Arya probably wouldn't have noticed the girl at all on her own; she's Arya Stark, returning to Winterfell for the first time in many years. Everyone, young and old, has been staring at her, and one child with intense blue eyes watching intently with her fist in her mouth wouldn't mean much of anything by itself. But Rickon says, "Rylla, it's Arya!" and out of the corner of her eye she sees Sansa and Jon exchange a significant look.
"Yes, I'm Arya," she tells the girl, and then says to Sansa, all innocence, "One of yours?"
Sansa bristles. "Of course not!" she snaps.
"Well, you're sure acting funny about her. Who's that, Rickon?" The girl has already fled, apparently shy.
"Rylla Waters," he says. "She thinks you're the greatest."
She glances back at Jon. "What's a Southron bastard doing in Winterfell?"
"She's not a Southron bastard," says Jon. "Her father is a Southron bastard; she's his trueborn daughter."
Arya's jaw tightens. "A bastard smith, I suppose. You weren't expecting to keep your smith's identity from me, were you?" she asks Sansa. "I don't know why you'd want to. I don't care. And he must have said he knew me, since you already knew. If you didn't want me seeing him, you should have sent him away." She pauses, actually confused. "Why would you think I'd care?"
"I didn't think you'd be happy he had a daughter," says Sansa.
Arya snorts. She hasn't seen her sister in seven years, and she's already got an elaborate backstory worked out about Arya's broken heart. Over Gendry, of all people.
"I'm happy he's still alive," says Arya. "He was an idiot, but he didn't deserve to die." Sansa opens her mouth, but Arya shifts her focus to Jon. "Show me how the rebuilding is going," she says.
She tells herself she's not thinking about Gendry as Jon shows her around the rest of the keep, and it's mostly true. What she's really thinking about is his wife, whichever barmaid he decided to marry. To have a child with. She's probably beautiful, with long blonde hair and large breasts, big hips to bear his giant children.
She's told herself she's not thinking about Gendry a lot since the Brotherhood sold him. He was going to leave her anyway, so it shouldn't make a difference that the choice got taken out of his hands, but she worried about what that woman was going to do with him, if he was alive or dead, if he'd ever made it back to the place he was convinced he belonged.
"Do you want to see the forge?" Jon asks.
She spends too long bathing and getting ready for dinner. She assumes that, as when she was a child, the staff of the household will eat with the family in the great hall, and Gendry will be there with his family. Which is good. She'll get to see him and his wife and the other, smaller children they probably have. The girl looked to be four or five, they've probably got one or two more already and another on the way.
Everyone has grown up and found their own lives; Arya still feels lost most of the time. Maybe it will be better, now that she's back in the North. She can hope, anyway.
"You look very nice," says Sansa when Arya sits down next to her for dinner. She sounds surprised. Arya scowls, and, infuriatingly, her sister smiles. "That's the Arya I remember."
"I'm supposed to be a Lady of Winterfell, aren't I?"
"You were supposed to be a Lady of Winterfell before, but you still didn't dress up for dinner."
"Maybe I've changed."
Sansa's smile is old and sad; everyone's smiles are, these days. "I know you've changed, Arya."
She doesn't let herself look for him until after the first course, after she's had some wine and some food, when she feels more prepared for what she sees.
And then it's a total letdown, because he's not even facing her. His daughter is, looks to be chattering happily about something. Gendry's broad back is shaking, like he's laughing.
They're surrounded by other men of the house, with no woman close enough to be obviously the child's mother.
"He's a widower," Sansa says, under her breath. Arya tenses; she was going to be subtle about it, but not seeing the wife threw her, and not seeing his face. She let herself look for too long. Of course Sansa noticed. "His wife died in childbirth, or so I've heard. It was before he came to us." He turns to listen to something the carpenter is saying, and Arya catches a glimpse of the side of his face, older and more worn, but still Gendry, unmistakably. It's really him, here, serving Winterfell. "A good man, by all accounts. I haven't spoken with him much, but Jon likes him."
"Jon likes all bastards," she says absently.
"So do you."
There's nothing she can say to that.
"I was expecting you yesterday," says Gendry. He was working when she came in, giving her plenty of time to look around as he finished up. The forge is much as it was when she was a child, but his work is hanging on the walls, and he's there, making everything feel different. He feels different too, in the same way--familiar but not. He's older, more solid, but not as tall as she remembered, which seems wrong. She remembers him as huge.
"I was busy yesterday," she says, crossing her arms over her chest. "I just got home, I've had things to do."
His smile is so brilliant she momentarily stops breathing. "It's so good to see you, Arya. I thought--well, we all heard about you and the Bolton bastard."
