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The Saltwater Maid

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When the Hound ran from the battle of Blackwater, he never thought he’d end up on the ocean afterwards. But he was a deserter. He had no place in the world, and he still had a pair of strong arms to work with. He’d been on a ship before, although he knew little of what to do, so when he was offered a place on a cargo ship he took it. He quickly learned what was expected of him.

Life out at sea was different, though. He was surrounded by men he did not like, and worked for a man he did not like, but that was something he was used to. No, he found the sea was a lonelier place than the Red Keep at night. It lacked the comforts that he did not know were comforts.

Sandor found himself missing the hum of conversation behind the walls. He missed the absent barks of dogs, whinnying of horses, chirping of birds. He missed things he felt terrible for missing. He missed having hot meals at night and fresh bread in the morning. Living as a sailor made him realize that he had never lived as a peasant. He had been a favorite of the richest bastards in Westeros, and so long as he swung his sword where they pointed he did not need for anything.

Still, their coin could not restore his face or his soul. Their coin could not make him trust again, nor could it stop even the most well trained whores from curling their lips in disgust at him. Their coin kept good steel at his side, good armor at his back, and good wine in his belly.

He got used to sleeping on a straw bed. He got used to drinking piss-flavored ale. He got used to stale and undercooked bread and he got used to eating cold dry fish for every meal.

It was better than death. It was better than fire.

He wasn’t sure how long he had been at sea. It had been a long time. He stank of saltwater and felt sand on his skin all of the time. He found himself yearning for fresh fruit like he had once yearned for a cup of good wine.

He was below deck when he first heard it. It sounded like giggling. Like a woman giggling. But the Captain did not allow women on the ship, said it was ill luck. It had been a long time since Sandor had seen a woman, and even longer since he had touched one, so he figured that was finally getting to his head. He turned over on his filthy straw mattress. It was too small for him. It was always damp and he did not know why, but after spending so many nights sleeping on it, the thing no longer bothered him.

He heard the giggling again. He stood and searched belowdecks for any stowaways, but found none. He kept hearing it, but the sound was coming from the far wall of the ship. There was nothing behind that but open ocean. He entertained the thought that it might be some wench who died on the ship, come back to haunt him and the rest of the crew with the sound of her laughter. He shook his head and laid back down, ignoring the noise until he fell asleep.

 

He found himself on the deck the next day. He found he liked the smell of the salt in the air, and the gentle lapping of the waves against the sides of the boat was comforting. He was enjoying the time while he could, for soon he would have more work to do, when he heard a loud splash. Fearing someone, or worse, something, he had fallen overboard he quickly looked over the side to see. 

Something glimmered in the water, and disappeared. Confused, he kept looking. There was another flash of it, some silver-blue, followed by a dark red. Sandor shook his head. It must’ve been some fish eating some other fish. He decided not to tell the others, they would only fear for sea monsters or other ridiculous fairytale creatures.

 

 

That night, he woke out of a dead sleep to the smell of smoke. For one horrible second, he thought that he had woken on the Blackwater again as it burned. The ship was on fire.

The crew was chaos. Men were screaming and trying desperately to put the fire out, but soon it was raging out of control. Sandor seized his chance and lowered one of the dinghies for himself. He didn’t give a shit about anyone else on the ship; he wasn’t going to burn with them. He was rowing away when the mast went up and fell. He managed to jump into the water just as it hit, but it destroyed the small boat, and his chance at getting away.

He clung to what was left and managed to stay afloat. Soon, the ship went completely under, and what little light the fire had provided was gone. He could not hear any of his fellow crewmates, and he could not see anything. The moon and stars were hidden behind thick clouds. He was drifting into the open ocean and he couldn’t see a thing.

The sky was black and the sea was black and his future was black.

He didn’t know how long he had been floating for. His legs felt numb from being under the water for so long. He was cold, and the water was so still. He found that he was very afraid. To float forever like this, in the cold and still blackness of the ocean, seemed like something out of one of the Seven Hells.

“What are you doing?” A voice whispered to him out of nowhere, and he jumped so violently that he nearly lost grip on what was keeping him afloat.

“Who is there?” He shouted out into the blackness. He gripped the bits of wood tighter. If one of his fellow crew had survived, why had it taken so long for them to say something?

“It’s only me.” The voice replied. “You’re bleeding, you know. I’ll keep the sharks away for you.” And then there was a splash and the voice disappeared.

“Wait! Who are you?” He shouted out, but the voice did not return. He stared out into the darkness, willing his eyes to adjust, but they didn’t. He wondered if, after only a few hours adrift, he had managed to conjure the voice in his mind.

Soon, he was tired. He tried to crawl on what was left of the dinghy, but it would not support his weight. He only managed to get half of his body unto it, and as uncomfortable as he was, his exhaustion won and he fell into sleep.

The sun was up when he woke. His eyes stung from the brightness of it. He was still tired, and his head hurt, and he felt filthy. But his body was supported by solid land. His head shot up and he found himself on some little spit of an island. It was so small that if he stood he could see the other shore with almost no effort. There were trees, though, and some vegetation. There was a chance for life on this island, and maybe escape if he was lucky.

He turned to face the ocean he had washed up from and found himself staring into the face of a girl.  She was the prettiest he’d ever seen. Her hair was red like a rusted blade, and her eyes were as blue as clear skies. She was prettier than the Maiden herself. Her nakedness was covered only by some odd scraps of cloth and seaweed, and there were no legs below her hips, only a fin. Her bottom half was like that of a fish. It glinted silvery-blue and scaly in the sunlight.

He knew what she was. She was beautiful, but something to be feared. She was more deadly than Cersei Lannister had ever dreamed of being.

“Are you going to sing to me before or after you kill me?” He asked her, and she smiled at him. Her teeth were straight and white, and he wondered how many men she had skinned alive. He wondered if she ate the men after she skinned them, or simply threw their corpses into the ocean. She’s a Bolton’s wet dream, he thought with an ugly twitch of his burned cheek.

She only smiled and laughed, and he found it was the same laugh he had heard below deck a few days before. She rested her head on her arms and gazed at him. “I’ll sing for you gladly, but I won’t kill you.” She reached out and wrapped her arms around him, one around his middle and the other behind his neck. No woman had held him so intimately before, and it unnerved him.

Her skin was warm and moist, and did not feel like the skin of a human woman. It had a smooth, slippery quality to it; like an eel’s flesh, but warmer. His skin crawled when her flesh rubbed against his. Gooseflesh rose on his arms and he had to resist the urge to shudder with horror.

She tucked her slick face under his chin and looked up at him in some sort of strange admiration. “I plan on keeping you.”

Chapter Text

“You’re still bleeding.” She said after a moment. Her nose wrinkled as she made a face. “Man’s blood smells so strange. Some of us drink it. I’ve never tried it. They say it makes you mean.”

Sandor didn’t understand a word she was saying. He shoved her off of him and looked down at his legs. A nicely sized piece of wood stuck out of the side of his thigh. Looking at it made his entire leg burn with pain, and he hissed out a curse, laying down flat and trying to relax for a moment.

“Why didn’t you tell me I had this in my leg?” He growled.

“I thought you knew.” She pressed her fingers into it. “Can you not feel it?”

He cursed again and flung her hand away from him. “Yes, I can bloody well feel it.” He lay still, breathing heavy and trying to calm down. “I need your help. I need you to pull it out, but be-“ Searing pain flashed across his whole body as she pulled the bit of wood from his leg without an ounce of tenderness. He cried out against the pain and fisted the sand next to him until his knuckles ached.

“It’s out. What do I do now?”

“You stupid little fish,” He grunted, sitting up to examine his leg again. Blood flowed freely from his thigh, and he ripped off the sleeve of his tunic to bandage it with. “Useless. I imagine all you know how to do is bat your eyelashes at men before you skin them.”

“You’re very rude. Maybe I should’ve left you out in the middle of the ocean with the sharks.” She lay down and pressed her cheek into the sand. Her face was free of expression. “Or I could’ve given you to one of my own. I didn’t do any of those things, though. I helped you, and I don’t want to kill you.”

“Maybe you should just leave me alone.” He felt the deep scowl forming on his face.

“Do you know where you are?” She asked, her fingers playing in the sand.

He looked around. “An unnamed island somewhere on the sea.”

“Do you know which sea?” She licked some of the sand off of the end of her thumb. His lips curled with disgust just watching it.

“No.”

“Do you still want me to leave you all alone, on this unnamed island, in a sea you don’t know?”

“Fine. Stay, then.” He used his arms and uninjured leg to drag himself backwards into the shade of the trees. She followed, having to drag herself too. She had a much easier time than he did. He noticed her arms and shoulders were made up of lean muscle. He figured this was typical, seeing as she spent most of her time swimming around being… whatever it is that she was.

She would not stop touching him. Her fingers ran over his feet, examining them like she’d never seen a pair before. He kicked her away but she would return again and pull at his toes. Finally he growled at her enough that she stopped and only stared at him.

He drifted off again, and when he woke she was gone. The sun was sinking into the horizon and he knew he’d be plunged into darkness again soon. The thought filled him with panic, and he realized he would have to start a fire. He knew how to start a fire, he only didn’t like to. He’d rather deal with starting a fire than deal with the darkness again.

