She knows death.
Death is unfeeling. Death does not discriminate. Death is the beginning and the end.
She knows death. But, she is not prepared for this. The House of Black and White prepared her for everything. She was taught that the world was an unfair place from an early age, but in the House she learned how to separate herself from it. To disassociate. She has killed more people than she can count (a lie - 8) and she has learned not to take death personally. But this? This is war. This is absolute carnage. This is destruction.
The battle against the dead taught her that innocent men die. That truly, anyone can be killed. Even death itself.
She has watched her father die for loyalty. She has watched her brother and mother slaughtered for the sick pleasure of little men. She has watched friends die from evil jealous princes, from cold hearted soldiers, from walking dead. She has watched innocents die. Revenge has gotten her through. Determination has kept her going. Thinking of the justice she could serve makes her never give up.
But, watching as the Red Keep - the source of her nightmares for so many years - burns…she does not know what to think. No one is safe in this war. The dragon burns everything in its path. The castle crumbles, crushing everyone beneath it. Black sooty skeletons in melted armor and flesh litter the streets. There is only death death death.
And the only thing that is in her head is that this can’t be how it ends. She can’t die this way. She’s only just now found herself again. She’s just now found her humanity.
The horse she climbs onto races as fast as it can through the rubble and decay, the steady beat of its hooves in rhythm with her pounding heart. She rides hard, hard until they’ve left the Red Keep, a broken skeleton of what was once the greatest kingdom in all of Westeros.
She finds Jon outside the crumbled wall. She nearly misses him. He’s curled into a ball on a pile of stones, head in his hands. He is filthy, as is she, and it is only his great sword, abandoned beside him, that identifies him. She wastes no time jumping off her horse and running to him, flinging her arms around him. He looks up in surprise, his face wet with tears. He’s been crying, she thinks, and she has never seen her big brother - no cousin - cry. And just the thought of that makes her eyes sting with her own tears.
“What have we done…what have we done?” Jon utters, his voice shaking. Arya glances up at him, blinking away the tears that threaten to fall and stares at him in confusion.
“They’d surrendered. The Lannister army threw down their swords. The bell rung. I heard it, it was over. It was over.”
Arya’s brows pulled together. “But the dragon queen…our army, they were out there…” she doesn’t want to finish that sentence, doesnt want to speak the words into reality, doesn’t trust her voice not to break.
Jon only nods and his voice is hallow when he says, “they wouldn’t stop. I ordered them to stop. But…but…it was too much. There was too much going on…I couldn’t…I couldn’t stop them.” And he drops his head again and cries and it breaks Arya’s heart. He cannot blame himself for this - this nightmare. None of them could have expected this. It is not his cross to bear. So she hugs him tighter and allows him to sob and allows herself the small tears that run down her face.
They sit like that for an eternity before voices shouting in the distance pulls her from his embrace. She remembers then that their people are still out there, they still could be alive.
And her heart suddenly quickens when she realizes something. “Jon. Jon, did he come with you? Where was he?” Jon hears the panic in her voice and looks up.
“Gendry. The blacksmith. Was he with you during the breach? Where - ” she can’t wait for his answer. She jumps to her feet and starts stumbling back toward the remains of the castle.
“Arya!” Jon calls after her. But she doesn’t turn. She knows he’s here. He wouldn’t miss this. He’d want to be right there, in the thick of it, because that’s who he is. And if anyone has a reason to hate Cersei more than she, it is Gendry. The evil bitch has taken everything from him.
She searches the faces of the survivors desperately, grabbing men and pushing them away when they have the wrong eyes. There are bodies everywhere.
No, she thinks, refusing to look down at the dead, no, he’s not dead. He can’t be dead. He had to survive.
She spends what feels like hours searching for him. Each time she sees a tall broad man with short dark hair it is not him. Her heart hurts, actually hurts, like it’s being squeezed by a giant. He can’t be dead. She pleads with whatever god is listening - please no. And all she can think is Gendry Gendry Gendry.
