Gendry knew Arya was mad at him for getting captured, for getting them all captured, and it bothered him more than it should. He shouldn't care that some highborn girl was angry at him; when her lord brother found out where she was, she was going to leave him and Hot Pie behind while she returned to Winterfell.
One of the Mountain's men split her lip earlier in the day when she tried to talk to Hot Pie, and it took everything in Gendry's body not to charge him. He hated each and every one of those men, the ones who killed stupid Lommy Greenhands, Yoren, and all the other men headed to the Wall. He hated the way they tortured people with laughter in their voices, the way they struck people who could not defend themselves, the way they pulled women into the bushes to rape them. It made Gendry long for his old hammer at Master Mott's shop. These men might be older and wearing armor, but Gendry was strong and he could injure someone, armored or not, wit his hammer.
But he had no hammer, had nothing at all, and Gendry did not want to die on the end of these men's swords.
They were resting for the night, the chill of the night making Gendry shiver, and Hot Pie shook beside him as they began to settle on the dirt and grass. One of the men – Chiswyck, Gendry thought his name was – grabbed one of the prettier girls, and, when she began to resist, the men began to catcall Chiswyck. Gendry flinched when a mailed fist crashed against the side of the girl's face, sending her to the ground, and, as the man knelt down in the dirt, forcing her legs apart, he heard Arya make this soft, pained noise which cut him to the quick.
Gendry turned his eyes upon Arya, who was lying on the other side of him. Even though he had known Arya was not a boy for so long now, Gendry tended to forget when she was cursing, climbing, and generally acting stronger than any of the men Gendry knew. But as she stared in horror at what Chiswyck was doing to the poor girl, as the girl pleaded for him to stop while the other Lannister men cheered him on while claiming women of their own, Arya looked like a scared, nine-year-old girl.
He acted without conscious thought, encircling his arms around Arya's body and forcibly lifting her over his body so she was now next to Hot Pie, her back to the rape. Arya resisted for a moment but Gendry kept his grip firm, tucking her against his body so her back was tight against his chest, and he repositioned his body to cover hers some. Hot Pie, usually so confused, seemed to understand what Gendry was doing, and he scooted closer, his large girth helping to shield Arya. With Hot Pie on one side of her and Gendry on the other, Arya Stark seemed to disappear between them.
Arya managed to flip her body, her face now against his chest, and Gendry expected to see fury in her grey eyes, waited to hear her spit out recriminations and curse him for treating her like a silly girl. Instead she went limp against him and murmured so softly Gendry nearly missed it, “Please don't let them do that to me.”
The girl screamed, and Arya jerked against his body. Gendry did not say a word, pressing his hand over her ear, but he met her gaze steadily, silently swearing it to her. As Arya fell into a fitful sleep against him, Gendry listened to the grunts and cries of the atrocities being committed around him, and he held Arya a bit tighter.
She's just a little girl, he thought as he looked upon her sleeping face, and someone has to protect her.
Not that Gendry would ever tell her he wanted to protect her. She'd probably stab him just on principle.
Sometimes he caught Arya looking at him.
It wasn't the way she looked at Hot Pie, a combination of exasperation, disbelief, loyalty, and affection; it wasn't how she used to look at the men at Harrenhal, placidity hiding a deep burning hatred. No, when Arya looked at him now, it sometimes felt as if she was seeing him for the first time, as if she was evaluating him for something.
He was used to ladies looking at him. Even the highborn ones who used to come in the shop, they'd look at him with hungry eyes and even flirt when their fathers or husbands weren't listening; he lied with two women in King's Landing and even shared a bed with Pia one night at Harrenhal, but those were women-grown, and Arya was barely one-and-ten. She was too young to be looking at him like that.
Not that she was. It wasn't hunger in Arya's grey eyes, but Gendry couldn't pinpoint what it was either.
The innkeeper put Arya in a new dress after she ruined the acorn dress, and, when Arya returned to join him and the rest of the Brotherhood, Gendry found himself looking at her for a change.
She's pretty, he realized with a start as she took a seat next to Harwin. Without dirt to cover her skin, Gendry could make out a sprinkling of freckles across her nose and cheeks; her hair shone now, dark and thick, and it was longer than it was when they first left King's Landing, reaching past her chin and starting to curl. This gown fit her better than the acorn one, and Gendry blushed when he realized there were bumps beneath the bodice, the start of breasts which had not been there weeks earlier. As he watched Edric Dayne sit beside her, smiling charmingly, Gendry felt rage rise up in him at the way Arya smiled in return, a light blush high on her cheeks.
