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In Plain Sight

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~1~

Three emails you should know about:

 

From: melisandre.asshai@lightbringer-gazette.we

To: edric.storm@lightbringer-gazette.we

CC: matthos.seaworth@lightbringer-gazette.we

Subject: Saltpans, Riverlands

 

Ed,

As you continue to be quarrelsome, I’m giving the Wight Walker assignment to Matthos instead. Forward him all your research.

As for you, I want a fluff piece for next month’s travel section. Saltpans, Riverlands should suit your “Faith” of the Seven sensibilities nicely. Historic old town, famous Sept, the Raid, ra ra ra. Interview your rowing champion half-brother for some eye candy. Review a couple of restaurants. Find me some local human interest feel good stories.

What I do want: lines that make little old ladies from Blackhaven go awwwww

What I do NOT want: stories about Tywin Lannister running a child porn ring from a gas station, or how Daenerys Targaryen is secretely a fire-breathing dragon.

And remember: I promised Stannis I’d give you a job, but I didn’t promise to keep you around forever. If you ever pitch me your conspiracy theory nonsense again, I’ll gladly watch you go down in flames.

 

May the Lord of Light guide you always,

Melisandre Asshai

Deputy Editor-in-Chief

Lightbringer Gazette

 

 

From: dondarrion@kp-saltpans.gov.we

To: arry.snow@maidenpool-uni.edu.we; gendry.waters@maidenpool-uni.edu.we; tarth@kp-riverrun.gov.we; Jaime.lannister@sbl.com; payne@kp-riverrun.gov.we; info@watergardens.dor; 3houndsc@ravenmail.we; tofmyr@ravenmail.we

[This message is marked personal and private]

Subject: Hunting Party

Attachment: bower_menu_summer.pdf

 

My dear friends,

This is the last reminder that it’s Saltpan’s turn to host the second annual Hunting Party this year and we will all meet again very soon.

I booked a table at “The Bower” for 7 pm on the Cronday two weeks from now. It’s around the corner from the KP station, T and I eat there often. Brienne, they do a lot of seafood. Does the smell still make you feel nauseated, or is the third trimester treating you better? I’m sure we can all agree not to order anything that will make you retch.

I attached the menu for everyone’s convenience. The owner is an absolute sweetheart and will accommodate anything. Just ask for Alayne.

T will pick up the Dornish crew from the airport in Maidenpool and should be back in SP at around 5. Willas, please confirm the flight details!

I can’t believe it’s been two years already.

 

May the Lord of Light guide you always,

Beric

 

 

From: arry.snow@maidenpool-uni.edu.we

To: dondarrion@kp-saltpans.gov.we

[This message is marked personal and private]

Subject: Re: Hunting Party

 

Hey Beric,

Sorry, but Pod and I won’t make it this year. It was Bran’s birthday last month and Mother has decided to throw him a party the weekend of the hunting party. Not that Bran cares, but I think she found out that Jaime will be there and … you know, any reason to keep me away from his “bad influence”.

It sucks that I’ll miss the Hunting Party AND a H’ghar blindfold workshop that I was looking forward to, but Mother has a heart of stone these days and insists that family is more important than anything in the world, even if the family in question will mostly be stoned out of their collective minds the whole weekend. It’s okay to tell you that when it’s not your jurisdiction, right?

I worry about the dog. Gendry promised to force him out of the house, but now Gendry’s mad at me because I finally told him that Pod will transfer from Riverrun to SP... You take good care of my dog, okay?

Can I drop by the station for a coffee next Mainday? I want to pick your brain about the parry-riposte practice Syrio has me do.

