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The Thief and the Hound

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After Sandor stormed out, Sansa didn’t attempt sleeping. She paced in a circle crying for a while, then she changed into pajamas and curled in a ball on her bed where she may or may not have dozed. Finally, she got up and finished the stupid, cursed herringbone stitches on the tapestry, vowing never to sew anything again. So she was talented at it, so what? Nobody cared. Nobody would ever care. She couldn’t wait to bring the tapestry back to Professor Baratheon and convince him to burn it to ashes.

She checked her phone, knowing she wouldn’t hear from Sandor and checking obsessively anyway. Nope, nothing to do but delete the latest graphic text from her virtual stalker. After that, she turned to music as an outlet for her crappy emotions. By the time Theon dropped Arya home on his way to visit his sister, she’d been belting out lyrics at the top of her lungs for so long that her throat felt raw.

I know I left too much mess and destruction to come back again!
And I caused nothing but trouble, I understand if you can't talk to me again!
And if you live by the rules of it's over, then I'm sure that that makes sense!

“Seven hells, look at you,” Arya said. “You’re a raccoon. You told me if I didn’t wash off my makeup before I went to sleep, I’d get ginormous pimples.”

Sansa stuck out her tongue. “I have told you lots of idiotic things.”

“Well, yeah.” Arya turned down the music. “How was your police gala?”

“Uneventful,” she said.

“Really? So the text I got from Yara saying you’re both permanently banned from the Targaryen Arms?”

“Mmm, that sounds like a misunderstanding.”

Arya narrowed her eyes. “And your date with the Hound?”

“Don’t call him that.” Sansa remembered herself. “Also, never mention his name again.”

“Gods, doesn’t this just figure?” Arya muttered. “You’re not going to try to talk to me about him, are you?”

“About who?” she said mock-innocently, and pumped up the volume again.

Arya retreated to her bedroom. Sansa considered yelling after her to do her homework, but who listened to Sansa? Nobody with any self-respect, that was for sure. And she certainly wasn’t going to spill her guts about last night, not to Arya and not to anyone. Flashes of the evening kept coming back to her like shards of glass scraping against her eyes. Sandor helping her out of his truck, his hands encircling her waist. Sandor kissing her neck in the elevator, effortlessly holding her up against the wall. Sandor stripping off his shirt in the hallway, his gray eyes heavy with longing. If only she could delete the images from her memory somehow.

She found the box of chocolate-covered strawberries in the refrigerator. For a moment, her resolve weakened. The gold box with the beautiful pink bow was so pretty. But that was the point, wasn’t it? Everything Sandor had done had been so courtly on the surface. It was all a cover for the fact that he didn’t care what she thought. She yanked the ribbon off the box and stomped to the window. It took her a minute to open the storm window, and then cold wind whipped through the living room. She chucked the first strawberry into the parking lot below, where it bounced off somebody’s sports car. Oops, she’d perfect her aim on the next try.

She didn’t hear Arya over the music until her sister was at her elbow. “What are you doing? It’s windy as the top of the freaking Wall out there.”

“I’m throwing fruit,” Sansa explained.

Arya shrugged. “You got me there. Can I throw one?”

“No, I’m purging my consciousness of sentiment and romance.” Sansa tossed another strawberry. This one splatted on the sidewalk in front of their apartment. Darn it.

Arya heaved an exaggerated sigh. “Don’t you have a girlfriend you can talk to? Even that“ – and here Arya shuddered – “Margaery chick?”

“I have no friends at all. I’ve never had friends.” She pitched the next strawberry as hard as she could, but the wind picked up and smashed it into the side of the building.

Arya shut off the wireless speaker and sat on the counter between the kitchen and the living room. “What did he do, how bad was it, and what can I do for revenge?”

Sansa peered outside. “Can you throw a strawberry for me? I suck at this.”

Arya leaped off the counter and took the box from the windowsill. Sansa suddenly felt drained of the energy that had propelled her to sing her way around the apartment. She sank onto the loveseat. “It was mostly my fault anyway.”

Arya appeared to be testing the wind direction with an upturned finger. “This doesn’t surprise me.”

“Thanks a lot! I don’t know why I try to talk to you.”