Then she spots him. He’s propped against a wall, half laying down in the rubble. He’s almost unrecognizable as well, covered in a thick layer of soot and blood. His eyes are closed and she feels her heart stop for a moment thinking that she’s too late - that he is in fact dead and she’ll have to say good bye to yet another person she loves.
But he groans then and it’s the most beautiful sound she’s ever heard. She can’t help the laugh that bubbles out of her throat as she runs to him. She falls to the ground beside him. He has a few cuts and bruises, but otherwise looks unharmed.
“You’re alive! You’re alive, I knew it.”
He looks up and his eyes widen and the sight of those blue blue eyes staring back at her fills her with a thousand unnamed emotions. “Arya!”
He crushes her in a hug.
She can’t help it anymore. He grabs her and it’s like a dam has broken. Hot fat tears stream down her face and she cries. Cries for her father, cries for her mother, cries for Mycah and Lommy Greenhands and the Hound and Beric. She cries for Rickon and for the mother and her little girl, who had stopped amidst the chaos to save her from being trampled. And she cries because he’s alive, because Jon is alive, because she is alive.
“Am I dreaming? Gods, you’re alive, Arry.” He muffles into her hair. She laughs and squeezes him tighter, but he cries out in pain and she realizes that he’s far more injured than she thought. She rocks back on her heels to search out his wound and finds it there, on his stomach, near his hip. The cut is so deep she can almost see the bone and it’s still seeping blood.
“Oh, gods, Gen, don’t move.” She says, panicked once again. The wound is serious and they’re miles away from any maester. She has to stop the bleeding or else he’ll bleed out here on the streets of King’s Landing.
He’s dizzy from the loss of blood and blinks his eyes rapidly, trying to stay conscious. She pulls her tunic from beneath her jerkin and rips a large piece off all while he repeats, “You’re alive, I must be dreaming, you’re alive.”
She tries to dress his wound the best she can but there’s so much blood and she’s crying again thinking no no no no! He cannot die. Not when she’s just found him again. Not when she’s just found herself again. And she knows, knows in that moment that she can no longer deny what she has been denying all along. She loves him. She thinks she’s loved him since before she knew what that kind of love was.
“Arya, my brave, beautiful Arya, the gods have shown me favor. I thought I’d never see you again.” His voice is soft and desperate and she hears all the hidden meaning in it. He thinks he’s going to die.
“Shut up, idiot, you’re not gonna die.” She tries to scold, but her voice breaks and he chuckles softly.
“I’m about to bleed to death in King’s Landing and you’re calling me an idiot. Gods, I love you.” She tries to blink back the tears that keep flowing down her cheeks and desperately tries to steady her heart.
“Shh…” she whispers as she finishes dressing his wound. She pushes him gently back against the wall when he tries to sit forward. “Don’t move. You’re wounded.”
He ignores her, placing his knuckles onto the ground to push himself closer to her. They’re so close, he leans his forehead against hers. “I’m so happy you’re alive, Arya.” He whispers. “I prayed that I would see you again, at least once more before I - ” but she cuts him off with a kiss, stealing the words from his breath so he cannot voice it, cannot tell the universe that he knows he’s going to die. He whimpers and kisses her back. Kisses her hard. She thinks of his proposal and she tries to put everything she’s left unspoken into her kiss; that she loves him, too, that it’s always been him, and she’ll go to Storms End, go to the ends of the earth with him if he just survives.
“I love you. I love you. I love you.” She repeats and repeats until their found, wrapped around one another. And she doesn’t care. Doesn’t care that Jon is staring at her in bewilderment. Doesn’t care that ser Davos stares open mouthed. Doesn’t care what any of them think because he’s alive.
His wounds are properly looked at on the ship. He’s bed ridden, as are many of their wounded, and she refuses to leave his side. She promises the gods that if he survives this, she’ll never leave his side again.