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The Echoes of Stories Never Told

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Gendry's always protective of the new kids.

He thinks it comes from having been in the system for so long, longer than anyone else at his foster home. He was only five when his mum died, and most of the kids who come in that young get adopted. He had a few people interested, at first, when he was still small and sad and scared. One couple even went so far as getting the paperwork, but they changed their minds at the last minute, and that felt like the end. If they hadn't adopted him, when it was all so perfect, he was sure no one ever would. He started getting in fights, stopped being afraid and well-behaved, and no one ever looked at him seriously again.

So he just became the foster home big brother, the guy who had seen it all, who would look out for the new kids and make sure no one bullied anyone else too much. He likes it. It gives him a purpose.

Arya's twelve when she arrives, although she looks younger, this tiny, furious little thing who's scraping with three of the big boys. Her lip is bloody before Gendry can intervene, but she has one of them out and is just waiting for the others to make their move.

"Oi, break it up," he says, wading in. He's already six feet at fifteen, taller than any of the other kids and most of the adults who work in the home. "Seriously, what are you lot doing? She's tiny."

"I'm not tiny!" says the girl, scowling at him. "Do you want to go next?"

Gendry bites back a smile; he doesn't want to patronize her, but she's a more than a foot shorter than he is and probably a more than a hundred pounds lighter. She may be a great fighter, but he thinks he could just do the trick where he holds her at arm's length and she wouldn't be able to reach him. "I don't want to go at all," he says. "Scram, seriously," he adds, and the boys scatter. Gendry offers her his hand. "I'm Gendry."

"I was handling it," she says, ignoring his hand. There's the edge of tears in her voice, and Gendry assumes it hasn't been long since whoever left her behind died.

"You were," he agrees. "But the next kid might not, yeah? Got to make sure they know they shouldn't be picking on anyone. It's bad enough being in here without everyone getting in fights."

"So is that your job?"

Gendry snorts. "If you can call it that. I'm not on staff. I live here. I'm just the biggest, so I can tell everyone else what to do."

"Not me," she says, eyes flashing, and Gendry realizes it's true.

"Probably not you," he agrees. "You going to get in fights?"

"I won't start them."

"Good enough for me. Can I get a name?"

"Arya," she says.

It's another week before he finds out she's Arya Stark, and her parents were the Lord and Lady Stark. He'd seen about it on the news, seen the totaled car after the hit and run, the newscasters talking about how tragic it was, just a month after the death of their oldest son. He knew they'd left other children behind.

"But there must be someone to take you," Hot Pie tells Arya. Gendry elbows him. "What? She's a Stark! A Stark has to have someone who wants her."

"I do!" says Arya hotly. "My brother Jon's going to take me. He said he would. They just have to make sure he's, you know. Fit. They have checks they have to do before they let him adopt me. But once he clears those I'll be gone."

"He's a Stark too, right? He must be fit."

"He's a Snow," says Arya. "But he is fit. It's just--he's only eighteen, so they don't believe he could be. But they're going to see he can take care of me, and then they'll let him take me."

Hot Pie looks like he's going to say something else, and Gendry elbows him hard enough that he gets offended and switches his focus. The look Arya shoots him isn't grateful, not exactly, but he'll take it.

*

Three weeks later, when her brother still hasn't been allowed to take her, Gendry says, "I thought you had a sister."

Arya looks at him, all sharp edges and defensiveness. Gendry waits. She finally says, "I do. Sansa."

"What happened to her?"

"My aunt took her. She said--well, she has kids of her own, you know? She said she could only take one of us. And I told her I didn't want to go with her anyway. I was going to go with Jon."

"She your younger sister?" he asks, thinking he gets it.

"No."

"But you take care of her."

Arya snorts. "I didn't want to go with her. My aunt--" she shrugs, jerkily. "We've never gotten along. She wants a proper lady, someone like Sansa. I was always getting into fights and causing trouble. She was glad when I said I wanted to go with Jon."

Gendry grins. "Always?" She gives him a look, and he grins wider. "Good. Always." He sobers a little. "Didn't--" he clears his throat. "Your parents must have had something. Even my mum had a will, and she barely had anything to leave anyone. They must have said what they wanted to do with you."

