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a cry at the final breath that is drawn

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Three years after his world was changed forever, Gendry has finally come to terms with never seeing Arya again.

Not that this was the first time. For either of those.

The first time his world was changed forever was when Tobho Mott got rid of him, and he was sent to the Night’s Watch. The second time was when the Red Woman - that damned Red Woman - had told him about his true parentage. The third time was when the Queen had placed a lordship in his hands.

“Lord Gendry Baratheon, of Storm’s End,”

Sometimes it still makes him laugh. It feels like a joke no-one but him knew, and he keeps looking around for someone to share it with. Someone who knew him before he knew himself.

The first time he thought he’d never see Arya again he was being taken to be tortured. It was brief, barely happened, but it was a fleeting thought nevertheless. Here he was, about to get his balls eaten by rats or whatever else, and all he could think about was the filthy lord’s daughter who had saved his life.

The second time was when the Red Woman - are you spotting the pattern here? - brought him away, to use his blood, to use his life. Even when Davos saved him from that cruel fate, as he rowed further and further from bloody Storm’s End, he never thought he’d see Arya again. It hurt to think about her, sometimes, like an old wound that never healed. Tears in her voice in the cave, all those years ago. Arya, who he had never seen cry through anything they had suffered together.

It feels like fate is laughing at him, when he meets Jon. Because he’s not Arya, obviously, but he resembles her enough that it tugs at something in his chest. There’s a stubbornness. A furrowing of the eyebrows. An honesty.

The third time he isn’t even that upset about, because they’re both probably going to die, and she’s here and she’s warm and he can’t really be mad at a world that gave him Arya Stark, even if just for a moment. His eyes catch on her scars and his lips burn with questions, but he knows those answers aren’t for him, not yet.

The fourth time is when she kisses him and tells him she won’t marry him, and he can barely hear her leave over the floods running through his ears. Arya Stark, Bringer of the Dawn - Lady of Storm’s End? He was fooling himself.

By the time the fifth time comes around, and she’s threatening Yara Greyjoy, you’d think he’d finally get used to seeing her when he thought he never would again. But still, like the first time she stepped into his forge, he’s stunned into silence. He doesn’t presume to seek her out, because he can still hear her voice in his head. “I’m not a lady.” He curses himself because he knew that - if he thought about it for a second, he would have told her that. He would have told her that he meant was -

What he meant was that he loved her, and he was terrified, and she was the bravest person he’d ever met. After that… they’d figure it out, after that.

He hears she’s sailing west - west of Westeros - and he knows, in his bones, that he’ll never see her again. Even if she came back, there isn’t an excuse that would allow him to travel to the independent North to try and find her. He thinks about her cutting a line through the undiscovered ocean, and he half-hopes that the hole in his chest will heal eventually.

So here he was, three years the Lord of Storm’s End, and he had come to terms with never seeing Arya Stark again. That didn’t mean his chest didn’t twinge every time he thought of her, every time he got news of the North, of King Bran. Every time he heard the name Stark, his mind flicked to the grey-eyed girl across the ocean.

But he didn’t think he’d see her again. He really is planning on healing that hole at some point.

And then -

“My lord,” one of the pages says. “There’s a ship at the docks.”

“A ship?” he says, voice wary.

“With Stark banners,” the page says, and Gendry isn’t even sure if he says anything else, because he’s out of his seat immediately.

“Prepare one of the guest chambers,” he says to two of the servants. They nod, and scurry off, and even now, a part of him laughs.

“Will we send a party to receive them, my lord?” one of his advisors, a stout man named Arnet asks. Gendry can’t see the water from here, but knows the direction to head, and every part of him is itching to go there now .

“No,” he says. “I’ll go see her myself.”

He moves to leave before he can see the man’s confused expression.

*

It takes everything in him not to start running when he catches sight of the ship, grand and proud, Stark banners flying. His heart catches in his throat, and he realises he hasn’t seen Stark banners in three years. Odd, how they feel more welcoming than the Baratheon ones do.

Even though it’s been three years, he doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to the way the wind tears through him down by the docks. Yet Arya doesn’t seem bothered by it at all as she walks towards him. As always, her clothing is practical, yet he is still mesmerised by each of her movements. Her hair is tied back, and all he can see is her face - calm, confident, assured. She has some scars, and all he wants to do is trace them with his fingers.

“Lady Stark,” he says, flanked by his advisors.

“My lord,” she says, with a glint in her eye and a smirk toying at her lips. He knows he should be upset, mad at her for leaving him, for rejecting him, but all he can find in his heart is unrivalled joy.

“Welcome to Storm’s End,” he says, because he can’t think of anything else to say. Arya is here, and she’s beautiful and she’s alive. He feels, all over again, like he is pretending. Like he doesn’t want to scoop her up and hold her tight to his chest. He quells that part of him, because he doesn’t think he’s allowed.

Her eyes go to the castle behind them, giving him a few moments to drink in the sight of her. She’s barely changed.

“Not bad,” she says, light teasing in her voice. “Though the weather could use some improvement.”