She's a lady and he's a lord, and some day she's going to marry a lord while I work in a bloody forge. Too highborn for the likes of a bastard no one wanted.
Gendry took his mug of mead and went outside, sitting on the grass and stewing at the complicated mixtures of emotions churning in his gut. He wasn't sure how long he sat there before Arya joined him, sinking down onto the grass beside him and reaching for his mug. Gendry wanted to pull away and tell her to go steal Ned Dayne's mead, but he didn't, watching as she took a swallow and pulled a face before handing it back to him.
“That's disgusting,” she pronounced, shaking hair out of her eyes. “How can you drink it?”
“It's a man's drink, not meant for ladies,” he sniped before draining the mug just to spite her.
“I'm not a lady,” Arya objected, bristling as if he just called her a vile curse, “and you are being an arse.”
“So sorry, m'lady,” Gendry retorted, wanting to get her riled, wanting to see anger flashing in her eyes so he could see his Arya and not this little lady.
“I'm not a lady!”
“Look like one,” he snapped, tugging on the skirt of her gown, the material soft against his calloused fingers. “Smell like one. You even smile and flirt like one.”
“I do not!”
“Do so. Think I didn't see you with Lord Dayne? Bet you want to kiss him.”
“You do,” Gendry taunted, and he recognized how mean his voice was but couldn't seem to stop it. “Bet you want him to do a lot more than kiss you. I bet you'll even let him feel around under your gown, ring your bells a little - “
The hand connected solidly with his cheek, the blow startling Gendry into silence. As he touched his stinging face, he saw there was wetness shining in Arya's eyes, and Gendry had never felt worse in his entire life, never felt more like a complete shit.
She got to her feet, preparing to run, and Gendry moved quickly, catching her wrist in one of his large hands, knowing that he would never be able to keep up to her on foot. Immediately Arya began to fight, but her speed was no match for his strength, and Gendry subdued her with relative ease, pinning her arms against her sides.
“Let me go or I'll scream,” she threatened, and Gendry knew what would happen to him if the Brotherhood thought he was trying to do something inappropriate with their hostage.
“I didn't mean what I said.”
Arya tried to kick at his shins as she growled, “I don't bloody care.”
“You just have to be careful,” he continued, trying to keep her from wiggling free. “You aren't a child, and men like this, they'll get to thinking you might want things.”
“The sorts of things Pia wanted,” he answered, and the fight began to trickle out of Arya at that, confusion and disgust twisting up her features. He released her, stepping back cautiously in case she tried to lash out, but Arya stood still, as if trying to puzzle out what exactly he was saying.
“Why would I want that?” she finally said, and Gendry blushed as all the answers he could never give her entered his mind.
“Some ladies do,” Gendry finally settled on, “and you're...You're not...That is, you're...”
“I'm what?” she challenged, her hands on her hips, and when the hell did Arya start to get hips?
“You're pretty,” he blurted out before quickly adding, “when you keep your mouth shut.”
Gendry thought she'd blush or even punch him; the last thing he anticipated was sadness folding over her face as she shook her head.
“No, my mother and Sansa, they're pretty.”
And then Arya disappeared back into the inn, leaving Gendry to stare after her, the words he wanted to say sticking in his throat.
I think you're beautiful.
He never believed it, not for a second. The Brotherhood insisted Ramsey Snow wed Arya Stark to gain control of Winterfell, but none of them knew Arya; if the Bastard of Bolton dared try to lay a hand on Arya, he would have been less one hand. Tom and Lem said he was being ridiculous, that Arya was only a little girl when she ran away in the Riverlands, but Gendry knew Arya. He had seen her in situations where it was kill or be killed, remembered the look in her eyes when the Lannister men raped those women on the way to Harrenhal, and there was no doubt in his mind that, if she was presented as an unwilling bride to the man who stole her home, she would die before ever playing at being his wife.
Everyone thought he was crazy, but Gendry did not care. Other girls might have died on the run, might have been captured or raped, starved or killed, but those girls were not Arya Stark.