"Not me," she corrects.
"I know that now. But even after I heard it wasn't you, no one knew where you were," he says. "I'm glad you're back here."
"Me too," she says. They're quiet for a minute and then she can't help it. "What happened to you?"
"Since I last saw you."
He laughs and sits down on the bench next to her. It's warm enough in the forge, even in winter, that he's bare except for his trousers. Arya probably isn't supposed to be here, not alone. But she's a woman grown and a lady of Winterfell; she will go where she likes.
"Melisandre took my blood," he says. "That's why she wanted me. She was working for Stannis Baratheon."
Arya knew some of that already. She asked Melisandre before she killed her. "Your blood?"
He rubs the back of his neck. "I'm a Baratheon, or so she said. I never had much of a chance to follow up on it. One of Robert's bastards."
He laughs. "I barely think about it anymore."
"You could be legitimized," she points out. "Like Jon has been."
"I suppose I could be," he says. "If anyone had any inclination to legitimize me, and I had any inclination to be legitimate." He grabs a roll and rips it in half, offering her the larger part. She accepts. "One of Stannis's men smuggled me out before they could kill me, and I rowed myself to King's Landing. Amazed I survived, honestly. I can't swim and I'd never been in a boat before. I went back to the Brotherhood, but they didn't have you anymore."
"But you wanted to join them anyway," Arya points out, unable to keep the petulance out of her voice.
"I did, before they sold me. That soured me on them. But no one knew where you were, and Hot Pie's inn didn't need a smith, so I stayed with them. Nowhere else to go."
"And you met your wife."
It looks like he's biting back a smile. "I laid with a woman, yes. And she ended up with child. I wasn't going to bring another bastard into the world, so we married. But--as awful as it sounds, I wasn't beside myself with grief when she passed. I'm sure we would have had a very polite marriage if she'd lived, and it would have been nice for Rylla to have a mother. But I didn't care for her beyond the one night and the child."
"That was before you came to Winterfell."
"When I heard the lady who'd married to the Bolton bastard wasn't you and Jon Stark was King in the North, I came to seek employment here. Hot Pie still didn't need a smith, and I thought if you'd lived, you'd come back here." He smiles again, and Arya feels her own mouth tugging up in response. She's happy to see him, too. "And here you are, so I was right." He finishes the bread and goes back to the forge, starting to clean up for the night. "Where were you?"
"I was no where," she says. "I was no one."
"For six years?"
She shrugs. "I became myself again when I heard Jon was King. But it took a while for me to get back."
He looks at her for so long that she nearly squirms. "Do you want to meet her?"
"Meet who?" she asks, blankly.
He finally looks away. "Rylla. My daughter. She'd like to meet you. I've told her stories about you her whole life. She thinks you're amazing."
"You can't have that many stories about me."
"Once we moved here, Jon and Bran gave me a few more for her. Swapped my stories for theirs." He grins. "I thought you were a little brat when I knew you, I had no idea you'd gotten better."
She scowls and kicks him; he's still grinning.
"Yes, I'd like to meet her," he says. "I hope she doesn't take after you."
Gendry pulls on his shirt and cloak, which is a shame, and washes his face. "Come on," he says. "She's probably watching the training. She's already got a practice sword, you know."
"She's, what, three?"
"Four. I did say you were her hero, didn't I?"
She follows him out of the forge and toward the training grounds; his legs are still longer than hers, but he moves more slowly than he used to. Maybe he's used to Rylla following him around.
"You didn't say hero," she says. "You must like me a lot, if she got all this from you."
"Like I said, Jon and Bran helped." The girl is with Rickon, watching two of the bannermen practicing their swordwork. "Ryl, someone wants to meet you."
Both children turn, and Rickon grins. "Are you going to fight, Arya? I bet Gendry'd spar with you."
"I know better than to spar with Arya," he says, holding up his hands. "I'm no soldier."
"Neither is she," says Rickon. Ordinarily, Arya would rib Gendry right along with Rickon, but she's more interested in Rylla.
The girl has her fist in her mouth again, staring up at Arya with huge blue eyes. She looks so much like Gendry that Arya has trouble believing he ever married anyone, that anyone else contributed to this child.
Arya kneels down so she's on a level with Rylla. "Can I see your sword?" She doesn't take her fist out of her mouth, but she pulls out her sword with her other hand and gives it to Arya. Arya gives a few experimental slashes. "This is nice. Good balance. Did your dad make it?" Rylla nods. Arya looks up at Gendry, who's watching them with an odd expression on his face. "I didn't know you did wood-working too."
