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The White Walkers

Chapter Text

Arya circled the shed, ensuring every entrance and window was boarded up and secure. There could be no crack, no Achilles heel in their safe haven. The only method of escape was through a small trap door that was heavily secured by chains and was sealed with a lock; the only key remained inside the shed. The objective was simple- you can go out, but nothing comes in.

Arya ran her cracked and calloused fingertips over the large wooden board securing the front door. She carefully inspected the board for any cracks or other forms of weakness it could possibly possess. She already knew the shed was secure; she had checked each of the entrances a minimum of six times this very day, but Arya was looking for a distraction.

Night time had fallen and this was generally the time when the Walkers were prominent. They came out in the daylight as well, but the night was their paradise; it was the time of day when most of them would roam the empty streets of the city: searching for food. Searching for them.

Bran and Rickon had both fallen asleep nearly three hours ago. After finally deciding the shed was secure, Arya plopped down onto the cold ground and lay down on her right side. She tucked her hands under her ears, in an attempt for comfort. She tried to suppress the shivers that ran through her body in its attempt to compensate from the cold. The boys shared the one blanket they managed to procure, and despite their pleas, Arya would not share it with them. The blanket was small enough as it was and there was no way it would be able to shelter all three of them.

Arya repositioned herself so she was now lying on her back. Again, her hands were tucked under her head. Her current position was more comfortable than laying on her side but Arya still did not bother closing her eyes. She knew there was no point in trying; sleep would not come.

How do you sleep? You've seen things. Horrible things. How do you sleep when you have those things in your head? Her thoughts drifted back to the time when the pandemonium had just begun. The Walkers were soulless creatures that fed on human flesh. They used to be human, every single one of them.

She recalled the news story of the onset of the disease. A man by the name of Rhaegar Targaryen – a brilliant scientist – was working on developing a treatment for cancer. He initially experimented on rats, rabbits and a variety of other lab animals before initiating any testing on humans. The results appeared to be successful on the lab animals but once his treatment entered the human genome, something went horribly wrong. Instead of curing the fatal disease, it created something far worse- it created the Walkers.

The human subjects managed to escape the laboratory and they transmitted the disease to other individuals. And that is how it all began, the epidemic, the bloodshed, the onset of these vile creatures. Blood to blood contact was the only way to transmit the disease: a bite, a scratch, spilling of foreign contents into an open wound- any of these methods will make you turn. At first, exhaustion takes over, followed by disorientation and a high fever. The final symptom is pain; not mild pain, but judging by the screams Arya had bore witness too, a high excruciating pain that she could not begin to fathom.

She had the displeasure of witnessing a transition before. Her mother was bitten early on in the epidemic. Everyone knew what would happen; they knew that she would turn, that she would become one of them. But they were all stupid back then. Every last one of them harboured the false hope that she would not turn against them, that a cure could be found. Her entire family lied to one another so they would not have to say goodbye to their beloved mother.

Her father was a Christian and her mother a Jew. Arya had always taken to the Christian religion before; she would go to Church with her dad every Sunday and her Bible would rest on the top of her dresser, but that night she did not only pull out her Bible to pray. She did not just pray to her father’s God or her mother’s; she prayed to every God that would listen. She went to every religious building within an hour’s driving distance, she took every religious book she could find and she prayed. She prayed to God to allow her mother to return back to her, she prayed for this vile epidemic to be nothing but a bad dream, she prayed for a cure, she prayed for safety, she prayed till her eyelids were heavy and exhaustion finally took over, but none of it had worked. Their mother turned into one of them- she was no longer the loving Catelyn Tully she once knew; she was a monster.
Ever since that day, Arya Stark stopped believing in God. She took her Bible and chucked it in the trash. She did not care if it was blasphemy and if one day she would be severely punished in the depths of hell because, as far as she was concerned, she was living in it.

She should have let it go. They should have all let it go. The real Catelyn Tully was dead but her father never accepted it and neither did her siblings. Her father went on a rampage, desperately seeking a cure, a way to reverse the transition. But there was no cure; there would never be any cure. There were only two types of people left in this world; the White Walkers and the humans. Humans could easily turn into the Walkers, but after that, there was no going back. Once you turned into a Walker, you were a Walker for life. There was no way to reverse the transition no more than there was a way to reverse death.

For a long time, they were doing well. The family had stuck together: her father, Robb, Jon, Sansa, Bran, Rickon and herself made a strong group. The elder children would go off with their father to hunt for supplies, food and shelter, while the others would secure their current residency. For the longest time, it was typically Robb, Jon and occasionally Sansa whom would accompany their father. Arya had always been left behind with her brothers Bran and Rickon. They had a good system, a solid system, until one day, everything went so utterly wrong. They were heavily ambushed by a large group of Walkers. One or two were not a problem. The Walkers were slow and stupid- they could easily handle five Walkers to one man but, that day there were hundreds of them. Her father died that day and she never found out what happened to Robb, Jon and Sansa. Arya was forcefully separated from her family. There were too many of them- she had no choice but to run. Eventually, she had found her two younger brothers, but the rest of her family was nowhere to be found. She was the eldest now; she had to take care of her little brothers. She was a mere child of thirteen that day, but she had to let go of her childhood- she had to be strong to protect her family.

Arya sighed, and with a shake of her head, she attempted to dispel the unpleasant thoughts from her mind. There was no sense dwelling on the past, not when she had to concentrate on more pressing problems of the present and future. A problem like food. Their supply was growing low. The usual grocery store she would hit up was now empty. Their current supply of food would only last them two weeks, maybe three, if they rationed it well enough. She would have to attempt to find another grocery store. There was a Freshco not far from the shelter, and a Walmart and a No Frills only a couple of miles further. If she was lucky, she would be able to find a bounty of food to last her brothers and herself for a long time to come. If not... they would probably need to find another safe haven.

Arya liked the shed. Out of all the shelters they had before, the shed was the most secure, with only one exit that was heavily secured from the inside. Arya, Bran and Rickon had all developed a secret knock for when Arya ventured outside of the shed, so the boys would know it was her outside and not one of the Walkers.
Arya took a deep breath to prepare herself for the day to come. The smell of dirt, smoke and wood filled her nostrils. When they first arrived at the shed, Arya would crinkle her nose at the foreign smell, but now, she learned to relish it. The smell was far sweeter than another smell she encountered much too frequently for a girl of only sixteen- the smell of death. The vile stench would implode on her the minute she stepped out of the shed. The Walkers were everywhere; it was next to impossible to avoid all of them. The trick was not avoiding the Walkers – she wanted to find them – the trick was not letting the Walkers find you. Once you were outnumbered, everything was over. There was no hope for survival.

There were only two ways she knew of to kill a Walker. One was by fire, although she had rarely succumbed to this method of survival, and the other was by an insult to the head; a bullet wound or a good thwack to the head would do. Arya did not risk shooting the Walkers; the noise would drag too much attention. However, she did still carry a little gun in her pocket at all times. It was a gun that her brother Jon had given her in the beginning of the epidemic. Currently, only three bullets sat in the shell, and they weren’t meant for any Walkers. The bullets were for Bran, Rickon and herself. If there was anything worse than death, it was turning into one of them. Arya would rather kill herself than see that happen. She saw what the virus had done to their mother and Arya would be damned if she would allow that to happen to one of her brothers or herself. Death was quicker, death was kinder.

She knew she had to sleep soon. She would have to leave the safety of the shed to search for food. The journey would take her the entire day, perhaps two, and she dared not sleep outside of the shed. Reluctantly, she closed her eyes and allowed more pleasant thoughts to enter her mind. She thought of her husky, Nymeria, whom she had lost at the very beginning of the epidemic. The dogs knew what was happening before they did; all the animals were going positively insane when the first creature must have formed. They were smart, they tried to warn the family, but they were just too stupid enough to listen. She wondered what ever happened to her precious pet; hopefully she was still alive and fighting. Whenever her dreams were not consisted of nightmares, she dreamt of Nymeria. Not of her- she dreamt that she was her. The dreams had been so vivid. Normally, Arya’s dreams had always been blurry: she would never be able to see any faces in her dreams and the vision was always cloudy, but her Nymeria dreams were so... realistic. She could clearly see every detail of her environment, she was able to smell the stench of rotting flesh and, worst of all, she could taste the blood in her mouth. In her dreams, Nymeria would hunt the Walkers. She could easily tear through their flesh and feed on their corpses. If Arya had done that, she would have turned into a Walker, but the disease seemed to affect animals differently; if anything, their blood only made them stronger.

Before she knew it, Arya slowly drifted off into a peaceful slumber. There were no nightmares this time, no Nymeria dreams. Arya fell into a peaceful dreamless slumber, something that she had not had the pleasure of having in a very long time.

The smell of pork and beans had awoken her. Her mouth tasted of bile and she was still groggy from her short sleep. Unfortunately for them, they had run out of toothpaste about a month ago. Toothpaste was not a necessity- it was a luxury. Before the epidemic, she never valued simple things like a bed to sleep in, toothpaste, deodorant and a shower. Arya always hated when her water went cold. She would be the first to rise in the morning, so she would be privileged to the hottest shower, but now Arya would kill for a simple shower with even the coldest water imaginable.

She took her soiled toothbrush and scrubbed it vigorously across her gums and teeth. A little toothpaste would have been nice, but a dry toothbrush was better than nothing. She then took a tiny sip of water and swished it around her mouth before spilling the contents into their soil bucket. She would have to empty that today before she left. The soil bucket was their form of an indoor latrine. Typically, when she or one of the boys would need to use the washroom, Arya would accompany them to a nearby tree; however, at night time or a time when Arya was unavailable because she was out on one of her supply runs, the boys would use the soil bucket. The bucket smelled foul, as it had also been used for defecation purposes, but it was one of the many sacrifices they had to make, in order to ensure maximum protection from the Walkers. Ever since the attack on her family, Arya had been over cautious. Bran and Rickon claimed it was paranoia, but either way, her flawless system had kept them alive. For the last three years, they have never once been put in danger. They ran into quite a few Walkers, but it was nothing they could not handle. The moment they deviated from her system would be considered carelessness. With their ill luck, they would be ambushed by Walkers. Arya’s ‘paranoid’ system would keep her family safe. As Murphy’s law suggested; anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

After brushing her teeth, Arya plopped herself beside Rickon and ruffled his thick auburn hair. Bran handed Arya her bowl of pork and beans and nudged the box of Premium crackers in her direction. Arya took one of the crackers and nibbled on it. To her disappointment, the cracker was stale, but she still grabbed two more and crushed the contents of crackers in her hand before mixing the crumbs in her breakfast. The three siblings silently ate their breakfast.

After Arya scooped the last portion of her beans into her mouth and licked her bowl clean, she decided to break the silence. “I’m leaving today,” She announced. “We’re running out of food and supplies. I’ll be gone for the entire day, maybe two, if I get held up,”

Arya patiently waited for the protests but this time she got none. Every time she announced she would be leaving for a supply run, Bran tried reasoning with her and he’d attempt to delay the trip while Rickon would cry or throw a temper tantrum. It seemed that the boys finally grasped the necessity of her trips. Without food, they had no hope of survival. Bran had managed to talk her out of leaving for luxuries like toothpaste, deodorant, soap, toilet paper and other items that were once considered essential, but when it came down to their food supply, they really had no other option.

The boys did not say anything but simply acknowledged they heard what she said by a small nod of their heads. Rickon helped Arya gather her things and they stuffed an old backpack with essentials like food, water and weapons. She travelled light; she only took what was absolutely necessary. The extra weight would slow her down, and besides- she wanted to leave Bran and Rickon with all that she could.

Rickon handed her the machete and Arya grasped the weapon firmly with both hands. How they managed to procure such a valuable weapon, Arya would never know. It was just laying there in the open, in the backyard of an old house they had once plundered. Without hesitation, Arya snatched the weapon and began training herself on how to use it. The blade was sharp and she managed to find an old kitchen knife sharpener to ensure the blade remained sharp despite the constant wear and tear it faced every time she used it. A blunt machete was practically useless and she would not risk her family’s safety with a dull blade.

After receiving the weapon from Rickon, she bent her knees so she was now at the same level as the boy. She did not have to bend as far down as she used to. Rickon was now seven and his head now reached Arya’s shoulder. Granted, Arya was never a tall girl; she was only 5’1”, bordering on 5’2”. She still had two years left until she stopped growing, but she knew if she managed only a couple of inches, she’d be lucky. Arya opened her arms and Rickon ran into her embrace- he no longer clung to her with the same desperation he used to harbour. Perhaps it was just because he was getting older, perhaps it was because he had faith that she would return or perhaps it was just because he had given up hope. Arya hoped it was not the later.

“I love you,” She whispered in his ear.

“I love you, too,” Rickon replied before taking a step back.

Arya then bent down to where Bran was sitting. His eyes were masked with grief and desperation but he gave her a curt nod of his head. “Be safe out there,”

“Listen Bran-”

He cut her off. “I know. Rickon and I are not allowed to go outside, only open the trapdoor if we hear your knock, check the entrances every day to ensure they are all bordered up. You give me the same speech every time, Arya,”

Arya nodded. “If I don’t make it back-”

“You will make it back!” Bran interrupted once more. “You’ll come back like you always do,”

“But if I don’t-“

“I’ll teach Rickon how to defend himself. We won’t go out there alone; it will be me and him. If I still had these stupid legs, I could be of some use,”

“Don’t say that, Bran,” Arya said firmly.

“Why not? It’s true. I didn’t lose them in the stupid apocalypse. I lost them because I was being stupid. Mother told me not to climb- she said one day I would fall and hurt myself. I was careless that day; I did not take any of my safety gear. I never fell before, never even slipped. I didn’t think it was important, I never thought I would need it. But-“

“Shh,” Arya interrupted. She took Bran’s head and rested it on the crook between her collar bone and her shoulder. She remembered the day when she got the call from her father to rush over to the hospital. Bran had fallen after one of his rock climbing adventures and the doctors ensured her family that he would never walk again. “Accidents happen, that’s okay. There’s no point dwelling in the past. You’re right, I’ll be back, and Rickon will never have to go out there and neither will you. Okay? I promise,”

Bran nodded his head. She could feel his body shaking against her own, but he refused to let any tears fall. He was just like her; much too stubborn to show anyone that he had any emotions drawing him down. Arya pressed her lips against his forehead and bent her head so her grey Stark eyes now met his blue Tully ones. “I’ll be back soon, alright?”
Bran nodded and then she was off. Rickon unlocked the latch and Arya pushed open the trapdoor so she was now outside the safety of their haven. At first, the sun blinded her. Her senses soon adjusted to the unfamiliar light. Immediately, she felt her pulse quicken and the adrenaline spiked in her bloodstream. She heard the click below her and assumed Rickon had locked the door. She tried opening the trap door with all her might to ensure it was safe. The door did not budge and for that Arya was grateful.

She swung the backpack over her shoulders and grasped the machete tightly, holding it firmly in front of her. She began her journey and headed further away from their safe haven. The stench of rotting flesh filled her nostrils and she knew some of the Walkers were nearby. She decided to hit the Freshco first. It was the closest store to her, besides for the now-empty grocery store whose supplies they had drained.

Arya was walking thirty minutes before she ran into her first Walker. Once the creature acknowledged her existence, it ran towards her. She could feel her pulse race, but she did not hesitate. Arya swung the machete to the Walkers head and the blade penetrated through his skin, right until it hit bone. She heard the loud crack of the impact and felt the vibrations tingle up her arms due to an unpleasant aftershock of the hit. It had been a month since she last killed a Walker, maybe more, and she was not used to the strain she felt in her arms after each hit. At least she was able to kill the Walker with only one hit. The monster died instantly and sunk down to the floor, its body lifeless and unmoving. Arya dug her foot on his body for leverage as she drew the machete out of the zombie’s skull and back into her grasp.

She ran into a few more Walkers and each met the same fate. They came one at a time with the exception of a couple which came in pairs. None were a challenge however; all they did was slightly delay her trip to the grocery store.

Her arms were sore but she did not rest. Bran and Rickon were still out there in the shed waiting for her, depending on her. She would rest when she made it back safely to her brothers.

When she finally made it to the Freshco, she noted five Walkers roaming around in the parking lot. She took a moment to observe her enemy. Like all the other Walkers, their skin had been a pale milky white, with the exception of their hands and feet which were the deepest shade of black. Their eyes, however, were the most frightening; a sharp blue colour. There was no pupil to separate itself from the iris, simply a circle of the palest electric blue with a background of milky white. There was no emotion behind their eyes, no form of life. Just an emptiness because they were no longer humans, they were the walking dead.

Once they wandered a reasonable distance from the entrance, Arya bolted for the door. The glass was already shattered, so Arya simply stepped inside through the big gaping hole in the window. At first glance, the store seemed to be empty, but Arya still circled the perimeter in hopes to find even a morsel of food. She searched every inch of the grocery store, even the back where they stored their new arrivals, but the only food Arya found were dairy products and meat that had well passed their expiration date. There was no shred of edible food in the store and even the supplies had run dry. No medicine in the pharmacy, no toilet paper, no nothing.

With a sigh, Arya plopped down on the floor feeling defeated. What if this was it? If the Freshco was empty what chance was there that the Walmart and No Frills wouldn’t be either? Their food supply was dwindling to an all time low and pretty soon they would be left with nothing. Without sustenance, their bodies would wither away until there was nothing left but bones.

“Ugh…”

The moan snapped her out of her thoughts and she saw a Walker coming straight towards her. She quickly rose on her feet and swung the machete at the Walker’s head. Her hit had been weak and she had to draw her machete back and swing two more times until the monster lay dead at her feet. Her arms were in agony and she dropped her machete to the floor, so her free hand could rub her left wrist, which was her swinging hand. Just as she was about to turn her back to the Walker, a glimmer of gold caught her eye. She bent down on her knees and examined the Walker’s left hand. On it he wore an old Rolex, a very similar one to the watch her father had once owned.

Suddenly she was thirteen again; standing over her father’s dying body. She could feel the hot tears streaming down her cheeks as her father rose his hand to brush one of them away with his thumb. His touch, which had once been so soft and gentle, was now rough and his touch bristled her skin as his callused fingertips brushed away the sole tear on her right cheek. Rather than flinching away from it, Arya covered her hand over his wrist so she was able to hold his hand to her face.

“You’re strong, aren’t you, little one?” Her father had asked her.

Unable to form any words, Arya just nodded, never breaking her gaze from her father’s.

“Promise me one thing. Promise me you’ll take care of them,” He nudged his head to the general direction of where Bran and Rickon had been. Her father had ushered them away;
he did not want them to see what he needed her to do. “Take care of them like I never could. Promise me you’ll take care of yourself. No matter how tough it gets, never give up hope. Can you promise me that Arya?”

Arya nodded her head once more and let the tears fall down her face. She could take care of them, she knew she could. Arya had always been a fighter and she would fight to the bitter end.

She broke her gaze from her father’s eyes to examine his condition. He had a deep bite on his shoulder and a rather large gash on his leg. She did not harbour any false hope this time-she knew what was going to happen, she knew her father would turn. Arya had always been Daddy’s little girl and while watching her mother’s transition had been scarring on its own accord, she did not think she could handle seeing the same thing happen to her father. As if reading her thoughts, her father rose his free hand and allowed his fingers to brush the small shotgun she had strapped on to her hip.

“Where did you get that?” He asked her curiously.

“Jon gave it to me.” Arya replied.

Her father broke his gaze from the gun to look back into her eyes. “Do you know how to use it?”

Arya tried choking back her tears. She knew what he was getting at; she knew exactly what he wanted her to do. Arya nodded her head. “Stick ‘em with the pointy end,” She recited the same words Jon had told her when he gave her the gun.

Her father laughed. Where once his laugh was booming, it was now weak and hoarse. The sound sent a shiver up her spine but, Arya kept her composure. “Yes, I suppose that’s the essence of it,” Suddenly, all amusement from her father’s face was gone. He looked at her intently with the same Stark grey eyes they shared. She knew what her father was trying to ask of her, she knew what had to be done but, the question was, would she be able to do it?

“Arya,” he pleaded. He did not need to ask her the question; he knew that she knew what he was getting at. Arya violently shook her head back and forth. He would not be the first man Arya had ever killed, but this was her father. She could not bring herself to end his life even though she knew the consequences of keeping him alive.

“Remember what happened to your mother. I don’t want that to happen to me. I don’t want to be responsible for killing one of you kids, or worse, turning one of you kids. Please Arya,” He begged.

Hesitantly, she raised Needle and pointed the gun straight at her father’s head. Her hand was shaking violently and she grasped her right hand over her left wrist to help hold it in place. The gun still shook from side to side and she looked into her father’s eyes once more. He gave her a small nod of approval and she nodded back at him.

“I love you,” She whispered.

“I love you too, my sweet child,” And with that, Arya pulled the trigger and the bullet penetrated her father’s skull, killing him instantly. His hand gently slipped away from her face, as his body went limp under her. His eyes were open but unseeing, so Arya brought up her shaking hand to close her father’s eyes, unable to look at the stormy grey for even a second longer.

She did not cry but, rather looked at her father’s corpse in front of her. After she managed to remember how to work her legs, she stood up with shaky legs and dug him a grave. She would be damned if any of those fucking Walkers tried to feed on her father’s corpse. After burying her father, she made her way back to the boys. Neither Bran nor Rickon questioned what had happened to their father. They heard the gunshot and they were smart enough to put the pieces together.

She looked at the boys; both of their eyes had been red and puffy. They were her responsibility now and she would honour her father’s last words and take care of them. She tried to smile at the boys, to let them now that everything was going to be okay but all that came out was a grimace. She would not smile anymore; she could feel the hole inside of her where her heart used to be. There was no joy, fear, sadness nor any other emotion running through her body. Just an emptiness and Arya silently wondered if that void would ever be filled.

Her fingers brushed absentmindedly over the Walker’s Rolex. Her father’s words rang though her head once more. “Take care of them like I never could. Promise me you’ll take care of yourself. No matter how tough it gets, never give up hope. Can you promise me that Arya?” She would not give up hope; she would go to the depths of hell if that’s what it took. She would find food. She did not do this for herself, she did this for her brothers who would not be able to survive without her and most importantly she did this for her father. She would honour his last request and she would ensure Bran and Rickon’s safety till the moment her heart stopped beating.

She grabbed her machete off the floor and left the empty Freshco. A couple of Walkers attacked her outside the grocery store and she swung the machete at their skulls with all her might. She did not feel the pain in her arms any longer. She was not the same fearful girl she was when she left the safety of her shed; she was now a girl with a purpose.
She decided to go to the Walmart first. It was a bit closer than the No Frills and nearly five times greater in size. She passed many dead bodies on her way to the store. Even though she was accustomed to the smell of death, it still caused the bile to rise in her mouth. She held her breath when passing by a group of several dead bodies and it took all of her willpower not to retch right there. The sun was directly above her which indicated it was afternoon. Her stomach growled in protest- all she had to eat today was that small bowl of pork and beans.

Even though the vile stench of the Walkers ceased her appetite, Arya knew she needed the energy. She reached into her backpack and pulled out a worn down All Bran bar. She ripped open the package with her teeth and noticed most of the contents had been reduced into mere crumbles. Arya had never been a fan of bran; she always had adventurous tastes and was not afraid to experiment. Whenever their family would go to a fast food place, Arya would mix all the fountain drinks into one cup, creating her own special concoction that Robb used to call ‘The Arya Cup’. Her sister always used to give her a look of pure disgust and her brothers would courageously take sips of her mixture. No one liked her drink- after every sip her brothers would make a disgusted face or let out a groan. Arya liked the drink. It sort of tasted like bubble gum.

She frowned at her old memories. Never again would they sit together as a family having her brothers tease her while having her mother and Sansa scold her for her ‘unlady-like’ behaviour. She was never particularly fond of her sister. She and Sansa would fight almost every day. When Arya was born, Sansa was so excited that she would finally have a little sister, but Arya just turned into another one of her brothers. She was never fond of dressing up and preferred sports to dolls. It was silly; Arya actually missed those fights she would have with her sister. Perhaps it wasn’t the fights she missed so much as Sansa. They may have fought, but she was still family. She was a part of her pack and Arya loved her big sister no matter how different the two may have been.

She finally found the Walmart and made her way into the store. There was no broken glass but she noticed the automatic doors had been pried slightly open. She squeezed herself between the doors and walked inside.

To her dismay, the Walmart had been empty just like the Freshco. She looked around and noticed a few items had still been in the store, such as video games, DVDs, coffee makers, utensils, nail polish and other luxuries that were now deemed useless. She came across a couple of clothes, shoes and blankets and grabbed Bran, Rickon and her sizes. She looked at her t-shirt which was utterly soiled. She couldn’t recall what the original colour of her shirt was but the garment was now a mixture of several colours, with the most prominent being a dull red, dyed from the blood of the Walkers. She quickly removed her shirt and tossed it to the floor. She grabbed another t-shirt that looked her size and donned it on. Arya sighed in relief; it felt so good wearing something so clean despite the fact that her skin was still soaked in grime and soot.

Any knifes or other form of weaponry at the store was gone, along with the food. There was no medicine in the pharmacy, nor any toilet paper, deodorant, soap, shampoo and other basic hygiene products. She made her way to the feminine hygiene aisle and noted a couple of items such as pregnancy tests and condoms but there were no tampons nor pads to be found. Arya sighed; she was not disappointed in the lack of luxuries, they could easily make do without them, but Arya was in desperate need for food.

Unfortunately, there did not seem to be any left in the store. Again, she ran into several spoiled products such as dairy, fruits, vegetables and meat. She opened a pack a fruit salad and took a whiff. She immediately choked on the ghastly smell and tossed the rotten food to the side. There would be no point in attempting to eat that- the food would only serve to make them sick as it must have been filled with toxins.

Arya pushed opened the door to the storage room expecting it to be empty but what she saw made her gasp. Large untouched crates filled the room. They were still in their original packing and Arya guessed the idiots that raided this store had not thought about the storage room. She searched frantically through the crates and managed to procure a large sum of food.

She tossed her machete to the floor and she temporarily disregarded the valuable weapon and began stuffing the food into her bag. While digging through the items, she even managed to find a large sum of soy milk stored in tetra packs. She quickly examined the milk box to check its expiration date and noted the product would be viable for another two years. Enthusiastically, she plunged a straw into the milk box and sucked away greedily at its contents. She had never been particularly fond of soy milk as a child, but she did not have the pleasure to drink anything dairy since the pandemic began. She began stuffing several packets of the milk into her backpack while drinking her second packet, after she drained the first one.

Everything was perfect. Her bag was nearly stuffed and Arya thought it may be wise to steal a shopping cart and fill it with the remaining food. Just as she was about to do that, she felt a pair of strong hands encircle her body. One hand covered her mouth and the other wrapped firmly across her waist. She tried to scream but her voice was muffled by the palm covering her mouth. She struggled but, the intruders hold on her was too firm. She attempted to reach her machete or her shot gun before she realised she left it on the floor about five feet away from her. The allure of food kept her so preoccupied that she did not even hear the footsteps approaching her. How could she be so stupid? How could she be so utterly careless when it was not only her life at stake? Bran and Rickon and had been depending on her but she failed them. Worse than that, she failed to fulfil her father’s final wish to protect her two younger brothers.

Eventually, Arya stopped struggling and let her body lay limp. The Walker’s hold on her was much too strong and she was unable to break free of his grasp. She reluctantly closed her eyes and slowly waited for death to consume her.

Chapter Text

The Walker’s hold was firm, and despite Arya’s constant struggling, his grip would not loosen. After flaying and thrashing her body to no avail, Arya dawned on the conclusion that she would die today. It would not be long before the Walker tore off a piece of her flesh and slowly devoured her until only her bones remained. She let her body go slack and dispelled all the stress and tension building up inside of her. Most people were afraid of death; they desperately clung onto life and fought for the chance to live. Arya had been fighting for her life for over three years now and she never thought she would succumb so easily to death. It felt almost peaceful. Soon enough, everything would all be over. There would be no more Walkers, no more starvation and she would no longer have to grieve over the emptiness consuming her soul. She almost laughed. Soon, all her displeasure would end.

Her body lay limp and she slowly closed her eyes, waiting for death to consume her. A million memories floated through her mind in the short minutes she had left. She remembered the little things: her first day of school, the day when Robb and Jon taught her how to ride a bike and the day when she broke her leg- ironically, this occurred the same day when Robb and Jon offered to teach her how to ride a bike. Let’s just say her lesson did not go too well. She remembered laughing with her brothers and getting scolded by her parents. The images of her family floated through her mind and she settled on the memory of her father. As time went by, slowly, the memories of her family had begun to fade. She remembered Bran and Rickon’s features, as she had been living with them for the past three years. Though she vaguely remembered how her other brothers and sister looked like but the memory of her father’s face was permanently etched in her brain. Arya clearly remembered every wrinkle and freckle upon her father’s face and she smiled at that memory. Soon, she would be reunited with him once more.

Suddenly, the image of her father transformed into Bran and Rickon. They were no longer in the comfort of their shed, but they were running through a murky forest with fear evident in their expressions. The smell of rotting flesh overcame her senses and she noticed a Walker approaching her two little brothers. As Arya studied the Walker, she could not help but think she had seen her –it – before. Every Walker had the same milky white skin and electric blue eyes yet this one looked familiar. Too familiar. It was a small creature, with wavy brown hair that reached slightly above its shoulders. She studied her face closely, and finally Arya dawned on the familiarity of the Walker. It was a face she had not seen in quite a long time- her own.

Arya snapped her eyes open and panic took over once more. She would not die today, she could not die today. Bran and Rickon were depending on her and she would be damned if she would turn into a bloody Walker. She squirmed and began struggling with all her might against the Walker’s hold. The Walker was momentarily stunned by her new vigor but his hold did not falter. His grip on her remained firm. She dug her fingernails into the hand covering her mouth and attempted clawing away at the flesh. Unfortunately for her, Arya had developed a rather nasty fingernail biting habit ever since she was a little girl and her nails were nothing but dull stubs that had no effect on her enemy.

The arm that was once wrapped around her waist moved to grab her hands and held them in place. What the bloody hell was wrong with this Walker? Why didn’t it just eat her all ready? Suddenly, the body encasing her shifted and she felt a warm breeze flowing near her ear.

“Shh, I’m not going to hurt you,” A deep voice spoke beside her.

To say that Arya was shocked was an understatement. Her attacker had not been a Walker at all. He was a boy! A stupid, idiotic boy. Now that she knew there was no fear of blood to blood transmission, Arya bit down hard on the flesh covering her mouth.

The boy behind her let out a gasp and let his hold on her loosen. Taking full advantage of the opportunity, Arya elbowed the boy in the ribs and ran to the general direction where she dropped her machete.

Arya was out of breath and exhausted. Her lungs felt like they were on fire but she still pushed her legs as far as they would go until she saw a glimmer of silver a few paces ahead of her. She could sense the boy chasing her, and judging by the heat radiating from his skin, she could tell he was right on her tail. Quickly, she reached for her machete and swung it behind her. Instead of connecting with flesh, she connected with an object far sturdier and the machete was easily knocked out of her grasp. She felt a sharp pain shoot up her arm and when she looked down at her swinging arm, she noticed her left wrist was discoloured.

Looking up she saw a boy – no, a man - with coal black hair and bright blue eyes staring down at her. A baseball bat was held firmly in front of him and she noted the scratch mark were her machete must have dented. Her attacker was much bigger than she initially expected. He must have stood at least a foot taller than her, and his body was taut with muscle. He was wearing a simple black t-shirt and his rather large biceps were naked to her eyes. He’s strong, she thought.

Using her cat-like reflexes, Arya quickly bent down and grabbed her shotgun. She pointed the weapon at the man. His eyes went wide with fear and he raised his hands in a gesture of surrender.

“Whoa, take it easy kid,” The man said, “Like I said, I don’t have any intention of hurting you, alright? I only snuck up behind you because I didn’t want to scare you and have you attack me,”

Arya stared at the man with disbelief. He didn’t want to scare her? Then why the bloody hell did he grab her in the first place? Arya could only draw up two conclusions: one, he was a liar, or two, he was the biggest idiot she had ever met.

Slowly, the boy put the baseball bat down, his eyes never leaving hers. Arya did not dare lower her guard and kept her shotgun pointing firmly at the man in front of her. Her finger was over the trigger and her aim was pointed directly at his chest. With one flick of her finger, the man would lay dead at her feet. She expected him to talk again but the man remained silent and simply stared at her for a few moments.

“Why did you grab me?” Arya demanded.

“Like I said, I didn’t want to scare you. I didn’t know if you were armed and I didn’t want to risk getting shot at. Now, if you can put down the gun-”

“Shut up!” Arya screamed with fear clearly evident in her voice. The man immediately shut his mouth and Arya began surveying him. She looked around her surroundings and noticed the crates stocked up with supplies. He must have been here for the food as well. There was an abundance of edible food but Arya was not even willing to part with even the tiniest portion. If the No Frills was empty like the Freshco had been, then they needed all this food, so they would be sustained for a long time to come.

“Take your stupid bat and get out before I change my mind,” Arya declared.

The man raised an eyebrow at her and looked at her with disbelief. “Can’t do that, kid. I sort of came here for something,” He jerked his head towards the food storages.

Arya scoffed. She was the one with the gun and he was making demands? “No you’re not. I found it first and it’s mine,”

The man took a couple of steps towards her and Arya kept a firm hold on her gun. The gun shot might attract more Walkers but she would not hesitate to kill this man if he came in the way between her and her food. He stopped a couple of paces before her and bent his knees, so he was now closer to her height.

“Look, kid, I didn’t come here alone. There are five of us all together and my allies are armed as well. I think the fairest and the smartest thing for us to do is spilt the food. You take half, I take half and then we go our separate ways or if you want, you can join our group. We’ll take care of you- we can make sure you’re well fed and we’ll protect you from the Walkers,”

Arya snorted at him. “Smart? This is coming from the idiot that grabbed me,”

His eyes narrowed and he gave her a somewhat bemused expression. “You know, you shouldn’t insult people that are bigger than you,”

Arya shrugged her shoulders. “Then I wouldn’t get to insult anyone,”

To her surprise, the black-haired man burst out in a fit of laughter and he shot her a wide grin that reached his eyes. “How old are you, kid?”

“I’m sixteen and I’m not a kid!” Arya yelled defensively.

Suddenly all the amusement from his face was gone and his eyes scanned her entire body, as if he was studying her. “You look like you’re twelve,” He commented.

Arya had always been small for her age and a part of her understood why he mistook her for a child but that did not stop the anger from building up inside of her. “And how old are you? Forty?” She snapped at him.

Now, it was the black-haired man’s turn to frown and she knew she had tugged a nerve. Truthfully, the man looked to be in his late twenties, perhaps early thirties, and like her, he did not take too kindly for someone mistaking his age. “I’m twenty-two,” He corrected her.

Arya let her jaw drop; he certainly did not look twenty-two. This man had laugh lines on his face and stubble covering his chin, making him appear much older than he claimed. Plus, he was huge and Arya had never seen a twenty-two year old as big as him. “I’m Gendry, by the way,”

Gendry held up his hand towards her and Arya stood there, momentarily eying him. Reluctantly, Arya raised her right hand and grasped his own, giving him a firm handshake. “Arya,” She responded.

“Arya, would you mind putting the gun down?” Gendry asked her politely.

Arya had forgotten that she was still holding the shotgun. Her weapon was still pointed firmly at his chest. She didn’t lower the weapon initially but surveyed Gendry instead. He did not look like he wanted to harm her. She took a good look at his eyes and noted the sincerity behind them. Arya had two options: she could either kill him or she could trust him. Arya was not sure if she could get away with killing him. If he was telling her the truth about his accomplices, she wouldn’t stand a chance against four armed men. Plus, the gun shot would attract every Walker in the area and Arya doubted she would have enough time to stock up the rest of the food and make a run for it. So that only left her with option number two, to trust him. Reluctantly, Arya lowered her gun and tucked the weapon in the waist band of her jeans.

Arya tried to calm her racing heart. Since the pandemic began, she had never worked with someone who was not a part of her family. Her heart was beating so loud, she was positive Gendry could hear it. She was perspiring and she felt a trickle of sweat drip down from her forehead to fall onto the floor, where it landed with a dull thud. Just as she tried to settle her nerves, Gendry bent down to pick up the baseball bat and the machete. Once Arya saw him pick up the weapons, she quickly grabbed her shotgun and aimed the weapon at his chest once more.

“Whoa, calm yourself, kid,” Gendry teased. He handed her the machete and Arya hesitantly took back the weapon and tucked the gun away once more.

“I’m not a kid,” Arya declared once more.

“Milady, then,” Gendry teased.

Was he intentionally trying to piss her off? “Do not call me milady!” Arya screamed at him.

“As malady commands,” He announced while giving her a little bow.

Letting the anger get the best of her, Arya pushed Gendry with all her force and he tumbled to the ground. Instead of getting mad, he burst out in a fit of laughter. “What kind of lady are you?” He asked jokingly.

“The bad kind,” Arya announced as she kicked him in the side, which only made Gendry laugh harder. She then turned her back to the idiot and began marching towards the area where Gendry had grabbed her. She found her backpack discarded on the floor, protruding with food. She stuffed the backpack up as much as she could and zipped up the bag before throwing it around her shoulders. She did not have to turn around to sense Gendry standing right behind her. “We should grab a couple of shopping carts and load it with the rest of the food,” She announced.

“Does that mean you’re coming with us?” Gendry asked.

Arya turned to face him and noticed all the humor was wiped away from his face. The look he gave her was filled with desperation and hope. The vulnerability in his eyes took off years from his face and he donned on a child-like expression, similar to the one Bran and Rickon would give her. She wanted to call him stupid or push him again but, the look he gave her stirred something deep inside her chest, where her heart had once been. “Come with me,” He pleaded with her.

She surveyed Gendry and noticed that, despite his stupidity, his strength would come in handy. If she was looking after her own survival, she would have gladly accompanied him and the two of them could have made a strong duo. But, she already had a pack. Bran and Rickon were in the shed waiting for her, and their safety meant much more to her than her own.

“I want to,” She told him honestly, “But I can’t. My brothers are all alone waiting for me in our safe haven and I have to get back to them,”

“Safe haven?” Gendry questioned.

“Yeah, you know, like shelter. A place to sleep where you’ll be safe from the Walkers,” She then proceeded to tell him about their shed and he looked at her with wide eyes. “Don’t you have a safe haven?” Arya asked him.

Gendry shook his head from side to side. “We sleep outside. One person stays awake on ‘Walker Alert’ while the rest of us grab some shut-eye. We never once thought of finding a shelter,”

Again, Arya was dumbfounded. How the bloody hell did he manage to stay alive for this long without a safe haven? She would never take the risk of sleeping outside, even if Bran and Rickon were not with her.

“There used to be thirty of us,” Gendry continued. “One day, the Walkers attacked. There were just so many of them. Only five of us made it out. My guardian, Tobho, was among them. I tried to save him, but by the time I got close enough, a Walker had already torn out his throat. I was shocked for a moment- there were hundreds of them just towering over my Uncle’s body and eating his flesh. Then one of the Walkers turned around to look at me and I had no choice but to run,”

If Gendry had told this story to her years ago, she may have responded with something sympathetic, like an apology, or she might have told him that she too had lost her parents to the Walkers. But Arya was not the same little girl she was years ago. Her heart had turned to stone the moment her father died, and she was practically a woman, with no emotions to weigh her down. “This is why you should have had a shelter,” She responded coldly.

She saw Gendry’s face drop and his smile was replaced with a frown. Momentarily, Arya felt a bit guilty for upsetting him, but this was the fucking end of the world. If he expected to survive it, Gendry would need to grow some backbone.

“So your allies,” Arya commented, quickly changing the subject. “Are they close by?”

“Sure, kid. Follow me, I’ll introduce ya,” Gendry’s frown immediately turned into a smile after Arya scowled at him and cursed under her breath. A part of her was annoyed at Gendry’s stupidity and constant teasing but another part of her admired him for it.

Prior to the pandemic, Arya had been raised as an upper class citizen. Her father was a powerful business tycoon and her mother was the daughter of a corresponding agency, almost as wealthy as the Starks. She had attended a prestigious private school and had been forced to socialize with other upper class men. She once had a friend named Mycah, whom was a medium class citizen. His father had been a butcher of a local store where her family would buy meat and Mycah frequently assisted him in their little shop. Arya always hated the rich; they were egotistical and flat out rude. They would all place themselves on a pedestal and believed the less wealthy citizens were beneath them. Arya did not like to associate herself with those types of people and she had rarely spoken to anyone who was not her family. Mycah was different. He was a part of the common folk and he did not treat her like everyone else had. The rich people would engage her in polite conversations while forcing to participate in dreadful tasks such as knitting and sipping tea or attending high-social events- operas, theatres or art exhibits. To her face, they paid her polite compliments and carried out intellectual conversations about the news or other current events, but behind her back they would gossip and say vile things about her. She even heard one woman, Cersei Lannister, refer to her as ‘the wild Stark girl’. The common folk were no better; they would ignore her out of fear or jealously or perhaps a mixture of both. It irritated her that she was casted away by both members of society simply because of her birth. She did not belong in the high-class world. Arya was not a proper lady like her mother or her sister had been. She had never asked for this life, nor had she wanted it, but that did not seem to matter to anyone else. Apart from her family, Mycah was the only friend she had, until one day, his mother had gotten a very generous job offer in New Zealand. Apparently, it did not matter whether you were a butcher in England or a butcher in New Zealand. Common jobs like that were easy to find, so Mycah’s mom graciously accepted the offer and that was the last Arya ever saw of her beloved friend.

That was one of the reasons why she admired Gendry. With the exception of Mycah and her family, he was the only person who did not mind spending two seconds with the brash and wild Stark girl. Even after Arya had threatened to kill him, he had still offered for her to join his group and did not treat her like a proper lady. Perhaps it was because he was unaware of her high-birth or perhaps it was because they were in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. Either way, she enjoyed the boy’s inadequate grammar, slurred words and the fact that he treated her the same way as he would treat everyone else. Gendry and Arya were not friends but perhaps they could be considered accomplices? Or maybe allies would have been a better word. Either way they were neither strangers nor enemies and Arya found comfort in knowing that there was another person out there that did not wish any ill harm towards her.

She followed Gendry out of the storage room and kept up his pace despite that fact that his legs were much longer; therefore leading him to take longer strides. They walked around in the seemingly empty Walmart and Gendry began darting around aisle to aisle searching for his comrades.

“YOREN!” Gendry shouted. His voice was deep but still booming and Arya cursed him for being so loud. Despite the fact that they would now have six armed men including her, Arya did not want to risk running into another Walker. Gendry seemed utterly unfazed by her insults and began shouting another names; “LOMMY! HOT PIE! WEASEL!”

“Shut yer yapper, boy! Do you want to attract every Walker within a twenty mile radius?” A tall man entered her line of vision and Arya began observing him. He looked rather menacing. He bore a couple of scars on his face and his filthy brown hair was flaked in dandruff and covered in grime. His shaggy brown hair reached his shoulders and curled inwards at the tips. His outward appearance seemed rough around the edges but his big brown eyes were filled with honour and kindness.

“Yoren,” Gendry called, his face beaming. “You’ll never guess what I found,” He exclaimed excitedly while placing his arm over Arya’s shoulder.

Arya was tempted to bite him for being so bold and she was about to do just that until two other boys stepped into her line of vision. They both looked to be about her age and had mistrust in their eyes but that’s where their similarities ended. One of the boys was tall and gangly with blonde hair that reached his shoulders. His skin was pale and the boy had pale green eyes. He shot her a disgusted scoff when he saw her eyeing him and Arya responded with a glare. She shifted her gaze to focus on the other boy beside him; he was a big fellow. Where Gendry was big due to his height and muscle, this boy was just plain fat. His belly protruded outwards and it appeared that he had three chins. She noticed that the fat on his body would jiggle with even the slightest movement. His skin was much darker than the blonde boy’s, perhaps a tan or a light brown, and his eyes were a dark murky colour that resembled the colour of mud. He did not look at her with the same animosity her friend had, but by judging his facial expression and his body language, she could still tell that the boy disliked her. Yoren on the other hand, gave her a neutral expression. His face was like a mask- it appeared that he was not surprised to see her and it didn’t seem like he cared either.

“He’s got a machete, this one,” The blonde boy announced, causing Arya to shift her attention back to the two boys.

“What’s a gutter rat like you doing with a machete?” The fat one asked.

“We should take it off him,” The blonde boy suggested.

Gendry shifted his weight and looked like he was about to defend her but, Arya was no damsel in distress and she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself.

