It’s not a novelty, to Sansa, to see her father stay up in his office revising cases up until the early hours of the morning.
However, this time is different.
Mostly, because every time she sees him revising this particular case that he’s had for a week, he looks… completely out of his depth. She usually wouldn’t ask because she knows he can’t talk about it, but one morning where she comes back from a university party and he seems particularly stumped, she figures that asking might not hurt.
She shows up with some herbal tea, just in case.
“Is it that bad?” She asks. Ned Stark looks up at her gratefully as he takes the cup, shaking his head.
“It… just makes no sense whichever way you look at.”
“Is it the bogus scientist that has made the news?”
Ned shrugs. “I suppose it’s obvious. And I shouldn’t talk to anyone about it, least of all you, but at this point… I mean, first we try to find out how he lost his license years ago and it wasn’t just for malpractice, but — this Qyburn character, he apparently stole body parts from his own autopsies and that was it, except that it’s… an entirely bizarre reason to lose your license for, because then they found out that he didn’t sell them or anything of the kind. And that was it other than his colleagues saying that he was a fairly creepy person, but then he pretty much drops from the radar for years until we find him dead in an underground lab with all doors closed from the damned inside. That we solved because Lannister found out that it had some kind of secret entrance on the floor while checking the place again today, but — that entire place was covered in blood and it smelled like burned flesh even if the body wasn’t, well, burned.”
“That… sounds weird,” Sansa agrees. She can believe he can’t make heads and tails of it.
“Indeed. And on top of that, now Lannister just sent me another report saying that they found cages in the room linked to that lab from the passage underneath the ground. But not your regular dog cage. The kind you would use for lions in a zoo. And of course both were empty. And both had chains on the wall, except that in both cases they were torn out and the wall was half-collapsing. Long story short, no one has a clue of what’s going on.”
He sips the tea, then shakes his head again. “Thanks for that. I’ll just — go to bed after I’m done. I doubt I’ll be enlightened by looking at these damned pictures more than I already have, but there aren’t leads.”
“Don’t drive yourself sick over it,” Sansa tells him. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”
“Considering how that man was killed, I sure as hell hope this doesn’t become a cold case,” her father agrees, and Sansa leaves him be, going to bed herself.
Admittedly, it sounds really strange. But she supposes that it will just have an explanation that people didn’t think of but will be obvious the moment they find it, as it usually happens with most weird cases in real life and not on tv shows.
Still, she feels a chill run up her spine as she gets under the covers, that night.
Two days later, she’s cursing her schedule and the fact that her last class ends at nine PM and that there’s a transport strike, which means she has to walk home.
It’s not long, just half an hour, but it’s November and it’s cold and it’s dark and of course in this area there are barely streetlights, and while it’s usually empty… she really doesn’t like the atmosphere.
She walks as fast as she can, hating that the sound of her shoes on the ground seems so loud when it’s probably not and she’s been paranoid —
And then she hears noise behind her, a lot of noise coming from one of the small alleys, and she sprints into a run except that a moment later a very, very large hand has grasped her waist and she’s been thrown against a wall before she can scream for help and the man who grabbed her is tall, fuck, he has to be well over two meters, how, and his hands are rough and he’s holding on to her waist like he wants to tear her middle open, and his shoulder are so large she can barely see the end of them, and she feels like she’ll break in two in a moment just as the hand not covering her mouth and half of her face tears open her jacket and when she meets the man’s eyes the look dead, grey and large and opaque and he’s not breathing, wait he’s not breathing —
And then he stops at once and he lets her drop to the ground — Sansa barely manages to not crash and to land on her feet as she sees that someone has put their hands on the man’s neck, squeezing, and she moves over as she hears him make some noises that sound completely inhuman to her ears, and —
And then she hears the sound of a neck breaking and the man falls on the ground and there’s another behind her.
He’s still tall, though not as much as the one who attacked her. He’s still very well-muscled, even if not as much as the first. He’s wearing some old, ripped clothes that don’t hide some weird suture points on his chest.
Also, the entire left side of his face is burned.
What the —
“Run,” the second man rasps.
Sansa is too shocked to do anything but that, so she does, her torn jacket hanging on to her shoulders, and she’s only too glad to come back home to an empty house and throw herself into the hottest shower of her entire life.
Thing is —
She thinks about it with a clear head after she’s dried herself and gotten into some warm clothes and gone to bed.
The first man, the taller one, he hadn’t even spoken. He had just — gone straight for her, and she knows he’d have killed her, and not quickly.
The second one, though —
His eyes hadn’t seemed so dead.