“Me either. Hey, did you see how far that berry went? That was impressive, right? Had to be at least 50 yards. Let me try this again.”

Sansa slumped over and lied face down on the couch. Maybe she could cut off the flow of air into her lungs like this. She covered her head with her arms, trying to block the light. If only she could weave herself into a cocoon here and wait until she emerged as someone else. Butterfly Sansa, who would never withhold the truth from the bravest man she’d ever met.

A car alarm whooped in the parking lot, and Arya quickly slammed the window shut.

“Really, though, you should talk to someone. Just because I suck at it, you should still do it. Text Margaery.”

“I don’t want to.” The fabric of the cushion scraped against her cheek as she talked. “She’ll think I’m stupid.”

“Ugh, she’s dating Joffrey after she saw how he treated you. She’s obviously got you beat in the stupid race,” Arya said reassuringly. “In the meantime, if you want me to slash the Hound’s tires, just say the word.”

Sansa cracked open an eyelid. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Great.” Arya held up the empty chocolate box. “Right now, though, I have to get rid of some evidence. If someone knocks on the door, whatever you do, don’t answer it.”

If Arya thought she needed girl talk, she supposed she desperately needed girl talk. Thinking Margaery would probably ignore her text, she sent one anyway: “Heartbrokenly crushed after date last night, need moral support that is not Arya” with the sad panda emoji. Then she texted Professor Baratheon and told him she’d drop the tapestry off on her way home from work Monday, and Detective Clegane knew all about it so there was no longer a point to avoiding him.

She missed Lady more than ever. She really needed dog cuddles. Instead, she piled up all the throw pillows she could find on her bed to make a fortress, climbed in, and forced herself to take an angry nap. Surprisingly, that worked, and she fell asleep without realizing it until her phone buzzed relentlessly, waking her.

She rubbed bleary sleep out of her eyes and read her phone. It was almost 9 at night, and Margaery was texting her from the front door: “Sansa”; “Sansa, I’m here, let me in”; “I have bakery cookies”; “Let me in. I’ve been knocking for like five minutes”; “Your neighbor is going to steal the cookies”.

That last text was highly motivational. Sansa breached the wall of pillows and met Margaery at the door to let her in. Margaery wore casual jeans, a rose-colored hoodie, and an expression of sympathy, and she grabbed Sansa into an embrace. It was a surprise, but a welcome one.

Arya flew out of the kitchen. “I told you not to answer the door.”

Margaery let go of Sansa and held up a white bakery box. “I brought fresh cookies.”

“I’ll make chamomile tea,” Sansa said. Maybe Arya had been right. Maybe Sansa could forget about The Detective Whose Name Would Not Be Mentioned and have a lovely evening with a girlfriend.

“Sorry to come by so late.” Margaery put the cookies on the coffee table. “Oh, someone left a note on your door.”

“They have the wrong apartment,” Arya said. “We would never throw anything out the window.”

Margaery handed Sansa a plain envelope without marking. Figuring it would be her job, not Arya’s, to make nice with whoever had a complaint about flying fruit, she opened it and pulled out a scrap of paper. She recognized Sandor’s neat handwriting instantly.

Her hair is my fire
Her eyes are my sky

Her brain stuttered to a stop. Broken, she was irretrievably broken into her individual atoms, and she could never be put back together.

“Noooooooo,” she wailed, her brain starting up again. How could this be happening? Why was he writing her poetry? How had she lost her chance with someone who wrote love poetry? At times like this, she believed her father was right about the old gods. How else could the universe be so inexplicably cruel?

Margaery peered over her shoulder, and Arya tried to grab the poem from her hands.

“Don’t touch this,” she hissed. “This is the most significant thing I’ve ever received in my life.”

“Sansa, this is so romantic,” Margaery said, her eyes shining.

“Ugh, she’s thriving on the drama,” Arya said. “Let me know when we get to destroy it.”

“Never!” She didn’t know why she’d thought Margaery, or anyone, could help her. She was beyond help. She would pine away forever. She curled into a ball on the loveseat, careful not to wrinkle her poem. The poem written for her. “I’ll keep this until I’m a hundred years old.”

“So what happened last night?” Margaery asked.

Sansa couldn’t figure out where to begin. “Everything. Everything that could possibly happen.”