The Brotherhood came to the inn for a respite, and, as Jeyne and Willow were filling their bowls, Ned Dayne came bursting through the door, short of breath with sweat on his brow. Gendry still didn't care much for the Lord of Starfall, but he certainly had never seen him so out of sorts.
“The Tullys have retaken Riverrun,” Dayne panted, and suddenly the fresh stew was forgotten as the startling news echoed through the dining room.
“How?” Lady Stoneheart croaked, and Gendry shivered as he always did when she spoke. He thought of Arya's assertion that her mother was pretty, but there was nothing attractive about the deathly echo of Catelyn Stark now.
“The Blackfish lead a charge of Northmen and soldiers from the Vale,” Ned began.
“The Vale?!” several men exploded in disbelief, and Gendry knew what was so startling: since the war started so many years ago, the Vale had not declared for anyone. Little Lord Arryn still held the Eyrie with his stepfather Lord Baelish acting as regent; Gendry knew Lysa Arryn had been a Tully but she was dead going on three years now.
“And there were wolves,” Ned continued, a smile starting to twitch at his lips. “A huge pack, hundreds of them, and there was a girl leading them.” Ned's eyes found Gendry's, and Gendry felt hope explode in his chest as Ned added, “The girl had a direwolf at her side which tore apart dozens of men.”
“Arya,” Gendry instantly said, and then they were all on their feet, saddling horses and riding for Riverrun as quickly as they could. The snows were starting to get deep and his cloak was not as warm as it could have been, but Gendry felt nothing but excitement, anticipation, relief.
He tried to catch her that night. For hours he shouted and screamed her name, tried to do everything he could to find Arya, but she was well-and-truly gone. When the rumors began that she was spotted near the Twins with the Hound, Gendry began to blame himself for not being fast enough, for not being able to keep Arya safe. In the years since their parting, Gendry often found himself thinking of Arya Stark, fearless and strong, imagining her safe and sound somewhere far, far away from Westeros.
When they finally reached Riverrun, trout and direwolf banners flying above its walls, Gendry nearly fell from his horse in his haste to get inside. He could hear wolves howling in the distance, but a direwolf, large and fearsome, began to growl at the sight of Lady Stoneheart. Gendry was just a lowly knight and part-time armorer, and, as such, he was not taken to meet Brynden Tully. Instead he was escorted with the other men to a hall for a hot meal, the urge to ask for Arya on the tip of his tongue.
They were nearly to the dining hall when the direwolf crossed their paths, stilling all the men. It was larger than he imagined when listening to Arya's stories, and Gendry felt his blood turn to ice when the wolf padded towards him, nudging at his thigh with the flat of her head. As the other men froze, waiting to see if the wolf was going to attack, Gendry tentatively reached down, patting its head.
“Nymeria,” he ventured, remembering the name Arya used when telling tales of her wolf, and the wolf pushed its snout against his hand, almost as if she recognized him.
“Nymera, to me!” a husky woman's voice called, and Gendry turned, his heart clenching at the sight of his old friend.
She was four-and-ten now, all long limbs with lean muscle. Her hair now hung halfway down her back, the bottom a mess of wild curls, and, even in pants and a man's tunic, Gendry could make out the flair of her hips, the swell of her breasts. There was something hard about her face now, her grey eyes like stone, but he saw a flicker of recognition on her features as their eyes met.
He didn't get to say anything to her. Tom and Lem greeted her enthusiastically, Harwin made some sort of jape, and then everything was happening so fast, Gendry barely got to offer her a small smile before she was swallowed up amongst the men.
Arya ate with them, drawing her long legs up to sit cross-legged in her seat, regaling the men with tales of Braavos and the things she had seen; Gendry tried not to glare at Ned Dayne when he sat too close to her, topping off her wine cup as if he was a servant, laughing too hard at things which were not quite so funny. Her sister, Lady Sansa, joined them with the Blackfish and a knight named Harry, and the mood began more subdued with Sansa's presence. Gendry found himself looking between the two sisters, trying to find similarities, finding next to none. Young Arya's assessment of her sister was correct; she was beautiful, but there was something unknowable about Sansa Stark, almost as if she carried more secrets than Arya.
Gendry used to know Arya's secrets. Now he didn't know her at all.
