Sansa woke with a throbbing pain emanating from the back of her head. She gingerly placed a hand to the spot that seemed the center of her discomfort, half expecting to see blood on her finger tips when she brought them before her blurry eyes. She couldn’t bring her surroundings into focus, but the way she was being…rocked, it seemed she would find herself atop a horse. Her stomach lurched as the rocking grew more severe and she groaned, swallowing the bile that threatened to rise. The listing of the room and her stomach brought the realization home. A ship. I’m on a ship.
“Ah, the princess is awake.” A door she hadn’t noticed before swung open and a large robed man entered, balancing two plates of food and a flagon of something and two cups. She thought back on what she could remember from the past hours, days, weeks and wondered how the familiar rasp of the near giant holy warrior fit in to the bits and blurbs that came to her. “I didn’t hurt you too badly, did I?
The man’s massive hands pushed the cowl and hood away from his face and Sansa drew a sharp breath, groping around the bed and the area around her for anything she could fashion into a weapon. She felt her heart racing in her chest, her breath racking her slight frame in rushed and forceful heaves. “S-s-stay back, I’m no princess, merely a bastard girl from the Vale. My lord father will reward you for my safe return.” In lieu of arming herself with a dagger or a heavy vase, Sansa fell back on the lessons of her septa and armed herself with her courtesy instead.
“The honorable lord Baelish would reward me by lightening the burden carrying my head had placed on my shoulders.” The Hound snorted, slamming their trays down on the makeshift table fashioned from an old crate. “Besides, I know who you are,” he said through a toothy grin, taking a massive bite out of what seemed to be a comically small apple. “Little bird.”
“Please, don’t take me back.” Her voice was small and she feared they were already on their way to King’s Landing and she saw her own head rolling down the stairs at the Sept of Baelor, wondering if her dismembered body would do the same dance her father’s had. “I have nothing to offer you, but myself, but I will not go back to Cersei alive.”
Sandor Clegane’s eyes widened, his good brow arching in surprise. He tilted his head to the side, as if contemplating the apple in his hand, before returning his gaze to the girl. “I’m not taking you back to King’s Landing, little bird.” He had thought of toying with her, making her blush and stammer as she tried to negotiate her safety, but her icy blue eyes remained tearless and she fixed gaze on him. He sighed, waving her over to him, patting the stool next to him. She stumbled a bit as she stood up and he moved to help her but she waved him back, straightening her rumpled gown the best she could before managing the short distance to the table.
“If not to ransom me before the queen, what are your intentions with me?” Sansa perched on the stool beside him, running the wooden spoon through the mysterious stew before her, her face screwed up at the grey…meat? She wasn’t sure what it was and her roiling stomach cautioned her against the risk and she settled for the hunk of crusty bread instead. Sandor had no such reservations about the meal and took over her bowl when he eyed it and she nodded.
“If you think I could possibly show my ugly face to Cersei again and keep my head, you’re more a fool than I remembered.” He raised his hand toward her face then and she flinched and huddled in an attempt to protect herself from what she clearly thought would be an attack. “Easy, little bird.” He brushed his knuckles gently against her arm slowly. She let out a labored breath and lifted her eyes. “Let me check your head.”
Sansa unfurled herself from her protective stance, searching his face for a hint of aggression or the anger she had been accustomed to seeing in his grey eyes. But they were clear and kind, his brow furrowed with concern. She relaxed and gave him another silent nod, letting him wrap his massive hand around her head, threading his fingers through her hair to find the lump at the base of her skull. She winced a bit at the touch and he gently detangled his hand from her tousled hair.
“It was not how I wanted to take you away,” he admitted with a soft laugh, brushing her mousy brown hair away from her face with what Sansa thought was a frown. “But you were just on and on about being Alayne Stone and how your father was an important man…” Sandor brought his hands to rest on his legs, nervously picking at the roughspun brother’s robes he wore. “I just couldn’t leave you with Petyr, wouldn’t leave you behind again.”
Sansa shook her head, letting his clothes and what he said sink in. She let out a shaky laugh that was almost a sigh and rubbed her eyes with the heels of her palms. She remembered now, seeing the holy men coming through the great hall, amongst them a large man that would later find her in a darkened hall, when she had been just enough in her cups to let her guard down. She gasped, barely keeping her feet in contact with the floor, spun into a snaring embrace.