It takes him a minute to answer. "Not often."
"Will you make me one?"
Arya smiles at Rylla and feels her breath catch when Rylla's hand comes out of her mouth and she smiles back. "So I can teach her, obviously."
Rylla remains quiet and shy, but Arya isn't going to let a bright young girl who likes playing with swords go untrained. Rickon gets his own practice sword too, even though he's much older, and some of the other local children come with sticks. She wouldn't be doing it if she didn't want to make friends with Gendry's daughter, but it's kind of fun. She's sure the Faceless Men would be disappointed; years of training to be a killer, and all she's doing with it is teaching children basic exercises.
She's watching them one afternoon when Jon comes up next to her. She doesn't look away from the children, and it's a long time before he speaks. "He's a Baratheon."
"He mentioned." She tucks some stray hairs behind her ear. "I didn't know you knew."
Jon shrugs. "I offered to legitimize him, but he was worried about Rylla. He's not likely to get pushed into a political match against his will, but a young girl of Baratheon blood--someone might want her. Very badly."
"He could keep a closer eye on her, if he was worried about that," Arya says. "Did he just let her run wild before I showed up?"
"We all kept an eye on her," says Jon. "She might be a good match for Rickon, if Gendry ever lets us legitimize the two of them. A little young, but he's a little wild. It'll be a long time before I'd want to marry him to anyone."
"Already matchmaking?" Arya asks, raising her eyebrows. "No wonder he was worried. What makes you think he'd be happier for a political marriage for his daughter now than he was last time you asked him?"
His eyes are steady on her. "You know why."
Luckily for her, Rylla runs over, having finished her exercises, and Arya swings her up. "Did you win?" she asks, ignoring Jon's eyes still on them.
Arya smiles. "Good girl." She looks up at the sky. "And it's almost time for dinner. Everyone, stop fighting and go get cleaned up! Sansa will blame me if you're all covered in mud at dinnertime." She smiles up at Rylla. "Come on, let's go tell your dad how well you're doing."
She knows what Jon is thinking, what Sansa thinks every time she sees Arya with Rylla or with Gendry. She knows that people talk about how much time she spends with them. Maybe even Gendry thinks it. His is the only opinion she cares much about, but if he wants to become a Baratheon and marry a Stark, he hasn't mentioned it.
"I beat Eiric!" Rylla says, running over to Gendry when Arya puts her down. Gendry grins and sweeps her up himself, turning his grin on Arya once he's got her on his shoulders.
"She's very good," Arya says. She'd fit right in against Gendry's side, a part of the family. It's the kind of thought she never would have expected to have; she doesn't have much by way of maternal instincts. But she can see the place where she'd slot in with them, and she's spent too long feeling like she doesn't belong anywhere. "Jon will want her for his Kingsguard in a few years."
"I'm surprised you're teaching the next generation," Gendry remarks as they leave the forge to head for the keep and dinner. "I would have thought Jon would want you in his Kingsguard."
"He hasn't asked yet," she says. "I think he's hoping I'll marry."
Gendry looks alarmed. "Marry? You?"
She scowls. "What, you think no one would have me? It can't be that hard to find someone to marry, you did it."
"I think you wouldn't have anyone," he says, clenching his jaw. His temper has gotten slower in the years since she saw him last, and she can see him reigning it in now. "And I wouldn't suggest my method of finding someone to marry."
Arya's going to respond, but then she stops herself. This is Rylla's mother she's talking about, and Rylla can hear her. Besides, Gendry's putting in the effort to be civil. She can do the same.
"You wouldn't have any trouble finding someone to marry you, Arya," he adds, soft. "If that's what you're looking for, all you need do is mention it. You'd have a dozen suitors lined up tomorrow."
It's on the tip of her tongue to ask if he'd be one of them, but she resists. She's not sure which answer she's more afraid of.
"You have to stop this."
Arya turns to Sansa. "I'm not going to stop. My trainings are very popular. You should try it out. Did you want a sword?"
"That girl is getting attached to you," says Sansa. "She's never had a mother, and her father has been telling her you're his favorite person ever since she was born. You can't go on getting closer to her, it's not fair. Not unless you're planning to do something about it."
"That's not what he's been telling her."
"Not in so many words, perhaps," says Sansa. "But that's certainly what she's been hearing."
"I like her."
"And you like her father." Sansa sighs. "I wouldn't mind, you know. Not if you were serious about it. I never thought you'd want to marry anyone, but if you--"
"It's not you I'm worried about," she snaps, and immediately regrets it. "And who said I wanted to marry him anyway? He's stupid. He was going to leave me. Just because he came to Winterfell doesn't mean anything."
