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Stronger, Part II
asoiaf, black and white, Sansa Stark
akissandacloak

Sansa had vowed to let the girl die, to let the woman be born, not even… the Queen, the Wolf… She had vowed to put the fanciful maiden who held Jeyne Poole’s hand and her own breath as she looked at the world through the glow of golden curtains behind her forever. She had made the vow for the same reason most made vows; She thought she had no other choice.

Rating: 16+

Triggers: Sexual abuse, non-graphic

Part One



“Your sister… she is… she was alive, that little bitch,” he laughed then, roughly, sweetly. “Must’ve given her the worst haircut in the seven kingdoms…”

Sansa listened as Sandor Clegane told her of his time with Arya, the tale thrown out before her in hardly any order like pieces of a puzzle she’d thought she’d lost falling from the sky. She would not let herself acknowledge it, but it gave her a feeling of hope. Arya never lacked for willpower, she thought, thinking of the girl who skipped riding ponies and went straight to horses, the girl who walked with a wooden sword strapped to her hip with confidence when even Jon and Robb still walked awkwardly from the new weight, the girl who bit her tongue in concentration, trying desperately to embroider, even though she always proclaimed it “stupid”. The Hound laughed often, thinking back on Arya, and it made her feel queerly. Arya was so real to him. To Sansa, she felt like nothing more than the horizon, a line she could move towards for all eternity and never reach, and yet, Arya was the ocean, too; Sansa could very easily drown in her thoughts of her too long lost sister. It would be easy to drown in them then and there, but she would not let that happen. If King’s Landing had taught her anything it was how to put up that thin wall between herself and the full feeling of her emotion. This moment was about Sandor… He was sitting upright. He was speaking. He felt he needed to tell her this, so she would let him. No matter what path he had taken after the night of the Battle of the Blackwater, Sansa felt indebted to him. She was Queen now. This man was beneath her, yes, but he had saved her many times while he was in King’s Landing and the memory of him had saved her countless times since then. So, here she sat, listening, even when the thought of Arya felt like a knife being twisted in her tummy, because she knew it was making him feel better.

When Sam had come to her, telling her that the Hound was awake and that he seemed to have his wits entirely, she had not believed him. She had expected it to all be a dream. Sansa had vowed to let the girl die, to let the woman be born, not even… the Queen, the Wolf… She had vowed to put the fanciful maiden who held Jeyne Poole’s hand and her own breath as she looked at the world through the glow of golden curtains behind her forever. She had made the vow for the same reason most made vows; She thought she had no other choice. Sandor Clegane, for whatever reason, seemed the last thread on that life. When all of her dreams had come true, the tourney, the joust, the feast… a knight’s favor, a prince’s affections (however insincerely given)… he had been the constant spot in the room during the vertiginous dance, the light in the dark, the only truth in the romance that would be her ruin… He had been there to walk her to her chambers, to remind her that the world was awful, to tell her that monsters were real, and she, just a girl, incapable of understanding the world of pain inside of him, had comforted him. The horror that Sandor Clegane embodied had always pulled at Sansa’s heartstrings, had always made her braver and bolder, and had always pulled the love and nurturing in her to the surface. There were pieces of that girl that Sansa would be loathe to lose, she realized, and those pieces had always reached out to the Lannister’s dog. He has not been their dog for years… Perhaps he is no dog at all…

After listening to his tale, Sansa did believe that he intended to deliver her sister to her mother and brother. She was thankful that he had been there to curb Arya’s willfulness. She could not decide which was more heart breaking, what could have happened to Arya without the Hound there or the fact that Arya was there at all, so close to being reunited with them, so close to tragedy, too close to convince herself that death was anything than horrible. Her chest was pounding; Gladdened by the news that Arya had lived so long, Sansa felt a smile try to creep across her face, but a small voice whispered to her, Is it truly good that Arya did not die in the arms of your mother and brother? Their bodies were horribly maimed, that is true, but Sansa was over that now. A body is not who a person is and there were worse things in life than death. Sansa had seen many of those things herself and her brief time reunited with Jeyne Poole and Theon Greyjoy had only solidified her belief that, sometimes, death was better.

