excused himself and hurried off to help the injured soldiers.

Sansa followed him with her eyes as she searched the weary faces of the men for someone she might recognize. Arya must have noticed.

“Jon is inside making sure there are no Bolton’s left and Sandor volunteered to lock up Ramsay.” , she said, giving Sansa’s hand a soft squeeze. “Both of them could use a bath I guess, but other than that they are pretty much fine.”

Arya sighed loudly when Sansa’s lip began to tremble once more.

 

It was not until after she had dried her tears, that Sansa noticed the gangly figure that was standing close by, hidden in the shadows of an old cart. He was tall. Taller than Sansa. If their father had been alive, he would probably have been taller than him too.

The round cheeks of his youth were gone and his face was now sallow and a bit sunken. An almost overwhelming need to find him something proper to eat took ahold of Sansa, but she ignored the feeling for now.

He was staring at his feet, but she could tell that he knew she was looking by the way his body tensed up.

“Rickon?”, she asked, hesitantly.

Her little brother nodded awkwardly in Sansa’s direction, seemingly unsure of what to do. He met her eyes briefly, large and round and fearful, before he returned his attention to the ground again.

Sansa wrapped her arms around him and before she could stop herself, she was sniffling into Rickon’s auburn locks. After a few tense moments she felt her brother’s hand patting her lightly on the shoulder, as he allowed himself to be hugged tightly.

 

“I need a maester!”, a female voice was suddenly shouting.

Sansa let go of Rickon and spun around. Before she even had time to open her mouth to gape a the sight before her, Tormund had sprung into action.

Lady Brienne was making her way over to them. Pod was slung over her shoulder and she was staggering under his weight. Tormund quickly grabbed ahold of him, cradling him in his arms as if he had been a small babe instead of a man grown.

Sansa felt the world sway around her, as she looked down at the brave squire. Her friend. He was still breathing, but judging by the state of him, she feared it wouldn’t be for much longer. Podrick’s face was covered in blood. His hair had dried in black clumps and half of his forehead and a piece of his scalp was split in two by a deep gash. She turned her gaze away when she saw the white of bone peaking out from the middle of the wound.

 

“Pod...”, she whispered.

“It’s just a little scrape.”, Tormund said, with a jovial smile. “When you take an ax to the scalp it bleeds like a fucker, but it will heal fast. He will be getting his arse kicked by you in no time.”, he added with a wink, to Lady Brienne. “Lucky little bugger.”

 

Lady Brienne’s cheeks turned a bright pink and she looked both appalled and furious. Just when it looked like she was considering unsheathing her sword, a pained moan came from Podrick.

 

“See?”, the wildling said, with a wide grin. “Just stitch him up and he will have a scar almost as fine as your big, angry friends.”

 

 

By the time the castle had been cleared, Podrick was able to stand on his own two feet. With a little help from Lady Brienne and Tormund, he could walk into Winterfell, even if he did so on wobbly legs.

 

Sansa stayed in the yard with Arya and Rickon. The air was cold but they were in no hurry to join the commotion, as the knights and lords and ladies poured inside.

Her sister spotted him first. Arya pinched her arm, lightly, and Sansa looked up. He was standing a few feet away and made no move to come and join them. She suddenly felt very grateful to Arya for telling her about the state of him. He did need a bath. Maybe several, to scrub all the blood and mud away.

He stood stock still, his face impassive, but his grey eyes were burning as he looked at her.

In her mind she was running to him. He was picking her up and lifting her into his arms, showering her with kisses. She belonged in his embrace. Sansa couldn’t wait for the day to come when she could show the world that he was hers and she was his.

Chapter Text

Sandor closed his eyes. He was tired, but his body itched with restlessness. If it hadn’t been for the ache in his bloody leg, he would likely have been pacing the yard by now. Instead, he was stuck brooding on a worn down bench next to the pig pen.

It was snowing heavily and everyone but him and a few stable boys had been forced to venture outside. Sandor wouldn’t have minded spending the morning within the warm walls of the castle, but that would have meant dealing with all the fucking gawking and whispering.

It had gotten a lot worse since they had retaken Winterfell. Wherever he went, their eyes followed. One of these days, he reckoned, he would have to pluck a few of them from their sockets. Maybe that would get them to stop staring.

Sandor stretched out his legs in front of him and scratched the edges of his bandaged wound. With all the stitched up, maimed and bruised soldiers that were loitering around the yards and in the corridors, shouldn’t they be bored by his ugly face by now, he wondered.

Then again, maybe they were staring at him because they knew something he didn’t? Word spread quickly inside a castle, but the one who people were wagging their tongues about was more often than not the last one to find out.

 

They had been locked inside the Great Hall all morning. The honorable Lords and Ladies of the North. They were deciding what was to be done with him and Sandor wasn’t invited.

For the first time in a long time, Sandor found himself truly nervous on his own behalf. A flogging he could take. He would gladly take several in fact, as long as it meant they wouldn’t send him away. Even the noose would be preferable to being banished.

 

Having grown up a Lannister man, Sandor knew what happened to soldiers who stepped out of line. If someone had done what he did and pulled Tywin Lannister from his horse, that man would have been torn limb from limb. And that was only if the Lord of the rock was feeling bloody lenient.

 

“Needed some beauty sleep, did you?”, a voice suddenly rang out next to him.

Sandor squinted and saw that the Tarth bitch was staring down at him.

He snorted.

“Wake me up in a thousand years.”, he rasped. “That should do it.”

He thought he saw a brief shadow of a smile, pulling at the corners of her lips.

 

“Do you mind if I join you?”, she asked, sitting down before he had answered.

“Suit yourself.”, he rasped.

They sat in silence for a while.

“How bad is it?”, he asked, when he couldn’t take it anymore.

He didn’t need to elaborate, she knew what he was talking about.

“Well, the matter of your punishment was settled upon rather quickly.”, she said with her usual haughty tone. “No one had any objection, though some might have found it a bit harsh.”

Sandor’s felt his stomach churn.

“Spit it out, will you.”, he growled.

 

“What you did to the commander could be considered treason. At best it would be deemed a truly dishonorable act.” she said.

The big woman fell quiet. She was enjoying watching him sweat. Then her smug smile turned into one that was more genuine, almost sweet even. Her voice was softer when she continued.

“As a sign of gratitude me and Podrick will both receive a knighthood, given to us by Lord Glover. You, on the other hand, will not.”, she said.

“How..?”, he began, after a few moments of stunned silence. “But..”

“It was also decided that you should be rewarded for your bravery.”, she continued. “You will be the one holding the sword at Ramsay’s execution.

Sandor started laughing. It was a raspy, grating noise that left him in bursts until he was gasping for air. He couldn’t remember the last time he had laughed like that. It felt as though someone had just stripped him of a piece of armor weighing a hundred stones.

The big woman looked taken aback at first, but then she shook her head in mock exasperation. She even managed a little chuckle once Sandor’s laughter had turned into a wheezing cough.

After he was done, they both fell quiet again. It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence. It was peaceful. Sandor was just beginning to wonder if this meant she had forgiven him for Sansa, when she looked up at him, her blue eyes serious now.

 

“How did you know?”, she asked, her smile gone. “How did you know what Ramsay was going to do?”

Once again, there was no need to elaborate.

He had come to her before the battle. Told her not to do anything rash.

It had sickened him, but he had known the fate of the little wolf as soon as he found out she was missing. That she had played straight into Ramsay’s hands and that he now had yet another fucking pawn to use in his little game.

The sadistic bastard wouldn’t waste an opportunity like this. He would use her to get a reaction from them, just as Joffrey would have done. And Cersei. And the fucking imp. Even Sandor himself saw the strategical advantage of a hostage.

She had been just that, once. His hostage. In the beginning, the little wolf had been no more than a purse full of gold to him. Coin that could walk and talk and curse at him. That, and a faint reminder of Sansa.

 

“Guess we’re cut from the same dirty cloth, him and me.” Sandor rasped.

 

“Maybe you are.”, she said, thoughtfully. “But his stains could never be washed out, no matter how hard one scrubbed. You’ve cleaned up pretty decently, I suppose.”

 

Sandor could see the big woman squirming uncomfortably where she sat. No wonder, he thought. Paying him a compliment, even a somewhat nasty one, must have left a foul taste in her mouth. He couldn’t pass up the chance to rub it in.

 

“So.”, he said, teasingly. “You’ve thought about me all soaped up, have you?”

 

He was rewarded with a swift punch to the stomach for that. It was worth it though.

 

* * *

Sandor took another swig from his cup, knowing full well that he would have to stop soon or end the night making a fucking arse of himself.

The rich, red wine burned on the way down. He had earned it, he told himself as he reached for the flagon nearest to him on the table.

The feast was in full swing and the music was loud. People were dancing and laughing and working their way through the castles supply of wine and ale, in a steady pace. With a little luck, no one would even notice Sandor, where he sat alone, clutching his cup.

He tried his best, but with every swig he took, it became harder and harder not to look at her.

She was dancing with Davos. Her hair, that had been smoothed down and fastened with pins as they sat down to eat, was now falling loosely across her shoulders. It was mussed up and a bit tangled and her cheeks were pink with laughter, as Davos gave her another twirl. She had never looked more beautiful.

 

Sandor sighed. He needed to get out of there before someone caught him staring at the Little Bird like a lovesick pup. Sandor got to his feet and made to leave, but someone was in his way.

Lady Lyanna was standing in front of him. The girl was small. Even smaller than the little wolf, but he still felt as though he was somehow dwarfed by her, as the bear lady glared at him. He was not in the mood to be scolded by her.

“My Lady.”, he rasped, as he gave her a curt nod.

“Clegane.”, she said, her tiny face carved from stone.

“I saw you fight.”, she said.

“What of it, my Lady.”, he rasped. The wine was getting to his head and the Great Hall suddenly felt too hot for comfort.

“I never understood the need for knights.”, she said, ignoring his rude remark. “It’s all well and good for the people in the South, but here in the North we don’t need such things to know the mark of a good warrior. That was why I didn’t speak up when they decided you shouldn’t become one.”

And with that, the Lady of Bear Island strode out of the hall, leaving Sandor to gape after her as she went.

 

 

Sandor must have taken an wrong turn because he suddenly found himself in a deserted and darkened corridor. No one had bothered changing the lanterns that hung on the walls and most of them had died down. He was just about to turn back when a small hand reached out and grabbed his arm.

Sandor turned around.

Sansa was standing on her tiptoes, making her almost tall enough to be at eye level with him. Her breath smelled of sweet wine as she leaned closer to him. She didn’t kiss him. Instead she brushed her nose against his cheek slowly and whispered in his ear.

