"The fuck you doing out here alone, wolf bitch?" He snorted. "Or should I say, the hero of Winterfell?" Clegane's deep growl broke the silence of the Wolfswood. "The dragon queen sure knows how to blow smoke up you Starks arseholes., I'll give her that."
Arya maneuvered her mount beside him. "She does indeed. Sansa spotted it first. Jon wouldn't listen."
"And why not?"
"He was just being stubborn." Arya didn't care to further share her feelings about Jon.
"Too taken in by the queen's Targaryen cunt, more like. Bloody green boy." Clegane spat on the ground for emphasis. "Word of the lady's sparring reached the soldier's barricks."
"So Gendry said."
"Your brother could stand to learn a few things from the little bird. She's grown wolf's fangs for true. Glad of it, though not the way she became that way."
"She's suffered much since you left her." Her voice wavered, the admiration and regret in the way he spoke of her sister touched her in an unexpected, uncomfortable manner.
"I offered to take her with me. She refused." Clegane rasped, lower than normal.
"I know. She told me." Arya glanced at him. "It was Tyrion who spread it around, I'll wager."
Clegane nodded. "Another man too foolish to listen to Sansa."
Startled, Arya gaped at Clegane; he never used Sansa's name as far as she could recall. What changed?
"You didn't answer me," he went on, "you made it back to your family. Why'd you leave them and Baratheon's bastard behind to go south is beyond me."
"I left my family to kill Cersei," she snapped, "it's the only way to make sure they're safe."
"Heard about Bronn, did you?"
Arya allowed a satisfied smirk. "Ghost and I convinced him to abandon his plans."
"You should have driven that little blade of yours straight through his black heart. Unless you meant for him to tell Cersei you're coming."
She had no intention of explaining herself, but the Hound would sniff out the truth of the matter. It had become a damned inconvenient habit of his during their time together, and yet she couldn't deny his instincts were, as always, right on the mark.
"And why are you here?" Arya shifted in her saddle. "You're brother's dead."
"I've unfinished business in King's Landing."
"Whatever that thing is Cersei has by her side, it isn't Gregor."
He didn't answer.
"You have unfinished business in Winterfell, with my sister."
Clegane scoffed, but much to Arya's gratification, neither did he deny it.
"I saw the lovesick looks you two were giving each other last night."
"Bloody hells! You've lost your mind." He sputtered, much to her amusement. "You weren't even in the fucking room!"
Clegane's face flushed under her scrutiny, egging Arya on.
"I had to sneak out before I threw up and shamed Sansa in front of the queen and all of the North!" She laughed, and despite his swearing protests, Sandor followed her. "She's missed you. You should be with her, not chasing your undead brother to the Seven Hells."
"You're one to talk, with your list. Fuck off." Clegane remained uncharacteristically quiet, and Arya let him think on her words.
"And you should stay with your mooning blacksmith, not still after the names your bloody list, " he finally replied, his voice rough. "But what the fuck would I know about it?"
"You must know enough, judging by the look on Sansa's face last night." Arya tread carefully. "We haven't seen her smile much, and you had her positively glowing."
He raised his brow at her. "Yeah, I'm a regular Daemon the Dragonknight."
"No one's more surprised than me, Clegane, believe that!"
Abruptly Clegane pulled up on the reins, causing Arya to follow suit.
"I'll make a deal with you, wolf bitch. I'll put aside Gregor if you set aside Cersei and your list. We can both give up on King's Landing. Move on from here." Sniffing, he looked off into the distance, though she noticed that his knuckles were white from gripping the reins.
Frowning, Arya started to protest when Clegane interrupted her.
"I don't care to die in that stinking shithole. I've seen enough men burn to death, heard their screams." Bruskly he brushed his cheek. "You don't want that either, so stop fucking lying to yourself."
Was he really trying to convince her to simply give up and go home? That didn't sound like the Hound she knew.
"Let the dragon queen send both of them to the Seven hells, or feed them to her dragons, one."
"But what if Danaerys doesn't kill Cersei?"
Clegane snorted. "Targaryens don't take prisoners, girl. I thought you'd know that after your grandfather and uncle."
Though angered by his cruel reminder, Arya had to admit that he spoke truly. Still, her training refused to allow her to entrust the queen to Danaerys.
"But what if she marches north?"
"You think Cersei can get through these icy woods, all the way to Winterfell? Your mind's addled. She bitched all the way to Winterfell in the royal wheelhouse, you recall."
"Yeah, Tommen told us."
Clegane's mouth twitched, "What, with your army of wolves, your fucking Three Eyed Raven brother, not to mention the bloody cold - you really believe that she'd survive both Danaerys and the north? All she has left are sellswords, not a fighter worth his salt among them."
In her heart, Arya knew that he was right. But it was a scary thing, to abandon the last name on her list; to abandon death for the future - a future with Gendry. And Arya knew that if the very idea scared her, it must positively terrify him to do the same for Sansa.
And yet here he was, asking her to make the leap with him. She knew he loved Sansa, the big ugly brute, but something dramatic must have happened, to bring about such a change in the man during their time apart. Something that Arya wasn't quick to dismiss.
"Alright, let's say that I agree to go along with this plan: you owe me one last thing."
"Buggering hells. Out with it, then."
"You tell Sansa the truth."
"I've always told her the truth." He answered weakly.
"You know what I mean. Tell her that you love her, that you always have." Arya challenged him. "I've already broken the ice for you."
"What in the Seven hells-"
"I already told her that you wouldn't bloody shut up about her the entire time you held me. That every night it was "your pretty sister" this and "the pretty bird" that and when you were dying, you said - "
"Alright ENOUGH! You're going to be the fucking death of me yet." Clegane's voice scattered the ravens perched above them. "I'll speak to her."
"As soon as we get to Winterfell." Arya insisted.
"Yes! Bloody fuck! The northern gods cursed the Baratheon boy with you!"
Arya laughed out loud. "And they cursed Sansa with you! Now enough of your fooling, let's go home."
"Aye, lass. To home, then."