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The Fruit of the Underworld

Chapter Text

Catelyn gazed down at her. Her darling daughter. It still amazed her that she had one, after so long of nurturing the earth. Now she had someone else to pour her love and attention into, something that was all her own. And her daughter was absolutely perfect, in every single way.

 

She slept in a wicker cradle, lined with a bed of moss, clothed in a soft gown of raw cotton as pure as lily petals. Catelyn reached her hand out and gently stroked her daughter’s head; the babe had a soft, dewey covering of hair that was the color of the most brilliant poppy. Her skin was as tender and pure as a lamb’s coat, and when she opened her eyes from her slumber, the eyes staring up at Catelyn would be the color of a clear brook.

 

She was an easy child. Catelyn would carry her in a sling on her back most days, one that once held wheat but now held something infinitely more precious. She slept most of the time that Catelyn wandered the fields, tending to the crops. Under the sun she slumbered and in the cool of the evening she awoke, smiling and gay. Even her cries seemed musical, a gentle keening instead of a harsh wail.

 

Catelyn marveled at how easy it was to have her. She wasn’t sure what her life had been before her daughter, but she knew the rest would be spent watching over her, protecting her, helping her navigate the wide world around her once she was ready to see it. But tonight was soft and calm, the stars and the moon lighting the valley around them and Catelyn felt at peace, watching her daughter.

 

The babe’s chubby little fist opened and closed in her sleep, reaching for something in her sweet, untroubled dreams. Around her, in the moss, sprung a halo of blooms. Catelyn watched, with a tiny smile, as each open and close of her hand made the petals wave side to side like the tiniest of breeze was tickling them. A talented girl already, of that she had no doubt.

 

Sansa would have talents, of that she was sure. But there was no need to rush into that. They had time, all the time in the world. And a woman with talents was not always a good thing. The wider world would look to her, to her gifts, and want things from her. Catelyn had to protect her from that, from anyone who wanted things from her.

 

Catelyn sat back with her work, taking the fresh cotton she’d handpicked from her fields and gently separated it out. She would weave them into clothes for her daughter, so that her newborn skin would be wrapped in the softest, most perfect garments. Her soft skin deserved nothing less. There, in front of a warm fire, she plucked and hummed a tune for her daughter, trying to remember when life had ever been so peaceful and lovely.

 

Sometime later, her daughter awoke, mewling, and Catelyn lifted her to her own breast to nurse. She took it easily and nursed until she was full. She stared up a Catelyn with wide eyes, quiet and content. Lips like little rosebuds, eyes of a robin’s tiny blue egg. Catelyn’s heart swelled at the mere notion of her. She was her perfect miniature, down to the ever so slight upturn of her lips and the faintest hint of a dimple tucked into her cheeks.

 

Catelyn had made her a rattle from an old peach pit and the little girl waved it mightily. Laughter bubbled up on Catelyn’s lips as all around them, ivy began trailing up the walls and ceiling of the humble cottage she’d made their home in. She shushed her daughter, before everything around them became greenery.

 

“That’s enough Sansa,” she whispered, gently stroking her cheek. “That’s enough my sweet darling girl. There will be time aplenty for this when you are older. A lifetime for your gifts, I promise you.”

 

Chapter Text

“Sansa!” Catelyn called, “Sansa, please don’t go too far!”

 

The little girl was running - well, toddling - as fast as she could down the rows of plump, bright vegetables, giggling and stretching out her tiny hands so that they brushed against the fragile stalks. Catelyn sighed, though she knew Sansa was not strong enough to do any real damage.

 

“Mama! Mama! Mama!” she babbled cheerfully, one of the words she did know.

 

“Mama would like you to be careful,” Catelyn sang, walking much slower than her daughter so that she could inspect each plant for any sign of rot or decay, to make sure that each crop grew strong and true, to yield it’s bounty when the time was right. The soil was warm against her bare feet and the sunshine fell on her shoulders and hair. It lit Sansa’s hair up like a beacon and the little white dress she wore fluttered in the breeze.

 

“Mama!” Sansa had stopped, pointing at the ground, squatting on chubby little legs. Catelyn took a few steps to get to her, still idly inspecting the crops without paying that much attention to her daughter. It was likely just a worm or a leaf, something that momentarily caught Sansa’s attention.

 

But Sansa remained focus on the object, for far longer than she usually did, so Catelyn curiously wandered over, wondering what it could be. To her surprise, there, at Sansa’s feet, lay a small grey dove, one wing bent in a painful awake way. Her heart twinging in sympathy for the little creature, Catelyn knelt, drawing Sansa to her side with one hand and ever so carefully picking up the dove in the other.

 

“She is hurt, do you see?” Catelyn brought Sansa’s hand up so that she could stroke the bird’s soft head. The poor creature gave a tired sounding chirp, not even bothering to fight against them.

 

“Yes,” Sansa whispered, awed. Her little face was lit up with wonder, her eyes focused on the bird. Catelyn smiled to think of her, so loving and caring and kind. She was going to be so special when she grew up.

 

“We will heal her, yes?” Catelyn asked but before she could do anything, one of Sansa’s small, chubby fingers had reached out to touch the broken wing. Catelyn opened her mouth to tell her not to, but in a blink it was better, the wing no long disjointed but smooth and fluid.

 

Catelyn stared in shock as the dove gave both wings a hesitant little flap, then perched on Catelyn’s finger for a moment, ruffling her feathers and appearing to set herself back to rights. Then, with a tiny little hop and almost bow to Sansa, she took off into the air, wheeling in the bright blue sky before disappearing towards the horizon, gone in a breath.

 

“Again, again, again!” Sansa cried in delight, clapping her hands, and Catelyn stared at her in wonderment. She was still so young. Her hair was soft and downy, and whenever Catelyn bathed her in the warm water of the springs, she smelled as fresh as the babe she’d been. Her blue eyes lit up with happiness and mischief whenever Catelyn caught her getting into seeds or fruit but she shared everything so freely.

 

She was still so sweet Catelyn couldn’t quite believe she was real. During the day she ran amongst the corn and the wheat, dozed in the shades of the trees, and splashed in the gentle waves at the edge of the river. She played happily with the butterflies and dragonflies that flitted about her head. She slept beneath the full moon, wrapped in soft wool. She had everything a girl could want.

 

But Catelyn saw that everywhere she ran, everywhere her small feet touched, the grass sprang up greener, the flowers bloomed brighter, and the trees bore more fruit than they could hold. It was clear that she had something special. A talent, a gift, one that almost rivaled her mother’s own already. She was sure that as Sansa grew, she would surpass her talent and grow into a goddess worthy of her own worship.

 

It was enough to make her uneasy.

 

Chapter Text

She sat amongst the swaying grass in the meadow. Nearby, she could hear her mother humming as she tended to the trees, fixing broken branches and helping the roots splay out deeper and deeper underground, so the trees could grow larger and stronger. Sansa climbed in them, felt the warm rough bark beneath her hands. A tree breathed, same as she did, and she would sit amongst its crown and let their heartbeats make a tandem rhythm.

 

Her mother thought she was sleeping. And sleep Sansa should, but she couldn’t. Not when in front of her was a pile of seeds she’d stolen from her mother’s pouch. Not a move she would often risk, but she had an idea she wanted to try so badly, one who’s existence she denied for weeks but could not hold off any longer.

 

With a tentative peek to make sure her mother wasn’t coming to check on her, she turned back to her work. The seeds, small and brown, were spread before her, and she inspected them carefully. She knew they weren’t anything special; she’d watched her mother’s every move before deciding which would be the best ones to take from. These would serve well. 

 

“I will return them if it doesn’t work,” she promised the mice sitting at her feet. They were intrigued by her happenings, but wary of the barn owl perched a few feet away. Sansa had told them that she’d asked the owl, politely, not to hunt them in her presence, but they were naturally distrustful. She couldn’t begrudge them that, but they all made an effort to behave around her.

 

Ignoring her tiny audience, Sansa reached out and plucked a seed, gently placing it in the center of her palm. She took a deep breath, trying to think of how to consciously do something that she had been doing her entire life without a single thought.

 

She concentrated on it, fiercely. Warmth flowed through her, from the top of her head down into her hands and slowly the seed began to crack. She kept her focus, watching in amazement as a flower burst forth in front of her, a rose the color of the palest pink. Like a sunset trapped in its petals.

 

She clasped it and stared at it in amazement. She’d seen her mother do this before, but never her. She’d never tried it and every time that she’d asked her mother, Catelyn had dismissed it with a smile, a kiss to her head, and a promise that all of that was for one day. But she’d done it, on her own, and the proof was bright before her. She turned it over, marveling at it.

 

“See?” she told her animal companions, thrusting it towards them. “I told you I could do it.”

 

She always had been able to grow things around her. Whenever she was happy, flowers sprouted up at her feet. Ivy trailed behind her, and the leaves turned the most wondrous shades. But never on purpose. Never when she tried. Except for now. It took focus and dedication to bring things to life, but she could do it.

 

“Sansa, are you awake?” her mother called and Sansa gasped, tossing the rest of the seeds to the mice. They scooped them up and ran, while the owl hooted softly and disappeared up into the branches. Sansa flung herself down on her arms and pretended to be sleepy, blinking up into the face of her mother, framed in a halo by the sun.

 

“Yes, mother?” she asked sweetly and Catelyn was smiling when she knelt, holding a basket filled with the ripest fruit.

 

“Did you have a good nap, my love?” she brushed Sansa’s hair away from her face, leaning down to kiss her forehead lovingly.

 

“Yes, of course.” Sansa didn’t dare tell her she hadn’t slept at all. Why would she sleep, when there was still so much yet of the world to see? She ran through the valley all day long and still had yet to memorize every path, every bend of the river, every animal that flew, swam, or walked beside her. There was so much out there to see and do, how could she sleep?

 

“What is this?” Catelyn reached down and held up the rose. Squashing any of her fear, Sansa gave her most charming, loving smile and told her,

 

“It was there when I woke up. A gift, for you, Mama.”

 

“It is a rare beauty, much like you.” Catelyn tenderly touched Sansa’s cheek, then added the flower to her basket and offering her hand. “Come, let us go and eat by the water. Would you like to dip your toes in?”

 

“Yes please.” Sansa didn’t tell her that she’d swam into the deepest parts, where her toes could hardly skim the bottom. She’d ducked under the cool water and held her breath, laughing with glee when she came back up.

