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Gentle and Surly; Fierce and Brave

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Normal. There was no definition of this word anymore for him. Yet, at this moment, he could almost say that things were ‘normal’. Arya, Sansa and him were sitting around a small fire with several cars providing a limited amount of protection from wind, walkers and humans alike. It was almost as if they had gone camping and were sitting around a bonfire with marshmallows. Though in this case, there were no tents, no marshmallows, but there was a highrise building which was unfinished with scaffolding in the upper layers. The cars around them looked like they hadn’t moved for some time. Most were vandalised, with broken windows or scratched doors. But, for him this felt like home. Arya was heating a can of spaghetti hoops over the fire, Sansa was sewing together scraps of material to make a blanket, winter was coming and they would need to find clothes befitting. They would no longer be able to sit outside. They would have to venture into the buildings, where the dead were.

Eddard knew that Arya was more suited to the world now than Sansa was. Arya even went fencing before this all began, not the typical female hobby but he supported her, even when she would come home with bruises from it. She never gave up. She came home with fewer bruises every time, proving that she was gaining more skill. It filled his heart with joy that Arya had found something just for her. Somewhere where she could fit in. Sansa, on the other hand, he worried about more than he should have. She was too trusting and gentle. Pretty, too, which was what worried him. The dead did not discriminate, true, but the living, they were another matter. More dangerous than the dead. His family knew that better than anyone. He knew Sansa blamed herself for what happened to Catelyn and her brothers.

“Father, what are we going to do?” Sansa asked him.

“We have to keep going. We have to survive and not lose ourselves along the way.”

Arya cut into the conversation. “How are we going to do that? There’s only three of us now. Sansa can’t even fight."

“Arya!” Eddard admonished his daughter, “Be nice to your sister. There is more to this world than just being a good fighter.” His word was final on the subject.

Silence reigned over their makeshift camp. The only sounds were the wind and some wild birds overhead, and the occasional crackle of the fire. The smell of their measly portion of food started to waft around them, one third of a can for each of them.

“I’m proud of you both,” Eddard said to his daughters when their food was ready. “Sansa and Arya, I’m proud to have both of you as my daughters.”

Arya only frowned and glared into her portion of food, yet Sansa beamed back at him. When he saw them glance at each other and Arya’s expression ease up, he smiled. This was how it should be.

Sansa’s eyes widened before she stood up so quickly that she almost fell over backwards, her remaining food splattering to the floor, “Behind you,” she shouted.

There was a frenzy of movement. He stood, bringing Ice up, and Arya launched past him at breakneck speed. Her yell when she brought down the walker behind him was shrill but she got the job done.

Eddard put his hand on her shoulder. “Well done, little wolf. There was only one, I could have handled it,”

“It’s done now and you’re welcome.”

Only it wasn’t done. They were drawn to noise and a few stumbled round the corner. Followed by another. Then, banging started on the windows of the ground floor of the building they were sitting next to.

“Go, Arya!” Eddard raised his voice.

Eddard pushed one of the walkers back and it fell to the floor, bringing another walker down with it. The glass cracked on the window as more walkers were drawn to the noise. When he looked up, he couldn’t see the road anymore due to the sheer volume of walkers coming round the corner. Eddard watched as Arya took out two walkers in quick succession. Her strikes, precise and true.

The sound of glass breaking drew his attention. There was no way out of this for them all. There were far more walkers than he had ever seen in one place. One word came to his mind. A horde.

His hand tugged Arya away from the crowd of walkers from the road and he shoved her towards Sansa, who was gathering up their belongings.

“Arya, take your sister and get out of here. Now. Protect each other.”

Eddard looked at their faces, committing them to memory.

“I’m not leaving you,” Arya all but shouted at her father.

The walkers were stumbling out of the shop now. Towards Sansa, who had her back turned. He moved towards her and pushed her out the way and into her sister.

“Go now, both of you,” he shouted. It was Sansa who pulled her sister away from a walker who had gotten too close to them. Eddard couldn’t see that they had evaded all the other walkers for more walkers appeared between them and him, obscuring his vision.

Eddard felt pain when the first walker ripped into his skin. There was no hesitation, the bite was in his forearm which he had stretched out pushing one of his daughters away from the approaching zombies. He took a few seconds to drive his knife into the walker's head, but it was too late for him; he had been bitten. He would change. Staring down at the wound he saw the mess that used to be his skin, the blood flowing out of it and running down his wrist to drip from his fingers. Red spots were littering the ground of the alley. The few seconds he took to dispatch that walker, look down at the state of his arm, and then glance to the floor was all it took for him to be surrounded. What followed was walkers grabbing onto whatever part of him was closest, no preference shown for any particular part of him. They attacked, grabbing and biting his arms, his legs, whatever was within reach. It was all the same to them, he was meat, and that was it.

He tried fighting for as long as he could, but it was to no avail. He had no chance. The knife slipped from his hand when he no longer had the strength to wield it. Ice, he had called it. It had been with him since the beginning.

In the end his eyes were searching for the last of his remaining family. He found Arya but not Sansa. His fierce little wolf was up on the fire escape, looking on in horror at what was happening, it must have taken strength and agility to even get up there due to the gap between the ladder and the floor. She was making a lot of noise, catching the attention of the walkers below. They were swarming underneath her, pawing up the wall. Harmlessly, they could never reach her, and he had never seen any of them climb a ladder before. They weren’t that smart. They just followed noise...and each other. That was what had made them dangerous.

When he could stand no longer, and was brought to his knees, the walkers descended upon him. With them surrounding him, he could no longer see Arya, but perhaps that was a good thing, for it meant that she couldn't see him either, and surely she did not need to see his death. Eddard could hear screams but couldn’t tell if they were his own or Arya’s. However, even if she couldn't see, he was sure she knew what was happening. No doubt she could hear his screams and they would haunt her.

For him there was no more pain. He was losing feeling throughout his body, losing his senses. His fight long since had left him. As he sunk to the ground he was dimly aware of something digging into his back. It was Ice. He had wanted to die with his weapon in hand, but he would settle for dying to save his daughters.