“And how did you lose Arya?” Sansa felt a chill crawl up her spine as she said her sister’s name.

“She left me. I was… I was in a bad way… wounded, weak, near death… I wanted her to kill me, to finish me off, but she wouldn’t… said I didn’t deserve mercy and, damn the girl to seven hells, she was right. I didn’t deserve death. I didn’t deserve to live. I deserved shit other than the pain I was in.”

He seemed to look through her then, his eyes like two grey clouds passing her by in a distant sky, hinting at a storm behind them, but never letting lose their rains. There were a thousand questions she could ask, a thousand she wanted to ask, but she would not take from him. She would let him give. She wanted them to be, at least here in the heart of Winterfell, as equals. Her fingers, defiantly child-like despite all her living and growing, found themselves curled around one of his big, calloused hands, a thumb stroking a rare soft patch of skin where his palm dipped into wrist. “Here,” he said softly, almost a whisper, his free hand indicating the upper thigh of the leg Sam was shocked he could use at all. “I was stabbed here. I was too drunk, too drunk for too long, even for me… but it’s all I knew to do…”

He was quiet for a time, Sansa looking on him as he stared down. “I picked the wrong bloody inn.” Sandor Clegane began to laugh, a sad, quiet laugh, and his eyes glittered. “At one inn, one fucking inn, I learned my brother was after me and… and you…”

He lifted his head then and his eyes found hers. “You… you married that man, that fucking imp… and he must’ve, I thought, he must’ve…” The Hound pulled his hand from between hers, tensed his fingers, and then seemed to reach for something that wasn’t there before dropping them onto his lap, balled into fists, his eyes closing.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. His grey eyes looked into her blue ones, deeply, more earnestly than anyone ever had. “I could never save you. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I was never good. I was never good enough.”

She tried to reach out to him, to make contact and let him know she cared as she had those few times before, to smooth his brow as she had been for weeks now, and he flinched and pulled away. It hurt, though she understood. They were no longer the people they were in King’s Landing, no longer a bird and a dog in the prettiest of cages. Sansa folded her hands in her lap and looked towards the window. It would be impolite to look at him when he was distraught, to do something as intimate as see him when he did not even want to be touched by her.

“Sansa…”

“Yes?”

“You want to know what I’m doing here.”

“Yes.”

“I came to find you. When word reached me, where I was… I made my way here, to serve you, if you’ll have me, to protect you, if you’ll let me…”

“Oh.”

“I could be good enough.”

“I imagine anyone in Westeros would think the Hound good enough to guard them.”

“I’m not the Hound anymore… I don’t know what I am, but I’m no dog. Not to the Lannisters, not to anyone. I don’t even care to be a bloody Clegane.”

“What do you care to be?”

“Useful.”

They sat for some moments in silence, until Sansa decided it time he was addressed by the queen in the north. “The Maester doesn’t understand how you’ve been walking on that leg of yours, but I will trust you if you say it’s fine. Your arm was cut so deeply that it was nearly ripped from your arm. I imagine it will be some time before you can use it, that is if it ever completely heals. You’ve been abed for over a fortnight. You will need assistance to rise and to find your legs, regain your strength. Four men will be at your service, always. Bastards and wayward sons; you’ll like them. You can trust that they will keep quiet about anything that goes on whilst you heal. I say that you can, but I mean that you will. When you think you can manage it, you will take walks with me. Winterfell is my home, but there are wild wolves abound and I doubt they care that their better is my sigil. An escort would be wise, even an escort as lame and out of practice as you. Any man who wishes to serve me, may.”

Sansa stood, hiding the enjoyment and enthrallment she found in the new expression she saw crossing his face. She smoothed her dress and turned to leave. As she opened the door, she could not help herself, “Clegane…”

“Yes. Yes… your… grace…”

She was thankful her back was to him, else he would see the laugh that danced in her eyes.

“It may be that you are a wolf.”


:::


“I don’t like him.”

“You did say that, yes, Harry.”