 

She sat beside her mother, eating the sweet, fresh fruit, and listened to the birdsong around her. In front of them, the river bubbled and gurgled a song that she knew in her soul. The day was beautiful and lovely, another perfect moment in a life that had only ever been blissful But there, on the horizon, was something beyond their green meadow and cottage and the golden crops they so lovingly raised. She watched it as she ate.

 

Sansa didn’t know how to explain how badly she wanted it.

Chapter Text

"Mama." Sansa stood in the moonlight, her head titled ever so slightly as she looked up into the stars. Catelyn paused, having been shucking corn. 

 

"Yes, love?" 

 

"What else is there out there?" the night sky reflected back in her blue eyes. Catelyn saw the wonder there and something deeper, something like longing. It caught her breath up, to see her little girl standing there. Sansa was taller than her now, and the long, awkward limbs of a young girl now fit a young woman's torso. Her baby, now a young woman grown.  

 

Sansa was still so blindingly beautiful she almost hurt Catelyn to look at. When she ran through the fields of wheat, her cheeks tinged pink, and when she ate berries off the bush, her lips stained red. It has hard for her, to look at this stunning girl, and to not still see her infant daughter, cooing in her arms. 

 

Her auburn hair hung down to her waist in a thick, shimmering sheet. Sometimes Catelyn would take the strands in her own hands and begin to braid it back, weaving sections until it fell neatly down her back. Sansa would adorn her head with a crown of the brightest, most fragrant blossoms and skip through the valley. It stopped Catelyn’s heart, wondering who would make Sansa their queen.

 

"Nothing," she replied, turning back to her corn so that Sansa could not see any alarm in her eyes. She had to know that one day Sansa would look beyond this humble valley. But she would never stop fearing it. No. Sansa was still far too young for any of that.

 

"Surely there is a world out there." Sansa knelt by her feet, folding her arms over Catelyn’s knee and gazing up at her adoringly. Catelyn softened at the very sight of her, still so young and innocent. "We are not the only beings here. There are rivers and mountains and more." 

 

"You are right." Catelyn stroked one creamy, soft cheek, trying to hide her alarm at what Sansa was saying. Of course she’d thought about Sansa one day wanting to go her own way. But she’d never thought that it would be so soon. She was still so young and there was so much that she didn’t know. Catelyn had to protect her and that meant keeping her close, keeping her safe. "But our place is here. To grow and nurture our crops. To help the trees grow, to bring flowers to life. That's our duty." 

 

"The trees and flowers and crops would keep for a day," Sansa suggested hopefully and Catelyn stroked the waterfall of hair her daughter had. The soft waves and curls, silky to the touch. She remembered the hope she had as a young woman and the heartbreak that followed. Sansa didn’t need that.

 

"I cannot let you," Catelyn told her softly, feeling like her heart was being slowly squeezed out of her. Sansa's face fell and she felt for her daughter, but she was her mother. She knew best. "We are simply too busy here." 

 

"Yes mama," Sansa whispered, bowing her head, and Catelyn reached out to kiss her forehead but Sansa was already up and away, going to stand beneath the tree, slim arms wrapped around her torso.

 

Catelyn didn't dare tell her it was because she couldn't bear to see her go. Sansa's whole life had been nothing but bounty and bliss. Love and support. To have her see the real world, full of horrible and awful things, would break her. Catelyn's one duty as a mother was to keep her safe. And as she looked upon her daughter, the sweet little girl who spent all her time at her side, she knew it was here in the valley they both belonged. 

 

Forever.

Chapter Text

He wasn’t sure what brought him to the sun drenched valley. He knew it was where Catelyn resided. He had no reason to seek it out. It was not his business. But still he found himself walking down the paths, the sun warming his back and the ground almost soft beneath him. The bubbling water over the rocks from the river beside him was pleasant and he very nearly forgot himself in his thoughts.

 

It was a calm place and he’d wandered here before. Whenever his business brought him up, he’d take a bit of time to wander. It was so different than his own realm, he could appreciate the things about it. He missed the sunshine, occasionally, and he liked the smells on the breeze.

 

“Here, here! Over here!” a high, clear voice called out. He was startled, having usually found this area to be quiet. He donned his helmet, in case he was intruding, and was invisible before the trio came up the path in front of him. He observed, with wonder, at the spectacle before him. The sight was unlike anything he had ever beheld and he paused, unable to look away even if he could have summoned the willpower to do so.

 

Three young woman were standing at the edge of the brook. One was dusky-skinned, with brown hair down to her back and a smile as lovely as rosebuds. The other was so pale she gleamed like a pearl, with alabaster hair and purple eyes that flashed in the sunlight. They were stunning, he could not deny them that. But they were nothing compared to their leader.

 

Her skin was unblemished and looked so soft he wished to reach out and touch it. A curly mane of auburn hair tumbled down her back, and when she looked to her companions and laughed, he saw the way her azure eyes sparkled with glee. The shape of her face, delicate and beautiful, seemed to him the most wonderfully made thing he had ever had a chance to lay eyes on.

 

Not only was she beautiful, there was something about the way she carried herself that was astonishing. Utterly confident and utterly at ease. She seemed like she had no fears or doubts in the world. And the way she smiled, it was like she herself took the sunshine from the very sky and lit the world up around her. He’d never seen anyone or anything like that ever.

 

“Well, what are you waiting for?” the pale woman asked, folding her arms. Their leader, the most alluring creature he had ever seen, tossed back her hair and slipped out of the plain robe she wore. He looked away, lest he see. He had some decency, at least. When he heard a splash, he looked back to see her swimming in the river, beaming.

 

“Dany, Margaery, get in,” she called, her voice a light trill on the wind that drifted back to him. “I promise you the water is fine.”

 

“Must it always be a race with you, Sansa?” the one teased and he mouthed the name quietly to himself. Sansa. It was soft and beautiful, fitting for her. But after a second, he realized why the name was so familiar, why it felt right in his soul from the very second he heard it.

 

Catelyn’s daughter. Of course. Here in the valley. A young woman, a divine and rare beauty. There were rumors that floated around that he’d heard of her, how lovely she was. Catelyn protected her from all the other gods, but there were still those who said that her beauty surpassed even her mother’s. And now he was seeing for himself that it was all true.

 

He observed her, only for a moment he promised himself. She floated in the water, pale skin basking in the sunlight, talking to her companions and occasionally dipping beneath the surface. She looked like a mermaid, red hair streaming down her back whenever she rose. Once, she disappeared for so long he worriedly took a few steps forward, convinced she was not going to come back up. Then she had, laughter the most beautiful sound he’d ever heard, and his heart had restarted.

 

He knew he should go. Walk away. Back to the underground, as was his place. Where he belonged, not up here in the sunshine, with a radiant creature like her. But he couldn’t lose sight of her, not when for the first time he felt like he could finally see. See what this world had to offer, to see the beauty in the chaos and light. It came in the form of her.

 

“Do you ever want to go?” she asked dreamily, floating on the surface. He knew she wasn’t talking to him, but his heart still leap at the very idea of it. He wanted to answer her, but he knew not to. Not to break the magic spell she was casting.

 

“Go where?” her friend replied and Sansa turned to look at where the sun was going to set. He followed her gaze as well.

 

“Away.”

 

“From the valley? Why would we ever?” her friends seemed nonplussed by the very thought of it, but he understood both them and Sansa. The valley had anything and everything they’d ever want, but he knew Sansa had never left it. Catelyn had never allowed it.

 

“There seems to be more out there.” he thought he detected a note of wistfulness in her voice. “More than what there is here. A whole world, and I’ve seen so very little of it. But my mother will never let me go, not when there is so much to be done here. But sometimes, I go and look and I wonder.”

 

There was an idea in his head, half acknowledged and most likely terrible. But as he forced himself to turn and walk away, he could not think of anything else. He would come back, to watch her. Just to observe, leave her unbothered, and to see. If adventure was what she wanted, he would give it to her willingly and eagerly.

 

Sandor would give anything to her willingly and eagerly.

 

Chapter Text

The sun was warm on her bare shoulders. When was the sun not warm? When did it not shine in the valley, on all the crops and trees and animals? Only when her mother called upon the rain, to water and nourish them. Nary a cloud in the sky today. Just a gentle breeze, lifting her skirts playfully around her knees. 

 

She walked through the field of grass, letting her fingers trail behind her. Wherever she stepped bloomed tender buds of flowers and whenever she paused to kneel in the dirt, a tiny tree sprouted. It had been like this for as long as she could remember. All it took was the smallest hint of desire, the most errant thought, and she could cultivate and grow anything. 

 

Animals followed in her wake, from the smallest field mice darting about her feet to the mighty and noble stag, who bowed his head to her when she passed. She could get them to behave with a look, to do her bidding with a gesture. She loved and knew them all, from the birds soaring above her to the fish that nibbled her toes when she swam in the river. 

 

Her mother called these her gifts and told her she was special. She knew, in a way that made her uncomfortable, that her gifts surpassed her mother's. She saw the way her mother would frown when she gathered armfuls of her flowers, when she plucked the ripest and juiciest orange from the tree. It looked like envy. 

 

Her mother loved her. That was not ever a hesitation in her mind. Catelyn cared for her, nurtured her, adored her. But Sansa's life was her mother and the valley. Nothing more, nothing less. And sometimes, when her head would turn to the skies above, thinking about what she might see if she grew wings and sprang into the air, it was her mother's voice that always snapped her back to the earth. 

 

Sansa had never told her this. She hadn't even told her nymphs this, though Margarey and Dany would never understand. They loved the valley. They were content in the valley. They didn’t want to go anywhere else, they didn’t wonder at the majesty of what else might be around the bend, if only they ran to look. The only one Sansa had ever told was the wind and the night sky, though sometimes she felt that she was being watched and heard. 

 

It was like a presence that followed her, one that was for her only. The nymphs didn’t feel it and Sansa didn’t dare mention it to her mother. She knew how that would end. But it followed her around and sometimes she spoke to it, telling it her hopes and dreams. Wondering about the world, what she could do in it. It kept her secrets and it felt good to share.

 

She didn’t feel it today, but that was alright. Dany and Margaery were a ways behind her, still giggling over something. Sansa was stifled by their companionship today, when they felt more like her mother's spies than her friends. She ignored them, casting her eye about the valley, for something she didn't know she was looking for. 

 

A line of the most beautiful flowers drew her towards them. She'd never seen the sort before, with their delicate petals and vibrant colors. She stared in wonder, walking towards them. She knew every flower in this valley; she’d grown them all herself. These were new.