“I’m a girl!” She snapped at them. The two boys eyed her with disbelief and both shifted their attention to look at her chest. They were concentrating hard but Arya was wearing a loose t-shirt that obscured her already too small breasts. They did not seem convinced even after Arya had spoken revealing her feminine voice. “I’ve already killed several idiots,” She announced while pointing her machete at the two boys who immediately looked frightened. “I’m good at killing idiots. I like killing idiots,” Arya proclaimed. She was about to lunge at the two boys, proving to them that she was someone to be feared not mocked but Gendry grabbed her shoulder and held her in place.

She turned to face him, expecting him to look mad for threatening to kill his two allies but, he carried an amused expression on his face and shot her a goofy smile. “She’s a feisty one,” Gendry announced. “And smart, too. She found an abundance of food in the storage area. I wouldn’t have even noticed it if it wasn’t for the noises,”

“Storage,” Yoren muttered to himself. “How could have we been stupid enough to forget about storage?” He then shifted his attention to Arya. “Well, girl, you’ve proven yourself to be useful. Which is a whole lot more than I could say about these sorry sons of whores. So, how ‘bout it then? Want to join our group?”

The two boys shot Yoren a look of disbelief- they were obviously not pleased by the suggestion. The blonde boy was about to rebuttal before Arya interjected. “Don’t waste your breath. Gendry already made the same offer and I respectfully declined,”

“Respectfully?” Gendry commented, cocking an eyebrow at her.

“Shut up” Arya snapped at him and again he shot her a wide grin. It was then that Arya noticed his arm was still wrapped around her shoulders and she roughly removed his arm before slamming it back to his chest. Again Gendry smiled at her and Arya shot her tongue out at him. He was just as annoying as her brothers had been and Arya thought if given the chance; Gendry, Robb and Jon would have been good friends.

“If it’s these two you`re worried about,” Yoren began, gesturing at the two boys. “I can assure you, I’ll keep them in line. You don’t have to be afraid of this lot-”

“I’m not afraid!” Arya snapped at the older man. Despite her size, Arya was a force to be reckoned with, and if Gendry had not stopped her from pouncing on the two boys, her point would have been proven already. “My brothers,” She explained. “They’re depending on me. I have to take care of them,”

Yoren let out a chuckle. “Gods, girl, I ain’t asking you to leave your brothers. We’ll take them with us. The more the merrier, I say,”

Arya shook her head. “My brother, Bran, he’s not erm... fit to travel,” She noticed Gendry was eyeing her oddly, and even Yoren seemed intrigued on Bran’s situation, but Arya did not dare tell them anymore. These weren’t her friends, allies or companions. They were just a group of guys she had run into. They would spilt their spoils and each of them would march their separate ways, probably never running into each other once more. “Plus, we are doing well,” Arya added, quickly shifting the subject. “We do not have any need for allies, so if-“

“Oh, Yoren, I forgot to tell you,” Gendry interrupted her. “They have a safe haven. A little shed that is secured completely from the inside. We could all sleep peacefully and not have to worry about the Walkers-”

“No,” Arya growled, her eyes boring into Gendry’s. Immediately, Arya regretted telling him about the shed. How could she be stupid enough to reveal one of her biggest secrets? And the location of her two brothers, nonetheless. Gendry was a stranger to her. She was perfectly aware of what he was suggesting and she did not want him to bring his hopes up for something that would never happen. The shed was hers, and despite her initial thoughts about Gendry, she could not trust him. She could not trust any of them. These men were strangers and Arya would not succumb so easily to them. She had no idea what these men were like and what they were capable of. The two boys had already left her uneasy and to put them in a room with Bran and Rickon was out of the question. She would not risk their lives for more able bodies, no matter how useful they could be.

“What?” Gendry questioned.

“You heard what I said. You are not coming with me. The shed is mine and I will not share it. I don’t even know you people. Do you honestly expect me to put my brothers’ lives and my own in your hands?”

Gendry shot her a pained look. Yoren still carried the same neutral expression upon his face. “Look, kid. This is a war. There is no bloody disease as far as I’m concerned. It’s just us versus them and if we want to stand a shot against those bloody Walkers, we must unite together, in order to take down the common enemy. We will split the food amongst ourselves either way but you still have something we want. We need a shelter and if we had been bloody smart enough to find one in the first place, our numbers would be far greater than they are right now. You’re smart, kid. You are one step ahead of me and my men and you know how to survive this war. I am sick and tired being tethered to these bloody idiots and I need someone like you in our group. Plus, we have things you desire, too. I bet you didn’t find any medicine in those storage areas did you?”

Yoren had grasped her attention. They had medicine? She remembered last year when Rickon had come down with a fever. She had scowered the empty streets for three days straight and came home with nothing but a bucket of cool water and some clean clothes. She could find no medicine to offer her brother and all she could do was hope that the fever would pass. It did eventually but it took twice as long as a normal fever should have lasted and the sickness had put Rickon in the state of general weakness for a couple of more weeks after the fever had passed. Arya was positively frightened to see her brother like that; she could have lost him. Medicine would ensure that would never happen again. If she had some antibiotics, or even some Tylenol, Rickon would have recovered faster. She did not have anything and Arya had never felt so useless. Medicine would be the answer to her silent prayers that she dared not recite. As far as she was concerned, God had taken everything away from her and she did not feel like begging for mercy. God hadn’t listened to her three years ago; why would he listen now?

“How do I know you’re not lying?” Arya demanded. The group of men could have easily been lying to her. They had something she wanted. Did they truly have something she needed? Arya and her brothers had very scarce resources; they barely had any clean water. If Yoren was telling her the truth about the medical supplies, she really had no choice but to allow them to accompany her. Perhaps Gendry was right- they should stick together and divide their riches. If they had any chance of surviving this pandemic, their health was their top priority.

Yoren did not question her mistrust. If anything, he seemed to respect her even more for being as cautious as she was. “See for yourself,” He told her while slinging a large black bag off his shoulder and tossing it at her direction. He let the bag go with such ease and Arya made an attempt to catch it in the air. The bag was much heavier than she initially guessed and the straps slipped through her fingers, causing the bag to fall on the floor with a loud thud. She bent down on her knees and unzipped the bag, beginning to check its contents.

Yoren was telling her the truth about procuring the medical supplies. Inside the bag she noted items that you would find in your standard first aid kit: gauze, Band-Aids, cotton swabs, normal saline, hydrogen peroxide, sterile scissors, rubbing alcohol and iodine. There was also an abundance of prescription and over the counter medication; Tylenol, Advil, Allegra, Claritin, Benadryl, Buckley’s, Cold FX, Midol, a variety of antibiotics, Tums, antacids and anti-hypertensives. The epipens were expired and the multi-vitamin bottles had all been empty but Arya was grateful for the remainder of the medication.

“So what do you say girl? Do we have a deal?” Yoren asked her.

Arya looked up to meet Yoren’s gaze and shifted her attention to Gendry and the other two boys. She eyed the boys with doubt and began weighing out her options. She was sorely tempted to take Yoren and Gendry along with her and leave the other two boys to fend for themselves, but Arya highly doubted either Gendry or Yoren would allow that. Reluctantly, she nodded her head. She secretly decided she would pay special attention to the two boys. If they gave her a reason to provoke her, the deal would be off, no matter how desperate she was for the medical supplies.

“Good,” Yoren announced while flashing Arya a wide, toothy smile. “It’s ‘bout time we had another girl in our group. It will be good for the little one,”

Another girl? It was only then she looked down to Yoren’s hip and noticed a little girl who looked to be about the age of four, hiding behind one of Yoren’s broad legs. She had beautiful blonde hair that was tied in pigtails. Her big brown eyes were filled with fear and she cringed when Arya met her gaze. She hugged Yoren’s leg tighter and buried her head into his thigh.

“Don’t be scared, Weasel, the girl won’t hurt you,” Yoren assured her while nudging the girl away from his thigh and towards Arya’s general direction.

The little girl’s eyes went wide with fear and she heard Gendry laugh beside her. Arya turned her head to face Gendry and scowled at him, which only frightened the girl more and she ran to Gendry’s direction. Gendry easily scooped her into his arms and she saw the little girl’s body shaking with fear as she buried her head in Gendry’s broad shoulder. “Don’t worry,” Gendry reassured her. “She was scared of me too when we first met. She’ll grow to like you eventually. You have to admit, though, you’re rather scary looking when you’re angry,” Gendry winked at her and she considered punching him before she realised she would scare the already frightened little girl even more. Arya took a deep breath and began leading the men back to the storage room.

Arya, Gendry and Yoren began sorting out the food when Hot Pie and Lommy the- two boys who’s names she had learned- arrived with two shopping carts. Gendry lifted up Weasel and placed her in the shopping cart. Arya remembered sitting in shopping carts when she was a little girl and smiled at the memory. After Gendry had securely placed Weasel in the cart, he assisted the rest of the group as they began to unload all their bags into the carts, along with the rest of the edible food. After they had raided the entire store of its food supplies, they roamed the Walmart for luxuries to bring along with them. The storage room had an abundance of items that were no longer in the aisles of the Walmart, such as deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes and mouthwash. She also went back to aisles and grabbed more items; blankets, shoes and clothes. She also grabbed less important items; moisturizer, lotion, hand sanitizer, razors, shaving cream, hair brushes and hair ties. The items may not have been important or even necessary for their survival, but with the shopping carts they could virtually take everything in the store and it would not matter.

Arya noticed Gendry tossing in a couple of dolls into the shopping cart for Weasel. She wanted to yell at him, exclaiming that the toys were the least of their worries, but the dolls seemed to calm the little girl and she desperately clung onto one of the Barbie dolls. A small smile appeared on her face with the sight of her new toy. Arya did not have the heart to take it away from her. She had made Bran, Rickon and herself give up all their toys, iPods and other possessions in the start of the epidemic. By leaving all their items, they had also bid farewell to their childhood and grown into adults. It was nice to see that Weasel had not given up her innocence and Arya thought that perhaps there was hope for them yet. If God did exist, he would not be so cruel to force Weasel to turn into the same hard and cold person Arya had turned into. Would he? She looked around the room and noticed that Arya was not the only one looking at the little girl. All of the other men had stopped to admire the little girl and her love for the doll. After a while, they had proceeded to load up other luxuries, until their shopping carts were full.

Arya was about to leave the Walmart and lead the men to her safe haven when Yoren spoke. “Alright, you sorry sons of whores, there are Walkers out there that want to rape your corpses,” Yoren certainly had a way with words. “Gendry, Lommy and myself will be armed. If a Walker comes, hit them. We won’t shoot unless if we happen to cross paths with an army. Hot Pie and-” Yoren stopped and looked over to Arya with a confused expression on his face.

“Arya,” She reminded him.

“Aye,” Yoren continued, “Hot Pie and Arya you two will push the shopping carts and-”

“No!” Arya interrupted defiantly. All the men stopped and began to stare at her. “I’m not pushing some stupid shopping cart around. I can defend myself. One of you idiots can push the shopping cart yourself. You need me to lead the way and I’ve never seen any of you fight. I don’t trust you guys with a weapon.”

Gendry laughed at her. “Don’t worry, kid. Yoren, Lommy and I are pretty skilled at killing Walkers. We’ll protect you-”

“I don’t need protection!” Arya interrupted. She hated when people underestimated her because of her size. They had no idea what she was capable of. Surely they had the sense to realise she did have some fighting capabilities, since she had survived this long.

Arya grabbed her machete and proceeded to march past the men. Gendry looked like he was about to stop her before Yoren interrupted him. “If the girl wants to fight, let her fight. You and I will be able to handle the Walkers. There shouldn’t be too many of them- it’s still daylight,” Yoren turned to face Lommy and pushed him in the general direction of the other shopping cart. “Push, boy. You and Hot Pie will be looking after our supplies,”

Lommy frowned and shot Arya a look of pure annoyance but obediently headed over to the shopping cart and began following the others outside. When Arya approached the store entrance, she noticed that the automatic doors had been pried open much farther and she easily walked outside without having to squeeze herself between the doors. Gendry, Yoren, Lommy, Hot Pie and Weasel followed her lead and they began heading back towards the shed.

The sun was now shining in the West. Arya judged by its placement that it should have been around four o’clock. The weather was ridiculously hot and Arya began sweating with the foul liquid pooling on her forehead, underarms and back. Arya was tempted to reach into the shopping carts and grab one of the sticks of deodorant, but sadly, she had no idea where exactly the item was located. Arya always detested the summer- the weather was too bloody hot. She preferred tobogganing and building snowmen than swimming and lying under the hot sun. Winter was her paradise- she was born in the midst of winter and she missed the cold weather and the snowfall dearly. In summer, the temperature would only drop to a suitable temperature at night time, but for the rest of the day, she was in pure agony. Her right arm began to burn and she noted that her skin was red. Unfortunately for her, the pandemic had begun in the crisp autumn weather and the Walmart was fresh out of sunscreen. Not even a bottle to be found in one of the aisles or the storage area. Her older sister, Sansa, would have basked in the heat. Even without her tanning supplies, Sansa’s skin always turned into a beautiful golden luster when exposed in the sun. Her body was made for tanning, whereas Arya’s was not. With the exception of albinos, Arya was as pale as they came. When exposed in the sun, despite Sansa’s constant attempts to rid Arya of her rather ghastly skin tone, Arya never tanned; she burned. The sun burn was aggravating Arya and she recalled that Yoren had some Calamine lotion in his bag which she would lather on, once they made it to the safety of her shed. In the mean time, Arya just rubbed her arm gently while keeping a sharp eye out for Walkers.

Arya made her way to one of the shopping carts and swiped one of the water bottles, the group had intentionally left at the top of the cart. She took what seemed to be a sip of water but, winded up draining three-quarters of the bottle. Arya was sorely tempted to take the remainder of the water and dump it on her head but, drinking water was scarce and she would not waste fresh water. So Arya drained the remainder of the water in her next sip and tossed the empty water bottle on a patch of grass, where it landed making practically no noise.

Crunch.

Did these idiots really have to be so bloody loud? Whenever Arya frequented outside their shed, she was always quiet as a shadow, making little to no noise. The only noise that she did make was back in the storage area where Gendry had found her, and that was only because she was careless and let her guard down when being presented with the untouched crates of food. She was lucky that it was Gendry who found her, and not Hot Pie or Lommy, or she could very well still be in the storage room of the Walmart, laying in a pool of her own blood.

She brushed the bangs out of her eyes and felt the dampness of the sweat seeping through her hair. The new shirt she had procured from the Walmart was already soiled and damp. Why did it have to be so bloody hot?

She glanced backwards and saw the men following her brisk pace. As much as she tried to hide her fear, she never felt comfortable out in the open with the Walkers roaming about. The sooner they got to the shed, the sooner they’d be safe. They were halfway back to their safe haven when the smell of rotting flesh consumed her senses. Gendry and Yoren seemed to pick up on the stench as well – it was really hard not to – and raised their weapons. Gendry carried the same baseball bat he had on him when they first encountered in the shed and Yoren carried a rather rusty crowbar. Their pace did not falter and Arya continued leading the way even when the stench grew stronger and more unbearable.

Three Walkers had emerged from their right and began heading in their direction. With the amount of noise Yoren, Gendry and the others had been making, Arya was relieved that there were only three Walkers and not more. She saw Gendry tense as he raised the baseball bat in the air and held a firm grip on the weapon, ready to strike at any moment. Yoren behind her also raised his crowbar preparing for the attack and Lommy left the shopping cart to retrieve a shotgun.

Lommy pointed the gun at one of the Walkers and he was ready to pull the trigger before Yoren scolded him. “No, boy! Not for three. We can handle three Walkers, but we won’t be able to handle the three hundred that gun will attract,”

Reluctantly, Lommy lowered the weapon and put the shotgun away. Instead, he armed himself with a baseball bat. The bat was much smaller than the one Gendry was carrying and the weapon was made out of wood not metal. The weight was much lighter than Gendry’s bat and Lommy would have to put much more force in his attacks than Gendry to create equal damage, but the boy was still ready and was prepared to fight. He had courage, Arya had to give him that.

Gendry proceeded to attack the first Walker, but Arya arrived at the scene first, swinging her machete at the Walker’s head. She did not wait to see if the Walker went down; the force of the impact was so great that she knew the Walker would not rise again. She turned to see another Walker about to a couple of inches away from her. It’s mouth was open and his teeth were bared, preparing to bite her. She did not give the Walker the chance. She raised her leg, hitting the centre of the creature’s chest with the sole of her foot. The creature tumbled to the ground and before it could get up, Arya plunged the machete right through his skull and the Walker ceased moving. When Arya turned to face the third Walker, she noted that it was much shorter than she initially expected it to be. Arya had to crane her head down to look at the beast, and being a girl of only 5’1”, she hardly had to look down at a person before. It was then when Arya had taken a closer examination at the creature. Half of the skin on the Walker’s face had deteriorated, showing nothing but bone. The other half was obscured by bites and rotting flesh but, when Arya eyed the creature closely she could see the youth behind the blemishes. This Walker was different from the other two and the abundance of other Walkers Arya had killed. Before the creature had turned into a Walker, it was once a child. A girl, she judged by solely examining the Walker’s clothing. Her body was much to worn out to make out it’s gender but no boy would wear a dress. She looked to be about Weasel’s age or perhaps a couple years older. A normal person would hesitate, perhaps feeling sympathy for the creature but, this war had made Arya hard. The creature was no longer a little girl, she was a Walker. There was no innocence left in that vile creature, it was nothing but a soulless life form whose only desire was to kill. Arya dove the machete in the Walker’s skull and watched the beast sink to its knees before falling on the floor, never to rise again.

Arya turned to face her comrades and each one of them were staring at her with disbelief, their jaws slightly dropped. Arya was unable to tell if the look was fear from watching her strike down the little girl or if was from shock that a little girl her size was able to take on three Walkers all by herself. Arya took a part of her shirt and wiped her machete clean of the vile blood tarnishing her blade. She then looked at her comrades giving them a cold emotional stare before muttering, “Told you I could defend myself,” and then she was off. She continued her journey to her safe haven and she did not have to turn around to know that her new pack had been following her.

They had crossed paths with a few more Walkers, but it was nothing that the three of them could not handle. Yoren and Gendry were both incredibly strong. Where it took Arya sometimes three to four hits to get the job done, Yoren and Gendry seldom required more than one.

Lommy and Hot Pie followed them easily. Sometimes Lommy would get nervous and Arya noticed his hands hovering over the shotgun and his fingers brushing the weapon but he did not ever use it. Gendry, Yoren and herself killed every Walker they had run into and did not need a fourth person to assist them. Where Lommy was itching to be a part of the slaying, Hot Pie showed no interest in fighting the Walkers, let alone touching a weapon. He pushed the shopping cart forward and never wavered from his task. When the Walkers came, the little girl, Weasel, who had been sitting in the shopping cart Hot Pie had been pushing, would cling onto the collar of Hot Pie’s shirt and the boy would sooth her and reassure her that no harm would ever come to her. Perhaps Hot Pie wasn’t so bad after all. He showered the little girl with kindness and was incredibly patient with the child. Seeing the boy now, Arya could not place him with the same boy that had threatened her in the Walmart.

Once the shed was within her sight, Arya broke out into a run as she sprinted to her safe haven where her two brothers were waiting for her. The sun was sinking lower and lower- pretty soon it would set and night would be upon them. Yoren, Gendry, Lommy, Hot Pie, Rickon and herself would quickly have to unload all the supplies and store them into the shed before dark. The night time was when the Walkers were prominent and even with her new muscle; Arya was not naive enough to believe that they would be able to face all those Walkers.

Once she was at the shed, Arya turned to see if the rest of her pack had caught up with her. Gendry was not far from her; he followed her lead and sprinted to the shed as well. Yoren, Hot Pie, Lommy and Weasel were still far behind. Gendry stopped when he approached her and began catching his breath. Once he had regained his composure, he took a step back to admire the shed. It wasn’t much, but, to Arya, it was home.

“This is your safe haven?” Gendry asked.

Arya nodded, “It’s not much-”

“It’s brilliant,” Gendry interrupted. He turned to face her and shot her a wide smile. Arya must have been delirious from the journey because she actually smiled back at him. She could not remember the last time she had smiled- it was much too long ago. But now she had food, medicine and other luxurious provisions to last all eight of them for a long time to come. In addition, she now had a new pack that could assist her with her supply runs, ensuring a much safer journey. She would not have to leave her brothers alone to fend for themselves- perhaps sometimes she could even stay with them.

Yoren, Hot Pie, Weasel and Lommy had now caught up to them. The four of them were struck in awe, similar to the way Gendry had been. Yoren slapped her hard on the shoulder, causing Arya to stagger forward but, the man hardly noticed. “Good job kid,” He praised her and Arya shot a smile at him.

She walked around the shed, until she reached the trap door and proceeded with her secret knock. Two swift knocks, followed by one and ending in three swift knocks. There was a pause and then she heard the latch open with a click. Slowly the trap door had been pushed open and Arya smiled in the sight of it. It was time to merge packs.

Chapter Text

Arya heard the faint click of a lock and the loud clatter of chains as the bindings securing the trapdoor tumbled onto the ground. It had taken only a matter of seconds after Arya performed the secret knock – announcing her brothers of her arrival – for Rickon to remove the bindings, permitting her entry. Her brothers had never been so quick to undo the locks before; it was clear that both Rickon and Bran had been anxiously awaiting her arrival. Without a doubt, her brothers worried for Arya’s safety. Typically, Arya would never be gone longer than a couple of hours; the longest she had ever been out was six. This was nothing compared to the twelve brutish hours of her current journey. Arya had never arrived home so late before; granted, the normal grocery store she would hit up was far closer than the Walmart had been. Plus, she wasted a lot of time when she ran into Yoren, Gendry and the others. Travelling with a group had tremendously slowed down her normal pace. The trip back had taken almost twice as long than the trip to the Walmart; this even included the time she had wasted with her detour to the Freshco.

Slowly, the noises grew softer, and as the final binding was removed, there was a brief moment of silence until the trapdoor finally creaked open. Before Arya could call out to her brothers or instruct her new pack to unload the supplies, Arya felt a heavy weight crash into her chest and the impact sent her tumbling onto the floor. The force of the fall had been equivalent to the force of the collision. Her elbows scratched the uneven and rocky terrain underneath her, creating new wounds and opening old ones. Normally, Arya would have hissed in pain from the scrapes on her elbow, but another pain was currently dominating her senses, a pain far much worse than the fall. A heavy and unfamiliar weight was perched upon on her chest. Whatever was on top of her compressed her diaphragm, prohibiting any oxygen from entering her lungs. Arya couldn’t breathe and she quickly began to panic. She was about to call to her new allies for support when suddenly she heard a faint whimper on top of her.

Arya shifted the weight of the object on top of her and once some pressure was taken off her chest, she greedily began sucking in gasps of air. After the breathing issue had been resolved, Arya took a couple of moments to calm her frantic heartbeat. Eventually Arya settled down and her panic dispersed; it was then when she noticed a flash of auburn under her chin. Rickon had been the one to tackle her to the ground and he was now clutching onto her in some form of an embrace. His small arms were wrapped around her thin waist and his head was buried bellow her left breast, right in the crook of her ribs. Several months of malnutrition had left her ribs protruding outside of her body and she felt the bone digging into Rickon’s temple but he did not seem to mind. He only clutched onto her tighter and continued weeping into her chest.

Arya raised a shaky hand and ran it through his thick auburn hair. Where his hair was once smooth and soft to the touch, his hair was now grimy and coarse due to the years of improper hygiene and malnutrition. As Arya continued to run her hand through his hair, strands of auburn easily detached themselves from her baby brother’s head and wound in her fingertips. He continued to weep into her chest. His salty tears stained her new shirt but Arya did not mind. She did not offer her brother any false reassurances because things were not alright and everything was not going to be okay soon; Arya doubted if anything was going to be okay again. Her brother may have been a mere child of seven but the pandemic had forced him to let go of his childhood and he no longer needed the truth shielded from him for his own protection. Rickon was fully aware of their dire circumstances, so rather than offer him any false hope, Arya continued stroking his hair and she raised her other hand to rub his back. Through the silent touches, she knew Rickon understood what she was conveying. She was letting her baby brother know that she was here and safe and she would continue to look after him until she drew her last breath.

The consoling seemed to help- Rickon’s sobs grew quieter and quieter and now he was able to form coherent words rather than the whines and mumbles he had spouted out before. “You came home so late,” he cried. “Too late. It’s almost sundown. I thought... Bran thought... We thought you had-”

Rickon’s words snapped Arya back to reality. She shifted her attention from her brother to the sky above them. The once blue horizon was now filled with vibrant colours ranging from a bright orange to a dark pink. Where once the sight would have been considered relaxing or even breathtaking, it now only elicited Arya with one emotion: fear . Soon, the sun would set and night time would be upon them. The Walkers came out in the day as well but they thrived in the dark. Soon, hundreds of Walkers would be upon them, and even though Arya had some new muscle, so to speak, that did not mean she was foolish enough to think that eight humans could take on all those Walkers. They would have to quickly unload their supplies and secure the shed before the sun set. Judging from the position of the sun, Arya guessed they only had thirty minutes left, an hour if they were lucky.

Arya removed the hand tangled in Rickon’s hair and placed it under his chin. Gently, she nudged his head upward so she was now looking into his deep Tully blue eyes. She could see that Rickon’s eyes were reddened and tears were falling freely down his chubby cheeks. Rickon sniffed, drawing the remainder of his tears back inside while wiping the rest of them away with the back of his sleeve. Arya smiled at her little brother’s control. Prior to the pandemic, he would constantly throw temper tantrums. There was no taming him when he was upset, but now he was able to quickly bottle up his emotions to face the task at hand. He was strong; he was a Stark.

“I know, Rickon. I know. I’m sorry I came home so late. But you’re right. The sun will set soon and we need to quickly unload the food and supplies before night time. I need you to be strong for me so you can help the others and I unload the supplies before sundown. Can you help me with that little brother?” Arya asked him.

It wasn’t until then that Rickon noticed the other men accompanying his older sister. He quickly detached himself from Arya’s embrace and pushed himself off the ground. His eyes quickly scanned the other men and a look of fear and confusion flashed through his eyes. With the exception of Weasel, the rest of the men were much bigger than he was, and even though Yoren and Gendry were the kindest of the group, their physic made both men seem extremely threatening.

Arya quickly sensed Rickon’s discomfort. “It’s okay Rickon; they’re... friends.”

Rickon did not seem to notice Arya’s hesitation and trusted her conformation immediately. He then sprinted over to the shopping carts and promptly began unloading the supplies. Arya joined him soon after and without having to utter a word, the rest of the men began helping as well.

They finished unloading the remainder of the items a short while later. Arya nudged Rickon towards to entrance of the trapdoor. The sun was sinking lower and lower into the horizon and they still needed to secure the shed. Rickon quickly obliged and ran inside the entrance to join Bran and Weasel, whom Hot Pie had carried inside the moment they arrived. Lommy, Hot Pie and Yoren followed Rickon inside the shed, leaving Arya and Gendry alone at the entrance. Arya waited for Gendry to enter first, but he stubbornly waited outside the entrance, insisting that she should slip in before him. He went so far as to give her a mocking bow and gesture, muttering the words “ladies first.” Arya scowled at him, which only seemed to amuse Gendry. She angrily stormed inside the shed, muttering a curse under her breath. She heard Gendry’s soft chuckle behind her. Arya could not comprehend why he loved teasing her so much.

Once everyone was inside the shed, Arya began securing the trapdoor. Rickon offered to help with the bindings but Arya always felt more comfortable doing it herself. This way she could ensure that all the bindings were secure so there was no hope for a Walker to be permitted entry. She heard shuffling behind her and the chatter of voices but Arya was in no mood to mingle at the moment. After Arya tied the final binding and secured the lock, she began inspecting the other entrances. It did not take long for Bran to figure out what she was doing. He tried assuring her that he and Rickon had checked all the entrances moments before her arrival. Arya did not waver from her task. It only took one crack or one loose binding and the Walkers would be able to break through their safe haven. Arya could not stand the thought of the Walkers destroying her family. She had made a promise to her father that she would take care of her two little brothers. She continued examining the entrances.

After she had checked each of the entrances a minimum of three times, Arya concluded that the shed was secure. She wanted nothing more than to plop herself down on the cold hard floor of the shed and sink into a peaceful sleep, but the paranoia kept her awake and alert. Never once had Arya felt safe in these past three years. She only slept when her body protested against the lack of proper rest, and even then, Arya’s dreams were plagued with nightmares.

She scanned the shed and noticed that Hot Pie and Lommy had already made themselves at home. Each of them was wrapped in a blanket that she had stolen from the Walmart and they were chattering away about something that Arya had no intent on eavesdropping on. They were probably just talking about something mind numbing and stupid. Arya couldn’t see herself getting along with the two boys. She had yet to forget the incident at the Walmart, and Arya neither forgot nor forgave. She noticed the little girl, Weasel, curled up in her own blanket with her head rested on Hot Pie’s lap. The Barbie doll was still clutched firmly in her hands but the tension and fear from her face was gone. She fell asleep instantaneously and the angelic child looked so peaceful. Arya could only hope the little girl’s dreams were filled with precious memories long before the pandemic started rather than the gruesome nightmares Arya and her brothers encountered far too often.

Rickon and Bran were on the far end of the shed. They were leaning their backs on the shed’s wall and seemed to be captivated by something Gendry was saying. Gendry sat opposite from her brothers and seemed to be rather engrossed in some story he was telling them. Arya saw the smiles etched on each of their faces and Arya could not help but feel her heart swell up with joy. She could not remember the last time she had seen her brothers smile. Now, they were even on the verge of laughter. Though annoying, Gendry was quite charismatic and got along well with her brothers, despite the fact that he was still a stranger. Any hesitance that Arya once felt about bringing Gendry and the others with her quickly evaporated after seeing the smiles on her brothers’ faces. They seemed to be... happy. Perhaps happy wasn’t the right word, but, for once, they were not miserable. Bringing the others along already proved to be a wise choice, yet there was still a nagging voice in the back of her head, which told her this was the worst decision she made. Arya quickly pushed the thought away and watched her two brothers amusement with the tall dark haired man.

With the rusty wheelchair beside Bran’s obvious disfigured legs, it took an idiot not to figure out that he was crippled. Gendry must have now understood what Arya meant about her brother’s condition, but he seemed to pay it no mind. He treated Bran no differently from Rickon. He did not give him any sympathetic glances nor did he ask him about his accident. He just continued chattering away about whatever story he was telling. Arya was thankful that Gendry did not treat her brother like he was broken. Bran hated when people belittled him because of his disability. Arya had been guilty of being one of those belittlers. She couldn’t help it; it was a sisterly instinct. Deep down, she knew that Bran was perfectly capable of taking care of himself. He certainly did not need to be coddled more than Rickon.

Arya remembered the first week after Bran’s accident. People would constantly tell him he was lucky for surviving the fall but that did not settle well with Bran and he snapped.

“I’m lucky?” Bran asked. “No, you’re lucky! You still have your legs. You didn’t fall and you’re not a bloody cripple like me!” Bran screamed at his sympathizers.

Mother had tried chastising him for his ungallant behaviour but she always felt guilty for doing so. Other than Bran, her mother had taken it the hardest when news came of her son’s accident. Motherly love, some would call it. After a week of bed rest and constant coaxing, Bran had finally had enough. He didn’t want to be a cripple and told the family that he would rather be dead. Mother had cried herself to sleep that night.

Gendry did not make Bran feel uncomfortable about his condition nor did he acknowledge it. He was one of the few people who treated him the same as anyone else and Arya was thankful for it. Perhaps he wasn’t as stupid as she first thought.

Gendry must have sensed her staring at him. He turned his head and met her gaze. Arya’s eyes widened in fear of getting caught and she quickly shifted her attention from Gendry to Yoren. He seemed to be organizing the food and supplies they had procured from the Walmart. Arya quickly ran to his side to help him. She saw him hunched over the food supply, clutching a variety of different dried pasta and a large bag of tomato flavoured powder.

“Pasta for dinner?” Arya asked him, while sitting down beside the large man.

“Aye. I don’t know ‘bout you, girl, but I’m too damn hungry and tired to be cookin’, and pasta won’t take us too long to make. What’s wrong, girl? Don’t like Italian food?”

Arya shook her head from side to side. She absolutely adored Italian food, not that this dried pasta could even compare to the cuisine. She hated the rich texture of other cuisines like Chinese or Indian. Italian food had certain simplicity to it. Unlike other cuisines, the food was not heavily coated with spices yet still carried a delicious palate of flavours. She missed her mother’s home made lasagna, which she would coat heavily in thick tomato sauce, three-blend cheese and sausages. Just the thought of the lasagna had her mouth watering. She missed the taste of fresh tomatoes; the fake tomato powder paled in comparison but any tomatoes or tomato paste that existed now had rotted and long past their expiration date.

“Good,” Yoren announced, grabbing two large bags of pasta and shoved it towards her. “We’ll be eating this tonight.”

Her eyes widened in shock. Two bags? Was he mad? Bran, Rickon and Arya would go through less than one bag a day, and Yoren was planning on using two entire ones, just for dinner? She voiced her concern about using too much too soon.

Yoren just scoffed at her. “Fuck rationing,” he exclaimed. “I’ve been eating nothing but pig shit these past few days and I’m sick of it. What’s the point of living if you ain’t gonna live? If you want, you and your brothers can ration all you want but I’m eating myself sick tonight.”

This was it, their first confrontation. Arya adored Yoren but she knew they would encounter several conflicts. It was clear to her that he was the leader of the group and the alpha, just like Arya had been. She had hoped when they were conflicted with a dilemma ,Yoren would easily succumb to Arya’s will, since, after all, this was her so her rules should apply. However, Yoren did not seem to waver in this argument. He was intent on eating the entire two bags of pasta, whether Arya joined him or not.

“We have to ration!” Arya argued. “There aren’t any farmers out there anymore. That means there will be no more food either. This could possibly be it. One day we’re going to run out of food and there will be no more stores to hit up. When I went to the Freshco, their storage room was empty. Empty!” She repeated, emphasizing the word. “We can’t run out of food, not now.”

Yoren eyes narrowed and he seemed to grasp Arya’s point, but that was not enough to sway him. “Look, kid, I get it, and I’m pretty sure one day we will be thankful for your rationing but today won’t be that day. Just look at ya, girl- you’re all skin and bones. You and your brothers need protein if ya expect to survive this war. Now shut yer trap and listen to an adult for once.”

Arya frowned, although she had to agree with Yoren. Even before the war, Arya barely had any fat on her body and she ate a lot. She probably ate even more than her brothers. Robb would often tease her about it. She may have not had much fat then but she had plenty of muscle. Now, all her muscles were deteriorating and she was left with nothing but skin and bones; Bran and Rickon’s situation was no better. Arya bit her bottom lip and eyed the elder man in front of her. She always bit her lip when she was anxious, and because of her bad habit, her lips had been severely chapped and cracked. She felt a faint sting on her lips as she massaged the area she just bit with her tongue. Perhaps Yoren was right. Food was a priority but health was even a bigger one. She no longer had any supplements or multivitamins so she had to ensure that she and her brothers were getting adequate nutrition through food sources. Arya sighed but still complied with Yoren’s suggestion. Perhaps it was for the better.

Yoren and Arya were on opposite spectrums; he had a carefree attitude and liked to live in the moment. Arya was filled with paranoia and thought of nothing but the future. Perhaps the two could balance each other out like yin and yang.

Arya showed Yoren the ‘stove’ she and her brothers created. It wasn’t much of a stove but they really did require a place to boil their water and cook their food, considering most of their food had consisted of raw or powdered products. The stove was merely a stack of sticks surrounded by a circle of rocks. Arya and her brothers constructed a small pole where they were able to hang an old pot to linger over a fire. Normally, Arya and her brothers created a fire by constructing a spark through the friction of two rocks. A couple of years of practicing made them experts in this skill but it still took about an hour before one of their sparks caught. Arya could no longer ignore the protests of her empty stomach, so rather than wait an hour and hope for a spark to light, she pulled out one of the few remaining matches and tossed it onto the pile of sticks. The flame caught instantly and Arya filled up the pot with clean water and waited for it to come to a steady boil.

Yoren was absolutely flabbergasted by the idea of a stove and praised Arya on her brilliance once more. He made a snide comment about being stuck with a group of idiots and Arya could not help but let out a snicker. She couldn’t believe it; she was actually laughing. She could not remember the last time she laughed, let alone smiled and, like her brothers, for once in her life, Arya actually felt happy. Momentarily she let herself forget about the Walkers, the soreness consuming her body and their heinous living conditions and enjoyed her conversation with Yoren. He was very sarcastic and funny-but behind that, there was a brilliant mind to the scary looking man.

After the water finally came to a steady boil, Yoren dumped the entire contents of the two bags into the pot. One of the bags consisted of macaroni while the other was fettuccini, but neither Yoren nor Arya cared. They only had one stove and they were much too hungry to cook the dishes separately. When the time came to begin mixing spices, Hot Pie took over. Yoren mentioned that Hot Pie had a certain gift with cooking and assured her that she would not be disappointed. To be honest, Arya did not care much about who cooked the meal or how it tasted. All she wanted was something solid to suppress the cries and emptiness of her stomach.

Arya grabbed eight sets of cutlery, bowls and milk boxes from their preserves. She handed one to each member of the group as they waited for dinner to be served. Yoren accepted the cutlery and the bowl but passed on the milk. Instead, he grabbed a flask from his jacket and took a swig of the contents inside it. Dark, brown liquid spilled from the corner of his mouth and ran down his chin. He wiped the residue away with the back of his sleeve before passing the flask to Arya.

“Think you’ve deserved a drink for saving our sorry asses.” Yoren commented.

Arya looked at the flask and crinkled her nose at the smell. She shook her head from side to side. Yoren just shrugged at her refusal and took another swig of the dark liquid. “I don’t like the taste,” Arya commented, even though he did not ask her why she refused his offer.

He began chuckling and shook his head from side to side. “You don’t drink it for the taste,” he said.

Arya had never understood the concept of alcohol. She wasn’t a reserved teenager but she certainly wasn’t into the lot that liked to party and do drugs. Arya was more mischievous; she pulled pranks and snuck into movies but she had never succumbed to the traditional teenage customs. Alcohol wasn’t a part of her norm; she would have a glass of wine on special occasions but she never went out to drink like Robb and Jon used to. She was just about to ask Yoren why he drank liquor when Hot Pie announced it was dinner time.

Arya ensured her brothers had been served before she took the first bite of her new meal. As soon as the food touched her lips, she let out a moan of approval. Yoren and Gendry snickered at her reaction, while Hot Pie was simply elated.

“It’s good, isn’t it?” He confirmed.

Unwilling to part her lips from the delicious pasta, Arya just nodded while scooping more food into her mouth. It wasn’t as good as her mother’s lasagna but it was certainly better than anything she had eaten in the last three years.

“It would have been better if I had some real ingredients,” Hot Pie continued. “But since I don’t have any of that, I settled for what I had. The trick is to use only a pinch of garlic powder-”

“Shut yer yap and eat, boy,” Yoren commanded.

The large boy seemed disappointed with Yoren’s suggestion but quickly obliged. They all ate in silence, too busy consuming the delicious food to utter a word. Arya nearly died of happiness when she found out there was enough for seconds and thirds. After her meal was completed, she proceeded to lick her bowl clean.

The others did the same and once Lommy was done he let out a small burp. Yoren responded with his own belch, almost twice as loud as Lommy’s. The men began laughing and Gendry praised Yoren on his talented and disgusting burping skills. Arya took this as a challenge and belched much louder than Yoren and Lommy. The burp echoed through the narrow space of the shed. Gendry, Yoren, Hot Pie and Lommy looked at her in disbelief while Bran and Rickon burst out in a fit of laughter.

Bran patted her back. “That’s my sister,” he announced proudly. Everyone else chimed in on the laughter.

After dinner was completed, everyone began getting ready for bed. Weasel had been the first to fall asleep. She curled into a little ball between Hot Pie and Lommy whom were now sleeping soundly as well. Yoren did not lie down like the rest. Instead, he propped himself into a sitting position, his back resting against the murky wall. If it wasn’t for the rather loud snores, Arya would have thought he was still awake. Bran had also fallen asleep in his usual sleeping area. He was wrapped in one of the new blankets Arya had taken from the Walmart and his head lay on an old, doughnut shaped pillow– another possession Arya had stolen long ago.

That left Rickon, Gendry and Arya to clean up the dishes. Rickon’s eyelids were getting heavy and she saw the struggle it took for him to stay awake. He tried stifling his yawns and attempted to hide his tiredness but Arya quickly noticed it. She grabbed the plate from his hands, momentarily waking Rickon from his sleep-like state.

“Sleep,” Arya commanded.

Rickon was in no state to protest, so he simply nodded his head and made his way towards Bran. He wrapped his body in a thick woolen blanket and fell asleep almost instantaneously beside his brother.

She wasn’t sure if watching Rickon’s dreary form triggered her senses or if it was just pure exhaustion but Arya found her own eyelids growing heavy, and now it was her turn to stifle the yawns. She could not understand why her body betrayed her; she had slept only yesterday. She was aware that the human body required a minimum of eight hours of sleep per day, but ever since the pandemic began, she found herself sleeping less often. Perhaps it was the long and tiresome journey that made her so sleepy, or maybe it was simply all the sleep she eluded was now finally catching up to her. If they hadn’t put out the fire, she might have brewed herself some coffee; she never liked the bitter drink but it left her feeling jittery and, more importantly, awake. She began fighting off her body’s urge to sleep but it proved to be futile. She felt her body slumping and her vision grew blurry. Being the stubborn girl she was, Arya continued to fight off her body’s natural urges until she felt the dish she was currently washing forced out of her hands.

Arya immediately jolted out of her sleep-withered form and her eyes widened when she saw that it was Gendry who had taken the dish. All the amusement was wiped off from his face and he gave her a rather serious and worrisome expression. “You should get some sleep,” he commanded, “I’ll finish with the dishes.”

Arya had never been coddled before. Even when she was a child, she had been extremely independent. For the past three years, she was the one taking care of her two younger brothers and not the other way around. Arya was not accustomed to someone taking care of her, and she certainly wasn’t comfortable leaving Gendry with all the dishes. Their journey had been quite tiresome and Gendry probably had less sleep than she did.

Arya reached for the dish in his hands but he raised it over his head so that she could not reach it unless if she stood up. Normally, she would have just grabbed the dish out of his hands and thwacked him on the back of his head but he wasn’t teasing her like he normally did. His facial expression showed nothing but sincerity. It was strange. Did he actually care about her well-being? He couldn’t have, he shouldn’t have. Gendry was a mere stranger to her yet he was sacrificing his own sleep so she would get hers.

“You need your rest. I can finish up the rest of the dishes,” he assured her.

“But don’t you need your sleep, too? It will go faster if we cleaned them together.” Arya argued.

Gendry just smiled and his shook his head. “I’m fine, Arya. Just go to sleep.”

For the first time, Arya did not insult or hit Gendry; she listened to him. Unable to find the energy to walk, she crawled to the place where Bran and Rickon stored their old blanket. The blanket was dusty, ratty and filled with holes. She probably would have been more comfortable with the newer blankets they had procured from the Walmart but she preferred this one. The scent of her brothers still lingered onto the fabric and it brought her comfort. She wrapped the withered blanket over her frail form and scooted alongside her brothers.

She turned her head to look at Gendry, who continued washing the dishes. “Thank you,” Arya whispered. She wasn’t sure if he heard her, and she did not wait for a response, although she could have sworn that she saw him give a little nod of his head. As soon as Arya’s head hit the floor, she fell into a deep slumber.

As soon as the pig skin landed in her small but firm hands, Arya broke into a run. The wind felt exhilarating as it brushed past her skin, leaving a trail of goose bumps on her arms from the chill. The hair tie, which kept her hair in a tight ponytail, has now come lose and her long brown locks tumbled past her shoulders, almost reaching her waist. The wind did nothing but distract Arya from her current mission. It only further tangled her already messy hair and sent her messy brown locks sprawling over her face, obstructing her vision.

Arya always hated long hair. She distinctly remembered a time when she was six. Arya had stolen a pair of scissors from her mother’s drawer and cut off all her hair leaving it shorter than any of her brothers’. Once Catelyn had come home to her daughter and her now boy-short hair, she was furious; Arya was lectured, scolded and punished. She was restricted from taking part in any sports related activity for nearly a month and was forced to join her mother and Sansa in their weekly sewing lesson. At that time, Arya could not possibly understand why her mother was overreacting at something as simple as hair. It would grow back and it did in only a few short years. She was nine now and her hair was now once more back to its annoying length.

