Jul. 17th, 2013

ladytp: (by Giovanni de Campo)
Sandor

The blow hit Sandor on the back of his head and for a moment he was stunned, almost toppling over. He hadn’t been prepared for it, strolling peacefully across the courtyard on his way to the stables, his mind occupied by the upcoming drill in horsemanship with the Winterfell troops.

He recovered quickly though, years of training and battle experience coming to the fore as he dodged to avoid the unseen assailant, then whipped around to face him, his dagger suddenly materialising into his hand. He growled as he saw a young man, face contorted in rage, curses pouring from his lips. He was still holding a wooden plank, which apparently had just made its acquaintance with Sandor’s head. His adversary was shorter than him – hells, everyone was – but wiry and strong, and there was something familiar in his appearance.

“Bloody Hound! Where did you take her?! What in seven hells are you doing here, how dare you show your ugly face in her home?”

Sandor took the measure of his opponent while circling him. He knew he would have no difficulties in taking him down. Yet he was curious. What the fuck is he going on about? Winterfell was generally a safe place and despite the flood of newcomers, discipline had been tight, so such a blatant show of aggression was unexpected.

His attacker charged towards him again – quite recklessly, Sandor’s professional mind judged. He lifted the plank again and tried a sideway swipe aimed at Sandor’s head. Almost nonchalantly Sandor stepped aside and decided that this was just some madman, not to be taken seriously. He couldn’t let him continue his crazy antics, of course. Sandor ducked to one side, lifted his arm and delivered a mighty blow to the fool’s temple with his fist. He heard a sickening sound and felt a shooting pain in his bare knuckles. Without another sound the man swirled around and hit the ground hard. He was out cold before he landed.

Men in the yard had seen and heard the commotion and soon a curious throng surrounded them as Sandor peeked at the unconscious form. He had jet black hair and Sandor had caught a flash of piercing blue eyes when he had charged. Everything in him suggested he was a commoner. Not a soldier, as he carried no signs of a sigil, but someone who was more used to toiling with his hands than parading around holding a sword. His shoulders and neck were thick and heavily muscled, and Sandor could see that had he not been blinded by whatever rage had consumed him, he could have offered him a fair challenge.

As he stared at the features of his foe, he felt a flicker of recognition. I have seen him before. After I left King’s Landing, but before the Quiet Isle… Then it came to him; he had seen him with that ragtag bunch of misfits, the Brothers of the Banner or whatever the fuck they had called themselves. From whom he had stolen Arya Stark. Suddenly the pieces fell into place and he understood what the lunatic had been spewing.

Somebody told Sandor the man had arrived in Winterfell with Ser Jaime, and soon enough Jaime entered the yard after one of his men had alerted him. He strode towards Sandor confidently, a sardonic look on his face when he saw the situation.

“An old friend, Clegane? Or just someone whose face you didn’t like – or who didn’t like yours?”

When Jaime got closer and saw the still knocked-out form on the ground, he became serious, flicking a sideway glance at Sandor.

“Ah, I see it now. Look, there is a bit more to this. Let’s move him inside and I’ll fill you in – and maybe you can also tell me more about him.”

Sandor rubbed the back of his head gingerly and cursed, protesting that he would have appreciated being told about murderous maniacs before they had a chance to assault him.

----------

After the young man – Gendry Waters was his name – had recovered his senses, Jaime judged it to be as good a time as any to introduce him to Sansa. The lady of the keep was called to the ante-chamber where the three of them had retired.

Gendry had a huge bruise on the side of his head, which had already started to swell and would soon go through the usual range of rainbow colours before eventually subsiding. To his credit he didn’t cringe or complain although it must have hurt like hells, Sandor acknowledged. When he had come to and seen Sandor, he had attempted to get up and fling himself at him again. Jaime had pinned him down and told him in no uncertain terms how his hatred was misplaced, and how futile it was for him to lay Lady Arya’s fate at Sandor’s door.

Sansa arrived, worried after being told about a fight in the yards. Sandor saw her attention being mostly directed at him, undoubtedly having heard that he had been involved. To her silent query he responded by nodding his head reassuringly and grinning faintly to indicate that he was fine. That she should be so concerned about his well-being was still something he hadn’t truly gotten used to.

Jaime took Sansa and Sandor aside and related to them the story of Gendry joining their forces, warning Sansa not to get too excited. The young man clearly didn’t have any more knowledge of Arya’s whereabouts than they did, but maybe he could shed some light on events during her journey across the war-ravaged realm.

The meeting that followed was tense, but eventually Gendry ceased glaring daggers in Sandor’s direction. He told Sansa about his time with Arya; first haltingly, but as Sansa listened to him intently and encouraged him to continue when he got too tongue-tied, he eventually became more confident. His story finished at Arya’s disappearance and then Sansa cried, out of relief or from sorrow, Sandor couldn’t tell.