 

The voices of Dany and Margaery faded as she moved, entranced. It was so different and wonderful, so out of the ordinary. She rarely got the chance to explore something like this, her heart beat faster as her steps quickened. The flowers seemed to beckon her, closer and closer and closer still --

 

The earth seemed to yawn before her, opening a wide, cavernous mouth of black. In it was a flash of gold, something bright. She opened her mouth to scream but it was already too late. Any purchase her feet had on the dirt was gone; she scrambled, futilely, for anything to grab hold of. But there was nothing, nothing but blackness, sucking her down into. 

 

And so she fell. 

Chapter Text

He looked around himself, into the darkness. The gloom of the underworld. It was quiet, in a way that might have been maddeningly so if he didn’t prefer the silence. It filled him with peace, usually. But today was not a day for peace. It was a day for action.

 

Or so he had told himself for so many days, they blended into one.

 

But this one was different. He’d done something about it. He’d planted his flowers and now he stood waiting, for her to spot them and be drawn in. He knew she would be intrigued and go inspect. He just had to wait for her, with the little patience he did have. He took a deep breath, to center himself and remember what he was doing and why. For her, for Sansa.

 

He’d made his choice. He was going to the surface, to get her. He had heard her. Heard her speak to the river, to the night sky, to the birds and bugs and anyone who would listen. Sansa wanted freedom. She wanted adventure. She wanted something beyond her meadows and valley, beyond her mother.

 

More importantly, she deserved it. He saw her nature, how kind and sweet she was. She longed for something challenging, something new. And someone like her, with a mind so quick, was wasted by having to stay so secluded by her mother. She needed room to spread her wings, to be on her own and know that she could do it.

 

He could give her that. He could show her something so entirely different. He could bring her here, to the underworld, and give her all the freedom she desired. But Catelyn would never allow it. As much as he watched Sansa, he watched her. She didn’t even let the nymphs brush Sansa’s hair; each day she did it herself, until Sansa’s hair would gleam. He knew she loved her only child.

 

Too much.

 

He’d done it. He planted flowers. He’d watched her. He knew that she would roam the meadow and that anything new would catch her eye. He told himself it was for her. To free her from her mother. To free her from the valley, from the tedious sameness. Such beauty was too rare to be wasted on corn and berries and weeds.

 

He stubbornly ignored the voice telling him that this was for himself. That he was selfish for bringing her here, instead of on the surface. That she was trading one jail for another. That he coveted her. That she could never love anyone like him, even if he was desperately in love with him without having said a single word to her.

 

He shook his head to clear the thoughts. He couldn’t think of such things or he’d lose his nerve.

 

The time was coming. He had his chariot awaiting, though his helmet was set aside. She would see him, he the silent and watchful presence she’d known for so long. For this first time, she would know it was him and that his intentions were always good. He would bring her here and not ask anything of her, except that she enjoy herself. That she be happy, carefree. That would be all. That would be enough.

 

It was time. He could sense her, the flowers drawing her in. He knew it in his very bones. He’d spent too much time planning this, thinking of this, to not know what was happening. She was there. She was alone, as alone as she ever could be, and it was time for him to finally get her. He took a deep breath, just once, and tried to stop himself from the overwhelming sense of panic.

 

All it took was one mighty boom from his staff to cleave the earth in two. He rose, up from the darkness, into the brightness of the world. She was there. She must be there. He could not handle losing her, not when it was so close to happening. When he was going to save her.

 

Above him, a small figure, desperately trying to run from the chasm that was widening, widening, widening. It was her, his Sansa, and she must have thought that this was the end. He wanted her to know that it was only the beginning, the beginning of everything. She was going to be safe. She had nothing to fear, he would promise her that. 

 

He reached out for her, the girl that was falling.

 

And so he caught her. 

Chapter Text

This was not going the way Sandor had imagined it.

 

In his head, he had thought that Sansa would be a little bemused and concerned up arriving in the underworld. But the he’d explain himself to her, she’d understand and be grateful for what he’d done, and then she’d settle in. They’d talk. Realize how much they had in common. She would smile, laugh, come to enjoy herself and the underworld, and then hopefully him.

 

His plan had went awry it seemed.

 

He had told her she was free, bringing her to his palace. She had stared at him, mute with fear. He had brought her down the staircase, smooth and gleaming and heated rock. She had trembled, flinching away from him, and he had wondered, for one tense moment, if he’d done something terribly, terribly wrong. If his stature, his demeanor, the scar on his face, had so horrified her that she was destined to cower at the sight of him, forever.

 

Panicking that things weren’t going as well as he had hoped, he had tried to tell her that he’d heard her wishes. That he understood her plead for freedom, for exploration, and that he was here to give her that. To help her. But she’d shrank back, afraid to even look around. Hoping to give her a space of her own, he had showed her to her room, one that he’d picked just for her. It was a massive cavern, with a high domed ceiling and walls embedded with sparkling gems. He thought it would remind her of the valley.

 

He had tried to leave her there, so that she knew he made no demands of her. She was in no danger. She was safe. But she’d stood in the middle of the room and hadn’t said a word to him, not in rage, or fright, or joy. He’d thought it was just going to take time. He resumed his work, to give her a bit of space. He was sure that it was all going to be fine. She just needed to settle in.

 

But now it had been days since he’d stolen her away and still he had not heard that melodious voice. Nor had she left that room, laying and facing the walls, ignoring his every visit. He had asked her to tell him what she wanted; she could not name something that he would not give her. But she just laid there, those bright blue eyes now dull and fixed, unseeing.

 

He was at a loss of what to do, but he would be damned if he asked anyone for help.

 

It was setting him in a bad place. He dealt with the souls a bit harsher than was usual, even for him. He was blunt with the few who dared call on him. No hint of joy ever flicked across his face, even at the best of times, but now he carried a permeant scowl, one that deepened whenever he thought of his beautiful Sansa, wilting like a flower without her sunlight.

 

But he couldn’t help it. He didn’t know what to do with her. Maybe she needed the soft rays and a wide blue sky. Maybe she needed the smell of flowers on the breeze. Maybe she needed something he could not give her and he was going to kill her slowly, all because of what? He wanted a bit of beauty in his life? Because he was a selfish idiot for ever thinking that she’d come to enjoy life here and by proxy, with him?

 

That she’d fall in love with him like he had with her?

 

He walked to her room, his staff clinking on the floor with every few steps. He used it when his leg ached, though there were other purposes for it as well. Now it was for giving Sansa a warning that he was coming, lest he startle her. He clanked it a few extra times outside her room, then used to head of it to gently rap on the door. When he received no answer, as was usual, he pushed it open carefully.

 

She wasn’t lying in bed, which surprised him. For a moment, he had to search the room frantically, wondering if she’d left and gotten into some harm. But then he spotted her, kneeling at the wall, carefully inspecting the gems embedded in the wall. She looked pale and thin, hair mused from the way she’d been laying on it, but she was sitting up and for the first time, he felt like she wasn’t a lifeless doll. 

 

“Sansa,” he called out, worried. She looked over her shoulder at him and he stopped, noticing how empty her eyes still seemed. He approached her, slowly. One pale hand dropped from the gem, into her lap.

 

“Sandor.” the was the first time she’d said his name and he froze, heart suddenly feeling like it’d been torn right from his chest. So she had heard him, when he’d tried to explain to her who he was and why she was there with him now.

 

“Sansa,” he spoke her name like a prayer, kneeling beside her. Even with this distance between them, he could still feel her warmth.

 

“You won’t hurt me,” she whispered and he reached for her, laying one of his large, cool hands on her shoulder. It was a risk, but he had to show her that he could be gentle. He could be kind. And he would never, ever, raise a hand against her. Not when she was the one thing in the entire world he held as beloved. 

 

“No, little bird,” he answered, voice breaking, “I won’t hurt you.”

 

“Alright,” she whispered and then one of her hands covered his own. He stared at her, unable to comprehend how she could be so perfect, even in this moment. A bit of her warmth seemed to thread through his fingers and down into his heart, like a tiny cord of bright golden warmth.

 

The warmth felt like hope.

Chapter Text

The underworld was so different from her mother’s valley, it sometimes made Sansa’s head spin. And when she thought about the things that she saw down here - let alone smelled or touched - sometimes she had to sit down and take a deep breath. She had never experienced anything like this - which, she supposed, was exactly why Sandor had brought her here. But it didn’t make it any easier to comprehend.

 

The quiet was what had surprised her, upon her arrival. She might have thought, if not for Sandor speaking to her, that she’d lost her ability to hear. Gone were the chirping of the birds, the rustle of stalks and branches, the quiet humming as her mother went about her day. It was silent and still here and at first, Sansa thought she was going mad with the thoughts in her head.

 

Once she’d gotten use to that, she’d started to venture out. The walls were black and smooth to the touch, but still warm. No matter where she went, she was never cold, but she was never hot either. The world would have been cast in black and grey, except for the bright bits of light. Gems of every color were studded into the walls; she hadn’t been able to pluck one out yet but it wasn’t for lack of trying. They weren’t flowers, but they fascinated her much the same way, with their unique beauty.

 

There were still moments when she looked skyward and thought about the valley; her friends, her mother, how they must be missing her so dearly. How her mother must be worried sick, how her friends would be anxious for her return. She even thought about the crops and the field mice, everything that she’d nurtured and now abandoned, to be here in the underworld.

 

But she could never ask Sandor to return her.

 

Once she had realized that he truly didn’t mean to harm her, she’d relaxed a bit. Then her curious nature got the best of her; first her room, then the rooms around her. Then she’d ventured even further, into the nooks and crannies. But as beautiful as the rooms were, with their high ceilings and carved columns, but they weren’t half as interesting as the man who had brought her here.

 

She’d spent some time watching him, observing him, even when he had his back turned to her. Especially then. She was learning the massive caverns of the underworld, how even though they twisted and turned, somehow always led her back. To him. Like it knew that no matter what she searched for, it could be found with him, with his quiet, solemn face and dark robes.

 

He was never unkind to her. He treated her like she was the guest. He catered to her any whim and never once seemed bothered whenever he’d found her in some strange location. He was polite to the point of fault, but it was almost like he himself was cut from the smooth rock all around her. She couldn’t get a grip on him, no matter how much she tried to pry into him and why he’d brought her here.