He managed to stand on his sore leg and dug a pit near the center of the island. He filled it with broken branches from the trees and the driest leaves he could find. He had no flint, and he could not find any other sort of rock, so he had to rub sticks together to start the fire. He knelt near the pit, rubbing the sticks until it was dark. Then he kept on through the darkness until he smelled the smoke. Soon he fire was lit and he was warmed.

He was about to doze off again when he heard her dragging herself towards him once more. She crawled on her elbows, grunting with the effort, and held a fat red fish in his face. It slung water on him when it flapped helplessly in her hands.

“Oh, you made a fire.” She noticed, dropping the fish in his lap. “How delightful. I don’t see them very often. The fish is yours, by the way.” She turned herself over from her stomach to her back, sitting up proper like a lady might. “I thought you’d be hungry.”

And he was, so much so that he felt weaker from it. He asked her to find a long, sturdy stick and clean the sand off of it, and she managed quite quickly. He skewered the fish on one end, and stuck the other end into the sand by the fire.

“What does that do?” She asked him, watching it crack and roast near the flames.

“Cooks it, you little fool.” He grunted. “I can’t eat it raw. That could kill me if I’m not careful.”

She scoffed. “Men die so easily. Don’t you get impatient waiting on it?”

“Yes, but I don’t have much of a choice.”

She dragged herself off, and did return until he was halfway through with his dinner. She had caught her own fish. It was the same kind as his, but a bit smaller. He watched as it flopped in her hands. She patted it lightly, staring up at him with a grin, before biting into its stomach with a crunch.

His stomach turned and he lowered what remained of his own fish. He looked away, swallowing hard and making up his mind that he was not about to retch in front of his stupid little fish girl. That little stunt had been a jape at his expense, and she wanted him to react, but he wouldn’t.

“You waited so long for your fish to cook.” She poked at his leg. “Eat. I’m eating with you. We’re having a meal together. Don’t you men do that?”

“I don’t.” He looked away from her, taking smaller bites of his own food and having a harder time swallowing it. Damn her.

“Why not?” He heard another crunch and was almost dizzy with another wave of nausea. He wondered if his leg was making him react more strongly than he usually would.

“Usually companions or families eat together.” He shrugged, digging another chunk of meat out of the cooked fish and popping it into his mouth, trying to ignore the feeling in his gut. “I have neither.”

“I don’t either.” She responded without a second of hesitation. “Now we have each other.” Her slick hand brushed his leg and she tossed the remains of her fish behind her into the water. He flinched away from her touch and threw what was left of his fish into the fire.

“I found some things.” She said to him, dragging herself closer and laying across his shins. The way she touched him, as if they were familiar, bothered him. It bothered him even more because of the feel of her skin. It was unnatural. She was beautiful to look at, she smelled like salt and sea, but her flesh felt disgusting. She was a monster.

“The things I found are from your ship, I think. They don’t seem very interesting. I could bring them if you’d like.” She yawned, and the thinner fin at the end of her tail flapped noisily.

“Ruined by the water or the fire, most like.” He grunted. “What sort of things did you find?”

“A crate with bolts of cloth. Metal things. Long and sharp, and some that are small and flat. Cold things, that are shaped strange. I think there is something inside of them. They make a nice sound when they bump together.”

“You could bring those things, if I asked?” She did not even know what most of them were, and her descriptions were so strange that he did not know either. “Are you strong enough?” She might’ve looked strong enough to drag herself about, but she did not seem like she could bring a crate full of wet cloth to him.

“I am.” She glanced up at him shyly. “But you must tell me your name first. I will tell you mine. It is Sansa.”

“Sandor Clegane.” He doubted she had heard the horror stories about his family. “Men call me the Hound.”

“What is hound, and why are you named after it?”

He grimaced. “A hound is an animal that lives on the land… They fight for their masters, defend them until they die.”

She made a face. “Is that why they call you the Hound?”

“I fought for the King and Queen.” Suddenly he realized how stupid all of this might sound to her. “I was loyal. I did what they told me.”

“Even if it was wrong?” Her voice sounded small. She was a fearsome creature, she could kill him at any second, but she made herself sound so vulnerable. She was toying with him. He tensed, making his leg ache horribly.

“Yes.” The word fell out of his mouth before he could help it. She shoved herself away from him and he heard her splash into the water. He frowned at the fire, shaking his head. She was just a stupid fish girl; she had no right to judge him.

All was quiet and calm after she left. He was warm by the fire. The familiar sound of the waves lapping against the shore lulled him to sleep.

Sandor woke up to the sound of her sobbing. He found her where she had pulled the things left from the shipwreck up on the beach. She had gotten herself tangled in the plants near the base of the trees, and could not free herself. He looked down at her, and he knew her for what she was. She was a siren, a mermaid, and could kill him if she wanted. She could tear his skin from his body and leave him floating in the salt water to die.

This monster was tangled up in vines, crying pitifully. Her skin was pink and irritated. Her lips were dry and cracked. Her eyes were bloodshot, and her scales looked as if they were about to flake off.

“Please, water, please,” She begged him in a hoarse voice. He reached out and grabbed her arm, and realized just how dried out she was. Her flesh felt human. “Please, please, please,” She mumbled it over and over again.

He untangled the vines from around her fin and her arms, and carried her to the waves. He shouldn’t have. He should’ve let her die, but her pain was something sad to behold. She was a monster, but she had not killed him. She had helped him and touched him like no one else ever had. He could not fault her for what she was.

As she swam in the shallows, wetting herself again, he drew his hand up to his scar on his face. He was a monster too, and an ugly one at that. She had some enjoyableness about her. She was pleasing to look at, and had a sweet voice too. He was ugly inside and out. He was not pleasing to look at, listen to, or speak to, and however many men she had killed, it was unlikely that it was more than he had killed himself.

He used his bare hands to dig out a trench for her. He built a solid path around the little island, and with every crash of the waves on the shore, water flowed in through the trenches. She cried out in delight when she discovered what he had done. He had hoped the promise of water would keep her farther away from him, but she dragged herself up past the trenches and forced herself into his lap.

Her skin was slick and warm again. He felt like he would never be able to wash her slime off of him. She rubbed her face against him like a cat and hummed low in her throat. “I’ll sing for you now.” She said, and she did.

She sung some strange song in a language he did not understand. At first, the words seemed guttural and were almost a pain to his ears, but as the song went on they sounded sweeter and sweeter. A strange calm washed over him, and he didn’t notice when his arm went around her as she held herself to him. He didn’t want to sleep, it was not that sort of calm, instead he would’ve been content to lay with her and listen to her song until the end of his days.

And when her song ended, he let out a long sigh. His palm moved up from her lower back to between her shoulders and he froze. Her skin felt the same. It was the same warm moisture as before, but it no longer disgusted him, quite the opposite. The texture was interesting instead. It was new, and the warmth was pleasant instead of feverish. She no longer felt slimy, but instead like she was covered in a thin layer of sweat.

He wanted her. He was railing against the thought. It was a trick, a spell. She was a witch and a monster and she was tricking him. He would have to kill her now. He’d have to wrap his hands around her pretty throat and-

Her eyelashes fluttered against his neck and she let out a little breath. He realized she was sleeping. He was disgusted with himself for thinking of killing her. The most harm she had done him intentionally was her little jape with the fish.

No, he couldn’t kill her. She was a sweet thing, pretty and patient. She wouldn’t have ever even looked at him if she had legs. She would’ve forgotten his face or worse, had nightmares about it. Instead, she curled up in his lap and sang him sweet songs and slept against his chest. He couldn’t kill her. He couldn’t even hate her.

He was glad he had her, even if he was stranded on a pathetic excuse for an island in the middle of nowhere.

Chapter Text

“We have a king too, you know.” Sansa told him one morning. She stretched out on the beach near the water, letting the waves splash up at the end of her tail. “My father knew the Merking before the one that reigns now.”

“Is your father an important man?” Sandor asked. There was a dirk among the broken supplies she had brought up for him. He used it to cut strips of cloth to wrap his wound with.

“I think he was.” She turned over on her side. “I was to be Queen.”

He paused. “Queen of the entire ocean, then?”

She shrugged. “Most of it. When the Merking died, his son became king. I was supposed to marry him, but he killed my father and cast me aside. He is… not a good king.”

Sandor thought of Joffrey’s cruelty. “Seems this world is full of cruel kings.” He gave her a bitter smile. “I’ll harpoon your Merking for you if you skin the Bastard King for me.”

“Bastard King?”

He nodded. “I used to watch over his mother, before she was Queen and then when she became Queen. She married the King, and birthed the boy named Joffrey, but he was not the King’s son. She was fucking her brother. She had been for years.”

Her mouth twisted. “Her brother? Is this… common with men?”

“Targaryens used to do it, but that was their downfall. It made them insane.” He shook his head. “The Targaryens were the royal family before a rebellion started. There has been a lot of war.”

“There is a war in the sea too.” She lay back down in the sand. “It’s why I’ve been alone. I don’t have any family left. The others were only cruel to me, or did not care for me at all. It was safer to be alone.” He knew exactly what she meant. “There are those who are out looking for me. They won’t think to look here, though. I must be careful. If they find me, they will probably kill me.”

He wanted to tell her he could protect her, but he knew he couldn’t. He couldn’t chase fish into the sea for her. It would do no good to swim after her. He would only drown himself, and his corpse would be no use to her.

Night fell and he stayed near the fire for warmth. She crawled up close to him, but kept the end of her tail in the water provided by the trench he had dug for her. Her fingers trailed up his leg and he suppressed a shiver. She was fascinated by his legs, which was understandable since she did not have any. He grabbed her and hauled her between his knees and turned her to face him. Her tail fell over his wounded thigh, but she was learning to be careful.