Arry

 

~2~

What’s happening now

Like every morning, the mirror greets Alayne Stone with Sansa Stark’s face. It’s a beautiful Cronday morning today, a light blue sky over the roofs of Saltpans’ historic old town. The sun already falls through the single window of Alayne’s tiny attic room above her “Bower.” The bells of the famous Saltpans Sept – built as an offering to the Seven after the town was raided and then rebuilt in the War of the Kings 600 years ago - wake up the little shops and cafés in the narrow alleys below. Soon scores of tourists will worm their way through this maze. They will buy postcards and ice cream and souvenirs for the grandkids before returning to the river cruise ships moored in the marina for a nap and their all-included lunch

Some of them will stop in “The Bower” for a coffee and something sweet. And Alayne will charm them, and they will tip her well and coo over her lemon cakes. After them, her regulars will stop by for lunch. During the work week they would be locals, mostly working in the several government agencies settled around the Sept. Today, most will be students from the little Saltpan Campus of Maidenpool University, hungover and in dire need of scrambled eggs and the Bower’s famous breakfast selection. Or maybe junior maesters from the Quiet Isle off their night shifts, hungry and too wired to sleep. Alayne will take care of them, too. Then a little lull in the afternoon, then the next wave of tourists, and finally in the evening the Bower is booked for a private dinner party.

A good, regular ordinary day. Alayne loves nothing more than regularity. No surprises, nothing unplanned, a simple day to look forward to.

But first: the face.

Alayne’s hair is a glossy ash tone, a totally unremarkable color on the border between brown and dark blonde, and already pinned up in a simple ponytail. Very hard to describe correctly, both in color and length. Good.

Brown contact lenses cover Sansa Stark’s Tully blue eyes. The result is a murky in-between. Very hard to describe correctly. Good.

Next, a thin layer of primer and over that a liquid foundation that turns Sansa’s aristocratic porcelain paleness into an everyday type of skin for a girl from the Vale. Not too pale, not too tan. Just ivory skin, just a blank canvas. Good.

Alayne paints the rest of her face with the firm, confident strokes of an Old Master. Her eyebrows, already tinted dark, are filled out and straightened in the process. Three shades of eyeshadow, a shimmery ocher, a matte ivory and a dark smoky gray, deepen her eyes and change their shape just so. False eyelashes. Black eyeliner. Two coats of jet black mascara.

The contours of Sansa’s heart-shaped face disappear as Alayne sculpts her own with bronzer and highlighter and blush. Just a touch here, a little there.

The final result is a face so utterly bland and yet so obviously made-up that the only answer anyone could give in a questioning would be: “Don’t remember how she looked like. Tall. Pretty, I think? Sure wore a lot of paint!”

Some powder and a setting spray. In this heat, she’ll have to come upstairs for a touch-up around lunchtime anyway.

Alayne slips out of her robe and into her usual work outfit. While Sansa used to wear pastels and jewel tones, Alayne wears only black, grey and white. Slim black slacks, cropped at the ankle, black ballet flats, a white flowing shirt and long eye-catching earrings, glasses with a fashionable frame and non-prescription lenses. Refrained, tasteful, elegant like a Lysian film star from the 50’s.

Also, very boring.

Good.

 

Downstairs, she unlocks the café and waits for the crew of the morning shift to arrive. A totally unremarkable day.

We’ll see.

 

~

 

“Dondarrion, 11 9 guests (3 blind), 7 pm. Private Function”

The Bower seats 30 people, if you count both the inside and their little al fresco area, but tonight they’ll close down the entire place for just nine guests. Fully compensated for the loss of business, of course. Alayne likes Beric and his partner Thoros, who are kind and courteous and tip well… and never spoke to Sansa Stark in person, way back when. They were among her first regulars when she came to Saltpans two years ago and overhauled the Bower from an outdated forgotten tea room Petyr Baelish kept around as a tax write-off into what it is today. They’ve been loyal customers ever since. The tiny Knights Prosecutor Station, much too small for its own cafeteria, is just ten houses and a corner away, and now, with their own Ser Dondarrion as an example, most of the squires eat at the Bower at least once a week.

But she is her Daddy’s daughter, even if he said he’d come back for her two years ago and hasn’t turned up again since. And her Daddy’s daughter does not let her own sympathies come between her and money. Business is business.

