"Watch out, Kingslayer," Gendry calls to Lannister. "I think you're in love with Lady Sansa's sworn protector."
"What did you say to me?" Lannister strides to him, and Gendry half expects to be smacked with the Kingslayer's fancy metal hand, but when he catches sight of Gendry he freezes. "You're a Baratheon."
"What? No, I'm just a bastard."
"Well then you're a Baratheon bastard," the Kingslayer snaps. "I guarded Robert Baratheon for more than ten years. I knew his brothers. I know a Baratheon when I see one."
Gendry hammers at a breastplate, ignoring the Kingslayer for a few moments. "I suppose I should go find the Bastard King," Lannister muses. "I imagine he will demand I bend the knee and marry into the family to secure the alliance."
"The younger Stark girl, I'd wager, since the older one has been married to a Lannister before. Couldn't do that."
Gendry bites his tongue as his fury rises. Fury and shame and disgust at himself, for not thinking--
"Suppose she'd kill me the night of our wedding, though," Lannister keeps talking, won't shut his damn mouth. "I don't fancy that. Perhaps I could just swear my sword to the Lady of Winterfell and be done with it."
"You know, Kingslayer," Gendry can hold his words no longer. "All the talk about you is wrong. You aren't as stupid as you look."
"Lannister," Arya is at the Kingslayer's elbow before he has time to retaliate. "Why are you in here harassing my smith?"
"Perhaps you've forgotten that you came to Winterfell to meet with the King and the Warden of the North. Now, do you go willingly, or do we have to call Brienne to drag you in?"
Arya isn't facing the Lannister, so she misses the way his eyes brighten and a smile tugs at the corner of his mouth. "Your smith is very rude. I'd have his tongue if I were you. And, by all means, send for Brienne. I'll wait."
Arya steps to the side to make room for the woman in question. Brienne of Tarth has a smug smile that is simply a larger version of the one Arya is wearing, as if both of them knew this would be Lannister's demand. "Thank you, Brienne."
"Of course, Arya. Ser Jaime, Gendry is a gifted smith and you're lucky he didn't cave your chest in with his hammer with what you said about the Lady."
Lannister does not even have the grace to look chagrined. "Hammer? Not a war hammer, perchance? Like the one Robert Baratheon fought with? You know, I hated Robert Baratheon. I imagine I'll feel the same way about you."
"Jaime! I've been praising your manners and your honor to the Starks. Don't make me regret it."
"My dear Brienne, I would never think of disappointing you."
"I know," Brienne says, and the two share a small, secret smile. "You haven't yet."
"Well," Arya says as the two retreat, exchanging words as fiercely as they exchange blows, "is it too early to send for a sept?"
"For the wedding."
Gendry stares at Arya.
And stares some more, for good measure. It feels like someone's ripped his stomach out and his skin is humming and for a wonderful, blissful moment he think Arya is talking about the two of them--
"Ser Jaime and Brienne. They should marry. They love each other well enough."
"They just walked away insulting each other--"
"We insult each other all the time."
"Well, yes, but we—oh."
Arya smirks, distracting him for a moment.
"What about Tormund?"
"What about him?" Arya flops down on a bench.
"He's in love with Brienne."
"They're a good match."
Gendry is saved from explaining why, exactly, he thinks Brienne and Tormund are a good match by another familiar face barreling through the door.
"Gendry! It's me, Hot Pie!" Hot Pie says. "Can you believe it? Here, in Winterhell, with Lady Arry Stark!"
Arya rolls her eyes, but there's a fondness there.
Hot Pie goes on for some time, regaling Gendry with all that happened since the last time they saw one another, before Arya clears her throat.
"Hot Pie. I hate to interrupt, but I should show you to the kitchens. Nobody we have here cooks half so well as you do, and I'm sure everybody would welcome food like yours."
Hot Pie flushes at her praise, and Gendry wonders if Arya will ever realize just how much people love her.
Gendry is fairly certain Jaime Lannister knows his name.
The man simply pretends not to, and insists on calling him the Baratheon Bastard, but never around Arya or Brienne, something Gendry is slow to notice.
In spite of this—or maybe because of it—Gendry suspects that the Kingslayer rather likes him.
Gendry knows it for a truth several weeks after Lannister's arrival. Gendry offers to make him a blade like Needle so Jaime might learn to water dance from Arya and perchance not be so bloody useless in a fight.
Lannister doesn't even insult him at the suggestion—he just stares at Gendry before stalking off, muttering something about "how did nobody else think of this."