He ran his fingers over the silvery scales that would’ve been her knees, had she been human. She had scraps of pink and red cloth wrapped around her waist where her scales met her flesh.

“Why do you wear these?” He asked her. They were tattered and filthy, as if she had worn them for many years.

“I’m not sure. We just do.” She rubbed the cloth between her fingers. “I like them. I think they are pretty. I used to have jewels to wear, but I did not like those as much. They hurt my scales.” She untied them from her waist and threw them to the side. “They say that highborn mer have different looking scales. See, look at mine.” There was no solid line where the flesh stopped and the scales began. There were a few smaller scales beginning on her belly, and they thickened on the way down like hair might. Below her hipbones, there were more scales than skin. There were patches high up on her tail where skin peeked through under her scales. "Lowborn scales are more even. They have the belly of a man and the fin of a fish. Highborns have scales all over, because they have more ocean in their blood." She smiled at him shyly as he stroked the skin of her stomach.

“If only I could be half a fish like you.” He said, feeling the spaces where the two ends of her met.

“Why?” She was confused.

“You’ve got the whole ocean to explore. I’m stuck here on this island.”

“The ocean isn’t like you think it is. It’s not that easy.” Her fingers found his knees and he noticed that she had bits of scales on the tops of her hands too. They were translucent, not silver-blue like the ones on her tail. “I wish I were human. I wish I had legs to run and jump and dance with. I wish I could know what it’s like to have toes.” The end of her tail flapped against his side. “I wish I had skin that was smooth and dry like yours.”

“You are fine the way you are.” She smiled sadly and made to look away, but he gripped her chin and forced her to look up into his face. “Listen to me. The world of humans is not a good place. There is war, and violence, and rape, and disease.”

“The ocean has this too.” She pushed his hand away from her face. “I’ve been married twice, you know.”

“I didn’t know. Is your husband going to come and kill me for you, then? Is that what you’ve been waiting on?”

“My husbands are dead.” She shrugged. “It does not matter to me. I didn’t want either one of them. I was made to marry the first so I could be kept a prisoner, and I was made to marry the second in exchange for my freedom. It was all lies and deceit. I’m not sure how the first one died. He disappeared, and then the whole ocean proclaimed him dead. The second was killed by sharks.”

“It wouldn’t be any different for you if you were some highborn human.”

She shook her head and looked away. She was upset. She stayed quiet for a few minutes before looking up at him again.

“Your face doesn’t match on both sides.” She reached her hands up to touch him but he shrugged her away. “Were you a slave?”

“No.” He frowned. “Why do you think that?”

“I met a man once, and his face didn’t match. One side was blue. He said it marked him as a slave.”

“This is a scar. I was burned.” Remembering his brother made him want a drink. Some of the supplies she found had been bottles of wine. He was trying not to drink it all at once since he didn’t know how long he’d he on the island. There was a little pond of fresh water on the island, and it rained often enough that he was not afraid for running out.

He stood and walked over to the shore, grabbing up one of the wine bottles and making up his mind. He returned to her and sat back down, uncorking it and taking a long drink.

“Is that blood?” She asked, wrinkling her nose.

“No. It’s wine.” He took another long gulp.

“I want to try.” She took the bottle from his hands and gulped it like he did. He expected her to sputter and cough, but it did not seem to affect her at all. “It tastes strange. It’s nice, though.” She handed it back to him.

“Why is your face burned?” She asked him like he knew she would.

He hated the way remembering made him feel. He felt so angry, but more than anything he felt weak. He looked down at the little fish and decided that she had no one to tell. She did not even seem to mind his scars.

“I have an older brother.” He said finally. “Gregor is his name. He’s five years older than me and over twice my size. He’s the largest man in Westeros, so large that he earned the name the Mountain that Rides. But he’s got a nasty temper, and loves killing for the sake of killing. When I was a boy, six or seven years of age, a man in my father’s keep made him and me some toys. Gregor did not care for his toy, so I took it. When he found me, he didn’t say a word. He picked me up and shoved my face down into a brazier we had in the room. It took three men to pull him off of me.” He took another gulp of the wine. “Not long after, the prince knighted him. It was a great honor.”

“He sounds like a monster.” She said.

He wanted to laugh at her. He wanted to tell her no, that they were the monsters.

“Have you met many human men?”

“A good number, yes. When I was a child, I was netted by a group of men who called themselves Krakens. They cut their net as soon as they saw me and sat me on deck to talk with them. They gave me clothes to wear and man food to eat, called cakes. I like man food better than what is found in the ocean.” She smiled. “Then they asked me to sing for them, and I gave each man a kiss before I left them. It made me happy to make them happy.”

“Krakens.” He snorted. “How long ago was this?”

“I don’t know how to measure years like men do. I only know that men do not live as long as we do. It was probably a long time ago.”

“It matters not, I was only curious.” He took smaller sip of the wine. “Winter will come to this little island soon and freeze me to death. Or, if I’m lucky, some ship will sail up and find me and I can return to Westeros. You’ll lose me as your plaything then.”

“Are you trying to scare me or make me sad?” She asked, and he only shrugged. “You try to be intimidating quite a lot. You should be careful, I can be frightful too.”

Sandor found himself laughing long and loud at that. “A frightful little fish? I’d love to see that.” Suddenly she was shoving herself out of his grip and sitting up to look him straight in the face. Her eyes quickly narrowed into vertical slits, and the blood drained from her face. All of the scales on her body seemed to stand up, and she let out a low noise like he’d never heard before. In that moment, she looked more like a giant angry serpent than a fish.

This only lasted a second, though, for quickly her eyes changed back and her scaled laid down flat again. She laughed right in his face. “See, I can be terrifying too, maybe even more terrifying than you are.”

Chapter Text

Sandor wasn’t sure how much time had passed on the island. It had been a long time. He managed to construct a makeshift lean-to where the trees were thickest. Fruit he had never seen or heard of grew on the island. They were bright red but their juices run clear. He hated the taste of them, but ate them anyway sometimes.

He was capable of catching food on his own, but Sansa usually brought him things anyway when she found her own meals. Everything she brought to him was still alive. She brought him a crab once and laughed like mad when it pinched him.

He was glad for her companionship, otherwise he might’ve gone insane alone on the island… or he might have never made it to the island in the first place. She had been the reason he survived when the ship burned. She had kept the sharks away, and probably took him to the island while he rested.

She had saved his life, brought him food, and kept him company despite his temperament. She coddled and caressed him with her long webbed fingers like he wasn’t the ugliest man she could’ve possibly picked up at sea. She was such a beautiful monster, too.

He figured she would kill him whenever she was bored with him, and he found himself untroubled by the idea. He didn’t much like being stuck on an island, but he didn’t have anything to go back to in Westeros. There was only the war, and he was seen as an enemy by one side and a traitor by the other. There were no women who willingly touched him in Westeros either, or even looked at him.

She touched him a lot. It bothered him at first, not only because of the strange feel of her flesh, but because no one liked to do that. Before he went to sea, he had whores, but not often. A visit to a brothel meant he hated himself intensely the next morning. No woman had ever laid with him without being paid first, and even then he was the one that did most of the touching. His tumbles with whores had been quick, though. He satisfied his need and went on his way. Other than that, no one touched him except with a blade.

She touched him willingly, though, from the very first moment, but it was so different. It was not meant to inspire lust; instead it inspired some sort of strange comfort. The thought that she might actually be fond of him was shamefully ridiculous. She had no reason to be. He had done nothing for her.

There were times that he found himself wanting, though, but he did not know how to even go about that. She did not mind when he touched her in return, but he had never been too bold. He was afraid of what she might say if he reached under the rags she used to cover her chest. He assumed she had breasts under there, but he was not entirely sure and that made him even more uneasy. And what if he did become bold enough to fondle her, and she did not reject him, he would not know where to continue. He knew women liked being touched between their legs but she had no legs.

Sometimes he thought about simply kissing her. He had never kissed anyone before, human or half-fish. He had never wanted to. He wanted to kiss her, though. He felt stupid for it sometimes. She wasn’t some pretty maiden he could kiss and touch and love. She wasn’t even human. He had been so disgusted by her touch before, what if she was disgusted by his? Her hands were soft and moist, while his were dry and rough with cracked callouses.

She was sweet to him, excluding the tricks, although gods knew why. She could easily swim away and leave him there to die, or even kill him herself, but she didn’t, though he had constant reminders that she could.

She always returned to the sea a few times a day, but she spent most of her time on the island with him. He had become used to it, so when she disappeared into the sea and did not return for days, he worried endlessly. She spoke of others in the sea who wanted her dead. If she never returned, he did not know what he would do.

She was gone a little more than a week, and when she returned she had blood under her scales and deep underneath her fingernails. He was going to ask, but she gave him a look that told him not to speak of it.

“What if some ship finds me here, and I leave with them to escape this place?” He growled at her. “What will you do then, once your entertainment is gone?”

She gave him a cold look. “Perhaps I will sink your ship and kill all the men once they are in the water.”

“Is that what you did with the last ship?” He realized something suddenly. “Was… Was that you, a few days before the ship caught fire? Was that you laughing outside of the ship?” She grimaced at him. “It was you. Why in the seven hells were you following us?”