She has to remind herself of that when she overhears one of her waitstaff chat with one of the guests.

“… and can you believe the council will allow the fucking R’hllorists to build a new temple! As if the one on Blackfyre wasn’t enough of an eyesore!” The speaker in question is a young Northerner who has frequented The Bower several times in the last year. Every time, her waitresses had come back to the bar with flaming cheeks and trembling hands. A very charming young man, with oddly pale eyes, like dirty ice. An utter psychopath, Alayne is aware of that. She’s seen men like him before.

“R’hllorists, pah! Almost as bad as all those wildlings coming down from the North. Winter is coming, my ass.” It seems like this time he has found a willing audience in Harry, her only male waiter, a student from the Vale getting his second link in history.

“Harry!” Alayne hisses at him when he walks by her later. She is very stern when it comes to bad manners; she will tolerate light swearing, indulges in it herself from time to time, but she draws the line at slurs. “I have told you a hundred times not to use the w-word. The polite term is Free Folk as you very well know. Please, use it!”

Harry grumbles for the rest of his shift, but lunch runs smoothly anyway. He’s a great waiter, attentive and charming and their main clientele of retired cruise ship tourists love his dimpled blondness that makes them dream of good grandsons who always call and never talk back and get married to Westerosi girls in tasteful, traditional Sept weddings. For that she is willing to overlook his flaws, of which he has many.

But because she knows him, she also sorted him into the lunch and afternoon shift today and will do the evening alone with just the kitchen crew. Alayne won’t risk having Harry or any other of her crew offend Beric or Thoros or their friends, and she can deal with nine guests just fine on her own.

 

~

 

It’s half past six and she’s in the kitchen going over their order for the rest of the week, when the last remaining waitress of the evening shift, a spunky Maidenpool student called Sally, sweeps in and waves at her.

“Alayne, the Warrior Incarnate just walked in, asked for you. Definitely part of our dinner reservation.”

“The Warrior Incarnate? That I got to see” Harry pipes up from behind where he’d been trying to chat up Jeyne, one of the cooks, and then they huddle near the kitchen door and gawk at the looming figure waiting patiently at the bar.

“Oh Gods, he’s huge! Too bad about the face, though. And you know…” Jeyne whispers and gestures towards her eyes. “I wonder what happened to him.”

The man is so very tall, much closer to seven feet than six. And he’s broad, too. His bulging muscles are clearly outlined against the thin fabric of a T-Shirt in faded black, much-washed and now soot gray, like his jeans. Arms like tree trunks. One half of his beardless face burned and scarred. Wide shoulders, brushed by long black hair that barely covers a missing ear.

“He really looks like the Warrior,” Harry says, awed.

Alayne doesn’t hear him, not really.

It’s the Hound.

Sandor Clegane is in her Bower. It’s over, they have found her after all, it’s over. If she can slip out the back door through the kitchen, maybe she’ll have enough of a head start to make it to the train station...

She takes a step forward instead.

He turns his head slightly, he’s looking straight ahead, straight at her, he’ll recognize her any second now… but his eyes are a warm, deep brown. His eyes are not his eyes, and that can’t be. She vividly remembers metal, silver, or angry steel gray, the color that swords are. The rest of the picture falls into place. The white cane in his hand.

11 guests, 3 blind.

He’s blind, oh gods, he’s blind. He doesn’t… he doesn’t know I’m…

And then her survival instincts kick into gear, finally, and she straightens up, throws her hair back and is Alayne Stone, who will greet all her guests with the gracious charm of the natural born hostess, no matter if they are little old ladies on a day trip from Riverrun or giant scarred men who haunt her dreams with half-remembered kisses.

“Hey, I’m Alayne. You’re here for Beric’s party, I assume?” Her voice is all Alayne, no hint of the North, not a trace of lords and kings, of 9000 years of Starks. Just a nice girl from the Vale.