He thinks, for a moment, that Arya will kill him later for foisting Lannister on her before realizing that Arya will now be given the opportunity to beat one of the best knights in the realm of the man's own choosing.
And if Arya takes a bit of unnecessary pleasure in knocking Jaime Lannister flat on his arse, well, who can say? Faceless men are so hard to read, after all.
It takes a week before the humor disappears, and only then because of something Gendry overhears.
"How am I supposed to learn if all you're doing is beating me with a stick?" The Kingslayer gripes.
"That's the lesson. You learn to pay attention. To see, to listen." She knocks his feet from under him. "Pain is a lesson. Learn it, or don't, that's your choice."
Lannister freezes, staring at her in rage before waving his false hand at her. "What do you call this?"
"A lesson. Did you learn from it?"
The person speaking is not Arya, not quite. Her staff whistles through the air as she circles the Kingslayer. He stumbles to his feet and attacks her, fury powering his blows. Some land; most don't.
"I was blind," Arya says once Lannister is back on the ground. "I learned to fight without my eyes. How to move, how to tell poison from potion. You can learn to fight with one hand."
"I've tried. As you can see, I wasn't terribly successful."
"When you fought with your right hand, was the sword a separate part of you?"
"Your sword. Was it--"
"It was a part of me, you wolf-bitch. How else was I so good?" Rage and pain war across Lannister's face.
"And your left hand. Is it part of you, or separate?"
"It's a part of me. No wonder the faceless men rejected you, stupid girl--"
He's trying to make her angry, Gendry can see. It's not going to work, not with Arya like this, dancing the edge of not being anyone at all. She takes Jaime's staff and tosses a wooden sword at him, that he tries to catch and misses.
"Tomorrow, you'll catch it," she informs him. "Stand up. Are you a man?"
Lannister rises. "Of course I'm a man--"
Arya slashes at his ankles, and Lannister goes back down. The tip of her wooden sword is at his neck. "You're not a man," she informs him. "You're a sword." She raps his hand, the wooden sword he holds in it. "You can't drop part of yourself."
Lannister scowls, waving his golden hand at Arya. "I have proof that you can, indeed, drop part of yourself."
"Someone removing part of you is different than dropping it."
Lannister stares at her for a full minute.
"Well. Suppose that's true."
And he offers Arya his left hand and allows her to pull him to his feet.
She probably expects Gendry to be asleep when she finally makes it back to her room, but he is awake, sitting on her bed, a frown creasing his forehead in a way that she teased him about when they were children, that he must be thinking too hard because it looked like it hurt.
"They beat you."
"To train you," he sounds agonized, even to his own ears. "They beat the shit out of you to train you, and then they tried to kill you."
Arya walks until her legs bump his knees. "And I'm alive."
"I never should have joined the Brotherhood. Never should have left you." His rough hands cup her face. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be stupid," Arya presses her forehead to his. "What would I have done with you in Braavos?"
He doesn't take the bait. "I don't like the thought of anyone hurting you. I know you can defend yourself!" He hastens to add. "Doesn’t mean I have to like it. And the thought of that--" he shakes his head against hers.
"Getting hurt is part of life, you ridiculous bull."
"Ridiculous?" Gendry grabs her by the hips and tosses her on the bed.
"Ridiculous bull," Arya squirms under him.
"Weasel," he reminds her with a kiss. "Squab."
"Stag," she nips his chin.
"Wolf," he pins her wrists above her head and revels in the way she flushes.
"Wolves hunt stags." Her voice is breathless.
"They do, m'lady." Gendry keeps his hands soft as he works the laces of her jerkin. He is very aware of how much in her life has been neither soft nor sweet. She'll have both from him, tonight.
Gendry can see Arya out of the corner of his eye as he kneels before the Targeryen queen. He sees her hand tighten on Needle and her expression get, if anything, flatter.
"The Usurper's bastard," the Dragon Queen says, disgust and disdain dripping from every word. Gendry might be afraid but for Arya's presence. "Pretending to be a smith."
"I am a smith."
"Did I ask you to speak, bastard?"
He'd liked the Dragon Queen well enough when she first arrived, two dragons soaring overhead as if to prove the impossible was happening all around them. As if waking with Arya in his arms most mornings wasn't proof enough. And now this.
"We spoke to you about this," Lady Sansa's voice is not meant for his ears, but he still hears it.