“The detective who arrested her for stealing the tapestry took her to some fancy dress dinner,” Arya said, which Sansa thought was not at all a proper summary of events.

“The mysterious detective!” Margaery clasped her hands together. “I knew he’d fix everything. He seemed quite taken with Sansa. Oh, but I didn’t realize he was such a romantic.”

“He is. He’s the most romantic man in the world.” Sansa’s throat was tight again, as if she could possibly have any more tears left to shed. “Also, nothing is fixed and the stupid tapestry ruined my life. Utterly. Sandor didn’t think I actually stole it, but now he knows I did, and he hates me for not telling him the truth. But he wouldn’t listen when I tried to explain.”

“He wouldn’t write an ode to your beauty if he hated you,” Margaery said.

Was that what Sandor had written? She excused herself to put the poem in her room. She’d never forgive herself if she got cookie crumbs on it. She placed it carefully in the drawer of her bedside table, where she could reach it when she first woke up every morning, and every night before she fell asleep. When she returned to the living room, Margaery and Arya were deep in conversation.

“Obviously, the police need to drop the charges,” Margaery said.

Arya talked with her mouth full of cookie. “Pfft, not likely while your boyfriend insists that Sansa’s public enemy number one.”

“You leave that to me,” Margaery said. “I know exactly how to get him to ask his Uncle Jaime to drop the charges. Highgarden Public Relations is going to insist that Sansa’s tapestry is bad publicity.”

Arya raised an eyebrow skeptically. “Isn’t all publicity good publicity?”

“Not if people think Joffrey is carrying out a vendetta against an old girlfriend. That’s very, ahh, let’s call it unwoke. As Joffrey’s agent, I’m in charge of pushing away his vindictive side.”

“Have you tried using a sledgehammer?” Arya laughed. “C’mon, San, I know you thought that was funny.”

“I have no sense of humor,” Sansa said. “I am distraught.”

Margaery pouted. “Of course you are, poor thing. You’ve been through an ordeal. Have a cookie. I bought them just for you.”

The cookie tasted like dust and ashes. “There has to be a way to make things right with Sandor,” she said.

“Are you sure he’s worth it?” Arya asked. “You said he wouldn’t listen to you.”

“But then he wrote me a love poem.” She was not going to cry again. Newborns didn’t cry this much. “He had good reason to be angry with me last night. I’m a sneaky, no good, thieving liar.”

“We need to remove your legal problems from the equation,” Margaery said, and Arya agreed. Which made sense. Even if she could never find love again, it would be nice not to have to go to court and wonder the whole time if Sandor was going to turn up.

Margaery’s face lit up. “I have a brilliant idea.”

“Oh, another one?” Sansa hugged her stomach.

“You and your brother’s ideas kind of started this mess in the first place,” Arya said.

“You’ll thank me at your sister’s wedding. But first, let’s get Jaime Lannister to call off the hounds.”

“Don’t call him that,” Sansa said.

“Sorry, poor word choice. Anyway, Joffrey is DJing a ladies’ night event at a new nightclub on Thursday. Why don’t you and Arya come along? I’ll use the opportunity to make Joffrey apologize to you.”

Sansa couldn’t believe it. Arya had been right. For all her charisma, Margaery could actually be quite stupid. “Marge, honey, Joff’s never going to apologize. That’s … that’s just not going to happen.”

Arya scowled. “And I am not going to one of your awful Instagram hashtag parties. I hate his music.”

“I can make sure you and your friends aren’t proofed to buy drinks.”

“I will totally be there,” Arya said. “What do you think, San?”

“Come on, Sansabelle.” Margaery rubbed her shoulders. “What have you got to lose? Let’s give it a shot. I’ll make it so Joff will feel like the magnanimous ruler saving the damsel in distress.”

This was a terrible plan. She knew better than to depend on Joffrey to bail her out of trouble. But right now, even a bad plan seemed superior to no plan. If she wanted to get Sandor back, she couldn’t be a suspect in a crime he was investigating. Maybe once he realized where the tapestry came from and why it wasn’t such a big deal for her to have it, and that Joffrey and his mother had totally overblown the situation, maybe then he’d be willing to listen to her. Because he thought her hair was his fire. A gorgeous sentiment like that should not be left to die on the vine, no matter what Sansa had to do to keep it alive.