Sansa looks completely unconvinced. "I'm sure he'd be happy to marry you."
"He's a bastard!" It doesn't matter to Arya, but it probably does to Sansa.
"Robert Baratheon's bastard."
Arya scowls. "Did everyone know that except for me?"
"I asked Jon what we were going to do as soon as I saw you staring at him at dinner," she says. "I knew he was in love with you the first time he mentioned your name, it was obviously why he came here in the first place. But I didn't expect you would feel the same for him. I didn't expect you'd ever fall in love with anyone. I'm glad I was wrong."
Arya opens and closes her mouth a few times. "You are wrong," she finally says. "I don't know where to start with how wrong you are. We're not in love."
Sansa rolls her eyes.
"I know Jon hasn't found a good husband for you yet and I'm sure it's very difficult for you, but you don't have to matchmake for me instead. If you want Winterfell's smith married, you marry him. You'd be a good mother."
"All right, you've been practicing this for long enough!" Arya calls to her charges. "Come on, let's try something else."
She shows them a new exercise to try, but Sansa is still waiting when she gets back. "I know we haven't always been close," she says, voice too gentle. "And I know it's complicated. But--I'd like you to be happy, Arya. And I think he'd make you happy."
Arya swallows hard. "I appreciate your concern," she tells her sister. "Thank you."
Sansa looks alarmed; Arya has to stifle a grin. It's probably the first time Sansa has ever said something Arya listened to. "That's it?"
"That's it. I'll talk to him."
Once they're done with exercises, she sends Rylla off with Rickon to steal some cakes from the kitchen and goes to find Gendry at the forge.
"What was Rylla's mother like?" she asks him. It's not exactly the question she planned to ask, but it's one she's been thinking about since she first heard he married.
He frowns at her. "Why?"
"I assume she was very beautiful."
"That's nice of you to think."
"You never slept with any whores while we were with the Brotherhood," she says. "And you're not married again, even though you're old enough and not bad looking and have a child you're raising alone. So what was it about that girl? Why her?"
Gendry sighs, putting down his hammer and running his hand through his hair. "She wasn't anything special, Arya. She was there. It was a moment of weakness. I won't say I regret it, because I love my daughter and I'm happy with my life. But it's not what I would have chosen."
"What would you have chosen?"
He opens his mouth, but then he pauses and closes it again. "I would have run away from the Brotherhood with you," he says at last. "Before they sold me." She starts to respond, but finds she doesn't have anything to say either. She's not sure it's what she would change if she could, but that's the one thing she can think of that doesn't involve anyone anyone coming back from the dead. He keeps talking instead. "Rylla's mother was small with dark hair and gray eyes, and she was there, right after I heard Arya Stark had been wedded to some bastard in the north and most likely killed. If I'd been thinking straight, I wouldn't have laid with her to start with, and I would have made sure she had moon tea, but I wasn't, because I thought you'd died and I'd never see you again."
They stare at each other for a long, tense moment. She wants to look away, but she doesn't know how.
"Yes," she says at last, her voice not sounding like her own. "I thought you might say something like that."
She expects something to change after Gendry's confession, but nothing does. She keeps on training any children who want to learn to wield a sword, she spends a great deal of her free time with Rylla, and almost as much with Gendry. Gendry isn't legitimized, he doesn't try to kiss her or propose to her or anything. He just goes on being Gendry, and she goes on being Arya.
She'd ask Sansa about it, but then Sansa would think she wanted to talk about it, and she can think of few things worse than talking to Sansa about this. Talking to Jon about it is right up there, so she doesn't do that either.
After a week, she gives up and talks to Gendry about it.
"You could ask me to marry you," she snaps.
He looks as shocked as if she struck him. "I could not, m'lady."
"You could. And you haven't called me that since I came back, so don't start now."
"I thought you remembered I'm a bastard, but if you think I could ask for your hand, obviously you don't."
"You're a Baratheon bastard. Jon's a Stark bastard and he's King now. You could marry me if you wanted."
"Could I?" he asks. "I knew I could ask, but I didn't know I could marry you."
Arya flushes, realizing what she said. "I didn't say that."
Gendry is grinning. "You did."
"Well, I didn't mean that."
"So if I asked you to marry me, you'd say no?" he asks, still smiling. "Seems strange that you would storm in here, tell me I could ask you to marry me, and then turn me down when I did. I'm not sure what you're hoping for here, Arya. You want to break my heart? Trying to get my hopes up before you tell me you'd never want me? Seems like a lot of trouble to go to, you could just tell me you never wanted me to begin with. I'd be plenty heartbroken."