"We were going to go to Robb," she says, softer than he's ever heard her. "My big brother. They left him money and whatever. So he could take care of us. But they never--after he died they didn't--"

Gendry puts his arm around her, hesitant. She'll either take the comfort, or she'll punch him; either way, he thinks she'll feel better.

She leans into him and he smiles a little.

"When I lost my mum," he says, softly. "I thought--it hurt worst than anything in the world. I couldn't breathe sometimes. And later I thought--at least this is it. I don't have anyone else to lose. So nothing would ever hurt like that again. I can't--" He ruffles her hair. "I couldn't do that three times. I wouldn't have made it. You're stronger than I am."

She snorts softly, against his chest. "I could have told you that." She's quiet for a minute and then says, "If--if Jon can't take me, can anyone?"

"What do you mean?"

"Can anyone walk in and just--take me? Or do I get a say?"

Normally, Gendry wouldn't like the odds on someone adopting a twelve-year-old with anger issues. But this is Arya Stark, who's probably got a trust fund for when she hits eighteen and share of Winterfell. There are probably people who would take her just to get closer to her what's left of her family.

Gendry's arm tightens around her shoulders. She was probably already his before that, already someone he'd look out for forever, even if she went away, even if she didn't need it. But that was the moment he knew for sure, the moment he saw the rest of his life reforming around watching out for Arya Stark.

"You won't go anywhere you don't want to go," he tells her, and he's never meant anything more.

*

"Bollocks!" says Gendry. He slams his fist on the table.

Arya jumps, and he feels a little bit proud of himself. Even when he's this frustrated, it's exciting to actually catch Arya off guard. "What?" she snaps.

Gendry runs his hand through his hair. "Tobho's son is closing the garage."

His sixteenth birthday is in a month, and if he gets an apprenticeship, he can leave the foster home and start working. It's a five-year commitment, but he hasn't got any other plans for the next five years. It's perfect for someone like him.

Tobho Mott was going to take him on; he's been working there part-time since he was fourteen. But the old man died a few weeks back, and his son has no interest in being a mechanic, or taking on a foster kid as an apprentice for whatever else he does.

"So?" asks Arya. "There are other mechanics."

"They don't want apprentices," he says. "None in King's Landing, anyway. Either they've already gone one or they're not interested."

"So go work for Jon."

"Jon?" he asks, frowning at her.

"My brother, Jon," says Arya, like it's obvious. "He's a mechanic. Up in Winterfell."

Gendry chokes. "Winterfell? I can't go to Winterfell!"

"What's wrong with Winterfell?" she snaps.

"You're not there!" He flushes when he realizes he's said it, and rubs the back of his neck. "Just--who's going to look out for you and Hot Pie and everybody if I'm not here?"

"I am," says Arya. "You wouldn't have been able to do it much anyway, you'll be busy being an apprentice. So do it in Winterfell. Jon could use the help. And if his garage does better, he'll be approved to take me next time he tries."

"Isn't it cold in Winterfell?"

"It's spring," says Arya. "You'll be done with your apprenticeship before winter comes. You'll be fine."

Gendry doesn't mention he assumed he'd end up in Winterfell after his apprenticeship ended; she'd probably make fun of him. "Do you think he'd really want to take me?"

"Why not? You're good, aren't you? You won't break his cars or anything."

"I won't break any cars."

"So he'll take you," says Arya. "And I'll take care of stuff here. Until you and Jon get me back to Winterfell."

Gendry cocks his head. "If he'll really have me."

Arya rolls her eyes. "I don't see why he wouldn't."

She emails her brother, and a month later, Gendry is going to Winterfell. He gives Hot Pie a noogie, accepts hugs from the smaller kids, and saves Arya for last.

"So, we're going to see you soon," he tells her, hands in his pockets, so he can't do anything stupid with them. "I'll make sure Jon makes it next time."

"You better," she says fiercely. "And there'd better be a job for me when I get up there. You're going to teach me everything about engines."

"Course we are," says Gendry. In a fit of insanity, he loops his arm around her shoulders, tugs her in, and kisses her hair. "See you soon, milady."