And he had the left side of his face burned, and what did her father say about —
“Dad,” she asks the next day, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible, “just for science, but the lab where they found the bogus scientist in… where was it exactly?”
“You know that street where you should pass if you want to get here from your uni very quickly but that you never take when you can use the bus?”
“It was one of the side alleys. Why?”
“Uh, nothing. Just curiosity.”
He nods and goes back to his food. No one else at the table thinks to drag that conversation any further.
If she was a sensible person, Sansa thinks, she’d just avoid that street and be done with that.
The second man, he did save her, and obviously he and the first, they had something to do with Qyburn, and she doesn’t know what it could mean, but —
After her last class is over, she doesn’t take the bus. She goes for the nearest bakery, buys four cinnamon rolls and heads for home on foot.
It’s still not dark today, so she sees that the first man’s corpse has disappeared from the place where he grabbed her two days ago. It seems completely abandoned, and still —
“Are you here?” She asks, wondering if she sounds insane talking to the air. Still — “I don’t know who you are,” she goes on when she gets no answer, “but — but you saved my life and I think that I know something about where you come from, and — never mind. I’ll leave this here.”
She leaves the cinnamon rolls on the ground, against the nearest wall. Then she walks out of the street.
When she turns to check if they are still there, they disappeared.
In the following week, she walks to the same corner and leaves there a few muffins, a couple of burgers, a bottle of Coke and more cinnamon rolls.
All of them disappear by the time she’s left the street. She never turns back, not knowing why but figuring it would be a bad idea.
If she’s right, and those two were involved in Qyburn’s death, she should tell her father.
And still, if she thinks of how he looked at her —
She can’t tell. Something just says it would not be a good idea.
So she won’t. For now.
The next time, she brings more rolls, but doesn’t move.
“Can we talk?” She asks. “Please, I just — want that. Nothing else.”
Nothing happens for a long moment.
Then she hears noise behind the next street corner. “You don’t want to,” that same voice rasps, again. Oh, that’s him.
“I do,” she says. “I figured some of it out, you know.”
“I don’t think you know anything,” the man says.
“I know that scientist they killed had his lab nearby and I know the room smelled like burned flesh — my father is running the investigation. And that there were cages somewhere. It’s not that hard to figure some of it out.”
“Bugger this,” the man says, and he half-comes out of the shadows, in the pale afternoon sunlight.
Right. She had remembered him pretty well. Tall, muscled, left side of the face completely and recently burned, long black hair, grey eyes, and — those clothes aren’t heavy enough for this weather, she thinks, and she can see that there are weird suture points all over his chest. And on his wrists. And on his neck.
She swallows. She doesn’t move her eyes down, though.
“Interesting,” he says. “You’re about the one person who has seen me who isn’t running for the hills.”
“You saved my life, I think it’s the least I owe you,” she protests, handing him the cinnamon rolls bag. He takes it, looking almost amused.
“Well, now you’ve seen me. Satisfied?”
“What happened to you?”
He laughs. It’s not amused.
“Little bird, you really don’t want to know,” he says, and then he disappears, and how did he call her —
Right. She was wearing a mockingbird necklace Jeyne gave her for her birthday earlier this year.
“Wait!” She screams, but he’s already gone.
She tries to talk to him another couple of times. He never shows up.
The police doesn’t figure anything out, not that Sansa is any closer to the truth. But then —
“Some neighbors said they saw someone lounging around around the lab area,” her father says at dinner. “We might send in a couple of units tomorrow. If it’s the killer… better go with the whole calvary. And I sure as hell hope we find out what the fuck is the problem here.”
Damn it, Sansa thinks, and just nods and pretends she doesn’t particularly care.
Then, later, she opens her window and climbs out of it.
“The police is showing up tomorrow,” she says, walking into the alley. “You might not want to be here for it.”
There’s nothing for a long moment.
Then she hears noise, and he’s walked out of the usual alley. “Your father told you?” He rasps.
“And you’re telling me that?”
She hears another noise, then he fully gets out of the shadows, moves right in front of her, and that’s when she realizes that his hands aren’t exactly the same.
“Why the hell would you?”
“Maybe because I’d be dead if I wasn’t for you and while I don’t know what the hell went down that laboratory you don’t seem dangerous, but I don’t think that if the police found you it would be… a good idea.”
For a moment, she thinks he’s almost smirking.
Then he grabs her wrist and puts her hand over his heart.
She doesn’t feel a beat for what has to be at least a minute. Then she feels one.
Then it goes silent for another minute.
