It's early in the morning. Most of the people in Winterfell are still asleep.
"Does the cold ever stop being so...cold?" Gendry's teeth chatter as he asks.
"Yes," Arya deadpans. "Right before you die."
"Well. Thank you for that." Gendry starts a fire in the forge and Arya takes a moment to admire his hands. Rough, strong, lovely hands. She likes when he cradles her face in his hands, how rough his skin is--
"You're staring, princess." He doesn't even look at her as he says it.
"No I'm not."
"What are the rules for the game of faces? Make lies sound like the truth?" He grins, looking up from his work. "Go on, then. Give us another lie."
"I hate you."
The confession is worth the way he lights up.
Kissing Gendry is a different experience depending on what time of the day it is. Morning kisses are soft, tender and unhurried, as long as they're up before the day starts at Winterfell. Afternoon kisses, snuck in between training and hammering, salty-sweet and sooty; a secret press of lips.
Late night kisses are languid and deep, the rough pads of his thumbs catching on the skin of her hips, Gendry's mouth on her neck. Arya can tell how late he stayed near the forge, how tired he is when she bites at his stubble, and how much smoke she can taste on his skin.
Morning kisses happen where they work and not where they sleep because Gendry is ridiculous, always leaving before night turns to morning, never sharing her bed. Not for lack of trying, on Arya's part.
He will untangle her hands from his shirt or his breeches, kiss her knuckles, and murmur "good night, m'lady."
She almost wishes she could hate him for it.
The day after he tells Lady Sansa about praying for Arya, he knows he has a duty. Arya isn't his to kiss. She'll never be his to keep. Best end it now before he becomes entangled in her any more than he already is, before Lady Sansa and the king realize how far away from propriety his relationship with her sister has strayed.
So perhaps he kisses her with desperation that night, perhaps he lets his hands wander more than he has before to say farewell to Arya in ways that he can't speak.
She breaks away from him with a gasp. "Gendry, whatever stupid thing you're thinking of doing, don't."
He can't look in her steel grey eyes, knowing he can't hide his thoughts from no longer faceless Arya. Instead, he presses his face to her neck, inhaling as his fingers slide under her shirt of their own accord.
"Gendry--" Arya tries again, and he freezes against her. He can feel a thick ridge of scarring on her stomach. As he spreads his hand out, he feels more lines of the same.
"What's this?" He pulls back now to look at her.
"Someone stabbed me."
"Were they trying to kill you?"
She stares at him for a long moment. "Yes."
Gendry's fingers twitch on her stomach as rage and horror press bitter on the back of his tongue. "Who?"
"She's dead." It is not a reassurance or a comfort; it is a fact. Gendry has no doubt that Arya killed whoever she was herself.
"Good." There's a force and an anger he hadn't expected in his voice. "Good."
Arya's hands curl around his skull and he realizes she could kill him, right now. "That doesn't scare you?"
"Maybe," he admits, because it's pointless to lie. "But anyone who tries to kill you deserves to die."
The corner of Arya's mouth quirks up in a smile that Gendry can't return. Arya's death is no longer an abstract fear; proof of it is under his fingertips. He presses his forehead to hers, squeezing his eyes shut. Her breath gusts across his nose, her chest bumps against his with every inhale.
"Can I see?" His thumb plays along the largest of the scars while he waits for Arya to decide.
She gives him a sharp nod and Gendry sinks to his knees, pushing the hem of her tunic up.
The fire lends a soft, wavering quality to the scars but even so, Gendry can tell the cuts were deep.
Gendry traces the jagged edges, the question on his lips when Arya huffs a laugh.
"Had to sew them myself the second time. Ripped open the first round. Never was much good at sewing, just ask Sansa."
"Does she know?"
Hesitation before Arya shakes her head. "No. Not yet."
Gendry can't but help feel proud that Arya trusts him and he savors the feeling for a moment. He stays on his knees a bit longer, so Arya can know what it feels like to be taller than someone for once as he continues to examine her scars.
It's the most natural thing to put his lips to the scars that grace Arya's stomach, to flick his tongue out and taste her skin, to grip her waist when she jerks, laughing, under his touch. Easy, since he's here, to kiss along the line of her breeches, to work the fabric off of her hips.
"Dunno why everyone's always going on about not wanting to bend the knee," he says conversationally, pausing to bite at her hipbones. "Doesn't seem so bad from this angle."
Arya's breathless laugh is everything.
He wakes in a bed that is not his own, surrounded by familiar smells.
He remembers last night.
And early this morning.
Warm, living steel in his arms, buried under furs. He knows he should leave before the rest of Winterfell stirs but can't bring himself to untangle his limbs from Arya's.
A frown cuts across her face and she shakes her head at something she dreams, chewing on her lower lip.
