“You sure you’ll be all right?” She rolled her eyes, and Jon frowned at her.
“What?” he demanded, his voice tinged with defensive protectiveness.
“You’re being silly is all,” she said, elbowing him in the ribs.
“I’m not being silly, actually. You’re posing naked for—”
“I signed up for it. They’re paying me money. And good money too.” They were. Most ads for student models on the employment website offered ten dragons an hour. This gig offered nearly double that.
Jon looked around. Rosehips offered good coffee and a convenient place to meet between classes near the center of campus, but while it wasn’t exactly full, it wasn’t exactly empty either. Jon kept his voice low as he said, his grey eyes full of earnest entreaty, “And even beyond that, how do you know you’ll feel comfortable? I just don’t want you getting in over your head and then feeling stuck and like you can’t leave.”
Arya smiled at him, doing her best to keep her annoyance out of her face. “Jon?”
“When you imagine that I’m changing between dances, do you think that I’m going into a closed off space? I’m literally tearing my clothes off and running around backstage completely naked. I don’t mind being naked around people.”
Jon looked mildly uncomfortable, from the way he was biting his lip. She appreciated it, actually—both that he was concerned for her, and that he had the good sense to trust her when she said she’d be fine.
Because she would be fine. If anything she was excited—more excited for this than she was about any of her classes for the semester. She’d grown up looking at paintings and photographs of dancers, the way that they—more than other models, it seemed—were able to really pose, contort, display, hold. The idea that this was something that she would be able to do, that someday, there might be a painting of Arya, holding some sort of pose for an hour, the perfect depiction of artistic athleticism...it made Arya grin. More than that, it made her even more eager to ditch Jon and his nervousness and get to the studio on High Street.
“All right—I’ll see you later,” she said.
“You sure?” Jon asked her one last time.
“Oh, go work on your damn thesis, will you?” she snapped. Then, as an afterthought, she pressed a kiss to Jon’s wild black hair. It was greasy; she didn’t want to think about whether or not he had showered while he was churning out his Master’s thesis.
It was chilly out, and rainy too, and Arya didn’t need the weather as a motivation to move a little faster, but she figured it was as good an excuse as any to get there early. She wanted to get there early. She could pin it on the dancer part of her—you could never be late to a rehearsal, and you should be early to make sure you stretched and warmed up properly if anything—but that would be lying to herself and she knew it. She was excited to be going, to be doing something new after the semester had started off so frustratingly, with everyone asking her how she was, and if she needed anything, their eyes too soft and their voices too gentle to be at all natural.
The artist was waiting for her—or at least, she assumed it was the artist—outside of the studio, sitting in a chair and bent over his phone such that she could only see wiry dark hair as she approached.
“Hi, are you Gendry?” she asked. He looked up, and she had a moment where she realized just how blue his eyes were and she felt her confidence begin to fade. There was something familiar about him—she wasn’t sure what, but it was almost unnerving. Had she seen him somewhere before?
“Yes,” he said. “That’s me. Arya?”
“Yes.” She extended a hand to him.
He stood, tucking his phone into the pocket of his jeans. There were paint splatters on them and when he stood, she felt suddenly very small. Arya carried herself tall—most dancers did. They had good posture because they used every muscle of their body. It had been easy to forget that Mycah was only five foot six. And Jon had always joked that Arya had the personality for ten people and that that made her always seem bigger than she was. Jon would always then rest his elbow on her head as if to prove a point, but it wasn’t quite the point he wanted to prove. There had definitely been a time when he could rest his elbow on her head and make it look like he was leaning on a railing. Now her head came to just under his chin and it really just made him look like a rather lopsided bird.
But Gendry was taller than Jon. And bigger too—in the muscular sense. He had broad shoulders and she could tell just by looking at his arms that he lifted too. He took her hand. His grip was very firm and his hand was huge compared to hers. Then, he reached down and pulled a set of keys out of his pocket and opened the door to the room.
The art studio was larger than she expected. There was more space than backstage at Targ, but that didn’t exactly mean very much. Targ was old and cramped and in sore need of renovation. Here, the studio had some easels, some canvases that were facing the wall, and a wide window that looked out over the river. It was bright, and clean and the space in the middle of the room was completely empty.
“So,” Gendry said, dropping his bag to the floor. “I don’t know how much Professor Mott told you about the project,” he said.
“A little? He said he needed a dancer—that you needed a dancer.”
“Yeah. So it’s for my senior project. I’m trying a project with a series of sketch-paintings.”
“Sketch paintings,” she repeated and she saw a glimmer of realization that she had no idea what he was talking about.
“Basically, I want each painting in the series to be a dancer in a different pose, in a different style. Some of them will be quick, and I can do a lot of the legwork on my own once I get your form. Others, I might need you for a while. But in essence—they’re short spurts of art. Each painting should be completed in one sitting, give or take.”
“Got it,” she said. “So when do I take off my clothes?”
Gendry stopped short, his eyes widening as though he hadn’t expected her to ask that question quite that cheerily.
“Well...whenever you like, really. I was going to bring up the subject more politely, but...”
Arya shrugged, pleased with herself. He had blushed, she noticed.
“Yeah, I’d like the paintings to all be nudes. So some will be more…” he blushed again.
Gendry blinked and shook his head slightly, as if he were a dog trying to shake away a fly that was buzzing in his ears. Arya suppressed a grin. Mycah had once berated her for ignoring other people’s boundaries. Just because she had very few didn’t mean that she could just go and assume the same of everyone else.
“If you like. It wouldn’t be the word I’d used. I mean...it’s...it’s not like I’m painting porn or anything,” he said the last bit very quickly, and his blush became even more pronounced. Gosh, if Jon were in the room, she’d probably be cackling because the pair of them were so determined to suck the fun out of all this.
“It’s fine,” she said instead. “I know.”
“Cool,” Gendry said, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot. “So...yeah. If you could…”
She grinned, removed her jacket and tugged her t-shirt over her head.
“Was he hot?” Shireen asked, not looking up from her computer screen. They were sitting in the common room of their double, and she had the unkempt look of someone who was in the depths of computer science homework, her face haggard, her blue eyes dull behind her glasses, her hair swept up out of her face so that her scars were a little more visible than usual. Shireen tended to wear her hair down, so that it fell like a curtain obscuring the mottled skin of her cheek.
“Yeah, I think so,” Arya said grumpily. Posing, as it turned out was far more boring than she would have expected. Not that she had anticipated moving—oh no. It was just that Gendry was sullen when he was painting her. He didn’t say a word, or want her to talk either, because if she talked, she moved, and he didn’t want her to move. So she’d gotten very familiar with the bend in the river outside of his studio, and had even grown fond of the ducks that she’d seen swimming in it.
“He any good?”
“I don’t know. He wouldn’t let me see the finished painting.”
“Guess not,” Shireen teased.
“Or maybe he was just disappointed with my face,” Arya said. Shireen reached over and shoved her.
“You know exactly what.”
“Yeah yeah,” Arya sighed. She knew Shireen understood. “Remind me to stretch better next time. I’m so fucking stiff.”
“Stretch better next time,” Shireen said unhelpfully, frowning at her screen. “Balls,” she sighed and slammed shut the laptop, taking off her glasses and pressing the heels of her palms into her eye sockets.
“What’s up?” Arya asked.
Shireen inhaled deeply then muttered, “I just caught a really dumb mistake and now I have to go back and fix it and try and debug and fuck everything. Why am I majoring in computer science?”
“Because you like to show you’re smarter than me?” suggested Arya.
“I don’t need to show that. I just am. There’s proof and everything.” She removed her face from her hands and blinked twice. “Ugh, I’m so mad at myself.”
“Ahh well,” said Arya, flopping over on the couch. “What can you do?”
“Not be so dumb next time,” Shireen muttered. “I’m going to take a shower,” she said. But she didn’t move. She just sat there, her eyes unfocused, staring at her closed laptop.
“Do you need help?” Arya asked after a moment.
“No,” Shireen said. “I—yes. Help me up. My brain is too fried to do anything.”
“And what were you saying about me being dumber than you?”
“It takes more to fry my brain than you could even conceive of, Arya Stark,” Shireen teased, accepting Arya’s hand and letting herself be pulled to her feet. “You’re lucky you’re so good at dancing. Otherwise you’d be fucked. Or worse, a literature major.”
“You like reading,” Arya pointed out lamely. She didn’t like insults to the literature major. Jon was a literature major, and her mother had been one too. “Or is all that just some clever ruse. You’re taking a dang literature class right now.” Shireen glared at her, still leaning heavily on Arya’s arm.
“Yes,” Shireen whined, “but it’s Middle Common, Arya. Do you have any idea what it’s like reading The Song of Florian and his faire Jonquille with an appendix by Archmaester Willas in the original Middle Common? Pure and unadulterated pain. That’s what it’s like.” Shireen plucked her towel off the back of the door to her bedroom.
“My condolences,” said Arya, wholly unsympathetically. “But you are the one who took the damn class. You could be taking Fire, Sex, and Blood with me.”
Shireen rolled her eyes in an exaggerated way that Arya thought might be a little overkill. “There is no way on this earth you could convince me to read incesty Targaryen love poetry, even if they paid for most of this school.”
“But ye, sweetest star, do make me throb / that even if my roots did—” Arya began reciting, but Shireen elbowed Arya furiously as she crossed the common room, heading towards the door.
“I got enough of that shit in high school, thank you,” said Shireen.
“Did Dev recite it at you ‘neath yon window?” Arya asked.
“I bet he wrote you love poetry.” Arya felt a manic grin spread across her face. “I bet it was metered.”
“Speaking of Dev,” said Shireen loudly, her hand on the handle of the door out into the hallway. “Can you be out of here Friday? I might want to fuck him on the couch when he gets in.”
Arya let out a long-suffering sigh. “I suppose I will just have to pester Jon to entertain me or something. Don’t get fluids on it, though.” She pulled a face, sticking out her tongue and scrunching her eyes. Shireen stuck her tongue out at her and yanked the door open, disappearing into the hallway. Arya watched the door swing shut behind her. As much as she loved Jon, she wished that Mycah…but no, she couldn’t. Thinking about that, wishing for that was silly, and unproductive, and unhelpful, and all those other “un-” words Dr. H’ghar told her to avoid. All the same, it was difficult not to wish when she was feeling so suddenly aware of how empty the room was.
When the semester had begun, Arya had, over the protests of her mother, who worried she was over-exerting herself after a semester off, signed up for two dance classes. For the most part, they met on separate days, but on Wednesdays, they were scheduled back to back. And these two classes could not be more different from one another.
There were only four of them in Jaime Lannister’s class, and in each lesson, they watched videos of Arthur Dayne’s rehearsal techniques, then set about learning them themselves, falling into the most traditional form of classical ballet that Arya had ever studied.
When she’d been in high school, Syrio had told her that, if she wanted to, she’d make one of the finest ballerinas of her age. She had the size for it, and the skill, and the drive, and the raw talent that people always seemed to emphasize when discussing whether or not someone could or would become a professional dancer. Lannister had told her that if she worked hard enough, she might be half as good as Arthur Dayne when he was drunk and spotting his choreography.
The good thing about Lannister’s class was that Mycah didn’t drip out of every piece of music. She couldn’t hear him in recordings of the Sunspear Symphony Orchestra playing The Duet of Nymeria and Mors. When she took Marq’s hand—lightly, daintily, arching her wrist—she didn’t for a moment think it was Mycah. Mycah was jazz, Mycah was soul, Mycah was earthy. Mycah was not polished and smooth the way that ballet was. And Mycah hadn’t wanted to be.
Mycah had always said that ballet was for old people and for children, and that if you were in your twenties and loved ballet, you probably didn’t know anything about dance. Arya didn’t think that was true, and Mycah had rolled his eyes at her when she’d told him that. “You don’t need to dance the way everyone else dances to be beautiful, Arya,” he had said, so seriously, a pair of lines marking the skin between his eyebrows as he frowned at her. And when she’d tried to say that that wasn’t why she didn’t agree, and he was being stupid, he’d just shaken his head and reached out and rubbed his thumb on her neck and smiled and her words had caught in her chest because when he looked at her that way, the world stood still and she could forget all the names that Jeyne Poole had given her growing up to make fun of her long face.
Signing up for Jaime Lannister’s class was an obvious choice for any dance major who wanted to get the ballet requirement out of the way. But it was in no small part because of Mycah that she had taken Sandor Clegane’s class to begin with, even though her parents, her therapist, and even her common sense told her it was a bad idea. And at least twice a class, she wondered explicitly what in the seven hells had made her do it.
“Are you fucking drunk? Is that supposed to be a relevé?”
“I—” but Lommy was blushing furiously and without another word, Clegane raised himself onto the tips of his toes so that he towered over Lommy, glowering with such ferocity that Lommy cringed.
“Arch your feet,” he commanded, dropping himself back to the ground so lightly that he seemed to be floating. He raised his eyebrow at Lommy, who tried again, and didn’t make a comment. Instead, he turned away, muttering to himself about idiots.
Arya bit back a growl.
“Fucker,” muttered Hot Pie
“Shut up,” roared Clegane. “I am starting the music up again.” And true enough, he did.
He was a good choreographer. Arya wasn’t an idiot, but every word out of his mouth reminded her that she should have avoided this class at all costs and yet here she was—dancing with fifteen other students to music that her mother would have frowned at thirty years ago.
Harder still, Arya didn’t know what she couldn’t bear more: that she was taking the class, or that she liked it.
She arrived at Gendry’s studio on Thursday afternoon and dropped her bag in a corner.
“So? How did it turn out?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Fine.”
“Just ‘fine’?” Arya tried to keep the disappointment out of her voice.
“Yeah. It was good,” Gendry said. “A different pose today,” he said and Arya took the hint. Maybe he just didn’t like talking about his own art, she thought as she tugged off her t-shirt and shimmied out of her leggings and underpants. Usually she didn’t like talking about her own dance. She could rattle on for hours about Nymeria Martell, or the choreography of Shiera Bloodraven but she didn’t ever try and boast about her own work. It was fine. She’d see it all eventually.
Gendry settled her into a relevé, her back to him with her hands clasping the opposite elbows behind her back.
“Are you always so quiet when you paint?” she asked him.
“Yes,” he replied.
“Doesn’t it ever get boring?”
“Do you get bored dancing?” he shot back at her.
“No. But I’m moving. I’m doing stuff.”
“Yes. And so am I.” His voice was dry and Arya smirked at her own reflection in the window. She hoped no one across the river had binoculars, or she would be giving them quite the show.
“You don’t care that I’m not shaved, right?” she asked him. “Around my crotch.”
She heard him sputter and she grinned again.
“No,” he managed. “Why would I care? It’s your body.”
“Yeah, but if you wanted to paint a shaved girl, you know?” She saw him shrug in the window.
“It’s fine,” he said. “You’re fine with however you want to groom.”
Her grin spread even wider. “I can see your blush in the window. You’re redder than the University crests.”
“Yeah, well, it’s not every day I get a girl talking about whether or not I want her to shave her private parts while I paint her ass,” he replied dryly.
“Well, actually, depending on scheduling...” she teased.
“Shut up, I need to focus.”
“On my ass?”
“Yes. On your ass.”
She dreamed of Mycah that night.
She dreamed he was laughing, calling her names and dancing around her and she was laughing, calling him names and chasing him. He tore away from her, his body twisting as he leaped across a stage, spotlight following him as he spun, his shadow moving like a demon—black against the white of the light. How beautiful he was, his brown eyes lit up so that they looked gold in the light, like honey, but full of movement.
“Come,” he called. “Come catch me!” And she ran faster, running after him, reaching for his hand, out stretched. “Come on, slow poke,” he chided. “Don’t you want to dance?”
“Stay put, will you?” she called out to him. But even as she did the light was going out, the spotlight was fading and she could only see his barest outline. “Mycah!”
“I’m here!” he called. He wasn’t moving—that much she could see, and she ran, leaping into his outstretched arms and he lifted her high in the air. And then, he dropped her down, catching her so she was at his waist, her face right against his in the dark, and she wanted to see him—see the gold brown of his eyes, but she couldn’t. And he threw her in the air again, and she let out a whoop of glee because she was going so high—higher than she should. She could see the lights suspended from bars overhead—dark but she saw them anyway.
“Mycah, do you see?” she pointed to them.
“I see!” she heard his voice. It was from so far away.
“Look at me, I can almost reach!”
“You’re so beautiful, Arya!”
“You’re just saying that,” she said, looking down to roll her eyes at him and—
The spotlight had turned back on and he lay on the ground in the center of it, his neck twisted around too far and blood dribbling out of his nose and mouth and Arya screamed and screamed and fell.
She woke with a start, feeling cold sweat on her skin and smelling the faded scent of her shampoo on her pillow. It was Sansa’s old shampoo—she’d taken it from home because she didn’t know what kind of shampoo to buy because all of her shampoo smelled like Mycah and there was nothing worse in the whole world than smelling like Mycah.
And suddenly, she was crying, great big horrible gulping sobs that rose out of her stomach, out of her throat. She didn’t have tears on her face—she’d cried enough tears for him already, and she was so good at pushing it down, but it was back, now, it hurt her again, and it hurt worse than anything she’d ever felt, so she sobbed, breathing shallow gasping breaths and crying into her pillow that smelled like Sansa and not her and not Mycah, because the walls were thin and Shireen would hear and stop believing her when she said she was fine because she couldn’t not tell them she was fine—not when she’d started out fine, even if now she wasn’t.
She didn’t close her eyes though. Because if she closed her eyes, she would see him lying in the spotlight, blood coming out of his face in that moment of dull shock before the audience had realized what had happened.
Arya forced herself to look in the cheap plastic mirror on the back of her bedroom door. She looked small and pale and her face was long and her hair was lank and there wasn’t enough makeup in the world to make her horsey face round and soft like Sansa’s.
She took a deep breath, feeling how it shuddered in her lungs, and closed her eyes, determined that when she opened them again, she would see herself the way that Mycah had.
“You look a mess,” Jon said when he opened the door for her the next evening. She was wearing one of his old black hoodies because no one looked too closely at your face if you wore a black hoodie and today wasn’t a day for display. She was glad that she hadn’t signed up for classes on Fridays, and that Gendry hadn’t tried to schedule her that day. She was in no mood for anyone—anyone but Jon, of course.
“Couldn’t sleep,” she sighed, pushing her way past him into his house.
“That much I can see,” he said. “Are you sure you’re up for going out tonight?” he asked.
If I don’t I may cry, she wanted to say, but she didn’t. Instead she looked at his liquor cabinet and asked, “Have you not got rum? I’m in a rum mood.”
“I’m out. Grenn finished it last night. Sorry. We have a new rye you may like.”
“Nah. I don’t want rye. I want rum.”
“Do you want to go out to the liquor store with me, Arya?” Jon asked, sounding as though he were babysitting a petulantly alcoholic seven-year-old.
“Yes,” she said, and turned around and they left his apartment together.
It was a brisk day—not quite as cold as it had been for the past few weeks, and Arya wondered if maybe spring was on its way at last. Not, of course, that she was cold. She was never cold south of the Neck. But she wondered if she’d like to see flowers. She wondered if she could see flowers without thinking of Mycah and crying some more.
“What’s up?” Jon asked.
“I had a Mycah dream,” she admitted.
Jon threw his arm around her shoulder and she hugged into his side, feeling his solid warmth, letting it steady her. “This is your first one in a while, isn’t it?” asked Jon.
“Yes, it was,” she said.
It was one of the things she loved so much about Jon. For all that everyone always asked her how she was, asking if there was anything they could do to help, Jon asked the functional questions. He asked her things that let her focus on more than her misery, and didn’t let her twist and turn away from the subject at hand. She couldn’t get away with anything when she brought it up to Jon. And, when she couldn’t put words to it, Jon just got it and hugged her, even if he knew she wasn’t all right and that was all she wanted right now. Well, that and rum.
She liked rum. Not in the alcoholic sense. Arya had never actually been one to enjoy drinking too too much, but rum made her think of the tropics, and the tropics didn’t remind her of Mycah and his warm brown eyes, so rum it would be. And in all likelihood, she would end up drunk and asleep on Jon’s couch within two hours. Or they’d go out to a local bar and hear Grenn’s band play.
She slid Jon a ten as contribution to the handle he bought and within thirty minutes, she’d had enough to be sitting on his floor, staring at his coffee table and wondering loudly if she was too tired to sleep, or not tired enough to sleep.
“You could try and see what happens,” Jon suggested unhelpfully.
“No,” she said, hearing that her words were already beginning to slur, “that’s the easy way.”
Jon rolled his eyes.
“So, how about we go and hear Grenn’s set. And either it’ll put you to sleep, or it’ll wake you up and you can have a night out and not think about the fact that your roommate is definitely having sex in your bed right now.”
“She is not,” said Arya, a little more loudly than she had intended. “She’s having sex on the couch. Or in the shower. She doesn’t have sex in my bed. At least I don’t think she does. She said she didn’t. She’d better not. Stop laughing at me, you nitwit.”
Jon was not even bothering to hide his chuckle, his mouth wide in a grin and the skin around his grey eyes crinkling. “So then,” he said, “What’s the verdict?”
“Band,” she said. “Help me up.”
He did, muttering about how lazy she was. He even got her hoodie for her, though he insisted on taking her wallet in case she did something foolish with it, and they made their way down to Renly’s Ghost.
It was one of those bars made of old dark wood, where people had carved secret—and not so secret—messages onto the tables and chairs. Not that the proprietor cared. The proprietor gave not two shits, actually, and so sometimes his clientele also put out their cigarettes on the table. Arya liked Renly’s Ghost though. It was on the seedy side of nice, but it had good people there, and interesting music, and they made good stiff drinks, which was all she wanted at the moment.
Except Jon had her wallet.
Clever bastard. He probably wouldn’t give it back to her either.
“I want another drink,” she said, kicking Jon under the table in the middle of Grenn’s song. He ignored her, eyes on Grenn at the piano as if the words Grenn had written were the words of the gods or something.
“Sam,” she whined, trying him instead, but Sam just shot her a sympathetic smile before he returned his gaze to the piano.
She scooted down the bench, deciding the least she could do was try her luck with the bartender.
“Where are you going?” Jon asked her. She didn’t reply. See how he liked being ignored for a change. She stumbled lightly down the row of tables until she reached the end of the bar and found herself face to face with Gendry.
“Fuck, what are you doing here?” she demanded. He blinked at her. It was like seeing a teacher in the grocery store, seeing the guy who painted you naked behind the bar.
“I…work here?” He was looking at her like he was sizing up just how drunk she was, and she knew if she didn’t convince him fast, she would be all out of luck.
“Hey man, can I get a pint?” someone asked. “Red Rain.” The man slid a five across the bar, Gendry took it and pulled up a glass from beneath the bar and sticking it under the tap, letting it fill with amber beer. He handed the glass to the patron and turned back to Arya.
“What do you want?”
“My brother took my wallet. But now I want a rum and cola. On his tab, if you don’t mind!”
“I can’t just give you booze on his tab,” Gendry said mulishly. “Not unless he’s ok with it.”
“Well, he’s listening to Grenn and didn’t say that I could, but it was implied. He also owes me at least three drinks, so I think it’s only fair.”
“How many have you already had?” Gendry asked, cocking his head and crossing his arms over his chest. He had very nice arms. And a very nice chest. She’d noticed that before, and she was noticing it again, because they were right in front of her face. He was very tall, wasn’t he? She liked that he was tall. Taller than her by a lot. Mycah had been taller than her too, but not quite so much taller. And fuck, she wasn’t drunk enough if she was still thinking about Mycah.
“I don’t see how that’s relevant,” she responded, trying to look prim the way that Sansa did when Sansa was getting everyone to listen to her. It must not have worked because Gendry laughed.
“Well, you’re a small person and I don’t like getting my friends drunk,” he said gently.
“Are we friends?” she asked, meaning to tease, but it came out a little harsher than that and Gendry frowned. “I mean sure, you paint me. But you don’t know me very well, do you.”
“I know you some,” Gendry said, looking uneasy.
“Oh yeah? What do you know about me?”
“You dance,” he said lamely.
“That hardly counts. That was in your advertisement on student employment.” That was why she had taken the modeling gig in the first place. It was too good not to take—a female dancer to pose nude all semester making twice the undergraduate minimum wage. Certified through the art department so it was not any more sketchy than it seemed. All she’d had to do was show that she was actually a dancer, which had taken a single video from the internet and she’d been chosen and there she was, posing naked for Gendry twice a week while he painted for his senior thesis.
“You’re stubborn,” he said.
She rolled her eyes. “That’s clever inference. I’m here trying to convince you to give me more rum and haven’t been dissuaded by your refusal just yet.”
That made him crack a smile and he leaned forward and said so quietly she almost didn’t hear it above Grenn’s growling vocals, “You aren’t going to convince me unless your brother—”
“Unless her brother what?”
Jon had arrived and thrown his arm over Arya.
“Hello Jon,” she said, standing on tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek.
“She’s trying to get a rum and cola off you,” Gendry said.
“Lame face. I was going to tell him that,” Arya sniped at him.
“Of course you were,” said Gendry dryly.
Jon snorted. “Get her a rum. But it’s her last one, ok?”
“Sure thing,” said Gendry, raising a glass from under the bar in a salute to Jon. Arya stuck her tongue out at both of them.
“Why’d you come over if you are going to be no fun?” she demanded, shoving Jon playfully.
“I wanted to make sure the bartender wasn’t pulling any funny business with you,” Jon said.
“Oh Jon,” she sighed dramatically. “This is Gendry. He’s the one I’m posing for. He wouldn’t try any funny business here of all places.”
She smiled at Gendry who was pouring cola into her glass, and adding a slice of lime. He wasn’t looking at her, focused intensely on the mixing in front of him. And when he handed her the drink, she had the distinct impression that his smile was a bit forced.
“Thank you,” she said cheerfully, taking a sip out of the thin red straw. The rum slid down her throat and into her belly, warming her completely.
“Of course,” replied Gendry, before turning to help another customer.
Arya followed Jon back to the table, happily sipping her rum and cola and wondering if she would be able to convince Jon to let her at least have a beer after this.
She had dinner with Shireen and Devan the next day. It was supposed to have been lunch, but she was too hungover and Jon had replied to Shireen’s texts on her behalf saying that she was a tiny fool who still hadn’t learned her liquor tolerance. Instead, she had spent most of the day on Jon’s couch, trying to get the taste of fuzzy stale booze off of her tongue, without any real hope of success.
“Good night?” Shireen asked, smiling her crooked smile at Arya’s hangdog expression.
“Probably not as good as yours,” she mumbled, taking a sip of her water.
“Where’d you and Jon go?” Devan asked.
Arya liked Devan. She liked anyone who saw past Shireen’s greyscale scars, but more importantly, she liked people who kissed Shireen on those greyscale scars whenever he could. They were that the adorable couple who had dated through high school, and managed a long distance relationship (even though Storm’s End was only a three hour drive from here, if the traffic was bad, so that was hardly far) and still were very deeply in love. It made Arya happy that Shireen had someone who loved her, who looked at her like she was the most beautiful person in the world, who saw how bright Shireen shone when she got into arguments about logical fallacies and when she described the kids she tutored across the river in Flea Bottom, who seemed to see her the way that Mycah had seen Arya. He was also skittish and very easy to make blush, which was always a plus.
“Have you ever been to Renly’s Ghost?” she asked him. “Or do you two just stick to the bedroom when you’re in town?”