"Yes." Daenerys raises a dark brow. "And a son of Robert Baratheon would be yet another man to grasp at the throne that belongs to Targaryens. Is his head to be a gift of good will to me?"
Arya moves to stand behind him. Even kneeling, he's almost as tall as she is, but the feeling of safety sinks into his bones like warmth from the forge.
"His name is Gendry, your grace," she says in her Faceless voice. "And if any harm comes to him by your hand or your will, you will rue the day you set foot in Winterfell."
"Arry," he hisses. "Don't."
"You threaten the rightful Queen of the Seven Kingdoms?"
"Six," Faceless Arya corrects, no spite or malice or anything but facts. "Now if your grace is done threatening him, our smith needs to return to his work crafting weapons to fight the Night King." She tilts her head and Gendry is forcibly reminded of Jaqen from Harrenhal. "You'll recall he's the one with the army of the dead marching on Westeros."
"And after that?" The Dragon Queen's voice is soft as she plays with the idea of his death. "After the war, when you grow tired of your forge and your armor, what then?"
"I don't want that damn chair, if that's what you're getting at. Never have. Never will."
"And why should I believe you?"
"Because," Gendry scrambles for words, the right words, ones that will take away some of the nothing in Arya's eyes. "Because I don't want power. I want to do honest work and protect the people I love. I'm a simple man, your grace. A hearth and a home and a good woman to share them with, that's all I want."
This time, it's not Daenerys who he watches. This time, it is King Jon and Lady Sansa. Sansa, who smiles and then immediately swallows it, Jon who turns bright red and for a rather horrifying moment Gendry wonders if they know about him and Arya.
"Your Grace," Jon leans towards Daenerys. "Time is our enemy as well. Gendry, return to the forge and continue your work." Jon offers Gendry a small nod, and he rises, back to towering over Arya, even if he'll never be nearly as terrifying as she is.
"Your grace, your grace," he bows to Jon and the Dragon Queen. "My lady," a deep nod to Sansa. He turns, Arya close as his shadow and just as quiet.
"Wait," the Queen says, and Gendry freezes. "You. Sellsword."
Gendry tilts his head back toward Arya. "Is she talking about you?"
Apparently, this carries because the Dragon Queen answers him. "Yes. The sword you have hired to defend you, though you claim to want no part in the Iron Throne. I wish to have words."
"Don’t," Arya hisses. It grates, but he doesn't. Arya, a sellsword. As if anyone could afford her.
"Sorry, my lady." Lannister appears at Arya's side. Quiet, but not so quiet as Arya. "Forgive me, your grace. This is no sellsword. She a Faceless Man of Braavos, and she is Arya Stark, Princess in the North."
Gendry's hands itch for his hammer, even though it would be just for show.
"Arya Stark," the Queen muses. "The Usurper's Bastard at one hand, and who at the other?"
"My Lady's sworn sword, though to be sure she does not often have need of me," Lannister says, though Gendry knows the man well enough now to see his nervousness. He wonders if Jaime sees Aerys the Mad King in his daughter's eyes.
Daenerys rises, moving around the dais with a singular grace, a cloak that looks like dragon scales fluttering as she moves. "You play me for a fool, ser? A sworn sword. And yet I would have you as the brother of my Hand and the slayer of my father."
Lannister goes rigid and, strangely, Arya relaxes, stepping between Daenerys and Jaime.
"And what do you intend to do, Mother of Dragons?" Her voice is that placid sort of flat that sends a shiver down Gendry's spine. Her Braavos voice. "Do you intend to harm him?"
"Would you question my right to justice?"
"Your father cooked my grandfather in his armor, while his son, my uncle, died trying to save him. Aerys would have left nothing but ash and bone in King's Landing for Robert Baratheon to rule over." Arya tilts her head. "If you kill someone who perpetuates wanton cruelty on others, who threatens the lives of innocents, who mutilate, murder, and abuse those they are in power over, what does that make you? What do you call someone who enters into a contract, a bargain, an oath, with someone, and then kills them? Do you call them mhysa? Do you call them oathbreaker? Kingslayer, or the Unburnt?"
Gendry doesn't understand most of what Arya is saying, only that Daenerys Targaryen's face gets paler and paler and her face closes off more and more.
And Jaime Lannister looks at Arya Stark as if she's the coming of all of the Seven at once.
"It appears you know more of me than I of you," Daenerys finally says, her cool purple eyes regarding Arya with an intensity that makes Gendry uneasy. Lannister must feel it, too, for he remembers himself and shoulders between the two women.
