Arya has dreamed of being a knight at Robert Baratheon's Renaissance Faire since she was eight. Her father took the whole family that summer, and they were all somehow at the right age, Robb and Jon begging for swords, Sansa wanting a dress and crown, Bran and Rickon dragging their mother around to look at all the animals, and Arya fascinated by the knights. They went back for three more years, and even if no one else ever enjoyed it as much again, the magic never faded for Arya.
Then everything happened with her dad and they moved away from DC and the Baratheons, but she never forgot. She took lessons, she joined a club at college, and, after years of begging, her dad finally agreed to ask Robert if there was anything she could do at the faire the summer before her senior year of college. And, as it turned out, there was.
Brienne Tarth comes to pick her up at the airport. Arya knows from googling her that she's the only female knight in the faire, and she's willing to take Arya under her wing, which means she's Arya's new favorite person.
They're pretty much exact opposites, she discovers. Brienne is tall and broad, over six feet, with fair hair and a nose that's clearly been broken a few times. Arya's a foot shorter than she is, weighs probably a hundred pounds less than she does, and wishes she were a little younger, just so she could still believe she might still be like Brienne when she grows up.
"You're Arya?" she asks.
"Yes," she says, extending her hand. "Nice to meet you."
Her handshake is just as firm as Arya expected. "You as well. I don't know how much Robert told you about what you'd be doing," she says, hoisting one of Arya's bags over her shoulder and starting out of the baggage claim at a brisk pace. Arya follows as best she can, given her legs are roughly a third of the size of Brienne's.
"Almost nothing," she admits. "Just that I'd be your squire. I assumed that meant doing whatever you told me to and getting to wave swords around some."
Brienne throws an amused look over shoulder. "Sounds about right. You don't ride, do you?"
"I can, but I've never done jousting. Or even held a lance. I'm not sure I have the build for it. I've mostly done fencing and other sword work."
"Maybe not. We can try it out. Since it's your first time, you'll mostly be shadowing me, and I'll be showing you the ropes. You might not get to do any performances, but you'll certainly get to practice on off days. And you'll learn a lot about how the faires work."
"You're in other faires too, right?"
Brienne nods, unlocking her car and tossing the bags in the back. "I travel around throughout the year, doing faires and other performances when I can find them. It's me and Jaime, mostly, sometimes some of the others come."
"I remember Jaime," says Arya, perking up. "He was here when I was a kid."
"I keep telling him he's getting too old, but he's never listened to me about anything." Brienne gives her a smile, and Arya can't help smiling back. It's exactly what she hoped it would be. "I'm looking forward to working with you," she says.
"Yeah. Me too."
The faire isn't actually open to the public yet, but there are a good number of staff members hanging around getting ready for the first day. There's something cooking in the food court, vendors are around putting finishing touches on their products, and she can smell smoke from a forge. Jaime is on the field with another rider, practicing his tilting.
"It's not always like this," says Brienne. "We usually don't spend much time here on our days off. But since tomorrow is the grand opening, everyone's putting in some extra time."
"Sorry to pull you away," says Arya. "I wanted to come down sooner, but I had finals."
"Don't worry about it," says Brienne. "I don't get nervous." She looks at the case Arya is carrying. "That's your sword?"
"I brought a few," says Arya, and opens it when Brienne gestures. She has two foils and two longswords, although one is in bad shape. Of course, that's the one Brienne picks up.
"What happened to this one?" she asks. "It's nice."
"My little brother. He got a hold of it and decided to try hitting it against a rock. I didn't catch him in time. It's my favorite, but--"
"Bring it over to Gendry."
"Gendry," says Brienne, handing it over. "He's a blacksmith. Ask if he'll take a look. He always fixes up my armor for me."
Arya frowns, looking at the sword. "He won't screw it up?"
Brienne snorts. "He's pretty good. Besides, how much worse can it get? Just ask."
It's not hard to find the blacksmith's; she just follows the smoke and the sound of ringing metal until she spots the tent. It's only May, but it's already sticky and gross, worse than New England was. She's worried about wearing armor regularly, she can't even imagine working the forge.
"Um, excuse me?" she tries. Surprising someone who's working with hot metal seems dangerous.
The blacksmith--Gendry, presumably--puts down his hammer and turns to her, pushing his hair out of his eyes. He's about Brienne's size, younger than she expected, with black hair, and blue eyes that stand out sharply against his face, which is dark with soot. He blinks at her a few times, and she realizes she's staring a little. He has very nice arms.
"Sorry to interrupt," she says. "I'm Arya, I'm going to be Brienne's squire?"
"Okay," he says, sounding oddly wary.
"Are you Gendry?"
"Brienne said you might be able to help me? My brother destroyed one of my swords but I don't want to get rid of it."
His face clears and he smiles. His teeth are as bright as his eyes. "Oh, yeah, of course. I'd be happy to take a look. Give me a minute to finish this up? If you're not in a rush."