“Follow me.”, she said, her voice husky, full of wanting.

Sandor didn’t need to be told twice.

 

At the end of the corridor, she stopped and looked around before she seized one of the still glowing lanterns. They were alone. She pushed the door open and stepped inside, dragging him along after her. The chamber was small and without any windows. It was meant for storage he could see when his eyes had adjusted to the dim light.

Sansa hung the lantern on a hook and it settled against the stone wall with a faint clatter.

And then she was on him. Wrapping her arms around his neck, her lips found his. Her kisses were far from soft, as she pressed herself against him and the hunger he felt in her touch caused his breeches to strain.

Sandor delved his tongue into her mouth, tasting the wine on her. She must have had quite a lot, to drink, he realized through his own drunken and aroused haze. The Little Bird was mirroring his own, slightly clumsy, movements and they were both pawing and groping at each other as a drowning man would a bloody raft.

Her body was pushed flush against him and he knew that she could feel his need for her. Sandor groaned loudly when she rubbed herself against the front of his breeches and he thought he could hear a muffled giggle.

Sandor hoisted her up onto a workbench that was placed in the center of the chamber. Spools of thread went flying as he cleared the rest of the surface. She immediately spread her legs for him and he gladly settled between them.

“Careful.”, she giggled, as she scooted to the edge of the table.

“I’ll pick them up later, Little Bird.”, he rasped, as he gave her long pretty neck a lingering kiss.

Her skin tasted salty from a long night of dancing and Sandor let his tongue explore further down until he reached the swell of her teats.

“I meant your leg.”, she said, as her hands stopped their roving. “Are you sure you can.. You know.”

Sandor pulled back and faced her. Even though she looked up at him with concern, he could tell she would be truly disappointed by a no. She swallowed hard and her gaze lingered at his lips, expectantly.

“When the day comes when you spread your legs for me and I turn you down, you might as well bury me, Little Bird.”, he rasped.

She swatted at his chest with reproach but her hand remained there, clutched at the front of his tunic.

“Get too it then.”, she breathed, before she crushed her mouth to his.

Sandor did what he was told.

Rucking up her skirts, he slid his hands up her long, slender legs. When he reached her small clothes, he tore them off of her with one good yank at the fabric. Sansa gave a throaty groan and Sandor hurriedly tugged at his own lacings.

When he finally managed to free himself, he felt his way to the warmth of her very core. She was wet and ready and Sandor sucked in breath to steady himself somewhat. His leg ached but he couldn’t care less.

The table creaked as he buried his cock within her. He pressed his hands against the table for purchase and thrust inside of her, again and again.

He had never taken her this hard, but he was hearing no complaints from Sansa. No. She was agreeing wholeheartedly with his treatment, with noises that were growing louder and louder.

Sandor silenced her with a kiss and felt the moans vibrate against his lips in a way that made his cock twitch.

It wasn’t as though the Little Bird herself was using a feathered touch on him. The way she was raking her nails across his back, he reckoned she wanted to mark him as her own. The thought made him smile.

She held onto him hard as her release found her. A spasming shiver went through her body and she moaned his name loudly. Her squeeze on him when her walls clenched was so tight that he saw stars and with a final few thrusts he joined her, with a silent roar of pleasure.

His release left him and with it, all the strength in his muscles. He slumped on top of her, resting his forehead against her chest. When he, moments after, heard an oomph of discomfort coming from the Little Bird, Sandor propped himself up on his elbows against the table.

His hair fell like a curtain around them as he placed a kiss on her lips. She hummed softly against him as her fingers lazily explored the ridges of his burnt skin. Sandor closed his eyes and let her.

For the first time he didn’t cringe as she touched his mangled face. Oddly enough, he found it soothing. It felt like coming home.

Chapter Text

Jon closed his eyes and allowed himself a moment of silence. He couldn’t afford to make it a long one, though. They were waiting for him.

Here and there, the sun had managed to peak through the dense crowns of the trees. Golden streaks painted the forest floor. It was beautiful and Jon hated that he was about to be the one to disturb the stillness of the Wolfswood.

 

“Rickon?”, he called out.

No one answered him so Jon kept walking.

Ever since the day they reclaimed Winterfell, his brother had scarcely been seen around the castle. He would dine with them occasionally and had once indulged Sansa when she wanted to take his measurement for a new coat. Other than that, they never saw him. If the gossip among the servants was to be believed, Rickon had not spent a single night in his chamber since the battle was won.

Walking through the peaceful forest, he found he couldn’t fault his brother for wanting to get away. Loneliness was a feeling Jon had always detested, but being alone was something he didn’t mind. Free from the burden of trying to find answers to questions he would rather have ignored until the end of his days.

Not that answers were given freely even when his youngest brother did decide to show his face. With his mouth clamped into a thin line, he would shrug or simply get up and leave if he thought they were becoming to nosy.

They had managed to get some information from him at least. Information that had made Jon’s heart drop into his stomach. Bran was alive. Or at least he had been, at one time, before he went beyond the wall.

 

A mop of auburn hair suddenly caught his eye amongst the dark tree trunks. Rickon was kneeling on the forest floor next to the hide of what must have been a very large deer. He was working the skin over with a stone scraper he had most likely made himself. It must have been pretty sharp, because layers of tissue and fat were easily stripped away with it. Next to the fire hung pieces of venison in neat rows on a makeshift rack and the smell of smoked meat filled the air.

Jon also noticed the small shelter his brother must have built. It looked sturdy enough be cozy during the bitterly cold nights. His brother had made himself a home.

Jon cleared his throat when he was only a few feet away from the fire. Rickon didn’t look up straight away. Instead he carefully placed the scraper next to the hide and wiped his hands on the snow. They left red streaks behind.

“They’re waiting for us.”, Jon said, as Rickon got to his feet.

Standing there in front of him, it suddenly struck Jon just how much the boy reminded him of Robb. Painfully so. When they were little, no older than Rickon was now, father used to take them hunting in the forest. Later, he and Robb would sometimes go alone. The memories from those happy times was something he would treasure for as long as he lived.

In one respect they differed, though, Jon noticed. Robb had always had the air of a Lord, even when dirtied and ruffled from stalking their prey through the woods. From the day he could walk and talk, it had been obvious to all those around him that he was meant to rule a castle. Rickon looked like he had been born north of the Wall. Wild and proud.

“Why?”, his brother asked, his face wrinkled in a stubborn frown. “I don’t belong there anymore.”, he added, motioning in the direction of the castle with what almost looked like disgust.

Jon sighed. He couldn’t fault the boy for thinking that, either. Truth, be told, he felt the same way from time to time.

During all the years he called Winterfell his home, Jon had constantly been reminded that it wasn’t. That he wasn’t considered family by all. He had left a bastard and returned a King. He had been a crow and a wilding in between. He had lived and he had died. And now he found himself back where it all started.

Walking the halls now, those separate worlds collided again and again. Over and over and in different ways each time. It was exhausting. Doing something as simple as rounding a corner could bring the memories flooding back. The castle felt empty even when it was full. The void left behind by those he had loved and lost was ever present. A gaping maw of sorrow that never closed.

Rickon had also been kept a prisoner in his childhood home. Jon refused to think of what that might have entailed. That was why the boy had to be there today. When Ramsay was put to the sword.

 

“Are you still my brother, then?”, Jon asked, regarding his him.

Rickon looked taken aback for a moment but then his expression softened a little.

 

“Yes.”, he said. “I am.”

Jon gave him a wary smile.

“And Sansa and Arya.”, he continued. “Are they still your sisters?”

Rickon nodded.

“Then you belong with us.”, he said. “Wherever that may be.”

His brother glanced over to the shed he’d built.

“And the castle grounds are large.”, Jon added. “Home doesn’t always have to be on the inside of those gates.”

At least until the Long Night was upon them, Jon thought, but he kept that to himself.

Rickon looked visibly more at ease as they started their walk back to the castle.

 

“Once this whole mess is over, I was wondering if you could tell me where you found a deer that large?”, Jon asked.

That was a question his brother seemed happy to answer.

 

 

The courtyard was packed to the brim with onlookers, but when Jon and Rickon stepped out into it the gathered crowd, it immediately parted to let them through. People seemed to be in high spirits and a few even called out as he passed. The King in the north. It sounded strange to Jon’s ears.

Clegane was standing on a raised platform in the middle of the yard. He wore his regular cloak and his armor was dented. The metal was so scratched that Jon doubted it could have been polished to a sheen. The man had requested no new sword and he had turned down any offers of having more befitting garbs made for the occasion. He was dressed the same way he had been when he went into battle and Jon respected him for it.

His scared face showed no emotions, but his white knuckled grasp on his sword betrayed him. He wanted this to be over and done with as much as Jon did.

His sisters were waiting for him just beneath the platform. When he reached them, Jon placed his hand on Arya’s shoulder. Her attention had been fixed on the spot where Ramsay would soon be kneeling and she flinched under his touch, but didn’t move away.

 

The northerners stood silent as Ramsay was led out among them. His skin was the color of curdled milk and there were dark circles under his eyes. Good, Jon thought. They hadn’t made his cell too comfortable.

He was cradling his injured arm to his chest and his gait was sluggish. The guards had to help him up the steps to the platform, even though they did so in a rather brusque manner.

“On your knees.” Clegane rasped. His voice was cold and hard.

Ramsay did what he was told. He slowly sunk to his knees as his eye found Jon’s.

“Do you have any last words?”, Jon asked.

“Is this supposed to be some final insult?”, Ramsay asked, his lips curling into a smirk. “Are you planing on having your loyal dog do all your duties from now on?”

Clegane gave him a swift kick and Ramsay made a gurgling noise that sounded as if he was on the verge of retching. The man had aimed his large boot at Ramsay’s dislocated shoulder.

“Are those your last words?”, Jon asked.

Wheezing, he straightened up, but now his eyes were aimed at Arya. Jon felt his body grow rigid with anger and his hand almost went for the hilt of his sword.

“If I must name one regret, it is that I didn’t get the chance to complete my set.”, he said, grinning. “I very much enjoyed collecting the first two. Was it as good for you as it was for me?”

Two things happened at the same time. Arya leaned her head back, hawked loudly and spat the kneeling man in the face. The spittle landed just as Clegane’s sword whooshed through the air. The sound of steel slicing through flesh and the crunch of severed bone was followed by a thud as Ramsay’s head met the wooden planks.