It wasn’t fair. Robb, Jon and Bran were allowed to keep their hair short, why couldn’t she? Her mother explained that girls were expected to have long hair, but that wasn’t true. Robb’s best friend’s sister, Asha Greyjoy, had short hair, and so did one of her mother’s employees, Brienne Tarth. So why couldn’t Arya keep her hair short as well? It kept getting in her way and no amount of pins and clips could hold her hair in place. Her hair was much too thick and wild to tame. Her mother would spend hours detangling all her knots, wouldn’t it be much easier just to keep her hair short?

Using her free hand, Arya brushed the bangs out of her eyes and continued running to her destination. She heard Theon and Robb grunting behind her but they were much too far away now. The sounds of Jon’s cheers echoed along the vast field and they erupted into a loud victorious howl when Arya crossed the white line.

She had scored the winning touchdown and Arya had never felt more proud. A mere girl of nine outran two fifteen year olds. Arya may have been small but she was quick. Robb and Theon were both on their high school football them and yet she had outshone both of them.

Arya had always thought football players required some sort of physique like that of her brothers and Theon but it was only yesterday when her brother’s football coach, Syrio Forel, commended her on her size. ‘You are skinny,’ he had said. ‘That is good. The target is small. Once you are old enough to enroll into high school, come see me. We will see what we can do to get a girl to join the boy’s football team. If that does not work, maybe we will cut off your hair and call you Arry, no?’ Arya was delighted to be praised by a man as great as Syrio Forel and her current victory only added to her amusement.

The teams were stacked in their opponents favor. Robb, Theon and Bran versus Jon, Sam (Jon’s stocky shy friend) and herself. Sam had contributed practically nothing to their team. A lawn gnome could have done a better job. Sam was no athlete; he winded easily and could not catch a football to save his life, but Jon and Arya made up for his lack of ability and were victorious in this game.

Jon threw Arya over his shoulder and continued to holler while Sam and Bran congratulated her victory, with large smiles plastered on their faces. Even though Bran’s team had just lost, he could not help but bask in his sister’s glory. Robb and Theon muttered curses as they got outran by a nine year old girl but soon their scowls turned to smiles and they all began celebrating Arya’s glorious touchdown.

Arya’s stomach began growling. She had been playing football with her brothers all morning and well into the afternoon. As if on cue, Sansa and her friend, Jeyne Poole, arrived in the backyard carrying trays of snacks. The smell of fresh pastries filled her nostrils and Arya began running to the tray of desserts. She almost tackled Sansa in the process as she grabbed two lemon cakes from the tray and began stuffing them into her mouth.

“Hey!” Sansa protested. “Those are for me too!” Lemon cakes were her mother’s speciality and the Stark sisters would constantly fight over the delicious treat. There were only four lemon cakes on the tray and Arya was planning on saving half for Sansa, but her sister’s patronizing attitude rubbed Arya the wrong way. Angrily, Arya snatched the other two lemon cakes and gave each a long and slobbery lick before placing them back on the tray.

Sansa’s face turned almost as red as her hair and Arya had to bite down a chuckle. “Ew!” She screeched. “You are so disgusting!”

Arya gave her sister a satisfied smirk before snatching the remaining two lemon cakes and heading over to the gazebo. She plopped herself onto a comfy lawn chair and began devouring the treat. Arya was always a messy eater, so the crumbs easily broke away from the dessert, lodging themselves in between the cushions of the once clean lawn chair. Their nanny, Ms. Mordane, would probably scold her for creating such a ghastly mess but Arya did not care.

Her mother came to the backyard shortly after, carrying two large pitchers: one filled with raspberry lemonade and the other filled with peach juice. She wore a loose sundress, to accommodate for the swelling of her stomach. She was due for another child in less than a month but that had not stopped her mother from cooking and taking care of the family. Her father trailed behind her carrying a tray filled with several empty glasses and a large bowl of ice.

“Who’s disgusting?” her mother inquired, while placing the two large pitchers in the centre of the table. Arya scoffed. Of course her mother would hear that. It did not matter if she was in the other room at her time; Catelyn Tully could always tell when one of her children were misbehaving. With a mother like her, it was shocking that Arya had gotten away with anything.

“Arya is.” Sansa announced, ratting her sister out. “She stole all the lemon cakes and now she’s making a mess.”

Her mother made her way over to where Arya was sitting. She had a large wad of tissue paper in her hands and she licked the tip of the paper before wiping Arya’s face with it. Her pressure was tremendous, and Arya felt that she was not only scrubbing off the filth from her face, but possibly two layers of skin as well. “Oh my, Arya, you’re absolutely filthy. It’s going to take me hours to wash all the mud off you.” Her mother exclaimed.

It was Sansa’s turn to shoot Arya a satisfied smirk. Arya scowled in her direction. She loved her sister but some days she could just strangle Sansa for being so blatantly annoying.

Her father easily picked up on the tension and quickly changed the subject. “So, how did the game go, boys?” He asked, dramatically changing the current atmosphere.

Arya was used to her father referring to her as ‘one of the boys.’ Unlike her mother and Sansa, he did not imply it as an insult but rather as an acknowledgement of her character. Arya was never a typical girl, in the conventional sense. She was not interested in playing with dolls but rather biting off their heads. Despite her mother’s attempts to teach her daughters the art of sewing, Arya’s stitches always came out crooked and messy. Arya preferred sports and dirt over wearing dresses and sipping tea with the ladies. Arya was only a girl because of her sex, but as far as gender roles went, Arya was definitely ‘one of the boys.’

“It was amazing, father!” Arya answered, squealing with excitement. “I scored the winning touchdown!”

“Did you, now?” It was more of a comment than a question. Her mother flashed her father a look of disapproval. Arya was positive that once all the children had gone to bed, their mother would scold her father for encouraging Arya the way he did. Her father saw his mother’s warning glance, but whether he did not interpret it as a sign of disapproval or simply ignored it, Arya did not know. “That’s my little girl,” he praised, as he mussed up her tangled hair with his hand. Arya always detested it when her brothers would muss up her hair but that was simply because they were teasing her. Her father was being completely sincere and Arya’s heart filled with joy. ‘Today would be a good day,’ she thought.

The smell of freshly baked bread still filled her senses and the chorus of laughter rung in her ears as Arya, her family and their guests began eating the lovely pastries and drank the delicious cold beverages – both of which her mother made from scratch. Eventually the laughter slowly faded but the delicious aroma of bread still filled the air.

As the picture faded, reality finally dawned on her and Arya realised that her vision had been nothing but a dream of the past; a life that no longer existed.

She must have unconsciously shifted while she awoke, or perhaps it was the alteration in her breathing rhythm, but somehow, she had unintentionally signalled Gendry that she was now awake. “Good morning, sleepy head,” he greeted.

Arya couldn’t see him yet. Her eyes were still closed and the only visible object was the dull red colour of the back of her eyelids. Slowly, she fluttered her eyelids open and rubbed off the crust lodged in her eyes with her fist.

She nearly gasped when she realised the proximity between herself and the older man. His greeting had been merely a whisper so Arya assumed he had been on the other side of the shed but instead his body was positioned right beside hers. He was sitting upright, propped up against a wall. His shoulder brushed hers, as she quickly shifted into a sitting position as well. It didn’t bother her that Gendry was so close although it did surprise her.

He gave her an apologetic look. Arya initially assumed that he was going to apologize for invading her personal space but that thought did not even cross his mind. “I’m sorry. I tried waking you earlier but, you were asleep like a log.”

Arya frowned. She had always been a heavy sleeper and that was one of the many reasons why she felt so uncomfortable with sleeping outside the safety of her shed. With her luck, she would be ambushed by a pack of Walkers, have one of them bite her and undergo the painful transition of turning into a Walker, and she’d still sleep through it all.

Arya recalled one time, when she was eleven. Robb had just come home from a party he had snuck out of the house to attend. To make matters worse, he had come home drunk. He might have gotten away with sneaking off to the party without anyone knowing if it was not for the accident. The alcohol impaired his vision and mind set and he had crashed the car into the garage door. To make matters worse, Robb had just gotten his learners permit and the law stated that he was incapable of driving a car without a licensed driver in the passenger seat, a law he had obviously ignored.

The crash had apparently been deafening and the accident had woken the entire family and nearly half the neighbours. Within minutes of his accident, her parents came downstairs and began screaming at her brother for his negligence. Their yells had woken up the rest of the neighbours but Arya had slept through the whole thing. She did not even know about the ordeal until Jon told her when she woke up in the morning.

She had no idea how Gendry tried to rouse her but he could have kicked her in the ribs and she would still be asleep. There was one thing that did not make sense to her; why was he apologizing? “Why did you try to wake me?” Arya asked him, still trying to shake off the sleep and weariness from her body.

Gendry smiled at her. “Well, I thought you would have preferred a nice hot breakfast, but waking you proved to be a much more difficult task than I initially thought.”

This snapped Arya wide awake. She was not sleepy in the slightest but she still had a couple of aftershocks from her long slumber. She was now fully alert once she realised the aroma had not been a figment of her imagination or an afterthought of her dream. It was real.

Arya whipped her head frantically around the shed, trying to pinpoint the location of the smell. Was that what she thought it was? Was that smell, bread? Arya assumed she would wake up to stale, dry cereal or a bowl of oatmeal but, this was a treat Arya thought she would never experience again.

Gendry got up and walked to the other side of the shed, only to return a moment later with a plate full of Ovaltine, a package of soy milk and...croissants. The croissants were deformed and their ridges were slightly burnt but there was no mistaking the delightful smell. She could not believe it. When did they get croissants and how did they possibly survive for three years? Along with dairy and meat, no bread products remained because they had long past their expiration date. Yet, here she was, with a plate full of bread.

Arya did not even have to ask the question. She just looked up at Gendry, her eyes wide with disbelief. Gendry smiled at her. “We had flour, water, salt and yeast. Apparently, that’s all you really need to make bread. Hot Pie used to study the culinary arts before the pandemic. It’s why we call him Hot Pie. The day we met him he had a bunch of delicious freshly baked pies with him, and when we asked him where he got it, he told us he made it. Unfortunately, we don’t have an oven, just your little stove over there so the croissants did not turn out that good but they still tasted pretty darn delicious to me. Though they were hot then. Anyways, like I said, Hot Pie is actually an asset once you find out his hidden talent, and Lommy isn’t all that bad either. You’ll get used to the both of them soon enough.”

Arya did not respond to his comment- she was too busy stuffing her face with food. She dipped the somewhat flaky bread into the Ovaltine powder and chewed thoroughly at the delicious concoction, savouring every taste. She heard a faint click followed by a dull sizzle. When she looked up she noticed Gendry had opened a can of Red Bull.

“Is that still good?” She inquired with her mouth still full of bread. Not that she was interested in the beverage, but because Arya rarely ran into any energy drinks that were not expired.

Gendry shrugged. “Expired a couple of months ago. It has a bit of a funky after taste but I miss Red Bull. Used to drink a case every day.”

Arya frowned. “Isn’t it bad to drink more than four a day?”

Gendry shrugged. “There are only four in a case. I drank it all the time and I turned out fine.” He outstretched his hand so the can was now in her reaching distance. “Want some?”

Arya shook her head, recalling the familiarity of her conversation yesterday with Yoren. “I don’t like the taste,” she answered truthfully.

Gendry shrugged and emptied the can in a few more sips. Arya instead shifted her attention to the packet of soy milk and emptied its contents. With their large dinner yesterday and a generous portion of breakfast, for the first time in a long time Arya was actually full.

“That was so good,” Arya praised as she stretched her sore muscles.

Gendry smiled. “It’s a good thing I didn’t wake you then. I insisted that you should enjoy a hot meal but Bran convinced me to let you sleep. Says you barely get enough rest these days.”

Suddenly, Arya’s mood dropped and she began to panic. She began frantically whipping her head from side to side and it took her only until now to realise that Gendry and herself were the only two people in the shed. How could she be so stupid? So completely unobservant that she would forget about her brothers. She sprang up from her sitting position and grabbed Gendry by the collar. She was surprised by her strength as she pushed him and his back slammed against the wall.

“Oi!” Gendry protested. Arya ignored his complaint.

“Where are they?!” She screamed at him. “Where are my brothers?”

“Now take it easy there, kid. Why don’t you just chill out-”

“WHERE ARE MY BROTHERS?!” Arya was frustrated now. She glanced at the trapdoor and noticed the bindings were undone. What the hell happened while she was asleep?

Arya quickly bolted outside the door, leaving Gendry were he stood. She did not think to bring a weapon or further question Gendry concerning Bran and Rickon’s whereabouts. All she could think about were her little brothers and the dangers she had put them in, by trusting Yoren, Gendry and the others.

The light momentarily blinded her but Arya did not freeze. She ran through the wilderness, allowing her ears to guide her. She heard Gendry shouting her name from the shed, but she did not go back for him. She darted around the field until she heard a faint sound of laughter coming from a nearby forest. She knew the area pretty well- there was a pond in the middle of forest. The water was not particularly dirty but Arya did not allow her brothers to drink from the lake before she boiled the water, ridding it of its microorganisms. As she ran deeper into the woods, the laughter grew louder. Once she passed the clearing she noticed Yoren, Hot Pie, Lommy, Bran, Rickon and Weasel in the pond. Arya felt her face flush and she had no doubt her cheeks were coloured a bright crimson. The men and Weasel were bathing in the pond and they were naked.

She had seen Bran and Rickon nude before and they had seen her nude as well, but this was different. Bran, Rickon and Arya had been secluded in a confined space due to their dire circumstances. She had never seen them nude prior to the pandemic but, either way Bran and Rickon were still family. Arya was not meant to see a nude person that was not part of her family, especially not men. Arya had never been one for modesty but there were certain customs that one must uphold. Immediately she turned her back to the group of men. “I’m sorry,” she whispered in a weak voice.

To her surprise, the rest of the men did not seem to be embarrassed. “That’s alright, girl,” Yoren called from behind her. “Come on in, yer smelly arse could use a bath too.”

Arya risked the glance back to Yoren’s direction and looked at him stunned. What in the hell did he just suggest?

Yoren easily picked up on her discomfort and grabbed a towel to wrap around his waist, thankfully covering the body part dangling in between his legs. “Didn’t mean it like that girl. We’re all mature men here. Well... most of us are. It’s the end of the world; who gives the fuck about modesty anymore?”

Arya was about to say that she does. It might sound stupid to a man like Yoren, but even though it was the end of the world, the little things like modesty meant a great deal to Arya.

Just as she was about to protest, a strong booming voice came behind her. “Oi! Plan on saving some of that water for the rest of us?” Gendry asked comically.

She turned to see Gendry striding to the pond. He had two towels and a pile of clothes draped over one arm and in the other he clutched his baseball bat. A thought just occurred to Arya. If he was here, then who was guarding the shed? She marched angrily towards him and punched him hard in the abdomen. The impact of the punch seemed to affect Arya more than it had Gendry. Her knuckles were screaming in agony but Gendry did not even wince.

“Oi! What was that for? I’ve known you for one day, and already I’m your punching dummy?” he exclaimed. Gendry did not seem to be angry in the slightest- if anything, he seemed to be amused.

Rage filled her once more. Not only did he have to be stupid, but he had to choose this time to tease her. “You idiot!” She exclaimed while she punched him again. “You stupid bull-headed idiot! You left the shed unlocked! What if a Walker-”

“Now who said I left the shed unlocked?” Gendry asked her.

“You did!” Arya protested. “No one else is in there. Who’s supposed to secure the bindings and lock them in place? A Walker can come in and-”

“I did secure the bindings.” Gendry interrupted once more. “But, I secured them from the outside.”

Arya stared at him in disbelief. Lock the shed from the outside. Why hadn’t that thought ever occurred to her before? Yoren seemed to agree on the brilliance as well. “Smart, boy. Maybe I was wrong when I mistook you for an idiot.”

“Is that a compliment I hear, old man?” Gendry questioned, raising an eyebrow at Yoren.

Yoren grunted. “I said maybe. You’ve proven yourself to be an idiot more times than you’ve done something smart. Aye, so I suppose we’re finished here.” He then proceeded to dress and the rest of the pack followed his lead. Hot Pie helped Weasel with her clothes. She did not seem to mind being stark naked in front of these men, but then again, Weasel was a little girl. She did not have the certain womanly features Arya had. Though Arya was not as curvaceous as a normal woman, she was still a woman, and she felt uncomfortable with Yoren, Gendry, Hot Pie and Lommy seeing that side of her.

She helped Rickon dress and she helped Bran get into his wheelchair. The boys were freshly washed, and despite her anger and resentment towards Yoren and Gendry for not warning her about their plan, she did like the results. Her brothers’ hair regained some of its luster and the dirt caked to their skin had now vanished. Proper hygiene would dramatically decrease their risk for developing a sickness; but, other than for medical purposes, she understood how important something simple as a bath could be. Both brothers’ spirits were lifted, they had not been this clean in a long time. Unfortunately, hygiene was considered just a luxury not a necessity.

The rest of the pack cleared out, leaving Arya and Gendry alone at the pond. Yoren left them with an ample amount shampoo and soap, which they could use at their disposal. Gendry handed Arya a fresh towel and some clean clothes. He also handed her some clean undergarments and blushed like a maiden when he did so. It was strange; Gendry did not strike Arya as the type to embarrass easily.

“I’ll erm... go back to the shed.” Gendry announced. His charm had now been replaced by nervousness, which led to stuttering. He handed her his baseball bat and it nearly fell on her foot when he did so. The bat was much heavier than Arya anticipated but she held it firmly with two hands and raised it over her shoulder. Gendry raised an eyebrow at her. “You sure you can fight with that?” He asked her.

Arya was almost a hundred percent certain that she could not fight with the weapon. She struggled lifting the bat, let alone swinging it. But, there were other things in the forest Arya could armour herself with against the Walkers. A large branch, a heavy rock- the possibilities were endless. Plus, if anything got to out of hand, she still had the shotgun attached to her hip. “I’ll be fine” she assured him.

“Good,” Gendry retorted. “I won’t be too far. Just holler if you need me, kid.”

Arya punched him again but he merely mussed up her hair. She froze for a minute. She could sense the teasing behind Gendry’s action, and for a brief moment, she could have sworn his eyes turned a stormy grey and his shaggy straight black hair turned into long brown curls. He muzzled her hair, just like Jon used to.

He then turned her back on her, depositing his clothes and towel on the ground. He would come back for them later, when it was his turn to wash up. Arya was thankful that he gave her privacy. Truthfully, she shouldn’t have been ashamed. She was not a child even though Gendry certainly thought of herself as one. He would not be looking at her in that way. She would be just another Weasel to him. Despite the fact that it was the end of the world, the customs that her parents taught her to uphold strengthened her decision. After all, a boy was not supposed to see you naked before marriage. She was pretty sure none of her other siblings withheld that custom. Even the modest Sansa had given her maidenhood to that awful boyfriend of hers, Joffery. Though Arya knew she would never stumble across this problem. She was Arya Horseface or Arya Underfoot; who would want to see her naked anyways?

Once the coast was clear, Arya stripped off her dirty layers and tossed them into the lake. She began scrubbing the grime off her shirt first. She discarded her underwear and pants- they were far too soiled to salvage but she had only worn the shirt for a day. It will still caked in blood from her encounter with the Walkers, but she could easily remove a one day old bloodstain with a bit off scrubbing. She then proceeded to wash her bra. The bra was tattered with slits and holes distorting the fabric but Arya could not discard the undergarment like she had with the pants and underwear. Arya had a small chest; she was a fucking 28A for crying out loud. It was extremely difficult to find a bra her size prior to the pandemic, so it would be next to impossible now.

Once the clothes she salvaged were clean, Arya began to clean her body. She noted a razor by the stack near Gendry’s items. She was sure he wouldn’t mind if she borrowed it, and even if he did, he would never have to know. Arya rose from the pond. Immediately, the wind began to chill her body and she began shivering. She quickly strode to Gendry’s pile of clothes, grabbed the razor and made her way back to the pond; where she submerged her body in the cool water.

After shaving away all the excess hair on her legs, underarms and private, she began lathering her body with soap. It took her a long time to get out all the dirt in between her fingernails and the layers of dirt off her skin. Eventually, Arya scrubbed herself until she was pink and raw. Not an ounce of filth remained on her body. Next, she lathered a generous amount of shampoo into her hair. She lathered, rinsed and repeated. And repeated once more. Large chunks of hair detached itself from her head but Arya did not care. Where once her hair was coarse and grimy, it was now clean. No longer would she have to itch her head due to improper hygiene, though she was certain the knots would return. It’s not like she had much hair to worry over. In the middle of the pandemic, Arya sheared off most of her hair with her machete. It now almost reached her shoulders. Arya frowned- perhaps it was time for another haircut. Unluckily for her, she left the machete back in the shed. So perhaps the haircut could wait.

Arya hopped out of the pond and wrapped the large towel around her body and began drying herself off. She didn’t think it could feel this good to be so clean. As she was drying herself off, she caught her reflection in the pond’s water. Though her face was free of grime, it still wasn’t a pleasant sight to look at. Her cheeks were hollow, there were dark circles under her eyes and there was an array of pimples on her chin. Frustrated, Arya popped the pimples, leaving a series of faint red dots in replacement of the pus.
Once she was dry, she looked at the clothes Gendry had brought for her and frowned. The shorts weren’t so bad- dark blue jean shorts that were a tad bit too loose but still held together at the waist. The top however... He had given her a green wife beater with a big fat stupid acorn on the chest. Arya had never once cared for fashion- she bought clothes for comfort- but an acorn? Seriously? Grumbling Arya threw the shirt over her head. She sighed when the fabric touched her skin. Cotton. The shirt may have looked stupid but it sure felt nice on her now clean skin.

Arya began towel drying her hair when she heard a rustle of leaves behind her. Arya sighed- obviously with her luck, she’d run into a Walker just after she had cleaned up. Ignoring the bat, Arya took a large rock and began weighing it in her hand. Just one quick toss to the head and she’d kill the Walker. If she was lucky, no blood would spill on her fresh clothes.

She was just about to throw the rock when she saw Gendry come into the clearing. His eyes widened when he saw her. “I’m sorry; I thought you were done a while ago. I didn’t mean to intrude.”

Arya just shrugged. It’s not like he came in when she was nude. “It’s fine. I just finished. Your turn now.”

She tossed the rock to the ground, where it landed with a dull thud. She then proceeded to pick up the baseball bat from the floor with two hands and passed it to Gendry. He began weighing the weapon in his right hand while Arya gathered her old shirt and bra. Gendry put the baseball bat down and eyed her oddly, his gaze eyeing her entire body from head to toe. What? Was something on her face? Why was he looking at her like that?

“You look different now. Like a proper little girl.” Gendry commented, after settling his gaze on her face.

Arya scoffed. “I look like an oak tree, with this stupid acorn.” Arya gestured at the large acorn print on her shirt. He was the idiot who picked out the wife beater. Why was he teasing her about it?

Gendry just smiled. “Nice though. A nice oak tree.” He stepped closer and sniffed her, breathing in the aroma of the fresh strawberry scented shampoo. “You even smell nice for a change.”

Arya scowled at him. It wasn’t her fault that she smelled bad before. She didn’t have time for stupid things like bathing; she was too busy taking care of her brothers. In fact, Gendry out of all people should understand- he smelled foul, as if he hadn’t bathed for months. “You don’t. You stink!” Arya exclaimed as she pushed him into the pond. To her surprise, he managed to tug on her arm right before he fell, pulling her down with him.

They fell into the water with a loud hectic splash. Her new clothes were now drenched, along with the towel she was still clutching. She gave Gendry a death glare but he just laughed at her and teasingly splashed her in the face with more water.

Arya angrily stormed out of the lake and marched back to the shed. She heard Gendry’s laughter behind her but she didn’t turn around to catch his satisfied smirk. “Stupid bull-headed bastard boy,” Arya mumbled to herself as she made her way back to the shed.

Chapter Text

The sun was beaming down on her, aggravating her sensitive skin. The sunburn on her right arm grew larger in size and no amount of Calamine lotion seemed to sooth her skin. The product had been expired for about four months, but what choice did she have? They had no other medical supplies. Begrudgingly, Arya lathered on the greasy lotion every night before bed.

It seemed as if the summer would never end. It must have been at least forty-five degrees outside; the unnaturally hot weather was wearing out Arya’s body. They had only been outside for a couple of hours, and already her clothes were drenched in sweat. She had been wearing a thin white blouse and a pair of tan khaki shorts but even the flimsy garments did not protect her body from the heat. Her hair – which now reached her shoulders – was tied in a tight braid that hung down her neck. Wisps of hair detangled itself from her braid and were now plastered across her damp forehead.

Arya enviously eyed Gendry beside her. He was wearing a loose grey t-shirt and a pair of baggy jean shorts. Though she could see the thin sheen of sweat covering his body, he seemed to be handling the heat far better than her. His skin was not burnt but rather carried a healthy golden glow from their time in the sun. Arya did not think it was fair that he tanned and she burned. Was it her fault that her skin was too sensitive to handle a couple of rays from the sun? Arya sincerely wished that Yoren and Lommy would return with a sufficient amount of viable sunscreen from their current raid.

Arya was right when it came to salvaging their food stores. The food they had stolen from the Walmart was almost all gone. The vast amount of food would have probably lasted Arya and her brothers for over a year, but thanks to Yoren and his ‘rationing’, they had gone through the entire supply in four measly months. Though Arya often complained about not rationing the food well, she could not argue with the results. She had more energy than before and she gained about ten pounds in muscle and fat. No longer could she count the ribs on her abdomen and her face was now fuller rather than the hollow structure it was before. Her arms no longer felt sore after striking down a Walker and she was able to carry on more activities before tiring.

Each member of the pack had their worth. Arya had previously been hesitant with accepting Lommy and Hot Pie into the group but both boys proved their use. Gendry would often joke that Hot Pie was the housewife of the group. He would cook every meal and occasionally assist with the cleaning. The boy was brilliant behind their dainty stove and transformed their unpleasant ingredients into something Arya actually enjoyed eating. Not only was he a good cook but he was also aware of edible plants located near the shed that they could salvage. Once, when Hot Pie, Lommy and Rickon left the comfort of the shed for a quick bathroom break, Hot Pie pointed out a shrub that grew some berries that were safe to eat. The berries were sour, but after procuring a large sum of the fruit, Hot Pie managed to turn the tart berries into a delicious sweet pudding.

Lommy was useful as well. When he was a child, his father would frequently take him out on hunting trips. He taught Arya and the others how to set up snares and hunt common animals. His snares didn’t always bring home a meal but occasionally they would catch simple critters like squirrels, pigeons and one day it had even caught a rabbit. Their bodies desperately needed the protein and Arya noticed the vast differences in her own body after consuming a little bit of meat.

Bran and Rickon carried on the same tasks they always did. They would set up the fire, clean the dishes and assist with laundry. They were simple tasks but Arya was satisfied with their work load and she did not want them to partake in something dangerous. Bran did not complain about the work he was given, although Rickon wanted to do something more. Before Lommy and Yoren left on their latest raid, Rickon had begged Arya to accompany them but, of course, she refused. The task was much too dangerous and she would not compromise Rickon’s safety. Rickon was furious; he claimed he was practically a man grown and fully capable of making his own decisions, yet, he threw a temper tantrum that very day. No matter how much he begged and pleaded, he could not sway Arya’s decision. Her brother had been so bold to seek Gendry, in hopes that he could convince Arya to allow him to tag along. Gendry reasoned with Arya that Rickon would be safe with Yoren and Lommy but Arya silenced Gendry with a glare.

Yoren, Gendry and Arya’s job was perhaps the most dangerous. Along with Lommy, the four people protected the group. Their duties would range from simple tasks, such as gathering food, to more dangerous tasks, such as killing Walkers.

Even Weasel had proven herself to be useful. No one asked much of the girl; she had only turned five recently and no one expected her to partake in any tasks, although she liked to help. She would carry out simple tasks, like assisting Hot Pie, Bran and Rickon with their duties. She also often brushed out all the knots in Arya’s hair and styled it in rather impervious hair-dos. Sometimes she would tie her hair in a braid, other times in a simple ponytail, and occasionally, she would leave it down. It was for Weasel’s sake that Arya did not cut off her hair. The girl found amusement in playing with her hair, and a live human was certainly more entertaining than a Barbie doll. Gendry was right; it had taken some time, but eventually, the girl had grown fond of Arya. In fact, Arya was her favourite companion in the group- she ranked her even higher than Hot Pie. Perhaps it was because she was the only other female in the group, or perhaps it was because she liked playing with her hair. At night, Weasel would often snuggle up to Arya, and Arya found that she actually did not mind the little girl's company. Arya took special care of the child and treated her like she was her own sister. Sometimes Weasel would wake her in the middle of the night, frightened due to some nightmare, and every time, Arya would recite stories that her mother used to tell her as a child, until the little girl drifted off to sleep.

“The apples should be ripe by now,” Gendry announced, pointing to the tree beside them.

There were certain food sources Arya was aware of before Hot Pie and the others joined the group. There were a couple of trees near the shed which could bear fruit. Three of them were apple trees and one of the trees grew pears. Arya could not rely on the trees alone for food sources; the fruit only grew from mid spring to early autumn, and even then, sometimes it would take months before they could grow one delectable piece of fruit.

Gendry gave Arya a boost and she shimmied up the tree. This was a task that only Arya was capable of performing; Yoren and Gendry were much too heavy to climb up the trees and Lommy was afraid of heights. Some days when Arya was out on a raid, Rickon would climb up the trees but the others kept that little secret away from Arya. She would throw a fit if she realised someone was endangering Rickon’s safety for something as simple as fruit. Gendry would stand guard below the tree and was always prepared to catch him should he fall- which he never did, but try convincing uptight Arya that.

If not for Bran’s injury, this would be his speciality. Though heavier, he was a much better climber than Arya, and he was faster, too. Climbing was Bran’s element, though Arya and Rickon were still decent climbers. It may take them a little longer to reach the top but they still reached it.

Arya continued to climb the tree, using her arms to pull her body upwards and gracefully swinging her feet from branch to branch. Once she perched herself upon a rather massive branch at the top of the tree, she noticed that the apples were indeed ripe. Perhaps Hot Pie could make them some delicious desert out of the fruit. Arya plucked each apple from the tree, where it fell to the ground with a thud. She expected Gendry to catch them but instead he let them drop to the floor. She looked down and noticed that his arms were outstretched but he made no move to catch the falling apples. No, he was prepared to catch her should she fall, rather than saving the fruits from getting bruised. Gosh, he was stupid.

“You know, I prefer my apples not bruised,” Arya snarled, still atop of the tree.

Gendry cocked an eyebrow at her. “And I prefer the same about you. This is the thanks I get for saving your life.”

Arya scoffed. “You didn’t save my life stupid, because I didn’t fall.”

“No, but you could fall,” Gendry retorted.

“How can someone so big and bull headed be such a huge pain in my arse?” Arya countered, using the same joke against him.

Gendry just laughed at her attempt at humour. “Oi, Stark! If you’re done up there, I’d like to get home before sundown.”

Arya quickly shimmied down the tree. The descent was much simpler than the climb up the tree. She did not need to rely on her upper body strength to pull herself up and she already made herself familiar with the path on her way up. Once she was a reasonable distance away from the ground, Arya jumped. She expected her feet to hit the cold even ground underneath her but her feet where still dangling in the air after she landed. She was held in Gendry’s arms; he caught her effortlessly after she jumped, holding her as if she weighed no more than the apples she was tossing down.

“Told you I’d catch you,” Gendry winked.

Arya thrashed her body and managed to slip from his grasp, where she landed on the ground gracefully, on two feet. “I didn’t need your help, stupid!” Arya exclaimed when she broke free of Gendry’s grasp.

“As milady commands.” This was their regular routine; Gendry would often refer to her as ‘milady’, and Arya would always respond with some physical act of violence. This time, Arya kicked him hard in the knee although she wasn’t angry. Gendry was laughing away and Arya was laughing along with him.

Quickly, they gathered the apples and made their way back to the shed. They only managed to procure five apples but they also caught a squirrel earlier that day- though the gang had finished it for lunch- and they still had a bag of oatmeal and a vast amount of soup stock they could eat.

“Should we check the snares?” Arya offered. Neither Arya nor Gendry ate any protein today. Arya gave up her portion of squirrel, so there would be more meat for the children, and to her surprise, Gendry had done the same. She really hoped they would come across a rabbit. The first time they caught one, Hot Pie made a delicious stew out of the critter. Arya’s mouth was already salivating at the thought of succulent meat. Just one rabbit, was that too much to ask for?

Gendry shook his head. “We just checked them an hour ago; I doubt we would have caught anything.”

“So? That was an hour ago. A lot can happen in an hour!” Arya protested.

Gendry shook his head and muttered something about being a pain in his arse but he started walking towards the snares nonetheless. They checked all six snares and, to Arya's dismay, they were all empty. Arya sighed and sadly eyed the snares with her grey doe eyes.

“Should have eaten the squirrel,” Gendry commented.

Arya shook her head. “That was for my brothers.”

“You’re too self sacrificial for your own good, you know that, Stark?” Gendry joked. Arya did not respond. She continued to look at the empty snares. Gendry bumped her on the shoulder to wake her out of her trance. “We should get going. Maybe we’ll catch something tomorrow.”

Arya followed Gendry, as he made his way to the shed. She had to jog to keep up with his long strides. “When do you think the others will get back?” Arya inquired.

“I don’t know,” Gendry admitted. Yoren and Lommy had been gone for four days now, five officially when dawn comes. Two months ago, Arya travelled with Yoren and Lommy to the No Frills but the store was completely empty. For their eighteen hour journey, they had come home with only a couple of packets of stale chips, pop and candy bars they had found from an abandoned vending machine. It was quite disappointing, pathetic really, to spend all that time and effort for a couple of snacks that were barely edible.

When their food supply grew dangerously low, Arya announced that it was time for another raid. Unfortunately, their destination would have to be in the next city, considering they already raided this one dry. There was no guarantee they would find any food but they sure as hell had to try. Since the journey would take longer than twenty-four hours, it meant that the individuals partaking in the journey would have to sleep outside. Arya was terrified to fall asleep on an empty road where a Walker could attack at any minute but she refused to show her fear. She volunteered herself to partake in the task but Yoren seemed to understand she was not up to it. He assured her that he and Lommy could handle the job on their own and Arya did not argue with him.

Now, Arya regretted her decision in not accompanying the two men. Arya had never felt so helpless before; all she could do was patiently await their arrival and hope they made it back alive. She finally understood how Bran and Rickon felt when she ventured outside the shed. The longer their journey took, the more paranoid she got. Despite all her bickering with both Yoren and Lommy, she had come to care for both men.

After spending four months confined in a shed with Arya, Gendry was able to read her quite well. Arya tried bottling up her emotions but he could tell when something was bothering her. Whenever she was nervous, she would bite her lip- he actually caught that little tell the first day they met. “They’ll be fine, Arya,” He reassured her. She looked up to face him, her grey eyes boring into his baby blues. From her angle, and they way the sunlight shone over him, his eyes almost looked a pale green. “We’ve never had a shelter before and we’ve survived this long. What’s one little trip?”

Arya nodded her head, presuming Gendry was right. Unlike her and her brothers, prior to their encounter, Gendry and the others never slept in a shelter before. One person would be assigned the duty of Walker Watch, while the rest slept out in the open wilderness. In Arya’s opinion, sleeping outside was much too risky but Gendry and the others had survived this long- some part of their flawed scheme seemed to work for them.

As they approached the shed, Gendry shifted the three apples he was carrying to one hand, so he could perform Arya’s secret knock. Eventually, the trapdoor opened and Arya and Gendry quickly climbed inside. Gendry took the two apples Arya was carrying and handed the fruit to Hot Pie. He seemed overly delighted about the fruit and was prattling on about some desert he could create but Arya wasn’t paying much attention. She was preoccupied with securing the bindings on the trapdoor. After she concluded the trapdoor was secure, she performed her regular routine of checking the entrances. She ran her fingertips over the cracked and dented floor boards. By now, she had memorized each bump, ridge and nook in the boards. She was only feeling and looking for something peculiar.

The rest of the night passed by in a blur. They ate dinner, washed the dishes and went to sleep. Arya seldom found sleep in these past three years, so she lay awake while the others drifted off into a deep slumber. She was not surprised when Weasel made her way to her in the middle of the night, snuggling up against her body. Weasel lay her head on Arya’s chest, she dug her fingers into the hem of Arya's shirt, while her other hand grasped Arya's. Arya intertwined her fingers with Weasel's hand while the other traced patterns on her back. It did not take long for Weasel to fall asleep on top of her. She felt Weasel's steady rhythm against her body, as her chest slowly rose up and down. Arya removed the hand from Weasel's back so she could her fingertips through Weasel’s silky blonde hair. She combed out the few knots in her hair with her fingers and brushed the bangs out of her face.

She had no idea how long Gendry had been watching her. She assumed everyone had fallen asleep hours ago, so when he spoke it startled her. “She likes you.”

Arya jumped at first but she recovered quickly. “I don’t know why,” Arya admitted. “Besides, she’d probably be much more comfortable falling asleep on top of Hot Pie. He’s got more cushion.”

Gendry bit down hard on his lip to keep from laughing. He covered the palm of his hand over his mouth, muffling the chuckle that escaped his lips, so he did not wake the others. Arya did not mean it as a joke or an insult, just a matter of fact. Though when she heard Gendry’s amusement with her little comment, Arya had to bite back her own laughter.

“She’s like the sister I wish I had,” Arya remarked.

Gendry amusement quickly faded and his smile was replaced with a frown. “Did you really hate your sister?”

Arya shook her head. She didn’t hate Sansa, she never could. Sansa was Arya’s polar opposite and they frequently fought, but Arya loved her sister dearly. Sansa was always the better daughter; she was the pretty one, the smart one and the nice one. Arya, on the other hand, was referred to as a ‘horseface’, had a C average in school and scowled most of the time. Though Arya never admitted it, some days she was jealous of Sansa. She had a place in society where Arya was a misfit. It didn't help that everyone often compared her to her elder sister. Why can't you be more like Sansa? Sansa was a lady, Sansa was polite, Sansa had manners where Arya was considered to be a beast with poor etiquette.

They were silent for a moment before Gendry got up from his sleeping position to scoot closer to Arya. He lifted her head and laid it gently on his stomach. The first time Gendry did this, Arya had yelled at him and called him stupid but this happened so many times that it was considered another one of their routines. Arya found that she had no objections laying on Gendry. He began brushing the hair out of her face with his callused fingers and Arya found it so peaceful that she allowed her eyelids to flutter closed. She would never admit it but she liked sleeping next to Gendry; he was her anchor. For some strange reason, she found herself having nightmares less often in his arms, and even when she did, Gendry was always there to console her. Unlike Arya, Gendry was a fairly light sleeper and he would always awake when she was plagued with a nightmare. He could feel her body shivering and apparently she mumbled in her sleep as well. They didn’t speak about the nightmares but he just laid there and stroked her hair until she fell asleep once more.

She shifted her head to find a more comfortable position on his abdomen. Gendry barely had any fat on him and she felt the hard ridges of his abdominal muscles against her skull. “Why couldn’t you be fat like Hot Pie?” Arya whispered. “I bet he’s more comfortable to fall asleep on.”

Gendry laughed, but other than that, he stayed silent and continued stroking her hair. Just as Arya was about to fall asleep, Gendry spoke. “You look like her.” He whispered.

Arya opened her eyes and turned to face Gendry. There was no light in the shed, so all she could see was his silhouette through the bleak darkness. “Who?” she asked.

“Weasel’s mum. That’s probably why she likes you so much, ‘cuz you must remind Weasel of her. She was just as short as you but not that skinny. Not fat either- average, I guess. She had hair like yours, and her eyes were more of a bluish-grey. She was about ten years older than you are and she had wrinkles on her face instead of freckles, but still, you guys had similar features. The first time Weasel met you, I saw her eyes bulge out and I knew she thought you looked like her mum.”

“What happened to her?” Arya inquired, fearing she already knew the answer.

“Dead.” Gendry replied gruffly, a hint of anger in his voice. "Weasel and both her parents were ambushed by a pack of Walkers. Our group heard the screams but we got there a little too late. The Walkers had already devoured most of her father’s body by the time we got there and her mother was still trying to protect Weasel from the rest of the Walkers. At first we thought we could save both women but the mother already had three bites. There was nothing we could do, so Yoren just...” Gendry’s voice trailed off. Pain was evident in his voice and Arya did not need him to finish of the sentence to know what Yoren had done. He had given her the gift of mercy, similar to what Arya had done with her father.

Arya felt tears filling her eyes and she was thankful for the shed’s darkness, so she did not have to choke them back. She let the water flow freely down her cheeks, knowing no one could see her weakness but, she contained her sobs. She clutched Weasel tighter and kissed the bridge of her nose. The child was still sleeping soundly, her hand intertwined with Arya’s. Arya had never cared much for children prior to the pandemic. Sansa always prattled on about finding the perfect husband and bearing his children but Arya already knew this was not a life she wanted. She did not want to become a stupid housewife and she dreaded motherhood even more. Though now her values shifted. Even though Weasel wasn’t Arya’s daughter, she already held a great amount of love for this little girl. She could not replace the girl’s mother but she would always care for the little girl the same way her mum would have, had she still been alive.

“I didn’t know her mum,” Gendry admitted. "And Weasel doesn’t talk a lot about her, or anyone for that matter, but from what I saw... in the end, I could tell that her mum cared a lot for Weasel. You’re a good sister- you take care of your brothers really well. So along with the physical similarities and behavioural similarities, I would find it hard to believe if she wasn’t taken with you.”

Arya felt Weasel’s body tense against her and knew automatically the girl was having a nightmare. Without having to think about it, Arya brushed her hair and rubbed her callused thumb soothingly, against the smooth skin of Weasel’s hand. “Shh,” Arya whispered, “It’s just a nightmare, Weasel. It’s just a nightmare.” Though Weasel was in the midst of her sleep and Arya was positive that the little girl could not hear her, she still felt the child body relax. Soon, her breathing grew softer and more even.

She could sense Gendry smile even though she could not see him. He brought his lips to her ear and whispered, “You’re good with her,” His breath was hot against her ear. She could feel the tip of his lips brush against her skin with each word he spoke. A sudden warmth filled Arya’s belly and she lay in Gendry’s arms contently. Slowly, she drifted off to sleep. The last thing she remembered was clutching onto Weasel’s hand, while Gendry continued to softly stroke her hair.

Arya woke up to the smell of fresh oatmeal. She stretched out her sore muscles, letting out a long yawn before she rubbed the crust off her eyes. She made her way to the rest of the group, who were gathered on the far side of the shed, near the stove. Arya sat between Bran and Weasel. The little girl flashed her a pearly white smile, when she sat down next to her and Arya muzzled her hair playfully. She did not know how Weasel kept her teeth so lustrous. Arya swept her tongue over her own teeth, feeling the layer of plaque and tarter around it. She scratched her unkempt hair, which was tangled and messy. Arya was positive she looked dreadful, but she was never one to care about her appearance, and after the pandemic, she was convinced that stupid things like appearances and beauty did not matter anymore. After she settled down onto the cold hard floor, Arya noticed a bowl had already been laid out for her. She grabbed her spoon and stirred the slimy liquid around in the bowl but made no attempt to eat it. She hated oatmeal and they’ve been eating it every single day now. Arya knew that she should not be so picky- after all, food was food, and it was something they did not have a large supply of anymore. Still, Arya could not bring herself to eat the meal in front of her. Before Yoren and the others joined her group, Arya would go so far to dig up bugs and cook them for her and her brothers. Yet she was passing up on oatmeal?

Giving up on breakfast, Arya poured the entire contents of her bowl back into the pot and walked away. Someone else could eat her share. She made her way to the place where she stored her supplies and grabbed her machete, tucking it through her belt loop. Arya also grabbed her toothbrush and toothpaste with one hand and unlocked the bindings with the other. “I’m going to check the snares,” Arya announced to the group.

“I’m coming with you,” Gendry declared. He ran to her side and assisted her to unlock the remaining bindings before they head out the trapdoor. It rained last night. Everyone heard the pitter-patter of the raindrops while they had eaten dinner. It made sense, considering how scorching hot the weather had been the day before. Unfortunately for Arya, the rain had come once everyone was confined in the shed, so it did not spare her from the heat yesterday. The first thing Arya smelled was the morning dew, coating the plants around them. She took a deep breath, inhaling the delightful scent. It was certainly better than breathing in the dusty air of their current residency. The shed smelled foul; like sweat, dust and piss.

Arya slowly began making her way to the pond, while Gendry trailed behind her. The weather was still warm, but not painfully hot like it had been the day prior. Before they went to check the snares, Arya and Gendry made a quick pit stop to the pond where they could both brush their teeth and wash their faces.

“Not hungry today?” Gendry commented, obviously noting the rejection at breakfast.