“Umm, I suppose so,” she said.

“Yay!” Margaery hugged her.

Sansa didn’t have the heart to hug back very enthusiastically. But that was fine. Margaery knew she was distraught. And, as usual, despite her very reasonable objections, the plan was going forward no matter what Sansa tried to say. Some things never changed.

 

Sandor got through Saturday night somehow. It was all a blur after leaving Sansa’s apartment. He started drinking as soon as he got home, passing out on the couch with Stranger fighting him for space. He woke up around noon when Stranger won and shoved him to the floor.

Then, like a wounded animal, he retreated to his childhood den. He took his bike out to the empty, overgrown lot where, once upon a time, before fire washed it clean, there had stood a trailer filled with mongrel dogs and a scared, lonely boy. He stared at the weeds and tried to focus on the present and shut off his thoughts. Unsuccessfully.

When Sansa was kissing him so sweetly in her apartment, he’d thought it could be the beginning of something really good. It had been years since he’d had such a strong feeling of hope. Of course he’d ruined it. Hope never led to anything but grief, and grief was easier, more familiar. He was used to grief. Hope was too sharp, too dangerous. Maybe this misadventure would finally kill off the romantic part of his brain that couldn’t do anything now but cringe in misery. Good, his brain should be feeling pain. It deserved pain.

But that part of his brain spoke up in self-defense, to complain that the scared, lonely boy who’d survived this shithole had grown into a scared, lonely man. That was his cue to ride back to town and find a goddamn liquor store and shut his brain the fuck up already.

He woke up on the living room floor again, like Groundhog Day, except he was even more incredibly fucking hungover than the previous day. The inside of his skull was black scribbles; the outside of his skull was being squeezed by a vice. There wasn’t enough toothpaste in the entire damn world. He had no memory of the night before, and it was almost time for his Monday shift to begin.

In the shower, he remembered taking an Uber home from the bar near the police station. It was a partial image of slippery, unfamiliar car upholstery, the smell of takeout fries, and the sound of him barking out directions. He couldn’t remember—

Oh, shit. He didn’t make a stop at Sansa’s, did he?

It all flooded back to him, every excruciating detail. The fucking poem. The fucking poem! What the hell had he been thinking? Why had he given her those words? They were his truth, but that was no fucking excuse. She was a liar, right? And what had Jaime Lannister said? She was using him. Right. She had to be. All those soft, fond kisses and hand holding, the mischievous laughter that made her eyes glitter when she was teasing him, it was all too good to be true.

What was he going to do now? He knew where he should be. He should be standing on the edge of a cliff with his knees in the dirt screaming at the clouded sky. Instead, he was dragging his sorry ass into the station with an ice pick taking apart his brain. Because the gods loved him so much, he was called into Selmy’s office as soon as he arrived, along with that anal parasite Hunt.

“Commissioner Lannister has expressed his displeasure with the events of the police gala,” Captain Selmy said. “He feels that your conduct was an embarrassment to the force.”

Sandor shrugged. His conduct was usually fucking with someone’s happiness. Jaime Lannister was as good a target as anyone else.

“I’m very sorry, Captain.” Hunt was such an ass kisser. “I’m willing to apologize to the commissioner, if you think that’s the best way to proceed.”

“He’s more concerned that you’ve learned a lesson from this,” Selmy said.

“Absolutely,” Hunt said. His voice was on a dog whistle frequency. Selmy didn’t seem bothered, but it split Sandor’s skull open and flayed it bare. “The commissioner can count on me to show unity with my fellow officers.”

Selmy nodded at Sandor. “You learn a lesson, Clegane?”

“Yeah. Jaime Lannister’s a dick.”

Selmy targeted him with a look that could melt glass. Hunt snickered under his breath but put on a phony, slack-jawed, shocked expression.

“What?” Sandor said. “Lannister was right there with us. He was even giving Tarth a hard time.” His hands shook, so he curled them into fists. He hadn’t been on a drinking binge like that for a long time, and now he remembered why.

Selmy ordered Hunt to get back to work and closed his office door behind him. This wasn’t going to be ideal. Whatever. Get it fucking over with so he could find coffee and some electrolytes.