Arya glares at him. "You're being stupid."
"Well, that's nothing new, is it?" He reaches out and tucks her hair behind her ear for her. "I would have asked you to marry me the second I saw you back here, if I'd thought you wanted me. I thought you'd join Jon's Kingsguard and never marry. I was ready for that. You'd still be here and I'd get to see you. But if you'd marry me--" He looks away, but she catches the raw hope in his eyes before he can hide it. He swallows and says, voice thick, "Anyway. That's why I hadn't asked for your hand. Any time you'd like me to, you can let me know."
She leans in and kisses him, and he makes a soft noise of surprise.
"I'm not just going to kiss you, that will certainly break my heart," he murmurs, but he's pulling her closer, into his lap, and kissing back.
"I wasn't planning on just kissing," she says, wrapping her arms around him. The kiss is long and slow, and Arya feels like she's melting into him. She never wants to stop.
"Arya," he says, and it sounds like he does want to stop, so she kisses him harder. "Arya," he says. He looks regretful. "If it was just me, I'd do whatever you'd like in a second, but my daughter adores you too. I can't let you break her heart."
"So ask," she tells him.
He licks his lips. "Will you marry me?"
Even though she knew it was coming, even though she told him to, she's still a little surprised by the question. She's quiet long enough his face starts to fall, like he really thinks she'll say no. "Of course, idiot," she says, smacking his chest. "I can't believe you were worried."
"You told me to ask!" he says, laughing. "And then you didn't answer!" He kisses her again, short and happy, looking like a boy again, even younger than the first time they met. "Do your brother and sister know?"
"I haven't mentioned you're proposing," she says. "But they wanted you to. They've both talked to me about it." He looks dubious, so she continues, "Sansa's just happy I'd agree to marry anyone. I think Jon hopes I'll convince you to take your father's name, so your daughter can marry my brother. Which sounds awful, but she'd probably be good for him in ten years. He won't be ready to marry anyone before then."
"You're one to talk, what kind of lady waits until she's eight-and-ten to be married?"
"The bad kind," Arya says. "But you don't seem to mind."
"You waited until you're eight-and-ten to marry me," he says. "If you'd waited for someone else, I'd be upset."
Gendry told Rylla, but Arya still feels like she should say something. She and Rylla like each other, but she's apparently going to be her mother, which is probably more involved than just teaching her to use a sword.
"You dad told you what's happening, right?" she asks.
Rylla glances up at her and then looks away, shyer than she's been since they first met. "Yeah," she says, soft. "I'm going to be a Baratheon." She trips a little over the unfamiliar word, but screws her face up, all determined.
Arya doesn't know exactly how to be a mother, but she already loves this girl.
"And you're going to marry Dad."
"Yes, I'm going to marry him."
"So you're going to be my mother?"
"I s'pose," says Arya, looking down at her boots. "I'm going to help take care of you. I've never been anyone's mother before, but I can try if you want."
"If I want?"
"I'd understand if you didn't, your real mum would probably be a lot better at it," she says. "All I know much about is fighting. And my mother never taught me anything about that. But I'll do my best."
"That's fine," says Rylla, and Arya thinks she means that she doesn't want Arya to try at first. But then she climbs into Arya's lap and wraps her arms around her. "I used to pretend you were my mum. Before I ever met you, when you were just Dad's stories. I thought you'd make a good mum."
Arya brings her ups up to hold Rylla slowly, cautiously. She has been in war, she has been a Faceless Man, she has lived through awful things; holding a child should not feel as terrifying as it does. But it feels nice, too. Rylla is small and warm and smells like the outdoors and like Gendry, and she fits in Arya's arms perfectly.
"You still think that?" she asks, and Rylla nods. "Then I'll do my best."
Rylla falls asleep on her, and Arya carries her back to the rooms above the forge where she and Gendry live. She wonders if she'll move here, or they'll come to the castle. She likes it up here, it's warm and close. She still loves Winterfell, but after years of living lean and poor, her old room feels too large and too empty. Company will be nice.
Once she's put Rylla in bed, she goes down to see Gendry. He greets her with a kiss when he's done working, which she has to admit is a nice perk of engagement. She hasn't convinced him to take her maidenhead yet, but she assumes he won't try to get out of it once they're married. He certainly seems up to the task.
"Your daughter thinks I'll be a good mother," she tells him.
"You were worried?"
She shrugs, trying to play it off. "I've never been gifted with children. Never wanted any either."
"But you like her. I always thought you would. And you're good with her." He smiles. "I almost asked you to marry me on the spot, the first time I saw the two of you together. She never stops talking about you. I wasn't ever worried she'd disapprove of my choice."
