i. No man is an island, entire of itself.
“Lady Stark,” he whispers sometimes.
Always a whisper because no one else can know. He may be lowborn, but he is not a fool.
And always when her face is smeared with dust and her breeches are torn, and she is as unlike the ladies his mother used to sing about as he is. And only because she scrunches up her face and hits him with all her might or rails at him till he begs forgiveness.
He begs only because it makes her eyes glow with that spark that reminds him of the she-wolf she is, born of the same fire as the direwolf she talks about when she is lost in thought.
She has grown up amongst brothers, she is used to their ways, but he has never had a sister and sometimes he thinks this is what it would be like.
ii. Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime, nor hours, days, months.
It changes at Harrenhal, the first time she talks about Jaqen H'ghar with a hint of hidden admiration and he realizes that he is clenching his fists at his side. Or maybe it had always been this way and he had not voiced it even to himself because he has always had the kind of pride that is misplaced in an armorer.
She is sitting by the open fire, warming her hands, while the world around them sleeps. He does not see her all day, because Tywin Lannister keeps her with him, and it is only at night, that she returns. Some nights when he lies awake he can hear her voice whispering names under her breath that he cannot quite make out. So he stays awake just to listen to the sound of her voice and knows himself to be a fool.
It is then he realizes that she is nothing like a sister, unless he is imagining himself in the place of Jaime Lannister. It is not strange in some houses, he knows. The Targaryens have married brother and sister for centuries. But he is not a Targaryen and he is not a Lannister, so he is glad that they do not share blood, even though anyone asking would not see what difference it makes. She does not look at him either way.
He does not know the ways of the lords and ladies but he cannot imagine that lusting after a girl who has not yet flowered is as much a sin as fucking your sister. And it does make a difference; because he can then think someday even though there is no song that he can remember where the blacksmith’s apprentice from King’s Landing won the daughter of the North.
But, then again, maybe there was a song. Maybe it is just that it was never sung.
iii. I can love both fair and brown; her whom abundance melts, and her whom want betrays.
“Where did you learn to draw a sword?” she asks him, when they have left Harrenhal and Jaqen H'ghar behind and he constantly prepares for a battle that he has no stake in and knows nothing about.
“Why?” he asks instead, because he adds in irrelevant questions to prolong any conversation they might have. He can almost hear all the men he had known back at King’s Landing laughing at him.
“Curiosity, is all,” she answers, shrugging.
“I taught myself,” he replies. In his position that would be the only way to learn. It is a good thing he wants to.
“You are not very good,” she tells him, because she is Arya Stark and this is who she has always been, “You are all fire and no technique, which might win you battles, but will not win the war. I used to be like that too. I could teach you, if you like.”
She keeps to her word and it amuses him to see this chit of a girl give him instructions on how to hold a sword, even though she can barely reach up to him to adjust it right.
Till he duels her and she disarms him and has Needle to his throat in under five turns of the minute hand, then it is not so amusing. So instead, he knocks her sword from her hand and pins her under him, careful not to rest too much of his weight on her.
“Seven hells,” she groans, as her back hits the ground and his body falls on her. She glares up at him, both hands pushing against his chest, her legs trying to throw him off in a way that is decidedly angry and is not meant at all to be as pleasurable as it actually is.
“You do not fight with honor,” she states fiercely, and, as if unable to resist the urge, sticks her tongue out. It is a child’s disappointment along with a woman’s wrath, and he gets off her as quickly as he can.
She dusts herself and walks away with slow, measured steps to show him that she is angry. He doesn't need signs, he reads the slightest move of her hand, the subtlest arch of her body, the lowest slope of her shoulders. She is all he reads these days.
At night, when she and Hot Pie are asleep and his hand is on his cock and he is trying not to think of what he is thinking of, he thinks he does not love with honor either.
iv. And if unfit for tombs and hearse, our legend be, it will be fit for verse.
“You stare too often,” she states bluntly, as is her way, “I cannot understand what it is you seem to find so fascinating.”
She is not beautiful like some of the women who used to cast eyes at him while he worked at forging a piece of steel into a bull’s head helm. But it is her fire that has him casting eyes at her now. In which he forges all that he lost when he left home.
She still repeats the names at night, except now he sleeps closer and listens till he can recite them in order by heart.
“I am just trying to protect you,” he replies to her question, even though it does not answer what she asked at all, even though it is more and less than that, but then he is a blacksmith, not a poet. And this girl with her cropped hair and her dangerous sword and forthright words can be nobody’s muse.