“Don’t scream,” the man rasped and in the faint light cast from a torch nearby, she saw the familiar scars of a familiar face. Sansa began to kick and bite against the hand that had clamped down against her mouth. “Girl, I’m here to take you away.” And there, she realized, was where she had been mistaken.
“I thought you meant you would take me away, back to the Lannisters.”
“Not likely their craven dog would ever be welcome back,” he spat. “Word of Baelish’s natural born daughter living in the Vale of Arryn, looking every bit like a love child he could have had with your lady mother, reached the Isle. My interest was naturally piqued after your dramatic flight from King’s Landing.” He shot her a look of what she could best place as pride as he tipped a horn of ale to his mouth.
“I did not kill Joff,” she hissed at him and reached out to pinch the flesh of his arm between her tiny talons. He growled, clearly taken aback by her petty move, before his scowl broke into a howl of laughter. “I was merely used to get the poison to the wedding,” she offered, dryly. Sandor poured her a bit of ale and slid the horn toward her with a massive finger. She scrunched her face up at the smell, but before she knew it, she had drained the cup and pointed for her latest captor to pour another.
Sandor was still smirking when she had half-drained the next one. She narrowed her eyes at him, scanning his massive form barely concealed by his ill-fitting garb. He caught her gaze as he went to take another drink, pausing with the ale midway to his mouth. “What? Never seen a brother of the Seven, little bird?”
It was her turn to roar with laughter. Her hands clutched at her sides and she brushed away the tears of laughter that surprised her as the first sprang free and rolled out of her eyes. “The Hound swore a vow, and to the Seven, no less!”
“Aye, get a good laugh, woman.” Sandor tried to scowl, tried to be angry like he knew he would have been when she knew him before, but he just couldn’t help but laugh along with her. “I never took vows, but I lived on the Quiet Isle with the sworn brothers for…well, just about as long since I saw you last.”
“Fitting,” she said into her cup. “The Hound finds faith just as I lose it. Gods be good.”
That seemed to flip a switch somewhere in Sandor’s mind. Without a second thought, he dumped the rest of his ale in her cup and left his face down on the table. He pushed away from the table with a bit of effort and Sansa watched as the formidable warrior limped across their small cabin to collapse onto the poor excuse for a pallet with a groan. “The Hound is dead, little bird.”
He awoke sometime later, a warm body nestled under his arm. The brown hair was all wrong, but he quickly remembered where he was and how he spirited Sansa Stark away from Littlefucker’s clutches. He leaned into her hair, inhaling deeply before pressing a kiss to her head and dragging her closer. He couldn’t see the harm, he would feign sleep if she woke up. Sandor couldn’t remember if he had ever been close to someone like this before, aside from sleeping on the ground, shoulder to shoulder as a soldier. Experience in the field could hardly compare.
“What happened to your leg?” He startled, realizing she had never been asleep, and loosened his hold on her. “Don’t pull away.” He obeyed. Sansa lifted her head from crook of his arm, resting a palm on his chest to keep herself upright. “What happened to you? You used to be so angry with me all the time and now you tell me you came to find me to save me.”
Sandor didn’t want to open up the emotional wound again, and was certainly in no rush to bring up Arya, but he owed her something in the way of explanation to be sure. “I was nearly killed in a fight with some of my brother’s men. I was brought to the Quiet Isle to heal and seek penance for my past.”
“You don’t drink as you used to.” Sansa swept an arm toward the flagon she had emptied by the second hour of his sleep. She had worked up quite a thirst in The Vale. Sansa Stark learned that bastards have far more fun than high born girls. “I noticed we drank that poor excuse for ale and not your signature sour red.”
“No wine for me, little bird.” His long arm drifted down her arm, dragging her hand under his to her thigh. He pressed her bony fingers into the crater in his muscle, watching a rosy flush creep up her neck. “I’ll never be the man I once was.” And he meant it in everyway she could take it. Her hand was suddenly at his throat and he wondered where the knife in her hand had come from. A beat later and he saw that the knife was an insignificant thing, nothing more than a cheese knife really, but he was impressed by her nerve. “Easy, girl.”
“Would you trust me less if I held a blade to your neck and demanded a song?” Sansa’s eyes were cold and confident, a marked shift from their last encounter. “Yes, you say you won’t take me back to King’s Landing, and I believe you. But what trust do I have that you won’t rape or beat me or sell me first chance you get?” He deserved her accusations, her skepticism and so he kept silent. Sandor could only ask her to be patient and put any faith she may have left in him for the only truth he knew how to speak was through action. “Why would the fearsome warrior, Sandor Clegane, risk death or capture to ascend the Eyrie for a little bird who may or may not be where you expect her?”