He ended up sharing a room with two other knights of the Brotherhood, but he could not sleep at all. After tossing and turning for several hours, Gendry dressed again and left the room, intent on wandering the halls to his heart's content. He was standing in an alcove, staring through stained glass windows, when suddenly there was the flat edge of a knife against his throat, a hand biting in his hip. Gendry froze for a moment until warm breath misted against his ear, Arya's voice taunting, “If I was a Lannister, you'd be dead right now.”
Gendry sighed as she released him, turning on his heel to look upon her. “You cannot say hello like a normal person?”
“I am not a normal person,” she countered, and there was nothing self-pitying in the words, only certainty.
They were both quiet for a moment before Arya curled up on the cushioned window seat, Gendry joining her. Then she said, “I saw Hot Pie a few moons ago. He isn't as fat anymore, and he wanted to know how you were. I told him you were a knight.”
Gendry smirked; the older he grew, the more he thought of Hot Pie, Lommy, even the little girl they called Weasel. It seemed like another person's life now, so far removed from who he was now. “How did you know I wasn't dead?”
“Because I dreamed of you,” Arya stated matter-of-factly.
He dreamed of her as well. In the beginning, they were nightmares: atrocities the Hound may have committed against her, vicious deaths she met, the Mountain and his men tearing her apart. Later, when he was certain she lived, the dreams took on a decidedly more passionate tone; Gendry had lost count of how many times he awoke hard and aching, how often he took himself in hand to relieve the tension from those dreams. His dreams were always full of Arya Stark, and nothing good happened when bastard boys dreamed of runaway princesses.
But princesses dreaming of bastard boys...
“I missed you,” he blurted out, blushing brighter than a flame at the surprised glowing in Arya's eyes, and he instantly wished he could take it back. He was no green boy; he was nine-and-ten, a man-grown who had bedded a dozen women, some of whom were even prettier than Arya Stark. There was no reason he should be acting like a lovesick fool.
“I missed you,” Arya carefully replied, almost as if she was testing the words on her tongue, and the hard mask of her face broke as she murmured, “I have your helm in my chamber. I stole it back.”
He hadn't thought of the bull's head helm in years, his sole source of pride when he first left King's Landing with Yoren, but the fact that Arya had it, that she got it back for him overwhelmed him in that moment. Gendry reached out, tracing the curve of her face with two rough fingertips, and he wasn't sure what he was going to do next, what he was even doing now.
Arya turned her head, her lips brushing against the thin skin of his wrist, and Gendry leaned forward, mind made up as he pressed his mouth against hers as tenderly as he could, giving her time to object if she wished to do so.
Her lips were clumsy and unpracticed, her hands fluttering as if she was not sure where to put them, and Gendry wondered if anyone had ever kissed Arya before, if this was her first kiss. As he followed the line of her full bottom lip with the tip of his tongue, trying to coax her into opening her mouth, he heard Arya inhale sharply through her nose before her hands clutched at his shirt, twisting the fabric as her lips finally parted.
Arya moaned softly in her throat as his hand slid around her rib cage, his thumb brushing the bottom curve of her breast, and Gendry deepened the kiss, pulling her more firmly against him. He was shocked when Arya threw her leg over his lap, straddling him up on her knees, never breaking the seal of their mouths, but she was kissing back desperately now, having learned the rhythm easily. She had always been a fast learner, smarter than he was, more resourceful by half; she was the girl of a thousand names, the Ghost of Harrenhal, stronger than he was when it came right down to it, but right now...
Right now she was just a pretty girl who tasted of blackberry preserves and fit against him so sweetly; all he could think about was how amazing it would feel to be buried so deep inside of her, he would not be able to tell where he ended and she began.
The breathy cry she made as his lips slid wetly down her throat, kissing and suckling softly where her neck met her collarbone, made him groan in reply, and it was only then he felt Arya stiffen, beginning to pull away. Her hair was wild about her flushed face, her breath coming fast, and there was surprise mixed into the blatant arousal on her features.
For a moment they stared at each other, their breathing regulating, and finally Arya murmured, “I have to go to bed.”
Gendry nodded dumbly, watching as she climbed off of his lap and hurried down the hallway, as silent as when she sneaked upon him.
They would not speak of the kiss for nearly a year.
