Vice Principal Stannis Baratheon surveyed the cafeteria of Westeros High School. It was crowded and noisy and the aroma of cheap pizza mixed most unpleasantly with the suffocating scents worn by the student body. It was a normal day – even a good one by the standards currently employed, unfortunately.
At the last parent meeting* Stannis had proposed instituting school uniforms, banning cell phones and Ipods, and segregating lunch periods by sex. All of his proposals had been rejected, and it rankled him that Ned Stark had been the only one to support him besides. This school was a cesspool, but Stannis never considered leaving. In fact, he hoped to be principal some day. When he was principal, things would change.
Definitely starting with a school uniform, he thought, as he watched Cersei Lannister uncomfortably. Cersei was the captain of the cheerleading squad and she looked the part. She wore her cheerleading uniform today, and surely it was not his imagination that the skirt appeared much shorter than it had been last year and the sweater tighter and lower cut. Perhaps Cersei was trying to regain the attention of those admirers who'd flocked to Margaery Tyrell.
Margaery and her brother Loras were new to Westeros High School, having moved to the town over the summer. Though Margaery was only a sophomore and Loras a junior, the pair had usurped the popularity of Cersei and her brother Jaime. People who watched Loras play pick-up games of football before school or during free periods said he was as good a quarterback if not better than Jaime Lannister.
Not that Jaime would be playing football again; not with that knee injury. Tywin Lannister had taken his son to the best doctors in the country (costing him valuable school time, but Stannis had been overruled when he proposed putting Jaime back a year to make up the work) and none had been able to do what Tywin wanted.
Jaime sat by himself at the end of a table, staring at his sister's table. He was glowering as she laughed and flirted with the group of boys surrounding her. Stannis had always thought there was something not quite right with those two. Despite his good looks and popularity, Jaime never dated. His twin sister Cersei was the only girl Stannis had ever seen him with. The students whispered that he was gay, but Renly (Stannis gritted his teeth at the thought of his much younger brother) insisted he wasn't and Renly would know.
Renly was surrounded by his own group of admirers, boys and girls both. Whereas the Lannisters drew the All American football and cheerleading types, Renly's circle was comprised of the art and theatre people, the weirdos constantly painting all the walls whether or not they had permission. Some of the boys had hair as long as a girl's and some of the girls dressed like boys, like that Brienne Tarth, who was as big as a football player to begin with. That group offended Stannis's sensibilities, but they were mostly harmless.
The real trouble was Gregor Clegane, the school's star linebacker. His gang of hooligans was responsible for assaulting students for their money and their latest electronic toys (though Gregor was not poor and his father worked for Lannister Corp; he just seemed to enjoy taking things by force) or simply for "dissing" them by looking at them wrong. Davos also told Stannis that many girls warned others not to go out with Gregor, that he never took 'no' as an answer and even those who said 'yes' usually regretted it.
But there was never any proof; no one wanted to file any complaints against Gregor. Those who were not held back by fear of Gregor himself did not want to be blamed for the Westeros Knights losing a game if he was kicked off the team. He was another one Stannis wanted to keep back a year. But although Gregor was barely passing his classes, he already had offers from several colleges and Tywin Lannister had asked the principal to write him a letter of recommendation to Lannister's alma mater.
Sansa Stark's life was over. Joffrey had broken up with her. She'd never have another boyfriend or get to go the prom in a few years or anything. She would have stayed home and listened to Evanescence all day if she could, but her mother wouldn't let her.
She lingered in the bathroom. Her hair and makeup were perfect, and her sunglasses hid eyes red from crying. The smell of the bathroom, urine and cigarettes and something Sansa thought might have been marijuana, made her feel sick, but she couldn't bear the thought of going to class and having everyone look at her and know she'd been dumped for Margaery.
It would have been nice to go outside and sit beneath one of the willow trees and text message her Livejournal with an update on her ruined life. But someone would see her and make her go to class. So instead Sansa slipped into the dark, empty auditorium. It was a good place to cry her heart out. She rummaged through her shoulder bag (backpacks were just so unstylish) and plucked out a packet of tissues in anticipation.
She'd only just gotten started when a raspy voice said, "If you're going to sit there, stop your sobbing."
Sansa gave a squeak of fright. She recognized the voice as that of Sandor Clegane, Joffrey's friend. She'd have been embarrassed if anyone else had caught her, but Sandor was weird, though his rough manners could be explained by his looks. He frightened her, and not only by his burned face. She'd always been nice to him for Joff's sake though. And now she was even grateful that the auditorium was so dark: she wouldn't have to look at those hideous scars. Sansa always averted her eyes; she felt guilty about it, but couldn't help it.
"I'm sorry I disturbed you," she said, though she had just as much right as he did to lurk in an empty auditorium.