Shireen rolled her eyes. “How was Grenn’s band?”
“They carried a rhythm this time,” Arya grinned. “And I think that Grenn managed to stay in tune with his singing most of the time. They’re getting better. I think.”
“I should hope,” muttered Shireen. “No, I haven’t brought Dev there. Dev and I have better options than Renly’s Ghost, thank you.”
“Ah yes,” Arya pulled a snooty lock-jaw accent that made Devan begin to laugh and made Shireen frown because Arya sounded just like her father, “You can do better than Renly’s Ghost.”
“I can,” Shireen said, narrowing her eyes, and Dev yelped and blushed.
“Did you cop a feel under the table?” demanded Arya.
A grin cracked across Shireen’s face. “Obviously.”
“Do I need to clear out again tonight?” Arya asked pointedly.
“Nah—we’ll stick to the bedroom.” Shireen’s smile grew wicked. Devan’s blush deepened.
Arya’s phone buzzed and she glanced down at it, even as Shireen announced, “Rude!” to the table. Arya shrugged.
Sansa: Hey—You ok?
“We’re having a conversation here, Arya. All dignified and dinner and everything, taking time out of our lives to spend time with your lonely ass and you’re on your phone. Who are you sexting?” Shireen’s eyes were kind, though, even as she teased. Big, and blue, and remarkably like Gendry’s.
“Sansa texted out of the blue,” Arya said, even as her phone buzzed again.
Sansa: Jon said you were upset, and I wanted to check in.
“Sansa?” Shireen said blankly. Then she connected the dots. That was one of the things that Shireen did better than practically everyone else on the planet—connect the dots. “What’s wrong?”
Arya shook her head, texting Sansa back.
Me: I’m fine. Thanks for checking though. How are you?
“You’re being evasive,” Shireen said, leaning forward. “Come on now.” Considering how determined she was, she sounded surprisingly gentle, hand inching across the table to touch Arya’s arm.
Sansa: Fairly well. I have a venue for my show at the end of the semester. (I don’t believe you, by the way. Nice attempt at diversion, though.)
Me: When is it? I’d love to come.
Sansa: April fifteenth. I’ll send you an eVite. When I have one.
“It’s really fine, Shireen. Honestly, I drank it off last night. And bringing it all back is kind of sucky.” That should do it, she thought. And even as she glanced up from her phone, she saw Shireen sitting back, her eyes steady and her face neutral and she knew that that would be it for the night.
“Dev, are you still majoring in foolishness?” she asked him.
“Business admin is not foolishness!” yelped Dev, and Arya smirked at him, committing herself to a pointless debate she didn’t really care about.
Gendry: You got my copy of Not-So-Silent Sisters V?
Me: Excuse me?
Gendry: Shit. Not you. Wrong person. Sorry.
Me: Gendry—are you texting me about a porno?
Gendry: No? You didn’t see anything. This didn’t go to you.
Me: Because if you’re looking for good porn, I hear wonderful things about Last of the Giant Cocks.
Gendry: Define wonderful things?
Me: Well…I hear the acting’s decent. And the tits are apparently good.
Gendry: I’ll check it out?
Arya was early to Clegane’s class on Tuesday, and the studio was empty. She didn’t bother flicking on the lights—the grey light from the clouds was pouring into the room and bouncing off the mirrors along one length of the room. Calm, quiet, peaceful.
She dropped her bookbag on the ground in the corner of the room, kicked off her shoes, pulled on her legwarmers and went to stand by the bar, doing all she could to ignore the reflection of her face in the mirror. As much out of habit as anything else, Arya kicked her leg up so that it rested along the top of the bar, feeling her hamstring stretch, pulled in two different directions like a fruit roll-up. She bent the leg that was still on the ground and the stretch grew. Then, continuing through the motion, she pulled one arm over her head, grabbing hold of the bar and feeling a complimentary stretch shooting up the side of her ribs. She breathed deeply, her blood flowing through her body with the strangely percussive sensation that was so like water going through the nozzle of a hose.
She liked the quiet moments before everyone else showed up, moments of privacy where it was just her and her breath and her body.
She switched her position, stretching her other side and as she settled into her plié, she heard the door bang open and some stumping footsteps. It was Clegane—she knew it. She could recognize his gait very easily. He was the only dancer she knew who stumped around like that, and he did it on purpose, too. She heard him stomping around, then his footsteps slowed, and she felt his gaze on her.
“Can you reach the lower bar?” he asked her after a moment.
“With your hand. Can you reach the lower bar?”
She tried and the muscles along her left side burned. But she could reach it. She held the pose for ten seconds, just to prove she could before letting herself stand up straight.
“Don’t overstretch,” he said. It sounded like a bark, but it was almost too quiet. “You’ll hurt yourself.”
Arya felt a flicker of annoyance. “You just told me to do that.” She tried very hard to snap. He was still a professor, even if he was a complete ass.
“I did,” he agreed. “So what? You still overstretched.”
She glared at him. “That’s not good teaching form,” she said at last. “Asking your students to do things they shouldn’t do.”
He laughed, and this time, it really did sound like a bark. “Sure. Worse by far than getting them killed.”
Arya’s eyes widened at him, and her heart stopped. He hadn’t just said that—to her of all people. She stared at him, cold fury rushing through her and if she’d known how to kill a man it might just have been Sandor Clegane that she killed.
“You offended?” he asked her. “You hate me for saying that?”
She didn’t reply.
“Go ahead. Join the line. It happened. He fell and broke his neck and it was my fault. You think I know how to live with that? Don’t overstretch.”
He turned away from her, walking to the boom box in the corner and turning on Tears Of Lys’ Greatest Hits.
Later that afternoon, she was curled up in a ball on the floor of Gendry’s studio, her knees tucked to her chest, her hands clutching at her ankles, doing her best not to fall asleep. It was hard—she was surprisingly comfortable, but then again, Arya had never had trouble falling asleep on hardwood floors. She’d always assumed that it was because she spent so much time waiting in rehearsals while the lighting directors argued with whichever choreographer she was working with—or that Nymeria had a tendency to just stand on her chest and lick her face and she couldn’t bring herself to move when Nymeria was so happy licking her face.
“This doesn’t feel very dancerly,” Arya said into the silence. Some artists listened to music. Why couldn’t Gendry at least listen to music while he painted? She could pretend to choreograph in her head if he did. And if he was going to pretend that he hadn’t texted her that out of the blue last night, she could pretend as well. Or at least, she could sit on it while he painted her.
“It’s not,” he agreed.
“So, why then?”
“I’m looking at light,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
He didn’t reply, and for a moment, she thought he was just going to go and ignore her the way he tended to whenever she asked questions, the way he was ignoring the fact that he’d sent her a text about porn, but she heard him put down his paint brush.
“When you’re dancing,” he began, “And you’re on stage, do you ever think that the ways the shadows fall on the wall behind you enhance things?”
“Absolutely,” she said without hesitation. “And on the floor—though most people don’t necessarily see those ones.”
“Well,” he said, and she caught a moment of excitement, “It’s the same thing in painting, see. Light and darkness can draw attention to things, make people think about stuff more clearly. It’s a way to direct thought.”
“So what light are you looking at now, then?” she asked, curious. She knew what he meant, of course. She wasn’t stupid. She’d noticed what light could do when she was ten and had dragged her mother to see Stormborn with her, and when Queen Daenerys had fallen, the lights had dimmed, and the spotlights had struck her from below, highlighting the dancer’s collarbones, her cheekbones, making her body look more skeletal, more profoundly dead than anything Arya had ever seen before. She thought about that a lot, actually—because when she was famous, she was determined at least to dance Lady Lyanna and thus looking dead was very important. Looking dead…she restrained a shudder, and did her best not to remember Mycah lying on the ground with his eyes open and sightless.
“So, right now,” Gendry was saying, “Your face is illuminated, your arms are illuminated, your sides and feet are illuminated. But your heart, your breasts,” she was proud of him, he said the word without hesitation; he had blushed when he'd first unlocked the studio door for her and she knew he was kicking himself internally about that porno text, “are in shadow. Your shoulder is curved slightly in—bright on the outside, darker as it moves deeper inward. So...yeah.”
She waited, but he didn’t continue. So she pressed him further. “And?”
“Well, I guess my goal is to show that you—or the model in the picture, if you want to detach yourself from it—she holds her darkest secrets deep inside her, and covers them with lightness, hoping that the world won’t notice.”
Arya felt a chill crawling up her spine, goosebumps spreading over her skin and even though she knew that she would break the pose and possibly ruin Gendry’s work, she lifted her head and looked up at him. He was watching her, his blue eyes glazed as though he couldn’t see anything else in the world but her, curled up on his floor. It made her want desperately to look away because there was something altogether too familiar about that gaze and it shouldn’t be on Gendry’s face—it shouldn’t be on anyone’s face anymore. Arya bit her lip.
She wanted to tell him that that was what he should have said on Friday night, when she’d been trying to make him point out that he actually knew her, or at least to come up with some joke—something about how there was definitely something psychological there about his relationship with someone or something she didn’t know very well. She wanted to open her mouth and ask him why he wanted to paint her that way—why he wanted to paint anyone that way, to ask him what had given him the idea? But Arya Stark, who had enough personality for ten people, couldn’t make herself.
“Oh,” was all she could say, dropping her head again, wishing she hadn’t lifted it at all.
Normally, she bolted after she was done with posing—sore, stiff, cranky, and wondering if Hot Pie or Shireen would want to grab dinner before going to the library or the computer lab. But not today. Today, she felt shaken, and she hung back, letting her mind settle. She pulled on her clothing slowly as Gendry went to the corner of the studio and began cleaning his brushes and his palette. She watched him for a while, the way that the muscles of his shoulder moved and in tiny spurts as he scrubbed.
“What made you want to paint?” she asked him. He stilled, as though he hadn’t expected her to even still be in the room, even though she hadn’t said her characteristic, “Until we meet again!”
“Photography seemed too easy,” he said, and she heard a wry humor in his voice.
“I’m sure the photographers would disagree,” she replied, and he let out a soft chuckle.
“Well—” he said, “It’s—It’s a little hard to explain. Or super easy. Nothing in between though.”
“Try me,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. He popped the paint brushes into a plastic cup by the sink and hung the palette off a nail on the wall and turned around, leaning against the sink with his own arms crossed over his chest. He laughed when he saw her standing there in such a similar pose, and uncrossed his arms, letting his hands rest on the lip of the sink.
“I like paint,” he said. “I like making things. But more than that—I like making things beautiful. I like the experience of looking up from your work and saying—that. I made that. And others are going to wish they had.”
“Well, that seems a little egotistical,” said Arya.
“Perhaps,” grinned Gendry. “Alternatively, I like that art means different things to everyone—and that my art can mean something different to everyone.”
“In other words, you like making it a mindfuck,” she said.
“Have you ever taken Art History classes?” he asked. She shook her head. “Well, art has basically been a mindfuck since the beginning of the last century. Before then too, but really really very much a mindfuck in the last century. It’s not about making pretty pictures look as lifelike as possible. We have cameras for that.”
“So that’s why photography is easy,” she replied, raising her eyebrows.
“If I wanted to,” Gendry began, then he paused, “No, wait. If I wanted to and if I had the training and skill too, I could capture you doing the same things, the same light, the same poses, the same whatever, with a camera. It would be a lot more precise, a lot more pristine. And it would show something different too—really give the clarity I see to everyone looking at it. But I like the idea that I can use texture, or broken lines, or whatever to make things not look exactly like you. I can make you look like whoever’s looking at the painting.”
“You’ve got a power trip,” she said.
Gendry only laughed. “Yes. I have a power trip. I’m an egotistical artist who wants everyone to see the world through my lens. That do?” He crossed the room and tugged on his jacket.
“Yep. That makes sense,” Arya said, swinging the strap of her messenger bag over her chest.
“What makes you want to dance?” Gendry asked.
It was a simple enough question, but it made Arya pause and cock her head at him.
“See?” he said, grinning again. “It’s not so easy.”
“No,” she agreed, drawing the word out in her mouth, “It’s not.”
He opened the door to the studio for her and she stepped through it, still mulling over the question. “It’s being able to do something—something unbelievable. Like, people think bodies can’t do what dancers do—and most of them can’t. But I can. And it’s beautiful, and you feel like you’re flying, like you’re no longer human and…” she couldn’t think of the words for it. Jon—Jon and Sam were both of them the Literature students. Not Arya. But Gendry was still grinning.
“I know what you mean, though. By removing the sense that everyone can do it, you get at something that’s more deeply human, because it feels like it shouldn’t be, you know.”
“Precisely,” said Arya. “Though—gods, did you have to phrase it that way?”
“Phrase it what way?” Gendry asked, looking confused as he pushed open the main door of the building and they stepped back out into the chilly grey afternoon.
“All philosophical and whatnot.”
“Was that philosophical?” Gendry raised his eyebrows, as though he wasn’t quite convinced that she had it right at all.
“Well,” she backtracked, “maybe not. But it was certainly artsy-fartsy. You know it was.”
He looked a little sheepish. “Yeah. A little bit. I dunno…”
“Spend too much time in art classes?” she teased.
“Yes. With people who are trying to find the meaning of life in Noye’s 'Anvil.'” Gendry reached up and dragged his fingers down his face. “I mean, it’s a great painting, and Noye was a genius, but come on.”
“If it’s any consolation,” she said, “I haven’t been in a dance class yet that hasn’t spent at least half the time having a giant wet dream over Arthur Dayne and how fancy his footwork was. I swear to god, when Lannister was talking about him yesterday, he popped a boner.”
Gendry snorted. “Well, Dayne was kind of brilliant.”
“Yeah—but he’s not the only dancer that ever was, you know?” she said, performing a brief Dayneish jigwork on the street corner. “Do you know who Nymeria Martell was? She was fabulous. But no one ever talks about her.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard of her. She was the one who did orgiastic things, right?”
Arya glared at him. “That was one dance. She had a solo piece that literally blew everyone’s mind for five years straight, but no one ever talks about it. Anyway. Not relevant. The only person here who doesn’t worship at Dayne’s altar is Clegane and—“ Arya stopped short. “And he’s an ass.”
Gendry stilled. “Is he?” he asked. His tone was neutral, and when he glanced at Arya, there was something she didn’t quite understand in his face.
“Yes,” she said, plowing on, refusing to be daunted. “He’s just a complete bastard.”
“How so?” his voice was perfectly neutral, curious, and it was the first time she’d gotten a question about Professor Clegane that didn’t have the subtext of “are you sure you want to be taking his class? Are you sure that will be ‘good for you?’”
“He’s gruff. And that’s fine. I can deal with gruff. He’s a complete ass to my friends. Also fine, I’ve had to deal with worse. But he’s also…” she paused. She could tell him, she supposed. She could. But then he’d start looking at her the way they all looked at her. His blue eyes would soften, and his expression would get all puppy-dog like and he’d say things like “are you ok?” and how was she supposed to answer that when he asked it? She could easily avoid it, she supposed—she was good at that after all the practice with Jon, and Sansa, and Mom, and Shireen, and what seemed like everyone under the sun. But it was strange lying to Gendry. She felt it down in her stomach in a way she’d never felt it before, and she didn’t know why, but it was strange lying to Gendry. Why was it strange lying to Gendry?
Gendry hadn’t prompted her as she’d drifted off into her thoughts. He hadn’t even looked like he was waiting patiently for her to continue. He just kept walking, his hands at his side, eyes falling on the bare trees, or the sidewalk, or the passing dogs.
“He was Mycah’s advisor,” she said at last. “Mycah was in his class when he fell.”
Part of her hoped Gendry would ask “Mycah who?” as if it hadn’t been all over the University last year, or at least to ask “Mycah—Mycah Butcher?” But instead he frowned, and Arya looked away because she dreaded his next question because she knew it would be “Did you know him well?” because yes, yes she had and she’d loved him more than she had even understood while he’d been alive and everything about him being dead was enough to make her want to scream sometimes because she missed him so much—missed him and the way that he took everything seriously and the way he caressed her jaw and made her believe she was actually beautiful when he kissed her and god, why had she told him, she’d gone and ruined everything, hadn’t she?
“Oh,” was all he said. “You must have known him, then.”
Arya jerked a nod, still not looking at Gendry and she heard him make a huffy exhale, as if he couldn’t decide if he wanted to say what he wanted to say.
He did in the end, “I was there—I was watching the recital when he fell.”
Arya stopped walking for just a moment, and she knew from the way that Gendry’s steps stopped almost instantly that he had been watching her closely.
She was very proud of herself that she wasn’t crying. She wished she could look up at him, her jaw jutted out and her eyes strong and tell him that she didn’t want to talk about it anymore, but she couldn’t.
“I’m sorry. It’s awful what happened to him. And...and it’s not the sort of thing you can forget, or put away. Death’s not like that, you know? It follows you around for the rest of your life, when you lose someone.”
She stared at him—just stared, because no one ever said that. No one—not Mom when talking about Uncle Brandon’s death, not Shireen and Devan about Devan’s older brothers—none of them.
“Yeah,” she said dully, “It does.” It would never go away—not ever, the feeling that the world had been perfect when he laughed and told her that obviously she wasn’t going to get half of his cookie and she should have bought her own if she was going to want one, when he moved so lightly that she couldn’t hear his feet on the pavement next to her, when they danced together, when his hands were on her and everything was all right. And now he was gone, and the world was carrying on, and Arya was having trouble remembering his face anymore. “Some days,” she heard herself saying, and she didn’t really know how, because her throat was too closed up for her voice to sound quite that normal. “It’s like he never existed, and I’m fine, and happy, and others, I’m just all too aware that he’s gone, and that life goes on, but life goes on without him, you know?”
Gendry nodded. “Yeah. I know.” He was looking down now, looking away, and she saw that his face was blank, not giving an inch at all. So she asked—she had to ask—
“Did you—did you lose someone?”
“My mom. When I was twelve,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“I’m sorry about Mycah,” he replied and she saw him clenching his jaw around the words.
Arya let out a huffy and humorless laugh, and suddenly, she wanted to make him smile because he looked as thoroughly miserable as she felt—steely on the surface so no one will notice but agony at the eyes. “Death. You know?” It was the stupidest thing she could conceive of, and it worked. His lips twitched, as though not wanting to smile at all, but not quite able to force it down.
And Arya couldn’t help but smile at him.
Gendry: I hope you're feeling better. If you are, or are looking for a distraction of the pornographic nature, you'll find that there's a really rather fantastic clip on about "Arthur Day" the "Sword in the Morning". He's going around having sex on stage and making it look like it's part of a dance.
Me: Seven hells.
Me: What the fuck am I watching?
Me: Why am I doing this?
Me: Why did you send this to me?
Me: Why did you watch this?
Me: I hate you.
Gendry: You are welcome.
“We’re getting coffee today,” Sansa said when Arya picked up her phone. Her voice sounded so light, and gentle—almost giggly to the unpracticed ear. But Arya knew better. Most people thought that Sansa was a pushover—that Sansa didn’t like getting on anyone’s nerves, or that she was polite and kind and gentle and sweet. They were wrong. Arya had seen the way that Sansa could disarm you with gentleness and then get you to do exactly what she wanted. She’d done it her whole life, and would probably keep doing it until the day she died.
“I have class until four,” Arya sighed. “Meet at Rosehips?”
“Four fifteen,” said Sansa. “I’m coming from across the river. I’ll explain more when I see you.”
“You got it,” Arya said and hung up her phone, heading into Fire, Sex, and Blood, where she spent over an hour learning about how dragonflame in Jaehaerys II’s poetry was really a metaphor for ejaculation.
When she reached Rosehips at four thirteen, she found Sansa sitting at a table with a verbena infusion on the table and tapping away furiously on her tablet.
“Am I interrupting something?” Arya asked, sitting down.
“No—well—give me a minute?” Sansa asked sheepishly. Arya shrugged, ditched her bag, and went to the counter and ordered herself a cup of espresso. When she returned to the table, Sansa had put her tablet away and was already apologizing before Arya sat down. “My advisor is being a right pain in the rear. She keeps telling me that I’m using too much chiffon. And I keep changing it, and then she says that we don’t have enough of the other fabrics and will need to special order—which is exactly the opposite of the point of the whole project, but…” she paused, breathing deeply. “Sometimes I marvel at people, you know? I know she means well, but isn’t the whole point that I…” she trailed off, shaking her head. “How are you?”
“Fine. Doing ok. I’m busy, you know?”
“Ah yes, Jon mentioned something about a scandalous job.” Sansa looked very much as though she didn’t know whether to laugh or look stern.
“Jon thinks it’s scandalous because Jon avoids naked people,” grumbled Arya. “Like the plague.”
“Well, it has gotten him into trouble in the past,” Sansa said, a twinkle in her eye. Jon had gotten blamed for Theon’s streaking during undergraduate. No one even understood how. Theon never stopped laughing about it.
“Anyway, it’s very relaxed. I’m just posing for an art student. And getting paid lots through student employment because posing naked is apparently more scandalous than posing clothed?” she ended it as a question, just to watch Sansa smile.
“Clearly student employment caters to those who haven’t spent all their time doing quick costume changes,” she said, drinking her infusion.
“Or who have never spent time in a locker room,” Arya agreed. “Anyway, it’s nice. He’s nice, and—”
“He?” Sansa raised her eyebrows and tilted her head. “He?”
“Yes. He.” Arya said firmly. She was not going to get dragged into Sansa’s boy talks. It wasn’t her problem that Sansa lived vicariously through her since Sansa had had such shit experience with boys. She’d spent too long talking about that with her therapist after Mycah had died to not be hyper aware of it. “He’s good."
“What’s his name?” Sansa asked.
“Gendry,” Arya replied, because there was no easy way to not tell Sansa.
“Gendry,” Sansa mused and Arya could practically see her running through a catalogue of names and faces in her head, checking to see if he had been registered through one encounter or another. “I don’t know that name. He’s a painting focus?”
“Yes. I assume, at least. I’m posing for his senior thesis,” shrugged Arya.
“Interesting. I would have thought I’d overlap some with him, but I guess most of the art I’ve taken is drawing. Ahh well. Is he hot?”
Arya blinked twice. “Sure,” she hedged. Because he definitely was, with his muscular arms and his lovely thick black hair, but she wasn’t going to tell that to Sansa. It wasn’t the sort of thing that she knew how to share with Sansa. Besides, Sansa had thought that Mycah wasn’t very attractive, and about that she’d just been wrong, so how trustworthy was she on this point anyway?
“Well that’s good,” Sansa said, a wistful smile crossing her face. “Hot guys are good.”
“I mean, yes.” Arya snorted. She took another sip of her espresso, and Sansa took another sip of her infusion, and they sat silently for a moment.
Arya was used to silence with Sansa. Far too used to it. When they’d been younger, Arya and Sansa had fought a lot, Arya calling Sansa a stupid idiot, and Sansa adopting Jeyne Poole’s nickname of “Arya Horseface” whenever Arya got on her nerves, not knowing just how much it hurt. When Arya had hit puberty and it had become clear that they didn’t have much in common, their fights had simply fizzled to silence. Everyone had expressed relief about it, and sometimes Robb said that that was the perks of everyone growing up. But Arya wasn’t so sure.
When Mycah had died, she and Sansa had had a long talk about it. And things were better, she supposed, insofar as she and Sansa knew what it was that caused them to get on one another’s nerves quite as much as they did. But that hadn’t exactly fostered the sisterly feeling that Arya heard about so often, and even on afternoons like this, when she and Sansa had tea and talked, she sometimes still wondered if Sansa cared, but was too afraid to ask.
“Jon said you were down a few days ago. But you seem to be doing better,” Sansa said carefully. Arya shifted her espresso around in her hands, noticing for the first time just how smooth the mug was. Sansa was nothing if not subtle, and now was no different.
“Yes, I think I am. It always comes and goes,” she lied. Sansa’s eyes narrowed slightly, spotting the lie as easily as Jon had. Everyone but her family swallowed her lies easily. Jon usually called her on it—Sansa never did though. I suppose Sansa has her own lies she tells, Arya thought.
“Well,” Sansa said with the air of someone determined to get to her point, “I’m glad you’re doing better.”
“Thanks,” Arya replied, proud that she got it out without gritting her teeth.
“I feel like I’ve hardly seen you since you came back,” Sansa continued, reaching out and taking Arya’s hand. “And I just want to make sure you’re doing ok.”
“I’m fine, Sansa,” said Arya. “Really.”
“I know. I just...I worry. I worry about you. You’re very good at deflecting your problems—”
“I don’t deflect—”
“Yes you do.”
“I—” but Sansa held up a hand, smiling through pressed lips.
Arya laughed humorlessly.
“I wish I had more time to see you,” Sansa sighed. “I really do. It’s just crazy this semester, and...yeah.”
“Yeah,” Arya agreed, not really knowing what she was agreeing too. If Sansa thought she deflected, it was certainly nothing on the way that Sansa deflected—but bringing that up was not worth the argument that it would undoubtedly incur, or, worse, the stony silence.
Sansa leaned forward slightly, her hair falling in a small sheet over the tablet that was sitting on the surface of the table. She shifted in her seat, then sat back up. “I’ve been meaning to ask, I need models for my show at the end of the year. And I was wondering if you knew any good ones through your dance stuff.”
Arya frowned. “Don’t models have to be tall?”
“Ideally,” Sansa said.
“Most dancers aren’t. I mean they’re definitely fit and would wear your clothes well, but your aesthetic might be ruined.”
Sansa pulled the left corner of her mouth in towards the center. She clearly hadn’t thought of that.
“Well...if you see anyone who might work...or know anyone…”
“Yeah, I can ask around,” Arya said quickly. “I just don’t know if I’d find a lot or anything.”
“That would be great,” smiled Sansa, looking relieved. “I’ll be looking around too. I don’t want to use my usual models, you know? Something different. Different’s in, you know. Classical beauty’s out.”
On Friday night, Arya ended up at Renly’s Ghost again with Jon, Sam, and Gilly, listening politely as Edd sang a song. Politely was the best way to describe it, and even then, Arya was quite certain that her mother would have found their suppressed expressions of pain far from polite. Edd was out of tune. And there was a problem with one of their amplifiers which meant that the bass was out of proportion. And on top of that, something about the room was different—maybe the tables were laid out oddly, or the decorations for the Lannisport vs. Oldtown game from the night before, but Grenn, Pyp, Satin, and Edd weren’t playing in perfect unison.
Arya bit her lip, not letting herself say anything between songs, and Sam downed his beer a little faster than he would have usually. Jon, however, seemed to hardly be paying attention at all. His eyes were flickering between the bar and Arya.
“He’s watching you,” Jon muttered right before the band struck up their second to last song.
Arya cast a glance over her shoulder at Gendry. He was so tall, so easily visible over the heads of those who weren’t even bothering to pretend to listen to the band, moving between taps, bending down to the bottom shelf to make cheap mixes. She could tell when his legs were bent, and smiled approvingly when she caught glimpses of his arms as he dispensed beer to the patrons.
“He is not,” she replied. “He’s working.”
“Well, he’s not now,” Jon said, and she could tell he was rolling his eyes even without looking at him. And, as he spoke, she saw Gendry straighten and cast a glance at their table and, noticing her looking in his direction, he grinned, and waved slightly. Arya raised her tumbler, then, realizing it was empty, got up to get a refill.
“Get me another?” Jon called, holding up his empty stein.
“Get your own,” she called over her shoulder. “I’m going to say hello. I’ll be back soon.”