Cheers erupted all around him. As he looked around, he saw relief in some of the onlookers faces. Glee in others. It was as if seeing Ramsay’s head cleaved from his body signaled an end to their hardship. Jon knew it wasn’t. It was only the beginning. Winter is coming, he thought. And with it marched the dead.

Chapter Text

Arya squinted against the bright light. Someone had opened the drapes and the rays of sunshine that had crept across the floor had now reached her bed. Muttering a few curse words, she buried her face in the crook of her arm, shielding it from the light.

She distinctly remembered closing the drapes the night before, which meant Sansa must already have been in her chamber. The smell of salted pork and freshly baked bread was beginning to fill her nostrils and Arya felt her stomach grumble. That confirmed it. Her sister must have left a tray of food during her visit.

Willing the hunger away, she decided that she wouldn’t touch any of the food, no matter how delicious it smelled. Part of her held out hope that if the food kept on going to waste, her sister would soon tire and leave her alone.

Arya sighed into the sleeve of her nightshirt. She was being stupid and she knew it. Sansa would never tire. One of these days she would wake up with a spoon full of porridge half way down her throat, she was sure of it.

She had thought she would feel better once Ramsay was dead. She had been wrong. He had left an emptiness behind that she didn’t know how to fill. Anger wasn’t enough. Thoughts of vengeance were useless. How would she go about punishing someone who was already dead and gone?

It felt as though someone had poked her with a sharp stick, deflating her until she was nothing more than a boneless, useless mass of limbs that snapped at anyone who came near her.

She was healing nicely. It was the word everybody used. The maester. Sansa. Even Jon. The wounds were healing nicely. Nicely. Arya clenched her fists around the sheet and bit her lip so hard it hurt. If she heard that word one more time, she would smack the one who said it.

The wound in her shoulder didn’t bother her. It ached, sure, but the injury felt cleaner somehow. Both had been done by Ramsay, but the loss of her toes had been much harder to bare.

The pain had not been the worst of it. It had hurt. It had hurt a lot and she had screamed even though she tried not to. The helplessness had been far worse. Being picked apart and mutilated as he smiled at her. He had enjoyed cutting into her flesh.

 

Somewhere in the castle, two of her toes lay rotting. Maybe he had tossed them in the fire when she was too busy gaping at the bloody stumps to notice. Maybe a rat had found them and made a fine meal of them.

Arya had gone looking for them once. Three days after Ramsay’s execution. It had taken all her strength and all her resolve to enter the chamber where he had kept her. When she did, she found that it had been cleaned. There was no blood. No toes. No sign that she had ever been tortured within those four walls.

She saw signs of it in other places, though. In the way they all treated her now. As if she was delicate. Small. Broken. Arya had allowed them in the beginning. When she had been tucked in bed on strict orders from the maesters to rest. She had hoped they would stop once she was able to walk around again. Or limp was maybe more accurate.

It had been weeks now and wherever she went in the castle, people smiled at her. Fake smiles. Smiles of encouragement. Sansa fussed over her and Arya had caught Jon’s pained frowning following her more than once. They made exceptions. If she was tired, she could have supper sent to her chamber. If she didn’t feel like sitting in on the important councils, she could do as she pleased instead.

With each thing they allowed her to get away with, Arya found herself pushing the limits even further. She wanted her sister to snap. She wanted someone to scream at her. Scold her. Anything would have been better than the pity she saw in their eyes.

 

The door creaked open.

“Go away, Sansa.”, she groaned, into the pillow. “And close the drapes.”

A loud snorting sound came from somewhere in her chamber.

“Do it your self, you little shit.” she heard Sandor’s destinct rasp.

Her heart leapt. He had volunteered to go around the villages to make sure there were no Bolton’s left hiding there and had been gone for weeks. She had missed him. More than she would ever admit aloud, but she was in no mood for company.

“Just leave me alone.”, she hissed.

Something thumped hard against her lower back and she let out a yelp in surprise.

“Hey.”, she sputtered, indignantly, as she rolled over.

Looking down beside her, she saw what it was that had stuck her. It was a sparring sword.

Sandor was standing at the foot of her bed with his arms folded across his chest.

“Quit acting like a spoiled fucking brat and get up.”, he rasped.

“I’m not spoiled.”, she mumbled, as she shot him a look.

Sandor barked out a laugh. It was short and harsh and lacking in humor.

 

“The little lady breaks her fast in bed and can’t be arsed to walk five feet to close her own bloody drapes. What would you call that if not spoiled?”, he rasped.

“Shut up.”, she snapped, but his words, stung. Most likely because they were true.

Arya sat up, hugging her knees close to her chest. She glanced down at the sword again and she felt a lump forming in her throat. Just looking at the stupid thing brought it all to the surface again, the things that had been brewing since the night she had been caught by Ramsay.

 

“Get up.”, he growled.

 

Arya felt color rush to her cheeks. From shame or anger, she didn’t know. Both. Whatever feelings they might have been, she decided to take them all out on Sandor. She picked up the sparring sword and flung it with all her might at him. He didn’t move as it bounced off his chest and clattered to the floor. Who was he to order her about? What gave him the right to barge into her chamber and mock her?

Crawling too her knees she grabbed the closest thing she could find to throw at him. It turned out to be one of her pillows. Arya didn’t care how silly it must look, that it would surely only serve to prove his point further. That she was a spoiled little child who mourned a few toes, when the field outside her window had been littered with the dead less than a month ago.

 

“I can’t!” she screamed, as she hurled the pillow at him. “I will never be able to fight again, so leave me alone!”

It was over. Any hope of a future as a fighter, as a warrior, was gone. Her limping had gone down a bit, but she walked on wobbly feet, unsteady and clumsy. Truth be told, even when she stood perfectly still, Arya sometimes felt herself beginning to loose her balance. How was she ever going to fight if she couldn’t walk a straight line without stumbling?

Sandor rolled his eyes at her and then he stooped to pick up the sword she had tossed at him.

 

“Not if you keep bloody whinging, you won’t.”, he said, flipping it in his large hand so that the hilt hovered within her reach.

Arya glanced up at him. There wasn’t a single trace of pity in his voice. His words sounded more like a challenge.

She searched his face. He looked irritated and slightly bored, just as he always did. She could find no signs of a lie or traces of falsehood in it. Nothing that suggested that he was there to try to cheer her up. Sandor was there because he once made a promise that he would train with her.

 

Scooting to the edge of the bed, she hesitantly grasped the wooden hilt. Sandor handed her a balled up piece of cloth and she stared up at him in confusion.

“Put that in your shoe so you won’t slip around as much.”, he explained. “I’ve spoken to Davos. He’s working on a a wooden piece that will fit even better. Thought he would be a good choice for the task, him missing digits and all.”

 

* * *

 

The sun hung low in the sky when Arya left the training yard. Her hair was damp with sweat and she had skinned both her knees in the gravel. The smile on her face was so wide it almost hurt and she hummed a wordless tune as she made her way up the worn stone steps of the tower.

Training had been hard. Ruthless, in fact. Sandor hadn’t been holding back in the least and tomorrow she would have the bruises to prove it. Twice she had been knocked on her arse by him and both times it was because of his brutish strength and skill with his sword, not her clumsiness.

She quickly found that all the lessons she’d been taught during her dancing classes with Syrio, had left a mark in the very core of her muscles. With her body tense and every inch of her pulled taut in anticipation of an attack, her balance seemed less of an issue than she had thought.

Arya was exhausted and her stomach was growling, but she didn’t want to spoil her good mood by joining the others just yet. Sansa would likely have a fit when she saw the state she was in. Instead, she decided she would visit one of her favorite places from her childhood.

Her foot was throbbing by the time she made it to the top of the tower. A small door, crooked with age, led out onto the battlements. No guards were stationed this high up and growing up, she had been well aware of that fact. It was a private spot with a beautiful view of both the courtyard, as well as of the great expanse beyond the walls of Winterfell.

 

Arya noticed him too late.

Littlefinger was standing on the battlements, his arms resting on the low stone wall. He must have heard her coming, because he turned around before she was able to sneak away.

 

“Aah, Lady Arya.”, he said. “I was beginning to fear that we had lost you to the comforts of your featherbed.”

 

Arya scowled at him. She hated the fact that he was still here, in her home. Now that she was alone with him, she saw no need for the forced politeness they all seemed to show him.

“Why are you here?”, she asked

Littlefinger cocked and eyebrow and looked at her as if her question had surprised him. She knew it hadn’t.

“I came here for the beautiful view, my Lady.”, he said, feigning ignorance.

She was having none of it.

“Why are you still at Winterfell?”, she elaborated.

A sly grin spread across his face.

“Oh, I intend to remain at Winterfell for the foreseeable future.”, he said, his dark eyes gleaming. “I would hate to leave my bride alone right before our wedding.”

Arya staggered backwards. It felt as though he had slapped her.

Arya gaped at him, her mouth opening and closing several times before she found the words.

“M-marry..?”, she stammered. “Marry who?”

“Ah.” Littlefinger clapped his hands together, as though he was about to deliver some good news. “Did she neglect to tell you that particular bit of information? It seems only fair that you know, there are lots of preparations to be made. I’m sure you will be happy to finally attend one of your sisters weddings.”

Her mouth had gone dry.

“She doesn’t love you.”, Arya blurted out. “She...”

Littlefinger cocked his head to one side.

“Loves another?”, he asked, but it wasn’t a question. “Do you think me a fool?” His tone could have easily been mistaken for friendly, but Arya knew better. “And do you really think that little of your sister. Give her some credit. The choice between fucking a dog or marrying a Lord should be a simple one, don’t you agree?”

 

He was not a particularly large man, and he was slender too. Still, the effort it took to push him over the edge was next to none, which surprised Arya more than what she had actually done.

One moment he was standing in front of her, wearing that smug smile, whilst saying such foul things about her sister. About Sandor. The next, her hands were pressing against his midriff, shoving him to his doom.

The last thing that went through Arya’s mind as he slipped over the edge, was how soft the fabric of his cloak was.

She was pulled from thought by the piercing scream that cut the silence. It went on for a short while, growing fainter and fainter and then she heard a muffled thud.

Arya peaked over the battlements at the courtyard below. His arms and legs were splayed out in awkward angles and a pool of blood was beginning to form where he had landed.

Her mind worked quickly. Someone had most likely seen her enter the tower and someone would most definitely see her leave. She only had one option. Arya took a deep breath.

“Help.”, she shrieked, at the top of her lungs. “Lord Baelish slipped and fell! Help!”

Chapter Text

Sansa muttered under her breath as she struggled with the needle. She was using the sharpest one she could find and the useless thing had already come close to snapping twice already and it was not even noon.