“We’re not built for the winter here,” he says, then smiles. “Come on, I’ll give you the tour.”

*

She and the crew of her ship join him and his men for dinner in the hall, a raucous affair caused by sailor’s loud laughter and his own men’s boisterousness. Arya regales them all with tales of her journeys at sea - of countries where no-one speaks the common tongue, where all kinds of magic is practiced and no one has heard of the Iron Throne. As she and her men take turns telling stories, Gendry pretends he isn’t still in love with her. He catches her eye as she tells off furry elephants they found, just as she’s demonstrating how she escaped with her life, and she smiles, private, just for him. His heart thumps, and he swears internally.

Things settle down after a while, and some people filter out of the hall. As her men make for their chambers, Arya moves to sit beside Gendry. His side is on fire at every point of contact.

“Will you be riding North, Lady Stark?” Arnet asks her politely.

“Eventually,” Arya says through a full mouth. Gendry nearly laughs. “I have some business to attend to here in the Stormlands, though,”

“Oh?” another one of the men, Wyat, asks. “May I ask which?”

Arya raises her eyebrows at Gendry. “Some private matters between myself and Lord Baratheon.”

Gendry nearly spits out his food. She digs her elbow into his side, and he feels like a conspiratorial child.

“Important matters,” he confirms, nodding sagely. Arnet and Wyat exchange dubious looks, but Gendry doesn’t owe them anything.

The fires grow dim and his eyelids grow heavy, and eventually he has to excuse himself from the table. He bids his guest a chaste goodnight, pretending like all he wants to do isn’t to drag Arya to his rooms and -

And what? Propose to her again? Apologise for proposing to her? Fuck her? Or, realistically, have her fuck him?

Ask her why she left, and more importantly, why she came back?

His head is spinning, and not from the wine.

*

He tries to get dressed for bed, but all he can think about is Arya, in his castle. Arya, two-times princess. Arya, the woman who broke his heart. Arya, Arya, Arya.

There’s a knock at his door.

Arya stands in the hallway, a smirk on her lips and a dare in her eyes.

"Are you going to invite me in, Lord Baratheon,"

"As you wish, Lady Stark," he says, pulling the door open for her. He blinks. She's really there, in his chambers, looking no more out of place than the desk that was there when he arrived.

“Lady Stark,” she says, a smile pulling at her lips. “I keep expecting to turn around and see Sansa over my shoulder.”

“It isn’t something you get used to,” he says, and it feels like a game, him pretending to know more about being a lord than she would know about it. This is their first time alone since she arrived, and his skin feels alive with it.

“You seem to be managing alright,” she says, and though it’s a compliment, it feels like an interrogation.

“I’ve had a lot of help. I wouldn’t be able to do it on my own.”

Arya winces, and he opens his mouth to apologise.

“Why did you come to Storm’s End?” he finally asks, unable to look at her.

She sighs. “Why do you think? To see you, you idiot.”

He flicks his eyes up at her, and finds her looking at him with a heavy seriousness he’s not sure he can process. There’s an honesty in her gaze that pins him to the spot.

“Three years travelling the high seas, and you end it all to come find me,” he says.

“Well,” she says, taking two steps towards him, and this is feeling all too familiar. “I was always planning on coming to find you.”

He swallows.

“There’s no lady of Storm’s End,” she observes. He shakes his head. She glances, unmistakably, at his mouth.

He can last no longer. His hands go to her arms and he pulls her towards him, and she’s leaning up to meet him immediately. Her hands go to his face, to his hair, to his shoulders, like she can’t decide where to rest them. He gasps when he feels her hands under his shirt, hot against his lower back. She hums, and he can almost feel her smiling, and she begins to play with the front of his trousers.

“Arya,” he says, though it kills him to pull away when her hands are this close to his - “In Winterfell - I never should have asked you to be my lady. I should have known better than that - I did know better than that,”

“Gendry,” she says, and her voice is so husky it nearly kills him. “Do you think if I didn’t know that, I’d have my hand down your pants?”

He coughs out a laugh. “S’pose not,”

“Exactly,” she says, and she pushes him down onto his bed. I love you, he nearly says. She leans over him, presses a kiss to his lips that feels delicate, and he leans up into it. Her kiss goes from gentle to fierce and before his brain can process it, they’re pulling at each other’s clothes and he’s pressing kisses to her neck, to her shoulders, to her chest. Her hands, callused and soft at the same time, are everywhere, and he loses himself in her.

*

After, she rests her head on his chest, a moment of gentle stillness they never had at the Battle for the Dawn.

“I thought I was going to die,” she says, tracing an absent-minded circle on his chest. This moment feels too soft for them, too delicate, but he wants to keep it trapped in his heart, because it’s more than he ever expected.

“When you sailed west?” he asks.

She shakes her head slightly. “When I rode south. To kill Cersei. I thought I would die.”

“You didn’t,” he reminds her.

“Only because Sandor told me not to.”

“Sandor?”

“The Hound.”

“The Hound was with you?”