His last thought was satisfaction that Arya was looking out for her sister. She was trying to draw most of the snarling horde towards her, trying to get them to stay there instead of wandering to where Sansa was. He hoped they both got out, got somewhere safe.

Eddard’s end gave his daughters the opportunity to live. He clung to this thought as he died, and it made him smile, a smile etched on his face for eternity when he took his last breath.

Chapter Text

For Arya, getting up onto that fire escape had been easy, natural, even. She’d run at the wall, planted one foot on it, then propelled herself upwards to reach the ladder and pull herself up onto the first part of the fire escape, only seconds ahead of the walkers’ grasping hands. From her vantage point she could see her father valiantly trying to fight off the walkers. She wished she had a ranged weapon, but she only had Needle. A good sword, but only useful at short range.

There was something she did have, though, and that was the ability to make noise. She drew her saber, and started banging it on the railing. Those walkers which were not already engaged with her father started ambling her way. The noise wasn’t enough to save her father, but maybe it would be enough to save Sansa. She looked up and down the alley, but even from her vantage point on the fire escape, Arya couldn’t see her sister’s flaming hair.

“Over here, you undead monsters!” Arya screamed. She jumped up and down, creating as much noise as possible. Even more walkers turned her way. There was a crowd of them forming below her.

Good. Her plan was succeeding.

Arya scouted for her sister once more. She thought she saw a flash of red, but couldn’t be certain. Then she looked at her father again, and his eyes locked with hers. He nodded once and then fell, out of her view.

She heard him scream hoarsely. She screamed as well: “Father!”

There was a moment when Arya closed her eyes, and fell to her knees on the fire escape, hands grasping onto the railings for support. That moment was all she allowed herself.

“What do we say to the God of Death? Not today,” she muttered to herself. It was a phrase Arya used every time something went wrong. It was intended to make her get up and get going once more no matter how bad things seemed.

And as always, it worked. She stood, wiping from her face the single tear she had let herself shed. There would be time to grieve properly later. She was not yet safe.

Arya attempted to open the fire door on the first floor, but it was locked tight, and all the windows were shut and locked as well, with newspaper covering the glass so she couldn’t see inside. She climbed to the next level, but it was the same there, and the same when she ascended once more.

“Goddamnit! I’m not going to be stuck on this fire escape!” Arya muttered to herself. She was coming up to the last part of it, where it ended among the scaffolding on the unfinished building, and if the doors or windows didn’t open she would have to go back down and fight her way through the walkers.

No luck. When she reached the last of the finished floors, the windows were all shut and papered over as on the lower floors. There was a toolbox on the landing that someone had haphazardly left to rot; maybe she could smash her way inside? But there was no telling what was on the other side, and how many walkers she would attract from the building to her position.

The door was her only chance. Her hand rested on the knob, hesitating. Then she twisted it and pushed at the door. It didn’t budge. Locked, as the others were.

She lashed out, in frustration, and kicked the toolbox, sending it spinning into the railing with a clang, the box opening itself upon impact. The scaffolding shifted a little, reminding her that she could still go up, though it would be precarious.

She was about to start climbing when she remembered something her father used to say to her and Sansa: Leave no place unchecked. Quickly, Arya searched the box. Nothing of import was there: a few photos, a moldy apple, and a few rusty bolts. No tools, unfortunately - they might have been useful. Arya closed the box and set it near the scaffolding.

Arya secured her sword in her belt, stood on the toolbox to gain a bit more height, and hoisted herself up onto the scaffolding. She swung her body upwards using her arms, and hooked her legs round it. Up and up she climbed. Arms first. Feet second. Body last.

When she reached the first unfinished floor she rolled into the building. There were white plastic sheets hanging up, and panes of glass stacked neatly in piles. The building must have been under construction when the walkers first started appearing, she thought.

The sky was turning darker, and the sun was setting. She needed to get somewhere safe, even just a room where she could close the door and block it with her body. Hell, she would even take a cupboard. Time was of the essence.

Arya drew Needle once more, and put it through the first sheet that was in her way. It made her feel better. Soon she started slashing through all the white sheets without a care for the noise she was making. She imagined that they were walkers, or they were the live ones who had betrayed them, and killed her family. They were already dead, but that didn’t stop her from imagining killing them again. They had made her list, the list she repeated to herself nightly, but had soon come off it. There was only one name on her list now.

Abruptly, as she slashed through yet another sheet, her steel met with resistance. That made her stop, and think. Grabbing the sheet she forcibly yanked it down, revealing a dark flight of stairs extending upwards and downwards. The sun had almost gone for the day. She surveyed the damage she had done: nothing was left on this floor except for bits of hacked sheeting, in piles on the floor and in scraps hanging from the ceiling.

Her choices were up or down. She chose down. Slowly, with her sword in front of her, she moved onto the first step. Then she moved as quickly and as lightly as a cat down the rest, sword first.

She made her way onto the landing of the next floor, which as it had walls rather than unfinished girders, was darker than that of the floor above. This floor had been mostly finished, with rooms and a hallway. Arya picked up a stray rock and threw it down the corridor. After a minute of no movement she relaxed a little. Leaving the stairwell behind, she went to try some of the doors. The first door she tried opened, but an unbearable stench billowed from behind it, and she shut it immediately. The next three doors were locked.

The fourth door opened, and when she walked inside, shutting it tightly behind her, she realized that she had just found a goldmine. A sleeping bag was set out on a roll mat, a gas stove and two sniper rifles, with ammo, nearby. An orange backpack was also set on the floor by the guns.

Arya opened the backpack and tipped it onto the concrete floor. Bits and bobs rolled this way and that. A khaki jumper and black cargo pants fell out. Arya couldn’t help but throw off her soiled clothes and put the new ones on. Despite being a tomboy, she liked having clothes on which she hadn’t been wearing for a week. They were slightly too big for her frame, but she didn’t care. Her belt helped to make the trousers fit.

Arya couldn’t help but feel like there was one thing she had overlooked. One tiny detail which she hadn’t considered. She looked at the sleeping bag, and a wave of exhaustion hit her, so she crawled into it.

She said one name before she fell asleep. The entirety of her infamous list, reduced to one name.