Glaring down at the unfinished coat, she flexed her stiff fingers. Sansa was beginning to wonder if she had bit off more than she could chew with her new project.

She had rifled through the entire castle and found the sturdiest and warmest fabric the stores had to offer. It was dark grey in color and the bolt it came on had been so heavy that she had barely been able to move it on her own. It wasn’t a material she had worked with before and certainly not one she would use for a regular coat, but it would have to do. If her brother kept insisting on sleeping in the woods, Sansa would be damned if she let him do so without proper clothing.

Sewing had always calmed her but now it seemed to have the opposite effect. Still, Sansa found that she would much rather keep trying to wrestle the unfinished coat into submission than joining the others in the hall.

A fortnight after they had retaken their home, Sansa had found an unused chamber on the second floor that was perfectly suited for sewing. It was small but bright and more importantly, it was quiet. No one bothered her when she was working and she relished the peace. Something the fabric in her hands seemed determined to change.

Jabbing hard at one of the sleeves, she suddenly heard something that broke her concentration completely. Was that Arya’s voice, Sansa wondered, as she got to her feet.

Dropping her sewing on the table, she made her way to the window. Peering down, she saw a tall figure march across the courtyard. Sandor. Sansa couldn’t help but smile. A genuine one that spread from ear to ear and probably made her look a bit deranged. He was closely followed by her sister. Arya had to walk very fast to keep up with his long strides, and Sansa felt a warmth spreading through her chest when she saw that her sister managed without falling.

She quickly ducked behind the drapes so that they wouldn’t spot her. Something told her Arya wouldn’t take kindly to being spied upon.

6Which was exactly what Sansa did for the following hour. With an overwhelming sense of relief, she watched them spar and laugh and fling insults at each other that would have made a seasoned soldier blush. Arya looked happy. Truly happy.

 

 

Sansa was still hiding behind the drapes when they decided they were done training. As they made their way back, Sandor’s eyes suddenly flitted up to meet hers. The sly grin he wore, suggested that he had known she was standing there the whole time. His gaze lingered for the briefest of moments, dark and full of promise. A shiver ran down her spine, ending in a sudden spread of warmth deep inside her core. Then he winked at her and disappeared from view.

Flustered, Sansa sunk down into her chair and resumed stabbing her needle at Rickon’s coat.

 

Sansa had barely managed to finish an inch of the hem when the screaming started. Ear piercing shrieks echoed off the walls and sent her into a full blown panic. She staggered to her feet so quickly that the chair she had been sitting on toppled over and crashed to the floor. By the time she had reached the door, the noise had stopped which only served to make her heart beat faster.

She scurried down the stairs and came awfully close to tripping on her skirts a few times, but she didn’t care. She had to find out who it was that had made those awful sounds and why.

 

Sansa ran out into the yard and stopped dead in her tracks when she found the source of the screams. Her instincts told her to look away, but she couldn’t. Instead, she found herself staring down at Petyr’s body, too shocked to blink or close her eyes.

There were no marks or blemishes on his face. The only thing that struck her as odd when she looked down at him, was the mask of fear that contorted his face. His mouth was agape, frozen in a silent scream of terror. Through the fog of shock, Sansa found herself thinking that she had never actually seen Petyr truly afraid before.

Her stomach churned when she noticed how the back of his head ended abruptly where it met the stone of the courtyard, flattened in a pool of blood. With that horrid image seared into her mind, she was finally able to tear her eyes away from Petyr’s body.

 

A crowd of onlookers had already gathered and among them Sansa spotted her sister. Arya was standing next to Lord Royce, who had placed a fatherly hand on her shoulder as she weeped. Her breathing came in shallow bursts and she was wiping tears and snot from her face as she babbled to whomever was willing to listen.

“I-I was talking to Lord Baelish and then..”, she shuddered. “And then he slipped.” Her voice cracked ever so slightly. “I tried to reach out for him but it was too late.”

She brought her hand up to her mouth, covering it as she let out a strangled gasp.

It was quite the performance, Sansa thought. Arya hated Petyr. There was simply no way that she would ever use his title when speaking about him. Not even when she was standing next to his corpse.

Arya’s eyes were bloodshot and red rimmed. If Sansa had been offered a guess, she would have bet her sister had rubbed her knuckles in them as she made her way down the stairs.

“Poor girl.”, Lord Royce muttered, to no one in particular. “What a dreadful thing to witness in her state. Absolutely dreadful.”

When Sansa glanced over at Lord Royce she caught him eyeing Petyr’s body. The thinly veiled disgust on the man’s face told her that there would be no love lost between the Lord Protector of the Vale and the head of House Royce.

 

 

* * *

It was well past midnight when Sansa finally slipped beneath her covers.

There had been lots of arrangements to be made and Sansa had scarcely had a moment to herself since leaving her sewing room. A funeral ale had been put together in all haste, since no actual burial would take place in the North. The mood in the Great Hall had not differed much from any other feast that had taken place there and Sansa saw more than one pair of cups being clinked together in what looked more like celebration than mourning.

Petyr’s body had been wrapped in a shroud and placed in the crypt. Lord Royce would be bringing it back to the Eerie in the morning.

Through it all, Sansa had worn a somber mask befitting the circumstances. The face of a strong, northern Lady who had been bereaved of a friend and mentor. She hadn’t cried but she had made sure that she kept a kerchief with her at all time. A white, lace trimmed flag that would hopefully serve as a sign to everyone who saw that she mourned the loss of Petyr.

 

Now that she was finally alone, she let herself feel the nothingness of Petyr’s death. There was a void where her heartache used to be. An emptiness that almost surprised Sansa.

She had hated him. Hated him with a fiery passion for selling her to the Bolton’s. Hated him for his part in orchestrating the plan that made her a suspect in Joffrey’s murder. She had also felt gratitude towards him for getting her out of King’s Landing. For saving her from being pushed through the Moon Door.

She had loathed the way he had touched her and kissed her and she had taken comfort in his protection. Now there was nothing left of Petyr but a handful of bad memories, and a few terrible ones, as well as one more corpse in the crypts. That, and the one who had murdered him. Her little sister.

She wanted to forget. She wanted to push the knowledge from her mind and bury it in some musty tomb with Petyr. Whenever her mind strayed to what Arya had done, it felt like it was she herself who was falling from the battlements. Hurtling through the air and screaming at the top of her lungs.

No. Sansa did not want to think about that. It would have to wait until the morning.

She had barely closed her eyes when she heard a faint, creaking noise.

“Sansa.”, a voice whispered through the darkness, scaring her so much that and she almost flew out of her own skin with fright.

Sitting up in bed, she turned towards the sound. The fire was dying but afforded her enough light to see who it was that was lurking in the doorway. It was Arya.

“Is it okay if I come in?”, she asked.

“Of course.”, Sansa said, softly.

Arya quickly padded across the floor and Sansa lifted the covers. Her sister crawled down next to her and immediately got her hands on most of the pillows. After a few moments of rearranging them, she settled on her side with her face turned to Sansa.

Her skin reflected the warm glow of the fire and put the roses back in her cheeks, making her look healthier than Sansa had seen her since before the battle. She also looked nervous. There was a battle raging within her sister. It was plain to see for anyone who knew what signs to search for. Arya’s nose was slightly crinkled and she fidgeted with the straps on her nightshirt, wrapping and unwrapping them around her small fingers.

Sansa waited patiently for her sister to speak.

 

“He told me you were getting married.”, she said. “Before he slipped. Was he telling the truth?”

Now it was Sansa’s turn to be nervous. She nodded slowly.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me?”, Arya asked. There was a hint of an accusation in her voice.

 

“I didn’t want you to worry.”, she answered. That was only part of the truth. She had also tried to avoid her sisters anger when she decided not to tell her. Her anger and her scorn. “I never intended to marry him. We needed his men so I pretended to give him what he always wanted. I shouldn’t have kept it from you. I’m sorry.”

Arya knitted her brow.

“No. You shouldn’t.”, she huffed, but she didn’t sound angry. She sounded betrayed, which was much worse.

Sansa moved her hand closer to her sisters but didn’t touch it.

“I will not keep something like that from you again, I promise.”, she said, softly.

Her sister gingerly closed the gap and put her small hand on top of Sansa’s, giving her a hint of a smile.

Swallowed up by the mountain of pillows and dressed in her night shirt, Arya looked younger than her years. One could be forgiven for thinking her harmless, but Sansa knew better. Her sister could be quite lethal when she wanted too, and that knowledge had haunted Sansa ever since that awful day when they arrived at Castle Black.

She would never forget the ease with which her sister had killed one of Jon’s attackers. How effortlessly Arya had pushed her thin blade through the man’s neck. Since that day, Sansa had had the nagging feeling that there where things neither Arya nor Sandor had told her about their travels together. One thing she was sure of, though. The curly headed man had not been the first man her sister killed. And he had not been the last one neither.

 

“He didn’t slip.”, Arya whispered. “He said you were going to be his bride. He said horrible things about you. So I pushed him.”

She could see fear reflecting in Arya’s large, grey eyes. As if she was waiting for Sansa to start screaming or crying at the news.

“I know.”, she said, giving her sisters hand a reassuring squeeze.

Arya’s mouth fell open, as she stared at Sansa in disbelief.

“I grew up with you, remember?”, Sansa chided lightly. “I’ve seen you fake tears before. You’re not very good at it, to be honest, but I don’t think anyone else realized. Thank the gods for that.”

Sansa brushed a strand of hair from her sisters cheek and placed it behind her ear. When Arya didn’t protest, she gently stroked her head, but only once.

She still remembered the day Arya was born. She had been so happy that she finally had a little sister. Her brother’s were dirty and loud. Boy’s, who wanted to fight in the mud and chase each other with sticks as swords. Nothing like Sansa herself. Baby Arya had been round cheeked and beautiful and she had been so proud of her that she had been ready to burst. A sister of her own to share secrets with. Who’s hair she could brush and braid just as her mother did hers.

Then Arya grew older and it turned out that she was worse than the rest of them. She was wilder and fiercer and braver than all her brothers combined and they loved her for it. Sansa and Arya never shared secrets and rarely had a kind word to offer the other.

Even though they hadn’t been close, she would have had to be both blind and def not to notice her sisters love for swords and knights and violence. Still, it was something else entirely to think of her sister as a killer. A proper killer.

“How many people have you killed, Arya?”, Sansa asked, quietly.

“A few.”, she mumbled. Then her jaw clenched. “And I don’t regret a single one of them.”, she added defiantly.