Sandor moved to sit beside her and though she couldn't see him very well, Sansa was conscious of how big he was. It would have been polite for him to leave an empty seat between them. Sansa considered moving but he might take it as an insult.
There was silence for a long time. Sansa had only intended to wait as long as was polite before leaving (so he wouldn't think she was running away from him even though she was) but it was almost nice just sitting here in the dark.
It reminded her of Joffrey's Halloween party last year. That had been the most marvelous night of Sansa's life. She'd dressed up as a mermaid (when she reached Joff's house, she had taken off the beige t-shirt her mother had made her wear under the pretty bra meant to imitate Ariel's sea shell top) and everyone said she looked great. It had been difficult to walk in the tight long skirt forming the tail though; she'd nearly fallen onto the buffet table once, but Sandor had caught her.
Sansa thought it was weird that a high school kid would come to a middle school party, but Joffrey told her that his mother had asked Sandor to look after him when he was younger. It was very nice that they'd become friends.**
She'd stayed late (her father had allowed it because Joff's dad was his friend; Sansa didn't tell him that Mr. Baratheon stayed upstairs with the pretty young housekeeper any time Joff had friends over), even after everyone else had left. She'd been uneasily playing with an unopened beer can while Joffrey and Sandor drank when Ms. Lannister Baratheon came home. Joff's parents had started shouting at each other and Joff had told his chauffeur to take Sansa home. Sandor had needed a ride too, but he'd only stared at Sansa (even though she'd put on a coat over her costume because it'd gotten chilly) and not talked to her during the drive. She was surprised when he spoke to her now.
"You're prettier than Margaery," he blurted.
"Really?" Maybe he was just saying so to be nice.
"Thank you." Sansa smiled though she knew he couldn't see her.
"I've got to go," he said abruptly. "I've got gym next period."
When lunchtime came, Sansa left the safety of the auditorium. Her grief wasn't quite enough to forestall thirst and hunger. Walking into the cafeteria was the hardest thing she ever did, trying to ignore the people watching her and whispering things about her to each other. She couldn't very well sit at her usual table now that she and Joff had broken up so she sat alone, half way down the long table from a group of people she didn't know. She hoped some of her friends would join her, but they all stayed at Joffrey's table. They were his friends, not hers. She'd never felt like such a loser before. Her only consolation was that Margaery didn't have their lunch period so Sansa didn't have to see Joff with her.
If she begged hard enough, maybe her parents would let her transfer to another school. She was about to leave and spend the period in the bathroom when Sandor sat across from her.
"You're not with Joffrey." She shot him a short glance, and then averted her eyes, as always.
"I must have sat at the wrong table," he said.
Sansa smiled brightly at him and even looked him in the eyes. Surely this meant he was her friend now. The cafeteria food was okay, but their cookies were too sweet. Sansa always brought her dessert from home. Her family's cook had made lemon pies last night and they were her favorite. She'd brought two slices to school today. She set the container in the middle of the table. "Would you like one?"
Next day going to school was less scary. Sansa paid a short visit to the bathroom to check her hair and face. She deliberately did it after the bell rang; she didn't like other girls oggling at her while whe was making herself pretty.
The noise of water running out of the tap covered the sound of sobs. Or were that the sobs that covered the noise of water?
Bent over the sink, there stood one of the senior students, trying unsuccessfully to wash tears away from her face. Short dishevelled blond hair, untidy and utterly tastless blue T-shirt, battered wide-cut jeans. The girl's broad shoulders were shaking as she cried.
Sansa didn't know this girl, and didn't fancy to make an acquaintance. The older girl looked like an outsider and probably horrible sloven.
But Sansa cried in the bathroom herself, just yesterday.
She hesitated. Maybe she should offer the older girl some paper tissues or powder to put on her puffy face? She could also tell her about that dark auditorium, too. But, after giving these thoughts some consiration, Sansa decided against it. It's not nice to invade someone's personal space like that. If somebody approached Sansa yesterday, she would scarcely be grateful for it. So the girl just slipped out of bathroom quietly and went to her class.
Vice Principal Stannis had a habit of standing on the balcony overlooking the school cafeteria during lunchtime, and watching the students. When someone asked him about this habit the Vice Principal answered this was his way of getting closer to childen and understand them. The truth was Stannis Baratheon believed that watching the students in the place and time of their getting together helped predict what troubles could be expected in future and who would be the troublemaker. Today, however, the Vice Principal was not to enjoy his favorite pastime for long.
"There's a problem in the second floor corridor, east wing," Davos Seaworth said quietly, coming from behind. Davos was an ex-con and an unlikely hire, but Stannis found him competent and trustworthy. He served as the swimming coach and an all round aide.
"What now?" Stannis asked.
Stannis frowned. He'd been keeping an eye on Gregor since the beginning of the lunch break***, and the boy hadn't left the cafeteria once.