"Don't call me that," she mutters, voice a little thick.

"If I'm living at Winterfell, I have to get used to it."

"You're not allowed to get used to it." She shoves him off. "Get going. Jon's going to be pissed if you miss the train."

Jon Snow is a few inches shorter than Gendry and looks a little like Arya, with dark hair and gray eyes.

When Gendry asks why he took him on, he says, "We bastards have to stick together." Then he smiles. "And Arya likes you."

Gendry bites his lip to keep from grinning.

*

It's two years before Jon's deemed fit to take Arya, but Gendry still feels proud, because he knows Jon couldn't have done it without him. Gendry doesn't mind long hours and hard work, even if all he gets is a place to sleep and a monthly stipend. He doesn't need a lot of money, and he never liked school anyway.

And it gets Arya back.

He tries not to think too much about why he wants her back so badly. He never misses Hot Pie or any of the others, not like he misses her. But she's only fifteen, and she's going to be the lady of Winterfell. Or, one of them, anyway. He doesn't know her exact title. Maybe he should learn it. So he can remind himself why it's stupid to be feeling like this.

He watches the garage while Jon goes to pick her up from the train station. He wonders if she will have gotten any taller. They email, even talk on the phone sometimes, but she doesn't mention things like how tall she is or how she's doing at school or what she likes doing in her spare time. She tells him that Hot Pie left and that she's training up a new kid to look over the younger ones when she gets out. She tells him everyone's stupid and at least Jon isn't, so she's looking forward to seeing him.

It his him all at once, and he feels like he's going to fall over. She's coming back.

He hears them before they get in, Arya saying, "Is this it? I thought it was bigger."

"There are only two of us," Jon says. "We couldn't take on much more work."

Gendry wipes his palms on his jeans. She's wearing an over-sized t-shirt and jeans, her hair still cut short. Her mouth barely twitches when she sees him, but it's enough to have him beaming. "Hi," he says. "Welcome home."

"Hey," she says. She comes up next to him and peers into the engine. "Show me what you're doing?"

Gendry moves over so she can see. She bumps her shoulder against his, and he bumps back.

*

She goes back to King's Landing for university, and Gendry feels it like something got cut out of his side. He thinks about going with her, once his apprenticeship ends, but he likes Jon, and if he left, he'd need to find an excuse to come back. Arya probably wouldn't take kindly to him following her around.

She doesn't come back at all her first year, and she gets a job on campus over the summer. It isn't until the term break of her second year that she makes it back up to Winterfell. Sansa comes back with her, and he's almost as nervous about meeting her as he is to see Arya again.

"You don't have to worry," Jon tells him. "Sansa is nice." He makes a face. "Well, not always nice. But she'll like you."

Gendry just says, "You go get them. I'll take care of the garage."

He's under a car when he hears the door, and he only just manages not to hit his head. No one calls out, but he hears footsteps. He doesn't come out until he sees there's just one pair of feet--tiny, in sneakers.

He takes a few more minutes to get his breathing under control.

Arya is leaning against the hood. She's wearing a sleeveless blue dress, for all it's autumn in the North. His mouth goes dry, and he fails to say anything.

She doesn't have the same problem. "Well?" she says, expectant.

Gendry pulls her into a hug, without really planning it. "Hi," he says, feeling a little choked up. "Welcome back."

Arya's small arms come up around him, fingers clutching the fabric of his coverall.

"I'm getting you dirty," he murmurs.

"Well, I want to work anyway," she says, not letting go. "Jon said you had a bike that needs fixing. I want to see it."

Gendry laughs and lets her go. "You better get your coverall on," he says. "You look beautiful, don't want to mess it up."

She blushes, which might be a first. "Sansa wanted me to," she says, tugging on the hem of her dress nervously. "She says you always feel better traveling in a dress. I just felt like I was going to flash someone."

Gendry laughs. "So go get changed and I'll show you the bike."

By the time Jon shows up with Lady Sansa, Gendry and Arya have the bike half taken apart, they're both covered in oil, and Gendry can't even pretend he's not in love with her anymore.