“Arya Stark.”

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When she woke, she snuggled further into the pillow to try to chase her dream for a little longer. But it didn’t work, didn’t put her back to sleep; the horror of the real world seeped back into her thoughts. Zombies. Death. Every person for themself. Father’s death. Sansa - whatever became of Sansa? Then, she remembers something else.

When she’d gone to sleep, there hadn’t been a pillow.

Her eyes snapped open, and she sat up with a jolt.

“You’re awake.”

The speaker was a man, her age or slightly older. Arya’s hand shot out to where she had left Needle. It wasn’t there. Not wanting to take her eyes off the man, she groped around for it.

“Looking for this?”

“Give that back!” Disentangling herself from the sleeping bag, she lunged at him, despite her lack of weapon. He stepped to the side, and Arya would have run headlong into the wall had he not grabbed her around the waist, lifting her into the air.

“Let me go, let me go!” Arya screamed. She struggled against his hold, but it was no use. His arms were too strong, too muscular.

“I can let you go if you promise to not attack me.”

Arya considered. Something was at the edges of her vision, something she could use against him. Something that was new. Deliberately, she went limp in his arms. “There,” she said. “I’m calm now.”

He put her down onto the floor and let her go. The moment he did so, Arya rolled away from him, taking up the axe she’d seen on top of the backpack. In one smooth movement, she was on the balls of her feet, facing him. Him with her Needle, and her with his axe.

“Are you sure that’s the weapon for you?” he asked her. His face was free of malice, and his voice sounded almost teasing.

“I can handle any weapon!” She spoke with bravado, though its weight was already causing her muscles to protest.

“Is that so?” he said to her as he raised Needle.

They started circling each other. Testing the waters. Each took a few experimental swings with their respective weapons. Arya went on the attack, launching several blows. None of them managed to hit, as the weapon was too heavy and slow, which only made her swing more wildly and tire herself out more. After a few minutes, her arms could barely hold up the axe.

Then they switched, and Arya had to go on the defensive as her opponent lunged towards her. Her tired arms brought the axe up too slowly, and to the wrong side, for his attack had seemed to be on the left, but it was only a feint. Needle went right instead, and cut through the arm of her newly-found jumper, breaking through her skin.

The weight of the axe was too much. It pulled her to the floor. She closed her eyes, waiting for her inevitable end. Waiting for him to end the fight, for she had stolen his things, had attacked him. It was what she would do.

“My lady, are you all right? I apologise. I didn’t mean to hit you.”

She blinked in surprise, and looked up at him. He had the strangest expression on his face. Like he had just kicked a puppy.

“You’re asking if I’m all right. I’m the one who attacked you.”

“You didn’t even land a hit on me, so that wasn’t the weapon for you,” he said.

This ignited Arya’s rage once more, and she almost went to attack him again. Yet, he still held her sword in his hand, his long fingers wrapped round the tiny handle.

“And Needle wasn’t the weapon for you. It’s mine!”

“You’re a fierce little one.”

“You take that back. I’m not little!” Arya leapt to her feet, her anger getting the better of her.

“You’re littler than me. I’m Gendry,” he added, by way of truce, as he placed Needle on the floor beside his other weapons. He also grabbed his axe, hefting it over his shoulder as though it weighed nothing. “It is customary for one to also offer one's name...unless you want me to keep calling you my lady, or little one.”

“Arya,” she huffed, her hand moving to the cut on her arm. When she looked up she saw Gendry frowning at her. “I’ll be leaving now. With Needle. I must find my sister.”

“It’s the middle of the night, and in case you hadn’t noticed there is a horde of walkers surrounding this building. It’s not safe. I cannot allow you to leave.”

“So, you’re going to keep me here as a prisoner.”

“No, you are not my prisoner. I’m just advising you not to go out there. You will get killed.”

Arya saw that he was serious so she looked out the window and could see that there were more than a few walkers out there. She could certainly hear them.

“What now?” she finally asked.

“Now we go to sleep, my lady. You can take the sleeping bag, since you already made yourself at home in it.”

Arya watched him take his jacket off. His shirt was tight over his toned muscles. He lay on the floor with his arms behind his head.

“What’s stopping me from killing you in your sleep?” she challenged him.

“Nothing. But know this. I could have killed you several times or worse already. Besides, you wouldn’t harm an unarmed man. You’re one of the good ones.”

His words lingered in the air between them. After a moment, Arya went back to the sleeping bag and sat on it, but did not lay down. Being vulnerable was not on her to-do list. She couldn’t sleep in the presence of someone she didn’t trust.

When Arya was sure that he was asleep, she sat up. Gendry didn’t stir, so she took that as a good sign. She stood up, retrieved Needle, and also took one of the sniper rifles. After all, she reasoned, he had two; there was no way he could use both at once.

As she slung the rifle over her back, her gaze moved towards the orange backpack and Gendry’s axe. The axe would only weigh her down, and she had already proven that she could not possibly wield it to her advantage. But the backpack might be useful. Her hand reached out towards it, her fingers resting on the strap. Just one pull, and it would be hers. She looked back to make sure Gendry was still asleep, and saw he was lightly snoring.

She could kill him. Or do something to prevent him following. But he had shown her kindness in a world where there was next to none, and so it seemed wrong to repay it so poorly. Instead she only hooked the bag off the floor, and left without another backwards glance.

If she had looked back, though, she would have seen that his eyes were open. Watching her. Assessing her.

Chapter Text

The mantra in her head was all that was keeping her from breaking into tears. Going over all the rules her father had instilled in her took her mind off what had just occurred. She had already broken the most important rule: Never go alone. Since that was something she couldn’t change, she focused on his other rules. Find shelter, be quiet, be cautious. Leave no place unchecked, be it for walkers or supplies. Those rules had kept them alive for this long, and would continue to ensure their survival.

Except that right now, Sansa was breaking almost all the rules. She was running as fast as she could away from the walkers. Not caring about the noise she was making, not checking the places she passed. She was surrounded by buildings that might have had supplies or people in them, cars which may have held things she could make use of. Yet she kept running. Luckily she had managed to escape from the horde in one piece. But what about Father, and Arya? Sansa had heard them both scream.