"You could have told me," she says, crossing her arms. "And I don't see why seeing the two of us together would make you want to propose. I had enough trouble getting you to do it when I was asking for it."
"I've been in love with you since I was sixteen," Gendry says, easy as anything, like it's not the first time he's said that, like he isn't saying it's been years. "I was always struggling not to do something about it." He ruffles her hair. "Well, not when we first met and you were all skin and bones and angles."
Arya scowls at him. "I could still change my mind about marrying you," she says. "You haven't been legitimized yet."
"And I know you care very much about that," he teases. "Surely if I wasn't a Baratheon, you'd call the whole thing off."
"Jon might try to make me."
"I'd never met anyone like you before," he continues, remembering. "I didn't know girls like you existed."
"And now you're raising one."
"So you're the perfect person to help me," Gendry says. "You don't have to worry about this. I wouldn't have asked if I thought you'd be a bad mother." His smile is more than a little wistful. "I love you, but not enough to risk her."
It makes her feel better, surprisingly. "Jon says you'll be legitimized tomorrow. Sansa wants more time to plan the wedding, but I'd rather run to the Godswood as soon as can be."
"And what will Sansa have to say about that?"
"We can still have a wedding feast," she says, with a shrug. "And a wedding, if she wants. But we'll be married, and you can stop fretting about defiling me before we're wedded." She glares. "It's not like you've never defiled a woman before you married her before."
He scowls. "You could stop mentioning it. I'm not proud."
"Why not?" she asks. "You laid with a girl, I'd wager most men have done that. And when you found out she was with child, you did the right thing and married her. Plenty don't do that, your father and mine among them. And when she died, you still raised the child. You should be proud. You're a good man. What?" she snaps, when he just stares at her.
"I was just waiting for you to tell me I'm stupid. I don't think you've ever been nice to me for so long before."
She snorts and shoves him. "Don't get used to it. I'm not planning on saying it again."
Sansa offers to take Rylla for the wedding night. "She's my niece now," she says, proper as anything. "It's time for us to bond."
"She takes after me," Arya points out. "I remember how close we were when I was her age."
"I'm trying to be nice. Don't you want your privacy?"
Arya's quite confident Sansa didn't want privacy any of her wedding nights, but she never actually married any of the men she wanted to. And none of them had children who might have nightmares or just be excited about having a larger family. Arya might have been, in Rylla's place. And she's excited about it herself.
But she would like a proper wedding night, so she tells Sansa to take Rylla.
The ceremony is short and simple. Gendry cloaks her, and kisses her, and that's it. Arya is a Baratheon, at least in name. She's pretty sure it sounds as strange to Gendry as it does to her.
"Mine is the fury, right?" he hisses to her at the feast.
"Technically ours is the fury."
"You have a lot more fury than I do."
"Well then, it's a good thing I'm a Baratheon too now, isn't it?"
Gendry snorts. "By the way, is there a reason your sister is winking at me? It's becoming alarming. I don't think she's flirting, but--"
"She's taking your daughter for the night," Arya says, taking a drink of wine. "She thought we might like some privacy. I believe she was winking because she's leaving soon. The bedding ceremony isn't appropriate for children."
Gendry goes pale. "Soon?"
"Don't tell me you aren't excited."
He looks down at his plate. "Of course I am. I'm also terrified." He smiles wryly. "I haven't done this very often. And the only thing I know I did right was getting her pregnant, which you don't even want."
"How long were you married before she died?" Arya asks, squinting at him. "You never shared a bed again?"
"She was pregnant!" he protests. "I wasn't going to ask her to lie with me when she was already with child. I suppose we would have tried it again if she'd lived, but she didn't."
"I had no idea you were pining away with such love for me," she says, only half-joking.
"I thought I was going to lay with Melisandre," he says, looking down at his cup. "But it was just part of the rest of her plans for me. Soured me on the whole thing for a while. After that, I was too scared of fathering bastards. And then married once I did father one."
Arya doesn't comment on the Melisandre part; she hated the woman, the woman hurt Gendry, and Arya killed her. Hers is the fury. "What did your wife think of that?" she asks instead.
"Was she upset to be married to you? I can't imagine. You're good looking, responsible, and you have a good trade. If she'd been so unhappy, she wouldn't have told you about the child, and she certainly wouldn't have married you. You should have rung her bells a few more times, she would've died happier."
He makes a face. "It's our wedding night. Can we not talk about my dead wife?"
"Only if you stop worrying you're going to disappoint me," she says, kicking him under the table.
