One Year Later
“Are you nervous?”
Sandor nodded. He leaned back in his deck chair and took a long drink of iced tea. He wasn’t drinking as much these days. It wasn’t fair to Sansa and Sam wasn’t much of a drinker anyway. Besides, Sandor wanted to keep in shape. Four months from now, he’d need all the extra energy he could get.
“I’m sure you’ll be fine. Mr. Stark is a really nice fellow. And Miss Tully … I mean … Mrs. Stark is a nice lady as well.” There was a long pause. “If you need to get away from the women for awhile, you can always come into town and hide out in the bakery.”
“Thanks, Sam. I appreciate that.”
Sam got up and stretched. “I should be getting back. Gilly will be wondering where I’ve got off to.” He started down the steps of the porch, then turned back to Sandor. “I’ll bring the cake by tomorrow evening, then?”
Sandor nodded and stood to see off his friend. It still gave Sandor a twinge in his gut when it occurred to him that he had people in his life that he could refer to as friends. He’d never had that before he met Sansa.
Halfway to his car Sam turned.
“Thanks for not holding it against me.”
Sam waved away his concern. “I’d have probably done the same if it was me and Gilly out here and we started getting intruders like that. You two are not the only ones it happened to. So many people were fleeing the city …” Sam shook his head. They didn’t need to discuss it. It had been all over the news. Sam would never know the whole truth about their “intruders,” but he didn’t need to. It was over and done with.
He gave Sam a wave as he rolled down the driveway and out of view. Sandor sat for a little while longer, but it was almost noon, and he still had a trip to make to Burlington. Just as he was getting out of his chair again, Sansa came out to join him.
“How was your nap?” he asked. Sansa stretched and yawned.
“Are you going to Burlington?”
“Yes,” Sandor assured her. “And don’t worry, I’ve got your list.”
“And you finished painting the guest house? I want to make sure it’s aired out by tomorrow. I don’t want any paint fumes –”
“Okay, okay,” Sansa said flapping a hand at him. She turned and looked across the yard and admired Sandor’s handiwork. The guest house was a three bedroom bungalow with a small kitchen and one bathroom. It was the perfect size for family to visit when they came. When no family was visiting, Sandor and Sansa had the option of renting it out as a cottage during the summer.
After the health unit and environmental people had come and tested the soil, Sansa and Sandor got the all clear. Under normal circumstances, investigations might have taken longer, but there had been so many C-ROD victims, so many lost souls to be disposed of, that the authorities asked only for verification of who the people were and why they’d come to the property. In discussing Joffrey, Sansa and Sandor told the truth – a jealous ex-boyfriend who’d been stalking Sansa had showed up and died (they didn’t mention exactly how). When it came to Gregor, they stretched the truth a little more – Sandor’s older brother who he’d long thought dead had somehow tracked him down and shown up and also died of C-ROD.
Once the cursory investigations were complete, Sansa and Sandor poured the foundation over the tainted ground. Sandor had built most of the guest house himself over the course of the pandemic.
“Are you sure you don’t want to wait until after lunch?” Sansa asked. Burlington was only forty minutes away and there really wasn’t much to pick up. Sandor had been waiting for the arrival of the new furniture Sansa had ordered for the guest bedroom.
“I want to go early. There’s something else I need to take care of while I’m there,” he explained mysteriously.
Sansa wrung her hands. Sandor was taking this all in stride, but it wasn’t just him that was taking a risk. She knew that her father was a fair man, and he’d see that there was now more at stake than whether or not Sandor was guilty of the crimes he’d perpetrated. Hopefully, Ned Stark would also be able to see that Sandor was a changed man, that he was doing all he could to make up for his transgressions.
Sandor was the first to volunteer to help anyone in the community who needed it. He helped out with charities and non-profits whenever he could. He was getting registered to help with a boy’s program in the city – a program for troubled youth who were going through the same things he’d experienced at that age.
“Are you ready for this?” Sansa asked. Worry creased her forehead.
Sandor smiled. He was doing a lot of that lately. “It’s kind of late to change our minds now,” he admitted. He put his arm around Sansa, kissed her, and gently stroked her belly. “Your parents want to meet the father of their grandson. Let’s just hope your dad decides not to make you a single mother.”
“That’s not funny, Sandor. And it’s going to be a girl.”
It was almost 4:30 by the time Sandor got back from Burlington. He backed up the older pickup truck next to the newer one, close to the edge of the front porch to make it easier to unload. Sansa came out to meet him.
“So what else did you get?” she asked expecting some sort of surprise.
“Just the furniture.” Sandor began to slide a large box out of the back of the truck and onto the deck.
“Did you remember the bumper pads?”
Sandor gave her a look. “Aye, I remembered the bumper pads. And I bought sheets. And I found a mobile I thought you might like.”
“Then what was the mysterious errand you had to take care of?”
Sandor stopped what he was doing and planted his fists on his hips. “Sansa, I’ve made a lot of changes and I’m doing a lot of things differently.”
Sansa nodded. She was aware of just how much Sandor was enjoying everything new he’d been doing with his life. He was living his life to … to the goodest. Sansa knew that “goodest” wasn’t really a word, but if it was, it was the perfect word to describe what motivated Sandor.
“There is something that’s been bothering me for a long time and I know it’s just symbolic but … It was just something I had to do.”
“Okay ...” Sansa wasn’t sure if she was supposed to be concerned, worried, or proud of whatever it was he’d done. Sandor sat on the edge of the porch near where Sansa was standing, and swung his feet over the edge. He tugged the bottom hem of his shirt up and over his head.