She shook her head, and started her mantra again. Find shelter, be quiet, be cautious. Grief would come only when she was safe.

For Sansa, ‘safe’ was a complicated word. Her survival skills were not great, there was no denying it. Safe for her, would be an enclosed space to hide in, waiting for her father or Arya to come get her and tell her she could come out. Now that she was alone, with no weapons or supplies, ‘safe’ meant something entirely different.

Sansa took more stock of her surroundings when she had put some distance between herself and the horde of walkers. Only a few stragglers remained. She slowed as she came to an intersection. Her choices seemed to be to go straight ahead, left through broken glass to a jumble of overturned cars blocking her way, or right into the forest. Or back to the walker horde, but that was really no choice at all.

Instinct took over, and she ran towards the overturned cars. When she came to them she fell to her hands and knees, desperately crawling under one car’s bonnet and out the other side, so the cars would form a barrier between her and the walkers. On the other side there were no walkers that she could see. She sat with her back to the cars, her knees drawn to her chest and her arms wrapped around her legs.

Behind her she could hear the unmistakable shuffling sounds that walkers made as they drew closer. She held her breath and closed her eyes, praying to both the Old Gods and the New Gods that everything would work out and she would survive.

The sounds had reached the other side of the car, and were loud in the otherwise quiet evening. Sansa didn’t risk moving. Even if she had wanted to, she was frozen in her place from fear. The rotting smell of the walkers reached her nose, making her gag. It forced her to think about what she was trying not to think about: her sister and father disappearing as they were surrounded. The foul stench and the noise made her relive the terrifying moments; the first tears fell and Sansa was gone. There was no stopping her tears from flowing. The sounds were getting quieter now. The smell receded, getting lost in the wind. The tears started blurring her vision, and her whole body began shaking, though whether it was from the cold or from her crying, she couldn’t tell. She would never hear her father give her advice again, never hear her sister bicker with her about something. When there were no tears left to fall, she still didn’t move. It felt to her as though she had used up all of her energy.

Sansa stayed for as long as she dared, as it would soon become too dark to see. There was only one way she could go, and that was forward. One foot in front of another. Using the car as a support she stood, and did exactly that, walking toward the gas station a few hundred metres down the road.

There could be food and water in there. There might be walkers in there, but if not, it would provide protection from the night. For Sansa, that was a risk that she had to take. All buildings held that risk, but somewhere as small as a gas station might be less risky, Sansa reasoned.

Her footsteps lost confidence the closer she got to it. There were no outward signs of any walkers there. The windows and door were still intact. A few abandoned cars were outside. One caught her eye, a black pick-up truck. To Sansa it was obscene, it was too ugly and large, and her nose turned up at it involuntary. She missed her little baby blue convertible. The truck would be practical though. In the morning, she would take a closer look at the truck. At first glance it didn’t look as though it had been trashed. If it worked, it could save her life.

“From porcelain, to ivory, to steel,” Sansa whispered into the night, giving herself the courage to open the door to the gas station. Stepping inside was another matter, as it was already dark enough that the inside was barely visible. She stopped on the threshold for a moment, listening for walkers. No sounds came from within the small store, so she took another step, taking her into the shop.

It was a small space which had been mostly picked clean. There were only three aisles to peruse. She crept along the first and saw nothing but junk, the type of things that were not useful, such as word search books and magazines. Stuff of the past.

After finding nothing useful in the first aisle she crept round to the next. It was a similar story there. Nothing to be found, aside from some condoms. Absentmindedly her hand reached out and picked up a packet. Behind it was a pen, which she also picked up. She put back the packet of condoms, but kept the pen, slipping it into the front of her military-style jacket. It could come in handy.

Making her way down the rest of the aisle, she saw nothing else of note, though there were some very dubious looking blood stains on the floor. When Sansa rounded the end, near the tills, she came face-to-face with a walker. In her surprise she let out a high pitched scream, belatedly realizing that she’d just given away her location.

The walker had been a small woman, smaller than Sansa herself, but she wasn’t taking any chances. She hightailed it towards the back of the shop, looking for a back entrance she could use to escape. There were signs for a bathroom, and for fire exit. The fire exit wasn’t in sight but the bathroom was, so she shouldered her way into it.

She realised her error when the door opened, for behind it was a massive hulking walker with a terrifyingly scarred face, who tilted his head and strode in her direction. She would rather face the little lady walker compared to that beast! Sansa turned her back to him, and ran out of the bathroom - straight into the other walker. She pushed with all her strength, and the walker was moved back a few paces into a shelving unit. The walker stayed on her feet, though, and had her arms out reaching for Sansa again. The fingers barely grazed her arms before a highly muscled arm circled round her neck, and dragged her backwards.

This was how she would die, in the dingy bathroom of a gas station. Her only thought was that she had a pen. She grabbed it from her jacket, and stabbed it uselessly into the creature behind her. Over and over, she stabbed, though she knew it wouldn’t work as she could only reach his chest, not his head. You had to get the brain. The brain was the only place that guaranteed a walker's death.

Sansa found herself thrown to the floor of the bathroom. Surprisingly, she landed on something soft. A mattress, she realised. She heard a squelch, and a thud behind her. Then she heard footsteps thundering away from her and a door slamming shut.

Before she could stand, the hulking...man was back. Sansa gasped upon realising that he was alive, a human and not a walker. She was saved. He was her knight in shining armour.

“Thank you, ser,” Sansa said gratefully.

He strode towards her like a predator stalking his prey, his expression stormy. He hauled her up and pressed her against the wall with her forearm across her neck, his weapon in his hand. Yet again she had forgotten another one of her father’s rules: to fear the living as well as the dead.

“I’m no ser. I’m not a knight, girl,” he sneered at her, purposefully leaning in close, making her look at his scarred face. “You are a foolish little bird, aren’t you. You didn’t bother to shut the door behind you. I should gut you where you stand for compromising my safety. Fucking hell, you even had the audacity to stab me!”

Sansa watched in horror as he brought his blade up, his other arm putting more pressure on her neck. Her expression must have changed, for he lowered it just as quickly. He stepped away, allowing her breathe.