“I don’t. I really don’t. He swears. He swears all the time.”

“You swear all the time.”

“Yeah, but… you know, it’s a charm thing for me. I… work… it.”

Sansa was in the process of making quilt squares from some of Robb’s old tunics. When she was too weary and disheartened to commit herself to ruling, she took refuge in the art of sewing. It was the easiest way to allow her to be sentimental for the family she lost. It was an excellent way to make her feel like she was accomplishing something, a quilt for this winter that seemed like it would never end, and the physical act of the thing settled her. Solutions came easier to her when she worked her fingers in this way. The ghosts of her family seemed contained in the good memories, the memories of home when she did this, and her parents, her brothers, her sister, Septa Mordane, Maester Luwin, Old Nan, Desmond, Jory, Fat Tom, even Hodor seemed to guide her to the next question she must answer for the good of the realm. On this day, her tranquility was being interrupted by the constant crunch of an apple. Harry had his boots on her desk, an act he knew very well she hated, and he was talking with his mouth full. He only meant to look out for her, and it was sweet, but she thought he was overreacting to the news that she and Sandor Clegane would make their first round of the grounds that afternoon. It was to be expected. Their relationship was one of brother and sister and Sansa knew that, had he ever really had the opportunity, Robb would’ve approached her suitors from every angle and questioned her endlessly on what she saw in them, how they made her feel, how they treated her, their honor, their abilities, their knowledge. This… this was the closest she’d ever get to knowing that feeling… so perhaps she should enjoy it… Thinking of it that way made her sad; there was a laxity in Harry’s nature that Robb never had and Harry had never taken stories and honor as seriously as Robb. It was a silly thing to miss; Honor had destroyed her family and a fellow in ideals did not make them any more attainable.

Silly or no, thinking of how Robb would respond to her taking a walk on the grounds with a man, a man like Sandor Clegane, stirred something in her and for a moment she thought the cloth toiled by her fingers had come alive with the smell of her brother again.

“Harry, may I remind you that I am queen…”

“Oh, piss on you, I know! I know! Gods, a man can’t eat an apple with his queen?”

“The apple is the least of your offenses.”

“Bloody hell, I have offenses?”

“Many.”

He mocked her then. “Sansa, may I remind you-“

“I do not speak that way.”

“You speak a bit that way… and don’t interrupt. RUDE.” He put on his “queen” voice once again. “As I was saying, regally, need I remind you that I was the first man to bend the knee?”

Sansa stood then and placed the quilt work on her chair. She crossed to Harry, ran a hand through his hair, and kissed him on his forehead. “No, you needn’t remind me. I’ll never forget.”

Alayne was taken to him a mere month before they were to be betrothed. They dined together every night, Alayne watching him make eyes at one of her handmaidens, thrown back into the roll she had so unwillingly played for Tyrion, only know the part was to be played much more passionately. Littlefinger would not be pleased with cool courtesy and she did owe him so very much, or at least that is what Alayne had told herself…

The second week they were together, Harry had decided to teach her to hawk. She was certain he had meant to take his groom’s gift, her maidenhead, a bit early. She had prepared herself for the humiliation and degradation of stripping down in the woods; it was known that he liked to take women during a hunt. The surprise that overcame her when Harry actually had a hawk and did not so much as kiss her cheek for the first three days was the best feeling she’d felt in a long time, the first time she’d dared to hope since Littlefinger had poisoned sweet Robert Arryn, not giving her so much as a warning that she’d awake with his corpse curled next to her in bed. He had seemed so sick that night, so unusually quiet, a different kind of weak…

It is better this way, Alayne. Goodbyes are wretched and now everyone will believe your grief, our grief. He had kissed her on the mouth. When he left her room, she threw up.

On the fourth day, they came to a small cabin and Harry led her inside. Removing her cloak, he did kiss her then, lightly on the forehead.