“I was only curious.” She became timid, toying with the fabric around her waist. “I like humans. They have good stories, and they are kind to me.”

“Only because you didn’t spend enough time with them; the longer you know a man, the more you’ll see the blackness in his heart.”

“I’ve seen no blackness in yours.” She leaned her head against his chest and the dampness of her hair seeped through his tunic.

“That’s because I don’t have one.” He grabbed her hair and tugged her head back. His grip was not hard enough to hurt her, but it was firm all the same. “Did you set fire to my ship?”

“No.” She replied. Her jaw was set.

“Did you kill the rest of the crew?”

“No.” Her hand went up and gripped at his hair the same as he held hers, except her grip was hard and was meant to hurt. “Would you like to know how many men I’ve killed, Sandor? Is that what you want?”

“Tell me, then.” He released his hold on her hair but she did not let go of his.

“Three.” Sansa leaned in close to his face. She was angrier than he’d ever seen her. “I’ve probably lived longer than you, and over all of those years I have killed three men. One of them was an accident. Another was trying to kill me, so I had to kill him… and the third…” Her hand was out of his hair and she turned away from him. “You boast about being a killer, but being a killer was a choice you made. I didn’t have a choice. I’ve never had a choice until now. I’m not going to kill you, Sandor. I won’t kill any men who get you off of this island, either. That was a lie.”

His temper flared. “What’s the point of lying to me? It’s not as if I could leave.”

Her voice was quiet. “Do you want to leave?”

“I grew up in a keep ten times the size of this island. I worked for people who provided me with the things that I needed. If I was sick or wounded, there was a maester. If I was hungry or thirsty, there was food and drink. If I was tired, there was a place to sleep.” He told her. “And what of here? I tend my own wounds and hope they don’t fester. I eat fish every day and drink from a pool of rainwater. I sleep in the sand. But I left the keep and I left the Lannisters long before that ship sank. Wanting to leave won’t make a ship sail in to take me back, anyhow.”

“I’m sorry.” She said.

“And what are you sorry for? What did you do?” He gave a short bitter laugh. “You’ve done nothing but help me, and I’ve done nothing but growl at you. Best get used to it, that’s all I know how to do.”

She frowned, and then turned her face out towards the sea. It was sunny and warm, and there were few clouds in the sky. “Do you know how to swim?” She asked, changing the subject.

“I know how to not drown.” Sandor replied.

She smiled warmly at him. “I could teach you how to be a stronger swimmer.”

“You couldn’t. Swimming is different for you than it is for me. You can’t teach me how to swim like you, and I can’t teach you how to walk like me.”

“Well then, you must practice.” She pushed herself up and crawled out closer to the sea. “Come swim with me.”

He groaned and pushed himself to his feet, wondering how bad of an idea that actually was. His leg had long since healed, but remained stiff and sore from the newly formed scar. She had pushed herself into the water and was waiting for him. He walked into the ocean fully dressed but for his boots.

She giggled and waded out into the deeper water, and slowly but surely, he followed.

“You’re so slow.” She was laughing at him.

“Well, I’m not exactly as skilled at this as you are.” He sneered, and then her arms were grasping at his. He barely managed to get a breath in before she dragged him under the water.

The water was clear but it stung his eyes and made it difficult to see. She was stronger than she looked, because she grasped his arm tightly and swam down deeper into the water.

“Look,” She said, pointing. He could hear her voice surprisingly well under the water. “Have you ever seen anything like it before?”

It must’ve been a sort of reef. It was dark green and he thought he could see fish swimming near it, but that was all he could make out. His eyes were blurred and burning, and he needed to breathe. She made to drag him down deeper but he fought against her grip until she finally let him go. He swam as hard as he could toward the surface.

He coughed and sputtered after he took the first breath. He hadn’t realized just how far down she had taken him. He gulped the air down his throat and quickly swam towards the shore, crawling to the sand. He had not been so grateful for that island since he washed up on it.

“What’s the matter with you?” She had followed him, and dragged herself to the shore beside him. “Why’d you leave? Didn’t you like it?”

“I couldn’t see whatever it was you were trying to show me, and I can’t stay under the water as long as you.” He took another big breath of air and turned over on his back.

“Why not?”

Why not?” He rasped. “I’ll drown and be dead. I can’t breathe underwater. Stupid little fish, didn't you know that?”

Her face turned bright red with humiliation. “Oh, no. I didn’t know. I’m sorry. I should have known.”

“Yes, you should’ve.” He shook his head. “That’s the last time I go swimming with you.”

Chapter Text

Sansa showed Sandor more kindness than he had ever known. If she were human, he was sure she would’ve had some halfwit bard write a dozen songs about her. It wouldn’t have been difficult. She was beautiful and kind. She was gentle and serene. All it took was finding more words, putting them to rhyme, and some drunken strumming on a lute.

She had her own songs, though. She sang to him often. He could never understand the words, but whatever ill feelings he had were gone as soon as she sang.

“What is that language?” He asked her once, after she was done singing.

“It’s the language of the sea.” She shrugged. “Every creature that lives there can understand it. I don’t know any songs in the common tongue. Are there any good ones?”

He laughed. “No. They are all ridiculous fairytales.”

“Fairytales?”

He tried to explain. “Children’s stories about love, and royalty, and knights.”

“Do they all have happy endings?”

“…No.” He grimaced. “Most of them do, though.”

“Are they made up, then?”

“No.” He shook his head. “But they aren’t all the truth either. Sometimes people pay others to write songs and stories about them, and make them out to be better than they actually are. Just because someone sang it in a song doesn’t mean it’s the truth.”

“My songs are true, though.”

“What was that song, then?” He asked.

“That was the song of the mother turtle.” She told him. “She has to leave her eggs on the shore, and return to the sea where she waits for them to find her. She waits and waits, but none of her babies ever come back to her. She believes that they are dead, and mourns for them until the day that she dies, but her babies alive all along. They had only been lost and unable to find her again.”

“And how do you know that’s a true story, and not something someone just made up?”

“Because I wrote it about my mother.” She smiled sadly. “My mother wasn’t a sea turtle, but all of her children were taken from her somehow. She had five, and when she was killed, she thought everyone was dead except for me. But I was married by then, and she hated the man who became my husband, so I’m sure she had heard sometime before her death.”

“There’s another song,” She said after a moment of silence. “I didn’t write it. It’s about a merman and a human woman. It’s said that the woman was very beautiful, and loved by many men of her own kind, but she loved the merman most of all. Theirs was a secret affair, because no one would ever understand their love. But she was made to go away, and the merman missed her greatly. She tried to love another, but instead found only sadness. She had a child that died, and went to her old friend for comfort. The merman offered to take her away, to take her to sea with him, and she threw herself into the ocean. They found a witch to give her the tail of a fish in exchange for her beauty. So she traded her legs and her beauty for the tail of a fish.”

Sandor laughed. “I’ve no pretty face to trade, but perhaps that witch could give me a tail as well?”

The smile dropped from her face. “Why would you want that?”

He turned away. “What about the other songs, then?”

She was quiet for a moment, and then he felt her hand on his shoulder. “They would kill you, or capture you and hurt you.” She whispered. “They’d do it now, if they could. They’d find a way to get you under the water.”

“Who?” He turned to her. “Why?”

She pursed her lips. “My husband’s men. Either husband, take your pick. The first husband’s family would kill you; the second husband’s men would probably capture you and torture you. They would do anything to get me to go to them once they had you.”

“Why? What did you do?”

“My first husband was never well liked by his family, and he didn’t like them much either. I think he killed one of them, and they think that I helped him do it. I didn’t.” She took a breath, slow and calm. “My second husband, I… He was trying to hurt someone I cared about, a child. I couldn’t… I never wanted to marry him, I was supposed to marry someone else, but the plans, they all went sour and he said I had to marry him instead if I ever wanted to be free. But he was going to kill that little boy…”

“And you killed him first, didn’t you?” There was something in her expression that he’d seen a thousand times before. Every time he went to war, every time a new knight was made, every time a young boy’s dreams were crushed, they had that same look. Their first kills changed something inside of them, and every kill from then on changed them more and more until they were dogs just like him. She said she’d killed three men. “Was that the third man you killed?”

She nodded. “My family, we lived in colder parts of the sea. My siblings and I kept sharks, big black ones with white bellies for our family’s color. They were rare, almost gone. The Merking had mine killed when it was only a baby, but my sister’s escaped. I was with my husband when I saw her again, my sister’s shark. She had grown, and was so big. She knew me, she remembered. All I had to do was tell her that I was in danger, tell her that I didn’t trust him…”

Sandor had heard of sharks. They were monsters in the sea, big creatures that swam faster than you could believe and had rows and rows of dagger-like teeth. The Captain of his old ship had kept one’s jaws hung up on the wall, to remind the crew what could be lurking beneath the waves.

“You said your second husband was killed by sharks.”

She looked away. “She had a... pack.”

The image of those jaws entered his head. A dozen of those creatures, twice the normal size, tearing at a slick-skinned merman entered his mind and refused to leave. “Seven hells, Sansa.”

“I had to.” She said, grabbing the front of his tunic. “I had to.”

“We all do what we have to do.” He told her. “In your position, I probably would’ve killed him myself.”

“He told me to keep my hands clean, I…” She looked down at her own hands.

“Where did that blood come from, before?” He took her hand in his, trying not to tear through the thin skin that came up her fingers to the middle knuckles.