Arya’s hand was clammy, as she tried to retrieve it, but Sansa wouldn’t let her. Instead she tightened her grasp and that seemed to relax her sister somewhat.

Sandor had once told her that her father was a killer. That Robb was one too. That the world was built by killers. Now she had to find a way to include her little sister on that list too. His words from that night rang loudly in her ears. You better get used to looking at them. So she did.

They were lying so close together that their noses were almost touching. Sansa searched her sisters face. Her sister. Her brave little sister who was nothing like her. With her grey eyes and her skinny blade. With blood on her hands and a foul temper.

When she looked at her, truly looked at her, Sansa saw only one thing. Her sister, who she loved so much that her heart ached.

 

“I came close to pushing Joffrey off the battlements once.”, Sansa blurted.

 

“You did what?” Her sisters voice was shrill and much too loud for the quiet chamber.

Sansa gently shushed her and when Arya seemed to have recovered from the shock, she spoke.

 

“He took me to see fathers head after the execution.”, she said, taking comfort in the way Arya instantly squeezed her hand. “He was standing so close to the edge. All I had to do was take one step and push him. I wanted too. I wanted it so much that I would have gladly gone over the edge with him, as long as he died. Sandor stopped me and I’m grateful that he did. Otherwise I wouldn’t be alive today. I would have ended up on a pike next to father, or worse.”

They were silent for a while. Arya had closed her eyes but her breathing hadn’t slowed. She was still awake. Her feet had worked their way over to Sansa’s side of the bed and she had placed her ice cold soles against Sansa’s shins. Their hands were still intertwined.

“Thank you for looking out for me.”, she whispered.

Arya smiled.

“Thank you for not telling on me.”, she yawned.

 

Sansa doubted she would ever get to braid her sisters hair. She didn’t mind, though. The secrets they now shared more than made up for it.

Chapter Text

Podrick couldn’t stand still. It felt like they had been waiting in front of the large, oaken doors forever. In reality, it had probably been no more than a couple of minutes since he and Lady Brienne arrived outside the Great Hall. Shifting his weight from heal to toe, Pod began to rock slowly on his feet to pass the time. It also helped to keep his nerves in check.

He hadn’t been nervous until about an hour ago. When all the preparations were done and the only thing left to do was wait. It was first then that the enormity of what was about to happen started to sink in. He was becoming a knight today.

Pod had stayed up half the night buffing Lady Brienne’s armor until it shone and then he had oiled the dry leather of his jerkin. He had bathed, even scrubbing behind the ears and after breakfast, he had pulled a wet comb through his hair so that he looked presentable.

Underneath his jerkin, he wore the new shirt that had been gifted to him by Lady Sansa. It was a deep, warm purple in color, that reminded Pod of a ripe plumb. She had excused herself, explaining that she couldn’t find any fabric that truly matched the color of his sigil. The shirt could have been muck brown, scratchy and flee ridden and Pod would still have treasured it dearly.

His hand absentmindedly found its way to the scar on his face. Even weeks after he had been stitched up, the thing still itched something fierce when he was sweating. Which was most of the time.

When the maester had unwrapped his bandages, the old man’s lips had pursed and he had frowned at the mess. Then he had handed Pod a looking glass and went to fetch a bottle of Nightshade.

The sword had missed his eye by an inch, but split the skin from his scalp and half his brow. The jagged, swollen edges of his flesh did look pretty nasty, but Podrick quickly found that he didn’t mind quite as much as he would have thought. His sight was intact and his skin now bore the signs of battle. He had fought and he had survived and now had the marks to show for it.

It wasn’t so bad. After all, the two men he admired most, both had scars on their faces.
And, Podrick had been surprised to learn, many of the northern girls didn’t seem to mind them at all.

 

“Don’t do that, Pod” Lady Brienne’s voice pulled him from his musings.

Podrick immediately let his hand fall to his side. He looked up and found a smile on her usually stern face.

“I’m sorry, my Lady.”, he said.

“You heard the maester, if you keep picking at it, it’s going to heal wrong.”, she sighed, exasperated.

Pod nodded, but he wasn’t quite paying attention to what she said. Instead his eyes drifted to the gates in front of him. Why was it taking so long, he thought.

“Yes, my Lady.”, he mumbled, reflexively.

“Consider that my last order, Podrick.”, she said.

Pod whipped his head towards her. He felt himself gape slightly and quickly closed his mouth.
He had been so busy preparing to become a knight that he had forgotten it meant he would no longer be a squire. Her squire. The nerves coiling in his stomach suddenly trippled in number and for a horrifying moment Pod was sure he was going to be sick all over his new shirt. What if he would turn out to be as bad a knight as he were a squire? What if he let down those who were about to give him such a great honor? What if he disappointed the Stark’s? Or Lady Brienne?

 

“Do you think I’m ready for this, my Lady?”, he managed, when his stomach had settled somewhat.

She was quiet for a moment. An awfully long moment.

“You are a decent swordsman, Podrick.”, she said, thoughtfully. “I won’t lie to you, there’s still quite a lot of room for improvement. With practice you will learn to be more than decent, I’m sure of it.”

Podrick nodded, looking down at his feet, as his stomach lurched once more.

“As for the other things, Pod, the things that cannot be learned, you are more than ready.”, Lady Brienne said, her voice softer than he had ever heard it before. “You are loyal. Honorable. Brave. More so than most knights can ever hope to be.”

He looked up at her. Pod wasn’t particularly short but he still had to crane his neck when standing so close to her. Lady Brienne’s eyes were fixed on the wooden door and she didn’t turn towards him when she spoke again.

“And if you keep picking at that sore, you won’t have a chance to show anybody how good you can be. You will get dirt in it and then a fever, and if you are particularly unlucky, you will die, Podrick. So stop picking at it.”, she sighed.

“I will, my Lady.”, Pod promised, with a smile.

 

 

The Great Hall was packed to the brim with northern lords and ladies, smallfolk and knights alike.
A gathering that large had brought people from all over the kingdom. People who came asking favors and those who simply wanted to be invited to the big feast that was taking place that evening. All their eyes were on him and Lady Brienne as they entered the hall.

His feet suddenly felt like they were made of cast iron and Pod had to concentrate to put one in front of the other, as he made his way down the long isle. Familiar faces stared back at him from both sides but for the life of him, he couldn’t remember the name of a single one of them. If asked his own name, Pod would probably have to think twice before answering.

By the time they reached the dais, Podrick was trembling. Lady Sansa gave him a reassuring smile. She was seated next to her brother, the King. Behind her, a bit off to one side, Arya grinned at him and then she mouthed something to him. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he could make out the word breathe on her lips. Pod did what he was told and took a steadying breath, relieved that it seemed to help a little with his nerves.

 

Beside him, Lady Brienne kneeled and Pod quickly followed. Maybe a bit too quickly. His knee struck the stone floor with a thud and a jolt of pain shot through his leg. He barely noticed it, but knew it would leave a nasty bruise. His palms were sweating so much that he was glad he wasn’t the one holding the sword. If it had been him, it would have most likely slipped right through his fingers.

 

Lord Glover stepped out in front of them. With his towering height and his long, black cloak he made for an intimidating figure, but he gave Pod a jovial smile that made him a bit less imposing.
He pulled his sword from his scabbard and placed it point down, as he leaned on the handle. The steel gleamed red and yellow, reflecting the flames of the lanterns on the walls.

“Lady Brienne and Podrick Payne, you have fought valiantly for House Stark.” He spoke in a loud, commanding voice that no doubt carried all the way to the back of the hall. “On behalf of the King in the North, it will be my honor to dub you both as knights.”

 

Podrick didn’t hear the rest of the speech nor did he hear the ceremonial words Lord Glover used or the vow Lady Brienne took. Blood was rushing to his ears and he could hear the sound of his own heart beating, deafeningly loud and a bit nauseating.

The next thing he knew, Pod felt the flat of the sword against his shoulder. It was heavy and cold, but instead of weighing him down, it made him feel lighter. It was happening. He was becoming a knight.

Pod wasn’t sure if he was suppose to look up at Lord Glover or keep his eyes fixed on the floor. He opted for the latter.

“And young Podrick.”, he said, his deep voice rumbling. “Do you swear, by the Old Gods and the New, that you will honor and defend your King and his House?”

“I do.”, Pod answered.

“And do you swear to protect the weak and come to the aid of those in need?”

“I swear.”, he said. He felt himself nod vigorously.

“Do you swear that you will never stray from the path of a true knight, one of honor, courage and justice?”

 

“I promise.” Pod, said. Feeling a warmth spread through this chest, he knew that he would rather die than break it.

Lord Glover shifted the sword from one shoulder to the next and then the weight was lifted.

“Then arise, Ser Podrick Payne, knight of House Stark.”, Lord Glover announced.

Podrick staggered to his feet.

“Drink this, lad.”, the large man laughed, as he shoved a cup of wine into his hand.

Then Lord Glover pounded his massive fist against Pod’s shoulder, causing him to spill half of the liquid down his chin. He wiped the most of it off on the back of his hand as he tried and failed to suppress the grin that was spreading from ear to ear. Podrick’s cheeks were burning. He didn’t know if it was from the wine or the fact that he was about to burst with pride. Maybe a little bit of both.

Making his way over to one of the long benches, he found a seat next to Lady Brienne. She had the strangest look on her face. A look that he had never seen on her before. The word serene came to him, as he glanced up at her. It was a word he had often heard when people described the features of someone deep in their prayers or the feeling they got when entering a Sept.
Podrick doubted the word had ever been used when describing a newly dubbed knight.
But it was the only one that seemed appropriate now when he looked at her. Even though she wasn’t smiling, Pod knew he had never seen her as happy as she was now.

 

Podrick took another gulp from his cup. The wine was strong and comfortingly bitter. He had just finished the last of it when he saw Clegane making his way to the front of the Hall. He was walking with determined steps and his brow was furrowed in the way it always was.

When he stopped a few feet from the dais, he gave a quick bow of the head towards the nobles seated there. It had been a long day and most of them were beginning to look a bit tired, but when Clegane approached them, their interest seemed piqued.

 

The King himself didn’t look the least bit surprised. Neither did Lady Sansa, though she straightened up even further in her seat.

Podrick saw Clegane’s chest puff out and sink as he took a deep breath. Then he spoke.

“I’m here to ask for Lady Sansa’s hand in marriage, your grace.” His rasping voice boomed through the Hall, that had now gone completely silent.

Then a thousand whispers erupted.

King Jon raised his hand and everybody fell silent. He was quiet for moment, seemingly contemplating Clegane’s request. He shifted in his seat and he looked a bit uncomfortable, but when he glanced over at his sister, he smiled. Lady Sansa was beaming.

