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when the snows fall, and the white winds blow

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how do you sleep with those things in your head 

She lays on her side and in the darkness she can pretend that she is brave, that there is no fear. There are no bad things here in the shadows, only heartbeats and warmth and Gendry. He sleeps the same as he always used to, still and silent, a steady presence beside her to wade through the night.

She doesn’t sleep the same; she doesn’t sleep. She cannot bring herself to face him, her body is turning to stone and her breaths are coming quicker, white plumes of air that rise toward the sky like clouds in summer, and she thinks of summer snows and soft winds and the smell of pine and Father—what would Father say now, seeing her stark beside a bastard boy from Flea Bottom, the unacknowledged son of his best friend? 

There is courage left at the bottom of her belly, the last vestiges of someone bolder and louder, someone who pushed and shoved and kicked. She scrapes up the remnants of it and makes herself look, turns to see his chest rise and fall and wonders what it would be like to lay her head against him and sleep away the demons, sleep soundly for the first time since the day Father died. 

But there is no chance to, for just as she is reaching out, her hand inching toward his own, a deft calloused thing that had touched her skin, seared her body, stroked her puckered reddened scars, three horn blasts rent the night. 

He is a light sleeper, always has been, and where there were once flickering eyelashes against rough stubble cheeks there are now bright blue eyes, electric like lightning behind a grey rolling storm; there is a storm inside of him, always has been. He is as rough around the edges as she is, there are horrors in his heart too, and mayhap the hammering of her own was made to make his a malleable thing, soft and pliant as his chapped southron-boy lips.

“Arya,” he whispers, rigid and rising. She is already reaching for her tunic, his cloak falling away from her breasts, gooseprickles erupting all across her skin.

It is cold, colder than it was before, sharp and unforgiving; his warmth had enveloped the both of them, like summer, like sticky sea salt air, the sweat that lingers on her skin and she remembers the sounds he had pulled from her lips, every moan and gasp and yes, every whimpered Gendry. 

His hand curls around her wrist, pauses her, stills her where she sits. “Arya, would you stop for a moment?”

“We have to go,” she says, because between him and her there is a thin wall, something she built so she does not have to face the truth, the truth that her heart is his and it always has been, and once upon a time like a girl from a song she would have followed him to the end of the world,

(because she loved him)

But these are not songs, this is the end of the world right here and right now, their last moments; she wanted to spend them with him, her’s.

“Arya, what about after?”

“Who says there’s going to be an after?” she asks, wanting and wishing that her voice was a hard thing like steel only the words fall from her lips soft and weak, like pretty petals from spring flowers, too delicate for her mouth and too pathetic for his ears to hear. 

“If there is,” his hand grabs her own, their fingers twine together, an accidental thing she cannot seem to reverse, “I don’t want to...”

Don’t want to have me or don’t want to lose me? she almost asks, but the words die away and then there are more horn blasts, more yells, distant but growing closer.

Arya stares at him, her eyes flitting down to their joined hands, and she remembers a time when she had been a small thing, skinny and scruffed up, begging him to stay with her, begging him to be her family. 

You’d be m’lady, he’d said, and she’d been too stupid and young to see the pain behind it, to see the regret, but it’s too late to go back and going forward will only lead her to Death, and there is a twisted little part of her that wants to stay here forever, to let her broken pieces be mended by his skilled hands, 

(their hands, arya has the hands of a blacksmith; those soft little things couldn’t hold a hammer much less swing one)

yet it is all going to be over soon enough, this fight will make the decision for her, though her heart has already made its own. He is pack, he is family, whether he likes it or not. 

“Why can’t it be both?” she whispers now, and his brows scrunch together because of course he can’t hear what her heart is screaming to him, he is as deaf to it now as she was blind to it then, there in that cave and here in this forge, why can’t I be your family and your lady.

He is a stupid, she might have said, once long ago. Now she simply slips away from him, lacing up her jerkin in silence while he stares slackjawed and hurt, a hurt she has inflicted, but if they are still alive at the end of this she will fix it for them both

(because she loves him)

Then she is dressed and he is still naked as his name day, and she glances toward the exit. There are fires burning, flames licking the darkened indigo sky, Sansa is waiting somewhere and Jon will be too, she has a family, people to protect, but here is Gendry who she cannot bring herself to walk away from,

she stares down at him, wondering what it would be like to kiss him soft and slow and sweet rather than rushed, fervent, grasping at clasps and straps, the taste of him sweat and smoke and suffocating heat like burning coals and curls of steam. He is a fighter and so is she, but underneath the armour he has a soft spot, a weak point, as she does; perhaps it is on the palm of his hand where they had first touched, him pulling her up onto that wagon on the kingsroad all those years ago. 

“Arya,” he whispers, and she could easily walk away and leave him there to live or die, only it isn’t easy, and it isn’t duty that brings her to her knees to slide between his own, it isn’t fear that has her placing her scarred hands against his scarred cheeks, it isn’t guilt that has her leaning up and him leaning down.

It’s a warm thing, this kiss is a taste of something greater, something she has never known. A child of the long summer, this winter is her first, the frosts make her skin crawl and the air hurts her lungs but here with him, his touch like fireflames and candeglow and lazy wind-guided rains, his kiss languid and slow and sleepy in spite of the chaos, she feels a dream of something else blossom in her chest. 

“Don’t die,” she whispers to him, and it feels like condemnation.

“You don’t, either,” he says back, a brush against her lips, his fingers quick and gentle as they sweep a strand of hair behind her ear.

She cannot be small with him and she cannot be silent, she cannot forget the perils they endured together; the thieves and rapers and now death itself, they will fight, they are fighters, and if they make it out alive she will fix it.

And perhaps, if she’s lucky, he might fix her too.