“One of them found me. I didn’t kill him, but I fought. I scratched at his gills.” She held her hand up to her own, on the side of her neck, they were fluttering nervously the more she spoke. “He might’ve died afterwards, I don’t know. I scratched really hard. He bled a lot. I didn’t stay to find out, though, I swam away.”

“It’s alright now, listen.” He tried to calm her. She seemed close to tears. “How about I dig out a little pool for you, and you can stay here on the island with me for a few days? Would that make you feel better?” Usually she had to return to the sea for food, or to sleep. She could take short naps on the land but it was uncomfortable for her.

She rubbed her nose with the back of her wrist. “I’ll help.”

So together they dug out a hole just big enough for her near the center of the island. She took some empty wine bottles, and he took a large shield, and they took a few hours filling it with water from the ocean until it was full. Sansa lowered herself in, careful not to splash, and smiled at him.

“I’m getting more of my ocean on your land, Sandor.” She said. “You have so little to live in, and I have so much. This isn’t fair.”

“It’s my island and I’ll say what’s right.” He rasped. “And you can have your little puddle if it suits you, and I know it does so don’t bother lying.”

He turned his back to her and began tearing at one of his lengths of fabric to make a new roof for his lean-to when she spoke again.

“Sandor, would you really have traded your legs for a tail?”

He paused, but decided to tell it true. “Yes.”

“Would it have been for the same reason the lady did it for her merman? You would change yourself… for me?”

“Yes.” He didn’t turn to look at her. He couldn’t. But the silence that followed stretched on and on, and the more seconds that passed the tighter his chest felt. He had almost decided to turn when she spoke again.

“Would you like me to sing for you?”

“If you would.”

And she sang, and he found he was no longer troubled. While he couldn’t understand the words, he was sure she was singing the same song she had told him about before. He would trade his legs, and whatever else it took, if he could, but he couldn’t. There was no witch to cast some spell, and the story might not have been true at all. But that he thought that might not even matter, because she was there with him.

Chapter Text

Over his time on the island, Sandor’s beard tried to grow long on the unburned half of his face. He never much liked having a long beard or much of a beard at all because it only grew on half of his face. He tried to shave with his dirk a few times but only ended up nicking his skin almost to pieces. He had to settle for shearing it as close to his skin as he could. It itched terribly at first, but he grew used to it over time.

Sansa was fascinated by it. She said mer grew scales on their body, not hair. He’d never noticed before, but when she said that he noticed that she had no eyelashes. He didn’t know quite how to feel about knowing that. Still, Sansa felt the hair on his face and tugged at it. She even asked if human women grew beards too.

Sansa slept mostly on the island with him now, in her little pool that they made together. He slept under his lean-to, covered in fabrics he patched together into a blanket. She suffered from nightmares most nights. Sometimes, she’d wake with a whimper and a splash, and breathe hard until she fell asleep again. Other times she’d wake and cry quietly.

It tore at his soul. He wanted to help her. He wanted to hold her and tell her that everything would be okay, and not be lying. Lies disguised as sweet whispers wouldn’t take away her pain. Tender touches and kisses wouldn’t either. So he lay beneath his blanket and pretended to sleep when she was crying behind him. Sometimes he had to shift and paw away his own tears.

He felt useless.

She grew increasingly afraid to enter the open ocean. She would not tell him why, but he could guess. Whoever was trying to find her was getting close. He had a sharpened stick for spearing fish, and one good sword for emergencies.

She liked to put on the brave face, though. She was good at that. She only took it off at night when she thought he was asleep. During the day, she seemed untroubled. He knew better, because he knew the same bitter feeling.

One night, he was surprised when she crawled under his blanket with him instead of going to her pool.

“Might I stay with you for a while?” She asked. “It’s nice to be near someone else.”

“I want to help you.” He said to her, unable to hold it in anymore. “I know you have nightmares. If there’s anything-“

“You’re already helping me.” She interrupts. “You’re my friend.”

“But I’ve done nothing.”

She smiled. “You dug me trenches to keep me from drying out. You made me a pool. You pick the fruits from your trees and share them with me. You make me laugh sometimes, and smile even more.”

“None of that means anything.” He rasped.

“All of that means everything.” She tucked her head into his shoulder and something foolish pulsed through his veins. He found her jaw with his hand and drew her back up and kissed her before she could say another word.

Her lips tasted salty, and the saliva in her mouth was thicker than his. He kissed her harder anyway because he needed to. Her hands found his shoulders and her fingernails dug in, but she was pulling him closer. Suddenly he needed to see the look on her face, he needed to know, and he couldn’t do that unless he pulled away so he did.

She was pretty as always, but more flushed and wide-eyed. Her gills fluttered nervously at the sides of her neck.

“You care for me.” It wasn’t a question, so he didn’t answer it. “Kiss me again.” So he did. Her tongue rubbed against his, and he ignored the taste of salt in his mouth. He had never expected to kiss a woman like this in his life. Her fingers rubbed lightly on his shoulders, enough to barely feel it, but it made him tense with want anyhow. He pulled away from her completely.

“Is everything alright?” She asked.

“I’m only tired.” It was a lie, but he did not know what else to say.

“You’re acting like I’ve injured you.”

“You haven’t.”

She shoved herself closer to him, looking at his face. Irritated, he decided to shock her a bit. He gave a light tug to the cloths on her chest. “Do you even have breasts under there?”

She looked down as if noticing for the first time. “Well, yes, of course. Is that what’s bothering you?” She was laughing now. “Does it bother you that I’m a woman?” She was teasing again. “What about you? Do you keep fins and scales hidden under here?” Her hand brushed the front of his breeches and he jerked her hand away.

“Don’t do that.” He warned.

“Do you have an injury there? Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“Not an injury, just don’t do it.”

Her eyes got wide and her cheeks grew bright red. “Oh.” She looked away. Then her hand darted down the front of his breeches and gripped his cock before he could pull her hand away again. He froze, and her fingers ran over him, feeling. “It’s different, but the same.” Her whole hand gripped him, and he was surprised at how thorough she was when she pulled up and then back down. “How is that?”

He groaned into her hair as a response and she laughed, but it wasn’t mocking like before. Her hand was warm and slick like it always was, and he found himself unwinding a lot quicker than he wanted to. He ran his own hands up her stomach and under whatever it was that covered her. She wasn’t lying, she did have breasts. They were small and he tried to be gentle as he touched her in return.

Soon he was breathing raggedly into her hair. He released with a grunt and a short jerk of his hips, and she watched his face the whole time. She removed her hand and rubbed it against his blanket, and gave him a short kiss on the cheek. “You make strange noises.”

“How do I…” He didn’t know what to say. “Would you like me to do something for you too?”

“Oh, you couldn’t.” She smiled. “I mean, it wouldn’t really work if you tried to do the same for me. I’m not entirely sure how it works myself. I’ve never had much of a chance to learn.” She was quiet for a moment. “I know what you can do.”

“Tell me.”

So she took him over to her pool, and they lay in it together. The water was lukewarm and comfortable in the chilled air of the night. She settled herself in his lap and showed him what to do. He cupped water in his hands and brought them over her gills on her neck, pouring the water over and letting his fingers touch lightly like she showed him. She shuddered and relaxed in his arms. He kept on, pouring water over one side of her neck and then the other. Her eyes closed and she made a low trilling noise in the back of her throat.

She fell asleep eventually. Her arms were curled over his shoulders, and his legs were asleep, but he was too comfortable to move. She had tried to sleep on land with him many times to keep him company. He decided to try to sleep in the water with her. He brought water over her gills one last time, and she sighed in her sleep, before he wrapped his arms around her and slept himself.

She had no nightmares that night.

Chapter Text

Sandor couldn’t guess how long he had been on the island. He never kept much track of the days. He didn’t know how long it had been since he had seen or spoken to another human. When the ship appeared on the horizon, he almost didn’t know what it was. He stood on the shore and stared out, watching it. After a moment of confusion, a strange calm settled over him.

“That’s a ship.” Sansa said, dragging herself over to lie in the sand beside his feet. He looked down at her and wondered briefly about how tall she would be if she could stand with him, but that thought vanished quickly when he realized the ship was getting closer. “I should hide. There’s no telling how they could react to seeing me here.” So she pushed herself into the water and was gone with a flick of her tail.

The men anchored the ship close to the island. The ship was small, probably made for transporting precious cargos only. A few of the sailors climbed down into the shallower water and made their way towards him, getting slower as they approached.

The look on their faces reminded him of something important. He’d forgotten about being so big and ugly. He hated lies, but he started formulating them in his head anyway.

“You alright there, ser?” asked one of the sailors. “You’ve been hurt, eh?”

“It’s long healed.” Sandor replied, assuming the sailor was referring to his face.

“How long’ve you been on this little island?”

“I’m not sure. A while.” Sandor shook his head and sat down on the shore.

“Well, you’re a right big fellow.” Another sailor said. “Couldn’t see the island from out there, but I could see you. Looked like you was standin’ on top of the water. I thought I was seein’ things at first, but everyone else saw you too. How’d you end up here?”

“My ship caught fire one night and sank.” Sandor told them. “I’m not sure what happened to the rest of the crew, but I ended up here. I’ve been here ever since.”

The sailors looked around at each other. “Well, we’ve got room on the ship. Only about a dozen in the crew.”