Arya shook her head. “I’m sick of oatmeal. I miss real food. I’m craving a Nutella and peanut butter sandwich.” Her mouth was already salivating at the thought of the delicious snack.

With no purpose but to piss her off, Gendry teasingly splashed some water in her direction. “Maybe we should go out for a bath today. You’re starting to smell, Stark.”

Arya quickly jumped on Gendry and used all her force to dunk his head into the cool pond water. “And you needed to wash your hair. You’re welcome,” she teased as she ran away before he could retaliate.

He chased after her but Arya was much too quick. Though Gendry had longer legs, Arya was agile. Once she allowed him to catch up, the idiot began tickling her until she almost kneed him in the groin. Gendry easily blocked the blow but Arya continued to mutter crude insults at him.

They began checking the snares. The first five were empty and Arya began to feel her mood drop. Of course they wouldn't have caught anything, not with the way it was raining last night. She had already given up hope when they checked the sixth and final snare, but to her surprise, the last one carried two fat pigeons. Arya nearly squealed in delight as she snapped both of their necks before undoing the snares. Once they freed the birds, the pair quickly reset the snare before heading back to the shed.

“You better eat your share of the pigeon, Stark,” Gendry ordered.

Arya scoffed at him. “You’re like an uglier version of my mother.” Catelyn would often remind her to partake in simple activities. Arya eat your food. Arya take a bath. Arya make your bed.

Gendry laughed. “Aye and you-” Gendry abruptly paused mid-sentence and a look of fear flashed across his face. He stopped walking and grabbed Arya's wrist to still her.

“What’s wrong, stupid?” Arya asked him.

“Don’t you smell that?” He asked her.

Arya began sniffing around until she caught the familiar scent of rotting flesh. It was quite faint but, there was no denying the smell. A Walker. A mixture of fear and adrenaline pumped through her veins as Arya unsheathed her machete. Gendry, whom had forgotten to bring a weapon, armed himself with a large branch he picked up from the floor.

“Maybe it’s not here. The smell is really faint.” Arya reasoned.

“Maybe,” Gendry agreed. “But we probably shouldn’t go back to shed until we know it’s safe.”

Arya nodded her head. Rickon had closed the bindings behind her when they left and she knew her brothers weren’t stupid enough to leave the shed when Gendry and herself weren’t home. If they went back to the shed now and were ambushed by a pack of Walkers, they could possibly infiltrate her safe haven and Arya would not take that risk.

The smell was too faint to pinpoint where it was coming from so Arya and Gendry circled the entire perimeter of the forest. Just as they were about to give up their search, concluding there was nothing in the woods, they heard a rustling by some bushes.

Arya swung the machete over her shoulder, preparing to strike. Quietly, Arya tiptoed towards the area of the rustling and she felt Gendry’s presence trailing close behind her. She saw a figure move between the foliage and just as she was about to strike, Yoren and Lommy emerged from the bushes.

Arya quickly jumped back and she lost her footing, falling to the floor. Instinctively, she held out her palms in an attempt to catch herself but they just scraped against the rough pebbles on the ground. Her hands were stinging from the pain of her new wounds. Arya ignored it momentarily. Both of her allies stood a yard away from her, covered in grime, sweat and blood.

Arya quickly scrambled away from the ground and launched herself into Yoren’s arms. She made sure to distance the open cuts on her hands away from the blood caking Yoren’s clothes and skin. Yoren encircled his arms around her waist and lifted her up, embracing her in a fierce bear hug. Arya buried her face in the hollow notch of his collar bone. He smelled awful, like blood and death, but she did not detach herself from his embrace. She did not realise until this very moment how happy she was to see both men.

Once Yoren eased her back down to the ground, Arya turned and hugged Lommy. She wrapped her arms around his scrawny neck and he lightly patted her upper back. Once freeing herself from Lommy’s grasp, she looked down at her clothing. The once white blouse was now covered in dirt, grime and blood. She would probably have to wash her top along with Yoren and Lommy’s filthy garments.

Gendry did not embrace the two men like Arya did. Instead, he gave each man a firm handshake and a pat on the back. Arya rolled her eyes at the sight. She knew Gendry was just as happy to see the others finally return from their long journey, though he tried to hide it. She could tell that he feared for his friends’ safety while they were away but now he diverted back to the traditional customs; men don’t hug other men.

“Stupid,” Arya muttered, though no one seemed to hear her.

“What took you guys so long?” Gendry asked.

Yoren and Lommy exchanged a worried glance. “We’ll, um... we’ll tell you after. Yoren and I are tired- we’d like to sleep first.” Lommy muttered. The boy was a terrible liar, and though Arya wanted to call him out on it, she knew that both men indeed needed their rest. She could see the dark circles forming underneath their eyes. Their bodies slumped ever so slightly. Arya and Gendry quickly grabbed the bags and the shopping carts Yoren and Lommy were hauling, as the four of them walked back to the shed.

Arya could not tear her eyes away from the items protruding out of the shopping cart. She could see several items; water, old boxes of cereal, dried pasta, soup stock, spices, powdered candy. Suddenly her eye caught on a bright green bottle with a picture of a toddler on the cover, having her diaper bitten by a little dog. Arya quickly swiped the bottle and turned it over, so she could check the expiration date. Arya flashed a wide toothy smile; the sunscreen was still viable for another two years. She checked the SPF and noticed it was only thirty. This was nothing compared to the SPF eighty-five sunscreen Arya would typically use, but it was sunscreen nonetheless.

When they approached the door, Yoren performed Arya’s secret knock and waited. After about a minute of waiting, Yoren knocked again. There was no pattern in his rhythm, he just continued to bang the door repeatedly until it opened. “Open up, you sorry sons of whores,” Yoren gruffly spouted out, still banging the door. Gendry and Lommy snickered at his reaction.

Eventually, the door opened, revealing a very sweaty Hot Pie on the receiving end. “Alright, alright. I get it,” Hot Pie muttered. He froze when he noticed Yoren and Lommy. A big smile emerged across his sweaty face. “You’re back! About time, mates.” He stood aside to allow the four of them to enter the shed.

Shouts and cheers echoed the shed upon their arrival. Once they finished unloading all the items, Rickon grabbed the chains from Hot Pie and began locking the shed. Arya did not bother assisting him- the day was still young and Arya intended to make a couple of trips around the forest before nightfall. She would properly secure the chains then.

Yoren and Lommy stripped off their clothing, barely giving Arya anytime to turn around. Usually, she was on her guard about this sort of thing, but both men had been gone for five days, so Arya was caught off guard. She did not have to deal with this sort of problem from the others. Gendry had easily picked up on her discomfort with that sort of thing and made sure not to piss or bathe in front of her. Hot Pie was too self-conscious to strip fully nude in front of anybody, and it did not bother her to see Bran, Rickon and Weasel nude. Lommy and Yoren, on the other hand, did not feel shame about stripping down in front of her. She closed her eyes while they changed and she felt Gendry gently nudge her by the elbow when the coast was clear.

Arya allowed her eyes to slowly flutter open. Both men were now fully dressed as they began making preparations for bed. Yoren and Lommy seemed incredibly exhausted, whether it be from a poor night’s rest out in the wilderness or no rest at all. Once they finally settled down in their sleeping positions, both men fell asleep in a matter of minutes. Yoren’s snores echoed across the shed and Lommy’s breathing fell into a steady rhythmic pattern.

Arya tiptoed her way across the shed, searching through the supplies the two men brought home. The rest of the pack followed her lead and all six of them began silently digging through the items. There was an ample of food and some basic essential supplies. To Arya’s delight, Yoren and Lommy had even procured a box of tampons. Arya was initially embarrassed because it was Hot Pie who found the box first and hastily threw it at her. They also managed to take a couple more bottles of Advil – all of which were expired – and a couple of vials of penicillin. She also happened upon an old bottle of Jack Daniels. Arya let out a sigh- only Yoren could be thinking of alcohol at a time like this.

After rummaging through most of the items, Arya proposed that they go back to work. Gendry and Rickon left the shed to wash the pile of filthy clothes as well as the soil bucket. At first, Arya offered to go with Gendry but Rickon was persistent in leaving the shed. Reluctantly, she agreed; she had to give her brother some freedom, and she knew he would be safe with Gendry. Plus, laundry was perhaps the least dangerous activity out there.

Bran and Weasel began organizing the supplies; separating food and water from other supplies and essentials from non-essentials. That left Arya to assist Hot Pie with the cooking. Arya grabbed a bag of rice, while Hot Pie began boiling the water. Arya dumped a generous amount of rice into the pot, aware of Yoren’s objections should they cook too little. As Arya and Hot Pie waited for the rice to cook, they began preparing the rest of the meal. Hot Pie taught Arya how to properly skin and gut the pigeons. Though she really tried to help, Arya’s pigeon was only a quarter way plucked and gutted when Hot Pie intervened. He made quick work of both birds and Arya could only sit there in awe, watching him easily skin both pigeons.

As the rice continued cooking, Hot Pie began adding a variety of spices. While Hot Pie was tending to the rice, Arya tended to the apples. She carefully washed each piece of fruit and the knife she would cut them with. For added measure, Arya doused a bit of Yoren's alcohol onto the knife, sterilizing it. Arya grabbed two smaller pieces of fruit and laid them separately for Yoren and Lommy. She then cut each apple into eight slices, leaving four slices for each member in the group. Hot Pie, Arya and Bran also agreed to leave an entire pigeon for Yoren and Lommy. Both men had taken a huge risk leaving the shed, in their attempt to save the group. It was obvious that neither Yoren or Lommy had the opportunity to eat as well as the others during their absence. It seemed only fair that the men should have a greater portion of food, if only for today.

When Gendry and Rickon returned, Hot Pie had just started mixing the chunks of pigeon into the rice. Arya told Gendry her idea of leaving the entire pigeon for Yoren and Lommy and he seemed to agree. The six of them ate their lunch in silence- a large sum of Spanish rice mixed with pigeon, a few slices of apples, and a cup of fresh water to wash it down. Each person tried chewing softly, so they would not wake the two sleeping men. Arya mentally cursed herself every time she chewed on her share of the apple, eliciting a loud crunch.

The food was delicious. The rice, pigeon and apples were a pleasant change to their regular meal of oatmeal and chicken broth. In the corner of her eye, she caught Gendry unloading some of his food into her bowl when he thought she wasn’t looking. Arya was about to protest, but she was really hungry. After all, she skipped out on the meat last time and she missed breakfast this morning. Though that did not stop her from feeling guilty that Gendry was giving up a portion of his share for her. After all, he had passed on the meat last time as well, and it was Arya's own fault for skipping breakfast. Selfishly, Arya pretended that she did not notice Gendry’s generosity and continued eating the bowl of rice, though this time, she kept her eyes placed firmly on the bowl so he could not try that little trick again.

Once everyone completed their lunch and finished washing the dishes, Yoren and Lommy awoke from their slumber. They already set out their food for them- two large bowls of rice, one pigeon and two whole apples. Yoren and Lommy barbarically began tearing through the food. Arya was right; they had eaten as much as they slept. She was glad she made the decision to leave them with a bit more meat and fruit than the others, as they both deserved the extra food.

Arya enviously eyed the other men as they began gorging down their meal. Arya knew she should not be angry- after all, both Yoren and Lommy had risked their lives for the sake of the rest of the group- but Arya could not stop her mouth from salivating as she watch Yoren greedily suck on the greasy pigeon bone. Though Arya had just eaten her lunch, she was by no means full. The meat looked so delectable, and Arya found herself imagining the bits of pigeon slithering down her throat, as it had moments before. She licked her lips at the thought and noticed the others were doing the same.

“We’re going to go clean up,” Gendry’s voice called behind her.

Yoren and Lommy momentarily stopped eating to look at Gendry. Yoren wiped the grease slithering down his chin with the back of his hand. “Aye, boy. We’ll join you after lunch. ‘Bout time, too- you lot are starting to stink.”

Arya was grateful for Gendry’s interference. She did not think she could take another moment of watching Yoren and Lommy scarf down the food. Arya grabbed Bran’s wheel chair outside, while Gendry carried the boy to it. It would take Rickon and Arya hours to get Bran off and onto that thing with a great deal of exertion, but Gendry lifted Bran effortlessly, as if he weighed no more than a baby.

Hot Pie, Rickon and Weasel carried a stack of towels, clothes and a bag filled with cleansing supplies as they scurried out of the shed. Arya took the stack of clothes out of Weasel’s hands and laid them across Bran’s lap. She then took the heavy bag of cleansing supplies and slung it over her shoulder before making her way towards the pond.

“Perhaps we should check the snares first,” Gendry suggested.

The thought of fresh meat made Arya’s stomach growl. It had been only a few hours since she and Gendry last checked the snares but a critter could have easily been captured in that time. “Alright,” Arya agreed as she happily began marching towards the snares.
She felt a firm hand on her shoulder, stilling her movements and turned to face Gendry. “I don’t think we need that many people to check the snares. Maybe you should erm... you know...”

“Oh,” Arya whispered the word so quietly that the word was only audible to herself. Arya bit her lip and looked up to meet Gendry’s gaze. Arya had called Gendry stupid on several occasions, but he seemed to be much smarter than he let on. In reality, they did not need to check the snares until it was closer to dinner time, as they would not be cooking any meat for a quick snack in between. Gendry just offered to check the snares, so he could give Arya her privacy in the pond.

Arya was already holding more than the necessary amount of cleansing items in her hands so she just made her way to Bran and grabbed a towel and a pair of clothes before making her way to the pond.

When Arya finally arrived at the pond, she quickly discarded her clothes before submerging herself into the murky pond water. Once she surfaced, she realised the water was much colder than she last remembered it to be. Arya slowly got up into a standing position and immediately shivered once her shoulders were exposed to the brisk cool air. An array of goosebumps began forming on her arms and it took Arya until now to realise that it was cool outside.

She was still wearing the same shorts she had worn yesterday and an even thinner shirt, but unlike yesterday, her body was not sweating profusely. In fact, Arya was not sweating at all. The temperature wasn’t unbearably hot, but it wasn't cool either. This could only mean one thing...summer was coming to end. Normally, Arya detested the hot season but now she did not want it to disappear. For a first, Arya was actually dreading the cold winter months. Even though Arya did prefer the cold to the unbearable heat, winter signified the end in most of their food resources. The fruits will stop growing and there will be no more critters to catch if they are all hibernating. Not only will their natural food sources take a hit but it would be harder to procure food as well. Travelling in the hot summer sun – though uncomfortable – was far simpler and faster than travelling in a foot of snow. In winter, the days are also shorter, giving Arya and her pack less time to gather the food and run back to the shed before the sun sets.

Arya sighed. Perhaps winter was not coming after all. This could just be a cool day- it did rain a lot last night. Tomorrow could be just as brutally hot as the day before. Even if the summer was ending, it’s not like Arya could do much about it. She shook the thought from her head and began cleaning herself.

It had been a very long time since Arya had last taken a bath. She and the others would only bathe when necessary – basically, until they began to reek. Typically, this meant she would bathe on a rough average of once a week. Prior to the pandemic, Arya would shower every morning. Sometimes, she would even shower twice or three times a day, depending on the amount of filth she would gather on one of her ‘escapades’, as her mother liked to call it. Arya enjoyed playing sports, which made her filthy more often than not. As soon as her mother would see the dirt caked under her fingernails and the soot covering her petite face, Catelyn Tully would point a finger at the general direction of the shower and Arya would have to clean herself up.

She no longer had the luxury of bathing every day. There was always some work that needed to be done which would take priority over the bath, and it was hard to detach herself from the rest of the group so she could get some privacy in the pond. She did not enjoy herself in the pond but rather scrubbed vigorously against the soot and dirt caked into her skin. She did not have time to soak her body to relish her time in the cool water; it would not take long for Gendry and the others to check the snares and Yoren and Lommy would most likely come straight to the pond after lunch.

When Arya hopped out of the pond, she was pink and raw. A faint smell of orange blossoms lingered on her skin from the soap, and she detested it. Perfume always bothered her; the unnaturally sweet fragrance gave her migraines, so she would always stay clear of scented products, but they did not manage to find any unscented soaps or shampoos. She had to make do with the supplies she had and the smell of orange was certainly more pleasant than that of sweat and blood.

Quickly Arya began dressing herself. She wore a pair of loose jeans and a black Metallica t-shirt that formally belonged to her brother Jon. The fabric was unpleasant against her skin- she must have worn it a million times, and the fabric had began to get ratty. Just as she was zipping up her jeans, she heard a faint rustle of leaves behind her. Arya turned to find Rickon approaching her to check if the coast was clear. Arya nodded her head in response to his unasked question, so he began to fetch the others.

Arya rolled up her jeans so she could waddle her way through the shallow end of the pond. With the exception of Bran, who was seated at the shallow end, the rest of the men were closer to the centre of the pond. Arya turned her back towards them so the only two people who remained in her line of vision was Bran and Weasel. Weasel could not go to the middle of the pond without assistance, as she was too short to touch the bottom and she did not know how to swim. Arya kept her in the shallow end, where she began to bathe the little girl.

Arya was scrubbing Weasel's hair with a banana and coconut scented shampoo, when Yoren entered the clearing. "What the bloody hell are you lot still doing here?" He grumbled.

"Nice to see you, too, old man," Gendry commented from the centre of the pond.

"Where's Lommy?" Hot Pie inquired.

"Aye, that boy still be finishing up his meal. Slow eater, that lad is. He'll be joining us when he's done." Yoren commented while stripping off his clothes.

Luckily, Arya had been prepared for this and she averted her eyes from the elder man as soon as he entered the clearing. Yoren waddled his way to the centre of the pool and Lommy joined the group about ten minutes after.

"Did the snares catch anything?" Arya inquired as the men began getting dressed.

"Nah," Hot Pie responded. "There wasn't anything. Too bad; now that we have flour, I could have made us some pigeon pie."

"We can set up more if you like," Lommy offered. "The more snares we set up, the more likely we are to find something or we can just hunt the animals."

Arya shook her head. "We should probably get back to the shed. We can cook some pasta and eat some of Hot Pie's berry pudding. We'll set up more snares tomorrow."

"We still have a couple of hours before sundown," Lommy insisted.

"Yeah, but we have to secure the trapdoor and you know I like to make sure the entrances are all secure way before sundown." Arya remarked.

"Right th-the... the bindings" Lommy stuttered out. "I'm going to go unlock it now. You know how long it takes to get those blasted things off." Lommy said before running off to the general direction of the shed.

"What's up with him?" Gendry asked, now fully clothed as he took a seat beside Arya.

"Don't know," Yoren admitted. "Probably still freaked out about our little camping trip. Be nice to sleep peacefully without having to worry about a bloody Walker eating your face off."

After everyone donned their clothes and gathered their items, the seven of them began making their way back to the shed. A cold gust of wind blew in their direction and an involuntary shiver went down Arya's spine. She could not believe that it was so hot only a day ago. The wind tangled her hair, blowing wisps of hair in her face. Frustrated, she took the hair tie from her arm and tied her hair into a sloppy ponytail.

When they arrived to the shed, they saw Lommy hunched over on his knees panting. The bindings were unlocked from the shed and thrown in a disarray on the floor.

"What's wrong with you, boy?" Yoren called from the distance.

Lommy jumped up, startled by the sudden call of Yoren's voice. His face was a bright red and his eyes were shot wide with fear. "N-nothing" he stammered. "Just tried to untie the bindings before nightfall that's all."

"Aye, but we still got a long time before that," Yoren retaliated.

"Yeah, but I know Arya likes securing the entrances way before the sun goes down," Lommy said.

Arya knew Lommy was acting oddly. Normally, he was so easy going and carefree about her system. He never found the importance in repetitively checking the bindings before, so why was he making such a big deal out of them now? Perhaps Yoren was right; their trip must have really frightened Lommy. She briefly wondered what happened to the two men while they were out in the road.

"Are we just going to stand out here or go inside?" Hot Pie grumbled. "It takes a while to cook, you know, so don't start complaining to me when you lot get hungry."

Arya made her way to the trapdoor and opened the door. Once the entrance was wide open, Lommy quickly looked inside. "What?" Arya demanded. He was acting much stranger than usually and it was really starting to get on Arya's nerves.

"Nothing," Lommy murmured, although he looked relived. Arya just shrugged off his odd behavior and jumped inside the shed. The crates of food and supplies were still haphazardly arranged around the shed. Arya and the others would probably have to properly arrange the supplies while Hot Pie was cooking dinner if they wished to have more room to sleep.

Yoren handed Arya Bran's wheel chair and she propped it open near the trapdoor's entrance. After securing the brakes, she signalled Gendry that she was ready to take Bran. Gendry leaned into the entrance and slowly eased Bran into Arya's arms. Her brother was getting heavier but she still managed to drag him to the wheel chair with Gendry's assistance.

"Got him, Stark?" Gendry inquired.

"Y-yeah," Arya huffed. Gendry slowly eased his weight off Bran when Arya got him close to the wheelchair. She was just about to sit him down before she was brutally knocked over.

Arya hit the ground hard as her hold on Bran slipped. She was dazed for a moment, the room spinning before her. She heard shouting in the background and everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. It was eerie- it felt as if she was in The Matrix. The voices began drowning out and her senses suddenly got heightened. She did not smell the Walker until just now. The strong perfume scented cleansing products must have drowned out the smell of blood and death, but now, the smell hit her like a ton of bricks.

The Walker climbed over her body and pinned her to the floor. It was a rather hideous looking creature. There was no skin on the Walker, simply a hideous arrangement of muscle and bones. It had long flowing white hair and the scariest blue eyes she had ever seen. Its razor sharp yellow teeth came plunging down her neck and Arya just managed to grab the Walker by the jaw before it bit her. Suddenly, everything returned back to normal speed. She struggled with the Walker on top of her. It was trashing frantically, trying to free itself from her grip so it could eat her. Arya did not know how much longer she could keep this up; the Walker was twice her size and almost triple her body weight. She could not give up now- if the Walker managed to free itself, Arya would be a dead woman. His teeth were inches away from her throat when his body suddenly slumped over hers. Gendry was on the opposite side clutching a baseball bat. Arya saw the Walkers blood seeping down the bat, there was a heavy amount of gore coated around the weapon and Arya absently wondered how hard Gendry hit the Walker. She slowly nudged the body to roll the Walker off of her. She tried pushing the body harder but it wouldn't budge. Arya suddenly grew panicked and she desperately struggled with the body on top of her. Gendry dropped the baseball bat and it hit the floor with a loud clang. He made quick work of rolling the dead body off of her and then he lifted her up by her arms, so she was now on two feet.

"You okay?" He asked her. His voice was gruff and she could see Gendry's entire body shaking.

Arya quickly moved her hand to her neck and ran her fingertips over the smooth skin. She took a breath of relief, "I'm fine. I don't think it bit me," Arya assured him.

Gendry sighed and brushed the hair away from her neck as he ran his callused fingertips over her skin. She shivered at his touch, although she figured it was probably due to the aftershocks of the attack. "I thought I'd lose you," Gendry admitted.

Arya shrugged. "Are the others okay?" Not waiting for an answer, she whipped her head behind her and saw Hot Pie, Rickon and Weasel hunched in a small semi-circle with their back facing against them. Two more Walkers lay dead on the floor, a couple of inches away from Arya's feet.

"Well, that looks like the last of 'em," Yoren announced. The wooden bat was swung around his shoulder and there was a thick layer of blood and grime coated all over his clothes, skin and hair. So much for the bath.

How did they even get inside? Arya absently wondered. She heard a sniffling coming from Rickon and suddenly Arya grew panicked. Was he hurt? No, he was outside the shed when the attack happened. The only two people inside were Arya and... Bran.

Arya ran her way over to the huddle and saw Bran lying down on the cold hard floor. His legs were still disfigured and his shirt was soaked in blood, but that's not what frightened her. Arya let out a wail as she sunk on her knees beside her brother. He had a large bite on his neck and a smaller one on his left arm. "Br-Bran," Arya stuttered, the tears falling freely from her cheeks.

He looked into her eyes and slowly raised his hand towards her. Arya quickly grabbed his hand with both palms and brought his fingertips to her lips. He looked tired- no, he looked exhausted. The three stages of a transition started with exhaustion, a high fever and then pain. No, Bran would not turn. He could not turn. He was just a boy! Just a little boy! "You're going to be alright Bran. I'll clean the wounds and-"

"No, Arya" he said calmly. "I'm not going to be okay."

"No!" Arya screamed. "No! You're going to be just fine! I just have to clean the wound-"

"Arya," Bran begged. "Please, it's okay. I'm sick of living in this world. All I did was slow you guys down. You and Rickon will be better off without me."

"No, Bran! You're not going anywhere. You're going to stay, just stay. Please, just stay with me," Arya begged. Her flow of tears were pouring heavily onto Bran's arm and chest. She pressed her head to his chest and wept. "You can't go. You can't leave me. Not yet, not now. Please, Bran, don't go." Arya cried.

She could hear Rickon's whimpers beside her and he was clutching his brother’s hand as well. The three siblings were a pack- they had been ever since their father died. “Take care of them like I never could." Her father's words rung in her head, "Promise me you’ll take care of yourself. No matter how tough it gets, never give up hope. Can you promise me that, Arya?” Bran couldn't die, not before her, at least. Arya made an oath to herself that she would die protecting her brothers, yet here was Bran before her, with two bites in his body, and Arya did not have the power to save him. She had never felt so helpless before.

A hand clamped down her shoulder. Arya turned around to face Yoren. His eyes were sad and sympathetic. Arya wanted to yell at him. Don't feel sorry for me! She wanted to shout. Bran's going to be fine, he has to be fine! "It's not fair to keep him like this any longer, girl," Yoren said stiffly.

Arya stared at Yoren blankly for a couple of moments. His words did not register in her mind. It was not until Lommy handed him the shotgun that Arya understood what he was talking about.

"No!" She screamed, flinging herself over Bran's body. They could not shoot him, they would not shoot him, not if Arya had anything to say about that. If they wanted to kill Bran, they had to go through her first.

To her surprise, Bran was taking the situation well; he had already accepted death for himself. But Arya had not.

"It's okay, Arya," Bran said. "I don't want to be a Walker. Remember what happened to Mom? I don't want that happening to me. You did a good job protecting me and Rickon. This wasn't your fault, none of this was your fault. I couldn't have asked for a better sister."

"No, Bran, don't say stupid things like that. You're going to be okay." Arya sobbed.

"I love you, Arya,” He looked at Rickon. “I love you both."

"They shouldn't see this," Yoren announced behind her.

Suddenly, a pair of strong arms wrapped around her waist, tearing her away from Bran. "NO!" Arya screamed. She tried keeping her grip on Bran's hand but the person carrying her was much too powerful. She saw Rickon getting carried away by Lommy, and Weasel was taken by Hot Pie.

Arya thrashed her body with all her might but Gendry's grip on her was much too strong. She could hear him grunting behind her. No matter how desperately she tried to escape his grasp, she could not do it. Arya tried kicking and punching him but he trapped her limbs the same way he had done the first time they met. Arya flung her head back to head-butt him- it had worked for her before, but this time, Gendry was prepared and dodged her blow. "Let me go!" Arya screamed. "Let me go! Let me go! LET ME GO!" Arya had to get to Bran now, before Yoren-

The sound of the gun going off was deafening to her ears. As soon as she heard the sound go off, Arya's body went slack. Bran was dead. Gendry loosed his grip on her and cradled her in her arms.

"S'okay," he whispered.

That was all that Arya needed to hear before she wept in his arms.

Chapter Text

Arya perched herself upon a large oak tree. She had wandered off from the rest of the group when they started making Bran's funeral arrangements. She did not want to be there when they buried him. A funeral had such finality to it- Bran was dead, and there was nothing she could do to change that. But Arya wasn't ready to say goodbye to him just yet.

She heard people yelling for her when she ran off. Arya had no idea what they said- their words were incoherent to her ears. They probably wanted her to stay for the funeral. They chased her for a while until Yoren commanded everyone to just let her be. Gendry argued, stating that Arya should be there when they bury her little brother, but Yoren disagreed. They only had a couple of hours before the sun went down, and it was either bury Bran now, or leave his body for Walker chow. Arya was thankful that Yoren called off the others; she couldn't bear to face any one of them right now. She couldn't even stand to look at Rickon; his resemblance to Bran was uncanny. The last thing Arya needed was to dwell on the recent events in regards to her younger brother.

Arya ran away from the group, wanting to distance herself from everyone else. She did not want to be anywhere near that funeral. She did not want to hear the sound of digging nor did she want to hear any tears that were shed. She did not want to think about the funeral at all. She was out of breath from running so fast yet she did not slow her pace. She didn't care that her lungs were practically on fire; in fact, the pain helped- it momentarily distracted her from any thoughts of Bran and the Walkers.

Arya ran until she came across a large oak tree. She did not know what possessed her to climb the tree; the only thing she knew was that she had too. Some of the bark on the tree was slashed and the pattern of bark made it appear as if the tree had a face. It looked to be...crying. Arya only thought it deemed appropriate that she should chose this tree to inhabit herself in.

She climbed the branches, all the while hearing Bran's voice in her head, instructing her on the proper techniques of climbing. When Arya reached the top, she cried. A stream of endless tears fell down her swollen cheeks. She did not find it appropriate to cry in front of the others. Other than Rickon, no one else loved Bran like she did. For all she knew, the others just considered Bran to be a nuisance and another mouth to feed.

Okay, maybe that wasn't entirely true. Maybe they did care for Bran. It was possible that the others thought of him as a friend, but, they most definitely did not love her brother, and they did not know him either- not like she did. It seemed wrong for them to grieve with her.

After she felt like she had cried all her tears, Arya slumped against the trunk. Her body fit perfectly into the grooves of the tree. It was as if she was meant to be here.

Arya laid her head upon the massive branch of the oak tree. The bark was rough against her skin, but for once, Arya did not mind the pain. She barely even felt it. She had cried herself out long ago and there were no more tears to be shed. She no longer felt sad or angry. She felt nothing. No thoughts were flowing through her brain; she just silently watched the landscape in front of her. It was like she wasn't even there anymore. Arya Stark was now just an empty shell; the wild soul that once inhabited her body was now dead.

Arya watched the vibrant colours of the sky before her. The sun was setting and night would settle in much sooner than she would have liked. She knew the smart thing to do was run back to the shed before the sun fully set, yet she could not bring herself to do so. At this point, she no longer cared about anything. Even if the Walkers found her and attacked, she would not resist them. She had welcomed death with open arms. She wanted everything to be over. No matter how much she tried to bury the pain, it was still gnawing away deep inside her soul. The pain consumed her, pulling her into an abyss of darkness that she could not escape from. Soon, all her emotions began pouring over her, engulfing her in a stream of endless pain.

Arya wrapped her arms over her legs. Her entire body was shaking, and no matter how hard she tried to hold herself together, she could not. It wasn't fair. She should have died, not Bran. It was her own carelessness that had brought death upon her brother. She should have picked up the smell before she jumped inside the shed. She should have inspected the shed before bringing her brother inside. She should have known anything could have been hiding behind those boxes. She should have done a lot of things. But she didn't. She failed to protect her brother; she failed to fulfil her father's final wish. Most importantly, she failed herself.

Arya heard her name being called out in the distance. Why were they looking for her? Why did they even care? Why couldn't they just let her be? The voices grew louder and Arya flinched at their proximity. She shifted her gaze to the ground beneath her and saw a large man shouting her name - Gendry.

Arya momentarily considered replying his call but decided against it. Unfortunately, when she shifted back into the grooves of the tree, the leaves rustled, betraying her whereabouts.

"Arya?" She heard Gendry's voice call.

Shit. Arya shifted her gaze to the ground and she saw that Gendry had spotted her. His expression was neither surprised or angry; he looked to be filled with remorse.

"Come down, Arya,” he begged. “Please,” he added for good measure.

"Go away," Arya snapped rather harshly.

Gendry did not shift his position- he was much too stubborn to take no for an answer, so he stood his ground. "The sun will set any minute now; we have to get inside."

Why did he talk to her like she was an idiot? She lost her brother, not her mind. She could see that sun was setting and she knew the consequences of staying outside after dark. " We don't have to do anything. You can go, if you're afraid."

Gendry arched an eyebrow at her. "Don't think Walkers can climb?" he asked. Arya shrugged her shoulders. "Even if they can't, you'll fall asleep eventually, and then you'll fall off. If the fall won't kill you, the Walkers will." Arya didn't respond. She just stared blankly at the landscape, avoiding Gendry's gaze. She heard Gendry sigh. "And what about the kid? Rickon just lost a brother; you want him to lose a sister as well?"

Arya bit her lip. During her breakdown, she forgot completely about Rickon. She had already failed one brother; she couldn't fail the other one as well. Gendry was right. Of course he was right; she had to live for Rickon. Now that she really thought about it, Arya did not want to die; she was terrified of death. "I can't go back," Arya mumbled. The shed was no longer a viable option for her. It was the place where Bran died and the memories of the attack would continue to torment her as long as she kept living there.

Gendry frowned. He was not upset or angry by her statement; it was almost as if he understood. "I suppose we could sleep outside." Gendry offered. "It won't be as safe as the shed, but the others can have their sanctuary. I'll stay out here on Walker watch with you. We can find a new shelter tomorrow."

Arya furrowed her eyebrows. She did not understand why Gendry was willing to risk his life for her. They had known each other for only four months; surely it was not for the mere reason that he cared for her. Arya was willing to sacrifice herself for Rickon, but not for Gendry, nor any of the others. He was probably just more egotistical than she thought; after all, he had survived without a shelter for three years. What was another day to him? Arya did not know if she would survive the night without a safe haven. She surely could not sleep with the threat of Walkers looming about. Arya was at an impasse; the shed or the outdoors.

"One night." Arya stated. "Just one night, and then I'm leaving."

Gendry nodded, seemingly relived by her suggestion. "One night," he agreed.

Arya quickly shimmied down the tree. Once she was a reasonable distance away from the ground, she jumped. Arya was not surprised that Gendry caught her, but unlike all the other times, he immediately set her to her feet.

As soon as Gendry placed her feet firmly to the ground, they both broke into a run. Arya pushed her feet as far as they would go, knowing the threat of nightfall was hanging over their heads. The vibrant colours in the sky had known disappeared and all that was left was a stormy dark blue horizon. They were too late. Night had fallen.

On cue, five Walkers emerged from the clearing and began heading their direction. Arya froze. The machete was still attached to her hip but she made no move to retrieve it. She stared dumbly at the monsters in front of her. She was frightened and it clearly showed. One Walker was closing in on her but Arya could not find a way to move her muscles. She was in a state of shock, temporarily freezing her entire body.

Gendry came from behind her and swung his bat at the Walkers, killing three monsters in three seconds. The other two were still coming towards him. He momentarily paused the attack to shout a word. "Run!" he commanded. Gendry broke her out of her trance. Arya stared at him from a few moments before she turned her back to him and ran. She did not want to die and her only hope was to make it to the shelter now. Four more Walkers emerged from her right and began making their way towards Gendry.

Arya chewed on her bottom lip. She did not think Gendry could take six Walkers on his own, and who knew how many more would come. She stared at the path ahead of her. She could see the outline of the shelter not far from her current spot. There were no Walkers in that present area; she could quickly run to the shed, and the others would let her in, and she'd live. It was a simple choice. Or, at least it should have been a simple choice.

She turned to look at Gendry behind her, who was now taking on all six Walkers at once. He seemed to be struggling with the enemies before him. His jaw was clenched and she could see the strain in his biceps with every swing he took. For every Walker he would kill, two more arrived at the scene in its place.

It was Arya's fault that Gendry was battling the Walkers. If she hadn't run away, both Arya and Gendry, along with the remaining five members of the group, would now be safely concealed in the shed grieving over Bran. But Arya had been stupid enough to leave the shed so close to sundown, leaving her vulnerable to the Walkers. The others scurried off to the shed, abandoning her and leaving her to fend for herself but Gendry came back. The easy way out would have been not to come back for her. Any sane person would done so, yet he didn't. He may have been stupid and bull-headed, but he did come back for her. And now, he was going to lose his life for it.

Arya sighed and watched the battle before her. Gendry was struggling with the Walkers. She could see there was less strength behind his hits; it was evident that he was growing tired. Just run, stupid, Arya chastised herself. He was the idiot who told you to run in the first place, so run. He's not worth risking your life over. Though Arya tried convincing herself to run to safety, she could not leave Gendry behind. Not when he had saved her.

Arya began running towards Gendry and the other Walkers. She unsheathed her machete and charged the two closest to her. Blood splattered across her face when she killed both Walkers. She had swung her machete a little harder than she intended to, which did not only kill both Walkers, but decapitated one of them as well. Her arms did not feel sore after she struck down both enemies; perhaps it was because she was growing stronger, or perhaps it was the adrenaline flowing through her blood.

She saw Gendry, who was surrounded by four Walkers. The one behind him charged but Arya saw to him before he could attack her friend. She swung her machete, denting the Walkers skull. The creature immediately slumped to the ground, laying dead by her feet. It seemed Gendry did not notice her presence until that very moment. His face and clothes were submerged with blood. He smelled foul, like his body was decaying, though that smell was probably just the residue from the Walkers. He stared at her with shock, momentarily forgetting the enemies around him before one of the Walkers attacked. Automatically, Gendry swung his baseball bat and the fight resumed.

Arya and Gendry made quick work of the Walkers before them but more came emerging from the woods. This was impossible- there was no way they could fight all of them. She could hear Gendry panting beside her, and Arya was tiring out as well. They could only keep this up for maybe ten or fifteen more minutes but they definitely would not be able to survive the entire night with these unnatural beings.

The pistol was still strapped to her hip. Three bullets remained inside the shell; again, they were not enough to kill the Walkers before her but she could use them to kill herself and Gendry. She didn't have another option; the Walkers would overpower them, and it was either die now, or turn. Arya put away her machete and grabbed Needle. You can do this, Stark. Just pull the trigger.

But she couldn't. No matter how much Arya tried to convince herself otherwise, she did not want to die. Not today. She couldn't die today. Arya heard a rustle in the bushes to her left. At first, she thought it was another army of Walkers but, a pair of antlers caught her eye. It was a deer! A big one as well; rich with meat and proteins and nutrients. Arya quickly formed a plan in her head. A gunshot would no doubt attract a large sum of Walkers to her current area but Arya could not think about that right now. There was only one motive in her mind right now, and that was survival.

She pointed Needle directly at the deer. She had one shot to make this count. If she missed, the deer would scurry off, and any hopes of Arya's and Gendry's survival would diminish. She had never shot the gun from such a far range before; she wasn't sure if she could shoot her target. But Arya had no other choice at the moment; she had to try.

The Walkers were closing in on her. She saw Gendry battling them in the corner of her eye. He did not seem to notice what she was attempting. Perhaps he was too distracted by the enemies before him. Arya aimed the gun, in what she believed was the deer's face. She couldn't be sure if the bullet would pierce her target but she had to try; it was now or never. Arya pulled the trigger, eliciting a rather loud bang. Everyone momentarily stopped what they were doing; the Walkers were confused by the noise, Gendry jumped at the sound of the gun going off and the deer looked up to face his death.

The bullet did not hit where Arya had planned, but it hit the deer nonetheless, right in his left leg. Nice aim, Stark. Her shot had been tremendously off, but at least she was able to wound the deer, if not kill it. Blood began splattering out of its leg, and the animal let out a whine of pain. The sight of fresh blood attracted the Walkers. They temporarily forgot about Gendry and Arya and began running towards the wounded animal. The deer tried running away but was confound in place due to his injury.

Gendry stared at the sight in shock. His mouth had gone slack as he was took the scene in. "Come on," Arya urged, tugging at his arm. This was their only opportunity to escape the Walkers, and they had to take it now.

Gendry gave her a curt nod of his head and they both sprinted towards the shed. As they ran, Arya heard the deer's whines turn into piercing shrieks. Arya flinched; there was no doubt in her mind that the Walkers were eating the deer alive.

Arya arrived at the shed first and began frantically performing her secret knock. Gendry arrived seconds later. He was out of breath, hunched over his knees and panting.

There was no answer. Arya knocked again, but the door remained shut. Arya bit her lip until she tasted blood. Of course they wouldn't open the door; it was her own rule to never unlock the bindings after nightfall. The wails of the deer abruptly ceased and Arya immediately knew that the creature was dead. Arya sighed- it would not take long for the Walkers to devour its carcass and then come searching for Gendry and herself.

Just as Arya had given up hope, she heard a click and a loud clatter of chains tumbling onto the floor. A few seconds later, the trapdoor opened. Arya immediately ran inside the shed without a second thought. Gendry was right behind her and he quickly closed the trapdoor behind him. Frantically, Arya, Gendry, Yoren, Hot Pie, Lommy, Rickon and even Weasel began securing the bindings.

The gunshot had attracted several Walkers to their area. Within minutes, there was clawing and knocking outside the shed. They wanted to get in, and all Arya could do was desperately pray that the bindings were secure. It was not like this hadn't happened before. Occasionally, a Walker would wander off to their shed and attempt to get in but there was never plenty of Walkers to cause a ruckus. Eventually, the Walker would get bored and wander off. However, the gunshot acted as a catalyst, drawing possibly hundreds of Walkers to their shed.

Everyone in the shed was silent, the only sounds echoing through the walls was the steady pattern of breathing of the seven residents. Arya felt something grab her hand and she automatically flinched from the touch. She looked to her right and saw Weasel beside her. She looked up at Arya with tears shimmering in her big green eyes as she made a move to grab her hand once more.

Arya swiped her hand away from the little girl and turned on her. "Stop it!" Arya screamed. At the sound of her voice, the banging on the shed grew louder. "I'm not your fucking mother! Leave me alone!"

Weasel broke out into an endless stream of tears and started wailing. Gendry scooped the little girl in his arms and began rubbing her back, whispering lies. "It's okay. She didn't mean it," he said. But she did mean it. Arya was not Weasel's mom, and she no longer wanted the girl to think of her as one. Rickon was her only priority right now. Everyone else could go to hell for all she cared. No matter how much Gendry tried to reassure her, Weasel would not stop crying. Her wails were so loud that it actually drowned out the chaos occurring outside of the shed.

"Now you've done it girl." Yoren grumbled out.

"What I've done?" Arya demanded.

"Aye, you need to learn to shut yer trap." Yoren instructed.

"Yoren," Gendry warned.

Yoren dismissed his warning. "I get it, you lost your brother today, but don't you think for one moment that you're the only one who's ever lost someone. I lost my brother in this fucking war too. William, his name was. Now you don't see me acting all fucking psychotic, do ya?"

Arya clenched her fists by her side. It took all the willpower she had not to punch Yoren in the face. "I. Am. Not. Acting. Psychotic." Arya spat out through clenched teeth.

"Yes you are!" Yoren was yelling too now. "If it wasn't for your stupid breakdown, Gendry would have never left to go get ya! The seven of us would be safe inside this shed, and we wouldn't be under attack!"

Arya kept her mouth shut after that outburst. Yoren was right. This was her fault. She should never have ventured so far from the shed near sundown, despite the given circumstances. She just didn’t know if she could take being confided in this place any longer. Five paces to her right, there was still a dried blood spot from where Gendry killed the Walker on top of her. Ten paces away from that...was the very place where Bran died. Arya’s eyes fixated on the spot for a while, images of her little brother dying in the corner bombarding her mind. Arya wondered if there was a heaven. Would Bran be happy right now? At peace? Would he be there with Mother, Father, and possibly the rest of her family? Was it pointless saving herself and Gendry? Would they be happier in the afterlife?

No one slept that night. The Walkers outside their shed seemed to give up after a couple of hours but sleep would not come for anyone. Too much had happened today: Bran had died, she and Gendry almost died, Arya yelled at Weasel and Yoren fought with Arya. The tension in the shed was palpable.

No one had eaten dinner and eventually their biological functions began catching up to them. Hot Pie wordlessly cooked up some food and the rest of the group ate in silence. Arya ate the food without tasting it; she wasn't even aware of what she was eating. It could be pig shit for all she knew but she was too distraught to care.

No one dared go outside to relive themselves. Everyone used the soil bucket, and though Yoren was still mad at Arya, he still had to courtesy to turn away when it was her turn.

No one sat beside Arya in the shed. Even Gendry, who was always on her side, kept his distance. Weasel was huddled in between Lommy and Hot Pie; she was too frightened to even meet Arya's gaze. Arya sighed inwardly; she hadn't meant to yell at Weasel, but she just snapped. Something had changed within her after the death of her brother. She had lost almost all of her family. For all she knew, Rickon was the only other Stark left. She wondered if her brother hated her too now. Arya had not only failed to protect Bran, but her foul mood set off everyone in the shed.