Gendry was mixing a girl in a very low cut blue top that was almost exactly the same color as his eyes when Arya got to the bar.
“How was Last of the Giant—”
“Hello, Arya,” he cut her off with a pointed glance at the girl. Mistaking Gendry’s glance for some sort of attention, the girl leaned forward and Arya got a very nice glimpse of her rack while she waited for Gendry to finish with the mix. “Why are they so bad tonight?” He jerked his head in the direction of the stage, where Edd was singing a note that was a little too high for his register and was a little bit flatter than the piano, but a little bit sharper than the bass.
“You just had to go and bring them up. I was doing a perfectly good job ignoring them, you know.”
“Really?” Gendry snorted. “Teach me your ways, oh brilliant and selective listener.” He handed the girl her drink, and she gave him a very good tip before heading back to her table. Gendry made a face of surprised pleasure as he tucked the five into his pocket.
“Don’t often get the ladies giving you good tips?” Arya asked.
“Oh, come on. She was definitely trying to get your attention.”
“Yeah. Did you miss the whole rack action? I hope you didn’t because she had nice tits.” Far nicer than Arya’s, though Arya wouldn’t say that, of course. There was no need to draw attention to that.
“There was rack action?” Gendry looked somewhere between confused and disappointed.
“You poor lost soul,” Arya said, reaching across the bar and clapping him on the shoulder. “I’d say it was your arms.” She gave his biceps a squeeze, then gave him a more scrutinizing glance. “Yeah. Your arms. This t-shirt is good for your arms.”
“How can a t-shirt be good for arms?” Gendry asked.
“I don’t know, but this one is. It makes yours look all muscly.”
“Well…they are muscly,” Gendry looked confused.
“Yeah but—look at Jon’s t-shirt.” She turned around and gestured towards Jon, who was watching them. He cocked his head at her across the bar, and she wiggled her fingers in a wave. “Jon’s decently muscled. More lithe than you, of course, but you know. He’s got them. But his t-shirt hides them, makes him look kind of scrawny. Your t-shirt is just asking for people to notice that you’ve got nice arms.” Then, as an afterthought, she added, “Also a good hip-to-shoulder ratio.”
“A good what?” Gendry asked, looking confused.
“Oh, goodness,” she pressed her hand to her heart, “It’s the most important thing, and you have it, Gendry. Gods do you have it.”
“Hey, can I get a gin and tonic?” asked a guy, leaning over the bar. He did not have a good hip-to-shoulder ratio, certainly not in comparison to Gendry, who jerked a nod and moved away down the bar to collect the gin from the bottom shelf. When he bent over, Arya could see just how well muscled his ass was, and she smiled. Asses were important. She was a dancer, and she knew that. She saw too many men at the gym who skipped leg days. Gendry did not seem to be one of those people.
Gendry finished the gin and tonic, added it to the patron’s tab, and then turned back to Arya. “Hip-to-shoulder ratio?”
“You know. Guys have shoulders. You have very broad shoulders. So that’s a big plus. But you also have narrow hips. Which means that you have like a—what, two to one ratio of shoulders to hips? Like, if I were to hold up a corn chip you’d have the same proportions. And that’s quite attractive for a lady who’s looking.” Mycah hadn’t had broad enough shoulders for it. He’d been more of a rectangle.
“And girls really go for that?” Gendry asked, his brow furrowing.
“Yeah. I mean, obviously not all girls. But I’d say most can appreciate a good hip-to-shoulder ratio. I mean, it’s probably the same as when you’ve got a girl who has a body like an hourglass, right? I mean, yeah. Fine. I don’t. Whatever. But like…that slutty wildling in Last of the Giant Cocks…You know what I mean?”
Gendry’s lips twisted in the sort of smile that was definitely the suppression of a grin and nodded.
“Yo, Gen—can I get another?”
Arya didn’t recognize the guy leaning over the counter. There was a stain on his t-shirt, and his eyes were out of focus.
“Nope,” Gendry said easily.
“Come on—I said I was sorry.”
“Yeah. And you were drunk at the time, so it doesn’t count.” Gendry’s jaw was very tight, Arya noticed—far tighter than she’d ever seen it. Had it been that tight a moment ago?
“Yeah, but I still meant it, didn’t I?”
“And that doesn’t make me change my mind. Or particularly give a shit.” And she could see the anger rolling off him, see the way his muscles tensed under the sleeves of his t-shirt, how his cheeks flushed.
“Piss off, Ned,” Gendry snapped. Arya started. She hadn’t met a Ned before who wasn’t her father and she glanced at him again. But he was already mumbling something under his breath and pissing off. Gendry didn’t watch him go. Instead, he began mixing another rum and cola and put it down on the bar in front of Arya. “You wanted another one, yeah?” he asked.
“Sure,” she said, and she picked up the drink and took a sip. It was heavier on the rum than her first one had been, not that she was complaining particularly.
“Asshole,” Gendry muttered under his breath. “Except,” and he let out an annoyed huff, “he’s not. That’s the problem. He was just an asshole to me. He’s a nice guy to other people, but that makes it worse, you know? Like, please. Give a shit, will you?” he glared after the departed Ned.
“What did he do?” Arya asked quietly, and Gendry’s eyes locked on her, and even in the dim lighting of the bar, they were so electrically blue that she almost coughed into her drink. She saw him weighing what he would tell her, deciding if he wanted to, or if he didn’t.
He shrugged. “Wasted my time. Didn’t give a shit.” And that was it. He turned away, taking her empty tumbler and sticking it in a tray of empty glasses without another word, and Arya felt the briefest flicker of disappointment that he hadn’t given her more details. But, she supposed, she shouldn’t really be surprised. Why would he tell her? It wasn’t as though she had a right to know or anything—and if he didn’t want to share…but all the same, it stung a bit.
“I just get angry,” Gendry continued, so quietly that Arya almost missed it. “People tend to overlook me and I don’t need that in my life. I’ve gotten enough of that. I don’t need people ditching me or not valuing me or whatever. And Ned—he’s a nice guy. A friendly guy. An easy-going guy. The usual. So when he doesn’t make time for me, it’s clear he doesn’t care. And I don’t need that so fuck him.”
“If he’s your friend,” Arya began, but Gendry cut her off.
“He wasn’t my friend if he doesn’t value me. People who don’t value you aren’t worth your energy. Trust me, I’ve learned that.” He let out a bitter laugh. Then, he seemed to shake himself. “So, Last of the Giant Cocks…” There was a determined glimmer in his eye, the steely look of someone who would bring the conversation under control, by all the gods.
Arya hitched a grin on her face, because she knew this game and always liked it when people played along with her. “That thing couldn’t have been real. It had to have been a prosthetic. No one has a cock that big, right?”
“Yeah. I really can’t fathom it was real.”
It was past midnight when Jon drifted over to the bar, at which point, Arya and Gendry were loudly comparing the viewing experiences of When in Myr.
“I’m just saying—there’s a time and a place for small tits, and that one really gets it, you know?” Gendry was saying.
Jon blinked three times at him, opened his mouth, closed it again, then turned to Arya. “I’m heading home. You coming with or staying?” He didn’t even bother looking at Gendry, but Arya could see a level of confoundedness that almost made her burst into a fit of shrill giggles. There were many things that Arya was sure that Jon did with his friends. Discuss the quality of pornos…that wasn’t one of them.
“Yeah,” she sighed, scooting off the barstool and smiling up at Gendry. “I’ll see you soon, yeah?”
“Yep,” he said. He smiled lazily down at her, and she couldn’t tell if it was because she was drunk or because of the lighting, but he had a nice smile. His lips were very…lippy. It was probably because she was drunk.
“You think he’s weird, don’t you?” she asked Jon as she followed him out of the bar.
“What you discuss with your friends is your business,” Jon said tersely. Then he snorted, as if something entertained him.
“It’s never nothing,” she said. “Come on. Spit it out.”
“He’s just…I don’t know. Are you sure you want to get into something right now? You’re still having Mycah dreams.”
She frowned at him. “What do you mean ‘get into something’. He’s my friend.” He was, after all. She’d decided it. He was definitely her friend. You didn’t discuss porn with people who weren’t your friends.
“Yeah. All right.” Jon sounded as though he didn’t believe her at all, and, because she was drunk and knew she could get away with it, Arya headbutted him. Jon wrapped his arm around her shoulder. “I just worry about you, all right? I don’t want you to get in over your head.”
“Trust me. I know how to keep my head above water,” she said, wrapping her arms around his waist and smiling because she was actually in a good mood and that felt wonderful.
Arya was lying flat on her back on a bench on the quad, reading more poetry by Aegon V. She didn’t like Aegon V’s poetry, by and large, she decided. There was too much of an obsession with prophecy, by the time he became king, and before he was king, he certainly didn’t care about writing poetry at all. She thought she might have liked it while he was wandering around with a shaved head, but he had been too focused on adventuring to write then. Though, she could respect that choice.
Arya looked up to find Shireen, looking bedraggled and exhausted, stumbling towards her, looking marginally like a zombie.
“What day is it?” asked Shireen, dropping her bag on the ground and sitting on Arya’s legs.
“Monday,” Arya said. “It’s Monday. And you were gone all weekend. I thought you’d gone down to Storm’s End.” But, looking at Shireen’s face, pale except for the mottled grey scars, eyes glazed with exhaustion, she realized that that was not quite what had happened.
“I think I’ve been awake for forty eight hours. Or longer. What time is it?” Shireen asked. It wasn’t really a question, so much as an indistinct mumbling, but Arya knew how to decrypt what Shireen was saying when she’d spent far too long in the Zoo.
“Ten thirty,” Arya said, putting the book down on her chest.
“I should go to bed,” Shireen muttered, “But I can’t move. I don’t think I can feel my legs. They’re asleep. But I am not. Why am I not asleep?”
“Well,” Arya suggested, “It might be the way you’re sitting. Shift your hips some. It should keep your veins away from my shins and—” Shireen shifted, “Yeah. There you go.”
“Oh. Bloodflow,” Shireen said. “But now I have to get back up, and—”
Arya tipped her head back and saw Gendry, strolling past.
“Hello,” she smiled at him. “Where are you off to?”
“On my way home. I was at the gym,” he said. His eyes were bright from exercise and his cheeks were flushed she saw the drying stains of sweat under his arms and along the sides of his stomach. “What’s going on?”
“Hello,” Shireen said belatedly. Gendry glanced at her, and Arya was struck again by how similar they looked. They had the same eyes, the same thick dark hair.
“Hi,” said Gendry uncertainly.
“Are you the one who paints her naked?” Shireen asked.
“Yeah,” Gendry said, glancing at Arya with mild surprise.
Arya grinned. “It’s like you think I’d keep it a secret!”
“I was trying to be respectful of your privacy, but if you don’t give a fuck, whatever,” Gendry shot back.
“Sure. Respectful. Of my...privacy,” Arya guffawed.
“Are you twelve?” Gendry asked, in mock grumpiness.
“You’re hotter than she let on,” Shireen mumbled. Arya would have elbowed her, but it would be too obvious. She didn’t like talking about whether or not Gendry was hot. He definitely was, but…when he was painting her it wasn’t like that. There was something focused about it. Walking down the street though, on his way back from the gym with his eyes overbright from exercise and his hair pushed back with sweat…“Like—nice to look at. I mean. I wouldn’t go there. You look too much like my Uncle Robert. And I have a boyfriend. But you know. Hot.”
“That’s nice, Shireen. Hush, hush,” Arya cooed.
“I would glare at you but I am too tired,” said Shireen.
“I’ll make note of it and count it as a proper glare then,” replied Arya. “Aww, you’re so adorable when you’re tired.” She reached out and stroked Shireen’s hair. It was oily, but Arya had spent too much time fiddling with Jon’s hair when he hadn’t washed it to care.
“I’m not tired. I’m delusionally exhausted.”
“Hey,” Arya said, twisting to look at Gendry, “Do you think I could convince you to give her a piggy back ride back to the dorm? I don’t think she can walk anymore.”
“I’m not entirely sure I can stand,” added Shireen. As if to prove her point, she waggled her feet.
Gendry suppressed a smile. “Well, so long as you don’t mind how sweaty I am,” he said to Shireen.
“I am so gross from being in the Zoo all weekend that I won’t even notice—trust me,” Shireen said. She held out her hands limply as if waiting for Gendry to pick her up.
“The Zoo?” Gendry asked.
“The computer science lab,” Arya supplied. “All of the computers are named after house sigils. So they call it the Zoo.”
“Got it.” Only then did Gendry bend down and pluck Shireen easily off of Arya’s legs. With Shireen gone, Arya realized that both of her feet were asleep, and she winced as she wiggled her toes in her sneakers. “Can you grab her bag?” he asked.
“Sure thing.” Arya stood up, ignoring the tingling in her legs and slung Shireen’s bag over her shoulder.
“I’m so tall,” Shireen mumbled into Gendry’s shoulder.
“Yes you are,” agreed Arya gently.
“I’m king of the world!”
“Well, perhaps not quite. You are a Baratheon after all,” she pointed off.
“So? Baratheons were kings at one point too,” she snapped.
“Yeah, but only like...five of them, and two of them were secretly Lannisters, so…”
Shireen stuck her tongue out at Arya. “You are a stickler for detail.”
Arya almost laughed, she was so incredulous. “Look who’s talking? I’ve never met anyone who is more a stickler for detail than you.”
“Yes, but I’m tired,” Shireen snapped. “I can do and say as I please when I’m this tired. Everyone says so.”
“Well, have you heard the theory that all of the early Targaryens were secretly Baratheons anyway?” Gendry said.
“What?” Arya said at the same time as Shireen squealed, “Yes it’s my favorite!”
“Well, I’ve heard people think that Rhaenys and Visenya Targaryen got it on with Orys Baratheon behind Aegon’s back. Which would make all of the Targaryens secret Baratheons.”
“What does that make all the Secret Targaryens, then?” demanded Arya. “Are they Secret Secret Baratheons?”
“There’s some debate about that,” Shireen chirped happily, her chin resting on Gendry’s cheek as they crossed the street and turned towards West Campus.
“That’s total bullshit,” Arya muttered.
“Probably,” said Gendry. “But it’s more than fun to think about. I mean, come on. Everyone was totally screwing everyone back then. And because we didn’t have the internet, there was no reporting on it.”
“I’m sure there was,” Shireen said, “But I doubt that it survived. How much you want to bet that Meraxes chomped it or something?”
“Chomped?” Gendry laughed.
“Chomped,” Shireen said, lifting her head slightly and chomping down on Gendry’s shoulder with a gentle “humph” noise.
“Ah. Chomped.” Gendry was trying valiantly to suppress a grin.
“Chomped,” Arya agreed. “She must like you. She only chomps people she likes.”
“He paints you naked and makes you grin. I like anyone who does that.”
Gendry glanced at Arya, raising an eyebrow. “Do you pose for all the artists, then?”
“Just you. No need to get jealous.”
“Good. I wasn’t sure if I needed to beat someone up to defend your honor,” he said dryly.
Arya snorted. “Funny. Jon would say the same thing about you.”
“He doesn’t like that you see her naked all the time,” Shireen supplied, her cheek resting on Gendry’s shoulder once again.
“Yeah. He’s quick, but you could probably take him,” Arya mock whispered. It felt disloyal, saying things like that about Jon. Jon worked out, after all, and he’d taken martial arts classes and stuff when he was in undergrad because Robb had needed someone to go with him and Theon couldn’t be bothered. But all the same…she wasn’t blind.
“Yeah. I mean, I suppose? I’m not much for fighting. It never ends well.”
“Wise, Young Gendry—what’s your last name?” Shireen asked, trailing off when she realized she was lacking important information.
“Smith. Gendry Smith,” Gendry replied.
“Wise, Young Smith. Wise beyond your years.”
“Thank you, Shireen—What’s your last name?”
“Baratheon?” Both of Gendry’s eyebrows rose. “A Stark and a Baratheon. I’m in austere company.”
“It’s ok. We won’t tell anyone. Besides, Arya’s a Secret Baratheon. That’s why she’s got the dark hair and the stubborn face.”
“You’re a Secret Baratheon,” snapped Arya, pushing away the flicker of annoyance as Shireen chuckled. Shireen of all people should know better than to say something like that, even if she was so tired she was about as functional as a drunk toddler at the moment.
Arya stepped forward and pressed her ID to the scanner and, with a beep and a flash of green light, the door to the dorm unlocked and Arya pulled it open. They climbed to the second floor, walked down a hallway and Arya pushed open the door to hers and Shireen’s common room.
“That’s my room,” Shireen waved vaguely. Gendry went in, bent down and gently unclasped Shireen’s hands around his chest. Shireen keeled over.
“I go bed now.”
Gendry smiled and tiptoed out of the room, closing it behind her.
“Thanks,” Arya whispered. “That was helpful.”
“No problem,” Gendry shrugged. “Although…” He frowned.
“I just don’t have enough time to go back home and shower now before class,” he sighed. “It’s fine though. I’ll get to it later.”
“I can lend you a towel here and you can shower super quickly here.” She did her best to keep her voice neutral, and certainly keep out the curiosity of what he would look like in just a towel—because she was sure, altogether too sure, that it would look very, very nice. Briefly, she wondered, how his muscles would compare to Mycah’s. He had the bulky build of a lifter and not the—no. No, this was not a comparison she wanted to be making and would open at least seven, if not eight, cans of worms.
“Yeah, but I’d have to put my gym clothes back on.” Gendry shrugged. “Thanks for the offer, though. It’s really not a problem.”
“Ok. If you’re sure,” Arya said.
Gendry looked down at her, a small smile playing at his lips. “Yeah. I’m sure.”
“You’ll be smelly.”
He was still looking at her, and she felt a blush creeping up her neck.
“See you tomorrow then?” she said hurriedly.
“Yep. Two o clock.”
He made an awkward wave, and departed, and Arya threw herself onto the futon, thoroughly unwilling to go back to reading Aegon V’s poetry.
There were parts of this year’s dance that Clegane had ripped right out of last year’s choreography. She remembered them distinctly, remembered watching and thinking how interesting the movements were, how well he juxtaposed a classical aesthetic with the splicing of about five different contemporary schools. She remembered them because Mycah had danced them, had swung his body into movements that were so difficult to execute properly and yet he made them seem so easy, so natural.
And now, when Sandor Clegane made Arya do those same motions, she thought of Mycah as she dropped her shoulders and flattened her back. Thought of how he would show her his favorite bits on the quad, not giving a shit that his movement was hampered by his blue jeans and that everyone who saw would think he was crazy, of how he would go on and on about the segment he couldn’t show her that was a combination of blues dancing and stage fighting, an excited glint in his eye. He never did show her that one in the end. He had fallen first.
But Arya got to know it now, though for this segment, she wasn’t sure if it was the same or if Sandor Clegane was trying something new as he barked orders at them, as he revised his planned choreography midway through the lesson because he didn’t like that Lommy was in the front. She twisted and twirled, catching Hot Pie’s leg in her hands and sending a kick towards his face, releasing his leg in a way that looked like a shove that sent him flying, then leapt over his fallen body and dragged up Podrick Payne, who had just been cast down by Loreza Sand.
Every time she threw Hot Pie to the ground, she got nervous—more nervous than if she were jumping, or being thrown in the air, which happened far more often during this dance than the single time that she pushed Hot Pie down. Because what happened if he landed wrong, what happened if she heard that sickening crack and there was blood everywhere and the dance stopped because no one knew what to do, and this time, it was all her fault?
“How do you come up with these poses?” Arya asked. She was standing on one foot again, her leg extended at a slight curve in front of her, her torso bending backwards with her opposite arm over her head.
“I dunno,” Gendry said.
“So then why do you pick them?”
“You never talk when you’re painting, do you?” she grumbled.
“It’s really boring, you know? I need something to pay attention to that’s not just how I’m probably going to fall over if my legs get tired.”
“How about focusing on the ducks?” Gendry said. “I did a duck series last year. It was quite good.”
“Did you make them pose naked?” Arya snorted.
“No. That would have been animal cruelty,” Gendry’s voice was dry, but when she looked at him out of the corner of her eye, she saw a smile playing at the corner of his lips.
“So what’s this then? I’m going to have to ice my legs later.”
“Well, you’re being compensated by the Student Employment Office. You could file a complaint, I suppose, but in my ad, I did say you’d have to be able to do one-leg poses, so I don’t really think your complaint would hold water.”
“Yeah, yeah,” grumbled Arya. “I can’t even see the ducks from this angle,” she whined.
“Well, that’s a whole different issue.”
“You’re thoroughly unsympathetic. It’s not very nice.”
“No. I never said I was nice.”
“You implied it.”
“But I never said it, did I?”
“You’re laughing at my pain.”
“And causing it. Does that make me a sadist?”
“Yes. Yes it does. Or just a meanie, if you prefer.”
“Well, I’m about to be meaner.”
“Oh? I don’t think that’s possible.”
“You need to shut up so I can paint your face.”
“Oh go fuck yourself.”
“Do you think he knows he’s a little bit in love with him?” Gendry asked her the next evening. She was sitting at the bar at Renly’s Ghost and was on her third rum of the evening—she’d needed that many to get her through the band’s set, even though they were actually sounding good tonight. Better than good and better than usual.
“Who?” Arya asked, looking around, altogether too aware of the fact that her eyes overshot any place she sent them to look.
“The singer. Grenn, is it?”
“He’s in love with him?” Arya asked loudly, turning to stare up at Grenn. Grenn was singing sultrily into the microphone, his voice grumbling low in his chest as he sang about jerking off in the shower to the memory of you.
“Well, he keeps looking over at Pyp.”
“That’s because their in a band and sometimes their timing is off, and so they need to make eye contact, idiot.”
Gendry rolled her eyes. “There’s looking at someone and then there’s looking at someone,” he retorted. “Come on—you know this. You’re a dancer. There’s looking at someone to make sure that you’re in time with them, and then there’s looking at them as though they’re everything you want in the world and you don’t know how to tell them, so you write them a song about having a fap in the shower.”
“How do you know he isn’t writing about Longlake Ladies?” Arya asked, guffawing. She didn’t want to think about how much she knew that look.
“Because then he’d be overtly singing about a ‘her’ not a ‘you’.”
“If Grenn were singing about a guy, he’d just say ‘him’. He’s not ashamed of anything,” Arya said, taking a sip of her rum. Genry reached over and plucked the glass out of her hand. “Hey! I paid for that!”
“Yeah, and I’ll give it back when you’re ready to finish it.” He bent down and stuck it in the mini-fridge below the bar.
“Are you allowed to do that? Is that in your contract?” she demanded, feeling angry.
“No. But what are you going to do about it? You’re downing those too fast and you’re going to get sick all over my bar and I’ll have to clean it up. And, on top of that, lose at least twenty minutes’ worth of tips.”
“How is it mean to make you take care of yourself when you are too drunk to do it yourself?”
“Too drunk? I’ve had two and a half drinks, and now I’m arguing very neatly with you about how Grenn is not actually in love with Pyp.”
“He wouldn’t say ‘him’ if he were nervous that Pyp would work it out that it was about him. There’s other stuff in there. Details about hands and music and you’re not even listening to the lyrics, are you?”
“Why should I? I already have heard the song ten or twelve times.”
“So have I,” said Gendry. A man passed him an empty stein and asked for another Red Reyne, which Gendry gave him, before turning back to Arya. “And it’s about Pyp.”
“Is not,” Arya grumbled. “Can I have my rum back?”
“Come on—that’s hardly fair. There has to be a no-take-backsies policy you’re breaking.”
“We’ve already established that this is out of my contract and that I’ll get in trouble for it, but you’ll notice I still don’t really give a shit at all.”
“You’ll thank me when you don’t have a massive hangover tomorrow.”
“What if I want a massive hangover? Stop being a controlling asshole and give me my drink.” Arya snapped loudly.
“Don’t let her get a massive hangover,” said Jon. Arya started.
“Working on that already,” grinned Gendry.
“Jon—he took my drink away. I’m not even drunk enough for that sort of behavior. Also he says that this song is about Grenn being in love with Pyp.”
Jon’s eyes bugged out of his head and his head snapped over to look at the stage, right as Grenn dove into the chorus about how hot the water felt, how hot the touch of your hand. He listened to the entire chorus before turning back to Gendry, blinking.
“I never—they’ve been rehearing this song for weeks in my living room. How haven’t I noticed that?”
“Jon would have noticed.”
“Sometimes when you’re too close to a thing, you don’t notice. That’s how life works, and how all romances have plots.”
“What do you know about romance plots? You only ever watch pornos,” Arya snapped, hopping off the barstool.
“I don’t only watch—hey, you’re not allowed back here!” Gendry grabbed her shoulders as she tried ducking under the liftable part of the bar that allowed Gendry to get in and out. His grip was very strong she noticed, and his hands were warm, considering that he was constantly dipping them into the freezer for ice when he made well drinks. She giggled as he shoved her back underneath the bar, and when her head popped back up, she joined in with Grenn about how hot the touch of your hand.
Gendry rolled his eyes at her and she stuck out her tongue at him.
Jon looked between the pair of them as if he wished he hadn’t come over at all in the first place. Gendry heard someone calling down the bar and he scooted off for a second. While he was gone, Arya ducked back under the bar and dug out her drink, before returning to her stool.
“You’re ok over here?” Jon asked.
“I’m fine, Jon. You don’t have to worry about me.”
Jon took a deep breath and muttered. “I always worry about you,” as the song ended and Arya began clapping loudly.
“They sounded good tonight,” she said, ignoring him as thoroughly as she could.
“Yeah. They did,” Jon sounded almost as surprised saying it as she felt. “I’m heading back to the table. Are you coming?” he asked.
“Oh for the love of—I told you to stay out from behind the bar?” Gendry snapped as he came back. He tried to grab the rum, but it was already in Arya’s hand and she shot the rest of it, smiling at him as she placed the empty glass back on the bar.
“Yep. I am,” she said. She waved to Gendry, looped her arm through Jon’s and followed him back across the bar.
Gendry: He admitted it, by the way.
Me: Who admitted what?
Gendry: Grenn. About Pyp. It’s amazing what people will tell their bartender while drunk.
Me: Yeah, but drunk confessions don’t count for much. It’s not consensual. Or something.
Gendry: That’s not actually how that works for drunken confessions. Though good on you with knowledge of sexual consent while drunk.
Me: They drilled that into our brain at freshman orientation.
Gendry: Oh boy. I might have some of that pledge memorized.
Me: They made you say a pledge?
Gendry: Yeah. Like four times.
Me: They made us sign a thing.
Gendry: What are they even teaching the youth these days?
Me: In my day they made us run around naked while chanting lines from the Rape of Skane.
Gendry: You know what I meant. And it wasn’t that.
Me: You’re just annoyed that you’re old.
Gendry: You will be too when you grow up.
Gendry: Yes. Whippersnapper.
Me: Pervy old geezer.
“Beautiful, Arya.” Professor Lannister’s voice rose above the recording of the Sunspear Symphony Orchestra. Arya was twirling on one foot, her leg swinging around, her head snapping to her spot, her arms extended and all she could hear was Mycah saying, “You don’t need traditional ballet to be beautiful, Arya. You are beautiful.”
Not when you’re not here, she thought bitterly as she continued spinning.