"I can't believe you're kicking me on our wedding night!" he says, but now he's laughing. "It hasn't even been a day and you're already an awful wife."
"You must have seen that coming," she says. "Everyone's always known I'd be an awful wife." She glances around. "They're drunk, I'm going to sneak out before they remember the bedding ceremony." She presses a quick kiss to his lips. "I'll see you soon."
"Arya--" he starts, but she's already gone. There's no way she's letting anyone strip her.
Gendry does get stripped down to his smallclothes, and someone sticks his head in to make sure Arya's already in their bedchambers. "Lucky lad!" the man says, clapping Gendry on the back. "She's so eager she went to bed before you!"
"You could have brought me with you," he grumbles, once the door is closed. He's blushing all over, and Arya takes a minute to admire the sight. He's really very handsome.
"I could not," she says smugly, stretching out on the bed. She's still got her clothes and everything. "You're too big. And too loud. They would have spotted us right away." Gendry doesn't seem to be listening anymore; he's just watching her, mouth a little open. "What?"
He shakes his head a little and gives her a smile. "I can't quite believe I'm here," he says, crossing the room and stretching out next to her on the bed, looking down at her with more than a little awe. "I never thought you'd marry me, and that was before I had a child. Once I was a widower I was sure--" he grins. "I'm very glad you agreed to wed me."
"I'm very glad your wife died," Arya says, and then blushes herself. "That's not how I meant it. I'm very glad you were free to wed me." She doesn't say the other part, that she's glad she thought he was married. Arya is accomplished at lying to herself, at denial. But even she couldn't ignore the jealousy she felt when she thought he was married, and the relief when it turned out he wasn't. She sends a silent thanks to his dead wife, whoever she was, and an apology. She's glad a lot of people are dead, but Gendry's wife never did anything to her, aside from marrying Gendry, and that's not something she deserved to die for.
Gendry laughs too and leans down to kiss her. "I know how you meant it," he says, and the most frightening part is that she thinks he does. Gendry might know her better than anyone, even after all these years.
"Are you still worried?" she asks, tugging him more fully on top of her.
"Not worried. Just nervous. The last time I did this, I was rather drunk. I didn't worry about doing it well."
"You never drink."
"You never die."
"Not today," she tells him, and kisses him before he can ask what it means.
She wraps her arms around his neck to keep him close, and it's not long before he groans and gives in, settling on top of her and running his hands up her sides. He's almost naked and she's still wearing everything, which is oddly exciting. It makes her feel powerful.
His hands slide up her sides, trying to find the buttons and ties on her dress, but he pulls back after a minute with a frustrated noise. "How did you get this on?"
"I didn't," she says. "Sansa did. Would you like me to call her in to help you figure it out?"
"Now I understand why we have a bedding ceremony," he grumbles. "No new husband can be expected figure out how to work a wedding gown."
Arya rolls her eyes and gets up, helping him as best she can, but she wasn't lying when she said Sansa had been the one who put her in the dress. Between the two of them, they get the buttons undone and she gets out of the dress, by which point she's almost forgotten why they were there. But Gendry's breath catches as she finally gets it off, and she flushes, remembering what they're going to do.
She's always been small and scrawny, never one of those girls with a body that makes men stop and stare. She could still pass for a boy if she wanted, with some bandages and a haircut. But Gendry's watching her like he can't quite believe she's real.
She crosses her arms, looking away with a huff. "It's rude to stare."
"Arya Stark, lecturing me on manners," he teases, reaching out to tug her toward him. She ends up standing between his open legs, still feeling a little awkward, but he's smiling up at her like she's the only thing in the world that matters. "I never thought I'd see the day." He slides his hands up her bare legs and her breath catches; when he goes higher and she feels his palms on her ass, her legs buckle and she half-collapses into his lap. He surges up for a kiss and everything is hot and close for a long moment.
"Are you sure you've only done this once?"
"It's mostly instinct," he says, moving his mouth down to kiss her neck. "I thought you would've tried it, just to see what it's like."
"It makes people even stupider than usual," she says, breathless. "I didn't think it was worth it."
He pulls her back onto the bed, on top of him, and slides his hands all the way up under her slip to pull it off. She shivers a little, although it's not cold in the room, and Gendry kisses her again. It's a good way to distract her.
"I hope it is," he says, rolling them over and kissing down her chest.
He goes slowly, like he wants to remember every inch of her, and she's already squirming by the time he reaches her breasts. "You're taking forever," she huffs, and then gasps when his mouth finds her nipple.
He works it with his tongue for a minute before giving her a smirk. "I've been told women prefer it taking a while. They aren't happy when it's over too quick."