Gendry lost count of how many times Arya had described Winterfell to him. Each and every time he expected to see a grand castle, something to rival Riverrun, something sprawling and ancient.
He did not expect a burnt-out shell of greatness, crumbling walls, scorched stone, and utter wreckage. The Brotherhood, collection of Northmen they freed from the Twins, and Tully men were obviously not expecting it either, looks of abject disbelief on their features.
Sansa's face gave away nothing, but Arya's...Gendry had never seen such despair.
The Bastard of Bolton was being held by the Greatjon, his hands bound behind his back, his colorless eyes watching them with thinly disguised fear. All the men were shouting out suggestions of what to do with Roose Bolton's bastard, but Arya did not hear a word of it. Technically Sansa was the Lady of Winterfell and it was her decision, but Gendry knew the silent, auburn-haired lady would not make a sound as Arya pulled the sword at her hip.
It was the one Brienne carried, the one given to her by Jaime Lannister; the Maid of Tarth called it Oathkeeper, its twin in the possession of the Iron Throne, but Arya referred to it as Ice, which was once the greatsword of House Stark, melted down by Tywin Lannister. The blade was too large and unwieldy for someone of Arya's size, the weight throwing off the balance, but Gendry had not seen her without the Valyrian steel on her hip since first glimpsing it.
“A block!” she called, and one of the Mormonts listened as the Greatjon pushed Bolton to his knees.
There were thousands of men gathered, but there was nothing but silence as Arya came to stand beside the man who put her people to sword, who burnt her home, whose father killed her brother, who claimed her father's title as his own. Gendry never truly feared Arya before; even in battle, when she was bloodying more men than most soldiers, there was a cool, detached way about her. But now she pulsed with pure rage, a true wolf, and Gendry wondered how much Arya hid away inside of her.
“In the name of Robb Stark, murdered King in the North...In the name of Eddard Stark, murdered Hand of the King...In the name of Brandon and Rickard Stark, lost princes of Winterfell...In the name of Catelyn Stark, murdered mother of the King...In the name of Sansa Stark, Queen in the North, I, Arya of House Stark, sentence you to die.”
The Bastard tried to scramble away, but Arya's blade was too quick and too sure, separating his head cleanly from his shoulders. Warm blood melted the snow it flowed upon, but Gendry did not see the blood, only the way Arya's hands were starting to tremble.
Then orders were being shouted, and Arya was swallowed amongst the men, Gendry losing sight of her while he helped bring the supplies into Winterfell's walls. For hours he did not catch a glimpse of his old friend as he blocked windows to keep the cold out, helped fortify the castle against enemies and winter. It was pure accident he saw Arya's braid disappearing down into the earth and, though he knew it would earn him harsh words from Thoros and Tom, Gendry found himself following her.
The chill of what Gendry quickly realized were the crypts made his bones ache, and he could not see a thing, following the dim flicker of Arya's torch. By the time he managed to reach Arya, she was on her knees before a stone statue, the bleeding sword laid across the lap of the stone lord, and, when he saw the statue's face, Gendry realized this must be Ned Stark's crypt. Arya jerked her head up at the sound of his feet, prepared to snap in anger, but when she saw it was him, Gendry was stunned to see her start to sob, a loud, desperate, broken sound he never imagined could come from Arya Stark.
He did not have much practice comforting women – the only women he spent any time around were Jeyne, who had no time for tears, and Brienne, who never said a word except when prompted – but Gendry sank beside her, enfolding her tightly in his arms. Arya pressed her face against his chest, her tears hot and soaking through his shirts, and her entire body shook with the force of her sorrow.
“I couldn't stop it,” she cried as he stroked her hair, gathering her into his lap, rocking her by instinct. “I tried, but Yoren grabbed me and it happened so fast. I couldn't save him. They all – They called him a traitor and horrible names, but he was the most honorable man in the Seven Kingdoms!”
“I know, Arya,” he assured her. “Everyone will know. We'll tell them.”
“And Robb and Mother...They cut off his head and put Grey Wind's on his shoulders!” Arya wailed, her hysteria increasing, causing Gendry to hold her tighter. “He was kind and honest, and the fucking Freys defiled them both!”
“And we took the Twins,” Gendry reminded her as she began to gasp for her air. “We'll wipe the Freys from the face of the earth.”