*

He meets Lady Sansa properly that evening, after he's showered and shaved and made an attempt at dressing nicely. He doesn't really have nice clothes, but he has clean, unwrinkled ones, which he supposes will have to do.

"What's wrong with you?" Arya asks, when he gets to the castle. She's back in the dress, and there's a clip pinning her hair back. Gendry swallows hard and tries to remember normal things, like breathing and walking.

"What?" he asks.

"I've never even seen those clothes. Your shirt has a collar! Why does your shirt have a collar?"

"Because I'm having dinner at a castle, aren't I?"

She narrows her eyes at him. "Are you trying to impress Sansa? She's not that pretty."

"She's your sister!" he hisses, embarrassed. "Of course I want to impress her."

Arya gives him a funny look. "Just don't get all weird about her. Everyone always gets all weird about Sansa."

"Believe me, that's the least of my concerns."

Before Arya can respond, Lady Sansa comes in. She's as beautiful as he heard, tall and willowy with long, red hair and a gracious smile. She looks like a lady, and he can understand why Arya might be resentful, if people expect her to be her sister.

"Will you go help Jon, Arya?" she asks.

Arya scowls. "Why would I help Jon?"

"Arya."

"Fine," she huffs. She glances back at Gendry. "Are you wearing something under the collared shirt? Something normal?"

"No?" he says, frowning at her. "Why would I wear something under it? Was I supposed to?" Arya waves her hand at him unhelpfully, and Sansa laughs softly. He realizes he's been completely ignoring the Lady of Winterfell and turns back to her, trying to bow properly. Is he supposed to bow? "I'm sorry, my lady, I didn't meant to be rude."

"You weren't," she says. "Call me Sansa. I've heard so much about you from Arya and Jon, I feel as if I already know you."

Color creeps up his neck. "You have?"

"They're both very fond of you."

He scratches the back of his head. "Me too," he says. "I owe Jon for taking me in like this. And Arya--"

Sansa saves him from attempting to finish the sentence. "We owe you for taking care of Arya."

"She mostly takes care of herself," he says. "Except for the fights."

She smiles again. She looks a little wistful, and Gendry wonders what it's like, being Sansa Stark. He's never liked the idea of her--he can't exactly blame her for going to live with her aunt, not when she'd lost her family too and was only thirteen years old. But he thinks that if he'd had a sister, he would have wanted to stay with her after all that. He wouldn't have let anyone split them up. "Except for that," she agrees. She lets out a huff of a laugh and sounds like a twenty-year-old girl instead of a noble lady for the first time. "I thought I had things I wanted to say to you."

"To me?" he asks, baffled. "My lady, I--"

"Sansa," she corrects.

"Sansa." He makes a face. "Now I've lost my train of thought."

"I'm not upset with you. I just--" she ducks her head, and red strands fall forward. She is beautiful.

He wonders where Arya is.

"I'm glad Arya has a friend like you," she says. "Had a friend like you. When I wasn't with her."

"I'm glad I had a friend like her too."

"Good," says the Lady of Winterfell. "You don't have to wear collared shirts on my account," she adds, as an afterthought. "Jon never does. And it's all I can do to get Arya to wear clothes without holes in them. As long as you change out of whatever you were wearing in the garage, I'll be happy."

Gendry quirks a smile. "I'm glad. This is the only nice shirt I have."

Sansa grins back. "No wonder Arya likes you so much."

"I do not!" Arya says, coming back in with Jon. Sansa gives her a look, but Gendry just loops an arm around her and ruffles her hair. "See? I don't!" she protests, flailing at him.

"I missed you too, milady," he tells her.

*

Arya spends most of the break at the garage, helping out with whatever Jon and Gendry have for her. "I don't see why I even have to go to university," she grumbles, stretching as she gets out from under a station wagon. "I'm just going to work here when I'm done, I don't need an engineering degree to do that."

"Sansa won't let a lady of Winterfell skip uni," Jon remarks.

"Oh, gods, speaking of Sansa," Arya says, groaning. "Gendry, what are you doing on Friday?"

Gendry frowns. "Nothing, I suppose. Why?"

"Sansa's having a party for new year before we go back to King's Landing. She wants me to bring a date, so you're coming."