“My sister is very dear to me.”, he said, clasping his hands on the table. “What do you have to offer her if I were to condone such a marriage?”

Clegane didn’t speak right away, but when he did, every single pair of ears in the Hall were listening intently.

“I’m the second son of a minor House that serves your enemies. I’ve got no land and no coin.”, he growled. “I know damned well that I’m not fit to even look her way.”

He took another deep breath.

 

“I’ve got nothing to my name but the sword in my hand and the armor on my back.”, he rasped. “I will use both to protect her and all those she hold dear and if I were to lose them, I will use my bloody hands and my body as a shield. I offer her my life and I hope that will be enough.”

Through it all, Clegane barely looked at the King. His eyes were directed on Lady Sansa and hers on him. King Jon seemed to notice too.

“I think you are a good man, Clegane.”, he said. “A man the North could benefit greatly from in the wars to come. You have my blessing, but I will leave the decision up to my sister.”

Lady Sansa rose to her feet, her head held high.

“I accept your offer.” she said, her voice calm and dignified. “Gladly.”

Pod didn’t know if he had ever seen a truer smile than the one Lady Sansa gave Clegane. She was smiling with her lips, her eyes, her cheeks, even down to the hands that were resting on the table, if such a think was possible.

When he glanced over at Clegane, he saw the same smile mirrored on the scarred face of the fearsome warrior. That, and the hint of a wetness in the corner of his eye.

Chapter Text

They were all staring at him. A hundred pair of eyes that watched him silently. For the first time in his life, Sandor found that he didn’t mind. Maybe it was because his head was so full nagging thoughts, he barely noticed them. Or maybe he didn’t mind because, for the first time in his life, those stares were accompanied by smiles.

 

Sandor was waiting for her by the heart tree. So was half of the North by the looks of it. The clearing was packed full of guests and they were all anticipating the arrival of the bride. None of them more eagerly than Sandor.

He needed to see her. To be near her. To touch her. He needed to know of this was a dream he would go on dreaming, or if it was a nightmare and he was about to wake up by the sound of his own screams.

If there was one life had taught him, it was that men like him were destined for a short, painful existence. That particular lesson had been hammered home early on for Sandor and since that day, long ago, he had known what was waiting for him. Blood and hurt. Not flowers and songs.

 

If the choice stood between him believing he was about to become the luckiest fucker alive or that this whole thing was a nightmare brought on by too much wine, then Sandor would’ve bet on the latter. During the nights at least.

Their nights were spent apart. Sandor didn’t remember whose idea it had been, but they had both agreed it would be best if they didn’t sneak around the castle before the wedding. It was bad enough that the Little Bird was marrying an outsider, a lowborn one at that, but they didn’t need everyone to know that the bedding had taken place before the wedding. Repeatedly.

Sandor had quickly regretted the decision, though. The nights were long and he had never felt lonelier. It was fucking ridiculous and he knew it, but he couldn’t stop his mind from wandering.
He had tasted a life that was beyond anything his imagination could’ve conjure up. A life filled with kindness and beauty. The price he had to pay for it was a sense of mind numbing dread. A deep seated terror that it might all be taken away again.

During the days, he was able to banish most of the fear. He would catch glimpses of Sansa around the castle. She would give him winks and smiles that were for his eyes only and at supper they would talk and laugh. All he had to do then was look at her and he’d know his mind wasn’t playing tricks on him.

 

A light breeze whispered through the red leaves and Sandor looked up. The wind had tugged a few of the them from their ivory branches and they were now making their slow descent to the ground. Set against the pale blue of sky, it looked like the heavens were bleeding.

 

“It’s a fine day for a wedding.”, the man standing next to him said.

It was the Septon they’d brought in to perform the ceremony. He was a short man, older than dirt, with white, wiry hair that bore a striking resemblance to the branches above.

“Aye.”, Sandor managed.

There was a glint in the old man’s eye and a knowing smile on his lips.

“She will be here soon.”, the Septon said.

Sandor gave him a curt nod. He hoped she would hurry.

 

He took a deep breath and straightened to his full height. Sandor’s gaze was fixed on the spot where she would soon appear. His palms were damp with sweat and he discretely wiped them off on the front of his breeches. He took great care not to dirty the cloak he was wearing. The one he would soon be draping over the Little Bird’s shoulders.

Sandor wasn’t sure what he thought about the cloak she had made for him. She had sewed it herself and for that he loved it. But the colors she had chosen were a bit odd, he reckoned. Sandor was no expert on wedding traditions, but he did know that the cloak he was going to cover her with, was supposed to be made in his colors, the yellow and black of House Clegane. She had include his crest, three black dogs that were amazingly detailed, but they rested against a background that was white instead of yellow.

The day before the wedding, Sandor had walked into his chamber to find the cloak waiting for him on his bed. The sight of the cream colored fabric had startled him so much that he had stopped dead in his tracks. For a moment he had been back in the Red Keep again.

He had first been reluctant to touch it, fearing the bloody thing might have claws and fangs to defend itself with. When he did eventual put it on, it felt nothing like the dirty cloth he had donned each retched day in King’s Landing. It felt pure and clean. Like the hands that had made it.

 

Suddenly, a sound of whispered voices drifted through the crowd and Sandor looked up. No one was staring at him anymore. All they had eyes for now, was the Little Bird.

 

She wore her hair down. Locks and tresses of liquid flame that fell across her shoulders. Strands of red that caught the light of the sun and seemed to illuminate the very air around her.

As far as Sandor was concerned, the clearing was empty expect for him and her. When she drew nearer, he was struck with the sudden, wild urge to sweep her off her feet and carry her off in search for the nearest damned bed.

Then her beautiful face lit up with the sweetest of smiles and he found that he was perfectly content just standing there, waiting and watching as his Little Bird made her way towards him.

 

She was flanked by the King and they came to a stop a few feet away from Sandor.

 

“Who comes before the gods?” The Septon asked.

“Sansa of House Stark, comes here to be wed.”, she answered.

Her voice rang loud and strong through the clearing and Sandor found himself more than a little impressed by the surety with which she spoke. It calmed him more than her smiles.

Sansa stepped closer to him. The hem of her dress rustled softly against the leaves and the snow as she moved.

During all the years Sandor had spent in the Lannister’s service, he had stood guard at countless of wedding feasts. The brides at those affairs were always decked out in so much frills and lace and gold spun fabric, that Sandor was surprised they were even able to walk.

The one Sansa was wearing was different. It flowed with the movements of her body and though it was simple, it was far from plain looking. She had stitched tiny clusters of shimmering beads to the front of the dress and a few freshwater pearls adorned the neckline. They glistened like flakes of snow against her pale skin.

It was a pretty dress, made even prettier by the one who was wearing it. Even if she’d been dressed head to toe in burlap, he’d still think her the most beautiful bride the Seven Kingdoms had ever seen.

 

Sandor was pulled from his thoughts by a horrifying realization. The Septon had just asked a question and he had been too busy gawking at the Little Bird to hear what that question was.

 

“What?”, he asked, gruffly, and much louder than he had intended.

A loud snort came from somewhere behind him, followed by a fit of muffled giggles. Sandor growled inwardly. He didn’t have to look to know the sounds were coming from the little wolf.

 

“It was a question for the King.”, the Septon explained. He wore the patient expression of someone who were used to the behavior of idiot grooms. “Your part is coming up soon.”

The young King looked amused but had the good sense not to laugh outright at Sandor’s mistake.

“Who gives the bride?”, the Septon, repeated.

“I do.”, the King said, clearing his throat. “Her brother. Jon.”

He let go of her hand and kissed her on the cheek, before taking his place among the guests.

 

The Little Bird turned to face him. His Little Bird. His Sansa. She was smiling up at him as if he were the sun himself. Sandor almost felt guilty at the lopsided grin he gave her in turn, but she didn’t seem to mind.

 

Sandor felt a trickle of sweat run down his back. His part of the ceremony was coming up and what little he knew of weddings seemed to have slipped his mind completely.

Luckily for him, the next bit turned out to be pretty self explanatory.

“You may now cloak the bride and bring her under your protection.”, the Septon said, solemnly.

Fumbling a little with the straps, he unfastened his white cloak and draped it across her shoulders.
Some of her red tresses ended up being trapped beneath the heavy fabric. It didn’t look right, he thought, worried that the cloak might be tugging painfully on her hair. Sandor took great care as he untangled them and with her beautiful locks flowing freely, he deemed his work done.

Then he looked over at the Septon, hoping for further instructions.

 

“Hold out your hand.”, The old man said gently, his voice low enough not to reach the onlookers.

 

Sandor held out his hand, palm up, as he swallowed hard. He was not surprised to see that it was trembling. Sansa kept her eyes trained on him, as she placed her slender hand in his. Her fingertips worked their way underneath the sleeve of his shirt and came to rest on his pulse point. Her touch was warm and steady and when she started tracing circles into his skin, Sandor felt himself beginning to relax.

The Septon produced a piece of cloth.

“In the sight of the Seven and Old Gods, I hereby seal these two souls, binding them as one for eternity.”, he proclaimed, as he tied their hands together. “Look upon one another and say the words.”

He knew them by heart. He’d learnt them as a little boy. Still, Sandor found himself needing to read them off her lips as the words left her mouth. Soft and rosy, they parted, speaking the vows that would make them man and wife.

“Father. Smith. Warrior.”, they said in union. “Mother. Maiden. Crone. Stranger.”

Sansa squeezed his hand lightly as the world around them fell away. He found himself holding on to her, hoping he wouldn’t fall with it.

“I am hers and she is mine.”, Sandor rasped. His voice sounded even more gravely than usual and his throat felt raw. “From this day until the end of my days.”

 

“You May now seal the union with a kiss.”, the Septon exclaimed, as the crowd began to cheer.

Sansa stood on her tiptoes and Sandor felt himself bend down to meet her. When he was so close that he could feel the warmth radiating from her, he heard a breath hitch in her throat. Or it might have been in his.

 

It was a soft kiss. In the beginning at least. A peck on the lips would’ve sufficed as far as the ceremony was concerned, but Sandor didn’t care about that now. She was here and she was his, and he would damned well give her a proper kiss, even if they had a bloody audience. He placed his free hand on the back of her head, his fingers splaying in her soft locks, and pulled her too him. He deepened their kiss and smiled against her lips when she gave a soft gasp.

When he let go of her, her cheeks were the same shade of red as the leaves that were strewn on the ground and she blinked a few times, seemingly trying to steady herself. Whoops and hollers erupted all across the clearing and even a few wolf whistles.