Arya shakes her head and he goes back to work. He's got some of his wares out for display, swords and daggers, but also more exotic things, axes and flails and maces, even some polearms. The cheaper ones are just unpainted wood and metal, but he has some higher end stuff that's beautiful. She picks up a scimitar, testing the weight, then trying a few practice thrusts. She's never used this kind of sword before, but it feels nice in her hand. She doesn't even realize she's gotten carried away with her routine until she hears Gendry clear his throat.
She turns back, smiling sheepishly. "Sorry. It's a really nice sword."
Gendry smiles back. "No, it's fine. You're really good. I mean, at fencing with nobody, I guess. But it looked really good." She thinks she can see some clean skin on his neck go red, but it's hard to tell. She hopes so. "Uh, anyway, do you have the other sword?"
"Yeah, yeah," says Arya, putting the scimitar back and grabbing her long sword.
Gendry whistles. "Wow. Did your brother hit it with a rock?"
"Hit a rock with it," Arya says. "But close enough."
He snorts. "Well, it shouldn't be too hard to fix it," he says, and then gives her a smirk, which does not at all make her stomach flip over. "You can keep playing with the scimitar if you want."
She glares at him. "Why would I do that? I've already played with it. I want to try a different one."
Gendry laughs and goes back to the forge; Arya grabs a glaive and starts testing it out. It's actually very relaxing; the rhythmic sound of the hammer on the sword and the feel of the weapon in her hand. She doesn't know how long it's been when Brienne comes over and finds her.
"You're good," she observes, and Arya stops with a smile.
"I've never tried a glaive before. I like it."
"If you can use that I think you should be fine with a lance. It's not much heavier." She looks over Arya's shoulder. "You were just going to let her keep going?" she asks Gendry.
He grins. "She seemed to be having such a good time, I didn't want to interrupt." He offers the sword to Arya. "How does that feel?"
Arya tries a few swings. "Perfect. What do I owe you?"
He shrugs, clearly uncomfortable. "No charge. I just patched it up. Welcome to the faire."
Arya gives him her best smile, which isn't that great, but it's the thought that counts. "Thanks."
She's almost completely certain his neck turns pink again. "Don't mention it."
The faire opens up on Saturday; Arya spends the first day following Brienne around, helping with her armor, and doing a little fencing with her when the day slows down. It's hot and sticky and not quite like she imagined, but it's still really, really awesome.
"You coming out?" Brienne asks once they've closed down and cleaned up.
"Opening day. We're going to the bar."
"Almost everyone. The first night, everyone goes."
"Well, if everyone's doing it."
Brienne laughs and claps her on the shoulder. "That's right, bow to peer pressure. I'll give you a lift."
The bar is small and not particularly fancy, apparently the only game in town. It's already mostly full, people still in costume crammed into tables and and at the bar. Brienne goes over to talk to Jaime and Arya takes a look around, spotting Gendry the blacksmith at the end of the bar, apparently alone.
She goes over and sits down next to him. He frowns when he sees her. "Arya, right?"
"Yeah," she says. "How was your first day?"
"Fine." He looks down at his beer, worrying his lip. "You don't want to sit here."
He runs his hand through his hair, sighing. "No, I--look, you know Cersei?"
"She hates me. And she doesn't like anyone who talks to me, so you should probably hang out with someone else."
She shrugs. "She hates me too. So we should stick together."
Before Gendry can respond, the bartender comes over and gives Arya a big grin. "Friend of Gendry's, huh?"
"Yeah," she says, daring him to contradict her.
"Excellent. What are you having? First round is on the house."
He's still looking at her when the bartender comes back with her cider; Arya takes a long drink and then raises her eyebrows. "What?"
He shakes his head. "You're stubborn, aren't you?"
"I've been told. Why does Cersei hate you?"
Gendry considers, playing with the label on his beer bottle. "The bartender, she's my mom," he says. "And Robert's my dad."
"He didn't know about me. It was before the two of them got married. But I went to the faire when I was in high school because I wanted to learn about smithing, and he knew as soon as he saw me. I guess I take after him. He got me working with the old blacksmith, and Cersei was furious. I guess his kids don't like it as much as he does, or as I do, so she thinks he favors me." He shrugs awkwardly. "If I were her I probably wouldn't like me much either."
"Seems unfair," says Arya. "My mom's the same way with my half-brother Jon. Be mad at Dad for getting cold feet and cheating before the wedding, that's fine, but why take it out on Jon? It's not his fault."
"It's probably easier than hating her husband," Gendry says, shrugging.
Arya frowns. "Well, like I said, Cersei already hates me. We might as well be friends."
He looks like he wants to ask her about it, but all he says is, "Cheers," and he clinks his bottle against hers.