Sansa saw that his tattoo was covered with a large gauze square taped to his skin.
“Did you have it removed?” Sansa asked. Sandor shook his head. He reached across with his left hand and tried to pick at the edge of the tape but he didn’t have enough of a fingernail to get hold of it. Sansa brushed his hand out of the way and peeled back the bandage.
The dogs were untouched, but in a semi-circle around them was fresh ink lettering. It was raised and red and looked irritated.
Vita, Honos, Amor
“What does it mean?” Sansa asked.
Sandor stood, turned, and hugged Sansa tightly. He whispered in her ear. “Life, Honor, Love.”
“No more Fide, Officium, Obsequium?” Sansa asked as her eyes began to mist. She leaned back to look into Sandor’s face. He shook his head slowly. He couldn’t speak. Sandor was afraid that if he opened his mouth, he would completely lose it, so instead he just smiled and let the tears drip down his face.
“Everything’s going to be fine, Sandor. I promise.” Sansa helped Sandor bring the new furniture in and they began to put it together.
Catelyn and Arya sat on the deck drinking margaritas. They didn’t want to drink if Sansa couldn’t join them, but she’d insisted. Sansa wanted them to enjoy themselves as much as possible. A little bribery never hurt and she wanted everyone on her and Sandor's side.
The Starks were amazed at the home Sansa had made for herself. The property was stunning and they were intoxicated by the fresh clean air, silence, and tranquility. Catelyn and Arya were instantly smitten with the gentleman who’d come into Sansa’s house as a border and ended up staying. It wasn’t difficult to see just how much in love they were.
If Ned gave Sandor too much trouble, the Stark women were ready to band together in protest and even rebellion if it came to that. Even Gendry immediately liked Sandor and was starting to side with him. But there was still a lot of talking to do, a lot of details to figure out.
Sansa wandered down the dock to where the three men were loading the boat with fishing gear. Gendry was smiling brightly, enthusiastically looking forward to fishing with the boys. Sandor and her father looked mildly uncomfortable. Sansa could see that tensions were easing up … slowly, but there was some notable progress. She also noted that Gendry was strategically positioned between the two other men.
The three men had climbed in the boat and were ready to push off when Sansa approached. They all looked up at her expectantly.
Sansa stuck her hand out and gestured with her fingers. “Hand it over,” she stated firmly. Ned was the first to blink. He sighed deeply. He unzipped his jacket, reached inside, unholstered his pistol and handed it to Sansa. As an FBI agent, he was required to be armed at all times, but Sansa didn’t want to take any chances or leave him with any temptations.
Sansa checked the safety and made sure the chamber was empty. She waited, looking at the three men. When none of them moved, Sansa stuck her hand out and gestured again.
“Come on, you, too.”
Sandor got a perturbed look on his face as he unzipped his jacket and unarmed himself. Sandor kept his gun on him only because during the last months of the pandemic and in the days since, there had been a few “incidents” on the property. The economy was still in the shitter and there were a lot of people who were afraid to go back to the cities they’d fled during the pandemic.
Sansa raised her eyebrows at Gendry. He shook his head and raised his hands in surrender. “Don’t look at me. I work at Chrysler.”
Sansa gestured between Sandor and her father. “I don’t want a repeat of the Godfather scene with Fredo, got it?”
Ned and Sandor eyed each other grudgingly and nodded.
“Play nice, boys,” Sansa said as she walked away with a Ruger in one hand and a Sig Sauer in the other. She couldn’t help but grin. She realized just how much Sandor and her father were alike. They were either going to kill each other or they would end up being best friends. Sansa was betting on friends, and hoped she was right.
In the end, Ned Stark decided in favor of Sandor. He came to the conclusion that Sandor was, in fact, a good man and that he’d been sucked in by the Lannisters in much the same way as Sansa had. In a show of solidarity, Sansa had revealed everything about her sordid past relationships to her father, including how the Lannisters had covered up – via Sandor – the death of Ramsay Bolton.
Ned Stark decided to treat Sandor as an anonymous informant. According to the law, anonymous informants had to remain just that – anonymous. As long as they stayed in the quiet and sleepy town of North Burlow and so long as Sandor kept a relatively low profile, Sansa and Sandor could live happily and freely. Sandor was more than happy to stay out of the limelight and live a quiet, drama-free life.
The entire Stark clan finally met Sandor when they all came out for a visit five months later. All the brothers thoroughly approved of Sandor and made sure to take him out and celebrate the birth of the very first Stark grandchild.
Sansa gave birth to a girl. She agreed wholeheartedly when Sandor asked if they could name her Eleanor.
Sandor had forgotten much of his childhood, but as his life changed for the better, some of the long forgotten moments, before his childhood trauma, had filtered back to him. His mother, Eleanor, had died when he was very young. He barely remembered her, but he did remember that she had loved him. Sandor suspected that the reason he’d turned out to be a decent and good human being in the long run, was because of the small quantity of affection he’d experienced before she’d died.
Sansa smiled up at Sandor as he cradled their tiny, delicate daughter in his arms. The cycle had been broken and the Clegane name would mean something good for a change. Sandor had a large family who loved him. He had freed himself from his past. He lived his life only for good.
None of it would have been possible if Sansa hadn’t chosen him that day in the community center.
“Life, honor, love,” he whispered as he placed Eleanor back in her mother’s arms.
“Vita, Honos, Amor,” Sansa said back. It was the new family motto that they would live by for the rest of their lives.