“Husband.”, she whispered to him.

“Wife.”, Sandor rasped.

 

* * *

 

If there was one thing Sandor had learnt during his stay in the North, it was that the northerners could easily put the most hardened drunks in King’s Landing to shame. Hells, from where he was sitting on the dais, he could spot at least a handful of men and two or three women, who could have given Cersei a run for her fucking money.

The plates had been picked clean and toasts had been said in their honor, and now it was time for the part of the evening that Sandor had dreaded the most. The dancing.

The musicians that had been brought in were working hard for their wages. They were playing song after song, strumming their lutes and banging on their sheepskin drums with a vigor that looked exhausting to Sandor.

Sansa was humming along to the music. Even though the cloth that bound them during the ceremony had been removed, her hand remained firmly planted in his own.

 

She had been glued to his side all night, but now he could tell that she was growing restless. She was sitting at the edge of her seat and even a blind man could’ve seen that she wanted to join the drunk northerners in their ring dance.

Sandor leaned closer to her.

“Go.”, he rasped. “Join them. I know you want to.”

She opened her mouth to protest, but then she closed it again, giving him a sheepish smile.

“Is it that obvious?”, she laughed.

“Aye, Little Bird. It is.”, he grinned. “Go on.”

Sansa glanced over at the dance floor and then back at him. The question was on her lips, but she didn’t ask him to join her. He was thankful for that, even though it made him feel like a bit of an arse. She knew he didn’t like to dance.

She bit her lip and he could see that she was still weighing her options. Sandor decide to make it easy for her. Placing his hand just above the her knee, he gave her thigh a pinch.

“Besides.”, he rasped, in her ear. “I wouldn’t mind the view.”

Her face looked a bit flush, as she got to her feet. Sansa gave him a quick kiss before she headed towards the space that had been cleared for dancing. Sandor could’ve sworn she put a bit more sway into her hips, than usual, as she went.

 

There were still some gravy and bits of meat left on his plate and he used a piece of bread to mop it up. The food that had been served during the evening hadn’t differed much from what they usually ate, but there had been plenty of it and more than enough to drink.

The youngest Stark had gifted them a stag and the venison stew that the cooks had prepared was the finest Sandor ever tasted. Sansa had insisted that they keep it simple. Winter was upon them, after all, as she had put it. No one seemed to mind, though. There was music and wine. And a bride that couldn’t stop smiling. His bride. His beautiful Little Bird.

 

She was a flurry of white and red, shrieking with laughter as she danced round and round. Somehow, the she had managed to persuade her little brother to join her. The gangly boy seemed less than pleased, as he was whisked this way and that by his sister.

 

Sandor reached for his cup and took a swig of what he promised himself would be the final one for the evening. For once, the thought of pacing himself didn’t feel all that terrible. He’d rather take a mailed fist to the gut than be too wine sick to get it up on his own wedding night.

 

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen her this happy.” A voice close to him suddenly said, making Sandor splutter wine all down his chin.

Turning, he found the little wolf standing right beside him, her arms folded across her chest. The wooden toes Davos had made for her must be doing their job, Sandor thought. Maybe too fucking well, if she was able to sneak up on him without him noticing.

 

“Aye, she must be drunker than I am.”, he rasped, wiping the wine from his face.

The little one rolled her eyes at him.

“That must be it.”, she scoffed.

She was silent for a while, as they both watched Sansa. When she spoke again, there was an unmistakable edge to her voice.

“And I trust you will keep her smiling.”, she said. The words carried a chill that was as cold as the bloody Wall. “If you don’t...”

She didn’t need to finish her sentence. The intent was there, clear as day, in the way her hand now casually rested on that skinny blade of hers.

“You’ll have my cock and balls.”, he huffed. “I know.”

“Good.”, she said, in a chipper tone, patting him on the shoulder.

 

Then her face softened. Just a little bit. It still had that sour look she always wore when talking to him. The look of someone who had just taken a deep whiff whilst on the privy.

“I’m glad it’s you.”, the little wolf said.

Sandor raised an eyebrow at the girl.

“Does that mean you’ve taken me off your little list?”, he teased.

 

The little wolf was frowning again. Then she leaned over his shoulder and snatched the rest of the bread that he had left beside his plate. Taking a large bite of it, she jumped off the dais, chewing with her mouth open.

“Just because you’re not on it anymore doesn’t mean your safe, old man.”, she said, spraying crumbs as she spoke. “I’ll be looking for you in the training yard.”

With that she gave him an exaggerated bow and grin, and then she was off.

 

Sandor chuckled to himself, leaning back in his seat. The sturdy oak didn’t yield under his weight. It didn’t so much as make a sound, as he made himself comfortable. That was another thing the northerners knew how to do proper, he thought. They built furniture that didn’t creak or threaten to collapse if he so much as looked at them.

 

The Hall was filled to the brim with guests who seemed to be enjoying themselves. Sandor felt no need to join them. He was perfectly content just watching as the evening unfolded in front of him.
For years he had been standing guard. Ever watchful. Always calculating risk or trying to turn a blind eye to the depravities of the fucking lions. He’d watch them without watching, a gargoyle made of flesh. Tonight was different. Perhaps because he knew he could go join them in their laughter. That he would be welcomed as more than a sword and the dog who wielded it.

He let his gaze drift over the festivities. At a table nearby, the big woman was having an animated discussion with Davos and the sharp tongued lady of bear island. The girl’s eyes were as round as saucers, as the woman made a couple of swooping motions, cutting through the air with an invisible blade.

At the back of the Hall, Sandor caught a glimpse of Pod. The lad was being happily dragged towards the kitchens by a determined looking scullery maid.

A little further down the row of tables, the little wolf had taken her place amongst a group of wildlings. From the looks of it, she had just challenged the one with the ginger beard to arm wrestle her.

Sandor roared with laughter when the girl climbed to her feet on the bench, putting her entire weight on the man’s arm. She gave a shriek of victory when she managed to push the wildling’s hand flat on the table.

 

“She used to do that to Rob and me when we were little.”, a voice said.

Sandor looked up to see the King standing next to him. He was shaking his head at the little wolf. He wore a broad, heartfelt smile, the kind that seemed to be reserved for his wild little sister.

The young King didn’t say anything else. Instead, he pulled out the chair next to Sandor’s and sat down with a sigh. They were silent for a while, both of them watching the feast take place beneath the dais.

“So.”, Sandor rasped, when the silence was becoming uncomfortable. “Is this the part where you tell me all the things you’ll do to me if I don’t treat your sister right?”

The young King looked at him, confused.

“I don’t think that will be necessary.”, he said.

Sandor chuckled.

“Aye, your too late anyways.”, he rasped. “The little one took care of that already.”

“It’s good to know she won’t let me slip up when it comes to my family duties.”, he said, with a wry smile.

The King sighed again. Something was troubling him. More so than usual, by the looks of it. He was holding a scroll in his hand. The broken seal still clung together enough for Sandor to make out what looked like a creature with three heads.

“And I’m glad I’m leaving them in good hands.”, the King said, absentmindedly.

“Leaving?”, Sandor asked.

The King seemed to realize his mistake. He shook his head and reached for his wine.

“There will be plenty of time to talk about such things later. Now, a toast to the happy couple.”, he said, raising his cup and clinking it against the one in Sandor’s hand.

 

“I’ll look after them.”, Sandor said, in low voice

The King nodded.

“I know you will.”, he said.

 

 

“It’s time for the bedding.”, a squat Lord Sandor didn’t know the name of, shouted.

Jeers and taunts could be heard from all across the Hall.

Sansa had stopped dancing midstep and stood wobbling, as she tried to regain her balance. Her mouth was agape and her eyes wide with surprise.

Sandor got to his feet with so much force that the heavy oaken chair toppled over behind him. It came crashing to the floor and caused such a racket that the musicians stopped playing.

“Let’s get one thing straight.”, he roared. “No one lays a finger on the Lady, but me.”

A murmur of disappointment could be heard.

“Come now, Clegane.”, Lord Glover tried to coax him. “It’s tradition after all and only a bit of harmless fun.”

The look on Sansa’s face, told him she didn’t agree with the man. Sandor rounded the long table that stood on the dais and made his way over to his Little Bird. She gave him a relived smile as he came to stand by her.

“Do I look like a man who is interested in sharing my new bride with you lot?”, he growled.

Lord Glover was about to speak again, when Sandor interrupted him.

“I’ll make you a deal.”, he rasped, eyeing the men closest to him. “Anyone brave enough to pull the shirt off my back is welcome too it, but I will be the only one doing the undressing when it comes to my bride.”

The Hall had gone completely quiet. Then it was filled from wall to wall with raucous laughter.

 

“Keep it.”, Lord Glover chuckled. “It’s a fine shirt, but not worth losing a hand over.”

Sandor grabbed Sansa by the waist and slung her over his shoulder, making her shriek and then burst out in a fit of giggles. The crowd cheered as he carried her out of the doors.

 

He didn’t put her down until they reached the second floor. Sandor bent low and placed her gently on her feet.

“Thank you.”, she whispered, shyly.

“No need for thank you’s, Little Bird.”, he rasped.

The air between them had suddenly changed. They were alone for the first time in what felt like years and Sandor realized that he was feeling a bit nervous.

Sansa slipped her hand into his and started walking towards their chamber with him in tow.

 

There was something that had bothered Sandor all day. It wasn’t a question that was suited as pillow talk, so he decide that he better get it out before they reached their chamber.

 

“Why did you make the cloak white, Sansa?”, he asked her, softly.

He didn’t want her to think that he was angry.

“I hope you didn’t mind..”, she began.

Sandor shook his head.

“I thought it would be fitting.”, she continued , blushing slightly. “That it should be the same color as the first one you draped across my shoulders.”

It took a moment for the words to form any kind of meaning to him and at the same time the meaning was clear the second the explanation left her mouth. Sandor felt his stomach roil and he let go of her hand. It was baffling to him that she should want him to wear the same color as the one he had worn when he stood by and watched them beat her. Humiliate her. Threaten and mock her. He’d been a craven wearing white that let them cage and torment her.

“Sansa...”, he began, but she interrupted him.

“Please.”, she said, exasperated. “For once, would you listen.”

He let her speak.

“When you draped that cloak across my shoulders that day, I knew I wasn’t alone anymore. I knew there was someone who cared enough to stick his neck out for me.”, she said. “It meant so much to me, Sandor, why can’t you see that?”

Sandor groaned loudly.

“All I did was was give you my fucking cloak.”, he sighed, staring straight ahead into the dim corridor. “I should have done more. I should have done so much more.”