"They aren't happy when you take forever to start," she says, grabbing his hand and shoving it between her legs. He at least takes the hint and starts rubbing her, and it feels a great deal better than when she does it herself.
She tells him as much, which unfortunately makes him stop. "You do this yourself?"
"No one's taken my maidenhead," she says, pushing back against his still fingers. "That doesn't mean I'm completely innocent."
To her surprise, his face breaks out in a wide grin. He drops it to nuzzle her neck. "Good. You'll know what you like, so you can tell me if I do it wrong."
"You're doing it wrong right now," she says, and he starts moving his fingers again, and doesn't stop until she peaks, writhing and breathless.
"Better?" he asks.
"Don't be smug," she chides him, and rolls them over so she can slide down onto him. It doesn't hurt as much as she'd heard it would, and it's more than worth it for the look on his face.
Much to her surprise, Arya thinks she's going to enjoy being married.
She's disoriented when she first wakes up, confused by the warmth at her back, the scratchy feeling on her shoulder, the heavy arm over her. Then she remembers she's married, and this is her husband.
She twists around in his loose hold so she can look at him, glad she doesn't wake him up with her movement. He looks younger asleep, and it makes her smile. She can pretend they didn't lose all these years.
"See something you like?" he asks, without opening his eyes.
"You're not bad," she says. "Don't fish for compliments."
He yawns and rolls onto his back, stretching and scratching his stomach. "So you're not regretting marrying me?"
"Of course not. And I just told you not to fish for compliments."
"You'll recall I was worried."
"Well, you shouldn't have been." She rolls out of bed and starts to get dressed, feeling his eyes on her. "They'll expect us at breakfast. If I show up without you, they'll assume I've murdered you."
That gets him moving too. "I thought everyone knew you chose to marry me," he remarks. "If you were going to murder me, you would have done it before the wedding night."
"Sansa at least has noticed I love you," she says, making herself sound casual.
She catches his grin in the mirror, huge and blinding, and finds herself smiling back.
Rylla is waiting for them at breakfast with Sansa; she's wearing a dress and one of Sansa's old tiaras. Arya raises her eyebrows at her sister. "What did you do to her?"
"Nothing," says Sansa, but her smugness gives her away. "She likes dresses and swords."
"Do you?" Arya asks her, and Rylla beams and nods.
Gendry ruffles her hair. "I would have gotten you more dresses if you asked," he says.
"You two aren't good at dresses," says Rylla, with the absolute certainty of a four-year-old. "But Aunt Sansa is."
Sansa looks delighted to be an aunt, and Arya feels her heart twist a bit. She didn't do this for Sansa, or for anyone but herself, really, but it's nice to see all the people who are happier just because she did what she wanted. She's used to making things worse for her sister, not better.
"And she says when I have a little sister, I can help her with dresses," Rylla continues, and Arya suddenly feels much less charitable towards Sansa.
"A little sister?"
"Married people have children," Rylla says simply. "Now you're married, you'll have more children. I asked Aunt Sansa, she said I was right."
"I said that children often follow marriage," says Sansa, sounding a little defensive. But Arya's not looking at her; she's looking at Gendry, who hasn't seen her watching him yet, so he still looks sad and a little hopeful. He's not bothering to hide that he'd like another child.
"Children do often follow marriage," Arya agrees. "But it can take a while," she says, nudging her foot against Gendry's. "And it might not be a sister. But in a year or two, you'll probably have a little brother or sister, that's true."
Now Gendry's staring at her. "Is it?"
"I've only been her mother for a day," Arya tells him. "I'm not going to start lying to her this early." When Gendry just keeps staring, she shrugs one shoulder. "I already have one child, another shouldn't be so much harder."
"You got to her after the baby stage," he says. "The baby stage was the hardest."
"That's Sansa's favorite stage," Arya says. "She can handle the baby, we'll take over once it's big enough to start learning how to use a sword."
Gendry leans in close, so only she'll hear him. "You don't have to," he murmurs.
Arya pecks him on the lips. "I know that, stupid." She looks back over at Sansa and Rylla; Sansa is smiling at her like she's proud. It's possible she's even done something her sister should be proud of. Rylla is poking at her breakfast, and Arya feels the same warmth in her chest she always does when she looks at the girl.
Her daughter, now.
"I don't mind," she tells Gendry. "I think I might like kids."
He laughs. "Well, that's good. I do too."
"It's a good thing we're married then, isn't it," she says.
She doesn't think she'll ever get tired of making Gendry smile like this, like he's never been happier. "A very good thing," he agrees.