Arya was waiting outside the bathroom for Shireen, her yoga mat slung across her back when Gendry came out of the gym. His face was dripping with sweat, his hair was sticky with it, and she could see the damp outlines of his pecs on his t-shirt. She got briefly distracted from actually acknowledging him by how the muscles of his chest bulged, that this t-shirt that he wore to the gym was tighter than his usual t-shirts before he nodded at her and said, “Hello there.”
“Hi,” she replied, smiling. She only then noticed that there were two others with him, both tall and muscly as well. She’d seen them at the gym with him before, but had never spoken to them. They waited though, one of them leaning against the window, the other going and getting a drink of water from the fountain.
“How was yoga?” he asked, nodding to her yoga mat.
“Fine? It’s good to get stretchy. There’s this guy who paints me naked in weird poses that make me stiff.”
Gendry grinned down at her. “That seems creepy.”
“Yo, Gendry. You ready?” asked the one leaning against the window.
“Just a sec,” Gendry said without looking away and Arya saw his jaw clench slightly.
“Well,” Arya said, pretending that they hadn’t been interrupted, “my brother’s concerned that it is, but he’s been nothing but a gentleman so far. Except, of course, for his weird taste in the lewd.”
“Yeah. He watches a lot of porn. And part of me is nervous that he’s painting me for his own arousal.”
Gendry snorted. “Sounds a bit of a genius, to be honest. Maybe I should try something like that.”
Arya’s stomach jolted and she wondered what would happen if he did ask to paint her doing something crass—touching herself, or him, or something. She knew he wouldn’t though, but she was glad that her face was already warm from exercise.
“She’d probably beat you up.”
“I’m pretty built. I could probably take her.”
“Yes, you’re built.” She glanced down at him, noticing once again how narrow his hips were, even in his gym shorts and especially with that t-shirt. “But are you quick?” And she darted around him, twirled, kicked him in the butt, did her best not to notice just how firm his muscles were, the way that Mycah’s had been, and reappeared in front of him. Gendry threw his head back and laughed.
Shireen reappeared at Arya’s elbow. “All set—oh. Hi Gendry.”
“Hey there,” Gendry said, still grinning. Shireen began walking, and Arya followed, knowing that Gendry and his friends were walking behind them. She wondered if he was watching her, and rather suspected that he was.
“Why are you limping?” Hot Pie asked when she stumbled into Clegane’s class the next day. She was later than she would have liked, and on top of that, she had overslept because she’d knocked her phone off the bedstand in her sleep the night before.
“The paintings,” she muttered under her breath, settling into a straddle on the ground and leaning over her right leg and feeling that the hot pinch in her hamstring that meant that it was trying to accommodate the floor and her weight bearing down at an odd angle.
“Oh. You not done with that yet?” Hot Pie asked. “I’d have thought that you’d be done by now.”
“He does a different one every time,” she replied. “I don’t know how many he has planned. I don’t get to see them either. He usually puts finishing touches on them when I’m not around.” She put her head down, pressing her nose to her knee and wincing into her leg. She supposed she only had herself to blame for the stiffness, but he never gave her warning about what poses he would have her standing in, and the one time he had, he’d changed his mind the day of and made her do something else. Gendry had said that it ruined the spontaneity of the thing. Arya thought Gendry was a controlling ass. Not, of course, that she said as much…well, not that she said as much all the time. She certainly reminded him of it whenever she could, or she felt it had been too long since last he’d been reminded.
“I guess that makes sense,” Lommy mumbled. He was standing, facing them, his hands gripping the bar and leaning as far forward as he could, stretching his shoulder. “I mean, it’s a cool idea for a project. Theme and variations, or something like that.”
“Yeah, I know,” Arya grumbled. “I’m just stiff.”
Clegane worked them hard that day, barking corrections in form and posture and rhythm and facial expressions even. Usually, his attention was on Lommy, or on Megga, a junior in the class. But not today.
“Your kicks are low today, Stark,” he barked over the sound of Aegor Lothstone’s guitar solo.
All Arya could do was kick her leg higher, even if it was stiff and didn’t really want to move, because she knew what happened when you tried to explain yourself, or justify anything. He’d laugh, and call you the worst dancer he’d ever seen, with no drive or natural talent.
She kicked, she leapt, she twisted, she rolled across the floor, her muscles stretching and contracting to the pounding of Cregan Regent’s drums, but the more she danced, the more she wished she were marking, because she was too stiff, and she knew what happened when you danced full and your muscles weren’t ready. But she couldn’t stop—not because she was worried about Clegane. He knew not to really push anyone’s limits—but because she was almost enjoying it, the feeling of pushing through pain and limitations and still being able to keep up with everyone else, still being able to twirl, and hop, and arch and be a cog in the movement of Sandor Clegane’s work, leaping, and jumping and falling to the ground in a controlled landing.
Hot pain shot up her ankle. She stumbled, yelped, landed on the floor, her hands striking the hard wood and propelling her around so that she landed on her butt.
Everything stopped except the music, which cut out seconds later as Clegane turned it off and settled down on the floor next to her. He took her ankle in his hands without a word, and she was surprised at how gentle his hands were.
“Probably a sprain,” he said, pressing into the ankle, and eyes flicking between her foot and her face. She winced. “What were you doing? That was an easy jump. You can do better than that.”
“I just landed wrong,” was all she could say.
“Sloppy. If you dance sloppy, you’ll end up in trouble,” he snapped at her, putting her foot down and rising from his crouch. He took her hand and tugged her up, and she limped over to a chair to the side of the studio.
“I wasn’t dancing sloppily.” It was hard not to make it sound like a whine, and it mattered so much to her that it not sound like a whine. Showing weakness in front of Sandor Clegane was never an option. “I was just—“
“You’ve been dancing sloppily all day. I don’t give a shit what you do with your free time, but there are no excuses for dancing sloppily in my class.” He stumped across the room to the cubbies where they stored shoes and bags, bringing hers over to her. “Go ice it.”
“I can at least stay and watch,” she snapped, not taking her shoes from him.
“And elevate it,” he growled, dropping them in her lap and crossing back to the boom box.
“From the top. Greenhands, I trust you’ll be able to manage without Stark to dance opposite?”
Arya glared at Clegane’s back as she slipped on her sneakers and limped out of the studio.
Her ankle stung with every step she took, and it became clear before she even reached the first floor of the dance building that she would have a fair amount of trouble getting home. Fucking Clegane didn’t at least let her wait for her friends. Hot Pie could have given her a piggy back ride, or at least Lommy would have let her sling her arm over his shoulder while he walked to the Student Union for his shift. She leaned against the doorframe for a moment, calculating, then called Jon.
“What’s up?” he asked her in a hushed tone, picking up his phone on the third ring. He sounded agitated.
“I sprained my ankle. Can I either come by yours or convince you to come by the studio and walk me home? I need to ice it.”
He inhaled slowly before letting his breath out in a hiss. “Yeah. Give me ten to clean up a bit?”
Arya thought she heard a gasp in the background, and the sound of skin on skin. “Yeah,” she said, ignoring it. “I mean, I won’t be able to get there very quickly. I’m moving slowly.”
“Gotcha. I’ll come find you if I clean up faster than I anticipate.” Another gasp of some sort. “Uh. Yeah. See you soon.”
It took Arya nearly twenty-five minutes to get to Jon’s—a walk that was ordinarily closer to seven from the dance building.
“I’ve got a bowl of ice water ready for you,” he said, picking her up and carrying her inside.
“You know, I could have done with this sort of treatment when I got kicked out of class,” she grumbled.
“You got kicked out of class?” demanded Jon, frowning.
“Yeah. He wanted me to get ice for it right away,” she shrugged, wincing slightly as she kicked off her shoe and dipped her foot into the cold water. “Fuck,” she hissed.
“Should it be purple like that?” he asked, brows knit together slightly.
“Probably not,” she sighed. “Maybe if someone had come to get me, I wouldn’t have had to walk on it,” she said, shooting him a slightly peeved look.
“Well, I mean…I needed to clean up,” he said somewhat lamely.
“You took a shower,” she pointed out, as if only then noticing his wet hair. “Also, there’s a bra on your doorknob.” She pointed to his bedroom door. It was black, and lacy, and she wondered vaguely who had left it there—not because she was curious about the person in question, though she supposed she was—it had been too long since Jon had gotten any—but because she had clearly left her bra off when she’d departed. Jon’s neutral expression slid off his face and was replaced with a rather sheepish one. “Yeah…well…you don’t usually come over now, do you?”
“True,” Arya conceded. She leaned back on the couch, frowning. Screw it—she was curious. She wanted to know who it was that Jon wouldn’t tell her. He’d told her about Ygritte before he’d even told Robb, and she had been the first person he’d told apart from Sam when Ygritte had broken up with him. So why did he want to hide her? Unless, of course…
“She’s not a professor, is she?”
“What? No! No. She’s not,” Jon turned to stare at the bra, as if undecided as to whether or not he wanted to take it off the door handle. “She’s just…it’s not really a thing. I don’t think it’ll turn into one. So yeah.”
“Fair enough,” she sighed, shifting slightly to get more of her ankle into the cold water.
They sat in silence for a moment before Arya asked. “How’s your thesis coming along, then?”
“Pretty good,” he shrugged, “I wrote a thousand words today.”
“You don’t sound nearly as proud of yourself as you should be,” she pointed out.
“Yeah, well…I’ll probably have to rewrite them,” he said, frowning. “But still—better to get them on paper and all that.”
“I suppose,” Arya conceded. She was never quite so happy that she wasn’t studying something that required a lot of writing as when she was talking to Jon. The pain on his face as he talked about word counts and citations and hours spent reading things that he might not even be able to use…dancing was significantly better than all of that, even if the life was harder. Though she wasn’t actually sure of that. He was getting his master’s in literature after all—and unless he became a writer, or an academic, what use was that anyway? At least people paid to see dancers.
“What’s that face?” Jon asked, eyes slightly narrowed.
“Thinking about how useless your field is,” she shrugged, grinning at him.
“I’m not getting into this argument with you of all people,” he snorted.
“As you like,” she said. “Doesn’t negate the uselessness of it. Unless you’re writing Dragon Sex poetry. But then you’d be a secret Targaryen. You’re not a secret Targaryen, are you?”
“A what?” Jon looked rather as though he had eaten a sour grape, “No? What the—“
“There were secret Targaryens. And apparently secret Baratheons too. You’re not one of those either, are you?”
“Unless dad got it on with Robert…” Jon began laughing at the very thought.
And Arya burst out laughing too, and they sat there, laughing and laughing for over a minute until there were tears in both of their eyes. Arya was very glad that she hadn’t kicked over the bowl of ice water in her hysteria, and when they were done, things were normal again, and Jon wasn’t on edge, and Arya was glad that she didn’t have to be in class that afternoon and could spend it poking Jon in the stomach just because she could.
Me: I can’t pose tomorrow. I sprained my ankle and can’t really stand without help.
Gendry: You’re going to be ok, though, yeah? Like it’s only a sprain?
Me: Yeah. Only a sprain.
Gendry: What are the chances you could pose doing stuff not on the leg.
Me: Maybe? So long as it’s not one legged? I wouldn’t want to risk losing balance and making everything worse. Also you’d have to give me piggy backs there and back because it’s far from my dorm.
Gendry: I can work with that.
“You have a lot of muscles,” she said, her arms lazily resting over his shoulders as they approached the studio.
“You say that a lot,” Gendry snorted.
“Well it’s true. You do have a lot of muscles.” She was tempted to squeeze his pecs just to prove her point, but knew that would be a bad idea and resisted the temptation.
“Well, So do you,” he pointed out.
“Yeah, but mine are—compact and wiry. Yours bulge.”
Gendry snorted. “Well, muscles do that, you see. They flex and relax and there’s this sort of bulging motion, you see.”
“Oh shut up,” she said. “You know what I mean.”
“Do I, though?”
“Well, if you don’t, you’re remarkably stupid.”
“Yes. But still talented and muscly.” She could hear the grin in his voice.
“I never said you were talented. Just muscly,” she snapped.
“Yeah. But I said I was talented.”
“And arrogant,” she muttered.
“If you say so,” he shrugged. He let go of her thighs to fish the keys of his studio out of his pocket and unlock the door, and Arya felt a chill spread across the part he had let go of. She wiggled her other leg, and he let go, and she slid down his back, feeling the way jacket caught against hers as she did, how his back was hard and tense beneath her chest. He pressed the door open and she hobbled inside, shedding her coat as she did and tugging her t-shirt off in an easy movement, unhooking her bra and throwing it over the chair. Gendry was gathering his brushes, his paints, filling a plastic cup with water. He always did that when she stripped, Arya noticed. He never watched her—he just got everything in order, all business, all art. Arya sat down to roll her leggings off, wincing slightly over her swollen ankle. It was even more brilliantly colorful today, and she wondered vaguely when she would be able to dance again. She was sure that her professors would understand of course (even if Clegane would mutter about how that’s what she got for dancing sloppily), but she missed being able to move freely.
“Seven above,” Gendry yelped and Arya looked around, trying to find what had disturbed him.
“Your ankle is about twelve different colors. Are you sure you didn’t break it?” He was staring at her ankle, crossed over her knee, his brows knit slightly together and Arya felt heat rushing to her face.
“Yes,” she mumbled. “I just walked on it, when I shouldn’t have. Blame Jon. He was canoodling with someone and didn’t come get me.”
“Arya,” Gendry sighed. “You shouldn’t walk on it without support. Did you wrap it?”
“Last night, yeah,” she said.
“But not when you walked on it?”
Gendry rolled his eyes. “And did you elevate it?”
“Look—I know how to take care of a sprain, ok?”
“Do you?” he demanded, glaring at her.
“Yes. I do. Believe it or not, I have had one in the past, all right?”
Gendry stumped over to her, and helped her stand. He wrapped his arm around her waist and Arya felt her stomach jolt. He’d never actually touched her when she was naked, but now he was lifting her up from the waist, pressing her hip to his and carrying her to the middle of the room, the chair in the other hand. He set the chair down on the ground. Then he put her down.
“Lie down on the ground, sprained ankle on the chair, other foot curled under the elevated one. Yeah. More at a right—perfect.”
“Anything with the arms?” she asked, trying and failing to keep the annoyance out of her voice. He didn’t need to baby her. She was perfectly capable of taking care of her body.
“Yeah. A triceps stretch across your chest. And turn your face to the window. Perfect.”
“Why do you always have me facing away?” she asked as he crossed back to his easel. She heard the sound of his stool shifting on the floor, wood scraping against wood, then silence.
“It’s not about your face,” he said. Of course it wasn’t. It was never about her face.
“So then shouldn’t it not matter if my face is there?” she asked, pretending she hadn’t just thought that.
“It’s there sometimes,” he deflected. She rolled her eyes, then remembered he couldn’t see her face.
“I’m rolling my eyes at you,” she said.
“I know. You’re doing it very loudly,” Gendry sighed. “For what it’s worth, I would like to paint your face. I would. Maybe when all this is over, I can do a thank you portrait. But what I’ve realized when I do paint your face is I spend a lot of time on it.” Sure he did. He was just covering his ass now. “And the whole point is that I want to get your figure, or else this whole exercise is kind of useless. Take that for what you will.”
“It feels kind of sexist. Naked Arya, posing for you—faceless.”
“It’s the faceless bit that makes it feel sexist? Not the naked bit?” snorted Gendry.
“It feels like a weird power dynamic.”
“That’s fair,” Gendry said, sounding as though he was only saying it to mollify her. “But when you’re dancing, would you want the entire audience staring at your face while you danced, ignoring the rest of what you were doing, even if it was more interesting?”
“Are you saying my body is more interesting than my face?” she snapped, flaring up despite herself. She knew she shouldn’t let it get to her, she knew he didn’t say it to hurt her, but that didn’t stop a creeping cool rising up her shins to her stomach.
“No—I’m saying it’s not the point of your dancing. When you dance, it’s about the curve of your arms, the bend in your spine, just how flat you can make your legs in a split mid-leap. It’s not about your face. These portraits aren’t about your face either. And if I were to make them about your face…” his voice dangled, as if wanting Arya to infer what he was getting at.
But like hell was she going to let him stop there. “If you were to make it about my face…” she let her voice dangle the same way he had, and she could practically hear him roll his eyes.
“I should’ve known that you wouldn’t let it be.”
Oh really. He’d had no idea. She rolled her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You never let anything drop, do you?”
“Why would I let this drop?”
“Because—it’s about art. Ok? It’s not about you and me in the room. But when I finish painting this painting, I want the only color on it to be the bruise on your ankle, ok? I don’t want it to be drawn away by the color of your lips.”
Arya paused, thinking that over for a moment. “What about the color of my nipples? Or are you removing them?”
“Remind me where your arms are?” Gendry said dryly.
Stretched across her chest, covering her nipples. “Oh yeah.”
“I do actually make you do things for a reason. Which I would think was obvious.”
“It is,” she sighed. The anger that had filled her so suddenly had died just as quickly, leaving her with a twinge of sadness.
“You just like giving me shit, don’t you?”
“I really, really do,” she replied, trying to make her voice sound lighthearted.
She thought she heard him mutter something like “Gods, you’re fucking annoying,” under his breath, and almost laughed. She went back to staring out the window, looking at the ducks swimming along the river. Two parent ducks and three golden ducklings.
She decided to name then Cersei, Jaime, Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen.
Hot Pie: How’s the ankle?
Me: It’s fine.
Hot Pie: So not broken or anything?
Me: Not that I can tell.
Hot Pie: Good. Are you up for studying in the stacks later?
Me: Is the elevator still busted? I probably should stay off it as much as I can.
Hot Pie: Fair point. And yeah it is.
“Aren’t you supposed to be off your damn leg?” Arya looked up from her book and saw Gendry’s face glowering down at her. Of course he would go to Rosehips. Well, everyone went to Rosehips—but of course he’d appear here right when she was trying to get some homework done.
“I am off it,” she yelped, feeling a little more defensive than she probably ought to. “See? Sitting down and everything. I even have it resting on the chair, so it’s elevated.” She nudge the chair with her foot just so he could see it move. If anything, that made him glare more.
“How did you get here?” he demanded.
“I took the shuttle,” she lied.
“There’s no shuttle route near here.”
“I called the mini-bus. They’ll take you wherever if you have an injury.”
His eyes narrowed and he opened his mouth to say something when a completely different voice said, “Arya!”
Arya turned around and saw Sansa standing there, her bag slung over her shoulder, a binder clutched to her chest and a delighted smile on her face.
“Hello,” she said stiffly and Gendry straightened, turning to look at her sister.
Arya refused to look at him. She didn’t want to see his face do the thing that everyone’s faces did when they saw Sansa for the first time, the sort of blank expression of stunned disbelief that someone so beautiful could possibly exist. She remembered how her stomach had just dropped when she’d seen Mycah look at Sansa for the first time, how he’d shaken himself slightly, and later said that it was because she had red hair like him and he just didn’t see a lot of redheads who had that kind of coloring. She didn’t need that coming from Gendry.
“Can I join you?” she asked, looking very pleased to see the empty seat at the table. “Or were you…” she glanced at Gendry.
“I’m not here,” Gendry replied. “I was just…saying hello.” Arya still wasn’t looking at him, her eyes still focused on Sansa.
“Can I rest my foot on your leg? I sprained my ankle and want to keep it elevated,” Arya said, largely just to show Gendry that she could be responsible and take care of herself without him, but there was a part of her that secretly hoped that Sansa would look down at her pretty blue skirt and not particularly want Arya to put her foot on it and would go away and then maybe Gendry wouldn’t want to leave.
“Sure,” Sansa said. “Did you do something to it while dancing?”
She nodded. “I jumped funny. It’ll be fine. It’s just a very bizarre color right now, and I really should stay off it.”
“Then how did you get here?” Sansa sounded suddenly stern.
Gendry snorted, and Sansa looked at him. “Sorry,” Gendry said. “I was just asking the same thing when you came over.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name,” Sansa said, smiling at him, recognizing an ally. Arya felt as though certain muscles in her face wanted to detach themselves because that would be better than trying to keep her face neutral right now.
“Gendry. Gendry Smith.” He extended his hand.
“Oh! You’re the painter! I’m Sansa Stark.” She took it, and Arya wondered if he noticed how when her hand wasn’t wrapped around her binder, her breasts seemed that much bigger—so much bigger than Arya’s. But then again, why should she care? He was stupid if he cared. And she was stupid if she did too.
“Yeah,” Gendry said, and she could tell just by hearing his voice that he was making that sheepish smile—the one that he made when he met new people whom Arya had told she was posing naked. “That’s me.”
“Well…I hope she’s not causing you too much trouble,” Sansa said gently. “She does that sometimes.”
No I don’t, Arya wanted to snap, but if she snapped, she’d have to move her face and she wasn’t sure she could do that right now. Trust Sansa to bring up childhood grudges right now. Arya hadn’t caused trouble the way Sansa meant it in years, but all Sansa could think about was that time she’d thrown a blood orange at her and ruined her new white dress when she’d been ten. She wanted one, or both, of them to go away. She’d been having such a good moment finishing her problem set for linguistics, and now she felt numb and disregarded, even though they were talking about her—especially because they were talking about her, and not to her, like she wasn’t even there.
“Not too much,” Gendry was saying, and Arya went chill. Mycah had said the same thing when Sansa had told him she was a troublemaker. “Not too much,” he’d said, wrapping his arm around her waist and squeezing her too him, and how safe she’d felt, because Sansa couldn’t scare him off with her pretty smile and her perfect breasts and her meeting and exceeding everyone’s expectations.
“Well, that’s good. Don’t let her start.” Sansa was laughing gently, and looking at Arya now and the laughter died on her lips, her eyes narrowing infinitesimally as she saw just how Arya was staring down at her pencil and biting her lip.
There was silence for a moment, and Arya refused to look at Gendry, and didn’t look away from Sansa because at least now Sansa was realizing that she’d gone and put her foot in her mouth again. At least she realized it now, unlike when they’d been little and she’d just said horrible things because she didn’t recognize what Arya meant.
“I’m going to pull the chair out,” Sansa said softly, and Arya jerked a nod.
“I’ll—I’ll see you later then,” said Gendry.
“It was nice meeting you,” Sansa said to him as she sat down.
“And you. See you, Arya.”
Arya didn’t say a word to him as he left and when he was gone, Sansa was still watching her, concernedly.
“I went and did it again, didn’t I? I’m so sorry, Arya.”
“Leave it,” Arya shrugged.
She knew it could quite possibly make everything worse—everything. She knew that she shouldn’t do it. That there was no purpose in doing it except making her feel even worse. That she would come off petty, and childish, and insecure, and stupid and he’d see that and probably laugh at her or realize she wasn’t worth his time at all, and that if she needed validation like that from him, she was probably more fucked up than he had realized and he wouldn’t want to deal with that.
But she texted him anyway.
Me: What did you think of Sansa?
She couldn’t focus on her problem set now, and Shireen had gone to get her a new ice pack, so she couldn’t even prod her into an argument of some sort. She opened her computer and stared at the screen, but couldn’t think of what she wanted to do with it, so she didn’t do anything, she just stared at that photograph of Nymeria Martell dancing in Arianne that she’d made her desktop when she couldn’t stop crying at the picture of her and Mycah snuggled together on a pile of fallen leaves, taken only days after they’d gotten together.
Even Nymeria’s fingers oozed some sort of sensuality, and her eyes were hypnotic as she pliéd low on to the ground, her face seeming less long because of the angle of the shot.
Her phone buzzed and she reached for it.
Gendry: Nice enough.
That wasn’t the answer Arya needed. It made matters worse because she had this funny sensation that he was doing his best to be as neutral as possible.
Gendry: Sure. Not my type though.
The words glowed at her and she read them four times before they really sunk in. Sansa was everyone’s type—what did he mean by that? Was he blind? Or was he just being stupid Gendry again?
And how could Arya reply to that? There wasn’t a reply that came easily to mind, no easy joke, no anything. But she couldn’t just let that be the last text. If she did, he’d think too much into it, and she couldn’t let him do that, because what if he thought that she was mad at him for not thinking Sansa was pretty?
Me: Well, she began typing, screwing up her face with the effort of fleshing out the text, we both know you are too pervy to like real girls anyway.
Gendry: You keep telling yourself that.
And she put the phone away, because she didn’t trust herself to keep replying. And besides, she had gotten what she wanted out of the whole thing. She no longer wanted to cry.
The next day, the swelling in her ankle had gone down significantly, and after the ice pack Shireen had fetched for her, even some of the coloring had faded. Not all of it. Just enough. It still hurt to walk on, but less so, as opposed to more so, and so Gendry’s assertions that she might have broken her ankle without realizing it seemed little more than grumpiness that he had to carry her to and from her dorm room in order to paint her.
Arya didn’t go to class though. She couldn’t be bothered. She emailed Professor Clegane and Professor Lannister saying that she was keeping off her leg—which included all forms of leaving her dorm room—and wrote some half-assed lie to her Linguistics TA and curled up around her laptop, pulling up the whole first season of Wall Watchers (Jon had gotten her obsessed) and dove into it headlong.
It had been a long time since she’d just curled up in a ball and let herself do nothing but stare at television for hours on end, but she found it to be the perfect thing for her to have chosen to do that day—better than if she had tried going to class, or started working on any of her end-of-term papers. She drifted close to the edge of consciousness, staring at the Brothers of the Night’s Watch as they worked on figuring out which of them was secretly a spy from a paranoid king to the south. It was a stupid show, she decided, but distracting, and that was really what she wanted.
shireenthebean: How is it?
starknym: can you be more specific? the ankle? or the show?
shireenthebean: both? i need to pretend i’m not in 474 right now. why are professors so bad at teaching? you’d think it would be a requirement of working here: i am good at imparting my brilliance unto the wee youngsters.
starknym: idk. but it doesn’t really surprise me that the administration dgafs about teaching quality tbh.
shireenthebean: yeah yeah. i know.
starknym: oh right! yeah. it’s fine. i have it elevated and iced again. i think it’ll be walkable soon?
shireenthebean: i’m picking up bandages for you on the way home btw. bc i need mine for when i go to dev’s.
starknym: do i want to know?
shireenthebean: probably not.
starknym: i thank you for your generosity on all fronts.
shireenthebean: you are most welcome.
shireenthebean: i literally don’t think i’ve ever been in this much pain in my life. he is so incompetent. i could teach this class better than he does.
starknym: probably. but then again, you could teach a cat to knit, so…
shireenthebean: there would be odes written about my skill.
starknym: i could probably get one going for you. i have picked up some hawt skillz from the targaryens of yore.
shireenthebean: oh god.
starknym: she was by all accounts a dragon
starknym: a dragon wrought from stone
shireenthebean: please stop
starknym: men sought her tears for flagons
starknym: a cure from...shit i shouldn’t have made dragon the primary rhyme. fuck and shit and fuck.
shireenthebean: i have no sympathy. go back to your dumb show.
starknym: expect poetry and calligraphy under your door at some point. you won’t know when, but it’s coming.
Four hours later, Arya jerked awake to the sound of her phone buzzing.
“Can you walk yet?” Jon asked when she picked up with a tired, “Hello?”
“Grenn’s band has a real gig across the river and I wanted to know if you wanted to come.”
“Where across the river?” she asked dumbly. It was politer than saying “What stupid bar would even think about paying them money for an evening?”
“Halfman’s Whores. You in?”
“If I can walk. Sure.”