She starts going to Gendry's stall to have lunch, sitting next to him while he works and chatting to people who look at his swords when he's busy. Then she starts doing demonstrations, and Brienne starts actually sending her over there when she has free time. "It's good for him," she says. "Having company. And you're increasing his sales."
"Brienne likes you," she observes to Gendry. "She doesn't care that Cersei hates you either."
"Brienne isn't afraid of anything. And Cersei hates her because Jaime is so fond of her."
"Am I increasing your sales?"
"Yeah. People like seeing how to use the stuff, god knows I can't teach them."
"I can't believe you're no good. They're made so well, how can you not know how to use them?"
"I know how they're supposed to feel, that's all," he says, with a shrug.
She's going to press him a little more, maybe offer him lessons, but Cersei sweeps by and narrows her eyes when she spots them. "Arya," she says, cool as ever. "It was my understanding you were working with Brienne."
"I am," she says. "But she doesn't need me right now. She sent me over to help Gendry."
"Of course she did." She glances over at Gendry, mouth a thin line, but says nothing. She leaves, and Arya barely resists the urge to stick her tongue out at the woman's back.
Gendry doesn't mention it until they're closing for the night and Arya is helping him put his things away. "I thought you were lying."
"About what?" she asks.
"Cersei. Her hating you."
"Why would I lie about that?"
"Because you're stubborn and you wanted to hang out with me. Why does she hate you?"
"I take after my aunt," says Arya, looking down. "And--Robert was in love with her. My aunt."
"He and my dad are friends from way back. He fell in love with my Aunt Lyanna, and they were engaged for a while. But she left him for someone else and apparently he never really recovered."
"Just married someone else and slept with everyone who catches his fancy," says Gendry, sounding more bitter than Arya would have expected. Not that she blames him.
"Pretty much. But ever since I turned sixteen he's been creepy at me every time he comes to visit."
"No wonder he was so thrilled we're friends," he says, making a face. "Sorry about him."
"Not your fault."
"I'm surprised you decided to work here, if he's that bad."
She shrugs. "I really like all this knight stuff," she says. "And I had an in here. Besides, it's not like he's here all the time. It's worth it."
"Does he creep on your aunt too?"
"She died before I was born. Car crash with her new boyfriend."
She shrugs. "Like I said, it was before I was born. It's not like I knew her or anything." She bumps her shoulder against him. "So Cersei hates me for something that has nothing to do with me too. Does that mean you'll keep on hanging out with me?"
He grins back at her. "If you insist."
The faire is only open on weekends, so on weekdays, Arya does her actual job, maintaining the Stark Industries website and fielding their tech support questions. It's not actually that time consuming unless they're having a crisis, so after three weeks, she's starting to get pretty bored and stir-crazy in the evenings.
She finally gives in and texts Gendry: bored. what are you doing tonight?
He texts back almost instantly, which is nice. Unfortunately, he says, work in 10 mins, amuse yourself.
you're going to the forge NOW?
shift at the bar. see u friday
She has no idea what part of him working at the bar is supposed to be unappealing, so she changes into a skirt and tank top and heads over. It's pretty dead--no surprise, it's a small-town bar on a Wednesday--and Gendry's leaning on the bar, looking bored.
"I didn't know you worked here," she says, sitting down on the stool across from him.
He grins and gets her regular beer. "As it turns out, seasonal renaissance faire blacksmith isn't really a career you can live off of."
She cocks her head. "You just sell at the faire?"
"Where else would I sell?"
"Don't you have a website or something?"
"How would I get a website?"
"It's not hard."
He shrugs. "Maybe not for you. I'm bad with computers."
"Well, what are you doing tomorrow?"
"Working. I'm at the garage nine to five."
"But nothing after?"
"I only work here Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday."
"Great. I'll come over and make a website for you."
His smile is a little twisted. "Just like that, huh?"
"It's not like it's hard," she scoffs.
"Fine," he says, looking amused in spite of himself. "I'll buy you a pizza."
His apartment is a few blocks from the college where she's renting an empty dorm room for the summer and, as promised, he has pizza waiting for her when she shows up.
"I never actually thanked you, did I?" he asks, in lieu of a greeting. "Thanks. It's nice of you to do this."
"It's not purely altruistic," she says. "I've been bored as shit."
"You think this is bad, imagine living here."
"I don't have to. I grew up in small-town New England. It's pretty much the same. I learned how to do HTML out of sheer boredom."
She throws him a mock-glare. "That's also why I learned how to use a sword, so watch your mouth."
He holds up his hands in surrender. "Right, right, I forgot I was trying to be nice."
"Yeah, you're bad at it. You should probably give up."
He flops down next to her on the couch, close enough she can feel the warmth radiating off his side. "Is that it?" he asks, leaning in to look at the site she put together earlier. "That looks really professional."
"I am a professional," Arya points out. "I do tech support for my dad's company."
"Oh." He rubs the back of his neck. "You don't have to do this, you know. I really appreciate it, but--I can't pay you or anything."