“I don’t need protection,” she narrows her eyes at him, “and especially not from a stupid boy who cannot hold his sword right and then has to cheat to win.”
Even though she is insulting him, he feels an inexplicable surge of pride at the knowledge that his girl will never need to be saved. She is ‘his girl’ only in the darkest, deepest corners of his mind. That part of him that is still given to foolish love poetry and forges nothing but sentimental words that he will never voice out aloud. For if he were ever to allow those words on his tongue and call her ‘his’ even in jest, his cock would be in danger from her sword.
This is something he knows: Arya Stark belongs to the Northern winter and no one else.
v. Send home my long strayed eyes to me, which too long have dwelt on thee.
On some days, he thinks that maybe it’s not Arya Stark herself, but rather he who, in the absence of a more suitable
girl woman, is displacing his lust onto the nearest female figure.
He knows that had they actually reached the Night’s Watch, he would have been required to take an oath to pledge his chastity, and he would have been willing to, because it would be a matter of honor and a chance to protect all of Westeros. But here, there is neither battle nor glory, but rather the ignoble ordeal of running to save their lives from Tywin’s men or the Goldcloaks who inexplicably want his head.
It is no wonder then that he’s channeling his frustration through his cock. He would not be the first man to do so.
(He also thinks it’s basely unfair that fate seems to call him out on his lies before he’s had a chance to make them.)
“We don’t have the time,” he says, uncomfortable because both Arya and Hot Pie are watching him with undisguised interest from their positions on the mattress, “we’re leaving early tomorrow.”
The tavern woman looks him over with a half-impressed disdain. He’d been tempted to reveal that Arya was a girl so she would be kept among the women for the night, but he wants her by his side to keep her safe. She would jump up in righteous anger and go sleep alone if he were to say it, so he doesn’t.
“It is your loss,” the woman says, moving away, the dress only half-covering her breasts.
“By the gods,” Hot Pie whispers, when he comes back to lie down with them, “you are a bigger fool than your face reveals. That woman was wasted on you.”
“My brother always said that men want two things; to fight and to fuck,” she wraps her voice around the unfamiliar word and his body responds, like perhaps it always will, “you cannot fight and you don’t seem to want to fuck. You are a strange man, Gendry.”
And he thinks he should have, just to prove something to himself. But he can’t seem to. The other two talk among themselves till they fall asleep.
He stays awake.
vi. Then love is sin, and let me sinful be.
“I can help you with that.”
He leans against the shed door and she turns in alarm, clutching the cloth she uses to wrap around her budding breasts.
He keeps his eyes on her face, even though in his peripheral gaze he can see her naked skin, the cloth only covering her chest and leaving the rest for his still gaze.
“It’s you,” she says indifferently, which stings more than it probably should, “no. I don’t need help.”
He knows she is no damsel in distress, but he would still like to play the knight sometimes.
“You’re struggling,” he points out, “and you’re going to nick yourself with the pin.” On cue she does, her exclamation of frustration drawing his foot inside the shed, licensing his roving eyes as she turns her back to him.
“No,” she says again, stubborn as a mule, he knows.
“It’s because I’m a bastard, isn’t it?” he sounds angrier than he means to, because he shouldn’t want to touch her at all, when she is of high birth and not even woman-grown. But he cannot seem to help himself or stop, and she unknowingly rejects him each time, “you cannot bear the thought of a lowborn bastard boy touching your precious highborn skin.”
She turns around then, staring at him clear-eyed, her gaze free from both mockery and pity; the twin looks he associates with the matter of his lineage “the man I love most after my father is a bastard. He is the best man I know, and I would give up everything I have to see him again.”
Would you give up the names, he wants to ask, but knows that she will not. That is one thing she will not give up. Arya Stark may love but she is a warrior before she is a lover.
“Who is he?” he asks, and hopes she cannot tell how much he wants to know.
“My brother,” she turns back again, “Jon Snow.”
Snow, bastard from the North. Her half-brother then. He feels light-headed with relief, because she is not a Targaryen or Lannister either.
“I do not allow it because it is not proper,” she continues, resuming her effort.
“And you’re a Lady, of course,” he mocks, knowing she will jump to defend her honor, “I forget that you must be proper at all times.”
“I am not a Lady,” she insists, her eyes hold the spirit of her direwolf.