Which was how she found herself across the river at ten thirty that night, limping slightly even though she had wrapped her ankle up snugly and then decided to wear her boots for added support. It was a tiny bar—tinier than anything on the south side of the river—though she shouldn’t be surprised by that. King’s Landing’s expansion south had led to all sorts of changes in the city’s development. The south side of the river was either fancier and more spacious, or zones full of complete poverty and immigrant populations. University students, for the most part, kept to their bubble, but Arya always found that crossing the river reminded her—in odd ways—of going home. Some buildings had been around since the Dragon Age—or just after then—and the streets were, for the most part, too narrow for cars. And the bars—well, they were nice, but far too small for the number of people crammed inside.
Grenn’s band was the third of the night, and most of the patrons of the Halfman’s Whores were well and truly drunk by the time that Arya, Jon, Sam, and Gilly pushed their way in. People were talking loudly, and the ground was sticky from spilled drink, and Arya couldn’t see anything except the backs of the people in front of her.
“I hate being short,” she muttered.
“Yeah—I would too,” shrugged Gilly, who was standing on tip-toe. “They’re setting up, though, so you’re not missing much.”
“I can’t even stand on my tip-toes,” Arya whined, nudging Jon with her sprained ankle to remind him of it.
“Want a piggyback ride?” Jon asked. Arya nodded, and he crouched down. She clambered onto his back, and he stood unsteadily.
“Really not much to see,” she said.
“Told you,” grinned Gilly. “But then again, there will be soon.”
“Yeah,” she agreed, then tapped Jon on the head. “Do you mind keeping me here, or do you want to put me down?”
“You’re light and tiny, and I’ve been doing this for years. I should be fine,” said Jon.
“Fantastic.” Arya rested her chin on his shoulder, scanning the crowd.
She always found it interesting to be tall—or taller than usual. There was something so different about looking at people who were around your height, rather than staring up at them. She’d joked to Mycah that she was bound to get neck problems at some point in her life because she was always craning her neck to look up at people. It was also different from being lifted across a stage. On a stage, she was elevated. On a stage, everyone else was near her height to begin with. Being lifted was temporary, it had trajectory, it had finality waiting with your feet on the ground. Piggybacking was for as long as Jon could hold her and she liked it that way.
It was fun, watching people. Many were well into drunkenness already, talking loudly, moving in uneven ways to and from the bar. Some of them were sitting at tables with wings and fries, fingers covered in grease and sauce and looks of drunken delight on their faces. But most of them were standing, waiting, beer bottles in hand, watching the stage as they set up the microphones to get the piano properly. It was a piano here—not an electric keyboard. That would be cool.
“This is a bigger crowd than they usually play for,” she said into Jon’s ear.
“Yeah, I know. Grenn was super excited.”
“How did they land it?” asked Gilly.
“One of Pyp’s friends, I think? I don’t quite remember. Maybe Satin knew someone?”
“You,” said Arya, lifting her arm from Jon’s shoulders and pinching his cheek—he yelped—“are a great friend, did you know that? The very epitome of a great friend.”
“Thanks,” Jon said. “I rather agree. But it’s always nice to hear it. Don’t think I get told that enough, frankly.”
Arya was about to open her mouth to retort when she saw Gendry, leaning against a divider between two tables, laughing—face scrunched and red. He was standing with one of the guys she’d seen at the gym with him, gesticulating with his beer and looking to be thoroughly enjoying himself. Then, his face went serious for just a moment, before he burst out laughing again, is body sagging against the divider.
She should have known he’d be here. He was everywhere she went, somehow. She looked away though. He probably wouldn’t notice her. He was here with friends, after all, and looked to be having a grand time. And even if she was on Jon’s back, she was still buried in the center of the crowd. And he’d probably been drinking and wouldn’t expect to see her. Furthermore, why would he want to see her?
Where had that come from? Gendry was her friend. She’d never actually told him so—not after the first time he’d called her that, but he was. He definitely was. Of course he would want to see her. So why did she assume he wouldn’t?
She shifted so that her face was over Jon’s other shoulder. Jon’s face was long like hers and would block hers completely from Gendry’s line of vision. And, right as she did so, the band struck up.
Tonight was a good night for Grenn’s band. They were fully in tune, and the piano sounded better than Arya had expected, given that it was an upright in a bar, rather than the precise programmed sound of a keyboard. Before they’d finished the first song, a large portion of the crowd was dancing, and Jon was even singing along a little bit—she could feel his voice vibrating through his ribcage into her stomach more than she could hear it. That made Arya grin. While Jon hadn’t ever sung along when they’d played at Renly’s Ghost, he had probably spent the past few years learning these songs by rote as he was forced to overhear the rehearsals in his living room. And if they sounded good, there was no shame in singing along either. He probably wasn’t even aware that he was doing it.
Grenn sang, then Satin did, then Pyp did, then they swapped instruments just to show they could, then they sang a really rather bizarre interpretation of "The Bear and the Maiden Fair," which got everyone singing along, then they closed with a song so upbeat that Arya thought that Satin might break the drum kit. And all the while, she sat on Jon’s back, bobbing her head to the beat and not letting herself check to see if Gendry had moved, if he was dancing, if he’d found some girl in a low-cut blue shirt to press up against the wall.
She slid down Jon’s back at the end of the set while everyone was still cheering and winced when she hit the ground. She had forgotten that her ankle was still screwed up, but she bit her lip and didn’t yelp because no one would hear her anyway. Instead, she leaned on her right side and when their little group began pushing their way to the bar for beer, she found Gilly and swung her arm around her shoulder in a friendly way.
Gilly sighed something that Arya couldn’t hear over the swell of talk in the bar.
“What?” Arya half-shouted.
“I said—I’m so proud of our boys!” Gilly called, turning her head to Arya’s.
“Yeah. Me too,” she said. She was—that was true. They had done really well tonight.
Sam pushed his way back from the bar. “Jon’s getting a pitcher. I’m going to go hunt down a table.”
“Ooh. We’ll come too!” Gilly replied, and Arya nodded.
Naturally, there weren’t any tables open, and Arya’s ankle was really starting to throb now. She probably shouldn’t have come out. They went to the left side of the bar, then pushed to the right side, then returned towards the front where they found a group of sophomores from Dragonpit College getting up to go clubbing and slid into a table by the window.
“Perfect,” grinned Jon, who was right behind them holding a stack of glasses and a huge container of beer.
“Our Lord and Savior,” Sam said seriously, helping Jon put the beer on the table so that none of it would spill over. Almost as soon as it was safely on the table, someone stumbled into Jon and the glasses went flying. They fell in slow motion, Arya noticed, the neat stack expanding as the glasses detached from one another and each shattered as it hit the ground.
“Hey, mate, get out of the way,” whoever it was slurred at Jon.
“Fuck off, asshole,” snapped Jon, who had taken a step back.
“Hey—who’re you calling asshole?” demanded the man. He shoved Jon in the chest and Arya heard herself snap,“Hey fuckwad, leave him alone.”
The drunk man rounded on her. “Leave him alone? He your boyfriend? Don’t want me to blacken his eye, d’you?” He waggled his tongue at her and if Arya’s ankle had been healthy, she would have gotten up and decked him probably. Or at least kicked him. Instead, she glared at him. “Tha’s what I thought, you dumb—”
“All right, that’s enough,” came a familiar voice, and Gendry was looming over the drunk man. Once again, Arya was struck by just how tall he was—well over six feet and that height, with his dark t-shirt and obvious muscles and angry expression was enough to stop the drunk man in his tracks. Gendry’s arms were crossed and his expression was hard and for a moment, Arya forgot the way his eyes danced when he was teasing her.
“Sorry,” mumbled the drunk guy and, looking rather like a dog turning tail, he departed. Gendry watched him go.
They were all silent for a moment, then Arya said, “Thanks,” on behalf of everyone.
Gendry’s eyes flicked to her, and she saw them narrow in confusion, as if he’d only just registered that it was her. The muscles around his mouth relaxed and he gave her the smallest of smiles.
“Yeah, no problem,” he said shrugging. “You lot here for the band, then?”
Jon nodded, his gaze going between Arya and Gendry. “We were—” he began, but a moment later, Pyp, Grenn, Satin, and Edd had showed up with another huge container of beer and a stack of glasses, broad grins on their faces.
“Drinks are on—” Grenn caught sight of the huge beer already on the table, “us…” he trailed off.
“Oh, like we won’t finish both,” said Sam a little too loudly, his tone a little too cheerful. Pyp grinned and nodded.
“Thanks for the glasses,” Gilly said. “Ours got smashed.” She scooted over and let Grenn and Pyp slide in next to her and Sam.
“Well, then it’s only fortunate,” said Edd. “Though now we may have too few,” he glanced at Gendry, as if unsure whether he was part of their party.
“I’m on my way out. Nice to see you all,” Gendry said. He forced a smile and turned away.
“Wait,” Arya called.
He glanced over his shoulder at her and there was something almost hopeful in his gaze that made her heart catch in her throat. “Yeah?”
“You headed back to campus?”
“Yes. I was. Why?”
“Can I come with? I need to ice my ankle.”
Gilly and the boys made disappointed sounds, and she saw Jon shoot her a significant glance, which she opted to ignore.
Gendry’s face softened. “Sure. I was planning on walking, though.”
“That’s fine. I can walk, I think,” she lied. She was sure she shouldn’t walk, and that would be made apparent probably halfway across Bronn’s Bridge, but she didn’t really care. She knew that Gendry would carry her the rest of the way home if she needed him to.
And, sure enough, they were approaching the bridge when she lost her balance.
“Ah fuck,” she muttered as Gendry’s hand circled around her arm.
“You’re really going to do damage if you keep pushing it like this,” he chided.
“I know,” she whined. “I’ll keep off it this weekend. I will.”
“Will you though?” he sounded annoyed. No—not annoyed. Angry. “Because you’re remarkably crappy at taking care of yourself to the untrained eye.”
“And to the trained one, or at least that’s what Jon would have me believe,” Arya snorted.
“Look—I know. I know. I really do. I just wanted to see Grenn’s band. It was a real gig, and they even sounded good, ok? Honestly, I was off my leg all day today and my eyes were going crossed from watching too much shitty television.”
Gendry glowered at her. And, for a moment, she wondered if he might shout. But instead, his face relaxed and he mumbled, “Sorry. I get...yeah.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she replied too quickly, eager to help set him at ease. “I know I’m a mess to be around sometimes. It’s just me. It’s how I am.”
Gendry let out a bitter snort. “Except it’s not. It’s how you are now. It’s not how you are. You know what I mean?”
“No,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. It was, though she was loath to admit it, chilly. “No, I don’t know what you mean.”
“You walk around as if you’re not hurting inside, because that’s what you think people want to see. And also you’re convinced that if you convince them, you can convince yourself. Which isn’t quite true, because the simple fact of trying to convince yourself means that’s not how you are.”
Arya frowned. “That doesn’t make sense.”
“It does,” Gendry said, a crooked smile crossing his face. “You’re just not seeing it.”
“No—it’s stupid. Sansa’s the one who goes around trying to convince people of things. I don’t do that.”
“Well, I can’t speak for Sansa, but you definitely do. It’s pretty obvious if you look close enough.”
Arya took a deep breath, prepared to fire all sorts of points at him that—that none of that was true, that he was an idiot, that he was a stupid idiot for saying it—but in taking that breath she shifted her weight and her ankle began throbbing. She winced.
“Ok. Get on,” Gendry said, turning his back to her and crouching down.
“Thanks,” she said gingerly, feeling his hands come up to meet her thighs.
“Yeah, yeah,” Gendry sighed. “It’s not that big a deal. You weigh like four pounds.” He started walking across the bridge.
“I weigh more than that,” she grumbled.
“True, but not much.”
“Oh shut up. Not all of us are big, burly fellows like yourself.”
“Lucky for me. I wouldn’t fancy giving you a piggy back ride back to campus if you weighed as much as I do.”
They were silent for a time, and she heard his the sound of his feet echoing on the cobblestones of the bridge over the Blackwater.
“What did you mean?” Arya heard herself ask, her voice bouncing off the water and stone, “When you said ‘I get...’”
She hadn’t realized it was possible to shift uncomfortably when someone was on your back, but Gendry managed somehow. “I’m not an easy person.”
“Really? I hadn’t noticed,” she muttered. He laughed, and she felt rather stupid, since she’d muttered it right in his ear.
“Not in the way you think. It’s different when I’m with you. I—it’s hard to explain. But I’ve just...I’ve had a lot of shit happen, and I sometimes just get intolerable. Because I don’t tolerate shit.” Arya thought of Ned at Renly’s Ghost and the way that Gendry had glared at him, the way that the stranger in the Halfman’s Whores had looked when confronted with Gendry’s glower. “And...I know that’s me. And that’s not how most people are. And I also know I have a tendency to exaggerate my problems so people aren’t surprised when they encounter it. So...yeah. I know how I am. I’m just not an easy person to know.”
“I’ve known harder people, to be honest,” she teased, trying to lighten the darkness in his tone.
“Yeah. Of course you had. I’m sure you’ve known right pains in the ass up in Winterfell.” Arya thought of Jeyne Poole and Sansa screeching “Arya Horseface!” at her when she’d been eleven and had stumbled in on one of their giggling schoolgirl conversations about blowjobs and they’d been too embarrassed to be kind.
“What has Winterfell got to do with anything?” she asked, trying to keep the sting of annoyance she felt out of her voice.
“You just...there’s no way you’d know. Ok?”
He let out a huff of agitation. “My mum died when I was little. And my right bastard of a father didn’t want me even though he knew I was in trouble—wanted to keep me away from his real family. So I bounced around from foster home to foster home to foster home until I was eighteen and didn’t give a shit about anything anymore because no one gave a shit about me. So I’m hard—ok? I’m hard to know, to be friends with, to even be around because people always abandon me in the end. And I know that. I do. So just…”
“Are you trying to scare me off?” Arya asked. She asked it quietly. She didn’t need to ask it loudly, he could probably hear the way her breath was trembling, the way that she was sure her heart was closing in her throat and the world was stopping because this was almost worse than seeing him with his mates at the Halfman’s Whores.
“I—” He stopped talking, and she felt his pace slow for one step before he continued on as he had before. “I’m telling you all this so you know. And like I said, I exaggerate it sometimes. Look, you matter to me. And that’s hard for me, because I don’t know how to act around people who matter to me when I don’t matter to them, ok?”
“You do matter to me,” she said quietly.
“Yeah? You said we weren’t friends.”
“That was ages ago. When we weren’t,” she said, stressing the past tense and rolling her eyes even though he couldn’t see. “But that doesn’t mean we aren’t now, you great idiot.”
He actually stopped this time, breathing slowly. She felt his heart pulsing under her hands, and she wanted to slide off his back and look at his face because she never got to look at his face when she wanted to. Why did he always make her look away?
“Oh,” he said at last, and he kept walking.
“Oh. Just oh.”
“Do you really expect me to believe that?”
“Oh you cheeky little—”
But he was laughing, and she heard relief there. Happiness even.
“I don’t think you,” he said, letting go of one of her legs to wipe a tear from his eyes, “get to call me little.”
“Arya. You’re not a fool. There is literally nothing that is small about me.”
“Oh yeah? What about your brain.” She knocked one of her hands against his skull and let loose a cackle of victory.
“Well, if that’s the smallest part of me I’d be content.”
“Are you talking about your penis? Oh god, you are, aren’t you?” she let out a disgusted sound while Gendry began guffawing.
“I was actually,” he said, “referring to the fact that your legs are currently in my hands, and thus I could just keep them there if I wanted, but...hey. I’ll take compliments to my penis any day.”
“There’s just no way to respond to that, is there?’
“Nope—not at all. But you’re the one who brought it up—wait a second...wait a second this is getting you back for all the times you wrong-footed me about the whole painting you naked thing, isn’t it?” He sounded positively jubilant, and Arya grinned.
“If you like. But this is just once. I got you at least five times. Don’t let’s forget that, shall we?”
“Sure. Fine. Whatever. Little victories, ok? Little victories.”
They reached West Campus still arguing over the nature of these particular victories, and Gendry set her down just outside her dorm. She leaned against the door, weight off her ankle, glaring up at him as he tried to convince her that no, in fact, it’s the littlest victories that count the most.
“That’s just not true, though!” Arya said. “Like, they definitely matter—but if they matter that much, they’re a big victory.”
“So then, what’s tonight? Is it a big victory or a little victory?”
“Your penis thing is definitely a little,” she glanced down at his crotch and found that she wished she hadn’t, because she was quite sure that a lot of what she saw was just the way the light from the streetlamps hit his jeans...but then again, she wasn’t quite sure… “victory.”
“Yeah, but what about the friendship acknowledgement?” he demanded. “Because that, one could say is a little victory. Big whoop. We’re friends. Anyone could have said that. And yet—” She waited for him to finish his sentence, her breath held slightly. “Look, it matters to me that I can text you about nothing and you’ll care, ok? It matters a lot to me. I’m not good at having people who care about me. They tend not to, you see.” He wasn’t looking at her—why was he never looking at her when he said stuff like that?
“Well, I care,” she said slowly, “I care a lot. I don’t really know when it happened, but I do. So yeah. Friendship.”
“Friendship.” He was smiling down at her—a crooked smile with his head cocked to one side.
“Yep.” Was her voice actually breathy, or did it just sound that way?
“Absolutely.” He took a step closer to her, and he was so tall and his chest muscles were right in her face now unless she looked up into his eyes and that crooked smile.
“Who care about each other.”
And his lips were on hers, and his arms were around her pulling her close to him, almost crushing her but not quite, and she couldn’t put her arms around her neck because they were pinned to her side, but she wanted to—wanted to because his tongue was sliding along her lips and she was feeling goosebumps break out across her body because she hadn’t been kissed in so long and his lips felt good against hers—good, and warm, and soft, and so very there in a way that none of the lips she’d imagined or dreamed in the past year had been.
And altogether too quickly he was pulling away nervousness etched across his face.
“Sorry about that.”
“Yeah—no worries,” she said, extending her arm in a way that must have looked terribly stupid, but which felt like the right move at the time. She let it fall as he continued speaking.
“Yeah so friends.”
“Friends,” she agreed, ignoring the way her stomach seemed to drop when he said that.
“Friends kiss right?” he said. Maybe it hadn’t dropped too far.
“Sure. All the time.”
“I mean, I’d kiss a lot of the people I was close to if they wanted.”
“I mean, probably not my siblings. But if Shireen felt like it and Dev wasn’t around—or hell, even if he was—”
“Yeah, and Anguy. Totally possible. Might actually have happened once,” he scrunched his forehead, as if he couldn’t quite remember.
“But...friends…” Arya said. Because that’s what he wanted, and honestly, she was too much of a mess for anything else right now.
“Yeah. Friends,” he said. And he leaned down again and kissed her lightly, as if to prove that friends could kiss and just stay friends.
Gendry: Don’t get out of bed you’re going to kill your ankle and I do actually need to paint you.
Me: I’ll have you know that I’m using you as a controlling moron as an excuse to make Shireen get me food and bring it to me in bed. How does that make you feel?
Gendry: I can live with that.
Me: She thinks I should tell you to piss off.
Gendry: Well, you could—but we established that neither of us want that, so I don’t think that would really do much.
Me: That’s what I figured. She’s just annoyed because she doesn’t like sunlight.
Gendry: Why doesn’t she like sunlight?
Me: It hurts her eyes when she’s been coding for too long.
Me: Yeah. I think she’s a secret vampire.
Gendry: A secret Baratheon vampire?
Me: Well, she’s an actual Baratheon secret vampire?
Gendry: It doesn’t have as much of a ring to it.
Me: Yeah. Working theory.
Gendry: I’m sure we’ll figure it out.
She was just texting Gendry telling him she was on her way and had stopped to grab a tea at Rosehips when the tea was knocked from her hand and sent splattering all over her front.
It was, in fact, Sansa, standing in front of her—cell phone pressed to her ear, not paying attention to where she was going.
“Hang on, I’ll call you back,” Sansa said into her phone and she pressed the red button on the screen. “I’m sorry. Are you burned?” she reached out to take Arya’s bag, which she had removed from her shoulder to let her pull her t-shirt away from her skin.
“I don’t think so,” Arya said at last. “No, I’m pretty sure I’m not. Just ow,” she rolled her eyes and zipped up her jacket to cover the wet.
“Let me buy you another one,” Sansa said, handing Arya’s bag back to her.
“No—I have to run. I’m going to be late,” she frowned, glancing at her phone surface and already knowing she was going to miss the shuttle that would drop her off in front of Gendry’s studio.
“Oh. All right.” Sansa looked slightly disappointed. “Well, then,” she stepped slightly out of the way, giving Arya better access to the door.
“I’ll see you later,” Arya said vaguely and pushed it open.
“My show—it’s on April fifteenth. You’re still coming, right?” Sansa called after her. “Your friend Lommy’s one of my models.”
“Yeah. Of course,” said Arya. “Send me an email so I can put it in this?” she waved her phone at Sansa.
“Of course,” Sansa smiled. “See you then.”
She did miss the shuttle, and by the time she reached Gendry’s studio, she was thoroughly grumpy.
“Sorry,” she muttered, unzipping her jacket and tugging off her damp t-shirt without preamble.
“No worries. I got some work done,” Gendry shrugged. He went over to the sink and collected his brushes while she finished stripping.
“What’s the pose today, captain?” she asked.
“How’s your ankle?” he asked.
“Thought so. Can you hold it?”
Arya stood on one leg and brought the ankle to her hand. It twinged a bit, but it didn’t throb. “I think so, but not for too long.”
“Ok. Well, let’s do that and see how long it goes.” He guided her into a pose, then settled down onto his stool, his blue eyes focused on her.
It was only then that she realized she was facing him fully, watching how he frowned as he concentrated on lines, how his eyes would trace her, then his canvas, how he would test something first in a pencil, then go over it with acrylic. He was studying her—studying everything about her in a way that was so perfectly detached that she wondered if he had some mental dissociation, some sort of “this is not Arya—this is a girl—a doll—a statue” because he wasn’t looking at her the way he had looked at her right before he’d kissed her, but rather scrutinizing her every detail as though he were some scientist who had just discovered a new species of rabbit and needed to notate every little detail about his discovery. He was staring at her, drinking her in, as though she were the most perfect thing in the world and he needed to memorize her, because if he didn’t memorize her, how could he capture her?
And she realized she was riveted—completely fascinated. Gendry’s face when he painted was so much more interesting than the duck Lannisters outside the window. His face softened, and he looked less stubborn and for a moment, she saw why he liked painting so much. When he painted, he didn’t have to worry about what people thought of him, about what had happened to him, around him, in spite of him. He was creating. He was in charge.
She wanted to say something, but found she couldn’t. Because saying something would distract him, and she didn’t want to distract him—not at all, not ever because distracting him would make him remember that there was a world beyond her and the smell of acrylic.
She lost track of time watching him paint. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d lost track of time while Gendry painted her, if she ever had, but she did. And when he leaned back, and pressed the heels of his palms into his eye sockets and said “all right, I think,” she blinked twice before realizing she could move. She dropped her leg and crossed to her clothes, wriggling into her pants and her t-shirt once again.
She heard the sound of running water, and Gendry cleaning his brushes. And when the water turned off, she turned around, crossed the room. She kissed him, standing on the tips of her toe, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling herself close to him, loving the feeling of his tongue outlining her lips and the way he put the brushes down in the sink so he could grab hold of her hips, turn her around so that she was pressed between the damp sink edge and him as his hands gripped into her sides, as her fingers toyed with the hair at the nape of his neck. His tongue and hers circled one another, her heart pounding in her throat, her wrists, her legs, her cunt, her everything and she knew that his was too because she could feel it through the tips of her fingers, her stomach pressed flat against his.
“You might just end up my best friend if you keep doing that,” he teased when they broke apart.
“Well, if I ever aspire, I know how to get there, then,” she grinned. He kissed her again quickly, pulling away so that she could stand again and removing his hands slowly from her waist.
“What was that for?” he asked.
“Felt like it,” she shrugged.
“Ok.” He sounded pleased. He sounded very pleased, and that made Arya half want to smile, half want to roll her eyes and shove him because he was really such an arrogant bastard sometimes.
Her ankle slowly got better. She went back to dancing—marking through parts rather than moving full out in class. She began outlining her final paper for her Targaryen poetry class, and complained loudly about how linguistics was stupid and why had anyone thought that these squiggles were worth memorizing anyway, couldn’t they just use the regular alphabet? She participated in a system test for Shireen and was paid in four lollipops, she heard Grenn’s band play three more times, she found another bra in Jon’s room, and she kissed Gendry more times than all of those things. She stayed late at Renly’s Ghost, even after Jon and the rest had left just to prattle on with him and walk home with him, let him press her against the door of her dorm and kiss her until she forgot she was human—or remembered that she was, she wasn’t sure. She kissed him when she arrived at the studio before she’d removed all her clothes. She kissed him while they studied together in the stacks, giggling when the lights turned on and other people came looking for books. And she kissed him goodbye, before she went home for spring break.
“How was your flight?” her father asked them as she, Jon, and Sansa got into the car, all ruffled from their flight. Sansa was catching up on emails she hadn’t received while they were in the air, and Jon was texting someone, a slight flush on his face.
“Uneventful,” Arya said, since no one else seemed to be replying. She wished Gendry had texted her the way whoever Jon was sleeping with was texting him. Not that she wanted anything obscene, just...something. To show he was thinking about her. She knew that he was. But all the same, sometimes proof was nice.
“That’s good. An uneventful flight is always better than an eventful one,” Dad said. “How’s your semester going?”
“Fine,” Arya said. “You know—actually quite fun. Shireen and I spend a lot of time watching movies, and I’m posing for someone’s art project.”
“Really? You didn’t tell me about that,” Dad said as he pulled onto the highway.
“I thought I did,” she shrugged. “It’s fun. I like it. The guy is nice.”
“What’s his name?” Dad asked.
“He’s from King’s Landing,” Arya said quickly. “He’s nice. I wouldn’t have met him otherwise.”
“He a good painter?”
“I don’t actually know,” Arya said, frowning. “I don’t think I’ve seen any of the final paintings. He says that he puts finishing touches on them after I’m done, but he’s never shown me.”
“Well, take a picture and send one to me and Mom when you get a chance. We’d love to see a painting of you.”
Jon snorted next to her and she elbowed him.
“Jon? Want to clarify that?” asked Dad.
“Sorry. Funny note from Gilly,” Jon lied smoothly, shooting Arya a smirk.
But as pleasant as the car ride from the airport was, dinner was a whole different matter. Not because she wasn’t happy to see her family—she was—but she should have known what dinner would bring.
“And you’re not too stressed? I barely hear from you,” Mom asked, her brows knit together in worry.
“I’m fine, Mom,” Arya replied dully, shoveling mashed potatoes into her mouth.
“Don’t speak with your mouth full, Arya,” chided her father.
Arya rolled her eyes as her mother gave him a “Ned, leave it” expression.
“I’ve always been bad at keeping in touch,” Arya said after swallowing, “It’s not like I emailed you much freshman year or anything. I’m fine, Mom. Things are ok.”
“Yes, but—I worry about you is all,” said Mom.
“She’s a big girl, Mom. Arya knows when there’s trouble,” said Robb, shooting her what he considered to be a conciliatory smile. Arya wanted to roll her eyes, because of course Robb wouldn’t realize that he was being condescending.