"I don't want you to pay me," she says, rolling her eyes. "What are friends for?"
He bumps his shoulder against hers. "We're friends, huh?"
"What did you think we were?" He just smiles at her, and Arya has to look away, blushing. "Anyway," she says, pointedly. "This is what I came up with."
She gets into a routine in no time. During the day, she works on the Stark Industries website, and at night she's either at the bar, if Gendry's working, or hanging out with him at his place or hers. She's with Brienne in the morning at the faire and Gendry in the afternoon. It's nice, and if she spends an increasing amount of time thinking about what it would be like to kiss him, she figures it's just because he's the person he spends the most time with. It's not a big deal. If she wasn't so sure Brienne was dating Jaime, maybe she'd want to kiss her instead. Anything's possible.
It's mid-July when Sansa texts and says she and her girlfriend are coming to check out the faire. Arya tells her to come in the morning so she can see the jousting, but of course they're running late. She thinks about not going over to Gendry's stall, but she doesn't really want to explain to Gendry why she didn't, and even if he didn't ask, Brienne almost certainly would. She'll just put up with whatever teasing she gets from her sister.
"What's wrong?" Gendry asks, frowning at her. "You look like you're going to jump out of your skin."
"My sister's coming."
"And I'm nervous. We haven't always gotten along. And she thinks this is stupid."
"So why's she coming?"
"Probably to judge me, I don't know. So be nice, okay?"
"You think I'm not nice?"
"You know what I mean."
"I actually seriously don't," says Gendry. "But I can't imagine ever not being nice to your sister."
"Just remember, she's both gay and taken."
"I didn't mean I was going to hit on your sister," he protests.
"Well, you haven't seen her yet," Arya says, scuffing her shoe on the ground. Sansa is gorgeous. Everyone thinks so. "Gay and taken."
"I've got it," he assures her. "Seriously."
Arya's been working pretty hard on Gendry's stall. He's an awesome blacksmith, and she's pretty sure he could go down to two jobs if he was marketing himself better. She's printed off information about clubs and groups that customers can join to use their new weapons and put them up on his new website, and she's gotten really good at convincing parents that their kids will thrive with a new hobby.
Gendry wants to pay her, but there's no way she's letting him do that. She's a Stark, and he's working three jobs to get by. She can afford to help a friend in her spare time.
She's showing a little girl how to use a foil when Sansa and Margaery show up. They're all dressed up for the occasion, Sansa in a green dress and flower crown and Marg in leather armor. Marg is totally Sansa's best significant other ever.
"I thought you were working with the knights," says Sansa, frowning at Arya.
"In the morning," says Arya. "That's why I told you to come in the morning. I do afternoons here."
Marg goes over to look at the swords, testing a few herself. Sansa is looking at Gendry, who hasn't noticed them yet. "I see," she says pointedly. Gendry's wearing his apron, but his arms are still very visible, and he looks good. Arya does not let herself blush.
"I actually like teaching people about weapons," she says.
"You like working with people?"
"Yeah, it surprised me too."
The sound of hammer on metal stops, and Arya glances back to see Gendry tugging off his heavy apron, leaving him in just his jeans. This time she does blush, just because she knows Sansa must be watching her. He gives them a bright smile and walks over, offering Sansa his hand. "You must be Arya's sister?"
"Yes, Sansa Stark," she says, and Arya winces, just a little. She's never told Gendry her last name. As far as she knows, no one's told him. He must have known she was rich, but not that she was a Stark. It's a level above rich. "It's nice to meet you."
"Gendry," he says. If he's recognized her name, he gives no sign of it. "Nice to meet you too. Arya said you're in DC?"
"Yes, I work for Clear Skies, it's a clean air lobby group." She glances at Arya, looking smug. "She hasn't said anything about you."
Gendry's grin is blinding. "She's really been helping me out. I'm not really good with customers, my sales have tripled."
"They have not," says Arya. "You make good stuff. People like to buy good stuff."
"They've doubled. And now I can say yes when people ask if I've got a website."
Arya is pointedly not looking at Sansa, because she knows exactly how smug her sister will look. "Well, you just need to learn how to market yourself," she mutters. "Marg, are you getting something?"
"What do you think would go with my armor?" she asks. She waves. "Also, hello, Arya's handsome friend. I'm Margaery."
Gendry salutes. "Nice to meet you too. Arya, are you going to help the lady find a good sword?"
She's not thrilled about leaving Sansa alone with him, but helping Marg find the right sword does sound fun. "Be nice," she mutters to Sansa. Sansa just raises her eyebrows.
Marg ends up with a longsword, and she and Sansa stick around to take Arya out to dinner. They invite Gendry too, of course, and it's like a double date, except that she and Gendry aren't dating. Even if Sansa obviously wants them to be. And Arya wants them to be too. Marg might, in solidarity. Gendry needs to get with the program.