Her tears made Sandor’s chest constrict and for a moment he was transported to that dark night when he had stolen the little wolf-bitch. Had he known then what he knew now, he would have taken better care of her. He would have made sure that she reached safety, somewhere, wherever… He shook his head, his gaze fixed on the tears glistening on Sansa’s face. Why her pain affected him so deeply was a mystery to him.

Eventually Sansa dabbed her eyes dry with the hem of her sleeve and squeezed the young man’s calloused hands, thanking him for being a friend to her sister. Gendry shifted uncomfortably, visibly embarrassed by the attention she gave to him.

“If you were in the Riverlands at the time of the war, did you ever hear about Lady Stoneheart?” Jaime asked. He had followed Gendry’s story as raptly as the others, his concern over Sansa’s sorrow visible on his face. They all knew the late Lady Catelyn had been associated with the Brotherhood Without Banners, but Jaime clearly wanted to hear what Gendry had to say about the matter.

“Yes, my lord. She was our leader for a while. I know she used to be Lady Catelyn of Winterfell,” Gendry glanced at Sansa, “but she really wasn’t Lady Stark anymore, if you know what I mean. She had been dead for too long and her mind had been affected.”

Sansa raised her hands to her throat, and Sandor shifted closer to her, throwing murderous looks at both Jaime and Gendry. What the fuck? Next they’ll be dragging old Ned into the discussion and make the little bird fret even more.

“Do you know what happened to her? If she is still there…” Sansa’s voice was timid and trailed off, as if she really didn’t want to know, but had to ask. She was sitting in the most comfortable chair in the room, Gendry on a bench opposite her. Jaime stood next to Gendry, shifting on his feet. Sandor had positioned himself next to Sansa, close enough to touch - but of course he couldn’t do that. Yet just being near her was better than nothing.

“I do, my lady. She is dead now, dead for true. She is not coming back.” Gendry’s expression was sympathetic.

“What happened to her? And tell it true, boy,” Sandor grunted.

“After the Targaryens came to power and the war ceased, we were left directionless. Lady Stoneheart didn’t want us to settle down and help in rebuilding the lands, so gradually more and more of us just…left. I didn’t; I stayed with her. I felt I owed it to Arry – apologies, my lady, to Lady Arya.” Gendry looked straight into Sansa’s eyes, ignoring Sandor.

“We heard about your return, my lady. The travellers told us that young Lady Stark had returned to Winterfell and was ruling over the lands of her house. Lady Stoneheart was badly affected by the news. I don’t know whether she was happy or relieved or what, she wasn’t easy to understand… Yet she calmed down after that, and stopped demanding that the few of us who remained pursue the enemies of the North. For a while life was almost peaceful. We stayed in a settlement near Oldstone, tending to farmland and helping the locals to get their lives together.”

Sansa stared at the ground, but she listened intently as Gendry continued his tale with a hoarse voice.

“Then we heard more news. The Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, the one who had always been believed to be the bastard of late Lord Eddark Stark, had been revealed to be the son of his sister and Rhaegar Targaryen. And he had been declared a true Dragon.”

Sansa shifted and Sandor realised she was thinking back to all those years when Lady Catelyn had hated Jon for simply being a symbol of her husband’s indiscretion. Why Ned had never revealed the truth to his wife, Sandor couldn’t understand for the life of him. The honourable, righteous Lord Eddard. He had honoured his promise to his dying sister, but at the same time condemned his wife and his nephew to a life of misery. Sandor shook his head. Bugger these high lords and their principles.

“That news hit our lady hard. She wailed as she heard it, the most pitiful howl a man can hear. She went a bit mad is the truth of it. For a day and night she whined, dragging her long nails across her face…” Gendry stared at an invisible point ahead of him, carried back to those chilling days.

Sansa silently started to cry again. Both Sandor and Jaime moved closer, but neither could comfort her as they wished due to Gendry’s presence. Sandor’s fists clenched helplessly against his sides. Gendry noticed none of it, caught up in the story he was telling.

“On the third day she walked to the river. I saw her going in, and although it was unusual, it was not for me to prevent her. I thought she only wanted to wash or cool down, or something, I don’t really know what. She just kept on walking, until the water reached her waist, her neck and eventually, over her head. Then another lad and I got worried and jumped in after her. But the river was too wide and the current too swift.” Gendry came back to the present and looked around him. He appeared apologetic, as if it had been his fault that Lady Stoneheart had walked into the river. The river, where all members of the house of her birth were laid to rest after their deaths, and where she herself had already been consigned once.

“You never found her?” Jaime asked, apparently not convinced that a simple drowning might be enough to kill the undead.