In the middle of the night, Rickon had crawled his way over to her. He sat beside her and shot her a hesitant look. Arya only had to open her arms for him to jump into her embrace. He wept in her arms and she held on to her brother tighter. She could do nothing to console him; she couldn't possibly tell him everything was alright, nor could she promise him his safety. Bran had been one of Arya's top two priorities, and she had let him slip through her fingers.

"I love you," Rickon announced and pressed a wet slobbery kiss on her check.

Arya did not dare wipe of the trickle of salvia flowing down her cheek. She hugged Rickon tighter and brushed her own lips tenderly against his forehead. "I love you too,"

A bright ray of sunlight shone through the door, and Arya knew it was time to say goodbye to the safe haven. She had already packed two large bags with food, water, medicine and weapons. She did not know what to do with herself. She knew the smartest and most logical thing to do was to remain in the shed. Even though the Walkers had infiltrated the shed once, it was still one of the few places that kept her and Rickon safe from the Walkers. It was irresponsible to leave and take Rickon with her. Arya did not even know if there was another alternative to the shed. For all she knew, she would never run into another safe place and she'd be forced to sleep in the wilderness with the threat of Walkers looming about. No matter how much her mind argued that this was a bad idea, her heart would not listen. She wasn't ready for closure just yet, and living the remainder of her days in the place that Bran died would be torturous for both Rickon and herself. Staying was not an option, and, though Arya hated it, she had no other choice but to take her chances outside.

Arya grabbed the larger backpack and swung it over her shoulders. She then grabbed the smaller one and handed it to Rickon.

"And where do you think you're going?" Yoren demanded.

Arya hated his derogatory tone; Yoren was treating her like a child. All the respect he built up for her had quickly evaporated after the little stunt she pulled. "I'm leaving," Arya announced rather harshly.

Yoren's eyes widened and his face softened. It was obvious that he knew she was not leaving on a minor trip around the area. He knew she meant that she was leaving and not coming back. "You don't want to live here anymore." Yoren said. It was more of a statement than a question.

Arya shook her head. "I can't live here anymore," she corrected. Yoren sighed and wiped his face with his large, meaty hand. "You guys only wanted the shed. Well, now it's all yours," Her tone was bitter.

"Now, hold on a second girl, what kind of a man do you think I'd be if I let a little girl and little boy go out there on their own?"

"I'm not a little girl!" Arya yelled. She was a grown up, and she thought she had proved herself to Yoren already. Evidently, his skull was too thick to process any of that information.

"No," Yoren began. "You think you're not a little girl, but ya are, and I'll be damned if I let ya get yerself killed. We're a pack, remember? We stick together."

Arya entertained the thought of Yoren and the others accompanying her. Unlike the first time when they offered to tag along, she saw only the risks and not the benefits from their company. "No," She stated. Yoren and the others were bad influences; their carefree lifestyle led her to take more risks, and look how great that turned out. She had lost one of the only two people she had left. She lost her brother, who she would play with when she was little, who would help her pull pranks on Robb, Jon and Sansa, whom would cover for her when she did something particularly dangerous or bad. She had lost her best friend.

Yoren and Arya stared at each other for a long hard moment. He eventually tore his gaze away but Arya did not waver. She had to show him that she was adamant with her decision and would not be swayed easily. "Oi! You sorry sons of whores! Grab all yer shit; we're leaving!" Yoren shouted.

Arya was fuming. She could not see herself, but she could practically feel steam coming out of her ears. "Now don't ya give me that look," Yoren wagged a finger in her face. "You haven't been out there in a while. Things have changed, and it's for the worst. Remember what happened to ya yesterday? Don't ya think for one second that won't happen again. Ya need back-up, and no matter how feisty and strong ya think ya are, yer stupid if ya think you can handle all them Walkers by yerself. Now, we'll follow yer rules this time, and I'll force 'em all to listen. That includes me too, but, I'm not letting ya go out there on yer own."

Arya did not understand Yoren's motive behind his decision. He was simply putting his life in danger in order to ensure her and Rickon's safety. She did not understand why this group cared a lot for each other; in the real world, they would never even be considered friends. Everyone was just so different from the rest: Yoren was the big scary man that any sane person would avoid, Gendry was an athletic ‘catch’ that all the stupid Sansa-like girls would fawn over, Hot Pie was the fat nerd that liked to cook, Lommy was the bully with the hunting hobby, Rickon was the whiny temperamental boy that no one wanted to play with, Weasel was the shy and sweet little girl, and Arya... well, Arya was the misfit. She was the freak, the horse-face, the wild girl. Arya was the person that no one would have ever considered a friend in real life. The socially awkward boy trapped inside a girl's body. The girl who preferred playing sports (especially fencing) over going shopping. She was temperamental, stubborn and a downright bitch at times. In the real world, none of these people would want to be her friend. It was the reason why she had no friends. So why did this group work so well together when the world had come to an end? How could this group of seven polar opposites actually work effectively with one another to survive?

Arya knew she needed the others. Rickon had never faced a Walker before and she could not face all those zombies on her own. She watched the scene in front of her. Everyone was packing up their stuff and exiting the shed; there was no question, no protest, no second look back at their safe haven. They were a pack, and a pack stuck together.

Arya removed the bindings and stored them in one of the shopping carts. They kept her alive for this long- surely they would be of use in their new safe haven. Once they exited the shed, the smell of rotting flesh hit them like a pile of bricks. The stench was awful; blood, entrails and other substances coated the grass they walked on. As they made their way into the forest, Arya spotted the deer carcass to her right. The Walkers had not spared even the tiniest slab of meat. All that was left of the poor animal was a large pile of bones. That could have been Gendry, Arya thought. She glanced up at the large man on her right. His coal black hair was clinging to his face again and there were bags under his eyes from the lack of sleep. Her stomach did a little flip as she looked up at the older man. She momentarily imagined what it would be like waking up to find his bones on disregarded on the forest floor. Her stomach knotted at the thought and Arya felt like she was going to retch last night's dinner.

Her gunshot had attracted many Walkers to the area, and even though it was now daylight, many of the creatures still lingered. The group did not go ten minutes without running into at least one Walker, but normally they would come in groups of four to six. Arya's arms were sore after only a couple of hours into their journey. She mentally thanked Yoren and the others for accompanying her. Arya did not think she could handle all this on her own. Gendry was a powerhouse, killing Walkers left, right and centre. Yoren wasn't bad either, and even Lommy seemed to be handling things better than her.

The journey proved to be uneventful. They did not come across any forms of shelter. Yoren suggested heading to one of the grocery stores but Arya refused. She wanted to stay as far away from the city as possible.

Hot Pie was the first to complain. "I'm tired, cold and hungry. No one slept last night, and it's already dark. Why can't we just take a break?"

"We have to get as far away from the shed as possible," Arya replied coldly.

"Why?" Hot Pie whined.

Arya resisted the urge to thwack him upside the head. She had yelled at Weasel last night, and Arya did not think beating up Hot Pie would sit well with the others. "Because, I shot the stupid gun. The Walkers were attracted to the noise, and there are probably hundreds of them lingering around that area. The more distance we put away from the shed, the less Walkers we'll run into."

"Might be the boy's right. We should take a break." Yoren piped up.

Hot Pie sighed in relief but Arya glared daggers at Yoren. Didn't he understand how serious their predicament was?

"We haven't seen any Walkers for a while now," Lommy chimed in. "Maybe we're far enough."

With that, everyone dumped their belongings on the ground. Arya resisted at first but she knew the others were right. A lot had happened yesterday, and now all she wanted to do was sleep. Her body was exhausted. Her eyes were getting droopy, and though she knew she'd probably have nightmares tonight, her body still needed the rest or she'd most likely collapse the next day.

Arya took a ratty old pillow and a blanket from the shopping cart, preparing her bed. She had noticed that everyone kept their space from her. Lommy and Hot Pie made their beds beside one another, a few feet away from Arya. Weasel was probably the furthest away from her. Arya knew she should probably apologize to the little girl but she just did not have the will to do so at the moment. Gendry slept beside Weasel, and Arya could not help but feel hurt by his betrayal. He was always good to her; no matter how many times she punched him, yelled at him or called him stupid, he would always stand by her, yet today he kept his distance like the others. Rickon was the only one who remained loyal to Arya, and placed his bed right beside hers. He was already snuggled up in his blanket and beckoned her with his eyes to sleep near him.

Arya lay down beside her brother and wrapped her right arm around his shoulder. He settled his head in between her chest and her armpit. Just as Arya was about to close her eyes, Yoren called out: "Alright. We take the watches two at a time. The Stark girl and I have the first watch. Gendry and Hot Pie have the second. Lommy and Rickon, you're last.”

Arya sighed, sleep alluded her once more. She turned to Rickon and kissed him on the forehead before getting up and sitting beside Yoren. Her blanket was still wrapped around her arms. The weather seemed to be growing colder as the days went on. It was hard to believe that it was only a couple of days ago when Arya was rubbing calamine lotion over her body, to sooth her sunburns.

Yoren and Arya sat together side-by-side while the others drifted off to sleep. They were both silent for a long time. Arya adjusted the blanket draped over her body and occasionally rubbed her arms, seeking friction to warm herself up.

Yoren sat beside her with his back hunched over. He toyed with the flask in his hands before taking a sip from it. He wordlessly handed the flask to Arya and this time she did not reject his offer. She grabbed the flask roughly from his hands and took a large gulp of the liquor inside- too large of a gulp. She had drunk the alcohol much too fast and began choking on the liquor. Yoren chuckled softly as Arya kept coughing, attempting to clear the liquid from her airway.

"I take it you don't drink," Yoren commented as he grabbed the flask from her. He took a sip of the alcohol and handed it back to her when he was done. "Take it easy, girl. It's whiskey, not soda." He advised.

Arya nodded, and this time she took a small sip from the flask. The whiskey tasted terribly bitter, and it burned her throat as she swallowed it. It also left a warm feeling in the core of her chest. "Why do you drink whiskey?" She inquired.

"What's that, girl?" The man asked, clearly not understanding the question.

"The first time you offered me alcohol, I told you I didn't like the taste. And you said that you don't drink it for the taste. So why do you drink it?" She asked innocently.

"Ah," Yoren sighed. "Don't really know. Suppose 'cuz they say it helps you forget, but then you sober up and you remember again. You remember all the shit that happened in your life that made you drink in the first place. You remember the pain. Then you can't deal with it, so ya drink some more. It’s a never ending cycle.

“The shits terrible for ya though. My own dad died of alcohol poisoning. The shit kills your liver and fucks with yer mind. I knew it was bad for me. But I guess when William died, I blamed myself, ya know? Like how you're blaming yourself for the kid. I feel like it should have been me, not 'im. Can't kill myself 'cuz it feels like such a fucking surrender, and it would be such a waste 'cuz I made it this far. So I guess I let the alcohol do that for me. I just can't find it in me to stop. I don't want to stop." With that, Yoren took another swing from the flask.

Arya chuckled. "What are you? A fucking psychologist now?" She grabbed the flask from him once more and brought her lips to the rim. She took another sip from the flask but did not flinch when the alcohol moved down her throat. It burned but it was a good burn. She handed the flask back to Yoren. The bitter residue of the whiskey remained on her lips and Arya found herself licking them clean, desperately seeking every ounce of alcohol, bringing it into her system.

"They all hate me," Arya confessed as she shifted her attention to the sleeping bodies before them.

He snorted. "Nah, they don't hate you. Think you're the only idiot to have a mental breakdown? Happens to the best of us."

"I yelled at Weasel." She insisted. "I risked all of your lives. If it wasn't for me, we'd still be in the shed and-"

"And that makes you human. You're still a girl. Not just that, but a teenage girl. I'm fed up with all this bullshit of you trying to pass yourself off as an adult. Teenagers snap, they have breakdowns and this was before the blasted Walkers too. Don't be so hard on yourself. They're all trying to give you some space. Think none of 'em has ever pulled what you just did? Gendry nearly smashed everything in his path after his Uncle died."

"So, you don't think they hate me?" Arya asked. Her bottom lip was quivering and she bit down hard on it, to suppress the shivers.

Yoren just smiled at her. "Nah, they don't hate you. Just 'cuz I yelled at you back there doesn't mean that I don't like you. If I was really pissed off at you, I'd thwack you upside your head with me baseball bat. I yell at you 'cuz I do care 'bout you, Stark, and I don't want you to turn into some bitter old fool like me."

"Why?" She demanded. "Why do you care about me?"

Yoren turned to look at her. "'cuz you remind me of him.” Arya arched an eyebrow at him and the man chuckled. "Ya remind me of me brother, William. You're a lot alike, ya know? Both of yer stubborn, impatient, and ya both have the worst tempers I've ever seen." Yoren laughed. His face then softened as he continued to speak. " But, you're both brave, smart and ye'd both do anything for yer family."

Arya smiled to herself. She was happy that Yoren wasn't angry with her and had never stopped being her friend. His conversation reminded her of the same one she had with Gendry about Weasel's mother. "Did I look like him?" Arya asked.

Yoren shook his head. "Nah. Looked just like me though. The man was ugly as shit." He snickered.

"So am I," She admitted. She didn't know why she said that, but it was true. Sansa and her friend Jeyne Poole would always call her Arya Horseface. Arya was ugly, and the pandemic did nothing to help her in that case. She was too skinny- she barely had any hips and breasts. She smelled foul, her hair was tangled, and she had acne for crying out loud. No, there was no way Arya could ever be considered pretty.

She expected Yoren to sympathise with her or gruffly admit that she was ugly and move on to the next topic. She half expected him to ignore her but instead he laughed. He chuckled loudly though he made no attempt to cover it up. Arya expected that the others would awaken due to the noise Yoren was making, but no one even stirred.

"Just because you've got a little dirt on you and you smell like shit don't mean that you're ugly." Yoren grinned.

Arya shook her head. "I was never pretty. Everyone used to say so. They called me Horseface or Underfoot."

"And by they do you mean other teenage girls?" Yoren asked, quirking his eyebrow.

Arya nodded. "My sister and her friend Jeyne and..."

"Jealous bunch of twats," Yoren announced, taking a swing from his flask. "Don't ya be listening to them. They're just jealous 'cuz you're beautiful."

Arya nearly choked on the air she was breathing in. Did Yoren just call her beautiful? She had never been called that before. Her dad sometimes said she was pretty, and so did Jon. Her mother said she would be pretty if she would keep the dirt off her face, but they were just family. They had to say she was pretty even though she wasn't. But she never had someone outside her family call her something other than ugly. Though a lot of people did say she resembled her late Aunt Lyanna and she was supposed to be one of the most beautiful people in the world. Arya was shocked that they would even consider herself and her aunt in the same sentence. She settled on the fact that they must have just meant she had the same hair and eyes as her aunt. She never once considered herself to be pretty like her.

"I'm pretty sure you're the only person who thinks I'm beautiful." Arya commented bitterly.

Yoren laughed before he noted the seriousness of her expression. "You don't see it, do you?" he asked.

"See what?" Arya inquired.

"The looks you get," Yoren answered. All the humour in his voice was replaced and he was looking at her intently.

"What looks?" Arya demanded.

Yoren didn't answer her but he just shook his head and laughed. Arya could have sworn he muttered something about a boy being strapped in for a tough ride. Before she could call him out on it, he abruptly changed the conversation.

The rest of their shift passed by in a blur. They changed their conversation into less serious topics and exchanged stories about their pasts. Turns out Yoren was a cop, and a pretty good one at that. His brother, William, was in the navy. Yoren was considering enlisting alongside his brother. It was a very noble career but he just wasn't ready to give up his freedom.

Walkers had infiltrated their camp on more than one occasion. They only came one at a time or occasionally in pairs, so Arya and Yoren did not need to wake the others. They made quick work of the zombies and calmly returned back to their conversation.

After what seemed like forever, Arya and Yoren woke Hot Pie and Gendry so they could take over their shifts. Arya settled herself beside Rickon, who was sleeping soundly. His steady breathing and the warmth radiating from his body lulled her to sleep.

The nightmares began. Bran's death played over and over again in her sleep. Every time, she was too helpless to save him.

Arya tried running to her brother but, she could not move her legs to take her there. She was forced to watch how the Walker ripped open his throat. It didn't stop there. An army of Walkers emerged and began devouring her baby brother just like they had done to the deer. One Walker stood out to her; it was the same Walker with the long flowing white hair and scary blue eyes that tried to eat her in the shed. The Walker shifted his attention away from Bran and began making its way towards Arya beckoning the others to follow. Arya tried to run but she could not move her legs. Arya tried to scream for help, but all that came out was a soft whimper. The Walkers closed in on her and the one with the white hair sunk down to his knees, opened its mouth, and she felt his teeth graze her neck until-

Arya awoke with a jolt. Her entire body was drenched in sweat and she was shaking. It wasn't the nightmare that woke her up but rather a very frightened looking Lommy shaking her and Rickon awake.

"Come on guys! We have to leave now! There are too many of them!" Lommy exclaimed as he grabbed the shotgun and baseball bat before running off.

Arya's eyes adjusted to the vision before her. A large army of Walkers had infiltrated her camp. There were at least fifty creatures slowly approaching her, each with the look of hunger in their eyes.

"Come on!" Lommy begged. "Leave the stuff! We'll get it later!"

Arya noticed that Weasel and Hot Pie were no longer at the scene. Gendry and Yoren were fighting a couple of the Walkers but they looked to be retreating as well. "Come on," Arya urged as she scooped her baby brother into her arms. She left everything behind except for her machete, her gun and a very frightened Rickon.

Arya ran away from the Walkers. She made sure to keep hold of Rickon's hand. She could run twice as fast without him but there was no way she would abandon her baby brother. She tried following Lommy but, she lost sight of him due to her and Rickon's slow pave. A Walker emerged from Rickon's side and ran towards them both. Rickon would always beg Arya for an opportunity to fight alongside with her but in the present he cowered at the sight of the monster. Arya swung her machete at the Walker's skull, killing him instantaneously.

"Come on," Arya pleaded, tugging her brother away from the body. She knew she could not outrun them all. Somehow, she and the others would have to fight the creatures off. Perhaps if they separated the Walkers, they could kill them one at a time. It seemed like a logical plan but she could not bring Rickon along with her and she certainly could not leave him behind.

They ran into three more Walkers, who immediately began chasing the duo once they caught site of them. Shit. Arya had faced three Walkers on her own before but she never had to worry about Rickon or anyone else while doing so. Arya caught sight of a large tree with several sturdy branches, making it very easy to climb. Gendry's voice rang in her head: Don't think Walkers can climb? Well, there was only one way to find out.

Arya nudged Rickon towards the tree and he began climbing. She followed him, mimicking his path. Her brother was just as light as she was and it did not take long for both of them to climb up the tree. They settled themselves upon a large sturdy branch and watched the chaos unfold beneath them. The Walkers circled the tree but made no attempt to climb it; it was obvious that they did not know how to. Arya sighed in relief and took a moment to catch her breath.

Her heart was racing, and she was pretty sure Rickon and the Walkers were able to hear her heavy thumping heart beat. Her mouth was dry and tasted foul- a mixture of morning breath and whiskey. She reached for her backpack to retrieve her water bottle, before she remembered they had abandoned all their supplies at camp. Her mouth was parched but she had to ignore that feeling right now. Arya knew she had to go back to face the Walkers and help the others but she was just too frightened.

Arya turned to Rickon and handed him the pistol. "Don't use it unless if you really have to," Arya instructed. "Whatever you do, do not leave this tree."

Rickon looked at her with wide eyes. "Where are you going?" he asked.

"I have to help the others," Arya responded. She couldn't leave everyone else to fend for themselves. They were a pack and they had to stick together.

"I'm coming with you" Rickon announced. He grasped the gun tightly in his hands and looked down at the Walkers still pacing around the tree. She could still see the fear in Rickon's eyes but it was also accompanied by determination.

"No," Arya said. "You are not to leave this tree."

The strength that Rickon built up in these few minutes shattered as he looked at Arya helplessly. "I just lost Bran," he whispered. "I can't lose you too."

Arya moved her hands to cup her baby brother's face. She looked deep into his soft blue eyes. His eyes looked so much like Bran's, like Sansa's, like Robb's, like her mother's. "I promise you," Arya spoke with fierce determination, "if it's the last thing I do, I promise I will come back for you." Rickon just nodded and moved to embrace her in a tight hug. "Don't move," Arya commanded as she left his embrace to climb down the tree.

"I promise," Rickon reassured her. He kissed her on the cheek as he bid her goodbye.

Arya shimmied down the tree where she found the three Walkers eagerly waiting for her. Her legs were hanging in the air and the Walkers jumped up, attempting to sink their teeth into her foot but she was too high up. Arya swung her legs back and forth, propelling her body. She could hear the branch cracking with the added stress she was bearing on it. Once she gathered enough momentum, Arya let her grip on the branch go and swung herself a couple of feet away from the Walkers.

The creatures were momentarily confused by her disappearance and she took that opportunity to unsheathe her machete and swing it at their heads. By the time the Walkers discovered her whereabouts, her machete was already in full swing, giving them no time to react. Each monster died effortlessly at her feet. Arya gave Rickon one last parting glance before running into the forest to find the others.

Her journey was a dangerous one. She ran into several Walkers and was sometimes forced to take on five to six at a time. Arya was exhausted and her muscles were sore but she did not waste any of her time to rest. Her friends could be in danger and Arya had to help them.

Arya was running through the forest when she heard a shrill scream come from her right. She abruptly changed paths and ran towards the direction of the noise. As she got closer, she heard a lot of swearing. She made out the silhouette of Lommy hunched over on the ground, holding onto his leg. His baseball bat and shotgun was disregarded on the floor beside his body.

When Arya moved closer to his body, she noticed that blood was seeping out of his leg and there was a grimace plastered on to his face. She drew a sharp intake of breath, inadvertently revealing her presence to Lommy.

He looked at Arya as if he was frightened. She could not tear her eyes away from the wound on his leg. It looked nothing like a bite, more like a scratch, but it was an open wound nonetheless. "I hurt myself," Lommy quickly said. "I tripped and I fell on a rock."

Arya took a closer inspection of his wound and nodded her head. She believed him; she could still see the bits of gravel on his knee and had no doubt that he was telling her the truth. The only way to turn is if the Walker's blood entered your system, so with a scrape from a rock, Lommy was undoubtedly safe. Arya reached for the baseball bat and shotgun on the floor.

"I need help," he said, causing Arya to shift her attention away from the weapons and back to her friend. "You have to carry me," he ordered.

Arya looked at him for a moment. The scene could not help but remind her of the day Bran died. He too was injured in an ambush, though Bran was bitten, while Lommy was injured. She remembered the events that led up to his death and some pieces did not fit. Arya could not believe she was so stupid to not see this before. She had been so consumed with grief that she had failed to see the logic before her.

"How did my brother die?" Arya asked Lommy.

He looked taken aback by her question, and the fear returned back to his eyes. "Th-The W-Walkers" Lommy stuttered out. "They b-bit him, so Yoren shot h-him."

"I know that,” She snapped. “But how did they get in the shed? They weren't in there when we left in the morning and you were the last person to leave the shed and the first person to arrive,"

Lommy looked at her fearfully; he knew the charade was up. He knew that Arya now knew the truth. "I-I'm sorry" he stammered out. "I forgot to lock the shed. I never secured the bindings!" He cried. "When I saw that the door was still closed, I didn't think any Walkers got inside. I didn't mean to do it...I just forgot. I'm sorry."

Arya tore her gaze away from Lommy and looked at the shotgun in her hands. All this time she had been blaming herself for Bran's death when it was Lommy's fault. If he had just secured the bindings like he was supposed to, Bran would still be alive. They would still be in the shed and they would all be safe.

"Sorry doesn't bring back my brother," Arya muttered darkly.

She raised the shotgun and held it with two hands, pointing the weapon straight at Lommy. His eyes went wide with fear. "No!" he screamed. "No, please, I'm so-"

Lommy never got to finish his sentence. Arya already pulled the trigger and the bullet pierced Lommy's skull. She watched the life go out of his eyes and saw his body slump into the forest floor.

Arya didn't feel bad for killing Lommy, nor did she feel good about it. She wasn't scared, excited or remorseful for murdering her former companion. She didn't feel anything, only emptiness. Arya turned her back on Lommy for the final time and began walking away. It was too late now. The darkness had already taken over and Arya let it consume her.

Chapter Text

The red viscous liquid dripped down from her body; there was blood on her hands, in her hair, soaked in her clothing. The blood flowed down her cheeks and she could taste the tangy iron on her tongue, as it seeped through her lips. The red substance stained the ground, marking the once peaceful land as a graveyard. There was just so much blood. None of it was hers though. There was no scratch nor wound on her. Even all the scratches, scabs and scars she had accumulated over the years were now healed, leaving her as flawless as a newborn.

She could not suppress the shivers that ran through her body. Her entire body was shaking so violently that there was no hope in stabling herself. She had a vice grip on the shotgun she was still holding, leaving a light indent of the gun visible on her small white palms. She stared down at Lommy's corpse, laying supine, a mere two inches from her feet. His eyes were left open and his mouth was slightly agape, allowing a trickle of saliva to fall down his chin. His skin was as white as a sheet; he was paler than she had ever seen, possibly because, she was wearing half of his blood.

Arya sunk down on her knees beside her friend. She moved to close his eyes when suddenly his greasy blonde hair turned into messy auburn locks. His pale green eyes into a beautiful dark blue. And pretty soon Arya was looking at Rickon's dead body.

She screamed.

Her voice caught in her throat as she sucked in a large mouthful of icy cold air. Her throat burned at the intrusion of the harsh temperature, eliciting a soft gasp from her lips. Arya immediately jolted out of bed and turned to the body beside her. She light out a soft sigh of relief, when she saw Rickon sleeping soundly to her left. For a while, Arya just watched the steady rhythm of his breathing to prove to herself that he was indeed still alive. His shaggy auburn hair (which was now grown to his shoulders) concealed most of his face and his lips were slightly parted in an "o."

It was a dream. Arya said to herself, just a dream. No, not a dream; a nightmare. Arya disregarded her blanket and let wind cool her skin. She knew it wasn't the smartest thing to do, she would no doubt catch a cold from leaving her body vulnerable to the cool weather but, Arya liked the cold. She was born and lived most of her life in Winterfell, a beautiful city in Northern Canada. It snowed ten months a year and Arya was used to the cold climate. She liked the cold climate. If she closed her eyes she could almost imagine that she was in Winterfell right now, where her parents and siblings were sleeping in the rooms next door and Nymeria was out roaming their mansion. They were so happy back then but, then her father accepted a job offer by Robert Baratheon and they were forced to move to King's Landing; where the weather was unnaturally hot and the city was vile and polluted. Then this happened: the pandemic, the Walkers, the misery.

Arya could not suppress a shiver, as an unexpected breeze blew by. Perhaps her body wasn't made for winter after all. She considered wrapping the discarded blanket around her lithe form but decided against it. The warmth of her furs would only lull her back to sleep and Arya did not think she was psychologically prepared to handle two nightmares in one night.

Arya looked around the campsite. Though the night sky was pitch black, she could make everyone's forms, with the help of the light emitted from the fire. The flames cast a shadowy glow over everyone's bodies. Taking in the group's vast diversity in size, it was pretty simple to equate each shadow with a face. Everyone was fast asleep on the ground, curled in their blankets for warmth. During their journey, Arya did not fail to notice how miserable and tired everyone looked; she could clearly see the dark circles etched around their eyes. Their grim facial expressions never failed to elicit Arya with guilt, making her stomach churn. She knew this was her fault.

Shooting one bullet was bad, shooting two was suicide but, shooting three was just pure stupidity. The Walkers were not intelligent creatures but firing a gun three times in less than three days had been a sure fire tipoff to their whereabouts. Arya might as well have drenched her entire body in blood and guts while waving a large neon flag, screaming, 'here I am! Come get me!'

No one doubted Arya once she fed them the false story of Lommy's death. She simply told the others that a Walker had scratched the poor boy and Arya did what anyone else in her situation would have done; she put Lommy's suffering to an end. If her story had been factual, then Lommy's death would have been inevitable, there would be no hope in saving their old friend and all Arya had done was put a quick end to his suffering. It was the same thing that Yoren had done for Weasel's mom and Bran, and it was the same thing Arya had done for her father; almost the same. Arya's story had not been factual at all; just a fabrication of the truth, so she would not have to admit to the others that she had just committed a murder.

Arya still did not know how she felt about killing her former companion; possibly because she didn't feel anything. There was no remorse, anger, fear, nor any guilt consuming her. She neither regretted nor relished the fact that she had killed the gangly teenager. It didn't really feel like she was the one who killed him. It was as if there was a demon living inside of her, which took over her body in that one moment of weakness. She gave herself up to the darkness, letting the evil posses her. In that state of mind she felt nothing, so she chose emptiness over the pain she constantly dealt with; from the loss of her family and most recently, Bran.

As Arya looked around the campsite she saw Hot Pie (who was currently meant to be keeping guard, alongside Gendry) had fallen asleep. He clutched a stale half eaten granola bar in his right hand as he drooled over his ratty old t-shirt.

Gendry was awake, staring into the bellows of the fire. His baseball bat was kept strategically in his lap and his fingers curled over the object, ready to strike when needed to. He didn't seem to notice that she was awake. His eyes were filled with grief and sorrow as he stared into the flames. Arya knew he was still upset with their last minute decision of leaving Lommy's body to the Walkers. No one wanted to abandon their old friend's body but, they had no choice. They simply did not have time to dig a grave for him. To stay in their location for even a moment longer would compromise the safety of the rest of the group. Gendry initially tried carrying his corpse but, Lommy's dead weight only slowed him down and the smell of rotting flesh - emitted from Lommy's body - attracted more Walkers to their whereabouts. So they had no choice but to dump his body, conceal it in a patch of shrubs, and pray that no Walker would find it and feast on his flesh- though everyone knew the later hope was highly unlikely. The foul stench emitted from Lommy's body would most certainly attract a large sum of Walkers. Though everyone wished for their friend's body to be respected and pertain from being violated, Lommy was dead and no matter how harsh it sounded, everyone knew their priority right now was to tend to the living.

Arya moved to sit beside Gendry. She must have startled him because, his body tensed and his grip on the baseball bat tightened violently. He cocked his head to the side and once he was able to make out her face in the darkness, he immediately relaxed and his expression softened.

"Can't sleep" Arya admitted, as she stared into the fire as well.

"You can never sleep" Gendry retorted. He pulled away a part of his blanket, motioning for her to come join him. She scooted over to his side and he wrapped the large fluffy blanket over both their forms.

Arya was content. Though the blanket was itchy and rough against her skin, it was warm. And more importantly, Gendry was warm. Arya's body was like winter itself; white as snow and just as icy as well. Gendry on the other hand was different. Where Arya was ice, he was fire. His body was always warm like a furnace. Perhaps it was because, he was from the South where everything and everyone was always warm. Regardless of the reason, Arya only desired to seek out some of that heat for herself. She wrapped her tiny hands around his large bicep, to warm her palms. Gendry flinched from the cold touch but, he did not pull away nor did he hesitate to wrap an arm over her waist, drawing her much closer to him. Arya was halfway on top of his lap, when she buried her face in his neck. He smelled musky; of sweat, smoke and boy. She inhaled his scent; tasting it, relishing it. Arya could not describe how good it was to smell something, anything apart from death and Walkers. She ran her hands over his torso -desperately seeking the appropriate amount of friction to warm herself up- and snuggled in close to him. He was just so warm and even though Arya did not generally like the heat, her body seemed to crave his warmth. She felt Gendry's body go stiff beneath her and Arya immediately felt guilty. Arya knew she should not be depriving Gendry of his body heat, especially on a night like this but, she was just so cold.

She quickly pressed her palms on his chest, so she could push her body away from his but, she found that she was trapped by his arms. Arya struggled to free herself but his arms were placed firmly around her waist. She looked up, so that she could apologize to him but, her words caught in her throat once she noticed how intensely he was looking at her. Arya never noticed how blue his eyes actually where. The Tully's always had dark blue eyes. that appeared to look a dark brown from a distance but, Gendry's was so light. Not pale but, a beautiful baby blue that reminded Arya of the Northern skies. She had seen those eyes before, Robert Baratheon had eyes like that except his were always bloodshot and unfocused from his drinking and illicit drug use. They sort of resembled Stannis Baratheon's eyes as well, except where his were always hostile and unwelcoming, Gendry's eyes looked kind. His eyes were similar to Renly's except where Renly's eyes always sparkled, you could see the pain and misery behind Gendry's. Arya did not even realise that her lips were slightly parted as she was mesmerized by his stare. They were both entranced in each other before Yoren let out a rather loud and gruff snore. Arya turned to look at Yoren before shifting her attention back to Gendry. He had a small smile on his lips and Arya finally scooted off him, but still rested her head on his shoulder.

"Hot Pie is the worst guard ever" Arya remarked.

Gendry snorted, "he was annoying me so much; complaining that he was hungry and his feet were sore. I had enough and told him to shut up and go to sleep."

"But what if you accidently dose off?" Arya asked, "wouldn't it be safer if two people keep guard?"

"I won't dose off" Gendry stated rather confidently.

"But what if-"

"I won't" Gendry interrupted. Arya could not help but flinch from his harsh tone and Gendry's face automatically softened. "Sorry" he mumbled.

Arya let out a yawn as she stretched out her sore muscles. She then proceeded to crack her fingers - a bad habit always reprimanded by her nanny, Mrs. Mordane. She couldn't help it, her body was just so sore from fighting Walkers and sleeping on the cold uneven ground. "You should go to sleep" Gendry announced.

Arya shook her head as she cracked the remainder of her fingers. "Mm, not tired" she lied, though her body betrayed her with yet another yawn. It wasn't that she wasn't tired, she just didn't want to have another nightmare again. Gendry did not scold her like she expected. He merely shook his head and let out a soft chuckle.

Arya continued to rest her head on his shoulder and she found her eye lids growing heavier. Gendry started tracing comforting patterns on her back with the tips of his fingers. His touch was so soothing, that Arya slowly allowed her eyes to drift close. Everything was quiet except for the soft crackle of twigs, burning in the fire. She did not know when it happened but, soon sleep had taken her once more.

Arya woke up to the sound of twigs cracking and the sound of leaves crunching under the sole of someone's foot. Arya whined in dismay, she wasn't ready to wake up just yet, though she knew Yoren would probably wake everyone from their sleep soon. She shifted her head on the ground beneath her. Arya frowned, it was lumpy. Too lumpy. And was it... moving? Arya could have sworn the ground was slightly rising and falling. Hmm... that was strange.

Arya rubbed the crust out of her eyes before gingerly opening them. When her eyes finally came into focus, it took her a while to realise that she was sleeping on Gendry's chest. How did that even happen? Arya racked her brain, in an attempt to recall her last memory before falling asleep. The last thing Arya remembered was talking to Gendry while staring into the fire. She must have fallen asleep on his shoulder and he must have carried her to bed with him once his shift was over.

Arya looked up at the man before her. One hand was tucked under his head, while the other arm was wrapped loosely over her back. She looked up at his face and noticed he was still sleeping. His inky black bangs were covering his face, so Arya took her hand to sweep the bangs away from his eyes so she could get a better look at them. Well not his eyes, for they were still closed but, his eye lashes. She didn't realise how long they were, as they swept against his cheek as he slept. There was so much stubble covering his hard sharp jaw that he had practically grown out a semi-beard.

Arya felt her stomach flip and suddenly she felt really queasy. Shit. Was she sick? She knew throwing off her blanket in the middle of the night would come back to haunt her. It was strange, the stomach ache wasn't unpleasant at all. It almost felt... nice. Like the feeling you'd get when riding a roller coaster, except 100x intensified. The woozy feeling was also accompanied by a warmth deep inside her belly. She felt the warmth spread to her chest when she saw that Gendry was stirring. Suddenly Arya grew nervous and panicked. She quickly closed her eyes, not knowing the reason why she did not want Gendry to know that she was awake.

Arya tried to even her breathing in an attempt to make it believable that she was actually asleep. Gosh what was wrong with her?

Arya's breath caught in her throat when she felt a large, warm callused hand, brush the bangs away from her face. Arya decided to keep up the charade that she was still asleep. She felt Gendry tuck a lock of loose hair behind her ears. Her skin tingled from where he touched her and Arya could feel her stomach performing summersaults. Seriously, what was wrong with her? She couldn`t get sick. Not now. Not when they were in the middle of the wilderness and were already down one person. She would have to find some medicine in Yoren`s bag; perhaps some Pepto Bismal and some Tylenol would do the trick.

"Alright! Up you sorry sons of whores!" Yoren shouted, startling both her and Gendry.

Arya groaned. She stretched her sore muscles and slowly opened her eyes, meeting Gendry`s blue gaze.

"Morning." He greeted her with a wide smile.

"Morning" Arya mumbled back.

"Alright! Enough of your dilly dallying!" Yoren called out, as opposed to his usual, `there are Walkers out there that want to rape your corpses.'

Arya whined in complaint but, she got up nonetheless, putting some distance between herself and Gendry.

She walked up to Rickon, who was huddled by the fire. She muzzled his hair as she took her usual seat beside her little brother. Weasel met her gaze and Arya gave her a soft smile, indicating that she was sorry for her actions but, Weasel quickly avoided her gaze and looked down at her plate of breakfast. Arya sighed, she did not know when Weasel would forgive her, if she would forgive her but, right now Arya was too tired to make an effort to apologize. Weasel would come to her when she was ready. Instead, Arya shifted her attention to the plate of breakfast in front of her- Oatmeal... again.

Arya scooped up a large spoonful of the slimy liquid and shoved it in her mouth. The texture itself was off putting and the taste was simply awful but, Arya knew she needed to finish up the entire bowl if she hoped to regain her strength. It's a big bowl of melted ice cream Arya said to herself, in hopes of disguising the taste of the foul concoction. Though no matter how many times she said it, Arya found herself gagging with each bite.

It was amazing how many things she had taken for granted. She would give her left arm for a extra large box of meat lovers Pizza Hut's pizza or even a large box of Purdy's chocolate truffles. Arya hated their scarce resources.

Though Arya was whining to herself in her head, Hot Pie was the first to address the issue out loud. "We need to find some real food." He stated quite bitterly, "can't we set up some snares? I thought of a new way to cook some squirrel. You see if we boil it first-"

"We can't set up no snares" Yoren interrupted. By the tone of his voice, you could tell that Yoren was annoyed with Hot Pie and his constant belly aching. "The point of setting up snares is coming back to get 'em critters and we 'aint ever coming back ter this shit hole again."

"B-But. Why can't we just stay here?" Rickon asked.

"'Cuz lad, we need to find us a shelter. Now the rest of us fat arses aren't like you 'n yer sister. We can't climb no trees and live up there like squirrels." Yoren stated.

"Or fishes" Gendry snorted, "if Walkers can't climb, I bet they can't swim either."

Arya abruptly stopped eating and stared at Gendry in shock. She knew his comment was implied to be taken as a joke but, his words registered something embedded deep inside her mind. She could practically hear the gears grinding in her head, taking in the words Gendry had just spoken. Walkers can't swim. "Of course!" Arya blurted out.

Everyone stopped eating and turned to face Arya, perplexed by her realisation.

"If Walkers can't climb, then they probably can't swim either!" Arya explained. Well, not really explained, she just sort of repeated what Gendry was saying though everything made perfect sense in her head.

"You want us to be fishes?" Gendry arched an eyebrow at her.

Arya ignored his snide comment, she could not believe that she had never thought of this solution before. "No stupid!" Arya explained, "we need to go live in the water! Like Gendry said, Walkers can't swim. We might need to leave some days, to go on the occasional raid but, we never need to lock down our shelter and we don't have to panic about being outside after dark. We don't need to fight or run from the Walkers, we just need to go somewhere they can't."

Everyone was staring at her like she was stupid except for Yoren who was actually considering her suggestion. "You mean like on a boat or a ship?" That might work but we'd need a ton of fuel or maybe we can grab a couple of paddle boats to travel-"

"Or like an island" Arya interrupted.

Rickon's eyes widened as he came to the same conclusion as her. "The Red Keep?" he asked.

"The Red Keep." Arya repeated, confirming his answer.

Now everyone was staring at her like she and Rickon were speaking another language so Arya had to elaborate. The Red Keep was a private island owned by her father's best friend, Robert Baratheon. He would constantly invite her father and their family to the Red Keep on summer vacations.

Sansa loved going there. The island had beautiful scenery and the weather was scorching in the summer. It gave Sansa the opportunity to wear her stupid bikinis and flimsy summer clothes so she could show off for the stupid, Joffery Baratheon. Sansa was infatuated with his stupid blonde hair, his pale green eyes and his stupid weasel-like face. As far as Arya was concerned, Joffery was a dick. She hated leaving her home in Winterfell to be confined in a stupid place with the drunk Robert Baratheon and his vile, pretentious, bitch of a wife, Ceresi Baratheon-Lannister. The trip to the Red Keep was a long and tiring one and she was forced to listen to Sansa prattle on about Joffery this and Joffery that.

Arya couldn't understand what Sansa saw in that twat. He was rude, selfish and downright cruel at times. He was a spoiled little brat that got whatever he wanted or else he'd run to his stupid mommy for help, and Ceresi would do anything for her little Joffery. On top of that his physical characteristics were putrid. Arya had to admit that Joffery wasn't ugly but, he definitely wasn't what any girl should want in a man. He was puny and almost as slim as Sansa. He had no muscle to speak of, he cared about his hair more than any girl did and he smelled like roses and other sweet things. Men shouldn't look like that, be like that and definitely not smell like that. Sansa should date someone more masculine; someone with muscles, someone strong, someone with a kind heart and someone who didn't smell like fucking flowers! She should date a man, not a boy. Her sister could be annoying at times but, she deserved better than Joffery.

The pandemic occurred sometime in the late fall or early winter, meaning no one would have inhabited the island at the time of the attack. They would probably need to conduct a thorough search of the island, once they shored but, the likely-hood of any Walkers inhabiting the place was zero to one.

She couldn't tell the others the truth about how she came to know of the island. The last thing Arya wanted was for Yoren, Gendry, Weasel and Hot Pie to know she was posh. Even though it was the end of the world, she did not want the others to be intimidated by her high-status or think of her as some snooty spoiled brat. Prior to the pandemic, everyone treated her differently just because, she was rich and was technically "a lady." She did not want her pack to think of her that way. They treated her like everyone else and Arya enjoyed being thought of as an equal rather than having others praise the ground she walked on and cater to her every will. She enjoyed her independence, her freedom and Arya would be damned if anyone took that away. So she lied. She told the others of the private island, where her mother was employed as a maid. Truthfully her mom hadn't cleaned anything her entire life. The only housework Catelyn Tully had ever done was cook because, she had a fondness for baking when she was a little girl and her mother expanded that hobby into cooking. Even then, it wasn't like her mother cooked for the family. Yes, Catelyn would make the occasional snack or meal every now or then but, their main courses were prepared by the family chef, Roderick Cassel - or as Arya liked to refer to him, sir Roderick.

Rickon eyed her oddly. He was the only other person who knew that she was lying about her knowledge of the island but, he did not call her out on it.

The others were captivated by her every word and smiled at the thought of salvation. There could finally be a place where they didn't have to cower in fear with the thought that every day could be their last. They could finally roam the land freely after nightfall and look up at the stars. They could finally build some sort of civilization.

There was a large amount of fruit trees and Ceresi kept a greenhouse where the gardener grew a variety of different plants but, a large sum of those plants consisted of vegetables. Provided these resources were still available and had not dwindled away and died, they may never have to leave the island. Many critters roamed the island as well. Arya remembered that she and Bran once encountered a deer and they tried to pet it but, it ran off the moment they took their first step towards the creature. Arya felt a sudden ache in her heart at the thought of Bran. She choked back her tears and saved them for another time, when Yoren, Gendry and the others weren't around.

"This is perfect!" Yoren called out merrily. "Now how do we get to this island?"

Arya's heart sank. Shit. She didn't think about that before she opened her big mouth. Unfortunately, Arya never paid attention to how her family actually arrived at the island. She knew that they took a plane from Winterfell to King's Landing and then they boarded a ship in a large port at Kings Landing that took them to the island. Arya knew exactly where the port was but, she had no idea on how to get to the island from boat. She was ashamed to admit rather than watching their journey to the Red Keep, Arya would usually just plug in her I-pod and slump into a corner in the ship, trying to ignore the vile company of the Lannisters and Baratheons.

"I-I- I don't know." Arya shamefully admitted.

"What do ya mean yer don't know?" Yoren exclaimed angrily.

"I mean, I know where the port is. It's in the midst of King's Landing but, I don't know how to get to the Red Keep by ship. I wasn't really paying attention when we were on the boat but, it can't be that hard." Arya quickly added, "Can it?" She asked, unsure.