“Because you’re my salvation, little bird.” The eating knife fell away from her unfurled hand and she balled the neckline of his tunic instead. “There is naught to be done for all the blood I have spilled, but when I heard you were so close, I knew no amount of idle prayer could save me,” Sandor brushed an errant lock of hair away from her face and grinned. In truth, he felt like some knight in a song. A fool and his cunt. “I must save a princess from a castle in the clouds.”
“So now what?” He could see she was trying to hold something back, tears or laughter, he wasn’t sure.
“Pentos.” He stated, unsure if this would set the little bird off.
“Pentos?” Sansa stiffened, clearly affronted by the suggestion of going anywhere but home. “I have been a fool and misplaced my trust, but you stole me, Sandor Clegane!” He was caught on that charge. But Sandor knew what came of giving scared little birds a choice, so he stole her- borrowed her really.
“Winterfell is too obvious. And belongs to the Bolton’s.” Sansa shot him a leveling look that said she needed no reminder where the ownership of her ancestral home stood. He saw her clench and unclench her jaw, a familiar tic he once enjoyed himself. “Not forever. We will only stay abroad as long as it takes to bring Sansa Stark safely back North.”
“And let the bloody Bolton’s destroy my family seat and the North?” Her voice was barely less than a scream and Sandor pressed his hand gently to her lips. She took a breath, knowing the walls merely offered the semblance of privacy, and continued her interrogation at a more ladylike volume. “What good can I do from across the Narrow Sea?”
“You can stay alive, for one.” Sandor knew they could spend time looking for Arya once things settled down after her disappearance from the Vale. And what he did to Petyr. “And besides, you have no army. Your brother’s bannermen are either dead or pledged to your enemies, and I am not the fighter I once was. But even in my best form, I could never win your home back on my own. I have even less friends than you, little bird.”
“I’m sure the Bolton’s would reward you for my return. They could legitimize their claim to Winterfell. I’m sure you could make a bit of coin for yourself with my ransom.” Sansa had taken a defensive seat. She was no longer the meek little girl he remembered. It seemed some time with her father had hardened her to the truths of the world.
“There is no way in the Seven hells I would hand deliver you to the Bolton’s.” It was Sandor’s turn to feel offended, but he knew her defenses were valid and he almost proud to see her standing up to him. It only stung because he had promised her he would never hurt her, and he took that seriously. He meant it. “I am not trying to ransom you, Sansa. I want to protect you.”
“So, you have some coin? I imagine we’ll need some of that where we’re going.” She had been silent for a moment and Sandor feared she would refuse him. He had coin, more than enough to spirit them away and keep a princess comfortable. That reassurance earned her a proud grin and he pulled her down beside him again, feeling as if what came next would be the greatest gift an old dog could want.
“Your bastard’s father was quite generous.” Sansa gasped and hid her reaction behind her hand. Still too courteous to wish her jailer ill. Her eyes were as wide as her head seemed to allow and he shook his head, reading her dark thoughts. “Didn’t kill him, little bird. Just left him in the dark.” Sandor could tell she did not quite catch his meaning. Thinking on it a moment, he chuckled to himself before adding, “I robbed him blind!”
Blinding the prick had seemed a fitting punishment for his crimes. If thieves lost hands, why shouldn’t perverts lose their sight? Petyr Baelish could never see his pretty whores. Could never see Catelyn Tully in Sansa. But above all, he knew it would make a man like Littlefinger a much easier man to play against and he hoped the scheming fuck would stay hidden in his fortress. Not to mention the greedy bastard had been carrying enough coin to keep them comfortable for a lifetime.
“You did not!” Sansa’s polite mask slipped, and she let out a dark laugh as she fixed her gaze on the wall. “He’ll never be able to trust anyone ever again, never be able to lie.”
Sandor could see her restraint as she tried to remain collected, though he knew she was pleased Baelish was served some justice. She was leaning into him again, Sandor seemingly having passed her test. “Have I earned your trust, little bird?” She nodded, her chin resting on his chest, seeking his embrace again. “I have no interest in keeping you locked up, but you must listen to me and hide when I say, stay away from people and places I say. We both need to lay low and keep each other safe if this is to work. No one wants me alive. My head is just as valuable on as off, but I won’t be around to look after you if I am dead.”
“I’ll be a good little bird,” a girl named Sansa Stark promised.