“We searched for her for two days, and eventually we found her miles away downstream. She was truly and utterly dead then. Not even the Lord of Light himself would have been able to resuscitate her. My mate and I buried her by the riverside so she could be close to water. We left a marker on her grave. Nothing fancy, just a simply scratched engraving of a wolf and a fish on a small boulder. If we ever go back there, I could show you where it is if you wish, Lady Sansa.” Gendry watched Sansa hesitantly, possibly regretting making the kind lady cry.

“I would like that. One day,” sobbed Sansa. “I am grateful for you, Gendry, for telling me these things about my sister and my late mother. Rest assured that you have a place at my hearth and in my home for as long as you should wish.”

Sandor judged Sansa had had as much as she was likely to endure and nodded at Jaime to indicate that he should take care of Gendry. His drill forgotten, he took Sansa to her rooms and simply held her while she grieved for her lost family once again.

They rested on her bed, fully clothed and chaste. Sandor stroked Sansa’s back, feeling her frail body shake under his hands. Flecks of dust swirled in the beam of sunlight peeking through the window, the voices in the yard and stables filtering through the walls, distant and muffled. He held her, consoled her little heart as it poured out its sorrow. He held her, and would have held her for a thousand lifetimes.

__________


Since that stormy morning of revelations their lives had settled back into a semblance of routine. Jaime had conducted several meetings with Sansa and Sandor in the privacy of Sansa’s solar to give them his rendition of all that had transpired in the capital. The stability and trustworthiness of the new Targaryen rulers and their Hand were the main focus of their discussions, and on that front Jaime had only positive impressions to share.

When they met, Sansa and Sandor went to great lengths to sit far away from each other, not betraying their association by look or touch. Jaime seemed to appreciate it, although Sandor knew he was as aware as they that it was only for show.

Yet he felt he owed Jaime at least that much. When Jaime had walked in on them, his distress had pained Sandor more than he had anticipated. He had known Jaime would not be happy, had guessed that he would be angry. After all their conversations on the topic, and his own assurances of how he knew his place…Though that had been before, when he couldn’t have imagined Sansa ever considering him worthy of her.

In Jaime’s room he had seen how Jaime had first tried to pretend that his objections were for Sansa’s sake alone. His anger had been real, but underneath all his bluster Sandor had detected the hurt of rejection.

The memory of the moment when he had stopped to wonder what, if anything, had happened that night in Greywater Watch between Sansa and Jaime flooded into his mind. The horrible feeling of hollowness, like a dull knife twisted deep into his gut… Physical pain was easier to endure than that kind of soul-wrenching torture. Sandor had used the agony of his past wounds as fodder to feed his anger, turning a throbbing knife wound into cold hate, gaining twisted satisfaction from the thought that he had survived, and more often than not, killed the one who had inflicted the injury.

Yet this new kind of pain did nothing but weaken a man and drain his strength. On that day, Sandor had seen that in Jaime’s eyes and recognised it as clearly as if he had shouted it out loud.

Why should he care so much, when he had never encouraged the lion in his foolish obsession, Sandor couldn’t reckon. It didn’t really matter. All he knew was that he had deeply hurt the person who had first shown him that not all people in his life were mere shadowy figures, there to be hated, despised – or revered from a distance. That he could be with another person on an equal level, honestly and without hidden agendas on either side. Jaime had been the first person to show him what a human touch could be…never pushing him into anything he wasn’t ready for. The first person who had been there truly for him.

Sandor had wanted to tell Jaime that he had not been forgotten or cast-off. He had done it the best way he knew; by actions rather than words. So he had kissed him.

Sandor had kissed his little bird hundreds of times, in hundreds of different ways; tenderly, passionately, affectionately, fervently... Her lips were familiar, and the way her tongue swept over his. None of that could be compared to what he experienced with Jaime. With Sansa the balance was such a delicate, ever-moving thing; he was her slave, her conqueror, her worshipper, her vanquisher. With Jaime the kiss embodied none of those things, the press of their lips being a challenge equally met.

Sandor didn’t have words to follow, so he had left, hoping that Jaime realised that he was not going to be overlooked, despite the new situation.

As before, they had not discussed it afterwards. They didn’t need to. That was another reason why Sandor felt so at ease with Jaime, despite a situation that could have been fraught with complications. They didn’t need to dissect their relationship into a thousand pieces, or force words and descriptions of what was.

Nevertheless, Sandor didn’t tell Sansa about the kiss, although he related to her Jaime’s anger and the resignation that followed. He let her know that he had told Jaime that he still had a place with him and with her – he only kept how he had done it to himself. It made him slightly apprehensive, but he figured he hadn’t really done anything the little bird should be concerned about. Had he kissed another woman, aye, he would have been deeply ashamed and conscious of how he had wronged her. Jaime….that was different.

Sansa was only glad to hear that he and Jaime had made their truce and so they continued, old friends adapting to their closeness again after being apart so long.

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