“I sympathize with your position,” Selmy said.

That was unexpected. “My Jaime Lannister is a dick position?”

“No!” Selmy studied his face, eyes sharp and probing. “Are you feeling alright?”

“Yeah, fine.” He’d murder someone in cold blood for half a cup of water.

“I meant I sympathize with your position at the gala,” Selmy said. “I know that wasn’t entirely the fault of you or your girlfriend—”

“She’s not my girlfriend.” The edges of his vision got gray and fluttery.

Selmy sighed. “You know what? Forget I said anything, Clegane. You’re going to have to take this one on the chin.”

Yeah, suck it up, buttercup. Some things never changed.

“Hand over your files on the direwolf tapestry case to Dondarrion,” Selmy said.

“What case? There’s no case.”

“You have files, don’t you?” It was a rhetorical question. “Give ‘em to Dondarrion.”

Selmy dismissed him, and Sandor went out to the bullpen muttering to himself about there being no case. But there was, and he knew it. Sansa had stolen that tapestry, and she’d had it with her while he fingerprinted her, right under his goddamn nose. He didn’t even care whether she’d stolen it from the Baratheons. She could’ve told him the truth. She hadn’t trusted him. It stung a hell of a lot more than it should have. It felt like a deadweight on his chest.

An hour or so later, coffee and water hadn’t helped his headache in the slightest fucking bit. He was struggling to stay awake while he filled out forms regarding petty shoplifters – how, how did crap like this end up on his desk? – when his phone rang. Unbelievably, it was a return call from Professor Renly Baratheon. And Sandor had no fucking intention of passing it to Dondarrion, not until after he vented on this pretty rich boy.

“Detective Clegane?” Baratheon said in a nasal, overeducated, Eastern Westeros accent. “You have some questions about the reproduction direwolf tapestry?”

He wasn’t in the mood for small talk. “Do you have it?”

“No, it’s with the artist.”

“The artist?” Suddenly, it was incredibly hard to breathe. The deadweight on his chest was sinking into his lungs.

“Yes, the artist.” If he wasn’t mistaken, Baratheon sounded pissed off. “Sansa Stark. The tapestry was her creation. She spent a year and a half designing it, researching authentic period materials, and doing the work. It’s an amazing accomplishment. One of my favorite student pieces, and I’m eager to get it back on display tomorrow after Ms. Stark finishes a repair for the university.”

Oh, fuck no. He had screwed this up so badly. Why the fuck hadn’t Baratheon told him this weeks ago?

“Do you know why it was at Storm’s End?” he heard himself ask. How was he still talking when he couldn’t breathe?

“Ms. Stark went out on a limb to get the tapestry displayed there. I can’t remember why, but it was probably some charitable fundraiser. Ms. Stark has a generous spirit.”

Fuck. “So why did Cersei Baratheon report it stolen?”

“I don’t know, maybe because the police are so quick to do the Lannister’s bidding.”

Sandor didn’t say anything to that, just let it burrow into his head like a maggot.

Baratheon cleared his throat. “Yes, well, I’m sure the artist could’ve approached Cersei reasonably and dealt with her in a completely sane, logical manner about returning it.”

After laying on the sarcasm that thick, Baratheon still had the nerve to laugh at him as he hung up the call.

His head was throbbing behind each eye socket. If he didn’t get some air, he was going to lose the use of his left eye entirely. He stumbled out to the concrete steps in front of the station and stared at the sky. The light pollution made it hard to see the stars and impossible to connect them into constellations. Fucking city, it destroyed everything.

He’d made this into a goddamn trainwreck of a disaster. Of course it was Sansa’s tapestry. Of course it was. She should’ve just told him she’d made it, spent a blessed year and half on it. Although he probably would’ve found another way to fuck things up. The best thing he could do now was put her out of his mind entirely, forever. Find a way to forget everything he’d ever said to her that made her smile, every time her pretty blue eyes had wandered over his body, every touch, every kiss. And forget it all quick before he fell deeper in—

No, he wasn’t going to think that word. There was no alternative dimension where he and Sansa got married and lived happily ever after. That only happened in songs and stories. It definitely wouldn’t happen to a guy like him.