 

She pondered that question often, but it didn’t occupy her mind all the time. Because for the first time, she had freedom. She could run and crouch, yell or whisper. No one to hear. No one to care. No one to mind or chide her. And for every moment she had where she missed the surface terribly, it was matched by a moment of wonder for the majesty of what she might find around the next crease or corner, what things awaited her beyond the darkness.

 

Today, what awaited her was a large room, better lit than any of the others, and warm.

 

“Sansa.” Sandor looked up in surprise as she swept around the corner, following a fissure of bright white diamonds that seemingly wound throughout several caverns and rooms. She had wanted to see where it led, but apparently it was here, to what looked like Sandor’s study. She skidded to a stop, realizing with an extra painful thud, that this space actually looked lived in. Like it was personal.

 

“I’m so sorry,” she stammered, beginning to back away. “I was just following the….”

 

“Diamonds.” he nodded in understanding, looking up at the ceiling.

 

“I can go,” she offered quietly, though it had to be said she was lonely for companionship. She had never been alone for so long before. She missed the ease of conversation that she had with her friends. Sandor always treated her like she was at a distance. 

 

“You certainly don’t have to,” he responded and she smiled slightly, easing into the room.

 

“What are you doing?” she asked curiously. Now that it was clear that he didn’t mind having her in the space, she could inspect it. A large desk dominated the space, made of a dark wood. It was intricately carved; when she looked closer, she saw forests, mountains, the night sky, and more.

 

Behind them, as far as her eyes could see, were shelves lined with scrolls, neatly bound and stacked. Here and there were gaps, but most were filled with large books. Scrolls lined his desk and he was sorting through a couple, several quills and ink stacked off to the side. He’d clearly just set one aside when she’d came in, to devote his full attention to her.

 

“I mind all the souls,” he told her, carefully rolling one up scroll and gently placing it to the side so he could look at her. He never quite smiled, but she sensed a softening in him when she was around. She liked that about him. “I weigh their deeds and debts and send them to where they belong.”

 

“And where do they belong?” she asked and he folded his fingers together, appraising her. She had thought, after a few of his visits, that he was not so scary a figure as she’d first made him out to be. He was as pale as she was, with grey eyes that, now she’d been here, so well matched the world he dwelled in. He had long dark hair, sometimes pulled back. But his most defining quality was a large scar over half of his face.

 

He was so serious, he never seemed to have any sort of emotion on his face. She’d tried to make him laugh and failed. She’d only seen him worried, the few times he’d visited her when she still thought that he had ill intent for her. But he carried himself with a quiet confidence and she liked. Now, he observed her over the steeple of his fingers with those calm grey eyes.

 

“That depends on their deeds.”

 

“Where would you send me?” she asked, perching herself on the edge of the desk. He watched her carefully.

 

“What deeds could you claim?” he asked and she traced the whorls and knots in the desk. It was a thing of beauty, but it reminded her of her mother’s cottage.

 

“I was a good friend,” she said slowly, a bit uncertain. “And I was kind, to animals and such.” she wasn’t sure what other deeds counted. She hadn’t done much in this life, would that count against her?

 

“You were,” he replied softly and she frowned slightly, looking at the papers. A rather alarming thought had occurred to her and she had to voice it. 

 

“Do you have a scroll on me there?”

 

“You are not dead,” he answered, a frown beginning to cross his face. “You are here as a - a guest.”

 

“Then how would you know that I was kind?” she pursed her lips and he tapped his hands on the desk a few times. Large hands, with long fingers. She saw something, there, in his dark grey eyes that looked almost hungry. It made her shiver, and not from the cool of the underworld.

 

“You have a kind soul.” he seemed to want to say more, but didn’t. She stayed quiet, waiting. He’d have to tell her more. Eventually. And then he did, apparently uncomfortable with the silence. “And I saw you, above. I saw the way you looked, the curious nature. I saw the way your mother kept you there, locked away like a…. Well, a little bird. And you were so good, despite it all.”

 

“Is that why you took me?” a heat was rising up her cheeks, bu she wasn’t sure what it was. Was it anger at him, that’d he’d been so presumptuous? Or was it something else? No man had ever glimpsed her in the valley, no one but her mother and the nymphs. How much had he watched? How much had he seen?

 

“You asked for freedom,” he said simply. “I wanted to give you that. I wanted to give you so much, Sansa.”

 

“Ah.” it seemed all the wonders of the underworld were but preparation for the greatest of all - him. She still didn’t know what she felt about him, but the way his grey eyes searched her face like he wanted her blessing for his actions made her heart flutter in a pleasant way.

 

“Perhaps,” he suggested carefully, “we could walk one day and I could show you the rest of my domain.”

 

“I think I would like that.” the words were out of her mouth before she could catch them, but he didn’t seem put off by her eagerness. If anything, he seemed happy - or happier than he usually was, which might have been not at all with him. She really did want to see more, but she didn’t dare go anywhere else without him. It would be nice to have company and someone to lead her home, if she did indeed get lost.

 

“I could come and collect you, when my work here is done.” he offered and she looked at the mountains of scrolls, then back at him with a little smile. Something in her possessed her to reach other and grab his hand, giving it a little squeeze. He looked floored by the touch and she smiled.

 

“I look forward to it.” she slipped off the desk and gave him a little curtsey. To her surprise, when she turned her back, she thought she heard a chuckle come from him.

 

And even more surprising, there was a chuckle on her own lips as well.

Chapter Text

“Sansa?” Sandor’s voice was soft, his knock gentle. He peeked into her room, still fearful of intruding and disturbing her. But they’d been making progress. She’d came to his office by mistake but then it had been her choice to stay and talk to him. And she’d agreed to take a walk with him, which brought them to here. He in her room, nervous yet again. She was sitting on the rock, peering into a crack sparkling with gems with the most perplexed expression on her face.

 

“Hello.” she rocked back on her heels and looked at him with a tiny smile. He eased into the room, careful to keep his distance. Progress or not, he never wanted to make her feel uncomfortable. Even if his hand still burned from where she’d touched him earlier.

 

“What are you doing?” he asked her curiously, but not unkindly. She seemed fascinated by the strangest of things, but he didn’t mind. He liked that she was getting a chance to expand that clever mind of hers.

 

“Nothing.” she stood, brushing off her skirts and flipping her long hair over her shoulder. The diamonds cast a sheen over her that made her seem to glow. “Being silly.”

 

“I doubt it.” his mouth twitched, wanting to smile but then he extended a hand to her. “Would you like to, uh, take that walk with me?”

 

“I would.” her answer almost had honest delight in it; he didn’t know what to say. He’d been so sure of her refusal that he’d never entertained the idea of her saying yes.

 

“Ah.” he held his breath when she came alongside him and took his arm like it was the most natural thing in the world. And she was, for all appearances, unbothered. He focused on putting one foot in front of the other until they were walking towards the river.

 

He’d picked the spot for a couple reasons, the first being that it was close, in case she didn’t want to take a long journey with him. But it wasn’t so close as to minimize any time with her, not when this was the first time in the weeks since he’d taken her that she’d wanted to voluntarily spend time with him. So he guided her down the stairs, breathing in her heady smell.

 

He tried to soak her nearness in. She radiated heat, whereas he always seemed to run cool. Her skin was still a bit too pale, he thought, and her eyes still tight. Not at ease, yet. He hoped that this venture would bring a smile to her face. He could picture her, running through the wild, seeing new things. It was what she’d always wanted and he’d been trying to give her ever since the day he stole her.

 

They walked in silence, but it was the comfortable sort. She seemed to know that he didn’t have many words to use and instead she walked along with him, opposite side of his staff as to not bother his bad knee. He would love her for that alone, if not for all her other traits that were so endearing.

 

“Oh….” a bit of wonderment slipped from Sansa’s lips as they neared the river. It was the one closest to them - Phlegethon, the river of fire. It was what heated their chambers. He thought she’d appreciate it as much as he did and he was glad to see it was true. He paused with her on the highest steps, where the heat was still powerful enough to warm even him. “It’s…. Terrible. But beautiful!”

 

“Many things are,” he remarked and she looked up at him with a smile that grew ever so slightly. Had he ever seen such perfection? It was even more overwhelming when it was directed at him purposefully. 

 

“So I’m learning.” her eyes crinkled at the corners. “Is that why everything is warm?”

 

“Yes,” he replied, oddly proud she was catching on so quickly. She was so clever and utterly wasted, tucked away in that valley.

 

“Amazing.” she knelt, staring in wonder. He had a notion that she’d stay there for a good long time if he let her, so after a few moments he tapped her shoulder.

 

“Would you like to see more?” he suggested carefully and she rose. The walk was going to well, he hated to cut it short. He just wanted a little bit longer with her and he told himself it was because she deserved to see more. That was his reasoning.

 

“Yes,” she agreed, but he noticed that she was observing the way they’d came. Such a smart girl.

 

“There are five rivers here,” he explained as they walked. Occasionally Sansa would reach out to touch gems in the wall, long fingers trailing over them. “Phlegethon, what you just saw. Styx, the river of hatred. Lethe, the river of forgetfulness. Cocytus, the river of wailing. And Acheron, the river of pain.”

 

“Which are we going to see?” Sansa asked, a bit of wariness in her eyes now.

 

“Lethe,” he told her. “That will bring us to Asphodel Meadows.”

 

“Meadows?” she brightened considerably and his heart clenched. Did she miss home so terribly bad? “I was, uh, trying something earlier,” she admitted with the faintest hint of a lovely rosy blush.

 

“Oh?” he looked at her curiously and she smiled, a tiny skip in her step.

 

“I was trying to make something grow. I haven’t been able to, since I…. Arrived,” she said carefully. His stomach sank. On the surface, everywhere she looked brought up flowers and greenery. But all he had to offer her down here were stark black walls and his cool arm to walk on. Her talents, her gifts, were wasted if she didn’t have the fertile earth to grow things.

 

“Well, the meadows could use some cheer.” he tried to force levity into his voice.

 

“Who resides there?” she asked him, as the heat faded, replaced by coolness. She drew closer to him and his heart skipped more than a few beats. He tried to walk on, indifferent, and not show her just how proud he was to have her beside him.

 

“The good nor the bad. The indifferent and unremarkable. They drink from the river Lethe and they forget everything. Their troubles, their joys,” he hesitated, “their love.”

 

“How horrible.” Sansa looked genuinely anguished at the thought. He wondered if she only thought of her mother and friends or if there would ever be a chance of him being included alongside her thoughts of love. It seemed impossible, but he could always hope.