"The other one," Davos amended. "Sandor. Him and Joffrey. Joffrey accused some poor boy of bumping into him and making his books fall. He demanded the boy pick them up and apologize to him. The boy refused and now he has a black eye."
Stannis grimaced. Joffrey was his nephew, or so his brother's Lannister wife claimed. "Did the boy say who'd done it?"
"Send him to my office." He would give Sandor two days' suspension and a week's worth of detention. However it would likely be as productive as talking to Robert and his wife about their son. Sandor had no friends; not even his brother seemed to want him around. His isolation was his own fault since he was talented at sports and could have been popular despite his facial scars if not for his sneering remarks about jocks and preps and his cynical comments when called on in class. Only Joffrey seemed to like him, and Sandor was grateful for it, following the freshman around like a dog.
Sansa was making for the cafeteria, feeling much more cheerful than yesterday. Of course, she still didn't like the perspective of meeting Joffrey and his gang much, but she kept herself distracted by wondering if she would be eating alone today and was hoping she wouldn't.
The was a bunch of students clustered together talking vigorously about some fight. Somebody hit someone, caught a hit back, then the fight was stopped and the students were taken to the Vice Principal's office. Nothing new. Something like this happened almost daily in Westeros High. Sansa didn't even deign to listen, just went straight past, her heels clacking.
Joffrey, who was standing in the queue to the hot counter, was feeling belicouse today. He was saying something to the people around him, in such a proud and audacious manner as if he were a politician going through the election campaign.
'He'll make a wounderful mayor, much better, than his father,' Sansa thought in adoration. And scorned herself immediately: they are not a couple anymore, so it doesn't matter to her! It's Margaery's job to adore him now. Or do whatever else to him. Sansa doesn't care. About him and about them.
'That bespectacled loser will pay for his insolence!' Joffrey roared loudly half of the caf turned to look at him. And added haughtily: 'This will teach the likes of him not to mess with me!'
Sansa moved her tray towards Jeyne Pool's one and asked softly:
'One boy pushed Joff and didn't want to apologize. Sandor Clegane hit him,' Jeyne whispered back.
'Just like that, out of the blue? Came and pushed him?' Sansa was surprised. Students, even seniors, usually didn't mess with Joffrey, because Sandor was always somewhere nearby, and nobody wanted to mess with him. The younger Clegane was even nicknamed 'Joffrey's dog'. He was aware of that and didn't seem to mind.
'Well... y-yes.' Jeyne stuttered.
Sansa didn't want to talk to her much, especially now that her suspicions about Jeyne moving to her ex-boyfriend side seemed to be confirmed, but she needed to know the truth.
'Jeyne!' she said sternly, taking the girl's elbow and giving her a grave look.
Poole hesitated, batting her eyelashes, and then buried her nose into Sansa's hair and whispered to her ear:
'It was Joff who started it. He said it would be fun, took as many books as he could and… well... pushed the boy. And then he announced the boy should apologize. He didn't, and Joff ordered Sandor to hit him. Only don't tell anyone I told you!'
'I won't, I promise,' Sansa said. Jeyne nodded, grabbed her tray and hurried towards the Joff's table, where all his gang was already seated.
Sandor Clegane was striding along the corridors angrily. The students parted, giving him way, and whispered behind his back, sharing the details about the fight in the eastern wing and adding their own opinion on the matter. Not at all flattering, of course.
Sansa caught up with him when he was on the lawn, making towards the gates.
'What do you want?' he demanded, turning towards her briskly. The girl didn't have the time to avert her eyes. They gazes locked: hers was full of worry, and his of hate.
'I... I...' Sansa was so flustered she coudn't manage a coherent sentence. 'I wanted to... What did Stannis decide?'
'Suspended me for two days and gave a week-long detention,' Sandor's voice was cold, but his eyes softened. 'Is this all?'
All Sansa wanted was to say 'Yes!' and leave screaming. But they are friends now, aren't they? Friends should help each other. Or at least give comfort to one another in tough situations.
'Don't worry, two days is nothing.' She wanted to say something encouraging, but couldn't think of anything. It wouldn't do to avert her eyes now though. Sansa knew it and tried to look Sandor in the face. But the sight of the horrible burns on the left side, a twisted mass of scar, slick black flesh, pocked with craters and fissured by deep cracks that gleamed red and wet, a hint of bone where the flesh had been seared away, made her sick.
'Ha! I'd happily be suspended for a week and on detention for two days!' Sandor laughed hoarsely. The laugh made the burned side of his face even scarier. As if he knew that Sansa was barely holding herself from running away and was making fun of her!
'Why did you do it? Why did you listen to Joffrey?' she blurted, angry with him.