“I’m sorry. I suppose I owe you my thanks, s-” She caught herself before saying ‘ser’ again, but she had no idea what her name was. He did not supply a name. His only response was a grunt.

“I’m sorry for stabbing you, I thought you were a walker,” Sansa said.

“You thought I was a walker! By the gods, you’re as dumb as a bag of rocks.” He gave her a once-over, his eyes lingering on her form for a little too long, taking all of her in. It made her feel uncomfortable.

“Why do you have to be so surly?” Sansa asked.

“The little bird quits her chirping to insult me. You do realise the things I could do to you. I could fucking rip you apart.” Eyes glowering, he took one menacing step towards her.

“You won’t hurt me,” Sansa said, hoping she was right. If he was going to, she reasoned, he would have hurt her already, or not saved her in the first place.

There was an uncomfortable pause. They stared at each other, neither willing to back down. Their staring match ended when he took a small step back, conceding to her.

“I won’t hurt you,” he said. “I can’t promise that others won’t, some people think the hunt is all.” He settled down onto the mattress, then muttered, “If my brother was here...”

His voice trailed off, and Sansa didn’t dare ask him more.

Long after he turned off the lamps, Sansa started crying once more, silently at first, knowing that it was too dark for him to see her tears. Her grief came at her in full force; the tears would not stop spilling from her eyes. She cried for her mother, brothers, father, sister, and now for herself, as she too would be dead, if not for this man. The Stark family line would have ended quicker than anyone could say that ‘Winter was here’.

It was only when she heard a sigh and felt the mattress shift that she realised how loudly she was crying. An arm landed upon her shoulder. It felt like her father’s arm, and that thought, incited a new round of tears. The reminder was not at all what she needed.

“Let it all out, Little Bird. Nothing can hurt you now.” His gruff voice resonated around the room. So she did. She told a stranger everything that had happened to her since the start of the outbreak. Pouring her heart out to a stranger was not on the list of rules that would lead to her survival, but if she could endear him to her, then it would help her survive. He looked like he could don armour, and play the part of a knight, even if he said he wasn’t one. He was a knight to her. Her knight in shining armour.

“My name is Sansa,” she whispered.

“They call me the Hound,” was his reply before he pulled her into his arms, he let her rest her head on his shoulder as she cried. Sansa should have been scared out of her mind, but this felt right to her.

Chapter Text

Genrdy pretended to sleep for a little while longer. Watching her eye his scavenged finds, even after he let her stay, let her use his sleeping bag, made him furious. He allowed her to put the sniper rifle on her back; he wouldn’t begrudge her that. There were two after all. The bag, he stared at her, willing her not to take it, but he would let her. It didn’t contain much. It even contained her soiled clothes. At least he wouldn’t miss those. However, had she even laid a hand on his hammer, he would have been upon her in a second. Not to hurt her, no, he could never do that. He just couldn’t allow her to take that particular item. He had made it himself. It was one of the few sentimental items he still had, his noiseless weapon which was what was needed for his survival.

Surviving. That was what he had been doing. Plodding along, always in the same mood. The same routine too. Go out during the day to scavenge, and keep in shape and then come back to this room to eat in the evening. All the joy had been sucked from his life. All of it. Thinking of the fierce little warrior, Arya, was something he could treasure for a long while. Seeing her curled up in his sleeping bag had made him stop dead. She had looked vulnerable, and in need of protection. But, when she had awoken, all was revealed. When she picked up his hammer, he was impressed that she could do that, let alone swing it around with any accuracy. With time, he imagined that she could hit him with it at least once. Especially if she didn’t think he was going to kill her or worse. She could survive on her own. She would survive on her own. Wouldn’t she?

His thoughts made him start pacing the room. His brain worked in overtime, conjuring up all the scenarios in which she would be left for dead, each one more gruesome than the last. When he found himself staring out the window, he saw her trying to fight through the horde of walkers. She was a marvel to behold. No one could fight with that level of skill, and look that graceful doing it. It looked like she was dancing. He snapped out of the trance he was in.

“Hell better be worth it, Arya,” he said to no one in particular. Scooping up his sniper rifle, he aimed down its scope, focused onto his targets, rested his finger on the trigger. The scope showed walkers closing in on Arya, Arya taking out those around her with precision. He took a deep breath to steady his aim, and breathed out before throwing his sniper rifle to the ground. It was no use. The girl was moving too quickly, and he wasn’t sure that he wouldn’t hit her. The war hammer was the weapon he was most proficient in.

He grabbed his axe, and ran down the stairs of the building. In his haste, he took three steps at a time. He used the bannisters to swing himself around the steps whilst maintaining his speed. All the while he hoped that she was still alive, still surviving. When he reached the last flight, he jumped the last five steps, and felt a twinge in his ankle as he landed. There was no time for him to worry about that, though. He had to rescue her. His lady needed his help. He rammed his shoulder into the door of the building and spilled out onto the street. Knocking two unfortunate walkers to the floor. He soon smashed his hammer down upon them both; one hit was all it took when they were down due to the urgency with which he swung it.

He smelled the rank breath of a walker behind him, and swung his hammer backwards in an upwards arc above his head. It came down onto the walker. Not a kill shot, but enough to knock it to the ground. This one he did not make sure was dead, for he had to get to Arya. Luckily he could still hear her grunting with each lunge.

“Arya,” he called out, spying her using her Needle, as she called, it at maximum efficiency. Holding her own still.

“I’m a little busy at the moment.”

Gendry looked around, spotting the crowd of walkers thinning. Piles of bodies surrounded Arya.

“I can see that,” Gendry said when he got closer. Putting his back against hers. Showing her that he was defending her. They fought for a while, each with their own fighting styles, Arya quick and nimble, Gendry slower but powerful. The walkers stood little chance against them, though Gendry would have bet his life that Arya could have killed them all on her own. Saving her was not something he had to do. She had saved herself.

When all was said and done. Arya and Gendry stood surrounded by piles of walkers, and covered in splatters of blood.

“Are you okay? You weren’t bitten were you, my lady? I think we should get inside before more come,” Gendry told Arya, bringing a hand up behind her back. Not quite touching her, but enough to steer her back to the door.