 

“Is it?” he’d never thought of it that way. “I always imagined it to be a kindness, a sort of bliss.” but what had he ever thought about losing that he treasured so much to feel anguish at the thought of it?

 

“I would rather remember.” she gave a little shiver and he wavered, unsure if it was a good thing to bring her here. But when they entered the meadows, she seemed reassured.

 

The meadows were vast and they skirted the edge, near the river. Sansa clutched his arm and he couldn’t help but enjoy it. The trees here were mostly leafless, the grass mostly dirt. There was not much for life or liveliness here and he could see the worry in Sansa’s eyes, as she looked out over the rather dismissal landscape. When a soft cry went up, she gasped and nearly jumped behind him.

 

“The souls here can’t hurt you,” he told her, a bit gruffly, trying to show her how pleased he was that she sought protection from him. “But if you’re alarmed, I can render us invisible.”

 

“They won’t hurt us?” she asked for reassurance and he patted her hand, thinking that if anything dared try to hurt her, he’d kill them well before they touched a single hair on her blessed head. 

 

“No. You are of the living.” and he would never forget that for a second. 

 

“But I don’t want to linger here,” she muttered and he nodded.

 

“We won’t. What I want to show you is this way.” he gestured to gated walls ahead and Sansa gave his hand the tiniest of squeezes. He felt like he might faint.

 

Ahead of them was a large wall, the white stones glistening. Sansa gasped slightly as the huge gates came into view. She looked up at him with a slightly worried expression and he had to hide his pride at her awe as he waved a hand, the doors opening silently. His pride quickly gave way to relief when he saw the pure and utter delight that crossed her face as they entered. He knew that bringing her here would be a good idea.

 

“What is this?” she let go of his arm, gently spinning away from him as they walked beyond the walls. He didn’t mind her absence, not when it was because she was clearly beyond delight. 

 

“Elysian Fields,” he told her quietly and she knelt, spreading out her fingers.

 

“It’s like home,” she said reverently.

 

He could see why she’d think that. Trees ringed the walls, ones that grew so tall their tops seemed to skim the sky above them. It was a shade of blue not quiet as pretty as Sansa’s eyes, but he felt that was an unfair comparison to make. The earth below them was soft and green, full of lush grass and the very same flowers that he’d planted to first get her attention on the surface.

 

It was probably the closest thing in the underworld to what it was like on the surface. Here, where the heroes roamed, there was always a gentle breeze and soft dappled sunlight, filtering down through those large trees and soft grass. In the distance was the soft lapping of waves on the shore, but right now Sansa could only pluck the light golden flowers that grew, a faint smile crossing her face. He wondered if she remembered, but he chose not to bring it up, in case she harbored any resentments on that fact. He certainly wouldn’t blame her if she did.

 

“You asked where you would go, if you were on a scroll,” he spoke carefully, in case she preferred silence. She cocked her head slightly, a beguiling look in her eyes as she placed a golden bloom behind her ear. 

 

“Yes?”

 

“Here,” he said softly and her smile was twice as beautiful as her blush. She turned away from him, placing her hands on the earth with a contented sigh.

 

“Look!” she cried. Where she had placed her hands into the soft soil tiny flowers were springing up all around her, lightly grey in color. He watched in silence, unable to stop his smile, loving how happy she was at this small victory. This was as close as he had seen to the girl he knew from the surface. It had to be impossible to grow things in his palace of stone, but now that she knew this was here, perhaps he could bring her more. She could regain her gifts, the very thing that made who she was.

 

She ran down the path, stopping to touch everything. The trees, the grass, the flowers, nothing was too small for her attention. He followed her, staff thudding quietly against the ground as she overturned rocks and wiggled part ways up trees, greenery trailing behind her. Her powers seemed to be returned to her and for that he was grateful. She dashed down the trail, glancing over her shoulder to call for him whenever he fell behind and beaming at him when he caught up to her again.

 

He quite thought he’d do anything for that sort of smile.

 

Chapter Text

“There’s a better way to do that, you know.” Sansa drifted in behind Sandor. She hadn’t been looking for him, but she never did whenever she found him. She usually just sort of wandered and then came upon him. This time he was in what she thought served as a kitchen of sorts. At least, that was where she found food whenever she wanted it. But he’d never eaten with her.

 

He stopped and turned, looking over his shoulder. She paused in the doorway, trying to see what exactly it was that he was doing. A pomegranate was on the counter in front of him, but the juice from half of the many seeds stained his fingers red. He must smash the delicate fruit, she realized with a smile, with his large, rather clumsy hands. That was oddly endearing.

 

“Is there?” he asked evenly and she carefully approached him, the gentle swishing over her skirts over the hard floor the only sound in the room.

 

“Shall I show you?” she offered carefully and he looked her up and down for a long moment, making her skin crawl in a delightful sort of way.

 

“Please.” he set down the pomegranate and took a step back but Sansa didn’t immediately pick it up. Instead, she went to take up a basin, a deep one, and then dipped it in the clear, crystal waters that flowed through Sandor’s home. She set the basin on the counter and then approached him slowly, keeping her distance but picking up the pomegranate nonetheless. He watched with quiet fascination as she dipped the shell into the water and carefully, with her long delicate fingers, began to peel it apart.

 

“The seeds sink,” she explained softly, as he craned his neck to get a better view. “But the shell floats.” what she said was true; all the dark seeds were at the bottom of the basin, but the thin white coating floated on the top. The more she pulled apart, the more that sank to the bottom, until the skin was empty and she could start discarding it, skimming it off the top.

 

“Oh.” Sandor took a step closer to her, sounded surprised. She smiled slightly as her hair fell down in front of her face, but she couldn’t brush it back, not with her hands in the water. It made her miss her mother, or the nymphs, but the idea of him gently doing it didn’t seem too awful, when she thought about it. 

 

“My mother taught me this,” she offered quietly and he was quiet for a long moment behind her. She could sense him but she couldn’t hear him, which was a strange thing. He was so quiet for a man so large and it unnerved her that he could go almost anywhere undetected.

 

“Do you miss her then?” he asked the question offhandedly but it stopped her heart nonetheless.

 

“I….” her hands faltered on the seeds, squashing several in her carelessness. She took a deep breath, gently plucking the most stubborn of skin from the seeds.

 

“I would be a bad daughter if I said no,” she declared softly. She wasn’t sure how she felt and she didn’t want to offend Sandor by saying the wrong thing. Some days she missed her mother and home so badly her heart felt like it was going to shatter into pieces and they’d cut her open from the inside out. But then other times, she’d hardly think of her at all, until she was laying in bed, nearly asleep, soft and comfortable and dreaming of that different place she’d once lived in.

 

She did miss her mother. Of course she did. For so long, her whole life had been her mother and her mother’s world in the valley. But it had been stifling as she had gotten older. And her time down here with Sandor was beginning to feel different. Now, almost daily, they would walk to the Elysian Fields and she would run through, delighted. Sandor always followed, quiet but smiling. She got the distinct impression that for as distant he seemed, he wasn’t a cold man at all. Not with her.

 

“I would understand if you did.” his grey eyes searched her face; she sensed a bit of desperation there. But for what? For validation that she did want to be here, with him?

 

“I do,” she assured him but then gave him a slightly sheepish smile, finishing her task with the pomegranate. “I also like being here.”

 

“Really?” Sandor looked startled by that and she set aside the peels of the skin, then turned her attention on making sure that each fragile seed was cleaned, discarding anything else.

 

“I do. I find it all fascinating. It’s…. Unlike anything else I’ve ever seen.” she turned to see his reaction, still holding the bowl of seeds. She could see the little spark in his eyes, the small hints of delight. She was starting to be able to read him and all his little expressions. He was pleased, she could tell. Still questioning if she was lying, but happy that she’d told him that she wanted to stay.

 

“I….” he hesitated over his words and to avoid any awkwardness, Sansa drained the water from the pomegranates and brought him the bowl.

 

“Here.” she slid them in front of him. He took a handful, inspecting them.

 

“I can never get them this clean,” he admitted and she leaned over the counter, chin in hand, smiling at him.

 

“I don’t mind helping.” she didn’t, not with him.

 

“If you ate these, you’d never be able to leave,” he told her suddenly and a chill went through her body. She straightened up and away from him involuntarily, even though she saw the flash of pain that went through him at this perceived rejection. He seemed to have told this against his better judgement, hesitation in his cool, grey eyes. “If you eat the fruit of the Underworld, it binds you here.”

 

“Oh.” heart pounding, she took yet another step back and away from the seeds. She didn’t know why he was telling her this; was he going to force her to eat them? To trap her down here, never seeing her mother or friends again, never laying beneath the sun and soaking in its warmth until she fell asleep? But if he intended to do that, why not trick her? Why not offer her a handful, bring her a bowl and sneak her into making such a mistake?

 

Unless he meant to warn her. Because the choice of if she stayed or went was her’s to make, and her’s alone?

 

Before she could say another word, he took the bowl and left, sweeping away and leaving her to her thoughts. She watched him go, idly drumming her fingers. She didn’t understand him, not yet. He stole her and brought her down here, then gave her freedom. He told her how he could trap her, then left her without forcing anything upon her. He seemed to enjoy bringing her happiness and took time from his duties to encourage her. And he never hurt her.

 

So eating his fruit would trap her in the Underworld, forever.

 

She could think of worse things.

Chapter Text

“Hello.” Sansa’s head appeared around the doorframe and he couldn’t help the little flutter his chest gave when she smiled at him. He set down his quill carefully, like she did not cause every fiber of being to quiver. He’d never get any writing done now; he’d made that mistake once before and his writing had been illegible.

 

“Hello.” he folded his hands deliberately, trying to seem as though she had not caught him off-guard. He was getting more use to her stopping by at any moment, but years of isolation were a hard habit to break. She was welcome, always, but she scrambled his brains.

 

“Are you weighing more souls?” Sansa entered his office with greater ease now, walking up to his desk and pausing at it, her bright blue eyes taking everything in. He took her in; her dress of soft purple, bare feet, hair in a long, messy braid tossed over her shoulder. She was so beautiful, she was the brightest light that he’d ever seen.

 

“Not anymore,” he said, a bit gruffly, but she only smiled at him. He’d noticed she had a habit of never seeming to be bothered by his quietness or serious demeanor. It was endlessly endearing, not that he could tell her that.