Leaving. He could leave the island. He could leave right now and never come back. He could go back to Westeros and stay at some inn for a time. He could eat whatever stew they sold there, drink a cup of wine, sleep in a dry bed, bathe in water that wasn’t the ocean, and then there was the matter of Gregor… He had put all of his hopes on this when he first landed on the island.

He looked out at the sea and saw her there among the waves, watching.

Could I leave her? He asked himself. Could I truly get on this ship and leave her behind? He looked back at the island behind him. He did not know how long he had spent there. A long time. Ages. It was a sort of home to him.

“We’ll stay anchored here tonight, then.” said another man who approached from the ship. He was dressed finer than the rest, and Sandor assumed this was the Captain. “We’re ahead of our time anyway. Make your choice by the morrow, because we’ll leave with or without you.”

This could be my last chance. This could be it. Refusing this could mean that I will die on this island, whether it’s from sickness or old age. I might be stuck here forever.

Sansa stayed among the waves until night fell. The ship lit up and the crew could be heard below deck. She was quiet as she swam up, and he was sitting on the shore, waiting for her.

She pulled herself up into his lap. “They are so bothersome. I’m not used to such noise.”

“Are your people not noisy?”

“Oh, they are. Terribly so.” She said. “But I’ve not been around my own people for some time.”

“I haven’t either.” He took her hand in his, and used the other to bring her face closer for a kiss. He enjoyed kissing her more than anything. While her hand worming down his breeches was nice enough, he was shocked to find he would much rather just kiss her sometimes. He’d always had a hard time expressing himself through words, but kisses were easier. So he kissed her softly then, as soft as he was able.

When he pulled away, she was not flushed pretty like she normally was. Instead, she was so sad, the saddest he’d ever seen her.

“Are you going to leave me?” She asked, her voice breaking over the words.

His chest tightened. Gods, how did I ever think I could? “No, never.” And he held her close to his chest as she wept in relief. He held her until the sun rose, and then he sent her back out among the waves to hide.

“Have you said your goodbyes to the island?” asked one sailor. “Are you ready to leave?”

“No.” Sandor told him. “I think I’ll stay.”

“Stay here? By yourself?”

He laughed. “No, I’ve got company.”

They all assumed he had gone crazy in the hot sun. He might have, but he let them think that anyway. It was best that they leave him alone to rot.

Soon they were sailing away. It tore at him that he’d never get to kill Gregor. He felt like he’d regret that for the rest of his life, but he also felt that if he left and killed Gregor in Westeros, he’d always regret leaving Sansa. He had to choose between hate, and a chance for peace.

Sansa had changed him somewhat. Her sweetness took away a little of his bitterness. Her kind words and gentle touches chipped away at the old fighting Hound he used to be. Her songs soothed him. He could not leave her. The hole she would leave behind on his soul would be too big, it would consume him.

As he was watching the ship on the horizon, she swam in from the waves and settled herself against him.

“Your beard is getting long again.” She said, running a hand over his jaw, and then smiling shyly at him. “Don’t trim it so short this time. I like the feel of it on my face.”

She kissed him, and he forgot all about the ship that was sailing away.

Chapter Text

At first, Sandor thought their island had been surrounded by a flock of strange birds, but there were no birds to be seen. Only some horrible and strange sounds. The sounds were getting louder and louder, some shrieking in their pitch and others so deep they made his chest vibrate.

He was dizzy, his vision was blurring, and he looked over to Sansa. She was writhing on the sand, her hands clapped over her ears and tears streaking down her face. He could see the red of her blood seeping through her fingers.

He grabbed up the only good sword he had and stood, wobbling on his feet.

“Come out!” He shouted over the sounds. “Come fight me, you bloody cravens! Come out!”

And the noises ceased.

“Sandor, no.” Sansa said. Her hands were red, and her ears were red. She was pale and shaking. “You don’t understand, they’ll kill you.”

“If the Mountain couldn’t kill me when he wanted to, then I doubt a few fish men could do it.” So he held his sword and waited.

There were three of them. They rose up from the sea like terrible monsters. Sandor had thought of Sansa as quite fearsome when it suited her, but he realized then that she was not very fearsome at all. These mermen were larger than she was, and looked like serpents like Sansa had that time long ago. One was red finned, the next black finned, and the final was a dark purple. They carried no weapons, but perhaps they did not need to.

One of the mermen hissed something at Sansa in her strange tongue, and she responded. They had a short, tense conversation before the mermen launched themselves back into the water. Sansa pulled herself towards the shore.

“What did they say?” Sandor asked. “Where are you going?”

“I’ll deal with them in the sea.” She told him. “Don’t follow me. They’ll kill you if you do.”

“What about you?” He reached down and grabbed her arm. “What if they kill you?”

“I’ll be fine.” She smiled at him and pushed his hand away. “Stay here.” And she pushed herself off into the water.

Sandor stood on the shore, looking out at the water, trying to catch sight of her. He cursed to himself when he couldn’t find her. She said not to follow. She said not to… but she was outnumbered, and they seemed pissed.

After a few minutes, the noises began again, although they weren’t so painful this time. Those horrible sounds couldn’t have been a good sign. He had to help her. She might be angry at him for it later, but it was better than seeing her dead or captured.

Water is better than fire. He told himself as he waded out into the sea, sword in hand. Water is better than fire. He dived down and opened his eyes, ignoring the sting. He could see them, only a little ways out. He could make out the mermen easily, and the color of Sansa’s hair. He broke the surface, took a big gulp of air, and dived down again just as they began to swarm around her like angry wasps.

The closer he got, the more uncertain he became. They could move faster than he could underwater, and they used their bodies for weapons while he only had a sword. He swung at one of them and missed terribly. It was then that they noticed his presence.

A loud high-pitched trill echoed out across the water, leaving him light-headed. The violet-finned merman lashed out with his fingernails, but they were more like claws. They tore at Sandor’s arm while he swung his sword with the other and missed again.

Sansa barreled forward and beat the merman aside with her tail. The noise was coming from her. She opened her mouth and shrieked again, giving the mermen just enough pause for Sandor to bury his sword in the purple tail of one of them.

The other two flew at him. Under the water, he couldn’t move fast enough to fight them away. Their hands were tearing at his skin. He could barely see around him, but he did see blood. The red of his own, the merman he killed, and maybe more. He didn’t know.

Suddenly he saw Sansa there, and her hands went around the red merman’s throat. Her fingers dug under his gills and she yanked them out just as quick. Blood filtered out into the water and the merman froze, and she pushed him away.

Sandor felt Sansa take his arm and yank him towards the shore. She swam so fast that he couldn’t keep the water out of his nose and mouth, and when she dragged him up on the shore he coughed and sputtered until he vomited.

“There’s one more.” He said, trying to catch his breath. “There’s another. Where?” Sansa snatched the sword from his hand and sat herself up next to him, and he knew where.

The merman with the black tail, crawled to the shore. He bled from several long gashes across his body, and was nearly burning up with rage. He spoke something to Sansa, but Sandor didn’t understand. Sansa didn’t say anything back, only held up the sword. Her grip was wrong but she had a sword and planned on using it.

When the merman crawled forward toward her like some terrible monster, she flung him to the side with her tail and buried the sword in his belly. He let out a long, agonized wail that nearly knocked Sandor unconscious. Sansa pulled the bloodied sword from his belly and shoved him, half dead, into the ocean.

She wept afterward. “Why did you have to do that? I told you not to follow me!”

Even when he laid down under his lean-to and she carefully helped him clean the sand from his wounds, she would not stop. “Now they’ll all know. They’ll come after me. They’ll find me and kill you. Two more deaths on my name, and one more on yours. Gods, no, no.”

“I did what I thought was right, Sansa.” He said. “They were going to kill you or capture you.”

“I was handling it myself.” She covered her face with her hands. “What have you done? What have we done? Oh, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to fix this.”

“How will everyone know now? We killed them. It’s over.”

“It’s not over, it’s only just started!” She hissed. “Didn’t you hear them as they circled the island? That wasn’t just to hurt me so I would finally surrender, that was to tell everyone else that I’m here.”

“What can we do, then?”

“I don’t know. I’ll have to think on that, but you’re not going to do anything. Humans are so fragile. You’ll die if I involve you any further.”

“I’m not fragile.” He growled.

“You are.” She smiled and cupped the burned side of his face. “But I can’t take chances. I won’t lose you.”

They spoke no more after that. Sansa sat next to him, staring out into the sea and thinking on her plans. He thought that even if he did speak to her, she might not hear him. He tried to stay up with her, but his wounds pained him and he found sleep faster than he would’ve liked.

And when he woke the next morning, he could not find her.

Chapter Text

The first day that Sansa was gone, he only worried a little. He was still somewhat shaken up by the events of the previous day, so it could not be helped. The second day, he worried a little less. Sansa seemed assured of herself. She may not have been as big as the other mermen that he had seen, but she was smarter and faster, and that counted for a lot. The third day, he began to worry again. It was not like her to be gone so long. The only other time she had been gone for that long was when she came back with blood on her hands.

A fourth day passed, and then a fifth. Soon, Sandor was eaten up with grief and anxiety. Wherever she had gone, he wished he could’ve gone with her. It did not matter if she was on the other side of the sea, or captured, or dead, he felt like he should’ve been there with her.

He tried to distract himself with tasks and chores. He cleaned out the pit he used for fires, refilled it, and lit the fire. He washed himself and his clothing in the ocean to the best of his ability. He tried to shake all of the sand from his blanket, but found that task impossible. That night, he lay awake for a long time before finally drinking some of the wine that he had and falling into a drunken sleep.