“Why did you follow me?” Arya asked, crossing her arms. She was not making a move to where he wanted her to go.

His ears went red, and a blush alighted his cheeks. He had come to rescue her. But he couldn’t say that, so he instead said, “I came to get my stuff back-”

“Fine. I didn’t need it anyway,” Arya replied angrily, walking a couple of steps away from the building.

“We should get inside before more come,” Gendry suggested.

“I need to find my sister. Sansa. I need to know that she is still alive. I can’t just leave her out here to die. She’s not like me.”

“Please, come back inside. We can come up with a plan instead of just endangering our lives further.”

“You mean to say, that you will help me?” A look of puzzlement crossed her face but it vanished almost instantly. Maybe he had imagined it.

“Yes, my lady, I will help you. Now, let us get inside.”

“Even after I attacked you and stole from you?” Arya continued questioning him but had started moving towards the door back into the building and entering it.

When Gendry followed her, she all but pounced on him. Her fingers gripped the edge of his shirt as she got into his face. “You’re lying, Gendry. There isn’t shit in that bag. I checked and I left you what was valuable to you. So what possessed you to risk your life?” Arya demanded angrily, putting her face even closer to his. Their lips were almost touching. If Gendry tilted his head, they would be.

He licked his lips, and saw her eyes flick down to them. He had to reveal the truth.

“You’re right. There was nothing there that I needed. I’m not even mad that you took those things...I was scared for you. I wanted you to survive. I thought to rescue you.”

Gendry saw the murderous expression lift, and her gaze turn warmer. This time it was his eyes that were drawn to her lips as she bit her bottom lip, and pulled it between her teeth.

Time seemed to slow down.

Arya pressed her lips to his with a ferociousness that made him gasp, leaving an opening for her tongue to explore his mouth. Her hands left his collar, and went behind his head, bringing him closer, his hands looped around her, touching her made him know for certain that she was real, and that he hadn’t lost his sanity.

He felt a hand go to his jeans and attack the zipper. His hands found her shoulder and pushed her back a little.

“Gendry. Don’t stop now.”

“I want to make certain this is what you want.”

“In case you hadn’t noticed, I initiated this. Of course I want it. You’re a god when you’re holding that hammer, and you were very brave coming to my...aid.”

“As my lady says.” Gendry grabbed Arya’s hand, and takes the stairs at a quick pace. “It’s not quite a bed, but my sleeping bag will do.”

Gendry found out that Arya didn’t want it to be a gentle love-making experience. He took her twice, the first time from behind, the second facing her. Arya wanted it rough, quick and dirty and that suited him just fine, for the first time.

After the act, Arya growled at him, “If you ever insinuate that I am a damsel in distress again, this will never happen again. Understand!”

“Yes, my lady.”

“And don’t call me that. Use my name.”

Gendry nodded in response while his hand drew circles on her bare back. Her head resting on his chest. “You’re as fierce and as wild as a wolf. Arya.” Her name passed from his lips when he kissed her hair.

“And you’re as brave as a...as a stag,” Arya fired back, but finished on a lame note, as she couldn’t quite find the words she needed. Gendry felt her back start to vibrate, and when he heard the first girlish sound come from her, a giggle, he couldn’t help but throw his head back in laughter too.

Chapter Text

The odd feeling of being warm woke him from his slumber. It was also odd that he had slept so deeply. His usual nightmares were not present. Sandor sought the warmth, and his arms bought it closer. The warmth was soft and pliant.

“Seven fucking hells,” Sandor all but shouted, rudely awakening the body next to him. The lost little bird who had stumbled upon his hideous form and thought him a walker. The one who had cried her eyes out at the thought of being stuck with him. Her red hair and soft feminine features were a prize that many would covet. The little bird was now looking at him with something akin to fear in her eyes.

“You’re hurting me.”

Sandor dropped his hands which had tightened round her of their own accord. He quickly got up, found all his stuff within moments, and was striding from the gas station. Not looking behind, not checking if she was following him. It was better if she didn’t follow him. He would break his promise not to hurt her. For he was a dangerous man.

Sandor heard her footsteps racing after him.

“Wait, Sir-”

“I told you I’m not a knight,” he said harshly, continuing his strides to his destination. A small hand landed on his arm, and he jerked away.

“But, you are to me.”

“You can cease your niceties.”

“I’m going with you.”

“And what will you contribute?”

“I had a plan. I can tell it to you. I was going to check the black pickup truck to see if it worked. Then I would run over anything and everything in my way.”

“If I’m hearing you correctly, you were going to steal my truck, and then when I protected you, you didn’t think to mention that detail to me then. Remind me again why I shouldn’t just kill you?”

“I didn’t know it was yours!” Sansa placed a dainty hand over her mouth, looking like she had just made the worst faux pas.

“Aye girl, it’s mine.” He took the keys from his black leather jacket pocket and pressed the button. Wrenching open the passenger side he said gruffly, “Get in or don’t.”

Sandor glanced back to the little bird who still hadn’t moved. Then she did, off at a run. Back to the gas station. He kicked the tyre of his truck. Who was he to think that she would follow him anywhere? He wasn’t anything to look at, but he did have some honour. He lamented that it was for the better.

He slammed the passenger door shut so hard that the glass window rattled, and he feared it would crack and fall apart, just like everything else in his life. He stomped round the back of the truck, grumbling all the way to the driver side door where movement drew his eyes to the side mirror. More survivors. Just what he needed. Although his pent up anger could have an outlet.

“You there. It’s a fine day, isn’t it?”

The call made him spin on the spot, brandishing his knife. Behind him stood an entourage. A man, no, a boy, was the one who had spoken to him. There were two more figures, each one behind one of his shoulders. “Fuck off.” On a good day Sandor wasn’t one for talking very much. Unfortunately for them, this was not a good day. He needed to get them to move on before they investigated the gas station. If they found Sansa...

“Now, that’s not a very nice thing to say. After all, all I did was greet you. I’m Joffrey. The leader of this group,”

“Aye, what is that to me?”