 

“Can you take a break?” she asked him, batting her eyes, and it was on the tip of his tongue to tell her that he would give up all his duties for her, leave them behind in the blink of an eye, if only she asked for him by her side. Instead he kept his face carefully neutral and shrugged.

 

“I may be inclined.”

 

“I’d like to go explore.” her smile always lit up her face; it practically cast a halo around her. He leaned forward towards that lightness, like he was going to bask in it.

 

“Where would you like to go?” he stood, grabbing his staff. He was sure he already knew the answer - they’d go to the Fields like they always did, so that she could run amongst the flowers and have them bloom around her, the beautiful girl of spring she was.

 

“How about somewhere new?” she suggested and he blinked. That was not what he had prepared for.

 

“New?” he didn’t know what she meant by that. He sat back, watching as she shrugged, swaying back and forth gently.

 

“Show me something I’ve never seen before.” Sansa was still smiling so prettily, but he sensed a gleam of challenge in her eyes. Much like the girl she’d been on the surface with her nymphs, always the bravest and boldest. He stepped towards her and offered her his arm.

 

“Come along then, little bird,” he declared, standing with his heart beating a little bit too quickly and she fell in step with him, smiling all the way.

 

He took her beyond his palace again and summoned his chariot. He had a vague notion of something she might enjoy, but it was further away than her precious fields. For Sansa’s part, she didn’t say anything but gamely stepped in. He wondered if she was recalling his abrupt appearance on the surface and the way he’d taken her, a bit roughly, from that world. if she did, she didn’t say a word.

 

“This is so much further than I’ve dared go!” she remarked, after they’d ridden for a long ways. He shifted so he was a bit closer to her - just to make sure she was alright, he told himself. She was looking around with clear curiosity and delight. He loved the little sparkle in her eyes whenever there was something new to see or do. 

 

“I assumed as much,” he replied and she looked up at him with a breathtakingly light smile.

 

“Where are you taking me?” she asked softly and he sucked in a deep breath, wondering who she was to make him feel so lightheaded.

 

“I’m just doing as you asked.”

 

“Showing me something I’ve never seen before?” she tossed her hair over her shoulder. “Well, it best be good to warrant all of this.”

 

He rather thought it was, when they arrived. The cavern was massive, the ceiling so high is disappeared from view. It had a lightness up here, since they were closer to the surface. He held out a hand to bring her down from the chariot but even when she was on stable ground, she didn’t let go. He led her around a bend in the gently sloping path, pausing both of them before letting out a long, loud whistle.

 

From the darkness emerged two glowing red eyes, then four more. He felt Sansa’s breath hitch and he gave her hand a squeeze. She had to know that he would never put her in danger. Never. He chanced a look at her and was surprised to see that it was not fear on her face, but something closer to anticipation. What a brave girl she was. 

 

“Meet Stranger,” he said quietly and his beloved pet came into full view. Three headed, each with a huge, slobbering mouth and a twitching nose. Coal black fur, scruffy and rough. A long, slobbering pink tongue. The beast stood nearly double Sansa’s height, with massive paws larger than Sansa herself. He expected her to shrink back, especially when Stranger leaned down close to her and began to sniff.

 

He was sure Sansa had no surprises left in her, but then she began to hum. He looked at her, bemused, but she wasn’t paying any attention to him. It was all devoted to Stranger, as she swayed and hummed. The melody was easy and simple, nothing special, but she had a lovely voice. He found himself following her lead, rocking back and forth slightly to her rhythm.

 

To Sandor’s surprise, Stranger sniffed her several times, his heads getting lower and lower as she continued on, until eventually he laid at her feet, eyes half shut. Still continuing on, Sansa carefully reached and began to scratch behind the ears, rotating every so often so each got an equal share. Stranger gave a low rumble of approval, shifting to give her better access.

 

“He is so handsome!” she whispered to Sandor, as to not disturb the dog. Happiness made her eyes sparkle and with every grunt, scratched harder. He could do nothing but smile back as Stranger gave a rumble of happiness as she hit a certain spot, his back leg thumping. Sansa gave a squeak of delight and kept humming. He stared at her in frank astonishment, as she began to pepper Stranger’s head with kisses. He’d never seen her so happy and he’d never seen Stranger so content.

 

“Was this deserving?” he found himself asking, as she practically curled up in Stranger’s neck, nuzzling him.

 

“Who is the sweetest?” she cooed, essentially ignoring him. Sandor found he didn’t mind it; watching this was delightful enough. “Who is the sweetest, handsome boy, huh? Such a good boy. Where has Sandor been hiding you, huh? Oh, yes. Oh, yes, such a good boy.”

 

“I know you loved animals,” he replied, fighting back the urge to sweep her up into his arms and kiss her senseless. He had taken her because of how much he’d admired her, but now that he knew her, he couldn’t imagine giving her back. He needed her. Everything she did with such joy and happiness, it was impossible not want to share that with her. “I thought he would be a good surprise.”

 

“I need more hands!” she exclaimed, as Stranger’s heads vied for her attention. She laughed, trying to scratch him all at once. “Sandor!”

 

“What?” he was smiling now, but he didn’t mind that she saw it.

 

“Help!” she pleaded, laughing as Stranger pawed at her. He’d never seen him so affectionate but Sansa apparently elicited the same response from any living creature - powerful devotion.

 

“I don’t think — uff!” he grunted as Sansa pulled him down beside her, so that he could help her cuddle Stranger. She was practically in his lap, grinning at him. She laid her head on his shoulder, sighing in contentment. She was so close to him, smelling sweet and soft, molded into his side. She chatted with him, but he couldn’t hear a word she said. He was thinking of her, like this, forever, and was surprised by the rush of emotion that overcame him.

 

It felt like love.

Chapter Text

Sansa walked happily to the judgement pavilion, her mind consumed with thoughts of Sandor. Perhaps today they’d go see Stranger again - she’d quickly fallen in love with the dog, even if he did drool all over her as she sang him to sleep. Or maybe they’d walk through the fields - she enjoyed taking his arm and strolling through the beauty, but she liked the smile on his face as she made flowers bloom even more.

 

Sometimes she was content just to watch him work. It was so unlike anything with her mother and it allowed her the chance to try and observe his face, the tiny little movement of his lips and eyebrows that let some of his emotions slip ever so slightly. She was getting good at reading him, knowing what each quirk and twitch meant. It made her heart skip a beat, the fact that so often she saw happiness on him when he looked at her.

 

She entered the pavilion and turned to search out Sandor, unsurprised to find him presiding over the many scrolls at his desk, a few in the scales and a few more spread before him, his grey eyes narrowed as he studied them intently. So devoted was his attention, he didn’t notice her arrival until she reached his desk, fingers lightly tapping the glossy, smooth wood.

 

“You’re earlier than usual,” he remarked, the corner of his eyes crinkling ever so slightly. Sansa knew he was happy to see her then. And he set aside the quill, which meant that he was in the mood to leave his work behind and to go with her on an adventure. She lived for that crinkle.

 

“I ended my exploring early,” she told him mischievously. The truth was that she was beginning to look forward to their time together, more than her solo explorations. It was more fun to have Sandor by her side, she told herself, because he shared so much information. That was all.

 

“Oh, I doubt you’re done.” he sat back and appraised her, his long fingers slotting neatly together beneath his chin as he watched her. “You’re just here to drag me along with you.”

 

“Drag you?” she acted offended, dramatically placing a hand over her heart. “And here I thought you went willingly.”

 

“Oh, I do.” his smile at her then was brief, but it was something. She cherished it, holding it in her heart like a little ball of light. It always warmed her.

 

“Then no complaining.” she sat on the edge of the desk, careful not to move any of his scrolls. He watched her with those serious grey eyes and her stomach gave a twist, but not the unpleasant sort or the hungry sort. It was different, unlike anything she’d felt before.

 

“So what would the little bird like to do today?” he gave her a little knowing smile and she pretended to think long and hard, like the answer wasn’t already hanging between the two of them. But it was a fun thing they did - to tease each other like this.

 

“Fly,” she retorted and his mouth twitched.

 

“So spread your wings.”

 

“But who will catch me if I fall?” she batted her eyelashes, still trying to amuse him. But his face shifted, into more serious. He leaned forward, inspecting her face like he was memorizing it. She lost her breath, hit by the sheer intensity of his presence.

 

“Don’t you remember?” he breathed. “I already did.”

 

She had nothing to say to that, the reminder of how she’d come to be here with him. That day, tumbling down. She wanted to have a witty remark back, something clever and quick like he always did. But she couldn’t; she was distracted by the way his lips moved, how large his hands were, every crease and line of his face suddenly fascinating. He was drawing her in, closer and closer, and she leaned to —

 

Suddenly he pulled away and she struggled to right herself and not send the scrolls cascading to the floor. She gasped, but he didn’t seem to hear her. He was standing, all his attention focused on the door. Then, a bit rougher than he’d ever touched her before, he took her by the shoulders and guided her to the corner.

 

“Wha—” she started, but he cut her off unceremoniously by placing a finger to her lips.

 

“Stay quiet. Stay still,” he urged and she stared at him, baffled, but obeyed. A moment later he plunked a helmet on her head and she gave a squeak of indignation but he was striding away from her, his attention focused on the door. A moment later, it became clear as to why he had.

 

The god who entered was tall, but not nearly as tall as Sandor. He was slim, with a long, pale face and eyes that darted about quickly. Sansa held her breath, trying to stay as still as possible, but she needn’t have worried. His gaze slid right over her, almost as if she didn’t exist. Or was invisible.

 

A thought occurred to her, startling her.

 

Was this how Sandor had known she’d wanted an escape? Had he been listening to her, watching her, waiting? For how long? What had he seen? The thought that he’d been watching her as she bathed in the streams and ponds made her cheeks hot. She didn’t know how it made her feel; she wanted to storm out in a huff, but there was a small part of her that felt like he was the only one who saw and understood her, all without them having to say a word.

 

“Baelish,” Sandor was saying carefully, pretending that he’d been absorbed in his scrolls without interruption for awhile now. Sansa assessed Baelish, the god of wine and revelry. What purpose did he have in coming down to the Underworld?

 

“Dank and gloomy, as always,” Baelish remarked and Sansa bristled on Sandor’s behalf. It was not dank and gloomy here, it was just different.

 

“What do you want?” Sandor’s tone was clipped and he couldn’t be bothered to raise his head to look at Baelish in the eye. Sansa had almost never seen him like that.

 

“There’s a gathering. You’ve been invited. I volunteered to summon you.”