He blinks. "What?"

"You're invited anyway, but if I have to have a date you're not allowed to say no."

"You want me to be your date?" he asks, mouth gone a little dry.

"I don't want to find anyone else," she snaps. "You said you weren't doing anything else."

"I'm not," he says. "I'll go with you." He grins. "If you say you want me to be your date."

Her scowl deepens. "I already said it."

"You didn't."

Jon is looking between the two of them like they're the most interesting thing he's ever seen. Gendry is trying not to think about that. He's being very obvious.

"I want you to be my date," Arya says, and kicks him in the shin, for good measure. "Happy?"

"Deliriously."

Jon takes him to get a suit the next day and very pointedly doesn't say anything about it. Gendry can feel him watching the whole time and finally snaps, "What?"

Jon gives him a bland smile. "Sansa's paying for the suit."

"What?" he asks again, confused.

"That's a blessing, from Sansa. If she wasn't happy about you and Arya, she wouldn't have invited you in the first place. And she definitely wouldn't buy you a suit. So you can stop looking like you think we're going to hit you when you talk to her. I've always liked you."

Gendry opens and closes his mouth a few times. "I'm not really worried about you two hitting me. She does that enough for the whole Stark family."

"True. I'm just saying. We like you. Worry about Arya, but not me and Sansa."

"Thanks," says Gendry, sighing. "That's a real comfort."

*

"Oh, thank the gods you're here," says Arya, when Gendry and Jon show up on Friday. She looks at him up and down. "That's even worse than the collared shirt."

"You're not even going to say I look nice?" he asks.

"Of course you look nice. But it's weird." She's wearing a black dress that will probably kill him. "Come on, I don't want to go in there alone and Sansa is going to come and drag me in soon." She takes his arm and smiles at Jon. "Hi, Jon. Didn't Sansa make you bring a date?"

"No," he says. "She wants me to meet people. Which is worse."

Arya makes a face. "You're right, much worse. Good luck, mate."

"You look nice too," Gendry tells her, leaning down so Jon won't hear. Even if Jon approves, Gendry doesn't want him witnessing his inept courtship. It's bad enough that Arya has to witness it.

But she actually smiles. "Thanks. Sansa insisted."

The party is absolutely nothing Gendry would ever want to go to. He recognizes some of the guests from the news, young lords and ladies from other parts of the north. Sansa is as in her element as he, Arya, and Jon are out of it; she's the perfect hostess, easy and charming, flitting between conversations like it's what she was born to do.

"Jon! Arya! And Gendry, I'm so glad you could make it," she says, when she gets to them. "I was afraid you were skipping," she adds to Arya.

"I was afraid you'd murder me if I did," says Arya.

"I would have," Sansa agrees. "Jon, I've got some people for you to meet. Arya, will you dance?"

"Why would I dance?"

"So people will see you, realize you're here, and not notice when you leave early because you can't stand parties." She smiles. "That's why you had to bring a date. I was really looking out for you."

Arya considers for a minute and tugs Gendry toward the dance floor. "Come on, then," she says. He manages a wave to Sansa and Jon before Arya gets him positioned for a dance. "Hands on my waist," she says, winding her own arms around his neck.

"Are we just swaying?" Gendry asks, bending down a little so she can hold him more comfortably. "The only dancing I can do is swaying."

She rolls her eyes. "You're useless."

"I'm sure there are some lords who would be happy to dance with you," Gendry says, looking around. "There are plenty of--"

"Shut up," Arya says. "I don't want to dance with them. They're boring."

Gendry bites back a grin.

They dance for a few songs, until Arya decides that she's had enough and they wander off to find snacks. Jon is talking to a red-haired girl and looks terrified; he tries to gesture Gendry over, but Gendry jerks his head toward Arya, which seems to be sufficient explanation for Jon. He loves Jon like a brother, but they both know where his Stark loyalties lie.

"At least the food is good," Gendry remarks, grabbing some hors d'oeuvres for them.

"And the music isn't bad," Arya agrees. "Sansa actually did a nice job. She's really good at this lady stuff. I wish she'd just leave me out of it."

"You are a lady," he reminds her, and she kicks him again. "How much longer do you think we have to stay?"