He says her name, and she wakes so suddenly it startles Gendry. Her breathing is panicked as her eyes dart around her, finally landing on his face, her hand reaching up to squeeze his shoulder.
"Where were you?" He murmurs. Braavos, Harrenhal, the Twins, King's Landing—she's seen enough to fuel nightmares for a hundred lifetimes. Arya grips his arm hard enough to bruise and shakes her head.
He presses his lips to Arya's, rubs his nose against hers, runs his fingers along her spine, anything to remind her that she is home and safe as any Stark can be.
The tension exits her in a sigh, leaving her boneless in his arms.
"Suppose I should get up," Arya muses.
"Suppose so." Gendry makes no move to release her. "So many men for you to defeat in training."
"You don't win or lose," she mumbles in a way that is probably not supposed to be as endearing as it is. "It's training."
Arya's lips find his, and for a few soft moments he forgets about everything but the two of them.
Ssansa enjoys walking around Winterfell before the day begins in earnest. She loves the way everything looks with a fresh coating of snow on it; loves the quiet, loves the way everything seems to be holding its breath in anticipation, waiting for some signal to start the day.
She may have to change her path to pass the forge earlier, though.
Sansa clears her throat and deliberately averts her eyes while Gendry removes his hand from under her sister's jerkin.
"My lady," Gendry is bowed almost in half, eyes glued to the ground.
"Gendry," her words are clipped. "I expect to see you this evening in my solar. I would speak with you."
"Yes, my lady."
Strange, how different the address sounds when he says it to her as opposed to her sister. A term of endearment for Arya, a term of respect for Sansa.
Arya, for her part, doesn't seem to care much that Sansa's caught them out.
"I was just on my way to see you," Arya gives her cloak a tug, straightening herself as she sweeps Sansa out of the armory.
"Hm? About what?"
"Arya, we've talked about this--"
"But imagine what I could do if I had his face, Sansa!"
This statement should probably disturb Sansa more than it does, which is not at all.
"Littlefinger wouldn't be welcome at King's Landing. He declared for House Stark, and Cersei wouldn't allow him back in King's Landing unless it was to remove his head from his shoulders."
"He's broken oaths before."
He's also committed murder and treason. Littlefinger is slowly but surely becoming less useful as the winter wears on, but he has not yet outlived his usefulness.
"I don't want you to go to King's Landing," Sansa's voice shakes. "With anyone's face. The last time we went to King's Landing--"
She has to stop walking, has to clasp her hands together to stop them from trembling, a bone-deep terror she hadn't expected seizing her.
"Sansa," Arya's arms are around her in an instant, squeezing her tight. Arya had never been much for hugs, and still isn't, so the gesture means all the more. "It's different now. I'm different, and so are you. But when," Arya holds Sansa at arm's length so they can look one another in the eyes. "When I go back to King's Landing, I'll have a plan. It won't be like last time. We know, now."
It's the best promise she's like to get from Arya, and the most honest one. There are two names on her list that are in King's Landing, and Sansa can't force her sister to stay in Winterfell until Cersei dies of old age.
"I promise that when Petyr Baelish answers for his crimes, you may have his face."
"She's going to kill me," Gendry informs Arya that afternoon. "Your sister is going to kill me."
"Don't be ridiculous, Gendry. I kill people for Sansa, not the other way around." Not Littlefinger, unfortunately, but a Bolton man a few weeks back who had been at Ramsay's hand, and a guard from King's Landing that had beaten Sansa. Their deaths had been easy, no faces or fanfare. They had harmed Arya's family, and now they were no more; it was not the sort of thing she lost sleep over.
"You’re her little sister. She might make an exception." He looks up from his work. "You'll be there, though? To save me in case she tells Jon and they try to kill me?"
"Tells Jon what?"
"About--" he waves his hand between them. "Us. She caught us kissing, Arya, that's--"
"I don't think we scandalized her, Gendry. She'll be fine."
"Arya. I know you don't like it, but you're a lady and I'm still just a bastard. You're a princess and I am nothing."
"Is that really how you see it?" Arya tilts her head as she looks at him. "That's not how--"
"It's not how I see it," Gendry snaps at her. "It's how it is." He's being stupid, he knows, about everything. Stupid to fall in love with a lady, stupid act on that love, stupid to worry about something Arya's never cared about.
"I'm sorry," Gendry finally says. "It's just that one day, you're going to wake up and realize how much you deserve, and it's so much more than me."
It's more than he'd ever wanted to confess to her, so he pushes past with another question. "So, will you come with me tonight?"
"Can't. Riding out this afternoon to meet with the Kingslayer." Arya sounds a bit dazed.
Kingslayer. Lannister. Gendry swallows around the dread in his throat. "I don't like that."
"I'll be fine."
"I know. I still don't like it."
Arya hops off the bench and crosses to him smacking a kiss to his grimy cheek. "I hate you. You're stupid. I'm going to drag Hot Pie back with me."