 

“And why would that be?” wary grey eyes flicked to over to where Sansa was standing; Sandor knew where her location was, but he must not be able to see her either.

 

“You’ve got some interesting flora and fauna in the fields I’d like to procure,” Baelish explained, the tips of his fingers tapping on Sandor’s desk. Sansa felt oddly possessive of it; that was what she did to get Sandor’s attention. It bothered her that anyone else would. “If you’d be interested in a trade.”

 

“The only thing you have that I’d value is your absence.” Sandor stacked the scrolls against his desk with a loud snap. “Take what you’d like and go.”

 

“You know, I can see why no one visits this miserable place.” Baelish lingered even with the dismissal, his lips upturned in an ugly sneer. “With it’s miserable, cold master.”

 

“Perhaps I prefer a different lifestyle to your own,” Sandor replied calmly but Sansa was festering with rage. Who was he to talk about this place and Sandor like that? He didn’t know anything. He hadn’t even spent time down here, learning the beauty in the silence and stillness. Following the gems and the sound of the rivers. He didn’t spend time with Sandor, with his calm and serious nature hiding a warmer man beneath it. He didn’t know anything and she wanted to tell him so, but Sandor had told her to be quiet.

 

“I don’t know why the others bother to invite you.” Baelish kept up with his taunts, clearly enjoying needling Sandor. “As depressing as the place you call home, as alone as the souls you keep, as plain and barren as the fields they roam. Tell me, have you ever felt the touch of a woman? Or do they take one look at you, god or not, and run in fear?”

 

“I’ll take my leave of you now.” Sandor stood, putting himself in the path between Sansa and Baelish. Which was as well, given that Sansa wanted to take a run at the man and tackle him. Who was he to talk to her Sandor like that? He didn’t know anything.

 

With a few more parting jabs that Sansa didn’t hear over the thundering of blood in her ears, Baelish left. She waited until he was gone before ripping the helmet off, fuming. Sandor turned to her, mouth open to say something, but she didn’t care. She crossed the room in a few strides and threw her arms around him, breathing in deeply.

 

He smelled like something fresh and clean. He was solid and warm, if not slightly cooler than herself. And he was kind and lovely and smart and funny when he chose to be. When he could reveal that side of himself, when he trusted her enough to let her see the real him. She squeezed, words failing her to tell him that everything Baelish said was a lie and that she didn’t believe it in the slightest.

 

When she drew back and saw the look on Sandor’s face, she knew she didn’t have to. He understood.

 

Something bloomed in her chest, something that felt light and airy and entirely tied to the man in front of her. As she stared at him in slight bemusement, she tried to figure out what it was. Then his hand came up, tenderly tucking back a bit of her hair and then drifting down her cheek to lift her jaw like he was going to kiss her. The thought left her breathless.

 

Oh. So it was love then.

 

Chapter Text

He would never stop marveling at her beauty. It was alarming, just how lovely she was. Sometimes he looked at her felt like he was going to be blinded by the light she radiated. Like he hadn’t known the sound of joy until he heard the laughter from her lips or felt such warmth as when she reached over and took his hand or his arm.

 

Once, she’d pressed a hand to his cheek and he’d felt the glowing sensation for long after.

 

He watched her now, as she sat amongst the flowers, beaming at him. He was powerless to stop himself from smiling back at her. The joy, the exuberance, it was everything. She was everything. What had he done before her? It didn’t matter. What would he do after? It was a thought not worth thinking.

 

“I didn’t think I’d be able to do it,” she was telling him, gently rolling the stem of a flower between her fingers.

 

“Why’s that?” he asked softly and she worked to weave the flower into the crown she’d spent the last few minutes constructing.

 

“When I was first here, I thought I lost this,” she said softly and his heart twisted, remembering the dark days where she’d been so still and silent. And yet here she sat before him, smiling and rosy cheeked. The picture of innocence. Of beauty. “The ability to grow.”

 

“It seems it’s a part of you,” he told her softly and she smiled, a bit of pink rising up her neck, before looking back down at her crown.

 

“I’ve always been able to do this, as long as I can remember.” tiny, quick fingers that plucked the flowers, spun, and wove, again and again. “Grow things. When I was younger, my mother would tell me that I didn’t need to worry about anything, that she’d do everything for me. But this I could do on my own. Grow grass, then flowers, then trees. Then anything I wanted. It would just…. Bloom.”

 

Just bloom. He stared at her, marveling. She was so perfect and lovely, with talents he could never imagine. He could see why her mother had plunged the entire world into chaos and hunger, withholding the harvest from everyone out of grief for her missing child. The world was going to starve and wither away, because Catelyn’s daughter was here, hidden from her.

 

He’d been summoned with the rest of the gods, to demand that whoever was holding Sansa free her and give her back to her mother so that Catelyn would let the world thrive again. He’d stood at the back, listening with guilt and remorse, as the other gods fought over who had her. None of them bothered to look at him. What would a girl like that being doing in the underworld?

 

But she was here. And he was the one holding her, not against her will, be certainly against her mother’s. The world was suffering. If he let it continue, he’d have more souls and work to do. Catelyn would kill them all. And he couldn’t let that happen. But it meant losing her.

 

“You’re something special,” he remarked, his heart breaking and she smiled at him.

 

“I didn’t think it was special. Not when I’d done it my whole life. But then I got older and I forced myself to do more and more and more, because the more I did it, the more it seemed like I was doing something more than my mother. I mean, I was helping her. But it felt like my own,” she confessed, then searched his face for understanding. And he did understand - he remembered her. He remembered this, the girl who looked to the sky and wondered what else was out there. What else she could see.

 

“You needed your own space to bloom,” he found himself explaining. He’d had reasons for taking her, reasons beyond her beauty and grace and lovely smile. Because he’d seen a spark in her, the kind that spoke of an untamable spirit, now held back. He’d wanted to free her. He’d wanted to know her.

 

And now he loved her.

 

And he had to give her back.

 

“I found it here, didn’t I?” she gave him a cheeky wink and gestured to her flowers. She’d made them all different colors, upon his request, but was only picking the yellow blossoms.

 

“Do you miss it?” he asked her carefully and she looked up at him.

 

“Miss what?”

 

“The meadow.” it hurt to say the words, to think the thoughts, but how was he any better than her mother if he kept her trapped here, in the darkness? How could he claim to free her, if only to lock her away in yet another cage? He had to be fair. He had to give her the choice.

 

“I….” she started, then stopped, looking down at the flowers, then back at him, then back to her crown. Her hands trembled when she picked the next flower. “Sometimes I do. Sometimes I…. Wish.”

 

“Wish what?” he felt like ice was creeping over his heart, encasing it, freezing him and making him brittle. How much could he take before he shattered?

 

“I wish I could go back. To see.” she looked up at him, big blue eyes pleading. “Not because I want to leave here! Not because I want to leave…. You. But just to see.”

 

“To see,” he echoed, thinking of the barren wasteland he’d seen since Catelyn was refusing to do her duties. She had stripped the world of life, of it’s fruitfulness, and let everything wither away. The meadow Sansa loved so much was ash and dust because of her absence and he couldn’t tell her anything. Because that would force him to admit that he knew and was keeping her despite it all.

 

So he said nothing.

 

“But she’d never let me come back.” Sansa was still talking, apparently unaware that he’d lapsed into his own thoughts. With great effort, he drug himself to the present. To her. “I’d never leave again, I’d never have any freedom. And that feels like too heavy a trade to make. To ask. She’s my mother. I love her. I love her beyond belief but I…. I love here too. I love having a place of my own. Thoughts of my own. A life, of my own. And how can I weigh one against the other?”

 

“You shouldn’t have to.” his words were choked, trying to get around the fear in his heart. “You shouldn’t have to choose.”

 

“I wish I didn’t.” she sighed and then rested her head on his knee. He held still, wanting to savor this. This moment, this connection. Any part of her. Any little thing, when he knew that so soon it was going to have to end. When he would have to give her up, release the beautiful little songbird back into the world, away from him. Away, forever. He almost couldn’t bear it.

 

“Sansa….” his words trailed off and she smiled up at him, eyes crinkling in the corners like it was going to hide away the tears that had gathered.

 

“We are our choices,” she whispered and then finished her crown, finished weaving it together. She held it up, bright and gay and beautiful. Just like her.

 

“The Queen of the Underworld,” he declared her.

 

“Just like that?” she teased, her mouth opening to say something more, but she never got the chance. He bent down, so that they were level, and tangled his hands in her hair. He drew her close to him and kissed her, kissed her as the last little bit of control he had left him.

 

He had to know, just once, before she was gone. What did she taste like? What did her kisses do to him? How did it feel, to have her in his arms, the one thing in the world that he would willingly die for to protect? If he was going to burn, he might as well burn with the memory of her lips on his, the feeling of her little sighs against him, the silkiness of her hair wound around his fingers.

 

She was kissing him back, to his delight. She was kissing him, her fingers grazing the twisted flesh of his scar. He could almost feel the fluttering of her heart, matched by the thundering of his own. She was kissing him back, hungrily, in a way that he had only ever dreamed and he felt like he was floating away, away from this life, into a state of unimaginable bliss.

 

He still had to give her back. He knew this, a weight heavy in his heart. But he could forget it, when she was in his arms. So he kissed her again and again and again, covering her face with them, then her neck and her hands and every inch of skin that he could reach, silently telling her that she was his queen, always.

 

It was a promise, a hope, a dream.

Chapter Text

The world around her was brown. She stared at it with dead eyes and a heartless chest. Nothing around or in her encouraged her to rise and tend to the earth, to bring it back to life. All that she was anymore was pain, constantly weaving through her very being and growing tighter and tighter until she felt like she was going to close her eyes and never wake again.

 

Sansa. Only Sansa.

 

Her daughter. Her light, her sunshine, her world.

 

Every moment without her felt like a lifetime. Where was she? Was she safe? Was she fed? Was she warm, and clothed, and treated well? Who had taken her? For what purpose? To hurt her? Why? Where? How?

 

Why?

 

Her mind turned these questions, over and over and over, all day. Nothing else mattered whatsoever, except for Sansa. The world was dying around her, unattended, but she couldn’t go out into it without her daughter. Her beloved daughter,  who Catelyn had raised by her own hands. Nursed her at her own breast. Held her close when she slept. Comforted her, soothed her. Even when the nymphs tried to brush Sansa’s sheet of hair, she’d sent them away to do it herself. She did everything for her.