She makes a face. "At least another hour."

"I'll go find us drinks."

He gets waylaid on his drink quest by a blonde who's been into the garage a few times. She wants to chat about cars, which he doesn't really feel like he can extricate himself from without risking a customer. When she gets around to asking if he wants to dance, he tells her he's actually here with someone, which isn't even a lie. He has a date.

Sadly, by the time he finishes his conversation and finds the drinks, said date has disappeared.

But he knows Arya pretty well. He'd seen her eyeing the balcony earlier, so when he slips out, he's not surprised to find her there, arms around herself like she's trying to stay warm. He puts the champagne flutes down and shrugs out of his suit jacket, draping it over her shoulders. She stiffens and turns, obviously ready for a fight, but then she stops when she sees it's him. "Oh, it's you. I thought you were busy."

Her voice is too casual, and Gendry smiles. "Customer from the garage. Had some car questions, wouldn't shut up. I got you champagne. But it's a little cold for it out here."

She snorts. "It's not even winter yet. You're going to freeze."

"Who's the one who needed my jacket?"

"I didn't need it," she grumbles. But she wraps it around her a little bit tighter. "I've been in King's Landing too long. But--it's been nice. Getting to know Sansa again. Even if I miss it up here. We were never very close when we were kids, and we're still pretty different. But--it's nice having her around again. I'm glad I went, even if--"

"I'm glad," says Gendry. "But I'm still looking forward to you coming back home when you're done."

"Are you going to be here?" she asks, giving him a shrewd look. "It's not your home."

"Yeah, it is. Where else am I going?"

"Anywhere. Somewhere warm."

"I'm not leaving." He stretches. "But I wouldn't mind being somewhere warm right now. If we're going to be out here, we might as well just leave, yeah? What's the point of hanging out on a balcony?"

"And go where?"

He shrugs. "My place? Get some takeout, watch movies. You're leaving tomorrow. We should be having fun, not hiding from your sister's party."

The guys at his regular Dornish place know him and know he works with Jon, but they clearly aren't prepared for him to walk in with Arya Stark on his arm.

"How'd you score her?" hisses Ned. Given Arya is standing right next to him and can hear everything he says, Gendry isn't sure what Ned plans to accomplish by whispering.

"Arya, this is Ned Dayne," he says. "Ned, Arya. We were in foster care together."

"Oh," says Ned. "So, friends. Does that mean you're free tonight, Arya?"

"No," says Arya, with a tight smile. "Not at all."

They get food and sprawl on Gendry's couch in front of the TV. They haven't really had much of a chance to hang out since she's been back, not just the two of them like this. And she's leaving again tomorrow. He'll take every second he can get. They watch some bad medieval flick and Arya delights in pointing out historical inaccuracies and making fun of the fencing techniques. Gendry watches her more than the film, and enjoys it a lot more.

Her phone rings around ten, and she pulls away from where she's drifted against his side to answer it. "Hi, Sansa. Yes, I'm left. Yes, with Gendry." She pauses for a while. "No, just watching movies. I dunno." She glances back at him. "Can I sleep here?"

She used to crash at his place before she went to university, back when he was living in the spare room at the garage. Even though Jon's place wasn't far, she still liked sleeping on his couch, for some reason. It wasn't a good idea back then, and it's not a good idea now. But he has the world's worst judgement where Arya Stark is concerned.

"Of course."

"Yes, I'll sleep here," she continues to Sansa. "He has a very nice couch. Yes, couch. I'll get my stuff in the morning. He's taking us to the train station anyway, remember? So we'll see you tomorrow. Yes. Yes. I was there for, like, an hour. What were you expecting? Goodnight, Sansa."

"She's nice," he remarks. "Your sister."

Arya rolls her eyes. "Everyone thinks that. She's the nice one."

Gendry puts his arm around her. "Don't worry," he tells her. "You're still my favorite Stark."

*

When he wakes up, Arya's curled against his side on the couch and he has a neck ache that he'll feel for days. It's ten a.m. and her train is at three.

He shakes her gently and she makes a face. "What?" she asks.

