A/N: This is a Blackwater AU without the Blackwater. If you're wondering what happened with the battle, you can check out my story Comfort. This will be something of a disjointed sequel, as it should be radically different in tone.

This will also be co-written by the lovely and talented Loquitur, author of Pack Mentality and Super-Massive Black Hole. We'll be keeping all the chapters together in this story on my profile, but the author of the chapter will be clearly denoted in the A/N at the start of each.

It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution. –Oscar Wilde, 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'

-kashicanhaz

::

Sansa woke with a start as she was thrown from the barrel she'd been clutching for gods-knew how long and squeaked as she stumbled bonelessly to her knees, skidding onto a wide, white shore on the strength of the tide.

Land...Oh gods, LAND!

She heard herself cry out as she scrambled forward, her vision edged in canopy-green lace and cyan skies, cloudless and mocking her most recent terror. What was left of her dress hindered her movement and sent her sprawling into the sand more than once as she crawled onto the shore of her salvation. The white grains stuck to her salt-wet skin as she fought her way through the sand, looking curiously like sugar on her knuckles, like from her girlhood in Winterfell, when she would sneak into the kitchens to see what sweets she could steal.

Finally, when the waves lapped at her ankles no more, Sansa turned onto her side, panting, and collapsed.

LAND.

::

When she had fallen asleep the night before, hugging desperately the barrel to her chest in the fury of the churning sea, she had been almost certain she was going to die that night.

She'd heard one of the men on deck whispering that they couldn't get their bearings, that they didn't know where they were in the whole of the world, that the first storm could have blown them right off the edge of the map.

"An' 'oo knows," he drawled, a thick, southern peasant accent halting his speech, "we could be figh'n sea serpents an' gods know wha' else 'round these seas. An' there ain't nothin' we c'n do, 'till th' sun come out, n' we c'n see th' stars..."

That had given her pause, but she knew better than to bring up her reservations with Sandor. Edging towards the railing to cast her eyes out at the rolling hills of the sea, she imagined the conversation they would have, if she was witless enough to start it.

'One of the men says we don't know where we are' she would say to him. He would be quiet for a minute. 'So what if we don't?' he would grunt at her finally. 'They said there might be sea monsters,' she would continue before she could stop herself, then wince, waiting for the rasping laugh that would come afterwards. And he would shake his head, fetching his wineskin from his hip as he muttered 'stupid little bird' and uncorked it, 'sea monsters aren't real,' then put the wineskin to his lips as he skulked off and left her a little worse than he'd found her.

She sighed and put her arms down on the railing. A few minutes later he appeared in the flesh, sauntering up beside her with his wineskin in his fist and a tuneless hum under his breath, as if his persistent nonchalance could distract her, or anyone else for that matter, from his apparent occupation as her shadow. A menacing, snarling git of a shadow, but a shadow nonetheless.

"Piss-poor shit of a navigator finally figured out we're not in the sea of Dorne," he spat, looking at his wineskin contemptuously before drinking from it. "We're turning back east tomorrow like we should have done in the first place."

"Does he know where we are?"

"You know he doesn't."

"I do not," she fairly huffed.

"Don't be stupid, girl. These clouds haven't let up for a minute all week."

"It's unkind to call me stupid, Sandor," she tried to bite back, her backtalk coming out in a whimpering mumble.

He shut up anyway, giving way to a silence that took up space.

After a minute under its gathering weight, Sansa was desperate to resume conversation with him. She wanted to avoid the conversation she'd imagined earlier, but there was naught to talk of but the weather on this wretched ship. Weather, or her interactions with the deckhands, though those conversations usually preceded mysterious events wherein the deckhand in question would appear in the mess the next morning, bruised and broken and avoiding her like the plague.

She had her suspicions about what was going on, but she didn't raise them with him, her shadow. She couldn't exactly say she misliked being avoided by the crew anyway, especially those she thought to mention.

"Is it close to sundown?" she asked him.

He smirked, lifting the wineskin to his lips. "You can see as good as me, little bird. What do you think?"

That's not true she wanted to argue; his eyes were much better—she'd found that out on the road—but she humoured him, scanned the horizon to all sides of them, looking for a darkening patch of sky that might denote the west and oncoming night-time. There was a patch behind them, dark and greenish, and she figured that was probably it.

"I think so," she said, returning the weight of her upper body to the railing of the ship as it lurched beneath them. That didn't even bother her anymore. "It's not going to clear up tonight either, is it?" she asked, a statement.

He shook his head, took a sip of his wine, and offered it to her. She refused.

"It looks like it's getting dark behind us," she said on a sigh. "Port side," she added, when she remembered the words.

He chuckled darkly, lifting the wine to his lips. "We're headed west, girl. If it's getting dark anywhere, it's ahead of us."