Yoren sighed, "suppose it's better than nothin'. Lead the way Stark."

"Well where are we know?" Arya inquired.

"Probably around Harrenhal" Gendry replied, "somewhere north of King's Landing."

"Okay" Arya began, "so we just need to go south."

"And how do we know where south is, m'lady?" Gendry asked, "It's only dawn and I can't see the sun through these blasted trees."

"Do not call me m'lady!" Arya scolded. She pushed Gendry with all the force she could muster but, he barely even moved. He laughed at her attempt at violence and Arya huffed in annoyance.

Yoren ignored their bickering, "perhaps we should wait a couple hours, until we can actually see the sun. Or perhaps we should find a way out of this blasted forest."

Arya shook her head, "we don't need to. We just follow the moss."

"The moss?" Hot Pie inquired.

"Yes" she confirmed. Arya walked up to a tree, to illustrate her point. She ran her fingertips over the green substance coating the rough bark. "My father taught me that moss grows on the south side of the tree. So all we have to do is follow the moss and that should lead us to King`s Landing, that is if we are actually in Harrenhall."

"Aye, now I knew I kept yer for a good reason. Come on lads!" Yoren announced.

He began packing their stuff when Gendry stopped him. "Wait a minute. That tree has no moss at all" Gendry announced, as he pointed to a tree to his left. "And that tree has moss growing from three sides. How do you know we won`t go the wrong way and get lost?"

"Because stupid, we follow the direction where most of the moss is growing. Look at all these trees here" Arya explained, gesturing to a large sum of plants. "They all have moss growing from the same direction, which means that way is south" Arya exclaimed, pointing at the correct direction.

It was settled, the majority of the group seemed to agree with Arya, and Gendry reluctantly followed. Arya led the way but, had to pause a couple of times, to examine the trees in order to ensure they were still going the right way.

 

"Pretty soon we`ll have moss growing out of our ears" Gendry whispered to Hot Pie, none to quietly.

"Only our south ear!" Arya declared adamantly. She stuck her lip out and pouted, though her face was fierce and her eyes unyielding. Gendry was starting to piss her off with his stupid remarks.

Teasingly, he shoved her lightly with his hand and she staggered five paces to the left. Arya clenched her fists and punched him in the arm, hard once she regained her balance but, Gendry only laughed at the blow. It was a hard hit and he didn't even wince, just another reason why he was stupid. There was something about the sound of his laughter that caused her stomach to flip again. Arya placed her hand lightly across her abdomen to settle her stomach. Perhaps some food would make her feel better. The oatmeal she ate earlier hardly counted.

She let Yoren momentarily lead the way, as she dug into one of their shopping carts for a treat. Arya came across some old beef jerky and grabbed a stick for herself. She gnawed on the salty meat, thinking it would be atrocious. In truth, it actually wasn`t that bad. It was kind of spicy, though typically, she did not usually favour spicy food because she could not stomach them. She also grabbed a kool-aid jammers juice box to wash down the dry meat with. Arya sunk her teeth into the meat stick and began chewing. The jerky was quite hard and rough in texture but, the taste was much better than oatmeal or a stale granola bar. The juice was much better, it was as if she was drinking syrup, so sweet and fruity. Arya sucked the juice box dry and licked off all the salt from her fingers. She was tempted to take another snack but, she did not want to be selfish. That food was for everyone not just for her. Despite the fact that she was so skinny, Arya actually had a healthy appetite. She would generally eat more than her brothers and Robb would often joke about where she put it all.

The others followed her lead and began rummaging through the carts for a treat. Yoren decided that this would be the perfect time to take a break and everyone else quickly agreed. As the others decided to take this moment to relieve themselves, Hot Pie quickly cooked up some lunch for the group.

The rest of the day was uneventful. King's Landing was still a long journey from Harrenhall, that would take them at least a week on foot. When the horizon darkened and Arya could no longer see anything through the bleak darkness she decided to call it a day. Everyone gathered their belongings and began making preparations for bed while Arya and Rickon attempted to start a fire. As usual, Arya and her little brother held the first shift.

It was incredible how tired Arya actually felt when she was meant to be keeping guard, though it took an effort for her to fall asleep when her shift was over. No Walkers intruded their camp that night, so it wasn't as if there was any adrenaline in her bloodstream, keeping her awake. Rickon was just as tired as well. He would yawn every now and then and Arya was fearful to see how his eyelids were growing heavy like her own. Just as she was considering waking someone to relive her and Rickon from their shift, Gendry stirred and woke Hot Pie by giving him a light kick on the hip. The poor boy nearly pissed his pants because he was so startled but, got up without complaint and relived Arya and Rickon from their duty.

Arya quickly settled herself on a soft patch of grass and beckoned Rickon to sleep next to her. Her brother awkwardly positioned his body so that he was clutching onto her hand, even though Arya was facing the other direction. Arya sighed and turned to face Rickon, grasping his hand firmly in her own. She would not have to wait long, Rickon would soon fall asleep and then she could free her hand, so she could lay on her side once more.

She let memories of her family intrude her thoughts as Rickon slowly drifted off to sleep. She could not help but wonder if they were docked on the island as well. It would make sense. Her siblings were much smarter than she was and they would probably have thought about living in the Red Keep long before she did. No. Arya would not let herself think like that. She refused to harbour any false hope pertaining to her siblings. It was much easier to accept that they were dead and to diminish any hope of their survival. In Arya's opinion, it would be worse to think they were alive, just to run into their Walker corpses in the future. At least now, if she ever discovered her siblings death, it would be much easier to accept- or at least, that's what she told herself.

When Arya was positive that Rickon was asleep, she slowly released her hand from his grasp and turned to her side. She just laid there for what seemed like hours before she was finally able to fall asleep. Her last thoughts before falling asleep, were various memories pertaining to her siblings. That night she dreamt wonderful dreams about the time when Robb, Jon, Bran, Rickon and herself decided to take up archery. Arya clearly remembered besting Bran and Rickon though Robb and Jon were far more skillful than her. She was smiling and laughing throughout the dream, as happiness consumed her. That feeling didn't last long though. Just as Arya found comfort in her dreams, that was when the nightmares began.

Sansa was always beautiful. Even in death she was a sight to behold. Her skin was fair, much whiter than she remembered - not pale but white - compared to her usual flawless golden skin. There was a large gash, marked elegantly on the side of her neck. Even then she was beautiful. Her auburn hair fell blissfully around her shoulders, in perfect red ringlets. Her eyes were closed, inhibiting Arya from seeing those perfect Tully blue eyes, though she could imagine them right now. Her cheeks were rosy and her lips a bright red. Her body was lain gracefully across the field of flowers. Petals fell from the sky, gently caressing Sansa's soft skin. She was dressed in a simple white dress and she looked like one of God's most treasured angels.

Arya sat beside her sister, though it seemed inappropriate for her to be anywhere near her. Everything looked so beautiful- except for her. Arya was caked in mud and dirt. Her hair was greasy, her body covered in blood and filth, emitting a foul stench. Though it was cliché, a large group of flies buzzed around her filthy form, marking her as an outsider. She did not belong in the same world as her sister; she wasn't beautiful, she was disgusting.

As on cue, Sansa's eyes opened and she got up to face her sister. Arya gasped. Her eyes weren't the beautiful dark Tully blue eyes that she remembered. No, they were a light electric blue colour, filled with emptiness, concealing her entire pupil. They were Walker eyes. Sansa lunged and attacked Arya, sinking her pearly white teeth into Arya's neck. Arya shrieked and squirmed but, Walker Sansa was too powerful for her. She dragged her teeth along the column of her throat and Arya could feel the liquid gushing down her body.

The blood choked her as her screams turned into gurgles. Her eyes slowly drifted close and when she opened them once more, they matched that of her sisters.

Arya jolted out of bed, heavily panting in an attempt to regain her breath. She moved her hand to her damp throat and was relieved to find that it was intact. She still had a hard time in differentiating a nightmare from reality. Everything just looked and felt so real, and she did not know if the events were actually happening or if it was all a cruel jape from her subconscious until the moment she woke up.

It was almost dawn. Yoren and Weasel were cooking breakfast, while the others lay asleep, curled in their blankets. She figured that she had only about an hour of sleep before Yoren woke up the others. Rather than going back to bed, she got up and helped Yoren and Weasel make preparations for camp.

As she predicted, it took them a week to get to King's Landing. The smell of rotting flesh assaulted her nostrils, so Arya knew they were close to the city. The forest ended miles back and they were now walking on an empty freeway. There were a couple of stranded cars on the road but their gas tanks were empty and apart from the occasional first aid kit, none were stocked with any useful supplies.

The closer they got to the city, the more Walkers they encountered. Some even came in groups of eight to ten. Yoren and Gendry joked about getting in a good work out but, Arya was consumed in fear. If they encountered this many Walkers before they even got to the city, how many would they meet in King's Landing? Worse than that, how many would they meet should they make it to the docks after sunrise?

Her arms were burning as she struck down one of the Walkers. Gendry, Yoren and even Hot Pie had their hands full with the creatures, and Rickon and Weasel were helpless in defending themselves. So Arya gritted her teeth against the pain and continued swinging her machete until the Walker was dead.

"We can't keep going like this" Arya announced, once the boys had tended to their share of Walkers.

"What else can we do?" Gendry asked, "this is the only way to King's Landing."

"We could go through the sewers" Hot Pie suggested.

Everyone whirled their heads around to look at Hot Pie. He was clutching one of the shopping carts, bent over his knees in exhaustion. His face was bright red and puffy, and he was sweating profusely. He let his weapon drop to the floor, while he was panting heavily. When everyone was silent for a while, Hot Pie looked up from his withered state, to find everyone staring at him; wide eyed and jaws dropped. "What?" he questioned.

"Th-that`s that`s-" Arya stuttered.

"That`s brilliant!" Yoren shouted merrily. He clamped his hand on Hot Pie`s back affectionately, and it hit him with a loud thwack. Hot Pie looked like he was going to double over in pain. Instead, he rubbed his back soothingly over the area that Yoren just hit.

"Thanks" he muttered, "but next time try not killing me, yeah?"

"Where do we find a manhole?" Rickon asked.

"There`s one about five hundred yards from here." Gendry announced, "from there we`ll go east, take our second right, which will take us north all the way to the ports."

Everyone now turned around to look at Gendry with a questioning look in their eyes.

"Used to work for the city" Gendry answered the unasked question, nonchalantly, "had to work on the sewers from time to time. I know the pathway like the back of my hand."

"Are they the same in every city?" Rickon asked.

Gendry shook his head, "I worked here. I was born and raised in King`s Landing."

Arya had to bite her lip to stop herself from gasping. If Gendry was born in King`s Landing then he had to know about Robert Baratheon. Though Mr. Baratheon was one of the wealthiest men in the world, he was just a business tycoon, so he was not known by most people. But, his headquarters were located in King's Landing; so if Gendry was born there then he had to know about Robert... and if he knew about Robert, did he know about her father to? Did he recognize the name Stark? Did he know who she truly was? Is that why he always called her milady? Arya stared at Gendry for a long moment but, the stupid bull-headed idiot didn`t even seem to notice. No, he couldn`t possibly know about her. Surely he would have mentioned it before. Wouldn't he?

"Alright boy, lead the way" Yoren announced.

Gendry nodded and led the others to the manhole. It wasn`t a long journey but, they still ran into several more Walkers along the way. Arya could not wait until they got to the sewers. After killing a couple of Walkers and trudging along the filthy dirt road, they finally arrived at their destination. Arya noticed the large circular slab of concrete and frowned at the size of the hole. "The shopping carts won`t fit" she announced.

Gendry nodded, "we`ll just have to leave them behind."

"Alright lads, let`s unload the supplies" Yoren instructed.

Space wasn`t an issue. They had enough bags to store all the supplies, carrying it was the problem. Arya tried lifting three bags and the weight was strenuous against her back. Her arms were already sore from fighting all the Walkers, she wasn`t sure how long she could keep this up. Hopefully the ports wouldn`t be too far. She let the bags drop to the floor as she waited for the others to finish packing their things. There was no point in straining her back just standing there and waiting.

Arya walked to the manhole. It looked to be made of concrete and had large holes in the middle. It didn`t look too heavy. Arya placed her fingers in the holes and proceeded to lift the cover, when suddenly she felt a pair of strong arms around her waist.

"Whoa there little lady" Gendry teased, lifting her in the air and away from the manhole. "That thing weighs more than you do" he chuckled.

"Shut up" Arya scolded, crossing her arms over her chest. "I`m stronger than I look" she declared stubbornly. Arya tried pushing Gendry aside so she could lift the cover but, Gendry did not cower from her intimidation.

"Arya" he stated rather seriously, "that thing weighs over 200 lbs."

Arya gulped. That was more than double her body weight. "I`m not saying you`re not strong" Gendry assured her, "but just leave the lifting to me, yeah?" Arya nodded and watched Gendry intently, as he strode over to the manhole.

"Need help there lad?" Yoren offered but, Gendry just shook his head. Was he really about to carry a 200 lbs weight by himself?

Gendry stretched his muscles and cracked his fingers. He was staring intently at the cover beneath him. Slowly he took a deep breath and squatted. He didn`t place his fingers through the holes like she expected but, carried the object from the side. Slowly he lifted the cover and shifted his hands, to get a better hold. Gendry pursed his lips and began heavily breathing in and out. His face was a bright red and his hair was already damp with sweat. Arya moved her eyes from his face and caught herself staring at his biceps. She knew Gendry was muscular but, she wasn`t aware of how built he actually was until this moment. He was wearing a tight black shirt, so she could clearly see the outline of his muscles, even through the sleeves. She could see his muscles rippling from beneath the cotton, as he strained against the weight. Droplets of sweat began pouring from his body and she watched as one particular drop, slipped down from his forehead and fell onto his arm, outlining all the ridges and muscles of his bicep.

Arya gulped, her throat felt dry.

Gendry slowly slid the cover away and let it drop to the floor where it landed with a dull thud. He sucked in a breath of relief and wiped the sweat away from his forehead. Arya still could not believe that he had carried a 200 lbs weight all by himself. She watched Gendry as he stretched out his muscles once more. While stretching, his shirt rode up and Arya caught a glimpse of his abs. She had seen him without his shirt before, but she had never once stared this intensely at the muscles coating his abdomen. She could just make out the six pack from the inch of exposed flesh. He`s strong, she thought.

"Alright" Gendry announced, startling Arya out of her thoughts. She hadn`t even noticed that he stopped stretching and had walked over to the manhole. "There`s a ladder over here." Gendry said, signaling to the ladder by the side of the manhole. "Yoren and I will go down first and make sure the coast is clear. I doubt we`ll find any Walkers down there but, you can never be too sure. We`ll tell you when the coast is clear and then Arya and Hot Pie will throw down the bags, one at a time. Weasel and Rickon will keep guard while this is all going on. If you see a Walker, don`t handle them on your own, tell Arya and Hot... tell Arya and she`ll handle it."

"Hey" Hot Pie interjected, feeling offended. Arya kept her smile to herself.

"That was directed at you boy" Yoren said to Rickon, ignoring Hot Pie`s outburst. "Now we know yer strong and all but, we can`t risk anyone getting hurt. If you see a Walker, tell Arya. And you," Yoren stated, turning to face Arya now, "if there are too many of them for you and Hot Pie to handle, call me and Gendry and we`ll climb up as quick as we can. Don`t be stupid and think ye can handle all those creatures on yer own."

Yoren waited until Arya and Rickon nodded in approval but, he still eyed Rickon and Arya warily. "Aye boy" Yoren said turning to Gendry, "you were saying?"

"Right. If there are too many of them, call me and Yoren." Gendry elaborated, "when you are done tossing all the bags, climb down. Oh and if you`re going to toss your weapon, give us fair warning first." Gendry stated rather annoyed, as he turned to look at Hot Pie.

"Hey man. That was one time and you lived" Hot Pie stated, jumping to his defense.

Arya didn`t bother to ask them what they were talking about and nor did she care. She just wanted to get to the Red Keep as soon as possible. She was glad that Yoren had put a quick end to their bickering. They had to get to the ships before night fall; it was either that or sleep in the sewers. Quickly, Yoren and Gendry shimmied down the manhole. They managed to procure two flashlights from their supplies; both of which Gendry and Yoren took down with them.

She heard a splash, footsteps and a couple of groans elicited from the two men. "Are you guys alright?" Arya shouted, "do you see any Walkers?"

"Nah girl" Yoren replied, "No Walkers but, you`d probably expect there to be some in this shit hole. Now just throw down them bags, so we can get the fuck out of here."

One by one, Arya and Hot Pie began tossing down the bags. They waited for Yoren and Gendry`s call before tossing down another. It was tedious work but long before she knew it, Arya was tossing down the last bag.

"All right! I`m tossing down my bat now!" Hot Pie shouted. "If this one hits you in the face Waters, don`t start bitching at me!"

Arya heard Gendry mutter something from the sewers but she could not make it out. Hot Pie threw the baseball bat down the manhole and then made his decent down the ladder. It took him almost twice as long as it did Gendry and Yoren but, he got down eventually and hollered for the next person to go.

Arya turned to face Weasel and Rickon, "all right Weasel you go first, then Rickon."

The little girl seemed startled when she realised that Arya was addressing her but nodded and scaled down the sewers, Rickon followed quickly after. Arya took a quick look behind her, there were no Walkers insight so she fastened her machete into her belt loop and scaled down the ladder.

Arya thought the smell of Walkers was the worst thing she had to encounter but, the reek in the sewage set a new record. She almost gagged from the smell. She tried breathing through her mouth but, the scent was so powerful that she could taste it on her tongue. The sooner they were out of the sewers, the better. She did not think she would survive sleeping here for the night.

Everyone else was complaining about the smell too. Even Yoren, who usually kept his opinions to himself, seemed distraught with their travels in the sewers. "Think after I've been spending years hunting down them fucking Walkers and travelling with this lot I'd get used ter the smell of shit."

Hot Pie turned a furious shade of crimson but, Gendry seemed nonplussed by Yoren's comment. In fact, the rotting smell of sewage didn't seem to bother him either. He led the others through the tunnels and patiently waited when one of them had to stop and catch their breath.

"Doesn't the smell bother you?" Arya inquired, sprinting a bit to catch up to Gendry.

He shook his head, "it's been a while since I worked here but, I guess I'm just used to it."

"You didn't wear masks or any protective equipment?" she asked curiously.

"No, we did. But, the smell would linger on your clothes and after a while you got used to it. Plus, trust me when I say this wasn't the worst job I had." Gendry took longer strides and Arya found it difficult to catch up to him. This wasn't the worst job for him? She couldn't help but, feel a little sad for Gendry. What other jobs did he work that could possibly be worse than sewage?

Every minute felt like an hour in the sewers. Her arms were aching from carrying the three bags and she was still not used to the smell. As they continued walking, the awful stench emitted from the sewage was accompanied by another scent; the salty smell of seawater.

"Are we here?" Arya asked hopefully.

"Almost" Gendry replied, "about another ten to fifteen more minutes and we should be at the docks."

Alright another ten to fifteen minutes. She could do that. Arya rearranged the weight she was carrying on her back. She had to bite her lip to keep herself from crying out in pain. Her muscles were screaming in agony but, she would not give in. Only fifteen more minutes, you can do this Stark. Just as Arya was giving herself a little pep talk she felt some of the weight she was carrying get lifted from her shoulders; literally. Arya turned to see Yoren snatch one of the bigger bags she was holding and place the loop around his shoulders, adding another bag to the five he was already carrying.

"You need to learn when to ask for help, Stark. I aint a fucking mind reader" he announced gruffly yet still kind, before striding past her, giving her no time to come up with a retort. Though Arya was mad at Yoren for helping her, she was relived to be free of some of the weight. Now she also had a free hand, so she could lift up part of her shirt to block her nose. Her shirt smelled like sweat, blood and death but, frankly Arya found the smell better than that of the sewages.

Suddenly everyone stopped dead in their tracks. Arya wasn't paying much attention and collided into Hot Pie, who went tumbling down the floor with her. It wasn't enough that her shoes were ruined, soaked in the dirty sewage water but, now Arya's entire body was soaking wet.

Yoren watched the site of Arya and Hot Pie, sprawled across the murky sewage water and began guffawing. Hot Pie was just as wet as she was and shot her a death glare for bumping into him. "Why did we stop, stupid?" Arya yelled at Gendry, directing the heat off her and onto him.

"Because, we're here m'lady" he replied with a grin.

Arya scowled and got back up her on her feet, wringing the water out of her hair and bits of her clothing.

This time Yoren helped Gendry remove the cover and together they managed to push the large slab of concrete to the side. Arya heard the sound of metal crushing bone and some grunts from Yoren and Gendry above. It was pretty obvious that they were taking care of the Walkers from above.

"Need help?" Arya shouted from the sewers.

Yoren peaked his head through the manhole. His hair was already stained in blood, the red liquid drying on the end of his curlicues. "Nah girl. Weren't too many of them. Pass up them bags now, so we can get the fuck outta here before more of them bloody Walkers show up."

The task was much harder going up then down. Before Arya merely had to toss the bags down the manhole but, this time she had to carry the bags on her back as she scaled the ladder. Yoren and Gendry came to assist her, as Hot Pie was utterly useless in this task. Eventually Gendry and Yoren ushered her away, as they began bringing up the remaining bags. While Arya was only able to scale the ladder with one bag at a time, Yoren was able to carry three at a time and she had witnessed Gendry coming up with four.

Arya mentally cursed her physique. If she had been born just a bit larger than she would have been more assistance to Yoren and Gendry. Right now she felt just as useless as Hot Pie. No one could blame Rickon and Weasel for their lack of effort as they were still children but, Arya was practically an adult, she felt like she needed to be contributing more to the group.

As Gendry and Yoren were bringing up the few remaining bags, Arya quickly glanced around the docks. There were a couple of paddle boats and canoes on the shore but, that would not do. There was no way they would be able to carry all their supplies on those tiny boats and only two people could fit on each boat at a time. There were a few motor boats around as well but, to her dismay none were filled with fuel. Arya supposed she would just have to settle for a sail boat as there was no other option. She had taken sail boats to the Red Keep before but, all were filled with fuel. It was much too risky going out to sea with only a sail but, what other choice did they have? She would just have to pray that the wind was in their favor.

"What you lookin' at girl?" Yoren called out.

Arya jumped, startled by the proximity of his voice. She turned around to see that Yoren was right behind her. Gendry was just making his way out of the manhole while Hot Pie, Weasel and Rickon began gathering some of their luggage.

"There's no fuel." Arya replied bitterly.

Yoren sighed, "aye, I suppose there wouldn't be. Thinking about taking a sail boat then?" he asked.

"What other choice do we have?" Arya inquired, "we have no fuel but if we were to take a sail boat... Yoren there could be no wind for weeks and what if we get lost a sea?"

 

"Well we got us enough food to last us months. Besides, I don't know about you but, I didn't spend three hours in that shit hole for nothing. Now my brother and I would go sailing all the time as lads. Right now we do have some wind blowing north-east" Yoren said, as he pointed towards the opposite direction of the sun, "but, then we have to wonder how long that wind will last. It's not too strong either but, I think we can work with it. We should also get some oars from them other boats. It might take us a shit load of time but, at least with oars we'll never get stranded."

Arya stared up at Yoren as he continued to share his knowledge about boating. She remembered that her father would take Robb, Jon and Bran on boating trips all the time. One day Arya asked if she could tag along but, her mother merely shook her head. Apparently the sea was no place for a lady. Rickon had never gone either, he was only a babe at the time of their last boating trip. It seemed that Arya had to solely rely on Yoren's expertise of boats and pray that they would make it to the Red Keep.

They made their way over to a large sail boat and Yoren started inspecting the boat. "Seems alright. Again I wish we had some fuel, but it'll do."

"Walkers?" Arya inquired. She wasn't stupid. Though the boat looked safe enough, they had to inspect the boat to ensure there were no Walker stowaways. She and Gendry began inspecting the boat while the others waited outside. It wasn't a large boat but, it wasn't particularly small either. For the most part, they could see the entire surface without even setting foot onto the boat but, there were a couple of doors and compartments that still required checking.

"Ugh" Gendry exclaimed in disgust.

"What is it?" Arya inquired as she made her way over to Gendry.

He held up a disembodied hand. The flesh was a pale grey and there was a large yellow lesion across the palm, filled with pus and other debris. Though there was no body attached to the hand, the fingers were still moving. The dirty yellow fingernails, desperately trying to scratch Gendry from afar.

"Where did the actual Walker go?" Arya inquired.

Gendry shrugged his shoulder, "just found his blasted hand." Gendry explained, as he tossed the Walker's hand into the ocean. As Gendry predicted Walkers couldn't swim, well at least a single Walker hand couldn't, and the retched limb sunk to the bottom of the ocean. Arya and Gendry continued their search but, found no other Walkers on the boat. They found some old moldy cans of tuna ,which they also threw overboard and an old broken radio that Gendry insisted on keeping.

Once their search was complete, Gendry and Arya summoned the others to the boat. Everyone quickly unloaded the supplies and then set sail. Arya was glad that they had Yoren. He was able to tell where the wind was coming from - though Arya could not even feel a light breeze - and set the sails accordingly. He began to shout out instructions but, no one really understood what he was trying to say, so Yoren performed those tasks himself, all the while muttering about being stuck in a group of useless cunts.

Once they were far enough from the shore, Arya settled herself into a comfortable position at the corner of the ship. She looked down at the waves, lightly rocking the ship back and forth. Arya took a deep breath, to breathe in the salty smell of the water. For once things did not smell like blood and death. For the first time in a long time, Arya actually felt safe. For the first time in a long time, Arya actually had hope. She was exhausted from their perilous journey and soon she found herself drifting off to sleep. For the first time in a long time Arya didn't have any nightmares.

Tonight she dreamt about home.

Chapter Text


Previously on the White Walkers...

Arya leaves the shed with Rickon, after Bran is murdered by a Walker, who mysteriously found entry into their safe haven. Yoren does not allow Arya and Rickon to venture the leave the shed by themselves and the whole pack accompanies her, to find a new safe house.

On their journey, the pack is ambushed by Walkers. The group splits off as they both run and attempt to fight the undead army. Arya finds Lommy in the midst of the battle. He has injured his leg and scratched it on a rock. Arya is about to help him when she realises that he was the last person to lock the shed and the first to unlock it, before Bran was attacked. Lommy explains that he forgot to lock the shed after he left, and that’s how the Walkers must have entered the shed. He explains to Arya that he is sorry and did not mean for Bran to die, but Arya points the shotgun at him and pulls the trigger.

She tells the others that Lommy’s scratch was from a Walker and she shot him before he turned. The groups easily accepts her lie and no one questions it.

While they are on their journey, Arya recalls an Island known as the Red Keep that was previously owned by the Lannisters. She assumes the island was unoccupied at the time of the pandemic, so she and the pack make their way to Kings Landing, attempting to find the Red Keep and claim it as their new safe haven.

During their journey, Arya and Gendry’s bond seems to grow closer. Arya feels weird, unexplainable feelings, in the pit of her stomach when she and Gendry are placed in intimate situations.

Finally they arrive at the ports of Kings Landing and find a boat, to take them to the island. Unfortunately Arya does not remember how to get to the island by boat, but she and the pack decide to board the boat anyways, hoping they will eventually stumble onto the island, as they sail the ocean.

And so the adventure continues...

As the days pass, the temperature drops. It seems as though the fury of summer has left and replaced itself with a chilling, cruel winter. Arya cannot remember if autumn even decided to grace itself with its presence this year. It seems as if one day the weather is scorching hot and the next it is unbearably cold.

They have been sailing the oceans of Kings Landing for about two weeks now and the group is not even one step closer in finding salvation. The premise of safety in the Red Keep is so close yet just out of grasp. There have been no signs of land, only bodies of water to keep Arya and her pack company.

Arya cannot describe the frustration she feels to be so utterly powerless at this moment. Since her father died, Arya has taken on the role of the provider. It is her job to get things done, but now it seems as if no matter what she does and no matter how hard she tries, she cannot find safety for her pack. She has rattled her mind for two weeks now, attempting to conjure up a memory, hoping it would give her a clue to the whereabouts of the island, but so far she has had no such luck.

Arya lies on the side of the boat and leans her hand out the edge, allowing her fingertips to gently graze the water. She feels the waves gently caress the palm of her hand as she runs her fingertips over the tides. She can do nothing now but hope that these tides will take them to safety.

A strong gust of wind blows and Arya shivers. The water is cold. The air is cold. Everything is cold. She pulls her hand away from the water and tucks it into the large woolen blanket she is cradled in. It will not be long now until winter comes.

She remembers what her father said about winter; that it is not only a season, but rather a representation of our luck in this world. Winter comes for everyone and with it comes the harshness of reality. It lasts longer for some then it does for others, but the harshness is the same. Winter swallows you whole and your entire perception of life is clouded in misery and woe. But after winter, summer is sure to follow. It is a state of mind when everything is neutral, peaceful, and even happy. Arya finds it ironic that she had been living her winter through the summer season, and now that her winter has finally come to an end, the season of winter actually begins.

They have been on this boat for two weeks now, travelling wherever the wind takes them and Arya cannot remember a time when she has been this much at peace. She no longer has to live in the fear of Walkers- for they are now in a faraway place- as she and her pack were virtually untouchable in the ocean. Once they manage to find the Red Keep, everything will be perfect.

They have been living on stale granola bars, stale cereal and raw fish these past few weeks. Rickon, Weasel and Gendry have already gotten food poisoning from the raw meat. Though it is difficult and unappetising to eat their meat raw, the group cannot take the risk to light a fire. Not on a boat. Not when they are so far away from land.

Arya wishes she would have spent a little more time paying attention to where they had been traveling all those years ago. If she had, they may have been on the island already. Rickon cannot remember a thing; he was just a toddler when he last set foot on the Red Keep. She is surprised that he managed to remember the island at all, even though those are one of the few happy memories he has left to cherish.

Arya looks around the boat. Gendry and Yoren are still asleep, while Rickon and Weasel are either chatting or playing one of their imaginative games as they kept watch. Walker Watch is not so much the same as it was a couple of weeks ago. As a matter of fact, it isn’t really called ‘Walker Watch’ any longer. Where before, the group was looking out for Walkers, they are simply looking out for land now. They only really needed one person to stay on duty: to make sure that they did not miss the island, and also to ensure they do not stray into Walker territory.

Hot Pie sits in the middle of the boat as he prepares their dinner. Arya had offered to help Hot Pie but he said there isn’t any point. They would be having beef jerky, stale granola bars and either water or a juice box to wash it down with. No fish were caught today, and even if they managed to procure a large sum of fish, Arya predicts many of her friends would just pass it up.

Another gust of wind blows and Arya shivers once more. She is wearing a hoodie today; Arya pulls up the hood and tugs at the strings, concealing her face behind the warm fabric. She plays with the laces of Jon's old, black steel-toed boots. He bought them when he took up a job at the Home Depot. He was the only child in their family who actually had a job; granted, there were days when Robb would volunteer at their father's company. The shoes are a bit too big on her but she has grown accustomed to them. She was wearing them the day she and her family ran from their home and she had stuck to them ever since. Besides, she has no such luck in finding another pair of shoes. Even the storage area of the Wal-Mart was lacking in that luxury. Even if she did find another pair, Arya doubted she would ever be able to part with the ones she was wearing now. Other then Needle, a few of her old clothes and various trinkets, it is the only connection she has to her big brother and her past life.

Hot Pie announces that it is time for dinner and Arya begrudgingly stalks towards Yoren and Gendry, waking them up for the meal. Though everyone is pretty much sick of the rations they are on, they eat their food with no complaint. Well, all except for Yoren, who does not so much as touch the food in front of him. Instead, Yoren just nurses his flask of whisky, drinking the alcohol as if it were water. Any other man would have been drunk by now, but Yoren seems to have a high tolerance for alcohol. It is almost as if he is dependent on the liquor.

"It won't be long 'till the water freezes over," Gendry remarks, interrupting their silence.

"Well, aren't you Mr. Optimistic," Hot Pie states sarcastically as he takes another bite of the jerky.

"Not trying to be optimistic, just stating the facts," Gendry grunts, and that put an end to the conversation.

Everyone casts sideway glances at one another. They knew they needed to settle on land before winter came, for the great body of water they were sailing on would soon freeze over and replace itself with ice. No one wanted to return back to King's Landing, but at this point it seemed as if they have no other option. These few weeks of salvation on their little boat have been nothing but pure bliss - the poor rations of food aside. There are no Walkers here. No fear. No death.

When they are done, Arya silently gathers the dishes and begins to wash them, along the side of the boat. Everyone else gathers in the middle of the boat and begins to play a card game. They had found a deck of cards in one of their packs, a few days back and it seems as if all they do now is play Crazy Eights, Cheat and President. Normally, Arya would be happy to join them, but she cannot get Gendry's words out of her head. It won't be long ‘till the water freezes over. Of course not- winter is coming.

Arya puts the dishes away and then plops down onto the floor. She brings her knees up to her chest and buries her head in her lap. Closing her eyes, she thinks of something, anything, to give her a clue on the whereabouts of the island. But she does not remember. All she remembers is plugging in her iPod and listening to AC/DC, Kansas or Poison, while Cersei prattled on about her new yacht or Joffery bragged about the car his father was planning to buy him for his sixteenth birthday. Arya groaned in frustration. Of course she remembers the stupid things. She is so frustrated right now that she could kick something.

"Hi," she hears a small voice say.

Arya looks up and is surprised when she sees Weasel’s big brown eyes staring down at her. "Hi," Arya manages to mutter back.

She looks shy, almost hesitant, but she speaks anyways. "Do you want to play with us?” Weasel asks.

But Arya does not. She does not want to do anything at the moment, except take a couple of Advil and go to sleep. But she nods anyways, not wanting to disappoint the young girl, especially since this was the first time Weasel had spoken to her since their time at the shed.

Weasel stretches her hand out and Arya takes it and wraps her rough hands over Weasel’s. Her skin is soft. Delicate. Arya walks with her towards the middle of the boat where everyone else is gathered. Hot Pie shuffles the deck and distributes the cards. Arya smirks when she sees the three of diamonds, along with every other suit for that number, two jokers and three twos. The odds could not be stocked greater in her favour. She plays the four threes and everyone looks at her, wide eyed, each passing until it was her turn once more. Perhaps playing cards would not be so bad after all.

The sun shines brightly on her face and it blinds her. Arya tries closing her eyes but it doesn’t help. She can still feel the rays of sunlight burning onto her skin and it gives her a headache. Arya slowly allows for her eyes to flutter open and she catches a glimpse of Sansa’s long, downy, unnaturally blonde hair. Arya holds back a scoff as she looks at her sister. She doesn't understand why Sansa bothered to dye it. Her natural auburn colour was already beautiful, while her current hairdo - along with her flamboyant dress - makes her look like one of those bleach-blonde bimbos. Her hair may actually be brighter than the sun. Beside her, there sits Joffery Baratheon, with equally bright hair, and now Arya's head is pounding.

She pulls her hood up over her head and turns around, putting her back towards them. Arya is clearly facing the wrong direction, as she sees them pull away from the docks of King’s Landing, but it is better than staring at that monstrosity and the unyielding sun.

Arya shuffles her songs until she settles onto one she likes. Though her head hurts, the heavy metal music drowns out the annoying chitter-chatter in the background. She considers talking to Jon but he brought his new lady friend, Ygritte, and clearly does not have any time for his sister.

She wishes Bran were here but he, Mom, and Robb are back in Winterfell. Bran has his rock climbing tournament next week, and Mom and Robb are there to support him. Arya wanted to stay home with Bran, but she was forced to come to the Red Keep instead. She doesn't understand why she was forced to come here. Initially, she did not resist too much because Jon would be here too, but once they picked up Ygritte from her home, Jon had not been paying much attention to his little sister.

She hears footsteps behind her and in the corner of her eye, she can see that someone has sat down beside her. Initially she thinks it's her father's friend, Robert. The man who is responsible for dragging her to this island. She can see a shock of coal black hair and with his large stature, the possibilities have really narrowed down to only one man. But when she turns to face him, Arya gasps.

It's Gendry.

He looks down at her and smiles. Arya feels the heat pool in her stomach. This isn't right, she thinks, he's not supposed to be here. But he is, and instead of questioning his presence, Arya smiles at him. She is glad for the company.

She hears chatter on the boat and when she turns around, the Baratheons, Lannisters and her family are gone. Instead they are replaced with her new pack: Rickon, Hot Pie, Yoren and Weasel.

The warmth in her belly subsides as she realises she is in a dream. It was ironic that she has been wishing for her family for so long, and the one moment she had with them- even if it was all a figment of her imagination- she chose to ignore every last one of them.

Arya wakes up, with her head aching more than ever. She gets up and rummages through their medical supplies for some Advil. She swallows the two pills with not so much as a sip of water and grunts in frustration. The dream had felt so real. She could even smell Sansa's raspberry shampoo and hear Jon's laughter in the background. She plops down on the floor of the boat, buries her face in her hands and cries. They are not tears of frustration nor anger, they are tears of grief. Though Arya is sixteen, she feels like a child. A child who misses her family.

"You okay?" she hears a deep voice ask. Arya looks up to find Gendry looking down at her. His brow is furrowed and he looks concerned.

Arya curses herself for being so weak and wipes the tears off her face with her sleeve. She forgot that Gendry was keeping watch, while the others slept. This is the one thing she hates about their little boat; she has no privacy.

Arya nods her head as she wipes away the stray tears still left on her cheek. Truthfully, she isn’t okay. Though she is still upset, Arya is more tired than anything. Tired of this damn world and everything in it. She misses her family and doubts she will ever see them again. They are most likely dead or they are Walkers; she does not know which fate is worse.

Gendry is still standing over her; it is obvious that he saw through her lie. He does not say anything though, just stands there stoically, waiting for her to get up.

So she does.

Her head still aches and she rubs at it, soothing the pain away. "You can go to sleep," Arya offers. "I can take watch."

Gendry stares at her for a moment. He looks at her strangely, as if he is trying to decipher her true intent, but Arya's face is back to her mask. She will not let anyone see her when she is weak, not even Gendry."Not tired," he responds, and for a moment she thinks he is going to order her back to bed, but he doesn’t. "You can stay on watch with me though... If you want."

Arya nods and they silently looked across the horizon. She does not understand how Gendry keeps watch at night- she cannot see anything in the dark. She squints her eyes but her vision is the same. All she sees is darkness.

They are silent for a long moment, until Gendry decides to speak. "You know, you can always tell me about it," he offers.

"Huh?" She turns to look at him, but he is still looking across the ocean. He leans his elbow on the metal side rail as he continues to keep watch.

"The nightmares," he states. His face softens and he turns to look at her. For a second, she thinks are pity in his eyes, until he speaks. "I used to get them all the time, in the beginning. Sometimes it helps when you talk to someone about it. You don't have to if you don't want to. I'm just saying if you ever want to talk to someone about it, I'm always ready to listen."

Ah, empathy. Arya thinks to herself, grateful that Gendry is not pitying her. Pity is the last thing she needs, and she is happy that Gendry understands what she is going through.

"I-" Arya hesitates, because it’s weird. She has never talked about her nightmares with anyone before. Sometimes she would tell her father and Jon about them when she was little, but this is different. She is not a little girl anymore, and this is Gendry. But it doesn’t look like he is judging her. He continues to stare out into the horizon but she knows he is listening.

"I sometimes have dreams... about them," she answers.

"Your family?" Gendry asks, not the least bit surprised. In fact, it seems more like a confirmation than a question.

Arya nods her head. "Sometimes they are just memories, other times I dream that they are Walkers." Just saying those words brings a shiver up her spine. She sees Gendry flinch too but otherwise he remains stoic.

"What about today?" he asks.

It is surprising how easy it is to talk to Gendry. She has never been comfortable talking about her nightmares with Bran and Rickon, but with Gendry... it’s different. So she tells him. She tells him all about her dream- everything she can remember about it at least- down to the finest detail. In the middle of her story, Gendry turns to look at her with an odd expression on his face. She expects him to interrupt, but he doesn’t. He remains quiet until she is finished telling her tale.

"How much of that is true?" Gendry blurts out when he is sure she is finished.

"What?" Arya sputters, bewildered.

"Your dream," Gendry elaborates. "How much of it is true?"

There ia an edge to his voice, which concerns Arya, but she answers his question nonetheless. "Well, obviously you, Yoren, Rickon, Hot Pie and Weasel were not on that boat, but other than that...I suppose all of it. Sansa really did end up dyeing her hair blonde, but only for a couple of months. When she found out how stupid she looked, she-"

"No, Arya," Gendry interrupts. "When you were on the boat, you said you were facing the wrong direction. Did that really happen on all of your trips?"

"I…yeah, I guess," she responds, caught off guard by his question.

"And the reason you were facing the wrong way, was because the sun was in your eyes?" Gendry continues. His entire body is slightly shaking now, his eyes wide and his pupils dilated, though that was probably a result of the dim light. She can barely see his blue irises- all she sees is black.

"Gendry, are you okay?" she asks, concerned now.

"Arya, please answer the question," Gendry snaps, slightly frustrated. "You said you were facing the wrong direction on the boat because the sun was in your eyes” he repeats. “Did that happen in real life as well?" It seems as if he was suppressing the urge to shake her, with how persistent he was in asking these questions.

Arya pauses for only a moment to think about it. "Yes. But why is that important?"

Gendry ignores her question and asks one of his own. "And approximately what time of day were you guys on the boat?"

"Really early in the morning," Arya responds. "Probably about eight or nine in the morning. But Gendry, why is this releva-"

She does not have any time to finish asking her question, because Gendry is already gone, trying to wake up Yoren. "Yoren!" Gendry screams, kicking the man on his side. "Get up!"

Yoren wakes with a jolt, along with everyone else on the boat. They all look positively terrified. Hot Pie scrambles for the wooden baseball bat- Arya notices there is a damp area on his crotch and the puddle of liquid gets slightly larger as time passes. Weasel is holding Rickon tightly. She looks absolutely petrified as she clings onto Arya’s little brother. Rickon looks just as scared as well- her brother tries putting up a brave front but Arya can see the fear in his eyes.

Yoren quickly grabbs his shotgun, and cocks it, ready to shoot. "Where are they? Where are 'em bloody Walkers?" he demands. Yoren gets up a bit too quickly and stumbles onto the floor. It looks as if the alcohol has finally caught up with him.

Gendry steadies Yoren. "There aren't any Walkers, but-"

Gendry doesn’t even have time to finish his sentence when Yoren points the shotgun at his chest. "What do you mean there are no bloody Walkers? Did yer just give me a fucking heart attack for nothin'? I swear on my brother's grave, Waters, that if you don't give me a bloody good reason for wakin' me up like that, I will shoot yeh. You may be big and as strong as a fucking bull but I'd rather be down one man if it also means being down one idiot." Yoren puts his finger over the trigger and Gendry looks as if he may piss his pants. Arya thinks Yoren is kidding, but he is a little drunk, and she wouldn't put anything past Yoren, especially when he was in a foul mood.

"Whoa, take it easy old man. Put the gun down," Gendry states gently. Yoren appears to be retreating, but just when Gendry's guard is down, Yoren whacks him in the head with the back of the shotgun and turns the weapon to point it at his chest once more.

"What the fuck!" Gendry exclaims as he clutches the side of his head. The entire area is red and Arya wouldn't be surprised if a lump were to form soon.

"Like I said, if you're going to act like an idiot, Waters, I will shoot yeh," Yoren grumbles.

Gendry is not amused as he continues rubbing the sore spot on his head. "I was just going to say that Arya remembers where the island is."

A collective gasp runs through the crowd. Even Arya is surprised by Gendry's statement. What did he mean by she remembers where the Red Keep is? She still has no bloody idea where the island could possibly be.

Yoren immediately lowers his shotgun and gives Gendry an apologetic look. "Aye, so where is it then, girl?" he asks, turning to face Arya.

Arya just stares at him, wide-eyed. "I... um..."

"East from the port in King’s Landing," Gendry interrupts.

"Right then," Yoren exclaims as he runs to pull down the sails.

"Wait!" Arya shouts, stilling Yoren’s actions. "What do you mean it’s east of the port?" Arya asks as she turned to face Gendry. "How did you manage to figure that out just from my dream?"

Gendry quirks an eyebrow at her, looking at her as if she had just asked the stupidest question in the world, but he answers her anyways. "You said when you left the port, you would turn around and face the opposite direction because the sun was in your eye. If you left before noon, that meant your boat was travelling east, Arya."

Arya mentally chastises herself for not realising this earlier on. If it wasn’t for her stupidity, they may have already been on the Red Keep by now.