He's demented, obviously, because he would be happy to wake up to this every morning.

"Are you packed?"

"Mostly."

"Are you packed enough you don't need to go home yet?"

She twists around so she can look at the clock, and elbows him in the kidney in the process. Probably on purpose. "Gendry, it's ten. Wake me up for lunch."

And then she lies back down in his lap and goes back to sleep.

Sansa calls at eleven, and Arya wakes up enough to have another conversation with her. When she's done, she sighs and flops back down next to Gendry. "She's going to worry herself sick if we don't get back to the castle so I can prove I'm packed."

"So we'll go back to the castle," Gendry says, with a shrug. "I was already awake."

"Bully for you," she says. She lies back down, looking up at him with her head in his lap. "I don't really want to go back," she admits softly.

Gendry swallows past a lump in his throat. "Yeah," is all he trusts himself to say.

*

Sansa goes ahead of them at the train station, saying she wants to buy something for the trip. It's not subtle, and Arya tosses a glare at her sister before turning back to Gendry.

"Don't stay away this long again, yeah?" he says, voice catching. "You've got midterm break, and then year break, and--" he licks his lips. "Don't be away for a year and a half again, okay? Come back soon."

"What, are you going to miss me?" she snaps, like it's a challenge. Like she thinks he might, in some universe, say no.

It happens almost in slow-motion in his mind, this weird moment of total clarity, where he feels like he knows exactly what he has to do. He leans down, murmurs, "Terribly," and presses his lips against hers.

And then he turns and leaves without another word. It feels really cool, like something out of a movie, for roughly ten minutes, and then he's filled with regrets. He thinks about texting her an apology, or a half-apology, like, sorry I kissed you unless you're not sorry in which case I love you, which is probably not the best route to take. He could go back, but the train's leaving in a few minutes, and besides, going back after leaving like that would be more embarrassing than doing it in the first place.

Driving his car into the river is a little tempting, but instead he goes home, opens up a beer, and prays that he didn't ruin his entire life.

There's a knock on the door and he assumes it's his landlady. She's old and lonely after her husband died and brings him food when she makes too much, which would be really great right now. He's not really expecting to be very much use at cooking tonight. He was planning to eat leftover Dornish food and maybe drunk-dial Jon.

Instead, it's Arya at the door.

"What did you do that for?" she demands.

He stares. "You missed your train," he says stupidly.

"There'll be another train. Why did you kiss me? It better not have been because I was wearing a dress, because I'm not just going to start wearing dresses so you'll kiss me. I wasn't going to wear any this time, but Sansa told me it would help, but I knew she was being stupid. If you want a girl who wears dresses you should just be kissing her because I'm not--"

Gendry tugs her in, closes the door, presses her up against it, and kisses her again. He doesn't pull away this time, even in the heart-stopping seconds when he thinks she's not going to kiss him back.

But then she does. She throws her arms around him and kisses back, and Gendry remembers how to breathe.

He pulls back reluctantly when his neck starts throbbing; that's what he gets for sleeping on the couch. Arya's eyes are still closed for a long minute, and it's the best thing he's ever seen.

"I love you," he says. He rubs his neck, only in part because it's aching. "That's why I kissed you."

"Oh," says Arya, a little breathless. "Really?"

Gendry laughs. "I'm surprised Jon didn't tell you. Or Sansa. Or, you know. Anyone. I thought it was really obvious."

"You told Jon and Sansa?"

"No, they just noticed. Like I said, it was really obvious."

"Not to me." She worries her lip and says, "I probably love you too. I think."

She looks so nervous that Gendry has to lean in and kiss her again, and before he knows it she's in his lap and they're really, really kissing, Gendry's thinking about getting her out of her dress when her phone rings, and she tears herself away long enough to say, "Hi Sansa. Yeah. I'm staying here tonight. I'll come down tomorrow." She grins at Gendry. "I have to call you back later."

Then she throws the phone away.

*

She transfers up to Winterfell for her last year of university. "So, I don't want to live in the dorms anymore," she tells him. "You know anywhere I could stay? An apartment or something? With a really large, dirty mechanic for a roommate, maybe."

Gendry grins into the phone. "I think we could work something out."