Sansa creased her brow for a second. "Then what's that darkness over there?"

Sandor turned, shooting a dismissive and curt glance over his shoulder at the sky for a moment before whipping back for a frenzied double-take, swallowing hard in a way she could tell he didn't want her to notice.

"That's not dark, girl," he said, taking her arm in his grasp, physical contact still a weighty and tenuous thing between them. "That's a storm brewing. And fast."

::

"Well?" she asked him as he ducked back into their room at the inn, a cramped little thing overlooking the docks near Stonehelm, on Cape Wrath. He huffed, tearing the hood back from his head, hair mussed in the persistent humidity, and sat down in a chair by the door, unlacing his boots to put off answering her. As she'd come to understand him, this either meant things were very, very bad, or exactly as she'd hoped they would be.

He sighed again before admitting sourly, "well, you got your wish, little bird. I hope you're happy."

She was, in fact, very happy, but their peace was an uneasy one at best. Instead of gloating, she flopped back onto the lumpy bed with glee and sighed. "Lys..."

"Bound for Volantis," he grunted, kicking his second boot to the floor and peeling his soaking stockings out from under his breeches so he could dry them by the brazier. "Sailing through the stepstones. I gave the captain a dragon to let us off at Lys. Setting sail at midday, so you can sleep as long as you like."

She sat up again, unable to keep herself from beaming. He watched her with the strangest look of defeat in his eyes as she drew up to him, a thanks she knew he wouldn't accept on the tip of her tongue like a thirst. Momentarily she entertained the notion of pressing a kiss to his cheek in gratitude, and what kind of man he would be if he would accept it. She touched her fingertips to his shoulder instead, looked him in the eyes and gave him a square "thank you, Sandor. Really."

"Don't thank me girl, it just worked out that way," he said gruffly, an edge of what might have been sheepishness creeping into his sober voice. He reached for the wineskin on the table and, cursing, must have found it unsuitably light. "I'm getting more wine," he announced, reaching to pull his boots back onto his bare feet. "What should I tell the cook to bring you up for supper?"

She asked for the same meal she'd had the night before, and began to remind him of its contents before he hushed her, waving a hand dismissively and grumbling, "I remember, I remember," as he sidled back out the door.

For someone who liked to mock her for 'always having everything she wanted,' he seemed rather keen to keep it that way, she thought, a thoughtful grin turning on her cheeks.

As if to prove her point, he ducked his head back into the room. "You don't have to have the same thing again tonight if you don't want it."

"I'm happy with the chicken," she responded, sitting back down on the bed.

He chewed on that for a moment, looking at the floor. "The beef's not too expensive," he rasped, and then, "I'll get you the beef, if you want it."

"I'd rather have the chicken, Sandor," she said. His eyes flicked up to meet hers at his name, and for a moment his lips twitched and parted, as if he meant to argue. But then he left again.

::

Now that the sea was no longer trying to kill her, she sat on the beach, catching her breath, and surveyed her surroundings. Wherever she was, it was still summer—the air she pulled greedily into her lungs warm in the sun and scented heavy with sweet flowers. The shore she'd found was narrow, disappearing into a thicket of dark green trees with wide, waxy leaves that played host to choruses of strange birds singing, their raised voices curiously harmonious and unified. The azure sea beyond was dotted with distant spits of land in every direction she could see, none however looking much bigger than the one she'd washed up on. It was the sort of place that would be paradise, she imagined, had she assurance of her survival.

Which, with Sandor and everyone else on the crew likely dead and in any case absent, was unlikely at best.

And just like that, all the gratitude she had for her survival dried up. Instead of drowning peacefully in her sleep, as the rest of the ship likely had (though admittedly less peacefully), she would die slowly and alone in this gods-forsaken mock-paradise, destined to burn up in the sun or starve to death or much, much worse, depending on what creatures lurked in the dark forest at her back. She felt a lump of tears rise in her throat as she hugged her knees to her chest. If I'd just let go of that thrice-damned barrel, I could be with Father and Lady right now. And Uncle Brandon. And Aunt Lyanna...

And Sandor...

But before she started to cry, her spine began to prickle at a distant sound that sat discordant in the music of the island.

Hoof beats.

::

Sandor took her below-decks to her chambers once the storm hit them in earnest, the sky and sea uniting in an angered upheaval, each striving to reach and lash out at the other, tossing the ship between them like a toy.

"Try to be brave little bird," he said, almost compassionately, as he shoved her into her cabin. "And if you get seasick, try to find some other place to do it. I doubt a pretty little bird like yourself wants to spend the afternoon in a puddle of her own sick."