"So, Arya Stark," he remarks, when he's walking her back to campus.
She shrugs. "It's not like I know your last name."
"Waters. Not as exciting as Stark."
"I don't like being exciting because of my last name," she says, harsher than she means to.
"You're plenty exciting on your own." He pauses and says, "I heard about the stuff with, uh, your dad. Mostly because of my dad. I'm surprised they're still friends."
Arya looks down. "They weren't for a few years." She doesn't know all the details of the scandal herself--Robert was doing some illegal shit, her dad got dragged into it, he left his position in congress. It was bad, but she's pretty sure her dad wasn't actually at fault. "But I don't think my dad was ever happy in politics. He's better off as a businessman." Her smile comes out twisted. "Not that it's how he would have chosen to leave."
Gendry puts his arm around her and gives her a squeeze. "I don't care that you're a Stark. But now I don't feel bad for not giving you a cut of the profits."
Arya laughs. "I kept telling you."
Sansa texts, please tell me you hooked up with the hot blacksmith.
Arya doesn't respond.
She keeps meaning to hook up with Gendry. She wants to. She thinks about it a lot. He's hot, but he's also funny and cool and a good friend, and she's never been good at turning those kinds of relationships romantic. She's much better at random hookups at parties. She doesn't do well when she's invested.
So summer ends, and they're still just friends. He offers to give her a ride to the airport, and she takes it; Brienne gives her a knowing smile, and she wishes everyone wasn't so convinced they knew what was going on with her and Gendry. It makes the fact that nothing is going on even more frustrating.
"Are you coming back next summer?" he asks.
"I hope so. I'll be done with school, but I'll probably just keep working for my dad. Brienne said she'd be happy to take me if you didn't want me."
He laughs. "You don't want to come down just to work for me. For free."
"I worked for Brienne for free too. I just like hanging out with weapons."
Gendry pulls over in the airport drop-off zone and looks out the window. "Well, I'd be happy to have you back," he says.
"I'll come back," she says. "And if you're in the Boston area anytime, let me know. We can get dinner or something."
"I will." He gets out of the car and opens up the trunk, getting her bags for her. "I better see you next summer, Arya Stark."
She gives him a hug. It's supposed to be quick, but he wraps his arms around her too and it's hard to force herself away. But she does, and she grins at him. "You'll see me next summer," she promises.
Gendry texts just after Thanksgiving: going to a concert in canada in december. might stop by boston on the way back if you'll be there? like 19th to 22nd. lmk
It's not the first time they've talked. They email pretty regularly, even talk on the phone sometimes. All her friends think he's her boyfriend, which kind of sucks, only because he's not. But maybe if he comes to stay with her for a few days, they can upgrade. Stranger things have happened. Under ordinary circumstances, she'd already be home for Christmas break by the 19th, but she's willing to make an exception.
I'll be around, yeah. you can crash on my couch and everything
He doesn't respond, but two days later, he forwards his flight information.
She drives to the airport to pick him up, even though driving to the airport is miserable. She hates the silver line more than she hates driving, and she'd rather have him to herself than take public transportation anyway. The traffic sucks, of course, so he's already waiting for her, all bundled up in a poofy jacket and a scarf. She can barely see his face, but he's obviously just as attractive as she remembers. The world just isn't fair sometimes.
"Wuss," she says, giving him a big hug. "Doesn't it get cold in Virginia?"
"Not this cold," he protests, but he can't keep a grin off his face. "Good to see you."
"Yeah, yeah, you too. Come on, get in the warm car, you big baby."
It's awkward for a few minutes, because all Arya can think to talk about is the faire, and there isn't much to say about that right now. But Gendry asks if she's been watching Elementary, and that leads to a long discussion of TV shows, and then video games, and then football. She stops worrying that they don't have anything in common and starts enjoying herself.
They do tourist stuff the next day, checking out museums and stores and Boston staples. Gendry's never been here before, and Arya likes showing off her city. Still, the day after, they just hang out in Arya's apartment and play video games, and it's better, warm and fuzzy and comfortable. It feels like he could be part of her life, not just a special occasion.
That night, the blizzard hits.
"All flights canceled," says Gendry, running his hand through his hair. "Sounds like it's a nightmare, everything was overbooked because it's so close to Christmas, and the airport's not sure when they'll open up. I have no idea when I'll be able to get out." He gives her a wry smile. "I'm really sorry. You can take off whenever, I'll get a hotel or--"
"Just come home with me," Arya says. He stares at her, mouth agape, and she shrugs. "You probably won't get out before Christmas anyway. They'll get the roads clear and we can drive out. You can fly out of Albany if it clears out sooner, or you can just wait and fly out of Boston after."
"I don't want to intrude."
"Well, you won't be. No one will mind. Sansa and Marg liked you, they'll be there."
Gendry keeps looking at her. "You're sure?" he asks, soft.