'Because you have you own head and you ought to use it!' Sansa's mom often used this phrase when she didn't like her daughter trying to imitate her friends in a manner the mother found inappropriate for an ideal young lady. 'Why are you doing everything Joffrey tells you to do, even if it's something nasty?'
'Because he is the only one who wants to be friends with me!' Sandor bellowed, then turned and walked away as quickly as he could.
At home Bran and Arya were busy figuring out who has better aim when throwing half-rotted plums stolen away from the kitchen. When Sansa entered the living room one fruit landed right on her silken blouse, and her indignant shouts - on her siblings' heads.
Sansa let Lady into her room and slammed the door loudly. While the girl was taking a shower and washing the blouse, her anger has quieted, but she didn't want to leave her room until dinner.
Sansa jumped onto her wide bed covered with the satin coverlet, pink with huge white peonies. Lady laid majestically next to her. Sansa buried her left hand into the thick dog fur, and dragged her laptop closer with the right.
There was no new messages on Facebook, no new entries on the wall, no new comments to the pics. Looks like after Joffrey ditched her everyone considered her dead. Sansa felt a sudden desire to go to his page, or to Margaery's, to see what has changed there, but she forbade herself to do it. Both of them were still listed as her friends: to remove them meant to admit her own weakness. They didn't remove her, either. Maybe they just forgot all about her.
Lady pushed her cold wet nose against her cheek, licking down the single tear that fell from Sansa's eyes. The girl took a deep breath and tried to master herself.
And then she remembered Sandor and entered his name in the search field. His page was not informative at all, Sansa didn't like pages like that. Only his school was showing; there was no word on his interest or hobbies; friendlist was hidden; no personal info, no pics. Even his avatar was a dog's head with bared teeth.
But he was online. Sansa found the 'Add to friends' button and pressed it firmly. In a couple of minutes she got the confirmation.
She wanted to give him comfort, to support him somehow, but she didn't know how, especially after their last talk. So she simply wrote:
'Hi,' he replied.
After ten minutes of silence Sansa realized the talk is not going anywhere, and took the matter into her hands.
'What are you up to?' she wrote, and added a couple of smiley faces.
'Watching a video,' he answered.
'Which one?' Sansa was genuinely happy they found some topic to discuss.
In a minute Sandor sent her a video file attached to a message 'You won't find things like this on youtube!'
The credits showed a red title that looked as if the inscription was made in blood:
Then came a terrible growl, an anguished sound of the electric guitar and a metallic rumble of drums. Some dirty-looking men were tossing their hair, following the music. Then there was another man, even dirtier and hairier, with earth in his mouth. He digged out a corpse in the cemetary and was now dismembering it, helping himself with a saw or sometimes tearing it with his bare hands. Then he shove some tubes into the body and pumped the fluids out of it. Then the body came to life and started to devour him...
Lady growled discontentedly, looking at the monitor. Sansa came out of her stupor and turned the video off almost at the end.
Sandor is just nervous, she told herself. What is a person expected to watch when they are mad?
Sansa massaged her temples, as if hoping it will make the memories fade quicker. Then looked through the list of her own favorite videos and found "Schnuffel - Ich hab' Dich lieb". It was an adorable thing: a fluffy little grey rabbit with the cutest big eyes ever singing in the forest and playing with a soft pink heartie. She sent the video to Clegane and waited.
Three minutes passed. Sandor should have already finished watching.
Ten more minutes passed and there was no answer.
'How did you like it?' she wrote.
'Meh,' he replied.
'Is this all he can say?' Sansa asked Lady indignantly. The dog growled indistinctly. Sansa turned on her back, eyeing a crystal chandelier on the ceiling.
How can you help a friend, if the friend doesn't want to talk?
Then it dawned on her. She nearly jumped. Of course! Sandor said Joffrey was the only one who wanted to be friends with him! She needs to prove this is not true!
She turned and moved the laptop closer.
'Would you like to be friends with me?' She added a smiley face, just one.
'We're friends already. I've added you.'
'I'm not talking about Facebook. I want to be real friends. In real life.'
Sandor was silent for a couple of minutes which Sansa thought were eternity. And then he replied:
And, for the first time, he added a smiley face. Like this: :)
* Initially it was 'at the last school board meeting'. I need Ned Stark to hold a different position than a teacher, so he couldn't be present at the school board where only school personnel is allowed. I replaced it with the parent meeting.
** Initially it was continued by 'Sansa's babysitter Theon Greyjoy had always ignored her, preferring instead to search through her parents' room and talk on the phone with girls.' I cannot imagine Theon being Sansa's babysitter, as well as any teenage boy babysitting a girl barely younger than himself. I wouldn't be able to pursue this topic, so I decided to take it away.
***Initially it was 'He'd been keeping an eye on Gregor all lunch period'. According to this logic, the lunch break is almost over. In my tale, it's just started.