You want to court her.
You know what she'd say if you told her, though, so you never say it out loud. Instead you fashion her a helm -- a shining, snarling wolf that makes her look like the Warrior and the Maiden combined. When her favorite blackberries come into season, you gather buckets and buckets of them, watching them stain her lips as she pops them into her mouth, and tasting them on her tongue when she kisses you. You don’t know any songs to sing, you can’t play a harp or a flute, but she likes to hear stories and she sits with you before the fire and leans her head against your knee, allowing you to twine your fingers through the rough silk of her hair while you talk of the Brotherhood after she left, of the Inn and the children, of how you came to Winterfell to find her. You court her, and maybe it’s not in a way that anyone else would recognize, but it’s yours.
When she figures it out, she's angry, impatient. "I'm no lady," she says, stepping close and pushing her tongue between your lips as if to prove it. You don't let the kiss stay angry, though. You gentle it, coax it into something soft and sweet, feel her melt like wax in the cage of your arms when you say, "You're a lady to me," because no matter how much she claims otherwise, you know it means something to her every time you say it.
She’s all energy and impulse and force of life wrapped in a girl. You always give in to what she wants but you won’t on this, you won’t lay with her, won’t take her fully instead of this play, this exploration. Not yet. It’s no surprise that she’s less than pleased about it.
“I’m ready!” she insists.
“Do you even know what you’re ready for?” you ask, and you can tell by the stubborn set of her chin that she doesn’t, but you also know such a thing would never stop her, as headstrong as she is.
"I'm ready," she says again.
"I'm not," you say.
You kiss her to show her that it's not because you don't want her. You kiss her to show her that it's because you do. You had a piece of chocolate once. Only once - chocolate wasn't the sort of thing that was plentiful where you came from. It was the littlest piece but you made it last forever. You're good at making things last.
She never backs down, though. "Gendry," she says, nipping at your jaw with blunt teeth when she steals into your chambers behind the smithy at night, her feet bare, her nightshirt so thin you can see the shape of her beneath, can see shallow curves and darker pinks, even after you close your eyes. "Come on," she urges, pushing the plates away after supper to step into the spread of your knees, shivering at the touch of your callused fingertips on her stomach under her tunic, twisting restlessly and seeking something she hasn’t quite figured out yet. "Now," she tells you, when you're standing in the yard to catch a breeze after sweating over the forge, and she slips up behind you to slide her arms around your waist and set her chin to your shoulder. You're black with soot, slick with sweat, but she doesn't care. She kisses the knot of bone at the back of your neck, sets her small feet between the spread of yours, and you wonder at how you could have found exactly who you didn't know you were looking for. Her hand is dangerously low on your belly; you know what she's going to do and you don't stop her when she slips her hand down to skim under the waist of your breeches, her fingers tracing the muscles that vee down farther than she's brave enough to touch quite yet.
"Not yet," you whisper, and you lean back into the feel of her. You wonder what Arya would say if you told her about the chocolate. If you asked her whether she would want the chocolate to last, whether she’d nibble at it in tiny bites, taking only the barest taste of it at a time. “No,” you think she'd say. “I would just eat it.” You'll make it last for the both of you.
Sometimes she pushes you away, because she's angry at your refusal to budge, or because she suddenly becomes uncomfortable, unsure. Overwhelmed by these new feelings, by the things her body demands. You let her, allow her to shove at you with trembling arms, refusing to meet your eyes. You don't follow when she runs and hides, knowing it's not some feminine ruse, knowing it's not play. When she finds you again, creeps into your arms – minutes later, an hour, a day, it makes no matter – you hold her like something fragile, even though she's probably never been fragile. Maybe it's you who's fragile. Arya seems to think so. Arya, who is so steely, so brave and unflinching. She looks on your comparatively tender heart with consternation and curiosity and fond confusion.
“How can you be so hard on the outside and so soft on the inside?” she asks you, curled in your lap, her fingers twining in the laces of your jerkin.
“I’m trying to be the opposite of you,” you tease, but you’re not trying, you just are -- you’re the hammer and she’s the blade -- and she wrinkles her nose at you, smiles and grimaces and brushes an eyelash from your cheek.