"I'm sure." She glances out the window; snow's still piled high on the streets. "That's assuming it clears up enough we can get out, of course. Otherwise we're spending Christmas in here, which would be depressing." Gendry's still watching her, and she blushes a little. "I don't even have a tree."
"Thanks," he says, and the moment feels too heavy, so she boots up Smash Brothers again.
Arya's almost disappointed when the roads do clear. She knew Boston would sort it out, but Western Mass where her parents live got hit worse and has fewer plows, so she thought maybe they'd still be buried. It's not like she doesn't want to see the family, but her mother is really excited that she's bringing Gendry, which can't be good. Sansa probably told her about him. She's already embarrassed.
But her dad calls on the 23rd and says they're all clear, so she and Gendry drive the few hours out to the Berkshires to see the rest of the Starks.
"There are a lot of us," she warns him. "My mom and dad, my brother Robb, his wife Jeyne, their two kids, my brother Jon--"
"That's the half brother?" Gendry asks.
"Yeah. His mom died when he was eight, so he's lived with us since then."
Gendry winces. "Even though your mom hates him?"
"Yeah. It can be awkward, but they're pretty used to each other by now." She clucks her tongue. "I think Jon's girlfriend is coming? Sansa and Marg, you know them. And my two little brothers, Bran and Rickon."
"So, your entire huge family."
"My entire huge family. But they're nice. My mom likes having people to take care of."
"I don't need taking care of."
"You're stranded away from your family for Christmas, of course you need taking care of."
"Mom doesn't mind," he says. "She's just glad I have somewhere to go. We'll celebrate when I get back. And she's got her boyfriend, so she won't be alone."
"Sorry anyway," says Arya.
He gives her a grin. "Could be worse."
He looks considerably less happy when he sees the Stark house, and Arya can't exactly blame him. With as many kids as they have, her parents probably need a big place, but it really is excessive. He knew she was rich, but she still feels guilty for flaunting it like this, even by accident.
"Jesus," he says, sounding kind of awed.
"My mom's really old money," says Arya, rubbing the back of her neck. "But we're normal, I promise. Have you never been to Robert's house?"
He smiles wryly. "Of course not."
Arya wishes, not for the first time, that she could punch Robert Baratheon in the mouth. He deserves it. "Well, it's full of dogs and kids, so it doesn't feel huge."
"How many dogs do your parents have?"
"Six. Our previous dogs had puppies and we wouldn't let my parents get rid of any of them."
Four of the dogs rush out to greet them as soon as they're out of the car, Nymeria in the lead. Arya crouches down to greet her dog, hugging her and letting the dog lick her face. "Hey, girl! Hey, I missed you too, yeah! Good girl. Go say hi to Gendry, okay?"
"You said they were dogs, not wolves," Gendry remarks, but he kneels down to scratch her. "What's her name?"
"Nymeria. She's mine. That's Ghost, Shaggydog, and Lady behind her. Summer and Grey Wind are probably inside." She tosses him his backpack. "Along with all the Starks. Ready?"
"As I'll ever be." He leans down and kisses her cheek. "In case I don't seem like it later, I really am grateful. That you invited me."
She elbows him. "I know. Don't be weird."
"It's Arya!" she hears, and then her niece and nephew are on her, and Jon and Ygritte and her mom. Gendry tries to hang back from the crowd, but Arya drags him over for introductions.
"This is my friend Gendry, from the ren faire," she says. "Gendry, this is like half of everyone. Mom, Jon, Ygritte, Talisa,and Harry. The others are inside?"
"At the store," says her mother. "We were getting low on food." She offers her hand to Gendry. "It's a pleasure to meet you, we've heard a lot about you. From Sansa," she adds, to Arya.
"He's a blacksmith at the faire," Arya says, rolling her eyes. "He's cool. I don't tell you about all my friends. Come on, I'll show you around."
"They seem nice," Gendry remarks, as Arya takes him up to the guest room.
"They are. Kind of overwhelming and weird, but nice."
"This house is still ridiculous."
"I know. You can hide in your room. No one will mind."
He rolls his eyes. "I'm not afraid of your family."
"Well, I'm going to hide in my room. They'll grill me if I come out. So you're on your own."
"You want them to grill me about you instead?" Gendry asks, with a far too innocent look in his eyes.
"Good point." She rubs the back of her neck, lingering at the door. "Hey, thanks for coming. I know you're acting like this is really nice of me, but it's not, really. I love my family, but--it's good to have company. And I'm sure you'd be happier at home. So, thanks."
Gendry smiles at her. "Is that the Christmas spirit, Arya Stark? That was positively sappy."
"Shut up. Dinner's at seven."
"Gendry seems nice," says her mother.
"He's Robert Baratheon's bastard son," says Arya, in same overly casual tone. "But yes, he's nice."
"I could tell," says her mother, apparently not concerned in the least. "He has the Baratheon look. And he does work at the faire."