“She’s focusing on art this semester,” Sansa said, “Dancing and painting and—” Arya stopped listening. They were all talking about her like she was a little girl, and she wondered if they realized that treating her like that actually made things worse, made her think about how much she missed him rather than letting her feel like she had moved on. She took a drink of water, continuing not to listen, even though she knew that the conversation had changed, that Jon was talking about his thesis, and Robb was teasing him about something and they had all moved on and Arya just...didn’t want to be around them. She loved them, but she felt awash in the sort of frustration that made her want to just go curl up in a ball. She wished she were in a dining hall. She could make up an excuse about some paper she needed to work on, or pretend that Gendry wanted to paint at night, or something and just get up and they wouldn’t question it at all.
But she couldn’t do that at home. So she made fun of Rickon’s new haircut—though with only half the gusto that she usually would have. And when they cleared away dinner and made their way into the living room to watch some movie together, Arya disappeared upstairs and closed herself into her bedroom. Without even thinking about it, she threw herself onto her bed and called Gendry.
On the first ring, Arya’s heart seized with panic. What if he didn’t pick up—or worse, what if he didn’t want to pick up? They hadn’t ever really spent a lot of time talking on the phone. They’d texted, and chatted online a few times, but she’d never actually called him. She could hang up now—make it look like a butt dial but…
“Hey.” He sounded surprised. He sounded like there was a smile on his face. “What’s up?” The very sound of that made Arya smile.
“Just calling to say hello,” she lied. “How’s vacation going?”
“I slept four hours in the middle of the day today, so I’d say it’s going pretty well.” She could hear the contented grin, and knew he was lying on his bed too. “Also, I started watching Wall Watchers and you are right—this is such a pile of crap, and yet, I can’t look away.”
“Right? Like the acting is atrocious but they’re so pretty.”
“Very pretty,” Gendry agreed. “Though it makes me very glad that I’d never have to become a Brother of the Night’s Watch, because for all they’re pretty, they really aren’t girls.”
“That’s correct,” Arya agreed. “Though I hear there are some excellent pornos about that.”
“‘Heard,’” Gendry snorted, “Right. Do tell.”
“Oh, you know, usually some recruit pretending to be a boy because her family can’t feed her and then having sex with everyone in a way that really reflects that pornos don’t care at all about realism.”
“Well, for one thing, she has a lot of sex in snow and doesn’t get hypothermia.”
“Huh,” Gendry was chuckling. “Sounds like she’s got a super power, or something.”
“True enough. I wish I had that super power.”
"Shut up—you know it would be useful not to get hypothermia."
“Right. Of course. And how did you come across this porno?”
“Got it for Jon for his birthday.”
“You didn’t.” Gendry sounded flabbergasted.
“Well, no. I didn’t. Theon did, though, and he needed someone to deliver it, so I volunteered.”
“Theon is…?” Gendry asked, his voice trailing off in a way that sounded far too casual to be actually casual.
“Robb’s best friend,” Arya said.
“And Robb’s your eldest brother?”
“Yes,” Arya said.
“Gods, your family is hard to keep straight.”
“It would be easier if you were ever to meet them,” she shrugged. She wondered if he ever would. Part of her wished she’d invited him up for spring break, but she had suspected he wouldn’t have the money. He was always tight-lipped about things like that, though. And besides, then she’d get the sorts of comments like “it’s good to see you moving on” as if Mycah were just fading into nothingness and she didn’t want to have to grit her teeth and say that Gendry was not her boyfriend. Although, if he were here, she might have to pretend that, just to keep her brothers off her back.
“I asked how your family is.”
“Oh. Sorry. Lost in thought a bit.”
“That’s fine.” He yawned into the phone.
Normally, she would tell a lie—like the one she’d told him earlier. That things were fine, that things were happy, that she’d missed her dog and they’d played all afternoon, without giving any indication that she was upset about anything.
“They’re all treating me like I’m fragile,” she sighed, “Because the last time I was home, I was. But I don’t think I am anymore. And if I try and tell them that, they don’t listen.”
“Fragile—as in upset about Mycah?” Gendry asked. She heard the sound of him shifting, and a snap in the background of him closing his laptop.
“Yes,” she said. “Or just generally. I don’t know. I just feel babied. And I don’t know how to make them stop.”
“That sucks,” Gendry said. His voice was no longer smiling. “That really sucks. Can you tell any individual one of them? Jon, or—or like your Mom?”
“I don’t know. Yes? I guess? But they’ll think I’m deflecting. I do that a lot”
Gendry snorted. “I noticed.”
“Yeah, well...I don’t deflect to you do I?”
“Yes. Yes you do. All the time. But you usually tell me stuff in the end.”
“I know. I don’t like lying to you. You’re….you’re different. You’re like Jon, only with fewer expectations that I be like you.”
“Does Jon have those expectations?” Gendry asked.
“It’s...It’s complicated. Jon wants me to be happy when he’s happy and grumpy when he’s grumpy. And usually I am. Except now. Because he’s happy with his secret lover, and I’m still a mess. And he just wants me to be happy.”
“So wouldn’t he be happy if you told him that you are not fragile and shouldn’t be treated that way?” Gendry asked.
“He would—but I don’t think he’d believe me.”
“This is a circular conversation.”
“The deflecting stuff.”
“Got it. He’s a ‘show don’t tell’ kind of guy.”
“Yes. That’s exactly it.” She sighed and twisted around so that her head dangled off the mattress, stretching her neck.
“So then here’s a different question—if you can’t show him that you’re better—are you? I mean, you’re the one calling me, presumably while skipping out on a family activity?”
“How did you know that?” Arya asked. She hadn’t told him—how had he…?
“You come from a good family—the kind where people do things together after dinner, like watch a movie or play a board game or read in front of a roaring fire. But here you are, calling me.”
“I like you. You calm me down. And you listen to me.”
She heard him let out an amused huff. “I like you too. But here’s the thing. You want them to see you as being ‘better’ yeah?”
“Yes?” she replied, hesitantly.
“So, you’re hiding away and maybe you’re doing that because you’re not. Not to say that you aren’t improved—but are you as ‘better’ as you think you are?”
“What makes you say that?” she asked, her stomach sinking.
“Because after my mother died, I kept thinking I was better, but with every new home I went to, I realized how much not better I actually was. Maybe you’re getting there. I do think you are, but—maybe not enough to feel perfect. And honestly—as I’ve said—”
“You never forget.”
“Right. And the human mind does heal, but…”
“So I’m always going to be a mess.”
“No,” he sounded very determined in that answer. “You’re not. But I think you deflect because you don’t want to admit to yourself that you still hurt. And you do.”
“Not when I’m talking to you, though,” she said again, but this time—she meant it. She really did, because it was true. He was right. Even when she wanted to deflect, to distract him from everything going on in her mind, it didn’t feel right. He was some sort of balm. Some sort of calming force. There was something so stable about him—not stable like a house—stable like a ship in a storm, where you know things might go to hell very quickly, but you at least know there’s wood under your feet.
He heard the difference this time. “Really?” he asked. His voice was low, almost breathless.
“Yeah. Yeah. I feel like you help me see myself more clearly. And...like...I don’t know. You don’t make demands of me. You just kind of let me be me. And that’s nice.”
“You know—for all I joke around about being a controlling asshole—”
“Which you are,” Arya interjected.
“Yeah. I know. But...I don’t actually want to control you. I don’t know. You’re...you’re the first person I’ve been friends with where I feel almost like that would ruin it. And that’s new. Scary too. Like holy shit you could run away at any second, but you’re also not going to...because you know I’d let you. That’s good for me.” He let out a bitter laugh. “Healthy. Sort of.”
“I don’t really know what to say to that,” Arya said quietly.
“Yeah, me neither. Let’s go back to making fun of Night’s Watch pornos.”
“Yeah—that sounds good.”
Home was home. And after that first night, she was surprised at how relaxed she felt. Perhaps she had just bottled everything up inside, and now, when things were bad, she would text Gendry and he’d send her particularly bad lines from Wall Watchers to make her snort. She played with Nymeria in the godswood, she schooled Rickon and Bran in their new edition of Groleo Party, and she stretched every day, sometimes running through steps from the new segments of dance she’d only marked when her ankle had been out of commission.
Mostly, though, she slept. She slept and slept and slept, as if she’d not once realized just how tired she’d been until she had her own bed to sleep in, with its hard mattress and fluffy blankets. She slept at least ten hours a day, and didn’t dream of anything at all, and, when she woke up, she felt warm and safe, curled up as she was. Often times, Nymeria would hop up onto the bed next to her and sleep on her legs, or in the circle of Arya’s arms. She was warm, and soft, and even her stinky dog breath made Arya feel happy.
Happy. The word hung in her mind. She was happy. She was happy—really and truly—for the first time in ages. And, as Gendry had predicted, her happiness calmed her family down. They stopped worrying about her, stopped asking her how she felt, and started poking fun of her and the fact that she strolled downstairs after noon each day with her hair sticking up in all directions and a drowsy smile on her face, bee-lining for the refrigerator.
“Thanks for joining us,” Jon said dryly. He was probably on his third cup of coffee, Arya would guess when she joined him at the kitchen table and shoved a muffin into her mouth. He had taken over the table, his books and papers spanning its entirety while he worked on his thesis. He looked grumpy and tired and not very vacation-like. Arya decided she would tread carefully.
“Oh, you know. It’s good to stretch my legs every now and then.”
Jon grunted, then sighed and rubbed his face. “I’m glad one of us is sleeping,” he sighed.
“When is the monster due?”
“I hand it in on April ninth,” Jon said. “Whether it’ll actually be complete at that point is a whole different story.”
“What are you going to do with all your free time?” Arya asked.
“We don’t talk about after. After is for after. After before after is depressing.”
“Hello. Jon Snow. Nice to meet you.”
Arya stuck out her tongue at him.
They camped out there together for the rest of the day, Arya on her laptop starting her final paper (an analysis of the sister as the mother in “Tis For Ye I Ride t’War”) if only to keep Jon company. Periodically one of them would get a text message and the table would shake from the buzz of metal against wood.
Shireen: Dad’s on the warpath pretend to have something important.
Me: Don’t I always have something important? What’s he angry about?
Shireen: Uncle Robert.
Me: What—did he have sex in your parents’ bed again?
Shireen: See normally I’d laugh but…
Me: Oh god.
Shireen: I’m going to pretend to call you. But actually call Dev.
Me: Thanks. I feel loved.
Shireen: Yeah yeah. You know how my dad is.
There was something lovely about companionable silences. That was something Bran was good at. Arya didn’t remember when Bran had grown into a quiet person. Maybe when he’d fallen and his back had broken, and he’d just stopped being active. Or maybe he’d always been that way, the way that Sansa was secretly an introvert if you looked at her long enough. The Bran sitting in the living room with Arya, working on a kenken puzzle and patting Summer while Arya lay on the floor and Nymeria happily licked her face—this was a different Bran than the one she had played with growing up, the one she had gone on runs with back when she had thought she might like to try doing cross country in high school. That Bran was loud and dreamed of being a member of the secret service, or some kind of spy or something. But this Bran, this brother sat in companionable silence, quietly enjoying the simple fact of community while he stared at the newspaper on his lap.
Arya didn’t know how long they’d been like that. She knew better than to try moving when Nymeria was licking her face. But, as so often happened in a house with six children, the silence didn’t last.
Sansa came into the living room and threw herself onto the couch, face down into the cushions and breathing heavily, as though she were trying not to cry.
Arya tried to sit up to look at her, to look at Bran, but when she did, Nymeria put her paw on her shoulder and shoved her back down onto the ground.
“What’s wrong?” Bran asked gently. Arya wished she could speak gently the way that Bran could. Sometimes she felt like she was a wolf in a tutu when she tried, but Bran’s voice was the very definition of calm.
“I—It’s nothing,” Sansa said, her voice muffled through the cushions.
“Of course,” Bran said, and how, how did he do that, making it sound both like he didn’t believe her, but also managing not to do so condescendingly.
“I should say it’s just more of the same,” Sansa mumbled. She must have twisted her head because her voice was no longer muffled. “Harry cheated.”
“Bastard,” Arya said angrily. Why would anyone cheat on Sansa? She was warm, and loving, and beautiful beyond any idiot’s wildest dreams.
“I seem to attract them, don’t I?” Sansa sighed tremulously. “Why do I attract them? Why do I always think this one will be different? Joffrey was a monster and now Harry. I’m lucky Loras was just gay or else he’d probably have done something awful to me too. At least he could break my heart in an honorable way.” She was definitely crying now, even though Arya couldn’t see her face, she could hear the altogether too familiar constriction in Sansa’s voice.
“You’ll…you’ll find someone,” Arya said lamely, not sure if it was the right thing to say.
It wasn’t. “Oh—sure I will. When? You stumbled onto a good one your first try. Honestly, I’d be half so lucky if he were—” Sansa cut herself off and Arya heard the clap of her hand over her sister’s mouth. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what came over me. I’m awful.” And she was sobbing again, and Arya pushed Nymeria off her face to sit up and glare at Sansa.
The problem was, and always had been, that it was hard to glare at Sansa when Sansa was so obviously distraught, and she was. Her face was back in the couch cushions again, and her body was trembling with tears and Arya felt a stab of pity, because even though Mycah had…even though he had…she’d still had him, and Sansa had never had anything even remotely close to that.
“You’re not awful,” Arya said glumly. See, Dr. H’ghar?, she thought, I can choose to ignore childhood regression in favor of making things progress. I can be a grown up when Sansa’s at her worst.
“He’s—you’re—it was still awful to say.”
“It was,” Bran said quietly, and Arya twisted around to look at him. He was watching them carefully, his blue eyes practically drinking the scene in. “But saying an awful thing in your worst moments doesn’t make you an awful person, Sansa. One single fault, or a pattern I suppose, doesn’t mean that you are awful. It takes a lot to make an awful person, and…” he glanced at Arya, who knew before he said it what he was going to say. “Just because you and Arya fall into bad habits doesn’t mean that you are a bad person. Especially not when you have the reaction of saying ‘I’m sorry, I don’t mean that’ and Arya takes a deep breath and knows what you mean.” Arya nodded at him and smiled, and he smiled back at her. “Don’t ever shit on your progress, even if it’s not what you think it’s going to be, even if it’s not what you want it to be, even if you aren’t recognizing it in the moment.” His eyes grew distant for a moment, and Arya saw him rub his knee unconsciously, the way he had before his accident when he’d joined the cross country team and his knee kept getting twisted on his long runs.
“How are you so wise?” Sansa asked, her face no longer buried in the cushions. Her skin was sploched with red, and her eyes were still bright with tears.
“He’s always been wise,” Arya shrugged, “But maybe it’s hard to see it when you’re too old for it.”
Sansa laughed wetly and shuddered.
“I really didn’t mean it,” she said to Arya. “I…”
“It’s fine,” Arya said, “I know you didn’t. Besides…” she took a deep breath, “You just being aware of what you say that hurts me is a big step, all right? And I hope one day we’ll be at a point where it never happens. But for now, I’ll take the recognition gladly. And I for one don’t think this is going to be us for the rest of our lives.”
“If the trajectory of growth is any indication,” Bran said lightly, looking back at his kenken, “I’d say you should both be grown out of it by the time you’re thirty.”
“I don’t know if that’s helpful or not,” said Sansa dryly.
Bran smiled at her. “That’s not to say you don’t love each other. Just that you’ll stop being idiots around one another at some point.”
“Robb thought we stopped ages ago,” Sansa muttered.
“Yeah, well, Robb’s not exactly the best at seeing the world around him, is he? He doesn’t see. I do. I know everything. Bow before me.”
“Oh, go back to your logic puzzle,” Arya snapped.
She got up and kissed Sansa on the cheek, then departed the living room. When she was safely back in her room, she slid down the wall and wondered numbly how Sansa could still be beautiful when she cried.
“It’s not fair though!” Robb was saying loudly.
“Fair hardly matters, Robb,” Father intoned. They were all settling down to dinner. Jon had even showered and Rickon looked tired from a day at school. Bran looked even more tired, but Arya suspected that was more because he’d been up all night the night before. She’d heard him talking to someone on the phone, his quiet voice, which ordinarily didn’t carry, slicing right through the midnight-silence of the house as he described his dreams of ravens and flying in great detail to one of his classmates.
“But it should! I mean to say—shouldn’t the institutional framework not be something that completely fucks over—”
“Robb,” Mom said, shooting a pointed glance at Rickon.
“Sorry Mom,” Robb said quickly before continuing, “Shouldn’t the institutional framework not be something that is detrimental to the people it should protect?”
“Aww, Robb—concerned about the people,” teased Theon. “You’ll make a good Warden one day, won’t you?”
“Shut up,” muttered Robb.
“Throwin’ fire, aren’t you there, Robb,” grinned Jon. “Dad won’t know what to do with you if you’re not careful. You’ll become a media darling and everything.”
“If he becomes a media darling, I’ll just submit that photograph of the two of you in the bathtub when you were two. I think that’ll distract them,” shrugged Dad.
Arya laughed. “Can you do that anyway? I think the world should see that photo. I want it carved on my gravestone to be honest.”
Robb glared at Dad, crossing his arms and letting out a plaintive moan.
“Never rise against your father, Robb. He’ll win every time,” advised Theon, who then frowned, “Oh. Boy does that constitute a ‘too real’ kind of moment.” Robb reached over and patted him on the shoulder.
“Your father was all kinds of crooked, though,” Robb said quickly. “I’m not. I’m his eldest son and heir.”
“Exactly. That makes it even more my responsibility to whip you into shape before I snuff it.”
“I suppose to the neglect of the rest of them,” Mom said dryly. “Ned, pass your plate and I’ll serve you.” He did.
It all happened very quickly. Jon’s phone buzzed right as the plate crossed hands and he was typing in the pass code when the plate of chicken reached his hands. He fumbled for a moment, his phone slipping easily out of his hands and onto the ground.
“Ah—shit,” he muttered, but Arya had already bent down to fetch it for him.
Her eyes almost bugged out of her head.
Asha Greyjoy: I am going to undo the your shirt buttons with my teeth, use it to tie your hands behind your back while I then proceed to your jeans, being careful to juuuusst miss your aching cock as I do.
He snatched his phone away from her hands.
“Jon—watch your language.”
“Ahhhh!” was all Jon could say. He had read the text, his face was redder than a ruby and he kicked his chair back from the table and fled the room.
“Jon!” Arya was on her feet sprinting after him, and it didn’t take long for her to catch up.
“What is going on?” she heard Robb call after them.
She tackled Jon as he reached the stairs.
“Ok—ok!” Jon yelped. His phone, she noticed, was now in his jeans. “Ah—fuck.”
“What,” she heard Theon’s voice behind them, and turned. Robb and Theon had followed them out of the dining room and Arya was certain that if Bran’s chair hadn’t been in the way, the rest would have followed too. “Is going on?”
“I—uh—” Jon looked rather like he wanted to die, and suddenly, Arya couldn’t stop laughing.
“What’s so funny?” asked Robb.
“Shut up,” snapped Jon, elbowing her in the ribs, but she just kept laughing and laughing and laughing because it was too funny not to laugh.
“Spit it out, Jon,” said Robb. He looked like he was unsure of how stern he wanted to be.
Jon swallowed, but straightened as much as he could with Arya still on top of him. “I’ve been...texting your sister,” Jon said to Theon, “And Arya saw one.”
“So?” Theon said. “I text my sister all the time.”
“No...like...texting your sister.” If Jon could have melted and slid through the cracks of the floor, he probably would have.
Theon blinked twice. “Oh,” he said slowly. “Oh.” Then he hitched a grin on his face and raised his hand. Jon flinched. “Up top, bro.”
“What?” Jon and Arya said at the same time. Robb, on the other hand, keeled over sideways laughing and slid down the wall of the hallway, positively hooting.
“I mean—she’s pretty hot. And quite out of your league. So up top.”
Jon raised his hand confusedly and gave Theon a high five. “But...no offense, Theon, but if you tried to text either Sansa or Arya, I’d probably punch you in the face and say uncouth things about your mother.”
“Yeah,” shrugged Theon. “And because of that, Asha’s probably my best shot at actually becoming officially unofficially part of your family. So whatever, dude. Also—you try telling my sister who to bang. It wouldn’t end well.”
“No,” Jon agreed, sounding far more confused than ever Arya had heard him, “No. It wouldn’t.”
“Are you lot finished out there? The chicken is getting cold,” called Mom.
“Yes,” Robb called back, finally catching his breath. There were tears of mirth on his face. He jerked his head towards the dining room and they all of them made their way back in.
“Jon,” Theon announced proudly, “is diddling my sister.”
Jon turned right around and left the dining room again as everyone burst out laughing. Arya caught his wrist. “Come on—we all deserve it a little bit. You take yourself too seriously sometimes.”
“Is this the thanks I get for not giving details about your painting gig?” he muttered to her so that only she could hear.
“Trust me—it’ll be worse if you try and avoid it.”
“I don’t think anything could be worse than this,” he said sullenly, slouching in his chair as everyone grinned at him.
“Well, let us get the mocking out of our system now,” said Bran cheerfully. “It’ll get old at some point.”
“Asha,” Theon said, waving his phone in the air, “says hello.” He took a picture of Jon. “She also wanted a picture.”
“This is unbearable,” grunted Jon as everyone laughed.
Gendry: Hey, can you check on me tonight?
Gendry: I’ll explain when you check on me.
She had woken up to the text message and had worried about it all day. She had spent most of the morning trying to distract herself. She had gone on a run—even though she hated running—throwing a ball ahead of her for Nymeria to bring back. She had gone to the movies with Sansa and Jeyne—some sort of romantic comedy with a very blond lead who had eyes like amethysts and who Sansa and Jeyne were in pieces over. She had played video games with Bran and Rickon, made coffee for Jon, and had even listened in on her father’s conversations with Robb about governing and political theory. But all through dinner, all she could think about were the little black letters on the screen of her phone. can you check on me tonight?
What time was “tonight”? Did he mean now, as she helped her mother clean dishes and chattered about Shireen’s increasingly frequent nights in the Zoo? Or did he mean tonight at closer to midnight, when he might be bartending and need some sort of out. Her stomach plummeted. What if he was on a date with someone. She knew Hot Pie sometimes wanted Lommy to call him if he was nervous about a first date—just as an out if it was going badly. Was she going to be Gendry’s out?
She texted him at nine o’clock.
Me: Hey—do you want me to call, or?
He did not reply right away, and she joined her family for a viewing of Murder Most Fowl, one of perhaps the dumbest movies ever filmed and the one which, naturally, they all had memorized. Even Theon and Jeyne, who had stuck around for dinner, had seen it at least ten times apiece and were chanting along with Robert Clucker as he sought out the mother of his eggs.
Gendry: Yeah. Please.
Arya slipped out of the room and called him. He picked up on the first ring.
“Hullo,” he said.
She had meant to say “Hello” or “What’s going on?” but normal conversational practices seemed rather pointless when she heard his voice. “You sound sad.”
“Yeah. A bit.” He laughed shakily and she climbed the stairs two at a time. “It’s...It’s always rough around this time of year. Can I….can I just talk at you for a little while?”
“Of course,” she said. She flopped herself down on her bed, staring up at the ceiling. A moment later, she heard Nymeria push her bedroom door open and the dog climbed up next to her and lay her head on Arya’s stomach.
“Right, so my mom died when I was twelve,” Gendry said. “Which makes today...fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. She died twelve years ago. That’s half my fucking life. Shit.” His breath was wavering in her ear, and she knew he was crying. She didn’t know what to say—not even close. So she just lay there, the phone pressed against her ear, her hand running up and down Nymeria’s head. It took Gendry nearly a minute to start talking again. “Yeah. So. She died. And she was all I had. And I told you about the foster homes and everything.”
“Uh huh,” Arya said in barely more than a whisper.
“Ok. Yeah. So—they were ok. Fine, I guess. I was never really at any one of them for too long. I just...kept getting moved around. I don’t know. No one wanted me or something. And—” he took a deep breath—it was steadier than any of his breathing had been before then, which she hoped was a good sign. “Ahh—I don’t know where to start. I—yeah. It’s—yeah. Ok. Ok. So...when I was sixteen, I was staying with some guy. Thoros. His name was Thoros.” Arya felt her stomach drop. “And he drank a lot. Like a lot. Like a bottle of whiskey every day kind of a lot. And when I asked him if I could try he let me. And...and it got bad. I was drunk all the time. I was out of control. I fought people. I vandalized. I,” he let out a laugh that sounded like it should have been the giggle of a school boy but sounded more like a whining dog, “I spray painted penises onto storefronts in Flea Bottom. And fine—I wasn’t with Thoros for forever. I was barely there for a month, but shit didn’t get better so I drank and drank and—”
“Gendry—” Arya said, panicking slightly. “Are you drunk now?”
“What? No. No—I’m not. I haven’t drunk since I started college. I get non-alcoholic beers and shit when I’m out with friends.”
“Oh. I didn’t know that.”
“Yeah. When I got in...I knew I couldn’t fuck it up. Especially since I was older than everyone else in my class. So yeah. I quit.” He sounded as proud of himself as he could while still sounding utterly miserable. “That’s why I wanted you to check on me though. I—I—”
“She died. And it doesn’t go away,” Arya murmured. “And you wanted me to make sure you stayed sober.”
“Yes.” He started crying again, and Arya wished more than she’d wished all break that she hadn’t come home. She wished she were there with him, curled up on his bed next to him, with his head in her lap instead of Nymeria’s so she could hold him while he cried and let him know that he wasn’t alone—he wasn’t because that was what he told her when she was miserable or overwhelmed and so it had to be true for him, because being “not alone” isn’t something only one of two can do.
“What was her name?” Arya asked. “Your mom?” She knew it was a personal question—perhaps the most personal question she’d asked him. No—definitely the most personal question she had asked him, because asking him what he liked about painting was nothing close to asking him about the mother he never spoke about unless he had too.
“Joan,” he said. “Her name was Joan Smith. And she was tall and blonde and made the best cinnamon cookies I’ve ever tasted. And she used to hum while she did the crossword puzzle.”
“What did she do?”
“She was a waitress. She had me before she finished college and dropped out. But she said she never regretted it. She—” he was breathing deeply. “She said I was the best thing to happen to her. And sometimes I’m scared that I was the worst.”
“You weren’t,” Arya said vehemently, thinking of her own mother. Mom always said that there was nothing in the world quite like motherhood, and you aren’t expecting it to be so perfect, or so good, but it is, and nothing on earth is like making sure your children are happy and healthy. “I know you weren’t. You couldn’t possibly be the worst thing in anyone’s life.”
“Yeah I could,” he muttered.
“No. You couldn’t. You really couldn’t. I promise. I’d tell you if you were a waste of space. I do that a lot.”
She heard the sound of his shaky breath and thought he might be laughing.
“Well, so long as you don’t think I’m a waste of space, I think I’m ok then,” he said dryly.
“I’m very good at knowing those sorts of things,” Arya said. “I wouldn’t call myself a connoisseur, but I’m kind of a connoisseur.”
“I can’t quite believe you’re real sometimes.”
“And yet here I am, talking to you.”
“And yet here you are.” And she could hear it in his voice—a mixture of awe and disbelief and more than anything, she wanted to be there with him.
She dreamed he was painting her. They weren’t in his studio, though—she was lying on the ground in the quad of West Campus, completely naked, and he wasn’t painting a canvas of her—she was the canvas. He was painting with watercolor onto her skin and she’d never felt anything quite like the feeling of his brush circling her belly button to rise up to the skin under her breast to outline the tip of her nipple.
She smiled and stretched, arching her back into the brush.