"Your Grace," he says in that way he has, part charm and part insolence. "Might I offer you some friendly advice, from a fellow Southroner? Northerners take guest right very seriously, my Lady of Wolves particularly."
"Is that a threat?"
Lannister looks surprised at that. "Not at all. Merely helping you understand your kingdom. Abide by guest right, and you will have no greater friend than my lady. Disregard it—well, learn of the Red Wedding, your grace. And then learn of what happened to House Frey. The North's is the fury." He bows to Daenerys Targaryen before stepping back to Arya's shoulder. "My lady?"
"It is a great honor to meet the Breaker of Chains," Arya bows her head.
There is silence throughout the hall and slowly, tentatively, Daenerys Targaryen smiles.
"I suppose it is bad manners to come into another's house and threaten their men," she acquiesces. "Neither me nor mine shall break guest right." She turns to make her way back up to the table but pauses. "You inspire a strange sort of loyalty, Lady of Wolves."
Gendry swears he can hear Arya's teeth grind together.
"I don't like you," Arya informs Jaime Lannister.
"I don't much care for you, either, my Lady Wolf. Yet here we are. And here you are, trying to make it so I'm a challenge when you have to kill me."
"I'll only kill you if you betray us, Lannister." Arya hesitates. "You were never on my list, you know. You or Tyrion. Not like the Hound, who was on it once—you never were." Even now, knowing what he did to Bran—Bran isn't angry with Jaime, is the odd thing. Not any more. And Bran had asked, had told her it was all right to keep Jaime off her list.
"That's something, I suppose. That I never wronged the Starks so greatly as to warrant my death." He takes a deep, shuddering breath. "I defeated a man in combat today," Lannister says, mostly into his cup of wine.
"I saw," Arya downs the rest of her glass.
"Because of you. I did it because of you."
Arya can see Brienne and Gendry exchange glances over her head because Lannister is clearly in his cups. He fills her glass again and again and before long Arya is leaning just as heavily on Gendry as Jaime is on Brienne.
"I owe you my sword," Jaime says, leaning forward so he can look Arya in the eyes. Well, she assumes. The world is wrapped in a gentle haze that makes it hard to focus on anything. "I owe you for teaching me to fight again where others failed. I owe your mother for Brienne. My greatest sadness is that I cannot pledge you my sword. What use would you have for it?" Lannister reaches out with his golden hand and prods her cheek. "I don't like it. Lannisters always pay our debts."
"You could still pledge her your sword and council," Brienne finally joins the conversation, gently pulling Jaime back and moving his hand away from Arya. "To shield her back."
"I like the counselling bit especially," Gendry adds. "Every time you tell Arya something's a good idea, she doesn't do it. Makes her less reckless."
Arya punches him in the arm, but Lannister looks—illuminated. Radiant. He stumbles to his feet and reaches for his sword. "Up, up, my Lady of Wolves."
Arya stands, using Gendry's arm to help, until she and Jaime Lannister face one another. He kneels and lays his sword at her feet. " I am yours, my lady. Your liege man . I will shield your back and, and..."
"Keep your counsel," Brienne urges.
"I know the bloody words, wench! And keep your counsel. A nd give my life for yours, if need be. I swear it by the old gods and the new."
Arya stares at him. She has the strangest feeling of standing on a tall ledge, toes gripping the edge as she prepares to fling herself into the air. What is the world, that she now accepts an oath from a Lannister?
"Arya," Brienne cuts into her thoughts. "Do you--"
"And I vow that you shall always have a place," Arya cuts Brienne off suddenly. She knows the words. "A place by my hearth and meat and mead at my table."
Arya swallows convulsively, because the next words are the ones that matter to her and to him. Jaime Lannister has done much harm, but he has also done good. Kingslayer of the king who killed her grandfather and uncle.
She can and will accept his oath.
How it happens she does not know, but her hand is on his face, cradling his cheek so that he looks at her. "I pledge to ask no service of you that might bring you into dishonor." His eyes squeeze shut and Arya can feel him clench his jaw and nod into her touch. "I swear it by the old gods and the new. Arise."
"Perhaps next time my sworn sword will keep his mouth shut!" Arya fumes as soon as they are out of hearing of the hall. "Keep my counsel, Lannister! Keep it! To yourself!"
"I didn't think you remembered that," Jaime shrugs. "You were in your cups, Lady Wolf."
"As were you, Lannister."
"What, would you like my oath again now that I am sober?"