Sansa grabbed the collar of his shirt and pulled hard at it until he met her eyes. Her beautiful, blue eyes were filled with fire.

“You gave me a sliver of dignity back with that cloak, Sandor.”, she said, fiercely. He could see the wolf of House Stark within her now, clear as day. With claws and fangs. Proud and strong. “Don’t ever tell me it didn’t mean anything. It meant so much to me that there aren’t enough words to describe It.”

He didn’t know what to say to that. Or what to make of it.

“A Bird would never lie to you.”, she whispered, repeating his own words back to him in an effort to make him smile.

Sandor felt like weeping instead.

“No. But it might chirp instead.”, he rasped.

Sansa shook her head. Her eyes were serious now.

“Not to you. Not anymore. And never again.”, she said, softly, her hand reaching up to stroke the scared side of his face.

 

Sandor closed his eyes for a moment. Her touch was featherlight, a caress he barely felt on his skin, but one that seemed to reach the very depths of his soul and his heart. Warmth that seeped into cracks and crevices that had been dark and cold for so long, it stung when her touch reached them. The way frozen fingers ached and twitched when placed in front of the flames of a fire.

Then he bent down and kissed her. Deep and hard and a bit clumsily.

When they broke apart, she took his hand in hers once more. As they walked to their bedchamber, Sandor made his second vow that day. A silent one. That he would trust the Little Bird the same way she had trusted him for years. With his life and with his love.

Chapter Text

Sansa was the first one to walk over the threshold to their new chamber. The chamber they would share as man and wife. It was the largest one in the castle and had belonged to her parents. Jon had insisted it should be theirs and Sansa had relented, even though the thought made her a bit uneasy.

Now that she was standing in the candlelit chamber, it felt like she was right where she was supposed be. In a place where she and Sandor could build a future together.

 

The chamber was comfortably warm thanks to the fire that had been recently stocked and the hot spring water that flowed through its walls. One of the windows had been left ajar and music could be heard from down below.

 

Sandor closed the door behind him and reached for her hand. She thought he ment to lead her to the bed, but instead he pulled her into a tight embrace. His own large hand settled on the small of her back and then he started to sway, gently rocking her as he moved.

Sansa wrapped her arms around his neck, letting her fingers find their way to his nape. She felt him shiver under her touch. She smiled against his chest, as she started to trace tiny circles on the warmth of his skin.

“What are you doing?”, she hummed.

“What does it look like I’m doing, Little Bird.”, he rasped. “I’m dancing on my wedding night.”

Sansa buried her face in his shirt, inhaling his scent.

“I thought you didn’t dance”, she said.

His hands dipped lower until he had her bottom in a firm grip. He pinched her lightly, kneading her flesh in a way that made her body tingle.

“I don’t think your family would appreciate the way I dance.”, he rasped.

 

“They’re your family too now.”, she said, though she couldn’t help but agree with him.

She could picture the mortified look on Jon’s face and the retching noises her sister would’ve made if they saw her now.

Sandor stilled for a moment. Then she felt him place a kiss on the top of her head.

“I suppose they are.”, he said.

They swayed together for a long time. The steady beating of his heart soothed her and the warmth seeping through his clothes felt as good as soaking in a warm bath. Better, she decided. Much better.

She could feel something hard poking her stomach. When she wiggled closer to him, Sandor groaned softly.

 

“Undress me.”, she heard herself say. She could hardly recognize her own voice, so husky and low and filled with desire.

Sandor wasted no time heading her request. He spun her around, so that her back was facing him. Then he pushed her hair to one side and brought his mouth down on the skin he’d laid bare. Sansa gasped when he suddenly closed his lips around her and sucked. A quick sting that sent jolts of want and need down between her legs.

He took his time with the lacings on the back of her dress, and all the while, he nipped and sucked on her neck in a way that was making her knees grow weak.

The dress pooled beneath her feet and she stepped out of it, standing in the middle of the chamber in nothing but her shift. Sandor wrapped his arms around her from behind. His large hands settled against her stomach and he continued swaying, pulling her along with his movements. She felt herself sink into his embrace, until she wasn’t sure if she was standing on her own or not.

“Take me to bed, husband.”, she said.

“As you wish, wife.”, he rasped.

His voice was so deep that she was sure she could feel it vibrate all the way to her very core.

He swooped her up and carried her across the chamber by her waist.

Sandor placed her down on the soft bed and then he took a step back. He was still fully clothed. She reached for him, but it didn’t look as if he was in much of a hurry to join her. Sansa frowned slightly, impatient for his touch. He seemed to notice. There was a dark glint in his eye and a devilish smirk on his lips as he began working the buckles on his leather jerkin.

She had seen his deft fingers unclasp buckles faster than she could blink, but he was taking his time now. Sansa knew that her face was betraying her. Her eyes. Her skin. Her eager stares.

He knew what he was doing to her and he was enjoying it.

After what felt like an eternity, he shed the jerkin and started to unlace his shirt. Then he pulled it over his head, exposing his broad, muscled chest. For a maddening moment she was sure he was about to fold the darned thing.

Sansa was growing frustrated. Too frustrated to enjoy the performance he was so kindly giving her. She wanted his hands on her and she wanted them on her now.

Getting to her knees on the bed, she decided two could play this game. She pulled the shift over her head and tossed it on the floor next to him. She couldn’t think of a clearer invitation than that. For good measure, she decide to remove her smallclothes as well. She aimed those at his face, but sadly she missed.

Sandor dropped his shirt next to her shift and his breeches followed, quickly shedded in his sudden haste. She remained on her knees as he crawled naked to meet her on the bed.

His hands roved over her skin. Touching. Caressing. It felt like he was on mission to map out every dip and curve and valley of her body, claiming them as his as he went. He kissed her with the same feverish desire and Sansa returned it as best as she could. Sucking his bottom lip into her mouth, she grazed it, ever so lightly, with her teeth.

It drove Sandor wild. His eyes were dark as pitch, as he grabbed her hips and sunk back against the pillows with Sansa on top of him. She landed on his thighs with thump. Seated on him like this, she was almost at eye level with him.

Sansa placed her hands on his shoulders and got to her knees on top of him. She could feel him at her entrance as Sandor guided himself into position. Then she let herself sink down the length of him.

She had missed the sensation of having him within her so much that the feeling almost overwhelmed her. It lasted only lasted a moment, though. Then the desire to move overtook her.

Sandor groaned when she started to move her hips. Hesitantly at first, but faster and smoother as she found her rhythm. With every stroke, she rubbed against him in a way that sent jolts of lightning coursing through her body. She moved faster and faster until her thighs began to protest and she was panting. Not the good kind of panting. The kind of panting that came from running up several flights of stairs whilst wearing a corset.

“Sandor.”, she whimpered.

She didn’t have to elaborate.

Sandor grabbed her hips and started to guide them for her, as his mouth covered her left breast. He swirled his tongue around her peak in a way that gave her a new cause to whimper. She moaned loudly and Sandor picked up his pace.

Suddenly, he pulled her close to his chest. Her fingers dug into his back as he pounded into her again and again, sending her closer to the edge.

She was draped so closely against him that she could both hear and feel the hammering of his heart as she fell apart around him. Her release left her as a strangled cry. Beneath her, Sandor jerked his hips against hers and emitted a loud, drawn out groan, as he spilled inside her.

Sandor slumped against the bed frame and she leaned her head back, trying to gather her breath. Even though he was still inside of her, he felt too far away. She wanted to hear his heartbeat again.

In her delirium she must’ve misjudged the distance because she ended up smacking her forehead hard against his chest. Sandor made a noise that was somewhere between a grunt and a chuckle. He sounded as spent as Sansa herself felt.

“Sorry.”, she yawned.

Her eyes had decided that they refused to stay open.

“No worries, Little Bird.”, he rasped, lazily stroking her back. “Anytime.”

 

* * *

 

Sansa blinked a few times. The bed was warm and the naked body next to her was even warmer. Her sleepy fingers began to wander beneath the blankets and furs, exploring as they went.
She could tell by Sandor’s breathing that he was beginning to wake.

Sansa jolted up. The sun was peaking through the windows. Panic gripped her as she realized they must have overslept. She was halfway out of bed when Sandor caught her around the waist, gently pulling her back into his embrace.

The memories from last night came back to her all at once. The wedding. The feast. The bedding that never happened and the one she and Sandor had enjoyed on their own.

“I thought we’d overslept.”, she tried to explain, relaxing into his arms.

 

“We’ve got all the time in the world, Little Bird.”, he rasped.

 

“We’re married.”, she whispered. For the first time in her life, she was happy to be someone’s wife. Not somebody’s. Sandor’s. She was Sandor’s wife.

“Having second thoughts?”, he chuckled.

She smacked his chest lightly.

“Do you?”, she asked.

He flipped her over and Sansa landed on her back with a giggle. The dark look was back in his eyes and when she glanced down, she saw that he was indeed awake in more ways than one.

 

“I’ll show you just how much I regret being bound to you for the rest of my days.”, he rasped, as he came to rest above her.

His strong arms were placed on either side of her, trapping her beneath him. Sandor gave her a searing kiss that was cut short, much to her dismay. She opened her eyes and found that he was beginning to work his way downward. He stopped for a moment, giving her breasts some much needed attention.

“Such a terrible fate.”, he said, giving her peak a quick lick. “

Sandor trailed her stomach with kisses and, all the while, she kept her eyes on him. The view was magnificent. Not long ago, Sansa would have been mortified at the thought of watching him like this. Now if only served to make her shiver in anticipation.

When he reached the auburn patch of hair between her legs, he looked up, fixing her with his grey eyes.

“Truly, Little Bird, why don’t you put just put a man out of his misery.”, he rasped, giving her a wink and a smirk, before bending to his task.

The sounds that were about to leave her as laughter, quickly turned to moaning instead.

 

 

Sandor was snoring lightly. The sun was beginning to set. They had spent the whole day together in bed and Sansa had made a mental note to thank whichever maid it was who had stocked their chamber with food and drink.

Her husband was sprawled on his back with his mouth half agape, his dark hair falling in waves against the pillows. He looked so peaceful.

Sansa curled up next to him, her head resting against his chest, above his heart. She closed her eyes and listened to the rhythmic thumping. She was beginning to drift off, when Sandor’s arms wrapped around her.

“Little Bird.”, he yawned, placing a sleepy kiss on her forehead.

Moments later, the snoring resumed, but Sandor still kept his arm wound tightly around her.

Sansa smiled to herself. Even in his sleep, he made her feel safe.