Gendry’s reasoning seemed good enough for Yoren too, as he pulled down the sails and the boat slowly came to a still. "Wish we had a damn anchor," Yoren grumbles. "Anyways, we’ll wait ‘till the wind changes direction. In the mean time, we should all get some sleep. If the current doesn’t change by tomorrow, then we’ll stay here for a while. We’ll catch some more fish, do some laundry and take a bath. You lot are starting to stink more than a Hot Pie’s pits on a hot day."

"Hey!" Hot Pie exclaimes, clearly offended. He thought better of retaliating any further, remembering what Yoren had just hit Gendry with.

"Aye, now y'all need to shut ter fuck up, so I can get me beauty sleep. You don’t want ter see me on a bad day," Yoren grumbles out, heading back to his bed.

"So you mean up until now, we’ve seen the good, happy-go-lucky Yoren?" Gendry jokes.

Yoren flips him off as he settles into bed.

"I’m still waiting for an apology, old man!" Gendry shoutes.

"Well, then you'll be waitin` a long time," Yoren remarks.

It took a while for everyone else to get back to bed, but shortly, the boat was silent with the exception of Yoren's snores. The only two people that remained awake were Arya and Gendry. The group still needed someone to keep watch, and Gendry still hadn't finished his shift. She saw him rubbing at his forehead and grumbling every now and then.

"Are you okay?" Arya asks as she stands up on her tiptoes, trying to get a better look at Gendry's forehead.

"Yeah," Gendry mutters. "Yoren's got quite the backhand though." He continues rubbing at his head, aggravating the sore region.

Arya swats his hands away, frustrated that he is doing it wrong. "Here, let me," she suggests. She grabs a small little cloth and soaks it in the cool ocean water. Her fingers are numb from wetting and wringing out the cloth, but she knows this will help Gendry. She turns to look at him and stands on her tiptoes, reaching her hands up to dab the cloth on his forehead. Gendry gets the memo and sits down so she can tend to his wound. She moves down as well, so she is now standing on her knees, knelling above him. Gently, Arya continued to dab the cool compress, down on the red region of Gendry's forehead. "Better?" she asks.

"Yeah. Thanks." He is looking at her strangely again and Arya tries to ignore his stare by concentrating on her work. "Arya," he states quietly, placing his hand gently over hers. It is strange how her fingers could be so numb from the cold just moments ago, and burning hot the next. She turns to look at his eyes and notices she is much closer to him than she had originally thought. He has that look on his face again- the look he always has when he was just about to do something stupid.

It is strange, how her body manages to block out all her other senses in that one moment. She no longer feels cold from the weather, she can no longer hear Yoren's snores - though she is pretty sure he was still snoring away. All she can see is Gendry and his blue eyes, and all she can feel is his hand still resting on her own. Her once steady hand had now begun to tremble, and no matter how hard Arya tried controlling it, her limb would not stop shaking. Her heart rate picked up it`s normal pace and begins beating erratically, she was sure it is ready to jump out of her chest. To make it all worse, her stomach is churning harder than ever.

Gendry moves his other hand to her hair and begins weaving his fingers through her short curls. He tucks a loose strand of hair behind her ear and then rests his hand on her cheek. His touch is so warm and despite his callused fingers, Arya`s head leans towards his hand (on its own accord), pressing her face against his palm. She briefly thinks that his touch will leave a mark, considering how hot it is burning.

"Arya," he whispers again. It`s strange, the way he says her name this time, like he is asking permission for something. She still has no idea what he is doing and she is perplexed when she realises that she is no longer in control of her own body. Her mind beckons her lips to move, so that she may respond to Gendry, but she finds that she is unable to move a muscle. She is entranced by his stare. He is still sitting on the floor while Arya is bent on her knees, hovering above him with her hand still on his forehead. Her respirations pick up, and Arya’s chest heaves with each breath she takes.

She cannot describe the emotion she is feeling right now- it was one that she has never felt before. It feels as if she is ready to throw up at any minute, but she would be happy doing so at the same time. It is quite a strange feeling and Arya is not sure if she likes it. Gendry must have thought of her as an idiot at this point. He called her name twice and all she could do was sit and stare stupidly at him. She cannot comprehend why her body is acting like this. Her mind tries telling her to stop acting stupid but her body won`t listen. She wants to slap herself to break her out of this trance.

Every so slowly, Gendry scoots closer to her, or maybe she does to him. She isn't quite sure which one was right. The only reason she knows that they are closer was when their noses touched, ever so slightly. Gendry tilts his head to the side to get his nose out of the way, all the while never breaking his stare. He leans in even more closer, ever so slowly until-

"Time for my shift now, boy!" Yoren hollers.

Arya is startled and jerks forward, accidently head butting Gendry in his nose. She definitely hears a crack and then comes a blinding pain. She hears Gendry scream out in pain, as he breaks away from her, clutching his nose. Arya puts her hands to her forehead, hissing in pain. Her forehead is burning now, so she grabs the damp cloth and places it on her forehead. When the pain ebbs down a bit, she looks at Gendry, who is wiping the blood from his nose.

"Bloody hell, Yoren!" Gendry curses.

"Aye," was all Yoren said. He is staring at Gendry with a stern look in his eye. Arya knew that look. It was the same look Yoren would give Arya when he was ready to give her one of his ‘speeches’. She expects Yoren to chastise Gendry for startling him earlier that night but he doesn’t. Instead, he turns to look at Arya. "You've been awake now for a while girl. Go on. Off to bed with yeh."

Arya is about to protest until she realises she actually is tired. Instead, she just whispers a "goodnight" and walks to her usual spot beside Rickon.

Gendry is walking right behind her, about to settle down to a spare space by her right when Yoren calls for him; "Ain’t you gonna keep an old man company?" Arya thinks Yoren is joking but he has a serious look in his eyes.

Gendry seemed to catch the look as well and glanced between Yoren and Arya. "Yeah. I suppose that's fine."

He walks back to Yoren and they both take a seat on the ground, on the opposite side of the boat. It seems as if Yoren is purposely sitting as far away from her as possible. He is staring at Arya as he takes a swing of alcohol from his flask. He doesn`t even turn to look at Gendry when he takes a seat beside him.

Arya shifts her attention away from Yoren and back to her bed. She gathers her blanket and wraps it around her shoulders before sleeping beside Rickon. Within minutes, she is asleep once more.

In her sleep-like state, Arya turns to her side, her back now facing Rickon. She could swear she heard whispers in the background. Her body is trying to prevent her from overhearing the conversation, wanting to pull her back to sleep, but her mind is too curious. As Arya settles on her side, she focuses her ears- as much as someone could when they were half asleep- in an attempt to overhear the conversation going on around her.

"- do you understand what I'm saying, boy?" she hears a man with a gruff voice ask.

Another man with a deeper voice responds, "She's not a child Yoren."

"Yes. That's exactly what she is. A child!" Yoren chides. "Do you think she had any idea what was going on tonight?"

"She's not stupid, Yoren.” The voice that is unmistakeably Gendry, responds

"No. She's not, but she is naïve," Yoren explains. “She doesn't understand things like this. She tries to act mature for her age but she doesn't understand these things, boy. All she's ever known is to fight and survive. She has no time and nor does she understand any of your... advances. Look, you're a man grown and she's not even an adult yet. If this was the real world, her father would have hung you upside down by yer balls. Ah, that's right. You wince, boy. Think about what she'd do to you if she figured out what was going on tonight."

Arya isn’t sure whether she is dreaming or not. Either way, she has a funny feeling that Yoren and Gendry were talking about her, but what were they saying? What did they mean by she didn't understand?

"I get what you're saying," Gendry began, "but tonight when we-"

And that's all Arya hears before she falls back into a deep slumber.

When she awakes for the second time, it is dawn. Yoren is sitting by himself, nursing a flask of whisky. She expects to see Gendry sleeping on her right but instead he is asleep on the other side of the boat. She swore she had overheard a conversation not meant for her ears, between Yoren and Gendry last night, but she cannot remember a thing. Perhaps that was for the best. Still, she tries to rack her brain in an attempt to recall even a tidbit of their conversation. While she is deep in thought, Rickon stirs beside her.

"Is it morning yet?" he groans.

Arya nods her head. "It’s dawn." Rickon groans again and pulls the blanket over his head as he turns on his stomach, finding sleep once more.

Arya, on the other hand, pulls the blankets away from her body and rouses, stretching her sore muscles. She strides over to Yoren, who is still deep in his cups. "Isn’t it a little too early to be drinking?"

Yoren tears his eyes away from his flask and looks up at her. "Now, how did that saying go?" he asks her.

“‘It's 5 o’clock somewhere?’” Arya offers.

"No, I think it goes somewhere along the lines of…‘mind yer own fucking business,’” Yoren retorts, before taking another swing from his flask.

Arya snorts. "So what's the plan for today, Captain?"

Yoren seals his flask and buries it deep inside his backpack. He then gets up and begins rummaging through their food supply. He fishes out two granola bars, tossing one at Arya before devouring the other for himself. "Not much to do, kid," he explains, his mouth still full of food. "The wind's still blowing to the west, so we`ve got to wait it out `till it switches directions again."

She sighs. "And to think, we were heading eastbound when we deported from King's Landing."

"Aye," Yoren sympathises, "but the world has a funny way of playing tricks on ya. Wind changed direction and brought us further away from that island of yours."

"Not my island," Arya corrects quickly.

He just shrugs. "Suppose not. Guess we'll just dock here for a couple of days. Like I was trying to say last night, while we're waiting for the wind, we can do some laundry, catch some fish, wash ourselves down. Gendry can take a look at that broken radio, Hot Pie can cook us some sushi, you can continue menstruating-"

"Yoren!" Arya shouts. She feels the blush rising to her cheeks, both from fury and embarrassment. Arya is just thankful that no one else had heard Yoren's remark, as they were all still asleep.

"Hit the nail on the mark did I?" Yoren chuckls, nonplused by her glare.

Arya was just about to stomp off when Yoren calls out to her. "Hey, kid." Arya turns to face him and notices his expression has changed to a rather serious one. "Just do me a favour. Get some rest; you don't take no afternoon naps and you don't have any night time watches. I don't want you getting up and keeping Gendry, Hot Pie or I company, understand?"

No, Arya does not understand. What was wrong with staying up at night? Her nightmares kept her up anyways, so Arya did not see the harm with keeping her fellow companions company. Instead of getting into another tussle with Yoren, Arya just nods her head. Perhaps it would be better if she at least attempted to sleep rather than letting her fears get the better of her. She remembers a saying from somewhere she cannot remember, quite a long time ago. Fear cuts deeper than swords she recalls.

In the morning, it seems as though everyone's spirits are lifted. Though they hadn't found the Red Keep and they are still living on the same unbearable rations, the atmosphere is bright. Their hope of ever finding salvation was dwindling away until last night. The group finally has a clue on where to find the island and the prospect of a life away from the Walkers, warms the group’s hearts. All they had to do now was to wait for the wind to change directions and then they can sail to safety.

The boys were out cleaning themselves up, while Arya and Weasel were tending to the laundry. "Ugh, Hot Pie's clothes smell foul!" Arya whines, while facing the dreaded task of cleaning his undergarments.

Weasel giggles as she continues to scrub away the dirt off Rickon's socks. Shameful to say, Weasel has already mastered the art of laundry, and she had only recently turned five. Arya, on the other hand, lacked the patience for scrubbing off each piece of grime. When she was young, she would just toss her soiled clothes into a hamper and their nanny, Mrs. Mordane, would clean them by tossing her filthy clothes into a washing machine. It is frightening to see how hopeless humans are now that the luxuries of technology are no longer attainable. Not only that, but they also have a scarce supply of garments. Prior to the apocalypse, even though Arya wasn't a vain person, whenever her clothes would get slightly nicked, she'd discard the garment into a donation bin and set off to buy a new article of clothing. Now, all of her clothes had at least one hole in them. Her socks are so dirty and worn out that each had a huge hole, right at the heel of her foot. Even if they do find the Red Keep soon, and even if it is free of Walkers, it will never be home. She can never go back to her old life.

"They're back!" Weasel exclaims, breaking Arya away from her thoughts. She rushes over to the side of the boat, to see the boys swimming back to the ship.

"Look at what we caught," Yoren chimed, as he dumped a small bag of two fish and several prawns into the boat. He then rose from the water, grabbing the railing to climb in. The boat slightly tips as he pulls himself out of the water.

Weasel runs to get Yoren a towel. He is soaking wet. Little droplets of water fall from his untamed brown curls and splatters onto the floor of the boat. He is wearing nothing but his white briefs and with them soaked, Arya is able to see through his undergarment. The vast, thick, dark curls of his pubic hair are visible to her eyes and she can just see the outline of his-

"Here," Weasel offers, holding out a towel for Yoren. He graciously takes the towel from the small girl and spends a great deal of time drying off his hair with the towel rather than covering the area he needed to most.

If only Arya could see her face; she was positive it was a bright shade of pink. Yoren is like a crazy uncle to her, and the last thing she wants to see is her uncle's nether-regions.

"Hey guys. A bit of help, yeah?" Hot Pie calls out.

Yoren helps pull the large boy onto the boat, again watching the boat tips a bit as Hot Pie clamours on. Arya lets out a sigh of relief, when she notices Hot Pie is wearing loose dark blue boxers. Arya leans over to the side of the boat and grabs Rickon's hand, pulling him into the boat. Her brother is a bit disappointed to see that the boat did not tip for him as it did for the others. He begins jumping up and down on the railing, only capable of slightly swaying the boat.

Arya chuckles as she finally draws Rickon into the boat. "Don't worry bro, one day you'll be taller than Yoren and bigger than Gendry.” She then proceeds to muzzle his hair but he smacks her hand away and huffs. He angrily grabs a towel from Weasel and then sulks as he made his way over to his spot on the boat.

"Oi lad! That's no way to treat your sister!" Yoren reprimands.

Arya just shrugs, completely nonplussed by Rickon's outburst. She has lived with him for over seven years and his behaviour is nothing out of the ordinary. Even as a babe, Rickon was always temperamental.

It is now Gendry's turn to climb onto the boat. He pulls on the railing and Arya briefly thinks that the boat will tip over with his weight. He pulls himself onto the boat and shakes the water off his head, similar to how Nymeria would, after Arya would give her a bath.

She tries to pull her eyes away from Gendry, but she cannot help herself. He is wearing dark grey briefs, a similar colour to her eyes, and while they were not tight, they aren't exactly loose either. She moves her eyes up to his abdomen, staring at the perfect six pack and the ridges of his muscles. She slowly trails her eyes up his arms, spending a great deal of time focusing on his biceps. Arya does not understand why she is so appealed by his strength, but a certain warmth fills her heart when she stares at his muscles.

"Damn, that water is fucking cold," Gendry complains as he wipes the water from his skin with his towel.

Arya forces herself to tear her eyes away from Gendry and turns to look at Yoren. She is a bit caught off guard when she realises Yoren has been staring at her the entire time with a wary expression on his face. It looks as if he is disappointed in her, but what had she done? "Alright. I suppose Weasel and I will be off then," Arya announces.

"Aye," Yoren replies, "perhaps that's for the best."

Arya fetches a bag of cleaning products. Her and Weasel's clothes are already lain out neatly on a pile beside their supplies. Both she and Weasel will dress once they are back on the boat, to keep their clothes dry.

Arya strips off her dirty garments, leaving her in her sports bra and a pair of briefs. She strips Weasel as well, again keeping her underwear on. Arya knows Weasel isn't one for modesty- besides she is only a mere child of five, but she still does not feel comfortable allowing three grown men and a boy look at her nude body
.
Arya borrows one of Hot Pie's belt straps and ties it around her upper thigh. She then secures her pistol to the belt, but not before checking to see if the safety is on. In truth, she knows she will not run into any trouble in the water, but she feels naked- even more so than one could feel by standing on a boat in their undergarments – without some form of protection. She then grabs the bag of cleaning products and places the straps around her shoulders, carrying the bag like a backpack. After she is sure everything is secure, she leans off the railing and jumps into the ocean.

Gendry was right about the water being cold. As soon as Arya dives into the ocean, her body recoils from the harsh temperature. Above surface, the temperature is just numbingly cold, but in the water, it is almost painful. It feels as if someone is jabbing pins and needles onto every inch of exposed flesh. Arya gasps from the contact and quickly rises to the surface, sucking in a few breaths before bobbing back down into the water, allowing her body to adjust to the new temperature.

"You ready, kid?" she hears Yoren call out.

Arya nods her head, as she swims closer to the boat. "Ready," she announces, as she stretches her arms out while treading the water, to keep her afloat. Ever so carefully, Yoren tosses Weasel into Arya's outstretched arms. Arya catches her easily, wrapping her arm around the little girl's waist and using the other arm to keep them afloat.

"Aye," Yoren calls out, "now there's a big chuck o' rock about five minutes from your right."

Arya nods, grateful for a spot to perch Weasel on top of, making it much easier for her to bathe both the little girl and herself. Slowly, she swims to the general location Yoren told her about. True to his word, there is indeed a large mossy rock floating in the midst of the ocean.

Arya must have been out in the water for hours, scrubbing the grime and dirt vigorously off Weasel and her own skin. She take a look at her fingers and notices they have shrivelled up into little prunes, similar to the way they had once done when she was a child and had sat in the bath for too long.

Arya makes her way back to the boat with Weasel. Again, the little girl's arms are wound tightly around her neck and her tiny legs are wrapped right under her chest. Arya finds it quite difficult to tow Weasel to and from the boat; if so much as Weasel's chin would sink below the water, the little girl would panic and burst out into hysterical tears. Not to mention that Weasel`s knees are pressing up hard against Arya`s protruding ribs. She would not be surprised, if she were to find a bruise there tomorrow. Though Arya genuinely likes Weasel, she finds her immaturity a tad bit frustrating at times. She keeps her patience though, practice from living with Bran and Rickon when they were babes.

Arya remembers a time when Bran was three and she, five; her brother had fallen down the stairs and broken out into a fit of tears. As their mother leaves to calm him down and check for injuries, Arya complains, "He's acting like such a baby."

"He is a baby, Arya. Bran’s only three," Jon reasons.

"But why does he have to cry? I sprained my hand a month ago and I didn't cry."

Jon just laughs and muzzles her hair. "That's because, little sister, you injure yourself so often that I doubt you feel pain anymore. Just because you don't cry when you get hurt doesn't mean you don't cry over other things."

"Do not!" she protests.

"Oh yeah?" he challenged. "When you were two, Robb accidently tore the head off your favourite teddy bear and you cried for three days straight." Arya frowns. She certainly did not remember that. "And then father bought you a new doll and you got over it," he continues. "You named her Wenda, after the story our Nan used to tell us."

Arya remembers the doll Jon was talking about and she remembers the tale of Wenda the White Fawn. She sighs, Arya knew he was right; in fact, he was always right. That was one of the reasons why he was her favourite brother. So she just shut her mouth and stopped complaining about Bran while Jon continued to muzzle her hair.

Arya sighs, shaking off the memory of Jon. He's dead, stupid; thinking about him won't help the pain go away. She finds herself dreaming about her family more often as time passes, and she hates it. The moment she had started accepting Bran's death was when she allowed herself to stop thinking so much about him.

Arya makes her way over to the edge of the boat and is greeted by Yoren. "Just in time, lads; food's ready." She is thankful that Hot Pie had cooked their lunch so fast- all that swimming had built up quite an appetite.

Arya grabs onto the edge of the railing and tries to push Weasel up as far as she can. Luckily, Yoren is able to reach her and lifts her off. Moments later, he outstretches his hand to her and she graciously takes it. He pulls her up and onto the boat with ease. Once her feet are firmly placed on the ground, she briefly remembers how Yoren and the others appeared when they emerged from the water with their clothes clinging to every nook and ridge of their skin, outlining every single private area it was meant to conceal. Arya realises she is wearing white as well and looks down at her body. She can visibly see everything she was trying to hide and she feels the blush rising to her cheeks. She moves her hands to cover her chest, but when she looks up, Arya realises that no one other than Weasel and Rickon are there. Yoren is making his way back to Gendry and Hot Pie, on the other side of the boat. Their backs are faced to her and Arya mentally thanks the three guys for still giving her the privacy she requires.

Rickon hands her a towel and Arya begins to dry Weasel and herself off. She dismisses Rickon, not that she minds her brother seeing her nude, but to preserve Weasel’s modesty. Rickon is not Weasel's brother, and though they are both children, Arya does not find it necessary for her brother to stick around.

She dresses Weasel in a light pink sweater and a pair of dark blue jeans. Arya runs the towel through Weasel's hair, slightly envious when her light blonde curls fall perfectly across her shoulders, framing her face stunningly. Arya is amazed to see that there is neither a single knot nor tangle in her hair and the curls remain beautifully, frizz-free. She ties Weasel’s hair into a single braid along her back and then proceeds to help Weasel with her footwear. Arya makes sure Weasel is fully dressed before tending to herself. She even dresses the girl in a dark pink winter jacket, so she will not catch a cold. After she is done, Weasel grabs her doll and runs off to the rest of the group.

After Weasel runs off, Arya proceeds to dress herself. Up until this moment, she has only been covered with a towel, and with her damp hair, she is freezing. With shaking fingers, she gently unties the belt strap from her leg. She fumbles quite a bit with the strap, frustrated that she cannot remove it sooner, but eventually she has it untied from her leg and sets her pistol aside. She runs the towel through her hair, drying it to the best of her abilities. She has chosen a pair of sweat pants to wear; they had once belonged to Bran, they are a bit too loose for her. She pulls at the strings and ties the pants tightly so it would not fall off her waist. She then dresses herself in a sweater. It hangs loosely off her thin frame, a bit of her right shoulder is exposed, as the stubborn garment will not remain on her shoulders, but there was no need to wear a bra with the sweater, and it keeps her quite warm. She then quickly dons on her socks and shoes before joining the rest of the group for lunch.

The shrimp tastes slimy and odd, uncooked. The meat slithers down her throat unpleasantly as she tries to consume it. It is better than eating raw fish though; shrimp is much easier to eat and came in smaller portions. Arya found that if she swallowed the meat and then washed it down with a large sum of water, the taste wasn't troublesome at all. The protein kept her full, and most importantly, it kept her strong.

As time passes, their day-to-day activities became routine. They catch an abundance of fish, but by the third day in, Arya's body is no longer capable of handling the raw meat, so she throws up. The vomit burns her throat as it makes its way up from her stomach. She bends over the side of the boat and spills all the contents of her dinner into the ocean. Her entire body jerks as a new wave of nausea settles through. By the end of it, her stomach feels hollow and her mouth tastes foul. Hot Pie advises her to nibble on some of the stale crackers until her stomach settles down. The mixture of the stale crackers and vomit is horrid, and Arya finds herself throwing up once more. It is surprising to see how much she heaves out of her system, though she had sworn she had purged her stomach of all its contents only moments ago. Now, more than ever, she desperately hopes that the wind would change directions and bring the group to a land free of Walkers, where they could build fires and cook food.

By the sixth day, she got her wish.

She is dreaming again. It was a Nymeria dream this time. She had not dreamt of her pet in a long time, and it was refreshing to be with her again, even though it was only in her thoughts.

The husky is much larger than she last remembers; she is as big as a wolf now. Though her dream is filled with Walkers, for once Arya is not having a nightmare. She watched Nymeria tear into the flesh of the Walkers before her and devoured them until there was nothing left of the corpses. The dream felt surreal, Arya could practically taste the blood on her tongue and she felt the undead flesh satisfyingly slither down her throat. Though she still fears the Walkers, Arya feels powerful to take down the mighty creatures so easily as her dog. With them so weak, utterly at her mercy, Arya momentarily forgot how terrifying they once were. Something feels amiss, though, and Arya could have sworn the ground was moving underneath her.

Ever so slowly, Arya was pulled out of her dream and feels the boat gently rocking beneath her. She shoves her covers off and gets out of bed, turning to see the sails up and the boat moving with the wind. Her eyes met Yoren's and she finds that he has a large smile plastered to his face.

"The wind's direction changed. We're heading east," was all Yoren said.

Arya remembers what Yoren had said about sleeping through the nights and not assisting Hot Pie, Gendry and himself with watch duty, but this time she could not help herself. She is much too excited and there is no hope in falling asleep now when she cannot contain her joy with the prospect of salvation. Arya makes her way to Yoren and leans against the edge of the railings. Finally, this boat is heading to a place where the group could build a new life for themselves.

Once everyone had awoken to see the boat now sailing in their desired location, everyone seemed to be on cloud nine. With the precipice of safety around the corner, almost nothing could tarnish anyone's mood. Even midday, when Arya was helping Hot Pie with the gruesome task of snapping the heads off shrimp, she did so with a smile on her face. With a turn of the dead creatures head, the reddish-orange ooze would spill out of the creature, staining the floor boards of the boat with shrimp blood. Arya would have to clean that up soon, but even that did not bring down her mood. She was elated. So close-

A shout - though it seemed to sound more like a howl - broke her of her concentration. She turns her head to look at Rickon as he screams and leaps up and down on the boat. "ARYA! ARYA! It's here! It's the Red Keep."

Arya immediately drops the lifeless sea-creatures from her hand and runs to the edge of the boat, while Hot Pie quickly rouses Yoren and Gendry, whom are still taking their afternoon nap. As Rickon had claimed, she could make out a large mass of land, in which their boat was sailing towards. This could be it, Arya thinks, if there are no Walkers, this could be our home.

Gendry, Yoren and Hot Pie quickly join Arya, Weasel and Rickon as they watch their boat sail closer and closer to land. Arya squints her eyes and she can vaguely make out shapes in the distance. Just as she is trying to determine what the shapes are, she hears a sharp intake of breath to her right.

"Walkers," Gendry whispers in horror, alerting the rest of the group of the dangers before them.

Arya feels her heart sink. No, no, not Walkers, she pleads. But as they sail closer to the island, she too could make out that the blurry shapes in the distance were indeed bodies. There were only three distinct shapes in the distance and Arya wonders if those were the only Walkers they would have to face. Perhaps this wouldn't be too bad. If they could survey the island and kill all the Walkers residing on the Red Keep, perhaps they could make this their home after all. As their boat sails even closer to the island, Arya had her speculations answered for her.

"Well, I'll be damned," she hears Yoren mutter, for there were no Walkers after all. There were bodies in front of her all right, but they lacked the empty electric blue irises, the cold dead black hands and the milky white skin. The bodies in front of her...were human. They are staring at them now, taking in the group with caution. They are all strangers, Arya concludes as she takes in their appearances.

There are two men and one woman. The woman has long-flowing blonde hair and she shares the same eyes as Arya. Unlike Arya, the woman has fully developed curves and a large bosom. She dresses herself in a leather vest and dark green cargo pants. Arya notices a well crafted blade hanging off her hip and a shot gun strapped to her back. Despite her feminine appearance, Arya can tell she is a warrior.

The man beside her was no man at all, Arya realises as they sailed closer. He is a boy that looked to be her age. He is small, with dark hair similar to Gendry's and dark brown eyes. Unlike the woman, he carries no weapons and he gapes at them as their boat trudged closer to land.

The other man is further away from the other two. He eyes the boat warily with deep blue - almost purple - eyes. He is of medium built with light blonde hair, gelled neatly upon his head. He too has a gun that he is holding it limply in his hands. He does not move to take it though and his eyes never leave the boat.

Arya hears Yoren curse as he scrambles to the deck, grabbing his shotgun and Arya's pistol. Arya is about to ask him what is going on, until she notices that the blonde woman has picked up her gun and is pointing the weapon towards them. Just as Yoren loads his shotgun and hands Arya's pistol to Gendry, another man enters the clearing.

He talks to the blonde girl and seems to persuade her to lower her gun. She does so reluctantly and there is a scowl plastered across her face, making her soft feminine features appear rather frightening, but Arya does not cower from her glare.

The new man has their back to them. Gendry and Yoren still have a hold of their guns; they have not raised their weapons yet, but they kept a firm hold on both weapons, waiting for the moment they have to fight, but it does not seem as if the land dwellers wish to attack them.

Arya eyes the new man, surveying her potential competition. He has curly brown hair, similar to her own, and it reaches his shoulders. He wears baggy jeans and a loose sweater. The sleeves were pulled back just under his elbows and Arya can see the outline of muscles through the material. He is not as muscular as Gendry, but he is still strong. Arya just hopes that her pack do not have to fight these strangers.

Suddenly, the man turns around and Arya’s heart falters She feels as though her jaw was meant to drop at this moment but her brain cannot find the appropriate muscles to move her body. So she just stands there in shock, unable to describe the new feeling that overwhelms her. Their boat is almost ashore and Yoren is making the appropriate preparations to tow them to land.

Arya however, cannot peel her eyes away from the man. He is looking at her too, his eyes widened. She can make out the glistening of tears that threaten to emerge from his eyes and she feels the muscles in her heart coil. She wants to run to him, she wants him to hold her in his arms and never let go. The void in her heart slowly fills as grey meets grey.

Finally, the boat lands and comes to a standstill. Gendry and Yoren grab the guns and are ready to head outside, when Arya stops them. "No," she commands, stilling their movements.

"Arya, they have weapons," Gendry reasons. "It would be foolish to-"

"They won't hurt us," Arya states confidently, her eyes never leaving the man, making his way slowly towards the boat.

Arya exits the boat and she hears the rest of the group follow her lead. She jumps off the rail and plants her feet firmly on the sand and dirt below her. Her legs feel wobbly from being out at sea for so long, but she steadies herself, despite her body threatening to topple over at any moment.

The man stops when he is a couple of feet in front of her. He does not utter a word but stares at Arya with a mixture of disbelief, joy and love. Arya sees the tears spill from his eyes and she cannot contain herself any longer. "Jon," she calls, beckoning him to come closer.

As soon as his name leaves her lips, Arya finds herself encased in a pair of strong arms. She hugs him back tightly, suppressing the urge to jump on him, similar to the way she used to do when she was younger. She rests her head on his shoulder, her cheek pressed to his chin. His stubble tickles her, as his body shakes from the tears. Arya breaths in his familiar scent and wrapped her hands tighter around her brother.

"Arya," he finally responds, and that's all it takes for her to break down in front of him.

Chapter Text


Previously on the White Walkers...

After abandoning the shed, the pack struggles to find a new safe haven. During their journey, they are ambushed by a large group of Walkers, resulting in a few minor injuries and the death of their companion, Lommy Greenhands. Following Lommy's death, it is evident that residing in the wilderness is no longer a viable option. The pack desperately requires some sort of shelter to put some distance between themselves and the Walkers. Arya racks her brain, attempting to think of a place where she and her pack can take refuge. After many moments, she recalls an island from her childhood known as the Red Keep and believes the island was uninhabited at the time of the pandemic. Without any other options, the pack resolves to journey there.

As they begin their journey to search for the mysterious island, they soon discover that Arya does not recall the whereabouts of the Red Keep. Going out on a whim, the pack decides to sail the seas of King's Landing in hopes of stumbling upon the island. They find a sailboat at the docks of King's Landing and use the boat to travel by sea. There is a motor on the boat, but no gas, so they can only rely on the wind to take them to the Red Keep.

Though the sailboat is large enough to occupy its six patrons, there isn't much room for privacy. As the group is confined together, relationships grow stronger. One night when Arya is particularly emotional from a nightmare, Gendry stumbles upon her and encourages her to open up to him. Arya reluctantly obliges and begins to tell Gendry of the nightmares that haunt her. As Arya is describing her most recent dream, a small clue from her subconscious tips off Gendry to the whereabouts of the Red Keep.

Though the pack is thrilled to finally have some direction, the environmental conditions only get worse. Winter seems to be drawing closer and there isn't much food available on the boat. They can only eat perishable items and raw fish, as it is near impossible to light a fire on the boat. Many members of the pack fall ill from food poisoning and Yoren replaces his nourishment with alcohol.

One night on the boat, Arya and Gendry share an intimate moment. Gendry displays his feelings for Arya and leans in to kiss her, but their moment is interrupted by Yoren. Yoren lectures Gendry for his behaviour and demands that he keeps his distance from Arya. Arya is still confused by the entire interaction and was not aware that Gendry had meant to kiss her. Though she has feelings for Gendry, she is unsure of what those feelings mean and mistaken them for a stomach sickness.

Towards the end of the chapter, the pack manages to stumble upon the island only to find out that it is already inhabited. Initially, they mistaken the people on the island for Walkers, but soon discover they are human. As the ship treads closer to land, Arya discovers that her brother Jon is on the island. As soon as they land, Arya dashes from the boat and runs into Jon's open and inviting arms.

And so the story continues...

It feels as if she is in a dream, another taunting nightmare that will snatch him away from her at any moment. It does not seem plausible for him to be standing in front of her when so many others have died. She had always believed Jon was either dead or turned, but not alive. Never alive.

Arya runs to him and wraps her arms around his waist, hugging him with every ounce of strength she has. Jon hugs her back just as hard and crushes her petite body to him. In that moment, she knows this is real. The tears are already spilling from her eyes before she moves to embrace him. Arya does not understand why she is crying when this is unmistakeably one of the happiest moment in her life. Her favourite brother, the one who used to muzzle her hair and shares the same features, is alive. The emotion she is feeling is indescribable- a warmth fills her body, starting from her chest and radiating out to her fingertips. Jon brushes a kiss on her forehead, his beard tickling her soft skin. The prickle of hair surprises her and she breaks the embrace to take a closer look at him.

He has long hair now, the brown curls almost reaching his shoulders. His chin is covered in stubble and there are laugh lines on his face. He is taller now and more muscular as well. He is not nearly as big as Gendry, but much bigger than the scrawny older brother she remembers. But then Jon smiles at her, and Arya realises he is still the same Jon. She wipes the tears off her face with the back of her sleeve and then moves to hug him again, but this time she jumps on him and winds her arms around his neck. Jon lets out a bit of an "oomph" and stumbles backwards before wrapping his arms around her and lifting her up like he used to do when she was little.

Arya laughs through the tears as she rests her chin on his shoulder. She wishes this moment would never end, that time would just freeze itself and keep her locked in Jon's embrace forever. To her dismay, Jon puts her down much too soon. She wants to protest, but he muzzles her hair and Arya can feel her heart falter. She thought he would never muzzle her hair again, she thought she would never see him again. Her eyes start tearing up again and Jon pulls her back into another hug. Arya weaves her fingers through his cotton shirt and sobs into his chest.

When Arya finally calms down, Jon pulls away from her and looks over her shoulder. Arya turns and notices him staring at Rickon. Their little brother eyes Jon warily and stares at him with big blue eyes. He does not recognize him, Arya realises. Rickon was only four or five when he had last seen Jon, and this Jon looks much different from the one Arya recalls four years ago. Perhaps she too would have not recognized him if he had not looked so much like their father. No, Arya thinks, I would have always recognized Jon.

Rickon is still staring at Jon apprehensively, unsure of what to make of the stranger in front of him. Arya wants to tell him that it is okay, that it is only Jon, their older brother, but when she opens her mouth to speak, her voice is too raspy that it is barely coherent. Instead, she outstretches her hand to him and Rickon takes it without a moment's hesitation. She pulls Rickon in for a hug and Jon encases the both of them in his embrace. For this one moment, she forgets about the pain, forgets about the losses she has suffered. They may never be a family again, but this isn't all that bad. She has Jon now, and Rickon, and she has never been more grateful.

Jon slowly tears himself away from her and Rickon, and looks behind them. He furrows his brow and appears to be in deep concentration. He barely glimpses Yoren, Gendry, Weasel and Hot Pie, but instead looks right past them and stares at the boat intently. Jon's face drops and he looks... disappointed? He turns to look at Arya and whispers the one word that disintegrates her one moment of happiness.

"Bran?" he asks.

It feels as if someone has just punched her in the chest because all her breath is suddenly knocked out of her. It had taken everything she had to let go of Bran, but the memory of his death still lingers. She closes her eyes and she sees it. All of it. She sees the icy cold stare of the Walker's empty eyes. She can still feel the Walker's teeth grazing along the side of her neck. She sees how helpless Bran had looked when he was lying on the ground, marked by a gruesome Walker bite. She remembers how scared she was when the Walker was attacking her, she remembers how even more scared she was when she found out that Bran had been bitten. She remembers violently fighting against Gendry's hold so that she could get to her brother.

The sound of Yoren's gunshot rings clearly in her ears as she opens her eyes and looks into Jon's. His expression has changed from one of hope to grief. She does not tell Jon that Bran is gone, she does not need to- her silence speaks volumes. She wonders what her big brother thinks of her now. It was her duty to protect her younger brothers and she let Bran slip through her fingers. When the Walkers attacked, all Arya had been thinking of was her own safety and she completely neglected to think about Bran and his inability to protect himself. It is her fault that Bran is dead; she should have protected him or she should have died trying.

She chances another look at Jon and to her surprise he does not look mad. Now Arya wishes that he was angry at her because the look upon is face is even more devastating. He looks broken, with fresh tears flowing from his eyes. He opens his mouth to speak, but all that comes out is a sob. He wipes the tears from his face and composes himself the best he can. "Bran- is he?"

Jon does not need to finish his sentence because Arya knows exactly what he is asking. Just as she opens her mouth to respond, she hears a gruff voice in the background answering for her. "No," Yoren announces, "I took care o' that."

She sees Jon's hands curl and clench into fists as he turns to look at Yoren. Arya wants to tell Jon that Yoren did what was best for Bran, but she remembers the distaste she had experienced towards her pack member after he shot her little brother. Yoren picks up on the discomfort easily and attempts to calm Jon. "The boy was a good lad. Very bright and brave. But then 'em Walkers attacked yer brother and yer sister here. It all happened so fast. By the time the rest o' us reacted, they had... well, yeh know."

Jon nods and takes a deep breath to calm himself. He turns to look at Yoren and mutters softly. "Thanks."

Jon turns to face Arya again and his face looks grim. With the way his lip quivers and his eyes shift to hers, she can tell that he has another question to ask. There is no hope in his eyes this time, only sadness. "Father. Did he- did he die with Bran?" Jon stutters out.

Arya closes her eyes and shakes her head. "No," she reiterates, "father died when we got separated. When the Walkers ambushed us."

Jon's eyes widen then, not expecting the answer she supplied. "So then, you've been taking care of them?" He asks, "all by yourself?"

Arya nods, "We had only met the others a couple months back, but since the ambush I-" and Arya freezes. What was she supposed to say? That she took care of her younger brothers? That clearly wasn't the case as she failed to protect Bran. "I'm sorry, Jon." She cries, "I tried to protect him, I swear I did. I just..." She hiccups, "he just... the Walkers-"

"Shh." Jon whispers as he pulls her in for another embrace. He cradles her head with both hands and she buries her face in his chest. "S'not your fault. You did the best you could. I'm just sad that there was no one there to take care of you, little sister."

"'Em not little." she manages to choke out between sobs, and she can feels Jon's smile as he presses his lips to her forehead.

"I know Ar, I know."

When the tension dissipates, Jon and the others help Arya and her pack unload the rest of the bags from the boat. Arya suggests towing the boat to shore, but Jon brushes off her idea. "We don't need it," he explains, "we have plenty of other boats back at camp." Arya does not think it is wise to abandon any resources at a time like this, but she trusts Jon, so when they leave the boat on shore, Arya reluctantly bites back her protests and follows him into the woods.

As they gather the supplies, Jon briefly introduces his other companions. The blonde haired woman who was pointing a rifle at them earlier is named Val. There was tension in the air between the blonde and the rest of the pack since they landed, but soon dissipated when Jon introduced Arya as his sister. Val says she doesn't trust newcomers, and Arya can relate. She remembers how hesitant she was to accept Yoren and the others into her pack. Arya thinks she will like Val; she looks like a warrior, neigh a goddess, and Arya cannot help but feel a little envious. Where Arya is all skin and bones, she can see the core strength behind Val's physique. As the sun shines on her, it accentuates the muscles on her biceps, but not in an unfeminine way. Though she is very toned, Val still possesses soft feminine curves. Her long, flowing, glossy blonde hair is kept out of her face with a headband and her hair fair falls loosely over her large breasts. They strain against her tank-top and Arya catches Hot Pie staring more than once.

The scared looking boy from earlier is named Podrick. He carries several bags upon his shoulders as they walk back to camp. Arya offers on several occasions to carry one for him. She is only carrying one bag at the moment and can easily take one more, but Podrick shakes his head. "No need to worry, ma'am. You've been travelling for a long time, you need your rest."

Arya is about to protest, stating that she has honestly done nothing but rest for the past few weeks, but is interrupted by the blond boy from earlier. "No need to worry about him," he states as he walks up to them with a smile on his face, "Pod here won't be able to sleep at night lest he has worked hard enough."

Arya turns to face the boy speaking to her. She remembers Jon introducing him as Edric Dayne , the boy with the blond hair and the purple eyes. Arya has never seen a natural colour like that before. Initially, she just thought they were a dark blue, but when she looks closer, she can see his eyes are in fact a deep purple. He catches her staring but does not say anything in response. In fact, he smiles at her, his eyes sparkling like amethysts . Arya quickly tears her gaze away from him, a faint blush colouring her cheeks from embarrassment.

"Your brother didn't introduce me properly earlier," Edric announces, "my name's Edric, but all my friends call me Ned."

"My father's name was Ned." Arya blurts out. She isn't sure why she tells Edric this, but the words just tumble from her lips. A dull ache creeps its way up to her heart when she hears her father's name and her smile turns into a frown.

Edric frowns back, but nods, "I'm sorry for your loss." he states sincerely. "Eddard Stark was a good man."

Arya's head snaps up at that. "How did you know-"

"Well, for one, Jon has told me everything about his family." Edric replies smiling. Arya frowns at that. Everything? "And two, I knew your father before all this happened. Well, I wouldn't really say I knew him, but he and my Aunt Allyaria used to date before he met your mother. You see, I'm from Dorne; born and raised. Once, your family went to Dorne for vacation, and your father and the rest of your family came over to our home for a visit. I met him then, but I was only a baby at the time so I don't remember."

"I don't remember that." Arya confesses.

Edric shrugs, "You probably weren't born at the time, or perhaps you were too young to remember. Anyways, when- OW!"

Gendry bumps shoulders roughly with Edric as he strides right past them . He grunts something as he passes, but Arya cannot make out what he said. Suddenly, she is angry at him. Didn't he at least have the decency to give Edric a proper apology?

"Watch where you're going, stupid!" She yells at him.

Gendry ignores her and continues to walk on. Frustrated at the stupid bull, Arya finds a rock on the ground and balances it in her hand before roughly throwing it at Gendry. The rock hits him on the back of the head with a thump, and ricochets, landing on the ground a few feet beside him.

"Ow!" Gendry exclaims as he turns to face her. "What kind of a girl throws rocks at people?" he asks, enraged.

"The bad kind!" Arya exclaims as she proceeds to ignore Gendry for the rest of the journey.

Arya finds that she likes talking to Edric. He isn't self-absorbed like the other upper-class men she has met, and Arya regrets not having the pleasure of meeting him before the pandemic. He talks about Dorne with an animated voice, and Arya almost wishes she was there- almost. It is the opposite of Winterfell with its scalding hot temperatures and its sandy beaches, but Edric mentions that Dornish lemon cakes pale in comparison to anything else, and Arya is sold.

She doesn't keep far from Jon, though. His arm is wrapped loosely over her shoulder and he occasionally muzzles her hair as they make their way back to his camp. Arya smiles as Jon's callused fingers gently brush the dirty locks of hair upon her head. Despite the earlier grief they both expressed from the deaths of their loved ones, Arya cannot help but be happy. What hurt most about this entire pandemic was losing her favourite brother. She had no idea if she would ever see Jon again; she did not know if he was alive, if he was safe. Cruel fate had taken him away from her, but he is back now and she is determined to never let him go again.

All of a sudden, Gendry freezes ahead of her, causing Arya to crash into his large frame. She is about to tumble onto the floor, but Jon catches her easily, steadying her on her own two feet. "What's wrong with you, stupid?" Arya chastises.

Gendry raises a hand to quiet her. She is infuriated that he would dare tell her to shut up after he almost knocked her off her feet, but then he speaks, "Do you guys hear that?"

Everyone quiets down in that moment. She briefly wonders what Gendry is talking about until she hears the quiet sound of muffled laughter in the background. She stares at Jon wide-eyed, about to ask him the question that everyone from her pack is thinking, but Yoren beats her to the punch, "There are others here?"

Jon smiles, but it is Val who answers, "You didn't think it was just us now, did yeh?"

"How many others are there?" Gendry inquires.

Val is about to answer when she is interrupted by an eager Rickon. "Look!" he exclaims as he points forward.

Arya and the others move forward past the clearing to see what Rickon is pointing at. The sight that awaits Arya, shocks her. There are dozens of tents surrounding the large cabin she used to sleep in as a child and she spies several people gathered around the cabin. Arya cannot remember the last time she had seen so many people; there must be twenty, maybe thirty people on the island. They all seem so carefree; performing various tasks, chatting, and she even spies a couple of children running about.