“I’m a little early, I’m afraid”, he says with a smile, an actual smile, as if this whole thing wasn’t surreal enough. His politeness throws her almost as much as his blindness has.

“You’re the first one here, but you’re not that early. May I guide you to your table?”

When he nods, she touches the back of her hand to the back of his, and he gently draws his hand upwards along her arm until he gets to a spot just above the elbow. She has done this with Beric a hundred times before, and she knows how to accommodate a blind guest. She leads him to the table and adjusts her gait to a limp he didn’t used to have – another change of him that disturbs her deep inside. She describes the layout of the table, lets him choose his chair. She’s business-like, yet charming, completely unfazed. Daddy would be so proud.

He orders some water, which she brings him while “The Hound never drank water” repeats in her head like a broken record.

And then she lets him wait for the rest of his party to arrive and sneaks into the bathroom. Her make-up is still perfect.

Deep breaths. Deep breaths, Alayne. You’ll be fine.

 

~

 

The next guest comes through the door. A young man with dark hair and bright blue eyes. Alayne doesn’t need anyone to tell her Gendry Waters’ name, not after his single scull triumph over Riverrun during last autumn’s head race, the first win for Maidenpool in over 20 years. Not after the newspapers were full of him, his picture conveniently placed next to several headshots of Baratheon progeny. Robert Baratheon’s natural son.

She watches him like a hawk as he confidently comes up to Clegane, as they greet each other as if they meet up every day, both of them relaxed. They are friends, she realizes, but that can’t be because the Hound doesn’t have friends.

Gendry is about to order his drink, when the door opens and the next guests arrive. And again, no introductions are needed. Everyone in Westeros knows Prince Oberyn of Dorne and Ellaria Sand. They’ve been a favorite of gossip rags everywhere for close to 20 years now, and his tragic car accident three years ago has inspired many an attention-grabbing headline, the tales of Ellaria’s unwavering devotion to him through countless facial reconstruction surgeries have brought many a King’s Landing housewife to tears. He’s blind now, of course.

After them come Beric and Thoros, who she’s seen almost every day for years.

The last member of the group is another familiar face she has never seen in real life before. Willas Tyrell, golden-eyed and handsome and walking with a cane, the oldest of the Tyrell siblings and the only Tyrell who eschews the cameras that follow Loras and Margaery wherever they go. Margaery used to constantly make jokes that Sansa should date him, back then, a lifetime ago.

She greets them all, because she is charming and confident Alayne Stone of the Vale, and certainly not a scared little Northern girl that yearns for her dead family every minute of the day.

When seconds later the last two guests come through the door, she is so far beyond the ability to be surprised that the sight of Jaime Lannister leaves her totally numb. He’s holding hands with a blonde giantess who is also very pregnant. Ser Brienne Tarth, the third female Knight Prosecutor in the history of the Riverlands. A common target of the ire of the people, even though – or maybe because – she is very good at what she does.

If Aegon the Conqueror comes through the door next, on dragon back and all, Alayne will offer him a drinks menu and some peanuts and she will not bat an eye. Nothing feels real anymore.

None of them pay much attention to her, other than a quick hug from Thoros and a handshake from Beric. Jaime Lannister doesn’t look at her at all, he’s so busy complaining about the traffic on the road from Riverrun. And she’s not worried about him to be honest. He never looked at her twice, the few times they met face to face in KL. He only had eyes for Cersei then, just as he seems to only have eyes for Ser Tarth today.

It’s fascinating to watch this group of people. How did they meet? What was it that brought them together? Read the room, Alayne.

It’s obvious they all know each other well. The Dornish greet each and every one of them with cheek kisses, so does Ser Tarth. Cheek kisses for the Hound, it makes her want to laugh. There is much commenting on the size of Ser Tarth’s stomach, much laughter about her self-deprecating answers. Stories of traffic and air travel and children back home. Gendry asks after Myrcella Baratheon, shipped off to boarding school in Dorne four years ago, like he knows her and knows her well, and then he and Jaime Lannister and Ellaria Sand put their heads together and… gossip.