"Once will do, ser, provided you remember the words and what they mean."
"Winter came for House Frey," he says. "I didn't think it was a secret. If all of Westeros is too bloody stupid to figure it out, I'm not to blame. And if anyone looks at you and sees something other than a Stark, they're just as stupid."
"I am so glad to have your opinions on the intelligence of others, Lannister."
Gendry hugs the wall, looking properly cowed like the stupid Bull he is. Bulls and lions, stags and cats, useless all.
"You should have just let her," Gendry chimes in. "Now she knows how to get to you."
Arya snorts in disgust. These two fools. The Dragon Queen does not threaten for show, but nor is she a fool. What was that about Sansa telling Daenerys about Gendry? Is she mad?
"Dragons roast wolves, you know," Jaime agrees, voice low. "Tread with caution, my lady. I have no desire to watch another Stark burn by a Targaryen hand. I shield your back, my lady. Not the other way around."
"You're a Winterfell man now," Arya informs him, turning to leave. "You're pack."
"Lions don't have packs."
"When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. Accept it, Lannister. You are pack, and we protect one another."
"Arya." His call stills her retreat, and she turns to face him. "You're the only Stark I'll kneel for."
His left hand rests on the hilt of his sword with an ease that is new. He's comfortable with it.
She is the only Stark he will die for, and she can see it all in how he stands.
A strange sort of loyalty, indeed.
"You inspire love in your people."
"You don't need to flatter me, Mother of Dragons."
Daenerys sits next to Arya in the godswood, spreading her cloak out to protect her fine garments from the snow. "I don't flatter people. I tell them the truth."
"I don't wish to be a tyrant. But I know who my enemies are--"
"Do you, your grace?" Arya stares into Daenerys' purple eyes. "Because you seem intent on making more than you truly need. Gendry is loved by those who know him and he is the reason you knew to go to Eastwatch. Jaime Lannister has done much ill in his life, but he is here now. Lannisters are not to be underestimated."
"You aren't afraid of me," Daenerys says with a touch of wonder in her voice.
"You have dragons. Of course I am afraid of you."
"But you aren't. Not really. You do not love me, you do not fear me, you do not owe me your freedom or life." She rises, dusting snow from her skirt. "You have my word that the stag and the lion will be safe. Might I speak to you again, Lady of Wolves?"
In spite of herself, a smile tugs at the corner of Arya's mouth. "Mother of Dragons, if you can find me, you may speak to me."
"You're jealous," Gendry realizes in her chambers later that night.
"Am I?" Arya's eyes focus on him, narrowing.
"I dunno why you're jealous, but you are," he insists. She's been distant since they met with the Dragon Queen.
"She's beautiful," Arya challenges, deflecting. That's not what she gets jealous of.
"So are you."
Arya laughs derisively at him and he glares.
"Why you laughing? Is that a lie, Faceless Man?"
Her laughter dies on her lips. "No. You actually think I'm beautiful."
"Because you are." Gendry isn't sure if touch is something she needs, but he places a tentative hand on her waist. She doesn't withdraw so he pulls her closer so he can murmur in her ear. "So why are you jealous, Arry?"
"I was called before the king, and a queen who wants my head. You don't mind when I kneel for you..." He trails off. "Ah. You only like me kneeling for you, is that it?"
Arya's silence is all the response he needs. Gendry sinks to one knee, looking up at her, taking her hands in his. "Arry," his voice is softer and more vulnerable than he would want, but he has to say it. "I don't have a sword to pledge to you. Arya, Jon is my liege, but you are my lady. They may have my labor, but you have my hammer," Gendry squeezes her hands, unable to tear his eyes away from hers. "You have my heart."
The moment swells and crests like a wave before Gendry smiles at her. "But I am a bastard from Flea Bottom, not a highborn lord, and sometimes I need to kneel. Assuming you like my head attached to my shoulders."
Arry blinks rapidly before stepping closer to him, reclaiming her hands to curl them protectively around his neck, scratching at his scalp, rubbing her thumbs across his brow. "You are my bastard from Flea Bottom," she says into his hair. "And if anyone tries to harm you it will be the last thing they do."
It should probably not stir his blood to hear Arya threaten death to his enemies, but it does.
"M'lady," he murmurs, nosing under her tunic to reach her warm skin.
"I'm not a lady," she grumbles halfheartedly. "I'm no one."
"Of course, m'lady," Gendry agrees, sucking lightly at the scars Arya bears from the Waif. "As m'lady says."