She meant to reprimand him for his crudeness, but when she opened her mouth to speak she found herself facing the inside of her door. Frowning, she spun on her heel, the floor falling away from her suddenly and making her stumble back into her bunk, pulling her knees up to her chest, trying to focus her attention on being angry with Sandor instead of dreading the possibility of being sick. She gripped the bed frame around her fury, settling into a pattern of thought that reminded her of all of her shadow's displeasing qualities—his temper, his tongue, his affect. He had hardly touched her since the battle of the Blackwater, and when he had, he'd handled her with all the care of a father with his daughter's porcelain doll. For some reason, this surfaced in her consciousness as a grievance, finding herself curiously longing for the closeness they'd shared that night the world was aflame.

She had been about to delve deeper into this longing when the ship pitched starboard and violently threw her from her bunk, her dress catching and tearing on a ragged floorboard as the storm dragged her across the floor.

She had been so focused on Sandor that she hadn't even thought about the storm, but now it resurfaced into her consciousness with a malicious and uncaring bravado, leaving her scuffling for purchase as she climbed back to her feet. How had she not before heard the wind screaming against the mast and sails? The sea slapping against the wood of the bow? The whole ship groaning, as if under great stress? Her nerves were thrown into a fever pitch, and every little sound—of which there were far too many—only agitated her panic.

A deafening crack rang out, and then, a couple of minutes later, another. Water was creeping from beneath her door and wetting her skirts. Her eyes were beginning to wet, too. This storm will sink the ship.

We are going to drown.

We are going to die.

Her door busted open on a hard toss port side, and she screamed and covered her face, certain it was a wall of water beyond her door, that these were her final moments.

But water does not rasp.

"Little bird."

He took up the entire doorway, she saw from between her fingers. His eyes were wide and white, his face cast in the combined shadow of the storm and the natural darkness of her cabin. He waited for her to allow him entry, she realized.

Even then.

"Sandor!" She choked, opening her arms. That was all the invitation he needed, apparently, to come stumbling into her cabin, falling to his knees beside her and gathering her up.

"Little bird, I've got to tell you something," he said hoarsely, pulling her against his chest and into his lap, burying his fingers in her wet and knotted hair.

"Are we going to die Sandor?" She interrupted, her fear turning her into a small child with all a child's patience.

"Listen to me! It's important. I want you to—" the storm cut off his snarling with a hard lurch starboard, wind and sea screaming, nearly drowning out his voice. "I want you to know. I should've—" and again the ship lurched, and he drew her tighter into his arms.

She could feel the warmth from beneath his jerkin now, tempering the chill of her wet and exposed skin. Be careful for what you wish for, she thought morbidly, tucking her face into his neck and feeling his warmth against her cheek, breathing in his scent and finding her fear minutely calmed.

"Seven fucking hells, take this buggering ship! Sansa, I—look at me, damn it!"

He wrenched her face away from where she'd tucked it against his neck, her whole jaw cradled in his palm, callused but somehow still gentle as he held her. The queerest expression crossed over his face, the frantic, violent urgency in his eyes softened and clouded with something like awe as she adjusted her wrists around her neck, shifting closer to him. His thumb twitched on her cheekbone as if he was thinking about stroking it, before the ship jolted and groaned, making her gasp and throw herself into his chest, his hand on her jaw curling around to the back of her neck and holding her fast.

And then they heard it.

A snap. A keening. Shouts up in a chorus.

"What was—"

"We've got to go," he growled, scooping her up as he stood.

"Go?! Go where?! Where is there to go?! We can't go—"

She stopped short as he dropped her on the deck, which, aside from lacking its two smaller masts entirely, was now nearly cleaved in half by the great mast, which had fallen and cracked the bow. The ship was sinking heavily forward into the water now, the waves washing up the deck and pulling sailors out into the water with superlative ease.

It was a surreal and terrifying sight, slowing everything in her perception to the speed of sap. Sandor seemed to be the only other person on the boat, the only voice she could hear, other than the sea's.

"What do you mean you haven't got any boats on board, you bleeding shit?!"

"Sansa, I need you to listen to me. Hold onto this barrel and keep your head up."

"Please be brave, little bird. You're a lucky one. Someone will find you."

"I'm going to find my horse. Make sure he has a chance to get off this bleeding ship at least. So he can drown fighting like the rest of us."

And then he was gone.

For far, far too long he was gone.

"Sandor!" she shouted into the wind as the deck began to sink into the waves, black water lapping up to re-soak her skirts. She still held the barrel in her arms, resolved not to let it go as he'd told her. "SANDOR!"

A skip of the waves swept her off her feet with a cry and into the sea, her head going under for a second before she resurfaced, sputtering and gasping, her blood turned solidly to horror. And still he was nowhere.

"SANDOR!"