Alayne takes their drink orders. Alayne explains their menu and the specials. She’s perfectly calm.

“So, is that like a self-help group? Something wrong with all of them, right?” Jeyne asks when Alayne comes back into the kitchen.

“No,” Alayne replies solemnly, “just friends having dinner.”

Not an ordinary day. Not at all.

 

~

 

No matter how fascinating this unexpected assembly of celebrities is… it’s the Hound she simply can’t take her eyes off of. What is he doing here? What happened to him? The eyes, the limp? Hadn’t he suffered enough with just the scars on his face?

It’s the very first time in her life that she can truly look at him without shaking in fear, and now she just drinks him in. She notices things she had known about him once; she sees things she has never noticed before. How elegant his hands are, how long his fingers – for a sizzling second, she imagines his hands on her, his fingers in her-

The scars on his face, gruesome, yes, but a lot less overwhelming now that she has had five years to get used to them. Joffrey used to make fun of the way he ate, his burned lips not closing right in the corner of his mouth, Joff’s vicious barbs seemingly unnoticed by the Hound in his stoic composure. No one here today is making fun, the atmosphere is light and joyful, and Alayne can see that this is Sandor Clegane at peace, relaxed among people he trusts. Whatever she had thought of as stoicism in King’s Landing had simply been a thin smokescreen put over rage and hurt. His warm brown eyes look so real. Prince Oberyn’s dark eyes are beautifully made, too, but Clegane’s eyes move so realistically. Beric, of course, never takes off his sunglasses.

 

~

 

Sandor's muscles are chiseled like a statue. At one point he stretches his arms above his head and the muscles in his upper arms seem to triple. It takes her breath away.

She can’t help it. She’s staring, but for the life of her she cannot stop looking at him. He looks so happy and she is so happy that he’s happy and if he would touch her with these hands of his…

And as if just looking wasn’t bad enough, Alayne’s flirting, too. She realizes that after the first course is finished, when she refills the drinks. It had just happened, she doesn’t know how or why.

She brings a new glass of water for him (“The Hound doesn’t drink water!”) and when she guides his hand to it… she lets her touch linger, just a bit. She takes orders, but when she talks to him, her voice turns from attentive to sultry. She leans a little closer to him than necessary. The Hound seems… baffled.

The others definitely do notice now, too. Gendry follows every one of her actions with wide disbelieving eyes. Ellaria Sand’s beautiful face wears the smile of a very entertained predator, and Willas Tyrell looks at her like a spectator at a horse race scrutinizes a promising three-year-old. Finally, Ser Tarth locks eyes with Thoros who whispers something into Beric’s ear who in turn waves her closer.

“Why don’t you sit down with us for bit, Alayne, have a glass of wine. Come and meet our friends. We’d enjoy your company.”

Daddy would be so mad about the risk she’s running with this, but she can’t help herself. Reality has ceased to be, she hasn’t enjoyed herself like this in so long. How far can she go, before…?

“Oh, thank you, yeah, I can spare a minute.” She gets herself a glass of sparkling water, draws up a chair, maneuvers it right next to Sandor Clegane, on his right side. He sits up straighter. Thoros introduces the group, whose famous and royal members wave all her attempts at formality aside. She can’t see herself ever calling a Prince of Dorne “Oby,” but Ser Tarth with her kind blue eyes already feels like a Brienne to her. The Hound is introduced as “my friend, Clegane”.

“May I ask what the occasion is? Someone to congratulate? Other than the mother-to-be, of course.” She raises her glass to Brienne who accepts the gesture with a gracious nod. “A birthday?”

She must have said something funny. Shades of merriment ripple through the group, from soft chuckles to open laughter.

“Just the opposite, my dear”, Thoros starts up to explain. “Just the opposite. We’ve gathered here today to celebrate the dea-”

“Do you know what classified means, Thoros?” Brienne interjects sharply. Thoros just laughs and tips his glass to her.