She nods. “We rode south together. But when we got there, when we got to the Red Keep - he told me to stop. To choose to live.”

Gendry lets out a soft laugh. “The bastard.”

Arya raises her eyebrow at him inquisitively.

“Before I - ” he clears his throat. “Before I proposed to you, I was speaking to him. He told me that it was time to live. That the dead were dead, but I wasn’t.”

“So you came and found me,” she says. It’s not a question.

“I came and found you,” he confirms.

“Sandor Clegane,” she murmurs. “A soft heart after all.”

She drifts off to sleep like that, warm on his chest. He runs his fingers through her hair, and he thinks of all those nights when they were younger, when they curled in the forest, or in barns, or in caves. If only his past-self could see him now.

He never thought a happy ending was for him, barely believed love was in his future. But with the Bringer of the Dawn tucked close to him, the closest thing to bliss he’s ever experienced, maybe fate could change his mind. He closes his eyes, and drifts off to sleep.

There is nothing he could dream about that would be better than this.

*

When Gendry has moments to spare, he spends them in the forge. He knows it’s not exactly becoming of a lord, but it settles his thoughts, keeps him grounded.

“Never knew you knew the Starks,” Hitch, the castle blacksmith, says. He likes Hitch, employed him because his own duties as a lord meant he couldn’t work the forge all on his own.

He’s one of the staff Gendry knows best, because he still can’t tear himself away from the fire and the anvil that sings.

“I’m a lord of the six kingdoms,” Gendry reminds him. “How could I not know the Starks?”

“Not what I mean,” Hitch says, and Gendry knows he’s thinking about Gendry’s eyes on Arya at meals, Arya’s untouched chamber, the boat at the docks.

“I met her when we were kids,” he says truthfully.

“How do you go about meeting a lord’s daughter when you’re a lowly blacksmith?” Hitch asks, and Gendry regrets ever talking to him.

“You looking for advice?” a different voice asks from behind them, and Hitch nearly jumps out of his skin. Gendry can’t help the smile that takes over his face.

“Don’t you have something better to do?” he asks, playful. Do you remember? he wants to ask. Remember how I loved you? When the world was falling to shit and you picked me?

“I could ask you the same thing,” she says, and there’s that raise of the eyebrow, burned into his memory as part of one of the best things to ever happen to him. He swallows.

“Forgive me, Hitch,” she says, and he’s not even surprised she knows the blacksmith’s name. “I need a moment with Lord Baratheon.”

Without a further word, she turns, slowly, a playful twirl and he’s almost too dumbfounded to follow.

Almost.

It’s his castle, and still she astounds him with how quickly she navigates the hallways, taking him around corners and through passages he’s not even sure he recognises.

She comes to a stop in the granary, so suddenly he nearly runs into her. She looks up at him, gaze heavy with intent, and his pulse is loud in his ears, and he has no idea what she’s about to do, what she’s about to say. His mouth goes dry.

His eyes follow the line in her neck as she swallows, and when she pulls him down for a kiss, he’s ready for it. Her arms reach around his neck, fingers threading through his hair, intent on keeping him as close to her as possible. He obliges, pressing her close. Though just the night before he had these lips against his, he feels infinitely blessed, like the gods are making up for every day he spent away from her with this kiss.

“I’m not a lady,” she says, pulling away, and his heart breaks all over again.

“Arya - ” he says, though he doesn’t know where he’s going. I know. Please don’t do this to me again. I don’t care.

“I’m not a lady,” she repeats. “But I was thinking - I could try. I won’t wear a dress, and I won’t be doing any sewing, and I don’t want you expecting me to be just the mother for your children, but - ”

“Arya,” he says again. “Are you saying - ?”

Her face screws up, like he’s an idiot for even asking. “I want to marry you. I’ll be the lady of Storm’s End. Not because I want to, but because… because I’ve spent three years travelling the world, and I’ve seen amazing things, amazing things, but through all of it, I just wanted you to be there.”

He blinks at her, stunned.

She hits his arm. “Say something, idiot!”

“Arya, I think that over the last three years, I’ve tried to get rid of every part of you. I tried to forget you, all over again. But I couldn’t. So now, all I can say is that I love you,” he says truthfully. “And I think - I think I’d be the stupidest man alive to say no to Arya Stark.”

Not after the pain I’ve been through without her. Not when I feel the sun in my chest when she laughs. Not when I love her like this.

Her smile is the most wonderful thing he’s ever seen. He surges to kiss her again, and he can taste her smile against his lips.

It’s the sweetest thing he’s ever tasted.

*

Gendry’s life changes forever one last time in a quiet godswood in the castle he shares with the love of his life. Her sister is there, and so are her brothers, and the advisors they’ve come to consider family. Ser Davos looks at Gendry with a wink in his eye, and he spots Sansa wiping a tear from her eye.

Gendry promises to love Arya forever, and she promises that she’ll never leave him without promising to come back. It’s a lot of promises, but after a life of uncertainty, he’ll take all he can get.

He kisses her in front of the old gods, and when she looks up at him after, he feels a bit like a god himself.