“You certainly act like one,” he knows there is nothing that infuriates her more than his derisive tone, and he also knows he is no knight for taking advantage of it.
“Fine,” she tells him, “you can tie it up; I don’t care if it’s proper and anyone who does can tell me so in the seven hells, when I meet them in the afterlife.”
He can’t be a very good person, he thinks, tricking a mere child into letting him touch her. The shiver that goes through him when her smooth skin is under his hands is anything but childlike. He wonders if he can make her feel it too. Her skin is pliant, as she never is herself with him.
He is here, still with her, to protect her; he shouldn’t be the one she needs protection from.
vii. I am two fools, I know, for loving, and for saying so.
It is as if once having mentioned him, she cannot stop talking about him at all.
She constantly chatters about that bastard from the North, her half-brother Snow, and it is a familiar pang of jealousy that churns at his gut that she can stay with him all day and sleep next to him all nights and still have her head filled with Jon Snow.
“I don’t want to hear about him,” he stares into the fire, the trek into the Riverlands is never-ending and he feels exhausted with the force of constantly waiting to die with nothing worth dying for. She is fighting for something, he is just fighting.
He feels, rather than sees her eyes on him, “Why?”
She always asks too many questions and never leaves good alone. He does not answer because there is no answer but the truth, and the truth is not the answer she wants.
“Why,” she persists, because she always does. And he gives in, because he always does.
“Just because you like talking about him does not mean that everyone wants to hear about him. He’s not that remarkable.” He is harsh, but he cannot find it in himself to be kinder.
“I like hearing about him,” Hot Pie ventures, but under his quelling gaze, he is suitably quelled, “…sometimes.”
“It’s like he was your lover rather than brother the way you go on about him.”
She is silent for a while, staring at him as he avoids her clear glance, “you have never had a family if you think that,” she declares, “and you’re just angry that you will never be half the man that Jon is.” Her tone is scoffing and it is clear from her tight grip on the men’s tunic that she wears that she is enraged. She does not take insults to her beloved Snow lightly.
“I am angry,” he retorts, too angry to think before he speaks, to hold his tongue like he has been all the other nights, “that you will never think I am half the man he is. Even though I am here, protecting you, and he is probably Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch by now, considering how much you praise his abilities.”
There is another silence, which Hot Pie spends shifting his gaze from one to the other, wide-eyed, while he spends it wishing for the ability to turn back time.”
“But then I do not think anyone is half the man that Jon is,” she says, practically. And he is surprised at his own disappointment that she hadn’t understood his jealousy.
He sometimes forgets that Arya is not a woman as yet and she is not being coquettish or teasing him, like the men back at King’s Landing used to say about the women. Her inability to understand is something close to innocence, even though she will fight him tooth and nail in denying it. And then probably fuck him just to prove him wrong. He will not say it though. He is not a good man, but he will not say that.
“And I don’t need your protection,” she adds fiercely, as she always does, and he falls a little bit in love over.
viii. To be no part of anybody, is to be nothing.
He joins her as she gazes up at the sky, her hands around her knees. She doesn’t look at him as he sits beside her, mimicking her pose.
“I’m sorry,” he says, after the silence has stretched far beyond the horizon. His apology is for everything, every last bit of it; all that she knows about and all that she doesn’t.
She looks at him, and there is something different in her gaze, something close to realization that makes his heart clench with an unknown fear, “I talk about him so much because you remind me of him. Just a little bit.” He knows she is not explaining because she feels like she has to, but only because she wants to. These are things he has learnt about Arya Stark.
“Who,” he asks instead, because he adds in irrelevant questions to prolong any conversation they might have.
“Jon.” She replies simply, “he always wanted to protect me too. And even when he was leaving for the Night’s Watch, he gave me this.” She clutches the sword at her side, and he wants to fight her and lose again. He knows he always will with her.
Her words feel like more than they are, “because I’m a bastard like him?” he asks. He doesn’t understand how he is like Jon Snow. Snow is an honorable man.
Her mouth curves up slightly, as if at his folly, “no.” She does not elaborate.
She is not yet old enough, and even when she is, she will always be a lady as much as she denies it. But in these moments she is here, with him, not with Jaqen H'ghar or Jon Snow. And maybe it is only because she has to be. Maybe it is because there is no other way, no other road she can take. But she is still here, when she could have gone to Braavos or proceeded forward to the Wall, but she has not, and he cannot help but think that that is its own kind of truth.
He follows her gaze, watching the sun set over the horizon, and waits.