She says nothing, figuring out that her surprise must be obvious from her face, considering that he’s staring at her as if he expects her to bolt —
“I suppose that would be hard to explain,” she whispers.
“Oh, it would. I can hardly tell the police that Qyburn made us, after all.”
“… He did what,” Sansa whispers, even if now that he says it, it sounds —
It sounds likely.
He snorts. It doesn’t sound like he’s relishing it. “He made us. Gregor before me. My brother, if you would call him like that. It didn’t really go that well, since there’s a reason why he had to keep him caged. As in, that his only instinct was murdering people.”
“And what about you?”
“Oh, I don’t remember anything before what, six months ago. He always said I was the one that came out right. Imagine that.”
“And what about the second cage?”
“For precaution,” he says, sounding like it’s the most amusing thing he’s ever heard. “That was his fucking undoing, because if he hadn’t, you know, chained me to the damned wall, maybe I would have made sure Gregor didn’t bash his head like that against the fucking wall. I was trying to free myself, and then he paid me this favor.”
He gestures to the left side of his face. Oh.
“Then he escaped through the hatch, because he did fucking notice that, and I followed the moment I could move, except that I couldn’t find him again until I heard him trying to gut you alive. And sure as fucking hell you did nothing to deserve him, differently from the piece of shit who decided it would be fun to put pieces of corpses together and see if he could bring them back to life. Fuck him.”
Sansa can’t believe she’s fell right in the middle of some modern day Frankenstein adaptation, or so it seems, but he’s in front of her and she can see that his right hand is white for how hard he’s clenching it in a fist, and before she’s known what she’s doing, her fingers are over it, touching scarred, calloused skin, and he gasps at that, obviously not having expected it.
“Well,” she says, hoping it doesn’t sound stupid, “you don’t sound — I mean, you sound like — damn, I don’t know how to say it without —”
“What,” he snorts, “that I sound like a normal person? Just fucking say it.”
“It’s not that. Like, one wouldn’t think you weren’t. You said you didn’t… remember anything from before?”
He shakes his head. “Nah. I don’t even want to know how he fucking put me together. He seemed very sure that me and him were brothers even before, too, but who the fuck knows. Anyway, no one’s going to fucking miss either of them least of all me. And I might actually let them find me, after all.”
“… Why,” she says, “I mean, if they find out that —”
“What, they’d kill me? Tough luck, already happened once,” he says, and then he lets her hand go. “Thanks for giving a shit. But you should leave.”
He’s right. She probably should.
Except that he did save her and if you don’t look at the sutures you wouldn’t know and —
“Go,” he says, moving back, and he disappears back into the alley.
She should go after him, but there’s no way she could physically drag him away, so —
She goes back.
She feels like crying all the way back home.
The next day, she waits for bad news.
They never come.
Her father says they found no one, even if they did find traces that someone is camping in that street. They left some cops on the premises.
None of them find nothing for the next week, either.
She goes back to check on the area, as well, but — nothing.
On one side, she’s glad that no one’s found him, but on the other —
I didn’t even ask his name, she thinks, wishing she had.
“Someone broke into the lab,” her father groans a a few days later. “And things got worse.”
“How?” Sansa asks, trying to not sound too interested.
“Oh, because we found a corpse in the lab.”
Sansa doesn’t dare ask, but when she hears a few details, she’s confident that it’s… Gregor. The first one.
“We’ll run some tests.” Her father doesn’t sound enthusiastic about that whatsoever.
Sansa can imagine why, but she’s selfishly glad that he has manage to stay out of the limelight.
For now, anyway.
A week later, she goes down to her father’s study and opens the copy of the reports.
She shouldn’t, oh she shouldn’t, but —
She needs to know.
It’s a pretty thick folder, not that she expected otherwise — she skips the beginning, she doesn’t need to she pictures of the crime scene, and then she opens it to the last additions.
They couldn’t find a way to identify the second corpse from prints, because they had been burned, and apparently both hands were attached from another body as weird as it seemed — that’s, of course, classified as confidential. She hadn’t expected otherwise. She flips to the next page. They did identify the guy from dental prints, though. Apparently, he used to be a Gregor Clegane, once.
She nods to herself, puts the folder carefully away and goes upstairs, then she grabs her laptop.
The moment she searches for the man’s name, she ends up with more than she had bargained for. Apparently, this Gregor had been in and out of juvie jails for his entire life, had been discharged from the army dishonorably a couple of years ago — she doesn’t even want to know why — and had a younger brother. The sister died in mysterious circumstances when Gregor was sixteen or so, while the brother — they were estranged, from what she finds from a few gossip sites, but he went missing some six months ago.