“Well, let me just say this much. Two years ago, to this very day, a group of proud and gallant Knights Warrior rode out into a dark forest to slay a terrible monster and, after a fierce battle, emerged victorious.”

Sandor Clegane snorts. “Wasn’t the monster a fucking knight, too, Thoros?”

“Not a true one,” Sansa says with conviction. “No true Knight Warrior could ever be a monster.”

“A lovely sentiment, my dear,” Beric says. “Say, Alayne, these grilled vegetables were delicious. Grown locally, I assume?”

“Eh, yes. Right now, we get a lot of our produce from Ray’s Sanctuary here in Saltpans.” She’s a little confused, both by Beric’s sudden change of topic and the further delight her answer seems to cause her audience. Sandor Clegane has gone very, very still.

“Don’t be shy, Sandor,” Gendry needles him and finally offers an explanation to a very puzzled Alayne. “He works there, you know. Probably grew everything you buy from there himself.”

“You’re a gardener?” Alayne asks, unbelieving. The Hound. Growing plants. In a garden.

“I’m a… sort of teacher,” he rasps. “I work with the kids in the gardens. They are the ones that actually grow stuff.”

“Oh, have you always wanted to be a teacher?” she asks him playfully. Randa would be so proud.

He laughs. Not the Hound’s dark vicious laughter, drenched in wine and blood. No, simply relaxed mirth.

“Not really, no. What about you? Always wanted to be a waitress?” Oh, he doesn’t know she’s the owner?

“No. I wanted to be a singer.”

“A singer, eh?”

Their heads are close together now.

“I’m a little songbird, you could say.”

“Are you now?”

“Yeah.”

She’s touching him, openly. Her fingers stroke over his hand, on to his wrist, and he returns the touch, long fingers on her bare skin. It’s exhilarating.

“You know, I sing at the Sept, every Strangerday evening service. Maybe you could come one day and I could sing for you. Maybe the Mother’s Hymn?”

And that’s a mistake.

He tenses up like she’d stung him, his face blank. Do you, do you know who I am? Have I gone too far? Have I gone far enough?

“I’m not a fan of Septs,” he says with a voice like ice, but he doesn’t pull his hand back. His eyes are warm and brown, and she wonders if in a different life they would be storm gray and flashing with anger right now.

His earlier playfulness doesn’t return, and Alayne covers up her faux-pas with some more chitchat and retreats into the kitchen to nurse her wounded pride.

 

~

 

Beric, Thoros and their guests from Dorne leave shortly before 11 P.M. There’s a lot of hugging involved, cheeks are kissed once more, plans for the next day confirmed.

When Willas Tyrell walks by Alayne on his way to the front door, he stops and looks at her from top to bottom and back to the top, with his kind, golden eyes that seem to be in on a joke she hasn’t been told yet. “So tall,” he says, half to her, half to himself and the bottle of Dornish Red he must have had on his own. “You two will have spectacularly tall children. Thank gods that you have the hips for it.”

One advantage of wearing approximately seven layers of make-up on your face is that nobody will see you blush.

The remaining four guests sit for a little bit longer, Brienne’s tiredness more obvious from minute to minute, and finally they too get up, say their polite goodbyes to Alayne and leave. Alayne rushes to grab a convenient garbage bag from the kitchen and slips outside through the backdoor into the tiny courtyard. She was right, they are lingering still, the opportunity to tease a friend not wasted.

"What in all the seven hells was that?" Gendry asks with a joyful incredulity. "She practically threw herself at you!"

"He’s right, Sandor. There was hair touching, batted eyelashes, sultry looks. Utterly wasted on you, of course, but it’s the thought that counts. And that hand touching? My advice to you is to march right back in there and throw her over your giant shoulder! Make it a free folk wedding! Your best chance at any kind of wedding, really."