“Don’t move,” he muttered.
“You sound grouchy,” she teased.
“You’ll ruin it. I need to get you perfect. Otherwise you won’t be beautiful and my art is always beautiful”
“Fine,” she said, lowering her back so that it was flat against the grass again. “You’re no fun.”
“No fun?” he said. “I’ll show you no fun.” And the brush continued, painting a straight line between her breasts, down through the loops that skirted her belly button down until it was lost in the hair above her cunt and—
She hissed. “That can’t be sanitary.”
“What’s fun is often not,” he said and he shifted her hips so that her legs fell open. Her breath hitched. The touch of the brush was so light—too light—and she wanted to move, wanted it not to be his brush, but his hands, his mouth, his cock—anything would be more substantial than the feathery touch of the brush bristles.
“Gendry,” she hissed.
She didn’t have to say more than that. The brush was gone, replaced by his hands and his lips dropped to hers as he rubbed and she knew she didn’t have to stay still anymore because his chest was pressed against hers and he was ruining the painting with his white t-shirt anyway and she won’t be beautiful but oh—he can’t be ruining it, because how can his hands ruin anything? His hands make—they create—they—
She woke with her phone pressed under her cheek, the sound of Gendry snoring coming faintly through her skin. She blinked twice, feeling the heat rise to her face, and pressed the red button to end the call. Then, she slipped her fingers down between her legs, closed her eyes, and pretended they were Gendry’s.
She was back in his studio a week later, a foot above her head in a standing split and staring him full in the face and completely unable to explain why she was blushing.
“It’s because you actually watched the Kingsguard gangbang I sent you, isn’t it?” Gendry asked idly as he painted.
She didn’t reply—she only pursed her lips feeling the blush spread across her cheeks.
“Oh come on—usually you do nothing but give me lip. Now you won’t even give me a hint?”
But she couldn’t—because if she said anything at all she’d fall over and not be able to get up—either from laughing or mortification. Bad enough that she had to stare at his hands and that fucking paintbrush for three hours.
He had such nice hands, large and long fingered and oh gods why was she letting herself notice this? Because his fingers were much larger than her own had been, and she was sure that he could slip two inside her and it would be as substantial as the three she’d used and no—no—she was not thinking about this here, not while she was standing on one leg and gods if she turned herself on he would smell it because her cunt was just open and then what would happen. She’d either have to have sex with him here and now, or she’d never be able to pose for him again. There was no in between. Because posing…posing for Gendry wasn’t about sex. Posing for Gendry was about art, and even if she had pushed him up against the door to his studio before they’d gone in and kissed them both breathless, that wasn’t for when she was posing, that wasn’t for when she was standing here and even if she’d had a fucking erotic dream about it…
“You can’t do that. Spit it out. What is it?”
If she told him, he’d get that self-satisfied, arrogant grin on his face and that alone was enough to make her smirk at him. There—let him paint her smirking at him, withholding information, let him “spend too much time on her face”, if he actually did that, while she was doing her best not to think about his hands and his paintbrush and oh gods, this was the worst because she’d gone and noticed his hands again.
“You look nice,” Arya said, looking up from her paper as Shireen hurried past later that night.
“Thanks,” she smiled. “I’m also running late. Dev’s picking me up in five minutes.”
“Where are you going?” Arya asked.
“He’s on spring break, so he’s taking me dancing downtown. It’s our anniversary on Wednesday, but he needs to be back in Storm’s End by then.”
“How many years have you been married then?” Arya teased.
“Shut up,” Shireen snapped, rolling her eyes. “Four.” Her eyes widened slightly. “I—I—I almost find that hard to believe.”
“It’s a long time,” Arya agreed. “For anyone. Hell, I don’t think Robb’s had a girlfriend that long, and he’s a serial monogamist.”
Shireen was frowning. “It’s…” she stopped and raised her hand almost subconsciously to the scars on her cheek, brushing her fingers over the hardened skin for only a second before realizing what he was doing and ran them through her hair, shook herself, and pulled her smile on her face. “It’s different. Anyway—I’m off.”
“Have sex in a bathroom at least,” Arya called.
“Oh, of course,” Shireen replied over her shoulder.
She hadn't expected to hear anything from either of them that night, but an hour later, her phone buzzed and a text flashed across the screen.
Devan: Hey. Can you be out this Friday? I’m driving up to surprise her again and yeah. Thanks.
Arya smiled. She really liked Dev.
Me: Sure thing.
“Sometimes I wonder why I even bothered signing up for this class,” sighed Lommy. “It hurts a lot.”
“Hurts?” Arya asked. They were walking down Bramble Way towards the library, where they would meet up with Hot Pie and pretend to do work while really just sitting staring at their computer screens doing other things.
“Yeah. Hurts. You know—legs.” Lommy kicked out, wincing as he did. “Muscles and stuff. You know?”
“I guess.” Arya didn’t really know, but there was no point in saying that. Lommy hadn’t been dancing long, and Arya had. Arya, if anything, found standing still for hours on end while Gendry painted her harder than pushing her body to move and twist and leap in Sandor Clegane’s class. He was certainly no more intense than Syrio had been, even if their styles were about as different as a frog was from Meereen.
“On the other hand,” he muttered, “It meant I got to get to know you and Hot Pie, so that’s good. And if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be modeling in your sister’s show.” He grinned down at her. Why was everyone taller than her? Why couldn’t she be taller? Why couldn’t she be willowy like Sansa, with a perfect complexion and lovely red hair that always got people’s attention. Arya never caught anyone’s eye—except when she was dancing. But that didn’t count. That wasn’t the same.
“You having fun doing that?” she asked him.
“Oh yeah,” and he dove off into an explanation of it, the other models, how Sansa said he had the perfect posture for modeling, and how she’d put him in a green shirt that she said he could keep once the show was done. Arya only half-listened, though. Suddenly, the world seemed a little greyer, and she wished bitterly she hadn’t brought up the show to Lommy at all.
Maybe it was that bitterness that caused it—she couldn’t be sure. Maybe it was always there in her, and always would be, waiting for a down moment to strike her once again.
She dreamed of Mycah again that night, for the first time in ages. They were walking around the godswood in Winterfell, and he was telling her a story she couldn’t remember ever having heard before. He was smiling, and laughing, and she was smiling, and laughing and they were smiling and laughing together and when he drew her into his arms and kissed the top of her head and whispered “Never leave me, Arya” she had to say “Of course not—I never would’ and when he said “Good I was scared,” she had to say “Don’t be. I’ll love you forever” and he’d called her his beautiful Arya and kissed her full on the lips and she’d missed him—oh she’d missed him missed him missed him because nothing was the same as Mycah, nothing in this world would be as good as Mycah telling her he loved her and that she was beautiful and that there was no one else he could ever love half so much, even if she didn’t really believe him.
And when she woke, she woke in tears, biting into her pillow because he was dead, because he was gone, because he would never call her his beautiful Arya again, because she was going on and laughing with Shireen about Targaryen penis imagery and Gendry about the Citadel porn he’d found and sent to her, and Lommy and Hot Pie about Sandor Clegane’s teaching style and Jon and Sansa and Robb and Theon and all the rest and forgetting about him and how he alone of everyone in the world thought she was beautiful. How could she forget about him? How could she leave Mycah behind?
She was numb for most of her classes the next day, marking her way through Clegane’s choreography while he barked out criticism. “Your jumps are sloppy again,” he called at her over the wailing guitar solo. “Also, what the fuck kind of plié is that?” She didn’t care though. She didn’t care at all, because jumping was what had gotten Mycah killed, wasn’t it? Jumping for Sandor fucking Clegane’s recital had gotten him killed because he hadn’t angled himself properly and—
She remembered blood, she remembered the crunch of bone, she remembered panic and fear and the sting of adrenaline in her mouth. And when she jumped—a little higher this time, a sour expression on her face, she knew he would know what she was thinking about. She glared at him, with as much force as she could because she hated him—hated him for Mycah and hated him worse for still being here, teaching that class, making her feel like she had to take it to prove—to prove what exactly? If Lommy wondered why he was in this class, why the hell did she feel like she had to be in it. So she glared at him—at everyone, knowing that the expression fit the dance altogether too well.
After class, she took longer than the rest to strip off her legwarmers. When Hot Pie and Lommy asked her if she wanted to go and get ice cream—it was finally nice enough for ice cream, they had decided—she shook her head, lying and saying she had to go and walk Ghost for Jon, who was holed up in the library until his thesis was handed in on Friday. She put on her sneakers, watching her hands shake as she tied the laces, doing her best to ignore the fact that she was alone in the room with Sandor Clegane.
“You’re mad at me, then. Remembered your boyfriend and you’re mad at me.”
His words hung in the air and she looked up, glaring at him. She bit her lip though, because whatever she said would confirm it for him, and she didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of that.
“Why do you think I yell at you when you dance sloppily?” he demanded.
“You’re a gruff bastard,” she said.
She didn’t reply and her silence goaded him.
“You’re a good dancer, Arya. Too good. He was good too. Too good. If you get cocky, shit happens and you hurt yourself.”
“So you’re trying to keep me grounded?” she could have laughed. She could have cried. “That fucking helps, doesn’t it?”
“What will then?” he demanded. “What will? Pull your little princess head out of your little princess ass and acknowledge the fact that it’s not your fault he’s dead—it’s not even mine. He did that jump a hundred times before we got on stage. He fucked up that night and he got dead.”
“You’re just telling yourself that because it makes you feel better—” she snapped.
“So? What else is there to do?” He hit himself, hard across the chest, making a hollow fleshy thumping sound that made Arya start. “Should I beat myself bloody? What good’ll that do? He’s dead. He’s dead and we’re alive and we have to live with the fact he’s dead.”
Arya didn’t say anything. She got to her feet, glowering at him, and pulled her shoulder bag on.
“I’ve told you before,” he repeated, “and if I haven’t I’m telling you now—no other student is ever going to die in my class. You’ll be late and your brother’s dog is going to piss all over his bloody house.” His voice sounded suddenly empty. And Arya fled.
He had her leaping today. Running back and forth and leaping, one arm raised above her head, the other curled around her abdomen. After every ten leaps, she paused to take a drink of water, and watched him frowning as he corrected something on his canvas. He was more silent than usual today.
“Why are you frowning like that?” she asked.
“Frowning like what?” he replied.
“Like you don’t know how to add.”
“It’s just challenging. My advisor suggested it.”
She rounded the room again and leapt again.
“Why are you frowning like that?” he asked as she reached the peak of the leap.
“I...I had a dream.”
She wished it were a different conversation, suddenly. She wished he were asking her why she was being quiet again, when the only thing she could think about was the dream she’d had after he had called her, and how when she’d pretended her hands were his, she’d come harder than she ever had in her life, flame shooting through every vein and nerve in her body. But that dream was a dream from a different week, a different time, a different Arya, and now all she could think of was Mycah and the way he had kissed her in the godswood, even though he had never been to Winterfell, and how she was frowning because she wanted to keep from crying somehow.
“A bad one I take it then?”
If it had been Jon, it would have been “What was it about?” Sansa would have cooed concernedly, and Mom or Dad would have insisted that she call Dr. H’ghar because dreams always signified something. She knew what this dream signified, she was pretty sure.
“Yeah. A little rough. Mycah.”
She didn’t need to say more. Gendry was standing up, and crossing the floor and he wrapped her up in his arms and oh—he was so warm and he just hugged her tightly to him and maybe it was that he was sturdy against her, or that she could smell the scent of his coconut soap through his t-shirt as she cried but suddenly, she felt almost better. His hands, she noticed suddenly, were in safe places—one between her shoulder blades, the other on his own elbow.
“I've got news, though mine’s not so bad,” he said when she calmed down slightly, his arms still around her.
“Yeah?” she asked. She wanted to laugh, but she wasn’t sure she could.
“Well—it’s kind of sucky. But I don’t think it has to be.”
“What is it?” Her voice was dull, even to her own ears.
“I think this is the last painting,” he said. Arya’s heart almost stopped beating, but he continued speaking and so it reserved judgment. “I need to put final touches and they go before critique next week. And then there’s the show the week after. So yeah. I think this is it. Timingwise. But I figure we’ll find other excuses to spend time together, so that’ll be fine.”
“Yeah,” she said, proud at the way she kept the sadness out of her voice. “At the very least—you and I need to watch Not-So-Silent Sisters VI.”
“How on earth would they get up to six movies worth?” Gendry snorted.
“I know.” She grinned into his t-shirt, and marveled that warmth seemed to be spreading through her again. “Although, to be fair, you own at least one so you could probably tell me.” She elbowed him.
He ignored her. “Friday night? I swapped shifts at Renly’s Ghost so Tam could celebrate her birthday on Saturday.” He released her in a way that she thought might be reluctant and turned back to the easel.
“Yeah—That’s actually perfect. Shireen and Dev need the common room.”
“Need the common room?” Gendry asked.
Arya laughed. “Well. Shireen has a public sex kink, but is much too cowardly to actually go for it in a real public place. So she periodically kicks me out of the common room when Dev’s around so that they can pretend it’s a public space.”
“Nice,” Gendry snorted.
“They almost had sex in the computer lab once. But then she chickened out. Little lamb,” Arya sighed. She bent down and stretched, then looked over at Gendry, cocking her head.
She ran and a moment later, she was sailing through the air.
Devan: hey, i’m outside—can you let me in? i don’t want to text her.
Arya grabbed her ID her phone, and jammed them into her pocket. She left the common room unlocked, knowing Devan would lock up behind him on the way in and made her way down the hallway and down the stairs. She passed him with a wink and a grin.
“Thanks for everything,” he muttered. He was carrying a bouquet of yellow daisies and a bottle of wine.
“Yep. Sure thing,” she called over her shoulder. “She’s in the shower too, if you want to get creative with how you surprise her.” Dev saluted her and went inside.
Within fifteen minutes, Arya was in front of a small apartment building behind the Physics lab. It was a little bit grubby, and when she pressed the intercom button, Gendry’s “Hello?” was filled with a rather disconcerting amount of static.
“Hey, it’s—” but before she’d even said her name she heard the buzzer go off, and she pushed open the door, grinning.
She’d never been to Gendry’s apartment before. She knew he lived here by himself, because university housing was more expensive than he could afford and he was older than most of his peers. The apartment itself was small and clean, considering that the building itself smelled of smoke and she could feel dirt under her feet, even though she was wearing sneakers. There were only two rooms, with a narrow hallway down the length—a kitchen and dining area just in front of the main door of the apartment, and the bedroom down the narrow hallway.
“Ok,” Gendry said, his tone business-like as he led her inside. “So, we have three options. Not-So-Silent Sisters VI, Summer Island Stay, or Ball Watchers.”
“And you downloaded all of them, did you?”
Gendry grinned at her. “I had to do my service, didn’t I? What else would you expect? Streaming? That would just be uncomfortable. What if it needed to buffer mid-cum-shot?”
“Please tell me that Ball Watchers is a porny parody of Wall Watchers.” Gendry’s grin widened. “That one. We’re watching that one.”
Gendry mock bowed her through the door to his bedroom and she tucked her knees against her chest as Gendry opened the file on his laptop and set it on the bed between them.
“You are now all men of the Night’s Watch,” began a really beefy looking fellow. “And I don’t know where you think you’ve come to—but we have a special initiation up here.”
“Oh my god,” Arya muttered.
“I know,” Gendry said.
“You’ve watched this?”
“I started it to make sure it was worth the time,” he said noncommittally.
It was almost unbearable. Not least because it was really crappy quality porn—but because Arya was sitting next to Gendry and all she could think about—the entire time was how they were sitting without touching, how there was five inches between them and they were refusing to look at one another, focusing instead on the new “recruits” kneeling in front of the Lord Commander and taking turns sucking his cock, because if they looked at one-another….
She’d never been in Gendry’s apartment before, and now she was sitting next to him on his bed, watching porn, and really wanting nothing more than too—fuck it.
He didn’t seem to mind at all when she broke the distance between them—didn’t seem to mind at all that she climbed onto his lap, straddling his waist and kissed him as firmly as she did. He reached over and slammed shut the laptop, then brought his hands to her hips, holding her firmly in place. It was strange—different. Mycah had always reached up to grab the sides of her cheeks, running fingers over her jaw line because he’d always wanted to touch her face, hold it, show her that he loved her despite how long and horsey it was, but Gendry…his hands on her hips felt good, sturdy, supportive, like when Lommy raised her up in their duet in Clegane’s class, and it was different, but she liked it. He didn’t have to love her face. She didn’t expect him to. Only Mycah ever had.
Gendry’s breath was coming in short gulps between kisses, his tongue slipping into Arya’s mouth as she ran her hands up and down his arms, feeling his skin hot beneath her touch, his biceps bulging, and yes—this was what all of those t-shirts had promised, the feel of these muscles beneath her fingers. She'd felt them before, of course, but it was different now, somehow. Her fingers trailed up to his neck, and she slid them into his coarse dark hair, tracing circles into his scalp that mimicked the way his tongue was now tracing circles against hers. And then his lips were gone from hers, her mouth still open from his tongue as he began to kiss his way down her neck, across her collarbones, then back up her neck, leaving fire in the wake of his lips.
Arya let out a moan and felt her hips begin to move in his hands and he kissed her harder, sucking on her neck in a way that she just knew would leave a bruise, and she smiled to herself because she wanted it there—wanted him to be able to see the color he’d brought to her skin—wanted the world to see what Gendry had left for her the way that it could when Mycah had sucked hickies into her skin, even if he’d always felt guilty about leaving them there, even though she’d always loved them. She moaned again, and he sucked harder, and she ground her hips against his, feeling wet warmth between her legs and the distinctive bulge of his cock rubbing up against her. She reached down, and cupped it through his jeans and his lips released her neck and he let out a groan of, “Fuck—Arya.”
She grinned down at him, noticing just how blown his pupils were in his blue eyes, how red his lips and cheeks were. His eyes flickered between each of hers and their mouths crashed together again, Arya rubbing his cock through his jeans, Gendry releasing her hips and reaching up to cup her breasts and Arya whimpered at the touch. She felt his lips curve into a smile against hers and then his hands were gone and it felt so strange that his hands had gone that she made a whining sound—a brief one, because he was tugging her shirt up and up until it was over her head and thrown across the room and he was staring at her as if he’d never seen her before, even though he’d seen her in less than a bra and pants before, staring at her as if he could never stare at anything else ever again in his life, drinking her in, absorbing her as she sat there, astride him.
“Gods,” he whispered, almost awed, “you’re beautiful.”
All at once she was cold, her heart now beating an entirely different rhythm against her chest—why was she panicking, why was she—no—no he—no. She wasn’t beautiful—she never had been. She was a beautiful dancer, an artist, but not lovely and perfect like Sansa, she was short little Arya Horseface and—no. No—she—she—only Mycah thought she was beautiful.
She had done her best to climb off him, even though her legs still slightly tangled around his, reaching for her t-shirt, and she fell off the bed.
“Arya—what’s going on—what did I—?” but she was crying now, not silent tears, but great sobs that sounded like she was choking on her own misery, filling the room with such a horrifying sound that if they weren’t coming from her, she would never have been able to guess that they were human noises.
“Arya?” Gendry was scrambling after her now, as she found her t-shirt and tugged it over her head, running out of his bedroom and towards the door to his apartment still barefoot. She yanked it open and slammed it shut behind her and she heard a shout of pain but didn’t stop couldn’t stop couldn’t even look behind her as she ran down the stairs.
She was four blocks away before she tried calling Sansa because she realized wildly that Sansa lived near here, but her sister didn’t pick up, and, if anything, Sansa’s voicemail greeting of “Hello, you’ve reached Sansa Stark, I can’t come to the—” made Arya even more upset and she ended the call before her sister had even told her to leave a message at the beep. She kept running, because the cool twilight air in her throat was calming somehow, even if nothing would ever be all right. It was certainly calming enough to make her realize that she couldn’t go back to her dorm—Dev and Shireen were probably—she thought of Gendry and the way he’d stared at her, his blue eyes so wide and—she would go to Jon. Jon would let her sleep on his couch. He always did. He always was there for her.
But when she reached Jon’s house, no one answered the door, no matter how hard she knocked. And when she went round to the back, she saw Jon, shirtless, tied to his bed as someone with short dark hair—presumably Asha Greyjoy—licked her way down his chest, and Arya started crying again, because why was everyone else so happy and active and in love and she was so thoroughly miserable? She stumbled back to Jon’s porch and sat down, not knowing where else to go.
Sansa: On a date. What’s up?
I’m fucking no one. I’m fucking worthless nothing bullshit, Arya wanted to respond. But she couldn’t bring herself to. She couldn’t ruin the evening for Sansa.
So she sat there on Jon’s porch, crying quietly to herself.
“Arya?” She jerked awake, feeling a twinge in the muscles of her neck. Where was she? How had she—?
Gilly was crouched in front of her, brown eyes gentle. “Did you get locked out? Here, I’ll let you in.”
Sam was behind Gilly, looking concerned. “How long have you been out here? You—you didn’t get mugged or anything did you?”
Arya just shook her head as everything came crushing back. She just shook her head, and slowly got to her feet. “I should get back.” Her voice sounded dead.
“Do you want a ride at least?” Sam asked, reaching for his pocket and his car keys.
She just shook her head and walked away, still barefoot, her legs moving quite of their own accord.
Arya spent most of the rest of the weekend in her bed, staring up at the ceiling, trying to think about nothing. Because she was done—she was just so very done. Done with everything, because everything she tried ended up terribly. She ignored phone calls from Gendry (seven of them in total, over the course of Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday), she ignored texts from Jon, and emails from her parents. She ignored the sounds of Shireen’s headboard banging against the wall, she ignored the rumbles in her belly, and most of all she ignored the fact that sometimes her face was wet with tears.
On Monday, she dragged herself to class, unwashed and uncaring, wrapping a scarf around her neck even though it was warm outside because she couldn’t fucking bear it if someone saw those damn hickies he’d given her. She didn’t even bother making fun of the ridiculous metaphors in her poetry class, and danced as sloppily as she ever had in Lannister’s class.
It was odd to her—that she felt so very worthless. That everything she’d put value in for all of her life seemed somehow meaningless because of that one fact: she wasn’t beautiful. She knew that about herself—knew it for longer than she’d known nearly everything. Sansa was the pretty one, and Arya was the everything-else-one. People weren’t allowed to think of her as beautiful. She did beautiful things. She wasn’t beautiful. There was a distinction. One that only Mycah hadn’t seen. If she was beautiful—if Gendry—but no. She wasn’t thinking about it anymore—not him, not any of it. Because she was done. She was just so done.
Gendry stopped trying to call her on Tuesday. It made her sad, and angry, and something else she couldn’t put words to.
Jon showed up at her door on Wednesdsay, a dour expression on his face.
“What’s going on with you?” he demanded.
“How’d you get in? You can’t get into undergrad dorms,” Arya said blankly.
“Shireen let me in. She also said you’re a mess. What’s going on?”
“Leave it,” she muttered.
“I will not leave it,” snapped Jon. “Now spit it out.”
But her refusal to explain seemed to make Jon understand, rather than keeping him in the dark. Jon went pale, his lips tightening in an angry frown. “Did he hurt you?” His voice was darker than Arya had ever heard it.
“No,” Arya said quickly. “He just kind of...I don’t know. Found a wound I didn’t know was there.”
“Do I need to go beat him up?” Jon asked.
“No,” Arya smiled wryly. “No—you don’t. Besides, he’d flatten you. He’s like twice your size.”
“Oh. Thanks,” snapped Jon. Then he sighed, throwing himself down on the couch next to Arya. “You need to shower,” he said, wrinkling his nose.
“Sansa’s show’s tonight. You are coming.”
“Oh,” Arya said mechanically. “Right.” She had forgotten, and felt a little bit ashamed of herself. Sansa had been so excited, and had brought it up at every possible opportunity. Just one more thing to make her feel like shit, she supposed.
She got up, and went into her bedroom to find her towel.
Twenty minutes later, she and Jon were crossing Bronn’s Bridge towards the club that Sansa’s runway show would be featured in. They didn’t say anything to one another. Arya didn’t want to say anything, and every time Jon asked, she just grunted at him, so he gave her up for a black cloud of doom and settled into his own thoughts.
“Hello!” Sansa squealed coming over and giving each of them a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you for coming! I’m so glad you’re here.” She looked between the pair of them, her expression losing some of its brightness for half a second. “What’s going on?” she asked.
“Arya’s in a mood,” Jon said.
Arya was about to retort that she wasn’t in a mood, and that Jon could go screw himself if he liked but she realized that would only prove his point and just shrugged.
“We’ll talk after the show,” Sansa said, her brows knitting together. “I have to talk to people now.” She reached over and squeezed Arya’s hand, and then she hurried off, leaving Jon and Arya to find seats in the crowd. As they did, Arya found that she was very glad that she’d showered—she was already completely out of sorts in her ratty t-shirt and her leggings.
Shireen: Where’d you go?
Me: Out to Sansa’s show with Jon. Back shortly.
Shireen: Good. Glad you got out.
“Hi everyone,” Sansa was standing on the stage speaking into a microphone, looking perfect as the spotlights shone down on her, making her hair look redder, her skin paler, her smile wider. “I’m so glad you’re all here. I’m Sansa Stark, and this is my senior project.
“I’ve been working for the past year on a clothing line made entirely out of recycled cloth—pieces that got cut away from other projects, or which were ripped and somehow unusable, the idea being that we can really use every thing and not let anything go to waste. That we can turn even the tiniest, most unwanted pieces into something beautiful.” Everyone clapped, and Arya felt her stomach twist.
“So, it’ll be a short show—there are forty different outfits,” there was a gasp, and Arya had no idea if this was a lot or if it was a little. She knew nothing about fashion. “And there’s an after party for those interested at the Crown and Candle up on Visenya’s Hill.”
Someone called out something that Arya didn’t quite catch, and the room laughed. Sansa curtsied, smiling in the general direction of the heckler and then said, “Without further ado—My line!”
She stepped off the runway and went to sit down right as a rather awful strain of clubbish pop music came up. Arya frowned. Clearly she’d been in Sandor Clegane’s class too long, but this was nowhere near as good as the Tears of Lys.
How funny it was—watching as every model came forward, thin and tall and graceful. Arya could see Sansa in every line of cloth—delicately sewn together to make something that was somehow both edgy and delicate. Only Sansa would have been able to put that on. Arya let out a whoop when Lommy came out in his green shirt and she saw him work to hide a smile.
The show was indeed short—over much more quickly than Arya would have thought, given how much Sansa had talked about it. But, then again, she supposed that dance recitals were usually shorter than everyone expected too. Maybe that was what made art so nice. It was transient.
It was something that Gendry would have said and she blinked furiously to keep the prickle in her eyes only a prickle and she applauded as loudly as the rest when the models came out, and when Sansa took the stage again, she put her thumb and pointer finger in her mouth and whistled, not sure if she was trying to prove to herself or to Jon or to Sansa that things were fine, and would be fine.
She and Jon hung around for a full twenty minutes, waiting for Sansa’s friends to depart for the bar on Visenya’s hill. Sansa was alight with excitement, and Arya felt bitterness knot in her stomach like it hadn’t since she was thirteen and she wanted to leave, but she knew she couldn’t—not when Sansa hadn’t actually done anything except be Sansa. So she just waited with Jon.
“Hello,” Sansa said at last, coming over to them, smiling.
“That was a great show,” Jon said, kissing her cheek. She flushed.