"It's like you don't even want to win," he shouts at her retreating back.
Gendry clears his throat as he stands in the doorway of Lady Sansa's solar. "My lady?"
"Ah! Gendry!" He can hear her but he can't see her. "Come in, please."
He takes a few tentative steps, freezing when he sees the shaggy form of Ghost curled in front of the blazing fire.
"Gendry?" Puzzlement clouds the King's face.
"I asked him to come," Lady Sansa cuts in, taking him by the elbow and drawing him into the warmth of the room as if they're old friends, and not what they really are: relative strangers. "Just stand right here for a moment."
Gendry stands as Lady Sansa flits to a corner, rummaging in a box of some sort.
King Jon looks up to find Gendry staring at him. The king stares back before offering Gendry a smile and a shrug, as if to say I have no idea, either.
"Oh!" Lady Sansa is back in front of him. He's never been this close to her before and it seems she took all the height the family had to offer and left none for Arya. "I need you to take your cloak off."
A strange, oddly familiar horror washes over Gendry. He can't place it—perhaps it's her red hair--
Swallowing becomes difficult. It's stupid, he knows—the King is right there, and Melisandre isn't even worthy to be mentioned in the same sentence as the Lady Sansa, but the fear is still there.
It must be clear in his face because Jon sets the scroll he is reading to the side with a sigh. "Tell the man what he's here for, Sansa."
She frowns at the pair of them, as if her intentions should have been obvious. "I need to get your measurements for clothing. All these men we have joining us from the South and not one of you has a stitch of clothing that's proper for winter."
Oh. Gendry supposes that makes sense. "You're doing it yourself, my Lady? Doesn't seem like the sort of thing the Lady of Winterfell would have time for."
"All of our allies are important to me," Sansa replies smoothly as she measures his chest from shoulder to shoulder.
Gendry has spent enough time with Arya talking about the Faceless Men and the game of faces to be able to taste the faintest hint of an untruth. Not a lie, not quite.
"And you helped Arya when she first escaped King's Landing. We owe you a debt."
"You don't owe me anything, Lady Sansa." Gendry can feel his ears burn hot. "She's the one who kept me alive, not the other way 'round."
Lady Sansa suppresses a smile, her eyes drifting over Gendry's shoulder to share a look with the King. Gendry wishes he could see Jon's face, to know what he's missing.
"If Sansa says we owe you something, then we owe you something," Jon finally says.
"I was married to a Lannister once," Sansa says breezily, still taking measurements. "We always pay our debts."
There is a rather terrifying wheeze followed by a loud hacking cough, and both Gendry and Sansa swing around to see the king, red-faced and unable to breathe.
"You're not a bloody Lannister!"
Lady Sansa doubles over in laughter. She laughs so hard she cries. She laughs so hard, eventually the king has no choice but to join her, and Gendry wonders if Arya is the only sane one in her family.
"What do you think of the Dreadfort?"
"I think I'd like to destroy any remnants of the Boltons from this earth," Jon informs her.
Sansa beams at him for a moment before laughing. "No, I meant for Gendry and Arya."
"For...?" Jon is at least two steps behind Sansa. He regrets that this is becoming the case more and more, but he can't say he minds it terribly.
"Gendry and Arya, once they're wed. I know since he's a Baratheon, they should go to Storm's End, but as none of us hold Storm's End..." She drifts off, staring into the fire. "And Storm's End is too far away. I don't want Arya to go that far."
For a moment Sansa looks so fragile, and it makes Jon want to howl, to battle, to bring Ramsay Bolton back to life just so Sansa could have the joy of killing him again.
The moment passes almost as quickly as it came.
"Arya will always be a Stark, no matter who she marries," he says, pulling out a scroll to begin writing a message to whichever maester might be at the Dreadfort.
"Well, that's true." Bolton, Lannister, it made no difference to Sansa. Sansa Stark she is and will be, and Jon cannot imagine her or Arya any other way.
"It's yours by right," Jon realizes. "There are no Boltons left to claim it but you."
"I know," Sansa is quiet again. "I don't want it, but it needs to be manned. We'll need it for the war and the winter."
"It's yours," Jon throws his quill on the desk. "Do what you like with it. Sell it, give it away, burn the bloody thing to the ground. I'll even ask the Dragon Queen to bring her dragons to help, if you like." Anything to ease your pain he thinks. Anything to erase the shadows from your eyes.
"I like the thought of them having it," Sansa admits. "A Stark and a legitimized bastard holding the Dreadfort. Everything he wanted, what we took away from him." Sansa's hair catches the light of the fire as she speaks, and she looks terrible and vindictive and wonderful. "One last way to spite him."
"Us, too," Jon is unable to stop the words. "A Stark and a legitimized bastard, holding Winterfell."
Sansa's answering smile gleams.