"You don't care?"
"He seems to make you happy. That's all I've ever wanted for you."
"We're not--" Arya huffs. "It's not like that. He's just a friend who got stranded."
Catelyn hums noncommittally; Arya tries not to scowl. She wouldn't care half so much if she didn't actually want to date Gendry. It's just annoying that everyone acts like it's already happening when it probably never will.
"Is there anything I can do to help, Mrs. Stark?" The man in question is suddenly at the door, filling up most of the frame. "With dinner?"
"That would be wonderful, Gendry. Thank you."
She gets him set up slicing carrots and peppers next to Arya. "What, you don't help?" he teases.
"I'm providing moral support," says Arya, stealing a carrot. "That's helping."
Gendry kicks her; she kicks back. Her mom smiles like it's the best thing ever, and Arya tries to ignore her.
"You know, if you don't go to sleep, Santa isn't going to come." Arya's on the couch, looking at the Christmas tree and enjoying the last of the fire before it burns out. She thought everyone was asleep, but Gendry sits down next to her. "And then you won't get any presents."
"There are already a bunch of presents," she says. "I think I'm safe."
"Are you okay?"
"I am. I just like the fire. Are you okay?"
"Just got off the phone with my mom," he says. "She used to work Christmas Eve at the bar, so we'd celebrate at midnight when she got home. It was how she apologized for not being around the rest of the day." He smiles. "And then Santa came overnight, so we had a couple more presents in the morning."
Arya smiles. "That's cute. Sorry you're not with her."
"This is nice too," says Gendry. He clears his throat, looking down at his hands. For the first time, Arya notices he's got a wrapped present at his feet. "I'm actually glad I caught you. I don't have anything for the rest of your family, so I thought I could give you your gift now. In private."
"No one cares you don't have presents."
"Still," says Gendry, putting the box on her lap. The size and weight make it obvious; it's a sword. "Yeah, yeah," he says, smiling at her expression. "Not much of a surprise, I know. You're hard to shop for."
She unwraps it and opens up the box; the sword is beautiful, even in the scabbard. He must have gotten someone to do a fancy hilt for him, leather with copper wire detailing, and she runs her fingers over it reverently before pulling it out and unsheathing it. He's even done detailing on the blade, an etched design of vines running up and down both sides, delicate and perfect.
"This must have taken you ages," she breathes. He shrugs a little, flushed but pleased. "Gendry, this is--"
"You helped me out a lot. And I thought you'd like it. I just wanted to get you something nice."
She slides the sword back in the sheath, sets it aside carefully, and pulls him in and kisses him.
It's only after she does it that she remembers kissing someone isn't really a good way to say thank you if the other person isn't interested in kissing you. Gendry will probably just regret giving her the sword, and he's definitely not allowed to take it back. Even if she did ruin everything. She's keeping the sword.
Then Gendry's hand comes up to cup her cheek and he slants his mouth against her and he's kissing her back, tugging her into his lap. She slides her hands into his hair, deepening the kiss, and she doesn't remember where they are until his hands slide under the hem of her shirt.
She pulls back, breathing hard, and it takes her a second to remember why she stopped when she sees him, mouth slightly open, hair tousled, looking up at her like she's the best thing he's ever seen. He licks his lips and she nearly kisses him again. "So, uh, you like it?" he asks, voice husky.
Arya laughs. "Well, I wanted to kiss you anyway. But I like it too. It's beautiful. It's much nicer than what I got you."
"Well, I owe you for all your help," he says, leaning up for another kiss. "And there's this. This is nice."
"We're not making out on my parents' couch," Arya says. "Even if everyone else is asleep. They might wake up. And I'd never hear the end of it."
"I don't think anyone would be surprised if they found us making out on the couch," he teases, tucking her hair back behind her ear with a smile. "Your dad already gave me a talk about how you deserve to be treated. It's kind of nice, really. Don't have to worry your family doesn't approve. They like me."
Arya laughs. "They do. They've never been so proud of me."
"So we can make out on the couch," he says, and kisses her again. She doesn't argue this time.
She snuggles with him on Christmas morning and glares at Sansa when she looks like she's planning to bring it up. Sansa's returning smile is overly smug, but it's not worth it to get up and try to do something to stop her. Gendry has his arm around her. It's a big improvement over fighting with Sansa.
Her family got him presents, of course--she gave them a few days' notice, there's no way they wouldn't get him things. He seems baffled by the entire experience, even if it's all pretty generic stuff.
"I really can't thank you enough," he stammers out, bright red, and Arya cuffs him.
"You did. Shut up and enjoy your presents."
She tosses her gift on his lap after most everyone's done and the kids have started playing with their new stuff. He glances at her, surprised. "I thought you gave me my present last night."
She rolls her eyes. "If all you wanted for Christmas was kissing, you have really low standards."