 

And now she was gone and Catelyn had searched the earth over for her, but Sansa was gone. The other gods had came to her, begging. To bring life back, to watch over the harvest, to help provide the humans with nourishment. But what did the world matter, without her daughter? What did anything matter, when she couldn’t find the only thing that she cared for?

 

They could all hang, as far as she was concerned.

 

She turned her head when there was a knock on the door. She didn’t want to get up and see someone else demanding that she come out. She wouldn’t, not anymore. But she needn’t have worried; the door swung open and a large figure stepped into the dim light that came through the shuttered windows. She looked in surprise, unsure what to make of his presence.

 

“Sandor.” her voice was rusty from disuse and she coughed a few times.

 

“Catelyn.” he moved over to where she lay, sitting down across from her. She watched him, wondering if he was coming to take her away. It wasn’t his job, to gather dead souls, just to guide them. But perhaps he was here for a different reason. She just couldn’t think of any other reason. “We need to talk.”

 

“I won’t,” she rasped harshly. Why did they send him to make this plea? Why did he care, if only because it would save him work?

 

“It’s not about the harvest.” he looked pitying and she hated him for it, but she couldn’t blame him. She was a pitiful old woman now, a crone, a husk of herself. “It’s about Sansa.”

 

“Sansa?” a flare of hope went up, warming her slightly. It gave her the strength to sit up. Then a horrible thought occurred to her - was she dead and had he received her soul? Did she not know that her own daughter was dead? Surely she would have felt something, anything at all? She sank back, feeling like she shattering into a hundred pieces.

 

“She’s alright,” Sandor said quickly and she blinked at him in confusion. How would he know? Why would he know? “She’s…. been with me. In the underworld.”

 

“Where?” his words were making less and less sense. Sansa, in the underworld?

 

“She has been in the underworld,” he repeated, “and she’s completely fine. But It’s time for her to come home. I wanted to tell you so that you could resume your duties.”

 

“She’s coming back?” she was lightheaded with relief. She could leap out of bed, she could dance. She could scream for joy. “My Sansa is alright, she’s coming home?”

 

“If she wants to,” he replied and she stopped dead, looking at him in bemusement.

 

“Why wouldn’t she want to?” that made the least amount of sense out of all of it - of course Sansa would come home to her. She was clearly trapped in the underworld; she wondered who had trapped her there and why it had taken Sandor so long to find her. Sansa would give everything to come home, that was clear.

 

“Sometimes a daughter needs freedom from her mother.” Sandor rose and Catelyn did as well. Her heart was beating so loudly she could hardly hear him, but it didn’t matter. She was going to get her daughter back.

 

To bring her home.

Chapter Text

Sandor’s entrance into her room was slow, careful. She was sitting on her bed, carefully studying and inspecting the flowers she’d pick from the fields, regrowing them and making variations. She looked up, surprised. He’d said he’d be gone for a bit and she hadn’t been expecting him back so soon. But here he was, standing and looking at her with the queerest expression on his face.

 

They hadn’t talked after the kisses in the meadow, but she hadn’t been worried until now. He’d walked back with her, their arms entangled even tighter than usually before he dropped her off in her rooms and promised to be right back. She knew he had work and she wanted some time to herself to process her feelings. The giddiness. The happiness. The fear. But all of that ebbed out of her now, as she tried to read the expression on his face and failed.

 

“Sandor?” she asked in worry, rising up. Was he regretting kissing her? Was he going to cast her out? Had they done something to break them? She was a few steps towards him when a second figure entered, one Sansa hardly had a second to register before she was racing for her, long hair flying.

 

“Sansa!”

 

“Mama?” Sansa caught her mother around the waist, nearly knocked off her feet by the force of Catelyn’s impact into her. She stared at her in astonishment and after a moment, she realized why her vision was blurry. She was crying, tears dripping down her face and into her mother’s hair. Catelyn was sobbing into her shoulder, hands tight on her shoulders like she was going to slip away.

 

Her mother was more frail than Sansa remembered. Certainly skinnier, with more grey streaking through her hair than Sansa had ever seen. It was almost as though she was made of paper or something else flimsy; one touch from Sansa might break her apart. Her face was lined and screwed up with tears, to the point that Sansa almost didn’t know who she was.

 

“I told her you were here,” Sandor said softly and Sansa blinked him into focus. His face was a careful blank mask but she’d learned to see past that now. To see him. To see that his eyes were tight with something like pain, that his mouth downturned with something ever so like sadness. And she felt it, in her heart, the same sadness and pain, like it was pinging back and forth between the two of them.

 

Her mother was talking, babbling more like, but she couldn’t pay much attention. All she could think of was Sandor and what they’d said. All that they’d left unsaid. And the hope that she wanted to grow, the same as the flowers. She patted her mother’s back but there was nothing her mother could say to take her attention off of Sandor. Off of the knowledge that was taking root, a deep settling in her bones.

 

It wasn’t fair to ask her to choose.

 

“We’re going home.” Catelyn was stroking her face, repeating those words over and over. “We’re going home, we’re going home, we’re going home.”

 

“Mama,” Sansa said carefully, disentangling her mother’s hands from her, bringing them in front of her. “Mama, listen. I’m alright. I’m fine. I’m fine.”

 

“It’s time to go home.” Catelyn patted her check, drying her eyes, but Sansa ignored her. She was looking at Sandor, searching his face for anything. A sign of anything, even the smallest thing. He just had to give it to her.

 

A tiny nod.

 

Do what you must. I will understand whatever you do, because I love you enough to let you go. You belong to the sunshine, little bird. And I belong to the darkness.

 

She looked at him, those blazing grey eyes. His face was stone, the same cold, hard slabs she ran her fingers over, careful with the sharp edges. She could reach out and feel it, feel his slight warmth. If her fingers trailed down over his lips, perhaps she could coax a smile from him, like she coaxed the flowers through the earth. She could, but she wouldn’t. She mustn’t.

 

“Sansa!” her mother’s tone was stern, nearly frantic. Sansa took one step backwards, away from him, almost as though she was going to follow her mother. Away from her love. Towards the earth, towards the sunlight. Towards….

 

But she kept her eyes on his face. He showed nothing. No emotion. But she never imagined he would. Not her Sandor, so stoic and grim. Serious and brooding. She knew what was said about him. But she didn’t see it. She never had, really. Not since he’d freed her. He wasn’t holding her captive. He never had.

 

She reached out, one thin, pale hand. He stared at her, the tiniest hint of confusion, until she summoned a seed that she’d slipped into her pocket one afternoon. She remembered his words. She remembered the lesson, the threat or the promise.

 

The pomegranate bloomed in her palm, ripe and luscious.

 

She split it, juice running down her hands.

 

She kept her eyes on Sandor’s, reaching to pick a kernel up.

 

She saw the surprise flash across his face, then the fear, then the joy. She bit down and the kernel burst in her mouth. It was a taste unlike anything she’d had before, but familiar at the same time. It tasted like him.

 

“Sansa!” her mother’s anguished yell was the only thing that could have distracted her attention from Sandor. She looked to her and saw Catelyn staring in horror at the pomegranate. She knew then. Good. It made this all the easier.

 

“He is my love,” Sansa told her mother quietly and Sandor’s lips twitched, only enough that she alone would have seen. “And I am his queen. You may take me home mother, but I will return. I will always return.”

 

It was her nature.

Chapter Text

The underworld was quiet. It was him and his spirits, his quill against the paper. He dragged a hand over his face roughly, pulling at the puckered skin. He was tired, to say the least. But he never slept well when he was by himself. For all that he enjoyed the silence, it grew wearisome after too long.

 

He was working too much, too hard. But humans had wars and they called upon their gods and then they died and none of their gods cared, except for him, gently guiding them onto where they belonged. He didn’t mind the work, especially not when it served as a distraction from the constant reminder that he was so tired, so lonely, so…. Sad.

 

Until a voice, musical and beyond brilliance, drifted around the corner.

 

“They say my husband is a cruel man.” the voice came into the room before she did and his stomach dropped out. Very carefully, to hide his shaking hands, he set aside the quill and looked up to watch her approach. Her eyes were glistening, blue and bright like the perfect first sky of springtime. “Hard to love. Hard to know.”

 

“And is he?” he watched as she walked to him, petals in her wake. She was wearing a gown of dusty pink, like a sunset flowing over her. Long hair, unbound, just the way he liked it. And she brought with her light and warmth like she always did, and the golden smell of the harvest of her pale skin. His most perfect goddess.

 

“He is hard and cruel, yes,” she whispered, her eyes on his mouth. He was starving, for her. For her kisses, her touch, her love. He’d craved it while she was back with her mother. “He steals girls from their mothers and locks them away for half the year. Selfish and bitter, they say about my husband.”

 

“And is he?” he idly spun his staff, trying not to show her just how badly he wanted to vault the desk and bring her into his arms so that he could kiss her until both of them didn’t have any breath left for talking and teasing. But this was all part of the joy, the buildup almost boiling over after so many weeks apart.

 

“They believe it so.” she was an arms length away, then less. He could still smell the rich scent of wheat on her skin and in her hair. Warmth radiated off her. He was freezing. He just needed her a little closer….

 

“And do you?” he could take it no longer and shot out any arm, pulling her into him. Greedy, hungry lips met his own with the same frantic need. It was like he’d gone months without air and she’d brought it with her. Sansa pulled him in, closer and closer, until she was so tangled up in him he wasn’t sure where she stopped and he began.

 

“I believe my husband is quiet and somber,” she whispered in his ear, when they pulled back to see each other. He never forgot her beauty, not when he’d spent weeks committing her every detail to memory, but she was always so much more in person than he could envision. “I believe he does his duty and treats the souls with the respect they earn. I believe he is fair and just, and not attention seeking like others. I believe he is kind, when he wants, and cruel when he must. I believe that he stole me away for my own freedom and gave me up willingly. I believe he loves me.”

 

“He loves you.” he had no reason to correct her other statements. They all rang true.

 

“I am home now, husband.” she kissed him again, a shade more urgent than she first had. They’d had a few reunions before this but it never got old, as she moved from loving to demanding. “I would like to be taken to bed.”

 

“My little bird.” he picked her up and left his scrolls on the table; they would keep and his queen had returned. “My bright, beautiful, little bird.”

 

“Home,” she whispered again, as he carried her through the caves that gleamed with their gems and lights. “Home, home, home….”

 

She had returned. And all was right again.