“Bran...Rickon,” Arya sputtered, the rest of the words incomprehensible, and Gendry shushed her, pressed kisses to her fevered brow, held her until her body stopped shaking. He wondered if Arya had ever cried before, ever truly mourned for the family and life which the Lannisters stole from her.
“There's nothing left,” she finally murmured, sounding more defeated than Gendry had ever heard her.
“You're left,” he pointed out, gently raising her chin with two fingers so he could meet her watery gaze. “You and Sansa and Jon Snow, right? We'll rebuild Winterfell, and, when we beat the Lannisters, when we get the other sword back, I'll reforge Ice. House Stark will rise again.”
There was something fragile in her face, a mixture of hope and fear of hope, and Gendry realized she was barely five-and-ten, still so young with so much pain on her heart. “You're staying?”
He gave her a halfhearted smirk. “As long as m'lady will have me.”
Unlike every other time he used the dreaded title, Arya did not smack him or call him stupid. Instead she rested her head against the broad planes of his chest, her arms wrapping around his waist, and murmured, “Please do not leave me.”
Gendry was certain it took more than he would ever understand for Arya to say those words to him.
Of course, they were unnecessary. He could not fathom losing her again.
Arya was naked.
For a moment, Gendry forgot how to breathe, the entire world stopping as she shed her robe, shook out her hair, and stepped into the baths as if she was alone. He took every inch of her in: the length of her legs, the swell of her hips, the thatch of dark hair between her thighs, the apple sized breasts he was certain would fit perfectly in the palms of his hands. Her hair hung in front of her shoulders, inhibiting his view of her breasts, but her nipples became visible as she descended into the water, releasing a pleasurable sigh which went straight to his rapidly hardening cock.
And then Gendry thought of Jon Snow and the Dragon Queen, and what would happen to him if they found King Robert's bastard in the baths with Arya, once again a princess in the North.
He began to rise, aiming for casual, but Arya's eyes turned on him immediately, taking him in with the same blatant interest he had with her, and Gendry sat back down, embarrassed by his stiff cock. Even as her cheeks flushed pink, a hint of a smile played at Arya's lips as she rested back against the side of the bath, lounging without shame.
“What?” he finally asked defensively, and Arya's laughter echoed off the walls.
“You look different from the other men I've seen.”
“How many men have you seen?” he snapped, overcome with jealousy, and she did not miss a beat when she countered, “How many women have you seen?”
He was handsome, tall, and well-muscled; Tom used to jape he was “a maiden's dream,” and Gendry rarely turned away the women who wished to share his bed. The other men in the Brotherhood looked on his easy way with women with respect, but Gendry suddenly felt embarrassed by it.
“None as beautiful as you,” he offered, a bit of charm which melted most women, but Arya only scowled, a reminder of just how unlike other women she was.
“Liar.” Her gaze and words pointed, she drawled, “That camp follower, the golden-haired one, she was far prettier than me.”
Gendry blushed ferociously; he had not thought Arya knew about Yana. “You do not understand - “
“I understand,” Arya cut in, closing her eyes as she tilted her head back against the edge of the baths. “You wanted to fuck her, so you did. Killing makes a man's blood hot, and she gave you what you wanted.”
“Killing doesn't make your blood hot?”
“Killing doesn't make me feel anything,” she easily replied, and Gendry truly believed that.
For several minutes they were both quiet and then Arya asked, “Why did you never try to kiss me again?”
Gendry blinked in surprise. “Did you want me to kiss you again?”
She shrugged. “I don't know. It was nice...when we did it before.”
“Why didn't you kiss me?”
Uncertainty flashed across Arya's face as she drew the corner of her mouth between her teeth, worrying her lip. Finally she admitted, “You are the only man I have ever kissed.”
Gathering his courage, Gendry moved towards her, his body slicing through the water. “I wish that to always be true.”
Arya's smile was positively sinful as she rose from her reclining position. “Do you?”
Just as he was about to lower his mouth to hers, Arya caught his face in one hand, stilling his movements. Her breath misting warmly against his face, she murmured, “If you think I will ever call you 'my lord' or mend your shirts, you are stupider than Hot Pie.”
Gendry chuckled before whispering, “Yes, m'lady.”
It was the first time Gendry had ever been kissed and punched in the ribs at the same time.
Somehow, with Arya, it made perfect sense.