He awoke too early. The sun had barely risen, and the sky was purples on one side and black on the other. He brushed the sand from his face and laid back down when a fit of coughing had him sitting up again.

“Sansa?” He called out hesitantly, and was met with more coughing.

“Here.” The voice was hoarse and he barely caught it. He leapt to his feet and followed the sound. It was not yet dawn, and he could barely see.

“Are you injured?” He asked, and knelt next to her in the sand.

“Only,” She coughed a bit more. “Only having a hard time breathing.” Her fingers were a bit wrinkled and pruned, but he held on to them all the same. She coughed and coughed, and then turned and retched into the ocean.

“Are you ill?” He asked.

“I don’t know.” She was trembling. He stood and left her for only a moment to get one of the few remaining bottles of wine. He handed it to her and she gulped it greedily before dropping it and turning to vomit it back out into the sea. “What was that?”

“It was wine. The same wine as always.” He told her. “You’ve never had a problem with it before. Maybe you are ill.”

Light was finally peeking up over the horizon when he realized how pale she looked. She was shivering, and when he placed his hand on her arm, he found that she was freezing cold. He thought for a moment about bringing her up closer to the fire, but decided against it. It would probably only make her worse. She belonged to the sea, after all.

She lay halfway in the water, halfway on the land. Her cheek rested against the damp, flat sand as she attempted to breathe evenly. He waited with her while she recovered herself. He gently pulled her hair aside, trying not to have the knots catch on his fingers. He thought to run water over her gills like she sometimes asked him to. It seemed to comfort her. But when her neck was revealed, it was only skin. There was enough light for him to realize that there were no gills.

Uncomprehending, he ran his finger over the flesh there. Her hand came up to touch his, and he noticed she had no webbing between her fingers. There were no scales dotting the top of her hand either. His gaze ran up to her shoulder, down her back, and down further looking for the missing scales but never finding them.

“Seven hells,” He looked over her again, and again, and again. “Seven bloody buggering hells, girl, what have you done?”

“What I thought was right.” She gave him a weak smile. He hauled her up out of the water and carried her over to the campfire. He wrapped her up in his blankets and laid her underneath the lean-to before stroking the fire back to life.

“How did this happen?” He asked, settling down beside her and grabbing ahold to her foot through the blanket.

“I looked everywhere and finally found that witch.” Sansa told him. “She didn’t seem deceitful. She said she would help me, genuinely, but I must pay a price. She promised to give me the body of a healthy young human, and with her magic she is sending us a ship to get the both of us off of his island, and if you search the shore you’ll find a bag of gold.”

“What did you exchange?”

“Everything.” She coughed. “Almost everything. All the things I had that didn’t matter. Things like my claim, and everything that lies beneath the waves that my birth or my marriages gave to me. Once I set foot upon the ship that will take us to our future, I will lose the ability to swim in saltwater, and I’ll never learn again.”

“You’ve paid a big price,” Sandor rasped. “And for what? Legs and a cunt and an ugly old man at your side?”

“That’s what I wanted.”

He reached out and took her hand. Her skin was different now. He found that he missed the way it felt before. “I never wanted you to change yourself.”

“I had to.” She shook her head. “I never would’ve been able to claim my birthright. They would’ve killed me first, or married me off to someone else. It wouldn’t have meant anything, anyhow. Keeping you safe, keeping the both of us safe, was more important.”

“I’m angry at you.” For the first time in his life, he had to say it. He didn’t want to frighten her. She might die if he did. He imagined she might have been swimming for hours to find the island again.

“It will pass.” She smiled, and after a few minutes of silence, she lapsed off into sleep. 


 

Four days later, the ship arrived. Sansa had wrapped her new bottom half in one of the bolts of cloth to cover herself. Sandor hid the gold the witch had gifted them, which was a large sum that he had not yet counted. Sansa walked like a newborn horse, and managed to fall down and hurt herself every time he looked away.

Apparently, his ship had caught fire some ways off of the fingers, almost off into the Shivering Sea. The new ship was bound to Braavos, and offered to take them there.

Sandor guessed that his ship had sunk nearly two years before they were found. The war was still waging in Westeros, and the Lannisters and the Starks were becoming scarce. He thought it was best not to return soon, if at all.

He told the crew that Sansa was his wife, but when the ship sank that she injured her head and was always a little dim afterwards. This explained her odd behavior, so the crew did not look twice when she said or did something strange.

“Listen, Sansa,” He told her one day when they were alone. “People are going to want to know who you are. We have to make something up.” He looked her up and down. “Tell everyone that you are Sansa Rivers, you hear?”

“Rivers? What does that mean?”

“Means you’re a Tully bastard. No one would call you a liar, with your look.”

“What’s a Tully?”

“A fish, like you.” He laughed long and hard at that. “And only some bastard girl would wed a man like me. So it’s a good story, and if anyone asks, you’re from Pinkmaiden.”

“Sansa Tully of Pinkmaiden.”

Rivers. Sansa Rivers.”

“Rivers.” She blushed.

When they arrived at Braavos, few seemed to recognize him as the Hound. He wondered if people had forgot after all the time he had been missing, or if they were only avoiding him like people did before. He wondered if it truly mattered.

He had only been around one person for the past two years, and in that time it was easy to forget a lot of things about other people. He sometimes felt like a young squire again, unable to put words together and speak properly. Large crowds made him uneasy, and Braavos was mostly large crowds.

He used a bit of their gold to buy a small house for them. It only had one room, and was crammed together with near a hundred other houses, but it had a bed and a fireplace. He let her pick out a few dresses; the gods knew she needed them.

And so Sandor Clegane set out on learning how to live among people again, although he was never really good at that in the first place, but he also had to teach Sansa Rivers how to act like a proper human being, and he was never really good at that either.

Chapter Text

The house Sandor had purchased was small, only one room. It had a bedframe built for two people, a fireplace, and a few half-melted candles smashed against the mantle. He bought the mattress and the sheets separately. He also bought a small dresser, and shoddy little table with two chairs.

“You live trapped in boxes? Why?” Sansa asked when he showed her the home.

“It’s small, but we have to live off of only this gold for a while, so I was trying to be frugal.” He growled. “And what in the seven hells do you think we do when it rains? Don’t you remember how miserable I was when a storm came through on that little island? I imagine it never bothered you fishfolk much in the sea. It’s not safe to be out in the open, anyhow, not for anyone.”

And so she learned to live in her box. She liked to keep the door open during the day, which was fine with Sandor. She tossed and turned at night, unable to sleep in a bed, until finally he grabbed her and held her still until she slept.

She also loved her dresses. She would spin around and around in them, feeling the fabrics against her legs, until she grew dizzy and fell. Once she tried that outside of their home, and attracted every little girl on the street to join her. Soon there was a group of about twenty girls, Sansa in the center, spinning in circles until they grew dizzy.

All of the children of the street loved her after that. She acted like them sometimes, although she claimed to be nine and ten to others. Other times he was forced to remember that she had lived countless years, and that she was older than he was, although he did not know her exact age.

She loved human food, especially sweets. She would guilt him into buying them for her sometimes. She would go on about all the things she had sacrificed for him, and that he could spare just a little of the money, “which is really my money, if you think about it,” to let her buy some food.

One morning, he awoke to her screams. He rolled over towards her and held her still, assuming she was just having another nightmare.

“Oh, oh no, I’m injured!” She held up her hands, which were covered in blood. “I don’t know how it happened! I’m injured!”

He pulled back the blankets to see a spot of blood where she had been laying, and then stained through her nightshift between her legs.

“I suppose your fishfolk have no moonblood, then?” He asked, and she shook her head.

“Well, you’ve had your first moonblood at nine and ten, then.” He shook his head. “I doubt this is your true flowering. You probably had that while you were half fish, although I’m sure it was different. The blood means you can bear children. Every woman has this. It begins when they are barely women. That’s all I know.”

Every woman?” She sobbed. “What have I traded my kingdom for?”

“Legs and a cunt and an ugly old man at your side.” He laughed. “What you wanted, remember?”

He knew no more about women and their moonblood, or what they did to manage it, so he went into town and hired a handmaid to attend her during those times.

The handmaid was an freckled woman with straw-colored hair named Esa. She helped Sansa bathe and dress, and cleaned the blood from the sheets herself afterwards. Sansa cried the whole time until she gave herself the hiccups.

“Poor dear.” Esa had said, patting Sansa’s hair like a child after she had fallen asleep on the uncovered bed. “So old to be havin’ her first moonblood.”

“She hit her head some time ago.” Sandor tried to explain. “She only remembers a few things. Probably doesn’t even remember her own mother’s face. It’s not really her first moonblood.”

Esa turned her look of pity on Sandor. “I suppose it’s good of you to be stayin’ with her, seein’ how she is now.”

“She stayed with me through this,” He gestured to his face. “It wouldn’t be fair to leave her over a bump on the head.”

That earned him the first smile he had received from someone besides Sansa since they arrived at Braavos.

 


 

It took some time, but eventually she got used to her body. She learned how to move her long legs and not fall over, and how to maintain her moonblood by herself (although she would not allow him to get rid of Esa), and dress herself.

One afternoon, he had nothing to do, so he decided to sleep. It wasn’t an unusual decision. She spent most of her afternoons with the children on the street or chatting with their mothers, and Sandor would sleep. After so long on that island, he found a new appreciation for a dry bed that had no sand.