“Thanks! I’m so relieved it went well. Gods, I was doing so much last minute re-fits I thought I would scream.” She turned to Arya, expectantly.
“It was great. I was glad Lommy was there.”
“Lommy’s a darling. A complete darling,” agreed Sansa. Arya avoided her eyes, glancing down at her own hands, clutched in front of her.
“Could you give us a moment?” Sansa asked Jon.
“Sure,” Jon said. “I’ll be outside.” He left, pulling out his cell phone as he did.
“What did he do?” Sansa asked.
“Jon. Why are you mad at Jon?”
“I’m not mad at Jon,” said Arya, confused.
“You haven’t said two words to him all night.”
“It’s not Jon,” Arya repeated.
“So? What is it then?”
“It’s nothing, Sansa. Really.”
“If it were nothing, I would believe you. But you and I lie the same way, you know, so I know how to spot it.”
“We don’t lie the same way,” Arya muttered, chewing her lip. “You and I aren’t alike. Not at all. You’re perfect and beautiful and I’m a mess.”
Sansa sighed and reached out a hand for Arya’s. Sansa’s hand was as small as her own, for all she was taller, and Arya was surprised to feel calluses there—from her sewing she assumed. “Darling—you’re no more of a mess than I am, or have you forgotten me sobbing on the couch during spring break.” Arya had, but she wasn’t going to admit to that, not now. She wasn’t going to admit to anything now. “We’re just messes in different ways. Which is probably a good thing, because too much of the same thing gets boring after a while.”
Arya stared at her, wide-eyed. “You’re not—”
“I’ve been fucked up since Joff and I broke up. I’ve had a stream of shitty boyfriends who treat me like dirt and make me feel like I’m worthless even when I’m not. I don’t think you and I have the same issues, but anyone who doesn’t admit to their issues is in flat denial, or repressing beyond their wildest dreams—neither of which is particularly good. So I would say that you saying you’re a mess is a good step in the right direction towards no longer being a mess. And, furthermore, if you weren’t in this state of mind, I think you’d agree with me.”
Sansa had released her hand at some point during that little speech, and both her hands were now resting on her hips. Arya suddenly wanted to laugh because she looked so much like Mom.
“I’ll never be as pretty as you,” she sighed, wishing it sounded more like joke and less wistful.
“Whose definition are you using?” Sansa said gently, sounding like Bran. “Look, even if I tell you I think you’re beautiful, you’re not going to believe me, are you?” She sighed. “That’s always been the problem.” Arya wondered if she remembered calling her Arya Horseface with Jeyne. Maybe it hadn’t even registered with Sansa. For all she knew, it hadn’t.
“Yeah,” Arya said numbly, “It has. And if I were to tell you I think you’re an unbelievably important person…”
“I’d probably want to curl up into a ball and cry tears of misery,” said Sansa. “I can’t make you believe you’re beautiful. But you also can’t think that others see you the way you see yourself. And distance helps. Somewhat. For figuring out where the hurt really is and making the hurt hurt less.”
Arya looked away, blinking back tears. They were the only ones in the room now.
“I think I fucked things up with Gendry,” she sighed. He probably hated her. He hated being shut out—abandoned and oh fuck, she’d done that to him, hadn’t she? She’d run out on him, right when he’d let her into his—and that was the one thing he hated most, that made his jaw go all tight and angry and—
“I barely know Gendry,” Sansa said, “but if he doesn’t let you try and make amends, he’s not worth your time.”
“He is,” Arya mumbled sadly.
“Then he’ll let you make amends. I’m not giving an inch on this front,” Sansa said stubbornly. “No man who makes you feel like shit is worth your time—even if you think the world of him.” Arya heard anger there—no, not anger—rage. Rage as only Sansa could rage—rage so deep, so clouded that it sounded almost benign. Sansa sighed. “Does he think you’re beautiful? Is that where all this is coming from?” Arya nodded. “And do you mind that he thinks you’re beautiful?”
Gendry’s face flooded her mind—the way it had been when she’d been straddling him, awe and adoration and wanting in every line. Who wouldn’t want to be stared at like that? Was that what it looked like, when people thought she was beautiful? Was that how Mycah had seen her? She couldn't remember.
“I—I—” She didn’t know. She didn’t know—she didn’t want to know, but she knew—oh, she knew.
“You know you can talk to me about things, right?” Jon said testily as they crossed Bronn’s Bridge and headed back to campus.
“Yeah, I know. You’re always my first call,” Arya said.
“So—whatever happened back there,” he waved north. “With Sansa—that was…”
“It needed to come from Sansa I think,” Arya said, "This particular brand of....yeah. It needed to come from her." Her voice was calm—flat and her mind was calm too. She almost felt normal for the first time since she’d stumbled out of Gendry’s apartment.
No, not quite normal. She felt nervous. She was suddenly terrified of what she had done to Gendry. Had she hurt him? Had she fucked up even worse than she’d thought at first?
“Ok. Because...I don’t know. I feel like we don’t talk anymore? And this—this shit with Gendry…I don’t know, it’s important to me that you’re happy and stuff and there’s a reason I’ve been nervous about it, all right? I’m nervous about you.” Jon sounded suddenly sad.
Arya looked at him, and pointedly rolled her eyes. “Oh Jon, you don’t need to worry about me. And as for not talking as much as we used to—that’s because Asha’s tied you to your bed.”
He sputtered. “What—I—how?”
And she grinned at him. “I know everything.”
“I don’t know if I find that comforting.”
“You absolutely shouldn’t. It’s dangerous—me knowing everything.”
“Yeah. I see that.”
“And I’ll explain it all when it’s over—I promise. I can’t not—I can’t keep things from you, gods know. I mean it when I say you’re my first call. Always. But right now—if it leaves my mind before it’s ready, I’ll break it. I’m kind of destructive lately.”
Jon frowned. “That’s not exactly comfor—”
“But I think that’s changing,” she added hastily. “At least—” she thought of Gendry, the confused look on his face as she’d torn herself away from him. “At least I think it will.”
Gendry: I don’t know if you care—but my show is Friday in the East Gallery by the bay.
She hated herself a little bit—seeing how defensive the text was, as if he didn’t think she’d want to go. Because of course she’d want to go—she had to, couldn’t not, really, not after he had worked so hard, not after the hours she had spent posing.
She dressed carefully, putting on a blue dress that she’d gotten as a hand-me-down from her mother (it had fit her mother when she was twelve and was one of the only pieces that Arya even fit into). She didn’t think she’d ever worn it to the studio, or when out and about with him. She washed her hair, and clipped it back, thinking idly that she’d need to get a haircut before her final performances for her dance classes because it was a little too long and would only get in her face while she danced. Then she left, walking slowly east in the opposite direction of Gendry’s studio.
There were a lot of people in the gallery, drinking wine and laughing and looking at the paintings. Many of them were wearing dark clothing, some had piercings or tattoos or strange makeup and almost all of them ignored her when she walked into the room. She didn’t mind though. She wanted to be a wallflower here. What if they thought the art was bad and laughed at her?
Her breath caught in her throat when she saw the first one. It was the one from when she’d sprained her ankle and made fun of him for always making her look away. Purple and yellow seemed to spread up her leg and she felt like it was a blight—a curse somehow making its way up...that was her body, wasn’t it? She’d never seen it that way before. Pale and smooth and precise, the shading of her shoulder, the way her neck arched slightly over the floor as she twisted her head.
And there was another one—another her, in a different style this time. Splotches of color as she leapt through the air, as if she were moving too fast to really be captured, and yet you could tell that she was there, leaping, and that her leap was something incredible to behold.
There was the one of her curled in on herself—and the one where she’d lost all feeling in her foot because the blood had drained out of it—and the one where she’d started narrating the lives of the ducks at Gendry because she’d been so bored and all of them were her, and all of them were beautiful.
She made her way down the row of paintings, hearing words like “a lovely idea” and “really got style” and “the model was fantastic,” until she’d reached the last one—the one where she’d been in a standing split, unable to keep a straight face because all she could think of was that dream where he’d painted her cunt. And you could see it in her face—the twinkle in her eye, the embarrassed amusement in the way she was—had she been biting her lip that day? She couldn’t remember. And yet there she was, her lower lip sucked in between her teeth. Her eyes were huge and grey in her long face and took up every ounce of energy and—
“I didn’t think you’d come.”
She turned slowly, looking up at him. His arms were crossed over his chest, and she could tell he was trying not to look upset, and trying also not to look relieved, but he somehow couldn’t hide either emotion.
“I—” she started, but how could she finish it? How could she apologize—right here, right now, in the middle of his shindig, without somehow—no. She wouldn’t ruin it by saying sorry. She couldn’t. She needed to stop thinking that way. Sansa was right. If he didn’t let her try and make amends, he wasn’t worth it. “I’m sorry. I...it’s complicated. And I want to explain it to you. Maybe after this is over?”
He jerked a nod and made to leave. Then, because she knew he couldn’t stop himself, he said, “I’m glad you came.”
He left. She waited, wandering up and down the row of paintings several more times, taking sips of wine in a fine imitation of an art critic and noticing little details that she hadn’t noticed before. Freckles in just the right places, the way that whenever her face was forward, he had—as he’d said—spent too much time on it. And there was no denying it—these paintings were beautiful—every last one of them. Gendry and his eyes, and his hands—his vision and his art—he had made her beautiful—more beautiful than Syrio had with his choreography or Mycah with his words of love and his lips on her throat.
She felt him approach more than heard him and turned to see him standing a few feet back from her, watching her look at the paintings.
“They’re lovely,” she said.
“You should think about becoming an artist or something. Go to school for it or something.”
His lips twitched in an almost-smile. He gestured towards two armchairs in a corner and she followed him there, putting her wine glass down on one of the little tables.
She sat, perching on the edge of her chair, hardly able to breathe. She waited for him to say something, but he didn’t. So she had to.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “For running out like that. For not calling you back, or letting you know what was going on. I didn’t really know myself. And that scared me. But I think I do know what it is now.”
“Oh?” he said, nodding, his face completely neutral.
“Yeah.” She didn’t elaborate, not while her head was spinning. He was angry, she could tell—so angry and she needed to make him understand but…
No, he wasn’t angry because she had been upset. He wouldn’t be angry at her for her own troubles. He was just...he was angry. He was an angry person—he’d said so himself. He was hard to know, hard to be close to because he—
“I didn’t mean to make you upset,” she said at last. “I mean—I didn’t mean to make you feel like you’d been abandoned, or that I didn’t want you in my life anymore, because that’s not true. That would never be true. I just...I didn’t really know what was going on. And I think that made everything worse. Certainly it did, because when I figured it out, I realized what a big fucking mess I’d made, and realizing that I’d hurt you really...it made it all worse.”
Gendry seemed to go limp in his chair, every ounce of defiant anger gone and suddenly he just looked weary.
“What the fuck am I?” he muttered. “That you’d feel worse about making me feel like shit than whatever shit made you feel like shit to begin with. Why the fuck do you even go near me?” He ran his hands over his face and she noticed—
“What happened to your hand?”
“What? Oh,” he let out a snort. “You slammed it in my door. Broke three of my fingers.”
Arya’s hands flew to her mouth in horror. “Oh gods. I am so sorry. Gendry—it wasn’t your—”
“Nah. It was my right hand. I’m a lefty.”
“Me too,” Arya said, a smile crossing her lips.
He grinned at her, but not for long. A moment later his face was sad again. “Arya—I’m shit. I really am. You shouldn’t—”
“You’re not,” she said vehemently.
“I am—whatever I did to make you upset—I’m sorry. And I’m more sorry that I compounded that by making you feel bad about all of my issues.”
“Yeah? And I’m sorry about what I did to make you upset. And I’m more sorry that I compounded it by making you feel bad about all of my issues.”
Gendry blinked at her. “We’re a mess?” he suggested.
“A big one,” she agreed. “But I don’t think it’s bad. Because we’re not in denial about it or anything. If anything...I think it’s good. Because you actually really help me push through my shit and...and maybe that’s what made it so horrifying when…” she made a face, knowing he’d know what she meant.
“What did I do, by the way?” he asked, and she knew from his tone that he knew.
“You called me beautiful.” She stared at him dead in the face and watched as nervousness spread there—then pained confusion.
“Arya. You are though.” He spoke the words slowly, carefully, as though he were afraid she would cry and run away again.
She closed her eyes. It didn’t hurt this time. She’d known it was coming—but all the same, she almost couldn’t believe it. She didn’t know if she could believe anyone telling her she was beautiful anymore. But if she could believe it of anyone—she’d believe it of Gendry.
“I love you,” she said. “That’s why it hurt as much as it did. As it does. I don’t know. It’s...body shit, you know?”
Gendry was looking down at his hands, his left hand weaving through the fingers of his right. “Why?” he asked. “I’m toxic.”
“You know, I think you say that because it’s easier to blame yourself for the shitty people around you than it is to just admit they were shitty to you.”
His head jerked up and he stared at her at her and for a moment, she thought it was his turn to flee. But he didn’t . This time, it was his turn smile wryly. “Maybe.”
“This is why we aren’t bad for one another. This is...we help. We want to help the other. To keep the other one from hurting—and…” she gulped. “And I think we can do that. I think we can. I think we can be there for one another and—”
“You don’t have to try and convince me, Arya,” he said gently. “I’ve been in love with you for a while. I just didn’t think you—I don’t know. I think I’m a bit of an idiot, really.”
She felt the grin creep up her face again, wider than it had been in months—years maybe. “Well, you are,” she said. And she leaned forward and kissed him.
They ended up back at Gendry’s apartment, as it was closer than her dorm room. It was like something out of a movie—or maybe just out of someone else’s life. At no point in her own life had she ever held someone’s hand, walking hurriedly down the street because they needed a room and fast. At no point in her life had she felt so confident, so sure that this time—nothing would go wrong, because they’d fucked up well and good before, but now they knew where they were and why they were.
Gendry had to release her hand when they reached the front door of his apartment building and she saw that his hands were trembling as he jammed the key into the lock and pushed it open with the elbow of his right arm, finding her hand with his left again as he led her up the stairs. His hand was shaking even more when he pushed open the door to his apartment, but the moment that she had closed the door behind him, everything was different. He threw his keys on the kitchen table as she sprung at him, her arms trembling around his neck, pulling herself up onto the tips of her toes as he bent down to kiss her, groaning as he did. He tasted like wine and cheese and Gendry—that same Gendry underneath everything else that she’d kissed how many times now? But it was all the better because he had picked her up and was carrying her down the narrow hallway to his bedroom, kicking the door open behind him as he did, never once breaking the kiss, or stopping the way that his tongue was massaging hers, as if all he wanted was to keep them connected as much as possible the entire way.
He lost his balance—she rather expected on purpose to land them on his bed and he bit her tongue.
“Sorry—I—Hang on.” He twisted slightly so he was no longer underneath her and got up going into the bathroom. She heard the faucet running and a brief hiss. When he came back, he had his right hand wrapped in a towel and a sheepish expression on his face. “I sometimes forget my fingers are broken.”
“Sorry about that,” Arya said, reaching for him. He settled down next to her, smiling wryly.
“Yeah. I mean...I just need to not do stupid things with them—like putting both our weight on them.”
She laughed, and kissed him, and he reached up and held her face with his good hand, his fingers so soft, so gentle against her skin. He broke the kiss and traced her lips with his fingers, eyes flickering between hers and she felt warm, she felt safe and she felt her stomach twist in anticipation as his expression turned wicked. He bent down and kissed her on her neck, sucking and nipping and, as if his lips had some magical heating ability, the blood flowing between her head and the rest of her body was somehow, suddenly, inexplicably on fire—and she didn’t care—couldn’t care because it felt too right, having his lips on her neck, his hand at her waist, gently pushing her back so she was lying on the bed.
He was covering her—fully and completely now, propping himself up with his good hand while he ran the thumb of his right hand along her collarbone, kissed her neck and she was sure that tomorrow it would look like she’d been hanged because he was giving her a positively thorough ring of hickies, but she didn’t care, she was breathless—running her fingers through his hair, her legs along his, feeling the skirt of her dress ride up but what did she care—she couldn’t care at all. Clothing didn’t matter around Gendry—not when he’d already seen everything, painted everything. He probably knew what she looked like naked better than she did.
His lips had moved from her neck now—moving lightly now, ghosting over the upper curve of her breast as he struggled with the buttons on the front of her dress. He cursed quietly. Arya laughed.
“You know, I was going to be a whole lot more impressive with all this before you broke my fingers,” he teased.
“More fool you—getting your fingers stuck in the door. You need to sort out your priorities.” She reached down and ran her own fingers through his hair, then undid the buttons on his behalf. He sat up, letting her shimmy out of the dress. Then, for good measure, she unhooked her bra.
“And there goes my opportunity to impress you with my impressive one-handed bra-removal skills,” he said dryly.
“Well, we’ll have to have a rain check then,” she shrugged. He was staring at her, the same way he had the last time, blue eyes wide, face awed. “You act like you’ve never seen them before,” she said, shifting to her knees so her eyes were on level with his.
“It’s different—painting,” he mumbled. He glanced down and ran a thumb over her nipple. Arya shivered slightly. “Like—I don’t know. I can’t explain it. It’s not...it’s not sexual, painting you naked. I don’t think about...I know what everyone thinks, but it’s not that way, you know? I mean, was posing for me a sexual thing?”
She shook her head.
“So—this—” and he looked down at her chest again, and let out a groan. “This is a whole different matter.” He bent his head and kissed the top of her breasts, then, looked up, his eyes asking a question. She nodded and his lips drew the tips of her nipples into his mouth, so tenderly, so gently, sweeping his tongue over her flesh. She sighed, closing her eyes, gripping his shoulders and letting herself do nothing—feel nothing except the way her nipple was now on fire and the way her clit was throbbing between her legs. And then his mouth was gone, and he switched breasts, and the cool air on the wetness his mouth had left behind raised goosebumps, and now with every tiny movement of his face, of his hands, of his hair against her skin, she felt it—as though every rise and fall of her flesh was somehow designed to capture him, bring him closer to her, make her more alight than she had been before. And all the while, his mouth was on her tit, and—and it felt like no matter how much she tried to pay attention to everything else, every other sensation filling her body, she couldn’t because he was there, sucking, licking, biting—
“Bad?” he asked.
“Do it again?” she replied, unsure. He nipped again and, not unexpected this time, the sting of his teeth felt right.
“Should I stop?” he asked her. She shook her head and felt his lips quirk into a smile against her breast as he nipped again.
“You’re a biter, aren’t you?” she asked.
“Oh yes,” he said, grinning. “I terrorized people as a toddler.”
“While I would love to hear that story, I don’t particularly want to think about you as a toddler right now.”
She pulled away from him, placing two fingers under his chin and bringing him back up to a sitting position. She shook her head and kissed him. The hand with the broken fingers came up to cup her chin, and she reached down and tugged his t-shirt up, pulling it up over his head and tossing it aside.
She’d never seen him shirtless before—not once. And she found that she quite liked it. All the muscles his t-shirts had threatened were there, defined and bulging and the sight of it made Arya’s mouth water. She pushed him down so he lay flat on his back, then sat astride him in just her underwear, feeling the press of his cock through his blue jeans, and running her hands over the panels of muscles on his stomach, on his chest, feeling the texture of his chest hair, circling the flat disks of his nipples with her fingers, watching as they puckered under her touch.
“Fucking shit, Arya,” he breathed up at her, eyes full of wonder, and she grinned, pinching his nipples gently between her fingers. He let out a hiss. She smiled, and lowered her mouth to his chest, rubbing her lips in the short curls on his chest before before taking one of his nipples between her teeth and sucked, licked, nipped. Gendry let out a hiss, and she felt his hips rise underneath her as he tried to rub his cock between her legs. She chuckled against his skin and sat back up.
His eyes were closed now, his lips slightly parted, and a flush was high on his cheeks, his neck, even parts of his chest. Arya lifted her hips and his eyes snapped open even as he made a whimper of protest. But Arya ignored him, finding the button of his jeans, and the fly, and tugging them and his boxers down his legs. The great idiot had left his shoes on, and so she left them at his ankles.
She’d known just by feeling it through layers of clothes, but his cock was big. And as she stared at him, she saw him smile wolfishly out of the corner of her eye. It was that smile—more than anything—that made her do it. She slipped back up the bed, lowered her head over it, and took him into her mouth. He let out another yelp of “fuck, Arya” and she heard the sound of his head hitting the pillow as he dropped it back down, while she sucked him into her mouth, bobbing up and down, letting her tongue trace the thick veins, her hands cupping his balls as she did. She felt him shifting slightly—kicking off his shoes and heard the thump of his pants hitting the ground as well. She let her lips catch along the tip of his penis as she pulled away, her tongue circling the head, feeling salty moisture dribble out before taking him in as far as he would go again. She felt the bob of it, the weight of it when she pulled away again, the way it twitched when she found a spot just where the head met the shaft and she smiled, and sucked, and sucked until—
Gendry pulled away from her, twisting his hips so she couldn’t reach his cock anymore. His pupils were so blown that his eyes were more black than blue and he drew her mouth to his with his broken fingers, slipping his unbroken ones between the cotton of her underpants and the—
She gasped as his fingers circled her clit, warm and sturdy and so very there and she felt like there was an electric current going through her body, rolling through her once, twice, again and again and—gods on earth—she—
She pulled away—not quite ready to come—not just yet—not when they hadn’t even—
She made a pretext of stripping away her underwear, letting him see her fully before leaning down and kissing him again. It was a slow kiss, a gentle one—a lazy one—and for a moment, she felt her heart calm down, her pulse slow slightly, her breathing steady. And when Gendry broke the kiss, he pressed his forehead to hers.
“Arya?” he asked. She knew what he was asking, and she nodded. He reached sideways, and she heard him opening a drawer in his bed stand. He reached his other hand around and then muttered, “Ah fucking—”
She glanced sideways, then let out a giggle. He couldn’t open the condom foil—the splint on his fingers wouldn’t let him. She took the condom out of his hands, and opened it, then she slid down and pressed a close-lipped kiss to the tip of his cock, a small drop of cum rising to meet her lips, before rolling the latex down him.
“Thanks,” he muttered.
“Least I could do, considering I caused the problem,” she said. Then she scooted back up the bed and straddled him, feeling the way his dick slid up the crack of her rear. Then, she looked down, lifted herself slightly, and guided him into her. They both hissed, and she saw Gendry’s eyelids flutter. She closed her eyes for a moment, feeling the stretch of him, the warmth of him, that distinct feeling of a cock inside her, twitching even though they were both perfectly still. And oh—she could love him, she really could, because this was right, this was how they were supposed to be—right here, together, fused and whole and right.
She kissed his neck, tasting the salt of his sweat and feeling the way his pulse was racing through her lips. And then they began—rocking together, moving as one, shifting hips and matching little gasps of one another’s names. They began slowly, so gently, so carefully, sharing little kisses. She reached up her hands to cup his face, to run fingers through his hair, and his hands rested on her ass, squeezing with one hand, guiding rhythm as she rose and fell over him. His breath was coming in shorter and shorter spurts, his eyes were squeezed tightly shut, and he let out a moan and she felt heat inside her, throbbing as he stilled his thrusts and tightened his grip on her hips for just a moment as he came, quietly, with a whispered “Arya…”
They stayed still for a moment, as Gendry breathed, and pressed his lips to the dip between her collarbones.
“Gods, Arya,” but he kissed her again, like he didn’t know what else to say, like her name was the only word he knew. She lifted herself off him gently and helped him unroll and tie the condom. Then she curled herself around him, holding his face to hers as they kissed. It was a slow kiss—though she felt something urgent in his lips and felt his hand drift down between her legs. He ran his fingers over her cleft, circling his thumb over her clit and she felt the muscles of her cunt clench. He rubbed, and rubbed, and rubbed, circling one way, and then the other, slipping his fingers along her outer lips, then her inner lips, then back up to her clit, gentle one moment, then insistent the next and Arya was trembling, shaking, and—
She came apart, feeling as though she were falling, as though she were flying, as though everything around her was moving except Gendry and his warmth and his hand on her clit. Her body pulsed, her heart throbbed, and all she could think was if the world ended—that moment, the two of them together—she would die happy, perfectly and pristinely happy.
They fell asleep in one another’s arms, spent and content. And when Arya woke the next day—the happy feeling hadn’t dissipated. If anything, looking over at Gendry, his face slack in sleep, one arm under her head, the other resting in the curve between her hip and her rib cage, she felt it increase.
She spent the rest of the weekend in Gendry’s bed, alternating between sleeping and fucking and smiling quietly at one another in a way that would ordinarily have made Arya want to vomit, but which somehow just felt right. Gendry’s smile, it seemed, was a balm—and even though she knew the weekend would come to an end, she couldn’t really think about it because she was here with him, and he was here with her—and finally, it seemed, they understood one another, and every little piece of frustration and nervousness faded away, leaving Arya feeling warm and peaceful.
On Sunday night, she kicked herself out, though.
“You could stay,” he suggested, watching her as she dressed for the first time in two days with a marginally forlorn expression on his face.
“I need to finish my Targaryen essay,” she sighed.
“Who cares about Targaryens? They’re all secret Baratheons anyway.”
Arya rolled her eyes and he grinned at her. “And I should probably rest a little bit before tech week,” she added.
“Tech week?” Gendry asked.
“For my final performances. Next Thursday and Friday.”
“Oh,” he said, frowning. “So that means you won’t be free, then?”
She shook her head, trying not to let her heart sink. “Not really. I should actually write my essay. I should have finished it already. I meant to last week, but I was a bit of a head case… Don’t you have finals or anything?” she asked, suddenly curious. She realized she didn’t actually know what classes he was taking.
“I have a web-design project that will take me forty-five minutes. But my critiques are over at this point, so I’m completely free.”
“Well—watch Not-So-Silent Sisters VI and think of me,” she suggested, grinning, leaning down and kissing him even as she buttoned up her dress.
“I don’t know if that would be a good idea,” Gendry teased.
“Yeah. They’ll be boring in comparison.”
She raised her eyebrows at him. “What, are you trying to get good boyfriend points with me or something? We’ve sent each other dozens of pornos. I know you watch them.”
Gendry rolled his eyes at her. “Think about it this way—porn is porn. But you’re art. And as great as porn is—” he reached out rubbed some of the blue fabric through his fingers, “Art is better. You’re better.”
“I rather thought so.”
“Text me later?” she asked, kissing him quickly.
And so on Thursday she danced—danced precisely, arching and bending, and swaying, and leaping as she was supposed to. The theater was full to bursting, and the wail of the guitar solo seemed to be a breath of air as Arya pranced across the stage, elation in her bones, joy in her heart.
She knew Gendry was in the audience. And Jon, and Sansa, and Shireen, and Dev, even. Jon’s friends from his master’s program were there too—Gilly and Sam, and Grenn and Pyp and Satin and Edd, whom she hoped would take inspiration from the Tears of Lys and write some good music for a change. Sitting in the front row was Sandor Clegane, looking thoroughly grouchy, and she couldn’t see his face fully because of the shadows in the audience, but she thought she might see something close to approval when she leapt her way in a ovular path around Hot Pie and Lommy and their mirroring jigs. But none of that really mattered—not even Gendry, though when she stood still, when she was waiting in the wings to come back on stage, she looked for him in what sliver of the audience she could see.
Because she was dancing, dancing as she’d never danced before, dancing as only Mycah had ever seen her dance—and she was flying.