Just after Gregor didn’t show up at some court hearing to check if he was behaving after he had been arrested again the year before.
The brother’s name wasn’t made public on most gossip outlets because he hadn’t committed any crime, but it doesn’t take too long to search a bit deeper and find out.
Sandor Clegane. All right. She searches him, too, finds out that after finishing school he went straight into doing stunts for movies, and when she finds a picture —
Well, damn. That’s the guy. That’s him. Just without the burns. And she can’t help thinking that he looked very, very handsome in the armor he’s wearing in that Facebook picture as he plays an extra for some Middle Ages tv show.
But yes, he had different hands. And no sutures, of course.
She should drop this here, she should —
She searches for their old home address. It’s not that far, if she takes one of the night subways.
She closes the laptop, grabs her jacket and leaves, feeling very glad that her father is on a long shift and everyone else is either at their friends’s or on vacation for some kind of miracle in a house with seven people living in it, and she heads for the subway.
“How did you know I’d be here?”
“A hunch,” she says. “My father is a detective, after all.”
The house used to be one of those two-story homes that you would find lined neatly together. It’s been abandoned for ages, with a to let sign outside, but no one took up on it. Most likely because his sister died in here, didn’t she?
“I remembered it,” he shrugs. “Along with a few other things. Figured it was as good a place as any.”
“Aren’t you cold?” She asks, noticing that he’s still wearing his ripped clothes that show the suture points.
“No,” he says. “Qyburn took care of that.”
“And so what, you’re going to stay here until someone figures it out?”
“And how fucking long do you think I can run? Someone’s going to find out at some point and I can hardly disappear in the bloody Arctic. Which isn’t even going to last long, at this rate.”
She does let out a laugh at that. “Or you could let me help you.”
He looks up at her with those grey eyes, which look very much alive regardless of anything else, and she barely notices the mass of scar tissue on his face as she holds his stare. “And how could you help me, pray tell?”
… That’s a good question, she supposes. It’s not like she’s thought that far, but —
“For one, I could find you some better clothing than that, because it looks like it’s going to fall apart sooner rather than later. Which would go great ways in hiding the suture points.” She thinks about it for one moment. “Then if you actually talk to me we could come up with a story that would actually satisfy the police, you lie your way through it and make sure you come off as the wronged party. I can vouch that you killed him to save me and I doubt by father wants more complications from this entire story. They let you go because no one actually wants anything more than close this case. Then — I suppose you could decide what to do, but at least you’d have your ID back.”
“Yeah, and what if they want a medical check out of me? That wouldn’t fucking go over too well.”
“They won’t if you act well enough. That — that looks like it scarred over already, anyway.”
The way he looks at her, it seems like he can’t figure her game out.
“It could work,” he admits, his voice barely audible in the darkness of the living room. It’s cold. “But why the fuck would you even care?”
She thinks of what she had read on those crime gossip sites. They mostly said that considering who his brother was, he never really had much of anyone because no one wanted to be friends with someone whose brother had allegedly killed their little sister, and all his Facebook friends were people he worked with.
She shakes her head, puts a hand on his cold shoulder. “Your brother sounds like no great loss to the world, but you’re nothing like that and should I remind you that if you hadn’t been there I’d be dead right now. Why wouldn’t I care?”
He says nothing, closes his eyes, and now that she’s close she notices that he definitely took a wash — so there’s still running water somewhere. She moves her hand where his shoulder is half-bared. It’s cold, she notices as soon as she touches it.
She doesn’t know what possesses her to lean down and put her arms around his neck just after she kisses his burned cheek, and she can feel him go rigid at once, but she doesn’t relent into the instinct of moving away unless he makes obvious he doesn’t want it —
Sansa doesn’t know how long it takes until he reaches up and tentatively holds her back around her waist. His hands feel cold, but it’s — a strong touch, not constraining, and his fingers are shaking and it’s obvious he hadn’t expected it.
“Thank you,” she says, hoping that this time he lets her say it, and he says nothing before he asks her how can she be doing this.
She smiles a tiny bit. “It doesn’t feel half of a chore as you’re assuming. So, will you let me figure out a way to help you out or not?”
She barely years the positive answer he says against her neck, his voice barely audible. He also sighs when her hand touches his cheek, and —
It doesn’t feel weird or strange, she decides, and so she keeps it there.
In a while, she will figure something out.
For now, she thinks she doesn’t mind staying like this. Not that he seems to mind it, after all.