“We came across some of your work earlier, and I would like to invite you to come guard me.”

Sandor had the inexplicable feeling that something was very wrong, that the other penny was going to drop. “What’s in it for me?”

“Whores and wine.”

There it was thought Sandor. His hand clenched the blade tighter. “I don’t need no whores.”

“Every man has needs.”

When he opened his mouth to reply, the sweet song-like voice of the little bird could be heard.

“I had to get something. I hope the offer is still open-”

“My, my, who is this you have here. I know why you don’t need a whore, you already have one of your own. Seems like that is all she will be good for, that and carrying the condoms. How much?”

Sandor can feel the pain of his nails biting into his hand, can see the little bird staring at him with fear on her face, and Joffrey looking her up and down, eyeing her.

“What do you got?” he bit out. Trying to stall for time. He hears the little bird's sharp intake of breath, and spots the shit-eating grin appearing on Joffrey’s face.

“Meryn,” one word, and the man at his back opened a duffel bag. When they were preoccupied with looking in the bag Sandor looked to Sansa, giving her a brief supporting nod.

“A pack of cigarettes,” Joffrey says, holding up the offending item, shaking it at him. He stepped closer holding them out at him, like the deal had already been struck.

“Done,” the word sealed the deal. Joffrey inched closer. “But I get to watch.”

The words made the smile disappear from Joffrey’s face. Sandor hoped this would be a deal breaker for him, and that they would leave.

“You want to hear me roar? Fine,” Joffrey said, throwing the carton of cigarettes at his face. He scrambled to catch them. Joffrey moved towards the little bird, and Sandor felt his rage ignite, his blood boil inside him.

“Is that all I’m worth to you!” Sansa screamed, drawing the attention from him. Both of the guards were looking at her. He saw Sansa look at him, and then at the guards before looking back at him again. He took a step.

“I’m worth far more than that and you know it!” Sansa screamed again. Sandor took another two steps.

“Come now. I’m sure he has depleted your value. His big cock has probably loosened you up.”

Sandor’s rage left him in a flurry, and he took three steps in quick succession. His knife slit the throat of the one called Meryn. It had taken him off guard. For Sandor it was an easy kill. From behind him, he could hear a scuffle and someone cry out. By the gods, if that was Sansa there would be sevens hells to pay.

The sound of a sword being unsheathed next to him had him slashing out with the knife wildly. It connected with the arm of the other man but it was a glancing blow. His momentary distraction proved to be his weakness. If he worried about the little bird now, it could all be over for the two of them.

Sandor ducked when the sword came flying at him. The movement of his opponent carried on, his sword would have taken his head off with the force which was used. Then Sandor stood, and lashed out with more accuracy. A red line of blood welled up on his opponent's chest, and he cried out when he looked down to see the damage. That was the last thing he did. Sandor’s knife met with his skull, and his booted foot kicked him in the stomach. Sandor didn’t watch him fall backwards.

When he saw Sansa, and Joffrey, words did not come to him right away. His mouth opened and closed twice. His eyes had widened comically.

“What the fuck Little Bird?” he demanded, looking at the scene.

“I killed him, I killed him…”

“Aye, you did.” Joffrey was lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood, a pen half sticking out of his neck.

Sandor watched on as Sansa bent to the floor, picked up the packet of condoms, and entered the car. Sandor followed suit. When they were both in the car, Sandor sat looking at her, more specifically the item she was holding in her hands.

“There’s no need for you to do anything. My protection doesn’t come with a cost,” he whispered, as gently as he could, though he knew his voice still sounded harsh and grating. “You must know that I would never trade you. I will not hurt you, nor will I let anyone else hurt you,”

The condoms were hidden in the glove compartment. Her body turned to his. She stared at him. “My sister. Are you willing to do the same for her?”

“Aye.”

“We need to go back to where I last saw her. We got separated last night.”

“Just tell me where to go.”

And so she did. Sandor drove without fear through a blockade of cars. His truck carved a path through them.

When they reached the building Sansa had directed them to, Sandor saw two people had come out of it. Both holding sniper rifles aimed in their direction.

Before he could stop Sansa, she had jumped out of the car and was running. He jumped out too, ready to save her from trouble.

“Arya.”

“Sansa.”

Those two words hit him with many emotions. This was the sister. They looked nothing alike. Hence why he hadn’t connected the dots. He had watched a few romantic comedies, and watching them run towards each other made him feel like he was a part of one.

The other man with them still had his sniper rifle raised, and pointed at him. He wasn’t welcome. This had to be a brother.

When the two girls fell to the floor as they hugged, he turned away, feeling like he was intruding on a tender moment. Everything was right in the world, for they had found each other again. Sansa would be okay, she would be protected and provided for. She had no need for him to be here anymore.

He went to get back into his car to drive away. He would remember this moment, and her, always as it was a time where he had done some right in his life. When his hand reached up to hoist himself back into the cab a shot rang out.

“Don’t you dare fucking leave me,” Sansa shouted at him. Her short time with him was obviously already rubbing off on her. Her eyes were full of fire as she pointed the sniper rifle upwards, having just fired it.

The man who was still holding his hands aloft from where the gun had been placed in them dropped them. He turned towards the other girl and joked, “Little wolf. You told me your sister was a demure young lady who liked to sew.”

The girl only smiled, and clapped her hand on her sister’s shoulder. The little bird, and her sister spoke in hushed whispers for a few minutes before she looked up at him with the perfect smile on her face.

“Hound, do you have room for three more? Instead of two more?”

“Aye, Little Bird.”

Chapter Text

It had been almost six months since they had all first found each other, but to him it seemed like a lifetime. Hardly being away from one another for any significant period of time made it feel that way. It had been a long time since anyone had accepted him for who he was, scars, gruffness, and all. The zombie apocalypse had made people run from him more than they did before it had all begun. He was no stranger to the solitary life, the life of being stared at and ridiculed.

Yet, this group of people he was with. These survivors, because that was what they were, liked him, fucking trusted him even. It had taken him a while, but he had warmed up to the idea of Arya and Gendry together, though Arya pushed his buttons more than he cared to admit. Hell, that was one of the reasons he was starting to like her; not many people stood up to him or goaded him for fear of any consequences that might follow. He was a mean looking bloke, and he knew that. The scar just added to his threatening posture.