“Sansa…”

She had stood, steel, cold, listening to Harry explain all he knew, listening to him seemingly sympathize with the North, listening to the story of how he had once been madly in love with a Karstark girl who gave him a son, but then left him for another man, some hedgeknight or other, leaving him to raise a babe, trying to ignore the sickness that swam in her belly when he spoke of them “doing their duty”, but him expecting no more than she was willing to give, feeling the slightest bit of shock when he told her, bold faced, that he had no intention of being loyal to her bed, but he would be always kind to her and to their children.

And when he had brought a white peregrine falcon to her and placed it onto her arm, she had started to cry, but still she did not move. She wanted so badly to believe she had a friend, but knew better than to trust. Alayne would’ve told Petyr, at least part of the story, but she was Sansa Stark, after all, and she knew much better. She waited for her wedding day, to see which plan would work, and it was the one she devised with Harry. She had stated her claim for Winterfell, had Littlefinger chained, and Harry the Heir was the first man to bend the knee, discarding his own cloak for one with the Stark sigil, with her sigil.

Harry’s hand on her wrist brought her back to the here and now. “Apple?”

He shoved it, half eaten, towards her mouth. She leaned in and took a bite, the juice dripping down her chin and onto his hair. She may as well enjoy the fruit while they still had it. “Ugh, you could’ve taken it from my hand, woman! Now my hair is all sticky!”

Sansa laughed as she finished chewing and left her study, calling behind her as she went, “See to it that the men from the Bolton camp are hard at work. These grounds will not walk themselves!”

A half-laugh, half-grunt chased her from the room and she thought she heard the sound of an apple flying against the door as it closed.

:::



I know you were looking for comments, so please don't think this is cheap.

THIS IS AMAZING.

I love everything you've done with this story. I love how you've had canon characters and events fall into place.

And your line for Sandor, about how he was "never good enough".
I started crying.

Please finish this fic.

Aw, you are so sweet. Thank you so very much! I'm incredibly flattered. I promise I won't leave you hanging.

Ahh I love this fic. I really like Harry and Sansa's relationship here. So great, keep up the good work.

This story gets more and more interesting. I agree with mmmuuu comment about Harry and Sansa's relationship. It's refreshing to see Harry's character the way you've written him, and that Sansa views Harry as like a brother is a good twist on the the usual storylines.

Thanks for sharing!

She loves easy, truly, and if he was kind to her at all and honest... it just makes sense he'd be family. Sansa has a big heart and a wolf needs a pack after all!

I have to agree with the comments above. We, as readers, are not given very much info on Harry's character in the books, and the things we do know about him are rather unflattering. As a result, the fics that include him tend to cast him in a harsh light. I really enjoy the way you write him and the dynamics you've built into his relationship with Sansa.
Great job! Can't wait to read more. Go write. Now! ;D


I was very much inspired by the parallels between Harry, what we know of him, and Robert Baratheon. Of course, by the time we get to meet Robert he is so very hardened and frustrated and worn, but through Eddard I grew to love him... what he once was, the ease of him, his love of life, his sense of humor... I wanted to play with that. Harry is still young and finds Sansa in very different circumstanes than Robert finds Cersei. That's what inspires it. I'm glad you all like it so much.

Y'know, I hadn't considered how similar Harry & Robert are. Aw. I may actually have to rethink how I see Harry now. :)

We know he'll have some part to play in Sansa's storyline sometime in the future, so it will be interesting to see how his character develops.

Love it. I'm so prepared to dislike Harry that I'm completely charmed by your version of him. So much so that if GRRM doesn't follow your lead, I'm going to be disappointed. :)

"It is better this way, Alayne. Goodbyes are wretched and now everyone will believe your grief, our grief. He had kissed her on the mouth. When he left her room, she threw up." Perfection. You nailed LF in both word and action and made him even more revolting, which is tough for me to say since he's a favorite of mine. :) Very well done indeed!

Littlefinger is one of my favorites, as far as character construction goes, but oh my, he is so so bad. I have a surprising amount of Littlefinger feels sometimes, however, so it's hard to step into that icky part of him, but it has to be done. I'm glad you liked it and thank you so much for that comment! Characterization is one of my main concerns.

I have never liked Harry....until now. Really enjoying this story

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