Others quickly take recognition of them, and now dozens of strangers are staring at her and the rest of her pack intently. Jon places a protective hand around her shoulder and introduces Arya, Rickon, and the rest of their pack.

"We sent you out to get some fish and you return to us with two wolves," a familiar voice states, "but I suppose that's not fair because they are half Tully." A short man emerges from the crowd and despite his small stature, it takes Arya a while before she recognizes him. There is a large gash on the middle of his face and his nose is now missing, but the man standing in front of them is unmistakeably the imp, Tyrion Lannister. Arya never had the chance to speak to Tyrion in the past, but she remembers how much she hated Cersei and Joffery, and does not think Tyrion will offer any better company. To her surprise, Jon just smiles at him and Tyrion is beaming back at her brother. It seems as if the imp is happy about their reunion, but something still unsettles Arya about the youngest Lannister brother.

After the exchange, the other strangers welcome everyone to their home and begin showing them around. Questions slice through the air, "What is it like out there? Are there still a lot of Walkers? How did you find the island? You lived in a shed? Are there others?"

Arya is happy when Yoren answers for them because she is simply exhausted from their long journey. Her stomach churns when she smells soup brewing and she thinks of how long it has been since she last had a decent meal.

"You guys must be starving." Edric comments, reading her mind. Arya just nods and Edric smiles kindly, "Well, it shouldn't be too long before lunch. Why don't you sit and-"

Arya does not catch the second half of his sentence because a flash of auburn suddenly catches her eye. Her head snaps back to catch the familiar colour and Arya is dumbfounded when she sees Robb and Sansa standing outside the cabin door. Arya blinks, staring at her siblings as if she has just seen a ghost. She is shocked to find both Sansa and Robb still alive, and she finds that her siblings mirror similar expressions once they catch sight of Rickon and herself.

Arya does not remember when she started running, but she must have because in the next moment she has launched herself into Sansa's arms. She can tell that Sansa is a bit surprised that she went to embrace her before Robb - after all, Arya had always been closer with her brothers - but there is something about her sister that Arya misses. She remembers bickering constantly with Sansa, throwing food and other debris at her sister. She even remembers hitting Sansa once; a punch in the arm that resulted in a bruise and a four-week grounding. Arya looks back on all the fighting and it fills her with regret. Sansa and Arya had never gotten along with one another as children, and it wasn't until their separation that Arya realised how much she truly loves her sister. Ever since then, Arya's biggest regret was to have her sister die, never knowing how much she loves her, to always believe that she hated her. But now she is here, and she is alive, and Arya wishes she can take back every hurtful thing she has ever inflicted upon her sister.

Arya's hands wind tighter around her waist and she squeezes Sansa, smudging dirt and tears on her dress. The last time she hugged Sansa when she was dirty, her sister had pushed her away in disgust and scolded Arya for ruining her dress, but now Sansa is hugging Arya back with equal vigor, her fingers digging into the short, greasy locks of Arya's hair as she sobs into her shoulder. Arya feels a pair of strong arms wrap around her from behind, and she knows it is Robb encasing Sansa and herself in his hold. He is pressing kisses on her head as he mutters something about how he thought she was dead and how he thought he would never see her again.

Jon and Rickon join them soon enough, and the Stark children gather around for one large group hug. Arya laughs through the tears as she embraces her family. She can no longer feel the void nor the emptiness that has filled her heart for much too long. In the present moment, Arya is neither sad nor fearful. She is something that she hasn't been since her mother passed away all those years ago. For the first time in a long time, Arya Stark is happy. She is finally reunited with her family, and that is all she needs to pull through. They may be broken, without a mother nor a father and a sibling missing, but they will survive and take care of one another. The lone wolf dies but the pack survives.

Pleasantries are made between the other members in camp once the siblings finally break apart. Arya is introduced to many people, though she forgets most of their names too quickly. They all seems nice enough, and they kindly offer more food when Arya and her pack quickly scarf down their portion of lunch. Arya protests the offer for food at first, feeling guilty for taking so much, but Jon assures her that food is not a problem here. She finds it hard to believe that the resources at camp can sustain so many people for such a long period of time, but she does not question Jon and happily eats two more portions. The food is probably the most delicious thing Arya has eaten since they abandoned the shed. Her plate is filled with white rice, venison and she is also presented with a bowl of soup, filled with a variety of roots and vegetables she does not recognize. Arya offers to clean the dishes, but the others convince her to take it easy for today. Catching Arya's guilty look, Jon assures her that they will find jobs for her and the rest of the pack tomorrow, but he insists that she rest for today.

"If you wish, Arya, you may take my tent to sleep in." Edric politely offers when Arya is finished eating. Before Arya can even think of responding, she hears a loud hacking sound and turns to see Gendry coughing up the spoonful of rice he just ate. Yoren pats on his back roughly, and she takes notice that his face is beet red.

"It's a rather small tent, so I normally sleep there on my own," Edric explains as he captures her attention away from Gendry, "but I am sure that you and Weasel will find it spacious enough to sleep comfortably. My friends, Beric and Thoros share a rather large tent. I am sure they wouldn't mind if I moved in with them."

Arya is about to thank Edric for his offer, but is quickly interrupted by an eager Sansa. "Arya!" She calls, emerging from the cabin and gracefully heading towards Edric and herself. "I am sorry to interrupt your conversation with my sister, but would you mind if I borrowed Arya for a few moments?" Sansa politely asks. At any other time, Arya would have rolled her eyes at Sansa's formalities, but instead she just smiles, happy that the pandemic has not changed her sister.

"No need to apologize, Sansa." Edric states politely with a smile. He quickly takes his and Arya's dirty dishes and leaves her with a parting glance and a sweet smile. Arya shyly smiles back as Edric takes his leave.

Sansa takes hold of Arya's hand, weaving their fingertips together as she leads her to the large cabin. "I asked a couple of the girls to help me draw you a bath." Sansa states. Arya frowns as she focuses her attention on her hygiene. The last time she took a bath was six days ago and Arya only now begins to realise how foul she and the rest of her pack must smell to the other islanders. Though the ocean was easily accessible, they hadn't been able to bathe since the temperature dropped. The water was freezing cold and no one wanted to risk falling ill, so their hygiene - or lack thereof - had been a small price to pay. Arya mutters an apology, but Sansa just smiles back at her sister, insisting that she has nothing to be sorry about.

The cabin isn't what Arya remembers. She could have sworn it was much bigger when she was younger, and it was definitely cleaner. Where once the cabin was filled with trophies, art work, and prestigious Baratheon heirlooms, it is now filled with boxes and dust. Some artwork still remains, but the Baratheon heirlooms are replaced with Lannister ones. She looks to her right and remembers where there once was a sculpture of a large stag with the emblem, Ours is the Fury . It is now replaced with a smaller gold lion. Its teeth are bared menacingly, and the site of it sends a chill down her spine. On the bottom left corner, the words Hear Me Roar are scrawled in small, cursive, crimson letters.

She only stares at the lion for a moment before Sansa drags her away from the main room and brings her to the bathroom. True to her word, the bath is filled to the brim with hot water. She can still see some of the steam rise from the water, and there is a large assortment of cleansing products lain out neatly by the side of the tub. Arya is about to turn around to lock the door, but is surprised when she still sees Sansa there waiting for her.

"Come." Sansa states gently.

Arya walks to her sister and she watches Sansa as she carefully begins to peel the clothing from her body. Arya raises her hands to help Sansa peel off her shirt and suddenly Arya is a child again. The unfamiliar bathroom reverts to the one she used to bathe in back in Winterfell. The dull gold tiles turn back to the familiar grey and white, she spies the large wolf portrait by the sink, and she can even smell the faint scent of her mother's lavender candles.


"Arya, what have I told you about playing with your brothers?" she hears a familiar voice call.

Arya gasps and holds in her breath as she turns to face her mother. She looks just as she used to when Arya was still a child, before her hair was streaked with white and before the Walkers bit her. She is no longer sickly looking, nor covered with sweat, but rather the young, vibrant Catelyn Tully she had always loved and remembered. She still hasn't recovered from the shock of seeing her mother and she has to remind herself to breathe when her chest tightens and her cheeks turn purple.

"You are almost a woman and you are still behaving as a child." her mother scolds. "I should have never allowed your father to indulge you so much. Look at you, Arya. You are filthy! You've covered yourself in mud from head to toe. It will take hours to get you clean. You cannot keep acting like this, Arya. Your sister was far more mature than you when she was half your age."

Arya cannot move, she cannot speak. She just stares at her mother with tears brimming in her eyes. "Are you even listening to me young lady? Arya? Arya! Arya!"

"Arya!" Sansa calls, breaking her from her trance. The tiles revert back to the dull gold and the wolf portrait vanishes. Her mother is gone as well and a dull ache fills her heart. She turns to look at Sansa and it suddenly dawns upon her how much she really looks like her mother- their mother. Her hair is a few shades lighter and Sansa is a few inches taller, but the resemblance is still uncanny.

"Arya, I said can you please get in the tub." Sansa states.

Arya looks down and notices she is fully nude. When did that even happen? But she obliges and steps into the large tub of water. The water is still hot and Arya winces at the harsh temperature of the bath water. She has no time to recover before Sansa dunks a bowl of hot water upon her head. She spits the water from her mouth and rubs at her eyes. When she opens them, Arya notices that the bath water immediately turns a murky brown colour as it washes the dirt from her body.

"Perhaps we should have given you a shower first." Sansa muses as she sees the bath water turn darker.

"The showers work?" Arya asks, surprised.

"There is no electricity and no water from the pipes," Sansa explains as she starts scrubbing the bar of soap on her skin, "but some of the people here built a couple of showers a few years back. We boil the water and then pour it into a large bucket. Then we have a lever you can pull that slightly tips the bucket, making it very similar to a real shower. It always takes a lot of hard work to set up, so we don't use the showers every day, but they are absolutely wonderful. It's always the little things you miss."

Arya nods as Sansa grabs the bottle of shampoo and squeezes a copious amount on her palm. "How come you have so much stuff?" Arya asks as Sansa begins to lather the shampoo in her hair. "Like the shampoo, how have you been able to salvage that for so long?"

"Well, like you, a lot of people bring stuff with them when they find the island," Sansa explains, "but usually when we run out of stuff, we get a group of people to go back into the city to find more supplies." Arya freezes, but Sansa does not catch her hesitation. "It's getting harder to find anything now and more recently we've had to go outside King's Landing to find food and other supplies, but we've managed to cope for this long."

"Yo-You have people leave the island?" Arya asks, her voice breaking.

Sansa stops lathering her hair, "Arya," she states gently, "we only have volunteers go out and grab stuff. You know we would never force you or Rickon to go. We wouldn't force any of your friends to go unless they wished to. Besides, I just got you back. Do you honestly believe Robb, Jon or I would let you out of our sights again?"

Arya immediately relaxes, the tension quickly dispelling from her body. "I never want to go back out there again." Arya admits, thinking of the near death experiences she has already had. Her body shakes as she remembers Bran's death and the ambush she was in with Gendry.

Sansa gently places her hands upon Arya's shoulders and she immediately feels comforted. They stay there for a while before Sansa resumes washing her once more. Sansa changes the water three times until she is satisfied with Arya's cleanliness. Arya emerges from the bathtub and Sansa brings a towel to help dry her off. Her fingers absently trace the ribs visible upon her abdomen and she sees Sansa flinch every time she comes across a scar or a bruise.

"I cannot believe you went through that all on your own." Sansa admits as she stares at her injuries. "Robb and Jon both thought you were dead, but I told them you weren't. You've always been a fighter, so brave, I knew I couldn't lose you so easily."

Sansa finishes drying her body and then runs the thick towel through Arya's damp hair. "And your hair..." Sansa smirks as she runs her fingers through the clean, wavy, damp hair that now reaches the top of her shoulders.

"I know," Arya admits, smiling, "you're mad that I cut it."

Sansa shakes her head, "No, I like it." she admits as she continues to towel dry her hair. "Short hair suits you."

When Sansa fetches her some clothes, Arya automatically thinks that her sister will attempt to dress her in a frilly, floral garment. That is why it comes as a shock to her when Sansa stalks back into the room with a pair of black Dr. Martens, dark blue skinny jeans, a loose white t-shirt with a picture of a howling wolf, and a simple grey jacket.

Sansa also brings her some clean undergarments; just a simple wireless bra and a pair of white cotton briefs; none of the lacy lingerie crap she knows her sister wears. As Sansa dresses her, Arya catches her sister staring at her protruding ribs and the many lesions coating her body. Injuries were never uncommon for Arya. Whenever she'd come home from school or playing sports with her brothers, Arya would bring home a new bruise or scab, but these lesions are different. Though there are still many bruises and scabs covering her body, they are also accompanied by scars and burns- permanent fixtures that serve as constant reminders of all the hardships she has encountered. As Sansa slides on the bra straps, her fingers ghost over the long scar on her shoulder. She got that scar about two years ago from accidently stabbing herself with her own machete. A few Walkers had attacked her when she was out on a supply run and though Arya had managed to kill them, she did not come out of the battle unscathed. One Walker had knocked her over, causing her to fall on her machete. As she hit the ground, the blade of the weapon punctured the skin and penetrated her from the shoulder, marking yet another memory she would much rather have forgotten.

They never talk about the scars, though. Even as she sees Sansa ghost her fingers over the hideous lesions, she remains silent about the abrasions. Instead she tells Arya about the camp and the others living here. She tells her about their family and all the things she missed as their siblings grew up. "Many of the people sleep outside," Sansa tells her as she runs a brush through Arya's tangled hair. "The Red Keep is far too small to host so many people, so we only sleep inside the cabin during winter and bad storms. Since the Red Keep belongs to the Baratheons, they always sleep inside the cabin and have been kind enough to give Robb and I our very own room. Jon and most of the others sleep in the tents, which I'm sure will be offered to your friends as well."

"The Baratheons are here?" Arya questions, not recalling seeing Robert nor any other Baratheons when she arrived.

"Well, not all of them," Sansa clarifies, "Robert died during the pandemic, but Cersei is here and so is Joffrey." Sansa's voice cracks as she says Joffrey's name and Arya suppresses the urge to call him a prick.

"So I take it that you are still dating him." Arya states.

"Yes. Joffrey is my boyfriend and I love him." She states. Arya does not respond to Sansa's statement. Though she still hates Joffery and thinks he's a cunt, she refuses to address this to her sister. She hasn't seen Sansa in almost four years and the last thing she wants is to start an argument. "As I was saying," Sansa states as she continues to brush Arya's hair, "I have my own room in the cabin. I know Jon has probably arranged a place for you to sleep, but I much rather you share a bed with me."

"But... don't you want your own room?" Arya asks. Sansa and Arya had to share a room growing up when they were younger. Sansa detested sleeping with Arya in the past and demanded that she get her own place to sleep in as she needed her privacy. It was due to Sansa's objections that the Starks moved into a larger home, but now Sansa was offering to share?

Sansa stops brushing her hair and turns to face her sister. She kneels on the floor, taking Arya's hands in her own and looks straight into her sister’s eyes. "I haven't seen my sister in over three years. The last thing I want is to spend more time away from you." Sansa tells her with the utmost sincerity. As Arya stares back into her sister’s eyes and, seeing the vulnerability behind them, she has no other option but to accept her offer. Besides, the thought of spending her nights with Sansa makes her happy. She has never slept away from Rickon before, but she is sure Robb and Jon will take care of him.

As they head downstairs, Arya spots a large mirror in the hallway. She cannot remember the last time she has seen her own reflection, with the exception of the distorted images she'd see of herself in the ocean. Arya hesitantly steps towards the mirror, not knowing what she even expects to see. When she finally gathers her courage, Arya takes a step towards the mirror and cannot help but gasp at her reflection.

No longer does she see the ugly horse faced girl that she remembers. Her long, slim face is now gone and replaced with soft cheekbones. Her hair that now reaches her shoulders, lays neatly upon her head in soft little waves. Arya takes a closer look at her reflection and can see the pattern of freckles that cover her nose and cheeks. Though her eyes are still baggy and covered in dark circles, Arya cannot deny that she has grown into a beautiful young woman.

She remembers constantly being compared to her aunt in the past, and it wasn't until today that Arya finally saw the resemblance. Her aunt was supposedly one of the most beautiful women in the world, and though Arya does not think she is nearly as pretty as her aunt or Sansa, she no longer considers herself as an ugly little duckling. She briefly wonders if Lyanna looked like she did when she was a child. Long thin face, gangly arms, hollow cheek bones. She wonders if anyone had ever called her aunt horse face or underfoot as a child.

"Arya Stark." she hears a voice call from behind. Arya turns around and finds herself face to face with Cersei Baratheon-Lannister. Arya has to admit that even through the pandemic, Cersei remains as beautiful as always with her long, wavy blonde hair and her pale green eyes. There are a few wrinkles upon her face, but she is still a striking woman and certainly does not look as old as she truly is. There is a coldness in her voice that perturbs Arya, a sense of authority as if Cersei believes she is superior to everyone else. She has always hated Cersei in the past and still holds onto most of that animosity. Robb, Jon, and herself, would always refer to Cersei as a bitch behind her back, much to the displeasure of her mother and Sansa. She does not cower from Cersei's stare, and to her surprise Cersei does not look angry, but rather amused.

"Well, haven't you grown into quite the beautiful young woman?" Cersei comments with a smirk.

Arya wants to tell Cersei that she can go fuck herself, but she remembers that she is living in her home, so she bites back her retort. She isn't about to respond to Cersei's statement until she catches Sansa giving her a pleading look. "Thank you, Mrs. Baratheon." Arya mumbles out. She sees Sansa flinch beside her and wonders what was improper with her statement.

Cersei does not look displeased with her statement but corrects her nonetheless, "call me Ms. Lannister. My husband is dead, I am no longer a Baratheon." Arya simply nods and Cersei continues, "I will be sure to find you a room in the cabin. There is a room filled with boxes that I can get a couple of men to clear out and you may sleep there. I'm sure we have a spare mattress somewhere as well. Unfortunately, the room is a bit small but it's better than sleeping outside in the filth." Cersei states disdainfully.

"Actually, I've already offered to share my room with Arya." Sansa interrupts in a quiet, meek voice.

Cersei turns to look at Sansa and gives her an icy glare. The look she gives her is only for a brief moment, and Arya begins to wonder if she had just imagined it. Cersei quickly smoothens out her expression and gives Sansa a soft smile. "That's odd, I was made to believe you and Joffrey usually share a bed."

"I am sure Joffrey will understand if I wish to spend some more time with my sister, whom I have not seen in almost four years." Sansa replies.

For a moment there is silence, and the two women appear to be in a standoff, both eyeing the other one warily. "Very well." Cersei states, finally breaking the silence. "Though I am sure Joffery will be disappointed to hear this news. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work that needs attending." And with that, Cersei sashays out of the room, the clink of her heels announcing her departure.

What the fuck was that about? Arya questions to herself as she watches Cersei leave. When she was a child, the older woman always doted on Sansa, admiring her beauty and polite manners. But now, if Arya wasn't mistaken, it was almost as she was treating Sansa as an enemy. It was always Arya, Cersei hated. Cersei often complained to Robert and her parents about her wildness and attitude. She turns to look at Sansa and notices a slight tremble in her fingers, but Sansa is quick to compose herself, dragging Arya out of the cabin and already steering the conversation to a more pleasant subject.

She meets Joffrey for the first time in Sansa's room. It is late at night, and the majority of the people on the island are asleep. Arya is preparing for bed in Sansa's bathroom. She removes her clothes and dresses herself in only a pair of briefs and one of Jon's old t-shirts. The garment fits her loosely and the hem of the shirt reaches her mid-thigh, considering Arya is significantly shorter than her brother. It may not be the most modest of clothes, but she is only sharing her bed with Sansa and it feels nice to sleep in something comfortable for a change. Back in the shed, she would always have to dress modestly, even at night, since she was sharing her sleeping quarters with males. It was a bit easier when it was only her brothers, but with the newfound presence of Yoren, Gendry, Hot Pie and Lommy, Arya even had to force herself to wear a bra while she slept.

She is bent over the sink, furiously brushing at her teeth, watching the brush as it stains red with blood. Sansa says it will do that for a few days as her gums are not in the healthiest condition. Toothpaste was always scarce back in the cabin and her oral hygiene suffered greatly from the lack of supply. She spits out the last of the red, minty substance when she hears a faint argument in the background. Though it has been years since she last saw him, Arya does not think she will ever forget the whinny, petulant, sound of Joffrey's voice.

Arya quickly puts her toothbrush away and emerges from the bathroom, not giving a second thought to her lack of clothing. "Is there a problem?" Arya asks rudely as she glares at Joffrey. She tries to keep her calm, as technically this is his cabin, but she cannot hold her anger in for long if he continues to mistreat her sister.

Joffrey turns to look at her then There is a scowl upon his face before he catches sight of her. Slowly, the scowl softens and she does not miss the way his weasel-like eyes rove her body up and down. He looks at her as if she is a piece of meat waiting to be ravished and smirks sinisterly as his vision settles on her legs.

Arya looks down at her legs and blushes at her state of clothing- or lack thereof. She pulls at the hem of her shirt, stretching the garment until it reaches the top of her knees, but under Joffrey's eyes she still feels naked. She expects him to shout at her or insult her like he used to do when she was a child, but instead he smiles the same smile that Cersei Lannister was giving her just this afternoon.

"Arya Stark." He states as he continues to smile at her. Arya cringes at the sound, her name sounding foul when it spills from his lips. "My mother was right, you have grown into a pretty little thing."

Arya sees Sansa flinch beside her and she stares at her with wide eyes. Arya is about to snap at her too, telling her that she's not interested in her little boyfriend, but Arya realises that Sansa does not look at her with jealously. It almost looks like... fear?

"I didn't believe my mother when she first spoke about you." Joffrey continues, addressing Arya. "You were always such an ugly little thing, but the years have been good to you," Joffrey states as he looks back at her legs, "very good to you."

Arya subconsciously curls her hands into fists, but Sansa places her hand on top of her own, the action automatically soothing her anger. Whether Joffrey missed their exchange or chose to ignore it, Arya did not know. "Well, I suppose if you two would like to share a bed for a while, I don't mind. After all, you are women. Your hearts were built soft."

Arya seethes at the insult, but Sansa remains calm for the both of them. "Thank you, Joffrey. That is very kind of you."

Joffrey turns to look at Sansa then, looking at her for the first time since Arya walked in the room. It almost seems like he had forgotten she was there. "Right, of course. I suppose I will see you ladies later." Joffrey announces before he leaves the room.

Arya turns to look at Sansa then, suddenly feeling guilty for her lack of clothing in front of her boyfriend. "Sansa, I didn't mean-"

But Sansa waves off her attempted apology and brings her to bed. The mattress is so soft, and Arya cannot remember a time when she has slept on anything this comfortable. She does not realise how tired she truly is until her head hits the pillow and Sansa tucks her into bed. Suddenly, all the anger and tension dissipates from her body and she falls asleep before Sansa can wish her a goodnight.

Arya isn't the only one to quickly adjust to camp life. The rest of her pack members immediately find refuge at the Red Keep. She spies Hot Pie in the kitchens surrounded by a large group of people. She finds that they dote on his every word as he explains the techniques for properly kneading dough. The food is a significant improvement from what they've had before. With Hot Pie behind the kitchens and bountiful of ingredients to work with, the food has to be the most delicious thing she has ever eaten. Even Cersei seems impressed as she takes a sip from the hearty vegetable stew Hot Pie prepared.

Even Yoren takes well to the island. He and Tyrion become quick companions, instantly bonding over their love of liquor- out of all things. Arya never catches either man without a flask in their hands, but she smiles when she finds Yoren eating a bit at meals. He seems to be getting healthier and stronger as the days pass, the youngest Lannister clearly being a good influence on him. It isn't a shock to her that both men take to each other quite quickly. Both men are intelligent, charming, and humorous in their own way. Tyrion doesn't seem to mind Yoren's unkempt appearance or his life before the pandemic, which is a lot more than she can say for his sister, whom Arya catches giving Yoren dirty looks. Or perhaps it is her brother that Cersei eyes with such disdain? Either way, both men are nonplussed by her hostility and continue to chatter away as they ignore Cersei's presence.

Rickon also seems to be doing quite well and he bonds almost immediately with his brothers. He shares a bed with Jon, adjusting quickly to the brother that resembles her the most, but it is still Arya he clings to. It is always her he sits beside during meal times. Since he is merely a child, he isn't assigned a job unlike Arya and the rest of the pack, but still helps his sister fulfil all her duties of the day. She teaches her brother how to set up snares, and they end up catching a fair share of squirrels and pigeons for the camp. With the threat of the Walkers virtually eliminated, Arya finds herself enjoying her time with Rickon and they form a deeper connection than the one they had back in the shed.

Perhaps one of the most shocking adjustments is Weasel. She remembers the girl being so frightened by strangers and unfamiliarity, but shockingly, she bonds with most of the girls at camp quite well. Everyone dotes over Weasel, especially since she is the youngest resident. Sansa is especially taken with the little girl, spending hours with her every morning, braiding her hair and dressing her in cute outfits. It occurs to Arya that Weasel is the younger sister Sansa always wishes she had, one that she can dress in pretty garments and bestow with knowledge in regards to the traditional feminine customs Arya always found so petty. Arya cannot help but be slightly jealous of their relationship. She and Sansa had never gotten along like that when Arya was Weasel's age, and where it took weeks for Weasel to adjust to Arya, the little girl is immediately taken with her sister. But that jealously does not last long because Weasel always manages finding her way to Arya several times a day, and Arya smiles at the fact that she has not lost her old friend.

The only person who does not seem to improve from camp life is Gendry. The other campers have been nothing but friendly and have attempted to start several conversations with him, but he always brushes them off and spends most of his time alone. His mood has dropped considerably since they landed on the island, and though a part of her is still mad at Gendry, the other part deeply worries for him. Though she hasn't known Gendry for long, he does not strike her as the type of person who would seclude himself from other people. She thinks back to the first time she met him, back when they were still strangers. He was always so talkative with Arya and her brothers, quick to make friends and was a respected member at of the pack. She knows something is wrong, especially when she catches him secluded in a far off corner still within the campus, tinkering away with a box of tools and various bits of machinery. After Arya and the others had settled for a couple of days, they were soon assigned various camp tasks. With Gendry's obvious muscles and brute strength, he performed most of the hard labor, such as building shelters and furniture, and chopping down wood for fires. Whatever he is working on now is not a task he was assigned, but something he has chosen to do out of his own free will. It seems that nowadays Gendry is always burying himself in some sort of work, and she wonders why he would spend his break time working rather than relaxing and chatting with the other people at camp.

He looks up at her then, and Arya loses herself in his dark blue eyes. The stubbornness from his face is gone, and the look he gives her is one filled with vulnerability. Suddenly, Arya cannot remember why she is mad at him. The anger dispels from her and all she sees is Gendry, her friend. She's never had many friends before, always being the outcast in her youth. Even the few friends she has made were always no more than acquaintances. None of them ever understood her more than the boy sitting a few paces ahead of her. He is different from Yoren, different from Sansa, and different from Jon in a way that Arya cannot place. As he returns her stare and his expression softens, Arya begins to realise how much she truly misses him, their fight seeming so petty and meaningless.

She takes a step towards him, intending to apologize and make amends, but then she hears her name being called in the distance. She turns to find Edric making his way towards her. He smiles as he approaches her and begins a casual conversation, completely oblivious to the moment she was sharing with Gendry.

Gendry.

She turns to where he was seated just moments ago only to find the place empty with not even a single bolt nor gadget from the machinery he was tinkering with. Her heart sinks and she cannot begin to explain the feeling of disappointment that tugs at her heart. She turns back to Edric and resumes their conversation, though it is mostly one-sided. She is trying to pay attention to Edric, she really is, but when she talks to him all she can think about is the stupid boy with the black hair and blue eyes.

She walks with Edric back to the campfire where her brothers, Yoren, and Tyrion are already eating their dinner. She takes her usual seat in between Robb and Rickon, while Edric fetches food for Arya and himself. Before Arya even has the opportunity to make herself comfortable, Rickon jumps on her and begins animatedly talking about his day. Normally, Arya always laughs and enjoys the shenanigans her brother is up to, but today she is distracted and simply wishes Rickon could just keep quiet for one day.

Edric brings two plates of rice, veggies and a hardboiled egg, setting the plate in front of Arya. Arya picks at the food, eating no more than a spoonful of rice and she does not even touch her vegetables. She picks at the egg, crumbling it between her fingers until she is left with a mess of yellow debris and egg whites. In the corner of her eye, she can see Robb's disapproving stare. Sansa must have told her brothers about her protruding ribs, because he and Jon constantly chastise her about malnutrition. They force her to eat something any chance they get, and she can feel the uncomfortable stretch of her stomach with the bountiful amounts of food they have forced her to eat. She's not in the mood for one of their lectures today, so she quickly thrusts the barely touched plate over to Robb, and announces she is tired and is going to retire early. Before any of her brothers even have the chance to object, Arya is already gone, making her way to the cabin without a second look back.

Arya enters the room she shares with Sansa and is quick to notice her sister's absence. It's not even fully dark outside, and she knows Sansa is still eating her dinner inside the cabin with Cersei and Joffrey. Arya doesn't bother waiting for Sansa and begins to unbuckle her belt. She swiftly strips her garments, and removes her bra, leaving her bare save for her underwear. She hops into bed, not even caring to put on a shirt. Instead, she tugs the blankets up to her chin before turning on her side and laying her head against the pillow. Within moments, Arya is asleep.

She awakes hours later, rubbing at her eyes as she sits up in bed. Arya vaguely remembers her dream, the memories created by her subconscious slowly fading after every waking minute. Though she does not quite remember the exact contents of the dream, she does remember it was pleasant and vaguely recalls Gendry making an appearance.

Arya blinks a few times, trying to adjust her eyes to the darkness. She isn`t sure what time it is, but judging by the lack of noise from camp and looking out the window, she predicts its quite late at night but not yet dawn. She turns to her side and spies Sansa fast asleep to her right. Her hair is wrapped in a loose bun and she is hugging a pillow as she gently breathes in and out. Arya settles back under the covers and closes her eyes before she realises sleep will not come. Though it is the middle of the night, Arya is wide awake and resolves to get up, promising herself she'll take a nap sometime later in the day.

She is careful not to wake Sansa, and mentally cringes as the bed gives a little squeak when she rolls off it. She pads through the room silently, her feet stealthily stepping on the floor boards with the grace of cat. The dancing lessons her mother made her take as a child proved to pay off. She steps into the bathroom and carefully shuts the door behind her.

As soon as she stands up on two feet, she can feel the pressure of her bladder bearing down. She crouches over the big hole in the bathroom where there used to be a toilet. Arya does not know how the camp members managed to transform the toilet into an outhouse, but resolves not to think about it. When Arya peels of her underwear, she is shocked to find that it is coated with a clear, sticky substance. She wrinkles her nose at the smell and looks at the strange substance, baffled of what it could be. She`ll probably ask Sansa about it in the morning.

Making her way to the sink, Arya grabs the pitcher of water perched on the bathroom shelf and uses it to wash her hands. She also splashes some of the lukewarm water on her face, wiping the crust away from her eyes. She peels off the underwear, and tosses it in the basket of soiled clothes before quietly entering the room once more. She is relieved to find Sansa still asleep, the muffled sound of her breathing still echoing across the room. Arya grabs a fresh pair of undergarments and quickly slips it on, as well as some sweat pants, a dark blue camisole, and a loose white knitted shrug. Sparing one last glance at her sister, Arya gracefully exits the room, being careful not to make a peep when she closes the bedroom door shut. Quiet as a shadow.

It isn't until she steps outside the cabin door that Arya realises she is barefoot. She briefly considers going back for her shoes, but they are in Sansa's room and she has already made it this far without waking anyone up. So Arya continues to walk through the camp, gritting her teeth when she accidently steps on a pebble.

Though they are relatively safe on the island, there are always at least two people awake to keep watch. Jon has assured her that they had never had a Walker problem before, but it seems that the paranoia from the Walkers has not let up. As Arya makes her way towards the tents, she spies Podrick and another boy whose name she cannot remember. They both tend to the fire as they quietly share whispers. The other boy spies her immediately and sends her a friendly wave. She feels guilty now for not remembering his name. Podrick sees her a few seconds later and gives her a friendly nod. She is thankful that they do not question her as to why she is up so early and she flashes a friendly smile at the two boys as she passes.

She isn't sure why she is out here or what she hopes to accomplish by coming here so early in the morning, but nevertheless she finds herself standing outside of Gendry's tent. She halts just outside the tent and bites on her lip, questioning if she should step inside. He's probably asleep, stupid. He'll just be angry at you if you wake him up. But despite her reservations, Arya pushes the flap aside and steps inside.

It's the first time she's been in Gendry's tent, since she's been in anyone's tent. There are two twin mattresses that lay side by side from one another. On the far side of the room there are a few bags pushed to the side and clothes are lain haphazardly in a corner. The space isn't what Arya would call large, and she feels guilt and shame gnawing at her heart. After all, she was sleeping on a large bed, in a spacious room, with her own private bathroom.

The boys look comfortable though, more at peace than she has ever seen them. Hot Pie lays on his stomach and the gentle sound of his snores fill the room. She sees the drool dribble from his chin and pool on the pillow he is resting on. She finds the sound of his faint snoring soothing, bringing back one of the few pleasant memories from the shed. She used to be annoyed at her brothers for snoring when she was a child, but the action means something so much more to her now then what it meant back then. The snores signify life, the show that they are still human, and she tries not to let her emotions overtake her when she thinks of how much more different life would be without that sound. Hot Pie shifts onto his side, and his snores fill the room once more- he has always been a restless sleeper.

Gendry, on the other hand, lies flat on his back. He makes no noise while he sleeps, but she can see the steady rise and fall of his chest. He isn't wearing a shirt, and the blanket is wrapped right above his stomach, his bare pecs peeking out from under the covers. He lays an arm under his head, and the other is draped on his stomach, over the blanket. She finds herself staring a bit too long at his biceps, and she is suddenly thankful that Gendry is asleep so he cannot catch her staring.

Arya does not know what she wished to accomplish by coming here so late. Of course Gendry would be asleep, practically the entire camp is. She is about to sneak out of the tent, but then she sees Gendry's face scrunch up. His face glistens with sweat and he begins breathing more erratically. She isn't a stranger to nightmares and she wonders whether or not she should awake Gendry from his slumber. She is about to turn around and run away before he wakes and catches her in his room, but then his breathing becomes more erratic and he starts mumbling incoherent words in his sleep. Arya doesn't have the heart to prolong his torture, so she kneels beside his mattress, and raises her hand to softly shake Gendry's shoulder. His hand shoots up and grabs her wrist, none too gently and Arya cannot help but gasp at the sudden contact. Gendry's eyes automatically shoot open from the noise (he had always been a light sleeper), and his blue eyes meet her grey.

He looks confused for a moment but to her relief, he does not look angry at her for intruding into his and Hot Pie's private quarters. He rubs at his eyes and runs a hand through his hair, still damp from the sweat. Gendry sits up on the mattress, now fully awake, and removes the hand from Arya's wrist. "Arya, what are you doing here?" He asks, concerned.

She is about to respond but Hot Pie grumbles beside them, startling them both. She and Gendry are silent for a moment, not even daring to breath, least they wake their companion. After what feels like hours, but was merely a matter of seconds, Hot Pie shifts his position and his snores fill the room once more.

Gendry shifts his attention from Hot Pie to Arya. "I'll meet you outside," he whispers.

She waits for him to come with her, but he simply lays on his bed, waiting for her to leave. "Well, come on, stupid" Arya whispers back, a little too harshly.

Gendry frowns and he looks annoyed now, "I said I'll meet you outside. Now go, I'll be out in a couple of minutes."

Arya snorts. "What are you? Naked under there?" She asks sarcastically.

"Yes." Gendry replies bluntly, still looking at her.

"Oh." Arya states, as her face turns a pretty shade of crimson. She looks away from Gendry, too embarrassed to meet his eyes. "I'll... um... see you outside then," she answers as she scrambles away from the tent. Despite the heat outside, she can still feel the warmth on her face. Her thoughts keep flowing back to Gendry, him lying on his bed, imagining how he looked like under the sheets. She mentally curses at herself, wondering how such a thought entered her mind.

He comes out a moment later, wearing a pair of loose sweats and nothing else. Arya feels herself blush again when she eyes his bare torso, but Gendry does not seem to notice as he takes a seat beside her.

"I'm sorry!" she blurts out before he even has the chance to sit down.

Gendry makes himself comfortable beside her and stares at her quizzically. "For what?"

"For throwing a rock at you," Arya shrugs, "for ignoring you."

Gendry just snorts, "Right, I forgot about that. Probably because it didn't even hurt," he teases.

"It did too!" Arya yells at him, suddenly offended. "You screamed ‘ow’ and you were rubbing at your head."

Gendry chuckles, "I just did that to not wound m'lady's ego."

Arya gets angry then. She gathers up all the strength she has and punches Gendry in the arm. It annoys her when he doesn't even flinch, but merely chuckles at the blow as if it never happened. She goes to punch him again, but he grabs her wrist this time, encasing her small hand in his hold. She tries to pull her arm back, but Gendry keeps a steady grip on her wrist so she cannot even tug her hand away. She tries to punch him with her right hand this time, but he grabs that wrist too using the same hand that has captured her left wrist. Arya doesn't think of even drawing her other hand away during that small window of opportunity, and she now finds Gendry holding on to two of her wrists with only one hand. Arya desperately tugs at her hands then, but Gendry takes his opportunity to bring his other hand to her ribs and begins tickling her. That bastard . Giggles spill from her lips involuntarily as he continues to tickle her ribcage. She tries squirming away from him but Gendry's hold is too strong, so she brings up her knee and slams it in his stomach. He lets her wrists go then, pain flashing through his face momentarily as Arya frees herself and laughs at his stupid expression. He joins her then, and they both bring their palm to their mouths to muffle the laughter, least they wake up everyone at camp.

Suddenly all the tension between them is gone, and Arya and Gendry are friends once more. She lays her head on his shoulder then, and he wraps an arm around her waist, as they both fall back into a comfortable embrace. She feels warm, as she presses herself closer to Gendry`s body- he`s always warm. A yawn escapes from her lips, and Arya lets her eyes droop as the exhaustion from their scuffle finally settles in.

"I`m sorry too." Gendry suddenly says, snapping her out of her slumber.

This time, she is the one who is confused. What had he done that he needs to apologize to her? She`s the one who threw a rock at him, she`s the one who yelled at him, she`s the one who called him stupid. "What for?" Arya questions, turning to look at him.

Gendry doesn`t turn to look at her though, his eyes set firmly on the tent in front of them. "For being angry at you." Gendry shamefully admits, still not meeting her stare.

"You were angry at me?" Arya questions, though it is barely a whisper. She begins to question if Gendry even heard her, before his expression softens and he turns to look at her. She can feel his fingers rubbing soothing circles on her hip and his blue eyes find her grey in the darkness.

"Not angry." Gendry admits, "I suppose I was jealous. Don`t get me wrong, I was very happy that you found Jon, and Sansa, and Robb, but-" He trails off.

"But what?" She questions, her voice still soft.

"But I`ve never had that." Gendry admits, "I`ve never had a family before."

"But you had Tobho," Arya interrupts, "he was your family."

Gendry shakes his head then, "Don`t tell anyone this, but Tobho was never my uncle. He was just some mechanic that offered me a job when I was sixteen. He was just my boss, and yet he was still the closest thing I`ve ever had to a family. My mom died when I was little, and I never knew my father. I never went to school, I never had any friends. I just grew up in this shitty orphanage with people who didn`t give a fuck about me and kicked me out as soon as I turned sixteen."

Arya gives him a sad look then, and Gendry quickly turns away. Clearly, he doesn`t want her sympathy. He keeps his arm around her waist though, but it suddenly feels cold. "You, Yoren, Hot Pie, Lommy, Weasel, Rickon, Bran... You guys were the only friends I`ve ever had." Gendry continues, "I`ve never met someone like you before, someone who I bonded with so easily. You were different from Tobho, different from Yoren. I... You were- are the closest friend I`ve ever had. But after you reunited with your family again, we stopped speaking. I didn`t blame you, I still don`t blame you, but... I just missed my friend."

Gendry shakes his head then, and to Arya's surprise, he begins laughing. "You know what's funny?" he asks, turning to look at her. Arya just shakes her head, not knowing how to respond. "The apocalypse was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. I was so alone before, so lost, but after I met Yoren, Hot Pie, you... well that was the first time I felt like I actually belonged. Like I had a family."

"I could be your family," Arya offers. She looks up at him then, the boy who she's known for less than a year. She's always known there was something special about Gendry from the moment she met him. No one apart from her family had ever cared for a tiny little spitfire like herself before, but not Gendry- Gendry was different.

"Family" Gendry repeats, testing the word on his lips. "I've never had a family before, I've always had nothing. You want to know what's the best part of having nothing?" He asks, turning to look at her.

Arya gives him a small shake of her head. She's never truly had nothing, not like Gendry has. She grew up having everything: a large family, a big house, her dog, a bountiful amount of money. Her father spoiled her, giving her anything she'd ever wanted, and then when she lost him, lost her family... well, that was the closest Arya got to having nothing, and she couldn't think of anything good about that. Then again, she has never been before, not truly. She's always had Rickon, and even Bran for a long time.

"It’s kinda easy when you've got nothing," Gendry continues, "because nothing can’t be taken away from you. After the pandemic, the Walkers, you lost everything. You lost your family, your house, your dog. I suppose I never had anything to lose. The pandemic didn't affect me the same way it affected you."

"Well, that's good then, isn't it?" She questions.

Gendry turns to look at her then. It isn't until Arya feels the warmth of Gendry's breath upon her face, that she realises how close they really are. His face is only inches away from her, and the proximity makes her uncomfortable. "No," he states, "because now that I finally understand what it was like to have something, I don't want nothing anymore."

She's about to ask him what he wants, but before she has any time to react, Gendry presses his lips against hers. Arya is shocked by the sudden action and remains frozen as his lips slant softly over her own. She watches him as he kisses her. His eyes remain closed, and he brings one hand to cradle her head while the other hand remains on her hip. The woozy feeling she was having earlier intensifies until it feels like she is about to burst into a million pieces. Arya resolves that it’s a good feeling, and her eyes close as begins kissing him back.

She does not know how to kiss, she realises, as her lips clumsily move against his. She isn't even sure if she's doing it right, but it feels nice as their lips move in tandem. Every time their lips brush together, a new jolt is sent down to her stomach and a warmth fills her core. She begins to crave more, the featherlike touches growing infuriating as the need for him intensifies. Her hands move on their own accord, her fingers weaving in his shaggy black hair as she anchors his face to hers. Taking the hint, Gendry gently tugs on her lower lip and slowly begins to suck. She lets out a hum in the back of her throat, and is immediately embarrassed by the noise, but Gendry takes the opportunity to slide his tongue into her open mouth.

The kiss intensifies then, and Gendry presses his body harder against hers. Both of his arms are now on her back, pushing her body to his. One of his hands finds its way under her shirt and his fingers begin stroking the bare flesh on her back. His tongue explores every crevice of her mouth before gently nudging hers, encouraging her to move with him. Arya doesn't know what to do, but she begins to move her tongue nonetheless. She tries to mimic Gendry's previous actions and pushes her tongue roughly in his mouth. She feels the vibration of his moan against her lips, and then Arya's body begins to move on its own accord. Instinct takes over, and she straddles his lap, pushing against him until she feels like their bodies are molded as one. She tastes him then, and he tastes better than she could ever imagine. His mouth is warm and Arya finds that she enjoys the feeling of exploring his mouth with her tongue.

When she was younger, she always thought kissing was gross, but now she finally understands why people liked it so much, why her parents would do it quite often. It feels nice... kissing Gendry. Wait... she's kissing Gendry? Her lips immediately freeze against his, but Gendry doesn't seem to notice. It isn't until now that Arya realises what this all means, and she hates herself for succumbing her heart to yet another person.

Gendry's lips are still moving passionately against her own when Arya realises that she can't do this. She begins pushing him away from her, but he is too engrossed in kissing her to notice. Finally with one hard shove she pushes him back, and he stumbles away, falling back and digging his elbows to the ground to break his fall.

His lips are red and swollen, his eyes almost black. He looks confused for a moment before he catches the look on her face. Realisation finally dawns that she meant to push him away and stop the kiss. His eyes widen then, and he begins to apologize, but Arya doesn't hear him. She's already on her two feet, running as far away from Gendry as she can.