"Jaime, leave him be. Goodnight, Sandor. Goodnight, Gendry. Thank you for a lovely evening." Brienne kisses them on the cheek, then walks away into the direction of Tully Square. Jaime Lannister mumbles a hasty goodbye and follows Brienne into the night.

"If you miserable little cunt tell m‘lady about any part of this, I will strangle you, slowly, and I will enjoy it."

M‘lady. She presses herself deeper into the shadows. He has a m’lady, a girlfriend, maybe even a wife, and she just threw herself at him, like… like a wanton slut. No wonder he was so uncomfortable. Sansa’s shame burns deeply.

Their voices fade. Alayne walks back inside, her heart beating in her chest like a fluttering little bird.

She locks up, wipes down the tables, mops the floor twice, takes her time. Her legs ache and her feet hurt when she finally walks up the steps to her place. She makes herself a cup of herbal tea, lets it steam on the counter, lights a candle on her tiny kitchen table, blows it out again. No fire, not tonight.

She’s almost dead on her feet in the shower, half asleep when she takes her make-up off, carefully reversing the morning’s work. Contact lenses first, then eye make-up remover, oil cleanser, cleansing balm, face oil, moisturizer softly padded into the skin. Sansa Stark’s bare face in the mirror is mocking her.

She falls into her bed, eyes firmly shut, but sleep won’t come. She gets up again, remembers the herbal tea, now cold and long forgotten on the kitchen counter, drinks it anyway. She stands before her bed for a long minute. There’s a battered old backpack, covered in rusty colored spots, grime and dust, underneath her bed. She takes it out. Inside, there’s an old leather jacket, size 4XL, just as stained and battered, an expired can of pepper spray and a broken pair of handcuffs. She takes the jacket out. There are four photographs, hidden in a breast pocket. A laughing family before a Sevenmas tree. A puppy in the arms of a young girl with auburn hair. An imposing wintery castle in the snow. A close-up of a man’s face, his storm gray eyes clear and bright in an angry, scarred face. Behind him, blurry and out of focus, a boy with green eyes and golden hair smiles angelically right into the camera. Alayne stares at the photograph in her hand like an explorer who accidentally stumbles across the ruins of a lost city in the desert. Time goes by. She takes nail scissors from her bedside table and carefully cuts the smiling blond boy out of the photograph, cuts him up into tiny pieces, throws him out of the window into the night air.

The remaining part of the photograph is lovingly put back with the others, back into the jacket, back into the backpack, back under the bed. Safely stowed away.

She falls asleep and dreams of the Hound in her bed.

 

~3~

What happened way back when

At fifteen, Sansa Stark met the Hound for the first time and it felt like walking into a horror flick. In secluded, lovely Winterfell, everything was groomed and cozy and neat. People came from all over Westeros to visit the castle and the famous gardens, both those under glass and out of doors. Her family was close, if chaotic and loud. Her family’s employees were as good as family, if less chaotic and less loud. Other than her mother’s open dislike of Jon, there was a pastoral cheer, a routine of “every day the same” to everything around her that Sansa felt was… boring. Spoiled and sheltered, she simply craved drama. And romance. And beauty.

When Joffrey, gorgeous green-eyed Joffrey, came through the gates of Winterfell, it felt to her like the beginning of fairytale. When his personal bodyguard took off of his motorcycle helmet a second later, it quite ruined the picture. She had never seen anyone so ugly or so angry before, not in real life.

It took her weeks not to shudder in his presence, and even after she had gotten used to his ruined face – and she felt horrid that it took her such a long time, he was only human after all– the anger in his eyes kept her on her toes at all times.

 

At sixteen, Sansa wept on her knees. Her fairytale wasn’t a fairytale. Her fair prince was a monster who tormented her, and the man she had thought of as a monster gently dabbed blood from her face, saved her from a protest-turned-riot, counseled her, told her his secrets. He still scared her, too.

 

At seventeen, she watched the shipyard of King’s Landing burn and Sandor Clegane disappear into the night.

 

At eighteen, Sansa Stark disappeared herself...