As well as trusted, he even considered himself to be a part of the group instead of just being on the sidelines, expendable should push come to shove, and it was all because of his little bird. Not that he had made her his yet. He would never admit it, but he had fallen for her, for her gentleness and her timid nature. Despite having said that, she had followed him the first day she had seen him. Then she hadn’t left, or was it he who hadn’t left? He wasn’t sure anymore. The weeks seemed to blend into one. He would leave the cabin, check the snares, reset them if necessary, then go for a perimeter check with Gendry, kill any of the walkers in the pits, and remove some if they were piling too high. Then he would either sit, and gut the kills or he would teach Sansa some form of new defensive maneuver. His daily routine didn’t very much before the zombies, and it didn’t vary much now, and that was just how he liked it. His day ended after Arya took her turn checking the snares, and he would then proceed to dress that ready for cooking too if there was any. Arya would often chuck the whole thing at him instead of handing it to him. He was loath to admit it but it brought a smile to his face. When she walked off into the cabin behind him, it would show on his face, but not to her or Gendry. The only person he would smile behind would be his little bird.

Whenever he was sat at the bench outside the cabin, one of those park benches for picnics, he would remember when his little bird had said that she wanted to sit outside but not on the mud. The very next day he pilfered it from a pub some ten miles down the road. It wasn’t clean, there was a very nasty blood stain on one side of it, but he knew it would please his little bird. Her reaction was not what he had been expecting, not at all. Tears had welled up in her eyes, and she had the audacity to punch him in the chest before turning, and running inside. It was only later he learned from Arya that he shouldn’t have gone, and risked himself for it, Sansa was scared for him. Gendry had just shook his head, and laughed at him like he was being an idiot.

Now, though, it was where they would do most things. There was enough room for them all to sit, but he had the designated bloody section of it. That was how he preferred it though, his back was to the house so he could see danger coming first. Sansa would sit next to him, sometimes their legs would brush. Sometimes, she would brace her hand on his shoulder when she got up. It was moments like these that made him feel normal again...almost.

Although today, everything had changed. Gendry and Arya had already excused themselves, and gone to their room in the cabin. No more than a single bed and a rickety chest of drawers fitted into it, but they were lucky there was even a bed or a mattress left there. They could accumulate clothes easily, and blankets or things to use as blankets, but to get another mattress was difficult. Sandor had already been sat outside when his little bird joined him on the bench.

“Are they at it again, Little Bird?” he asked gruffly as Sansa sat down next to him demurely.

“If by 'at it again' you mean ruining my sleep, then yes,” Sansa ground out. She tried and failed to stifle a yawn.

“Oh Little Bird, you can’t even say the word can you?” Sandor looked at her, as if daring her to say what her little sister was up to now. He was rewarded with a blush.

“It’s not proper to talk about that.”

“I don’t think there’s anything proper anymore.”

“I suppose you’re right….Sex...Sex...Sex...Sex,” each time she said the word it seemed to get louder. The first time his little bird said it, it was tentative like she was testing it. She became more and more animated too. By the fourth time she was raising her arms and looking up at the sky. Though the last was almost at a shout, and Sandor found himself covering her mouth with his hand.

On the inside he was laughing at her antics, but on the outside his eyes were hard as they bore down into her. “Don’t you forget what’s out there. Even if we keep all of it away from you, it’s still out there, best not bring them down on us, Sansa.”

He pulled his hand away, and was surprised to see that Sansa had a smile on her face. Her hand was coming up towards him, he refrained from grabbing it. It touched his face, the side with his scars, feather light. Her face came towards him then.

“You called me by my name.” Her eyes were searching his. He made eye contact with her.

“Aye, what of it?” he asked, trying to make light of the situation. The next thing he knew was that he had an armful of Sansa. Her lips were on his. She was hugging him from the side, and he let her. After getting over his shock, he moved his lips against hers. She tasted sweet, like lemon cake. He placed his hands on her, and when he wasn’t rejected or pushed away he relaxed from his rigid pose. Her arms moved upwards towards his neck and hair. She was pulling him closer to her, moulding her form to his. Their kiss deepened. Turning from chaste to downright dirty, they exchanged saliva when their tongues tangled with one another. He could feel his jeans tighten around the crotch area before he pulled away from her. Her lips chased his for a second, but he stopped her by placing his hands firmly on her shoulders.

“Sansa, you don’t know what you’re doing to me, you’re worth so much to me, much more than a pack of cigarettes,” Sandor was saying, trying to push her away. Instead, she reached a hand down and touched him through his jeans. Her hand moved over him. He almost came right then.

“Trust me, I know exactly what I’m doing,” Sansa deadpanned before getting up from the bench, sashaying inside with a come hither motion.

Sandor obeyed. They spent the night together in her room. It was the master room of the hunting lodge. The only other room, besides Arya’s and Gendry’s, contained a small kitchen area and a double seater sofa. He usually cramped himself up on the sofa or slept on the bench outside the cabin. Riskier, but it was more than what he was used to.

When Sandor awoke, he looked at Sansa who was still deep in sleep, and thought ‘If all it took for that to happen, I would have called you by your name the day we met.’ He tucked her flaming hair behind her ear, and whispered, “I’ll protect you, my Little Bird,” as he kissed her on the forehead. He stayed still after that, not risking waking her any more than he already had. He would stay for as long as he could before Gendry would knock on the door, and tell him it was his turn to go check the snares.

Out of their group, he, Arya and Gendry were the better fighters, but Sansa was the person who helped keep up morale and kept the group together. It was she who had suggested digging a large trench around the cabin to fortify it. It wouldn’t stop live ones but it would stop the dead. Gendry was skeptical, and Arya wanted to move on, but he saw the idea through, and they had made a home of the place. Without Sansa, he would have left the others before even joining them. Without her, he would be alone. Being alone before the world went to shit was one thing, but belone after it had gone to shit was another thing entirely. He was glad he didn’t have to be alone anymore. He would stay with his little bird for as long as she fucking let him.