"I'm not going to respond to that," he says, undoing the ribbon on the box. "You'd make fun of me."
"I wish I'd known that was all you wanted," she muses. "The present's shitty."
He pulls out the stuffed bull and the Web Design for Dummies book with a bemused smile. "A bull?"
"You have that helmet on display by the forge," she mutters. "I assumed that meant you liked them."
"I do like them," he says. "Is your family busy?"
Arya glances around; most everyone's gone, and the ones who are still in the room aren't paying them any attention. "Yeah."
He gives her a quick kiss. "I love them. Thank you."
"Not as nice as the sword."
"I'm better than you," he says loftily. "It can't be helped."
She elbows him, and he just kisses her again.
"I could give you a ride back," Arya says, after another hour-long phone call with the airline.
Arya shrugs. "I'm not doing anything else for the rest of my break. I'll drive down, sleep over, and go back to Boston. If I stay here for more than a few days I just start arguing with Sansa and leave early anyway. I might as well just go with you. If you want," she adds, a little too quickly. He might want some time to himself.
"Don't go getting shy on me, Stark. Stay for New Year's. I don't have any exciting plans." He grins. "Besides, I'm not going to see you again for months. I want to see you for as long as I can. And in private."
She flushes, but she can't argue that. "Sure, I'll stay with you through New Year's," she says. "It's a long time to summer."
Her parents seem thrilled that she's taking off to spend New Year's with her boyfriend; it's really quite sad. She's twenty-two, it's a little early for them to be worrying about her dying alone. When Sansa was twenty-two she hadn't figured out she liked girls yet and was dating Joffrey, who is by far the worst of Robert Baratheon's children. Arya's definitely found the only good member of that family.
"My mom's thrilled you're coming, by the way," Gendry says when they're on the road. "She's had to put up with my mooning for months. She thinks this will be an improvement."
"What, did you miss me?"
"I was mooning even before you left. You're out of my league, Arya Stark."
"I'm really not. I'm going to be an awful girlfriend."
Gendry reaches over and squeezes her hand on the gear shift. "I've got no complaints so far." He can't hold the serious expression. "Well, I guess you did make me meet your giant, terrifying family before I'd even asked you out--"
"You never asked me out! You still haven't asked me out! And I kissed you first, so I did all the work."
"I made you a sword. But you're right, I haven't asked you out. Do you want to be my date for New Year's?"
"Not sure," says Arya. "I haven't heard my other offers yet--" He elbows her and she laughs. "Yeah, sure, it's not like I know anyone else in Virginia anyway."
"I did want to ask you out this summer," he says, looking a little pink. "Brienne made fun of me about it."
"Oh good. I was afraid everyone was just making fun of me."
"Nah. We were in the same boat," he says, and from his overly casual tone, she knows he means about everything.
The few days in Virginia are nice; she meets his mother again and celebrates Christmas with them again, and they hang out at the bar and sleep in late and have a truly awesome amount of sex. It's a real contender for her best Christmas break ever.
"So, summer," Gendry says. He's wearing pajama bottoms and no shirt, and she's resting on his bare chest eating Lucky Charms. It's exactly what she hoped having a boyfriend would be like.
"That's the next time I'm going to see you?"
"Oh. Probably." She turns around and looks back at him. "I could come down for spring break, I guess. I'm not doing anything else. If you're around."
Gendry perks up. "This was my one vacation for the year. I'll be here. You should definitely come."
"So, I can come down at the end of March," she says. "And then after graduation, for the summer. And--" It feels weird, to be planning to stay here to be with him, when they've barely been dating, and haven't even known each other that long. It feels like something Sansa would have done at her age, impulsive and romantic, because she thought every love was her one true love.
Arya's never been like that, but maybe it wouldn't hurt. Just this once.
"And then I'll need to live somewhere," she finishes. "So we'll see what happens."
"Virginia's nice," he says. "I'll pull out all the stops at Spring Break. Take you to all the cool places. Colonial Williamsburg. Mount Vernon. A billion Civil War battle sites."
"I thought we'd just have sex for two weeks."
"At the Civil War battle sites," he says. "Multitasking."
She laughs and cranes around to kiss him. "You really need to work on your pitch, Waters."
"Well, I've got a couple months. Just you wait."
She drives herself down this time, with a trailer full of almost all of her stuff. Brienne's letting her do knight stuff in the mornings again, exhibition sword fights and even a little riding, and she'll be working with Gendry the rest of the time. She's got a place she's renting for the summer, and she can stay there into the fall, if she decides she wants to. It would be big enough for Gendry too, in theory. Close enough to his work that he could stay over a lot, or even just stay. She hasn't mentioned this to him, but he knows her address, he can figure it out himself.
He's sitting on the steps when she arrives, and he gets up to help her unload without a word.
"Don't you have anything better to do?"
"Not a thing," he says, and Arya grins and leans up for a kiss.