She'd thought he was asleep, but then he spoke. "You said 'that's one way,'" said the Hound. "What do you know?"
Arya stared at him, trying to tell if he was watching her, and then shrugged carelessly. "Stick them with the pointy end," she said, flippantly, and thought the corner of his mouth might have twitched.
"I don't have a knife," she retorted. And I don't expect you'll give me one. He half lifted his head and examined her, reached over and picked up a stick, snapping it in half so it was about the length of a short sword – of Needle, she thought, a little bitterly – and tossed it to her.
"Use what you have," he said, and leaned back again, his very real sword across his legs. Arya wondered for a few moments if you could kill a man with a stick, and decided it wasn't worth dying to try. She slid into the water dancer's stance that Syrio Forel had shown her. It was easier to remember than she would have expected it to be. Arya glanced at the Hound, expecting him to say something, but he just watched her in silence.
Smooth as summer silk, she thought, and flowed into the next motion. If I had Needle now I could kill him. His expression showed nothing.
"How did you get away from my knightly brother?" he asked, suddenly. She paused, but only for a moment. It felt good to be moving again, not just running.
"None of your business," she said, remembering to move on her toes. I am the Ghost in Harrenhal. "Why do you care?"
The Hound shrugged. "No reason. Did you make this up?"
"No," Arya snapped, affronted. "Syrio Forel taught me. Before Ser Meryn and the other Kingsguard killed him." She turned and looked at him. "You were in the Kingsguard, I heard someone say. Joffrey put you there."
"That's King Joffrey to you," Sandor said, but he sounded almost amused. Arya scowled.
"No. Not ever. He's a cruel, spiteful, stupid idiot. Not a king of anything and not mine." Sandor surprised her by nodding, barely.
"Too much like his father in all the wrong ways. Fine. Yes, Joffrey put me there."
"And you ran away," Arya said, satisfied, seizing on this bone with all of the strength in her jaws. "You ran away, because you're a coward."
His eyes snapped. "You ought to be glad I did. You're getting back to your fucking family, aren't you? That's what you wanted." He jerked his head at her stick. "You're not much of a fighter yourself. You're dancing around too much. You'll get tired that way and even a man worse than you can kill you if you're tired."
"Not if I'm quick," Arya said, and bared her teeth. "You'd never even see me. I could kill you if I wanted to. I could kill anyone."
"Then why haven't you?" He sounded almost amused, and Arya tossed her head.
"You're taking me to my family. I don't care if it's just for the money." It would be good to see Robb again, at least. Even if her mother was angry, Robb would still be glad to see her. And thinking about it, maybe she didn't have to mention the people she'd killed. When they asked her what had happened, she could just leave them out, and then they wouldn't be disappointed in her for killing anyone.
The Hound laughed at her, but shoved himself to his feet, reaching for the other half of the stick. It looked silly in his hand, too small and flimsy. "All right," he said, "Try me. Let's see how far your speed gets you." Arya danced back and examined him, trying to tell if he was serious. "Come, wolf-bitch," he said, lips curling back from his teeth in what seemed to be trying to be a smile. "Let me see what you can do. Maybe if you win I'll even let you have a knife."
If she had a knife she could kill him and escape. If she had a knife she wouldn't be a stupid mouse anymore. She settled into her stance, and darted forward.
He hadn't seemed ready to move, but he caught her stick, batted aside the first blow and the next two, then thwacked her arm. It stung, but she gritted her teeth and backed just out of reach. The Hound looked at her with one eyebrow raised.
"No," she snarled, and lunged again, thrusting her stick in quick stabbing motions at his legs, belly, throat. He caught all of them, now circling, eyes watching her flat and emotionless.
Arya leapt into a flurry of semi-wild strikes, moving as fast as she could, but he always seemed to manage to meet her in time. She made a furious noise and brought her stick-sword downward, but he caught her wrist and twisted. She cried out, hand opening of its own accord, the stick dropping to the floor. He didn't let go of her as his stick swept in to rest against her throat.
"Dead," he said, and dropped her. Arya rubbed her wrist, feeling the tears well up in her eyes for how much it hurt. The Hound dropped the stick and flopped down against a tree. "Fast still isn't fast enough."
You hurt me, she wanted to say, but that sounded stupid even in her own head. She reached for her stick and put it over her knees, watching him and wondering if she could move fast enough to stick it through one of his eyes.
"Fine," she said, gritting her teeth. "What did I do wrong?"
The Hound snorted. "Easier to answer what you didn't do wrong. Don't be a fool. I'm not your teacher."
"If we ran into someone, like Lannisters or something," Arya said, "I could help if I knew how to fight."
He turned his head and looked at her. "And put a knife in my back as soon as the fight was over. Not bloody likely. If there's a fight, you stay out of the way, and that's all. Or use your teeth if you have to. Like a proper damned little wolf."
Arya scowled and curled up more tightly, watching him for a few more moments. The silence stretched out. The Hound shifted slightly.
"You lost your head. You're not strong enough to be a berserker. You got pissed and you weren't paying attention, and at your size that doesn't work. Start with that." Arya blinked, surprised. She hadn't really been expecting an answer. Then she realized that he was looking at her directly, eyes open. "Funny little Stark, aren't you. I'd almost say you like killing things."
"I'm not a mouse," Arya said fiercely, and the Hound laughed, seeming genuinely amused this time.
"No. Mice don't survive my brother. If you're so good, why didn't you carve out his heart when you had the chance?"
I was scared. "I didn't have the chance," retorted Arya. "And I would have just died anyway."
Sandor's mouth twisted downwards. "Some things are worth dying for." A slight pause. "I'm glad you didn't. Wouldn't want to lose my chance."
Why haven't you killed him, Arya almost asked, but thought it might be a bad idea. She kept her mouth shut and stared at him, willing some answer to be revealed, though she wasn't sure what question needed answering. "What else is worth dying for?"
He looked at her, seeming almost thoughtful, but then his face was blank again. "Just that," he said. "Nothing else." He leaned his head back. "No, you're not a mouse. Just a wolf-puppy. Almost wish I could see your teeth sprout."
Arya bared hers, angrily. "When they do you won't be alive," she snarled, and he laughed, though she didn't know why this time, and got up again. Arya tightened her hand around her stick, but he turned his back on her.
"I'm going hunting. Stranger will bite you if you go within three feet of him. And even in these woods, a man on horseback can move faster than one wolf-girl." He bared his teeth at her. "Just something to keep in mind."
"And if someone comes?" Arya said, defiantly, tempted to bare her teeth back, and it took her a moment to realize that the grimace-like expression on the Hound's face was a slightly nasty smile.
"Should be easy for you, she-wolf. Stick them with the pointy end."
Arya held onto her stick, white-knuckled and listening to the woods, and waited.