The waves were kinder than she expected them to be, pulling her up and down with them as they rose and fell. The rain was brutal, pelting the skin on her cheeks and forehead until it felt raw, between the force and the cold. She almost wanted to put her face into the ocean to warm it again—the warmth of the water was the strangest thing—but Sandor had told her to keep her head up. So she did. As long as she could.

"SANDOR!"

When the storm finally began to relent, the waves calming and smoothing and the rain easing to a gentle pitter-patter on her face, she took a glance over her shoulder and found herself alone in the sea. Where there had only an hour before been a ship full of people and goods, now there were naked waves. The ship, the people, the goods, had all seemingly slipped beneath.

"...Sandor..."

All but her, anyway.

You don't know that he's dead. You don't. You don't.

Maybe he was right. Maybe she was lucky.

She didn't feel too lucky, all alone as she was. If I was truthfully lucky, Sandor would be here too.

But he wasn't. Right or there with her.

::

Ka-thump ka-thump ka-thump ka-thump.

All laments of her survival were fled from her mind as she scrambled to her feet, looking around for some hiding place that might preserve it.

And Sandor would be upset with you if you died so soon anyway. Upset with you or himself. Probably himself, she thought, tucking herself behind a bush with leaves like long blades of grass as the hoof beats drew nearer.

And nearer.

And nearer.

"Easy, boy," she heard an all-too-familiar voice rasp and, her head swimming with dizzy confusion, she was suddenly unsure she was alive after all...

But there were too many things wrong for this to really be the Seven Heavens. Her dress, for one. Septa Mordane said nothing about arriving to the Seven Heavens in tattered rags, nursing wounds on her legs, her skin flushed and irritated from a night and day spent at the mercy of the sea and sun. She also understood that she would not feel hunger or thirst in the afterlife, which she currently did to a painful degree. And then there was the solitude—where were all the other faithful who had perished? Her family? Her direwolf?

And what business did Sandor Clegane have in the Seven Heavens?

He was in the process of following her tracks to the bush when she emerged from it, her pursuer drawing back before breaking into a nasty grin. He'd lost his tunic and jerkin sometime since the shipwreck, leaving his chest improperly bare, but thankfully had maintained possession of his breeches and dirk belt, the weapon hanging off his right hip.

"I was right...Gods, I don't know how I did it. The Seven Heavens!" he bellowed with a laugh before scooping her up into his arms and swinging her around in a circle. "I've got my horse and my little bird. Gods, what did I do to deserve this!?"

"Sandor, this isn't—"

But he cut her off with a kiss. A kiss. Right on the mouth.

Her hands flew to his face and she pushed him away, screeching haughtily when she finally broke free. "My lord!"

He frowned. "Little bird?"

"We are still alive, my lord! This isn't the Seven Heavens! This is an island!" He dropped her into the sand like she had the pox. "Gods only know where we are..."

"Fuck," he swore, turning away from her, something that looked suspiciously like a blush creeping up his neck.

It was probably just the heat of the sun. She'd been feeling it too, after all, on her ears and cheeks and the bridge of her nose...

"You didn't honestly think the Gods would make us swim to the Seven Heavens, did you? Don't you know anything about the Faith?!"

"Oh that's rich, coming from Joff's stupid talking bird!" He hissed back, all his glee and affection gone, his fury resumed. "Since when do you know anything about anything?!" he snapped petulantly.

"I'm nobody's bird," she spat back, though she rather felt like she was nursing a broken wing. Or a broken wrist. He'd dropped her onto her arm, and it was hurting ferociously.

He only turned back away from her, petting his horse as he breathed heavily, letting her watch the ripple and play of his tanned, muscled back, littered with pink and silver-gold scars like ribbons. She smiled a little at the idea of Sandor Clegane with a handful of pretty ribbons stuck to his skin, but his silence outlasted her amusement.

"So now what?" she finally asked. "What do we do?"

He sighed heavily and addressed her without turning back around. "We make camp. We find food. We wait for someone to find us and get ourselves back to Lys. Or any of the free cities, at this rate."

"What will we do when we get there? You've lost your gold. And my jewels. And your sword."

He spun around as she was talking, eyes narrowed and angry again.

"Don't assume we'll get off this island, little bird. I'm handy enough with a dirk to keep us safe. And bugger that. You're my little bird if I say you are."

She cocked her head, but figured it was wiser not to ask what he was talking about.

"Let's stay on the beach for tonight," he said, leading her back to where the shore seemed broadest. "We can explore the wood in the morning. I want to watch the horizon and see if we're in the midst of some trading route. With your luck, we might just be."

"What do you want me to do?" She asked, halting him as he began to stalk away.

He turned halfway back to her, frowning. "Dig a pit in the sand for a fire. Look for kindling in the edge of the wood. See if you can find any fruit. And don't leave my sight."

And with that he stalked back into the lapping waves just off the shore, withdrew his dirk from his hip, stood very still, and waited.