He was almost asleep when he heard her come in. She shut the door noisily and flung herself into the bed beside him, accidentally knocking his head with her elbow.

“What are you doing in bed? The sun is still out.” She said, turning to grin at him.

“I have nothing else to do but sleep.”

She turned her eyes away, suddenly shy. “You could kiss me. It’s been so long since you’ve kissed me. Why?”

“I wanted to let you get used to yourself first.” That was true, but he was also apprehensive of what else had changed about her.

“I’m used to it.” She wiggled forward on the bed. “Kiss me.” So he did. It was no different from kissing her before, only she was dry his time and only her mouth was wet. There was less salt to the taste of her tongue, but it was just as pleasant.

“Touch me, like I touched you before.” She pulled her skirt up a bit. “What did you call this? A cunt? It feels nice to touch. Besides, I touched your cunt plenty of times.”

Sandor laughed so hard he had tears in his eyes. “I don’t have a cunt, stupid fish, and you shouldn’t call it that.”

“Why not?” She asked. “You did.”

“It’s not a good word. It will seem strange to see a pretty lady use such filthy language.”

“What do you call yours, then?”

“A cock.” He shrugged. “I suppose proper ladies might call it something different. A manhood, maybe.”

“I don’t care what it’s called, just touch me there.” She pushed his hand under her skirts, so he did. She had to guide him a few times, but eventually he had her blushing and breathing heavy.

He pulled her dress off of her, and her smallclothes too. When he went to push a finger inside of her, he noticed that she had no maidenhead. A whole kingdom might buy her a pair of legs and a sack of gold, but it won’t buy her a maidenhead? He almost laughed at that, but it didn’t matter anyway.

“I’m going to take you.” He told her when she gave him a confused look. He began pulling off his breeches as he explained. “It might hurt a little, I’m not sure. You’ve no maidenhead so I can’t tell. I’ll be slow.”

“Will it feel nice?” She asked, brushing her hair from her face. “As nice as your hands?”

He nodded and kept his promise, pushing into her slow. It didn’t seem to hurt her, so he sat up and thrust into her at an even pace. She groaned, tossing her head to the side as he pushed in and out of her.

“This is… so strange.” She sighed, her hands finding his arms where he held her legs steady.

He watched as she wormed her hand down between her legs to rub herself, and after a moment she grabbed up one of his hands and put it where hers had been. “You do it.” She relaxed beneath him and closed her eyes.

He meant to laugh but it came out a grunt instead. He rubbed her like she showed him, pushing into her with a bit more force each time until her fingernails dug into his shoulders and she shuddered.

He released inside of her with a long exhale, and lay beside her afterwards.

“That was so strange. What was that?”

“I fucked you. There’s another filthy word for you to learn.”

“But what was it?”

He sighed. “I don’t know what else you’d call it. Only if you’re not careful, you’ll birth some screaming babe within a year. Ask your handmaid to make you some moon tea, or some such thing.”

She tucked herself into the curve of his arm with her head on his shoulder. “It was nice. I liked it.”

“Good. Can I sleep in peace now?” He grumbled, but she only laughed and pinched him.

 


 

Sandor awoke one night to find that Sansa was not in bed with him. It was not like her to wander off in the middle of the night. He sat up and found that she had not left at all. She had only wandered over to the small window they had, the only window of their house. She had opened the shutters and was leaning out.

He climbed out of the bed and went over to her, only to notice her heaving shoulders. He peeked over her head to notice that she was staring out over all of the houses and buildings of Braavos, out to the sea.

“I was made for the sea.” She whispered to him, pressing her back to his chest. “Saltwater runs through my veins. The sea is my lifeblood. I don’t know who I am anymore.”

“You’re still Sansa.” He pulled her gently from the window and sat himself down on the bed, pulling her into his lap like they used to do on the island. “Do you regret giving your kingdom up?”

“I never gave my kingdom up. My kingdom was taken from me, and it was taken long before I went to the witch.” Her tears soaked through the front of his tunic. “I traded what I no longer had for these legs. I only wish I hadn’t lost it in the first place. If that were so, perhaps you would’ve been the one visiting the witch. We could’ve been like the Lady and her merman.”

“Perhaps. But now you’ll have to find a new song to content yourself with.”

But Sansa never forgot the songs of the sea. She never forgot the language of the sea, either.

One day he found her surrounded by at least fifty children from the street, most of them filthy and covered in lice. She was singing one of her old songs to them, like she used to do for him on the island. All of them were sitting down around her, and some of the smaller ones even slept. She held one small girl in her own arms.

Soon he found himself drawn to watch her with them when he could. Another evening he caught her telling them a story, their story. Sansa told them how she had been a mermaid of the sea, a princess, and how she had to escape evil mermen who only wanted her claim. She told them how she rescued him, and how she fell in love with him, and gave up her kingdom in the sea for a pair of legs so that they could be together.

The children believed her, too. They called her Lady Sansa or Princess Sansa from that time on, but the townsfolk only believed her a gifted storyteller. She was very clever, and Sandor admired that about her.

 


 

They had been in Braavos for a year, and Sandor had found them another house to stay at near their old one. This one had another smaller room that Sansa insisted that they give to Esa. She refused to give up her handmaid, so Sandor did not argue.

“I’m with child.” Sansa announced one afternoon as Esa helped her dress. She said it in the same manner that she might say that it were raining outside.

Sandor looked up at her. His jaw clenched. “Why?”

She shrugged. “I’ve always wanted a child, and it’s managed to stop this horrible moon’s blood. Anyhow, I won’t have the baby for a year, so we’ll be fine.”

Esa exchanged a look with him. “Might I have a word with my wife alone?” And the handmaid quickly dashed outside, closing the door behind her.

“How long do you think you’ve been with child?” He asked.

“Oh, well, Esa thought me about the moon turning. I have my moon’s blood at each turn of the moon, and I’ve not had it for two of the moons already.”

“If you’ve had a babe for two moons already, then you’ll have the babe in only seven more moons, not a year.”

Sansa looked shocked. “So soon? How?”

“I’m no bloody maester, don’t ask me. That’s just how it is.” He rasped. “I told you to drink the damned moon tea.”

“I did, for a long time.” She grimaced. “Only, I didn’t like the taste, and I… I spend time with the children on the street, and I want one for my own so very much.”

“Why didn’t you talk to me first?”

“I didn’t think about it. Are you angry?”

“Does it matter if I am?” He laughed bitterly.

“No, it doesn’t.” She crossed her arms. “If you don’t want it, then I will take my gold and you can find somewhere else to go. Esa and I will live here with the child.”

He laughed in her face. “You think that after spending years on an island with you, and swimming out into the buggering ocean to fight for you, and everything else we’ve been through, that I would leave you now?”

“I was only teasing.” She smiled and kissed him.

 


 

Time passed and soon Sansa was heavy with child. She hated every moment of it and complained constantly. She said that it was different with mermaids. Her back ached and her feet would swell and her breasts became tender. In that time she became furious if he even touched her hair.

And then Sansa woke one night, groaning in pain and clutching her stomach. Not long later, water splashed out from between her thighs and Esa was ready to help her lady have her child.

It took all day, and the entire time Sansa was chanting about how she did not want a daughter if this is what a woman’s life was like, but the Gods did not listen and she birthed a daughter instead. She was a little thing, red and screaming, and when Esa handed the girl to Sansa, she burst into tears.

“Quiet that wailing and name our daughter.” Sandor said, leaning over to look at the child himself.

“You don’t have anything you’d like to name her?” Sansa sniffed, raising her arm awkwardly to wipe her nose on her elbow while still holding the child.

“I’m no good with names.” He said. “Call me when someone’s trying to steal her, and I’ll run them through. Otherwise, I’m useless. I’m sure you’ve thought of a thousand names.”

Sansa brushed her fingers along the babe’s soft face. “Dagny.”


 

 

Dagny was tall for a child, but her long legs belonged to her mother, not her father. She was a sweet girl, but stubborn and strong-willed. She was as much Sandor’s blood as Sansa’s, and it pleased him to see that.

She enjoyed being pretty, much like her mother. Her hair was black as ink, but Sansa would brush it out and braid it herself. Dagny would then dress as nicely as she was able, and go out to play with the children on the street. If anyone messed up her hair or got mud on her dress, she would punch them in the eye or bite their hand.

Sansa waited a long time to have more children. Dagny was such a handful, so no one could blame her. The girl was six years old before Sansa stopped drinking moon tea again. The next child had been a boy, named Calder.

Sandor often thought about returning to Westeros. He had heard of his brother’s death, and wondered if he would be allowed to return to Clegane Keep if he did return. His concern was only to give his children a good place to live, a maester to teach them, perhaps a septa to tame Dagny, and something for them to have when he was gone.

When he spoke with Sansa about it, she only asked him to wait until Calder was two years old before making his decision. She said she would follow him, if that’s what he chose. Still, he worried what people might say or do if the Hound returned with a wife and children behind him. He was never well liked, and he doubted that would change.

“I dream of the sea, sometimes.” Sansa whispered to him one night in bed, with their daughter sleeping between them.

“Do you often miss your home, even after all this time?” He asked.

She brushed a strand of hair from Dagny’s face. “I miss what used to be my home, but I do not regret what my home is now. My home is you, and our girl, and our little boy. I love you and our children more than I love the sea.”