Her brother comes, the Lord Commander, down from the Wall, and you feel unaccountably like you're being inspected, measured, weighed like a sword to be used in battle. You hear them together one afternoon, hear him saying, "You're different with him." You hear him say, "I used to be the only one you were different with," and see him affectionately tug one of the ragged, carelessly cut locks of her hair, a certain wistful familiarity about the two of them that makes you feel like you're intruding, even hidden as you are in the shadows of the smithy where they don't see you. She shoves him with her shoulder, tells him to shut up in such a voice that you know she's blushing, and you walk around the rest of the day like there's sunshine inside your boots, like there are wings under your shirt that have you hovering across the ground and would lift you right up into the sky if only they were freed.
"Come on," she breathes against you the night her brother leaves, then says it again and again, so fast that it's all one word, "comeoncomeoncomeon," and she’s beneath you on your bed, she’s hot and sweet and strong, but still you stop her fingers at the laces of your breeches, at the hem of her shift, and instead you put the heel of your palm at the top of her thighs and press, you circle your fingertips over just the right spot through the thin layer of cloth. You move your hand until she shivers and breaks, her face wrung with stunned pleasure, and you say no, not yet, milady, not yet.
There's nothing special or specific about it. Just one day you know, one night she slides against you in her cat-like way and you invite it, you pull her in closer. You draw her thigh over your lap, span her narrow hips with your big, rough hands, and you look at her, sure that everything you feel is written on your face, etched in the lines around your eyes, and she knows too. She smiles, all nerves and need and want.
“Close your eyes,” she tells you, and you do. Your world is black and close, limited to only what you touch – the bench below you, the wall behind you, the girl before you. Not being able to see makes everything else more acute: the sound of your unsteady breathing mingled with hers. The weight of her on your thighs, the bite of the cot’s edge under your legs. The smell she always carries, a smell of spice and leather and piney woods, a scent that you would sometimes catch on the wind to make you wonder if she was near even after she left, though you had no way of knowing she was far away, across the narrow sea, looking like someone else entirely. You wonder if she still smelled like her, like Arya, even when she wore another’s face. The first touch of her fingertips takes you by surprise, makes you jerk, though she only touches your face as she’s done half a hundred times before. But somehow this is different.
You sit still for her exploration, submit to her touches with no touch of your own, only the dig of your fingertips into her hips, just like that first time she kissed you, the first time you allowed yourself to really want. She’s curious, brave, far too bold, and soon you’re shivering, your muscles tight with restraint. When she rocks her hips experimentally, it makes you ache, makes your body feel as if it might collapse in on itself, and you can’t stop yourself from groaning and opening your eyes, from saying "Please." Her face is wild and bright, her lips are cherries, and you kiss her, harder than you should, deeper than you should, but not as hard and deep as you want.
“I like it when you say please,” she tells you, breathlessly, once you’ve relinquished her mouth only to taste her jaw, her neck, the notch between her collarbones, so you say it again, the word layered over her skin with your lips and your tongue. You say it again and again and you don’t feel weak, you only feel strong, so strong you could lift a mountain with your bare hands or catch a dragon right out of the sky.
You’ve little more experience than she in these things – a quick tumble or two with a willing and experienced girl, once with Jeyne Heddle when you were both too lonely to bear being alone – so you and Arya learn together, feeling your way awkwardly, carefully, joyfully. Clothing is discarded or pushed aside. You think maybe you should carry her to your chambers, that a cot in an empty forge isn’t the stuff of a girl’s dreams. That this should be more traditional. It’s a thought that disappears like vapor when she gets her small hand under your breeches to wrap around you. Nothing else about the two of you is traditional, you think, your whole body strung tight like a bow at her touch. It suits that this isn’t either. Besides. This is where she first kissed you. That suits too.
You almost lose yourself when you finally slide inside her, it feels so perfect and destructive. It’s only through force of will that you gather yourself, allow her to adjust and ease to this new feeling. There’s no pain or fear on her face, only concentration, and then surprise when she finds a good way to move and the pleasure of it hits her. You can't stop the words that spill from your lips, stupidly soft words, words you'd laugh to hear from yourself at any other time, but with her like this, they’re all you can say, sweetling and lovely, beautiful girl and milady and Arya, Arya, Arya.
“Now, Gendry, please now,” she whines, her voice ragged and broken and beautiful, when you dip your hand low to touch her where your bodies join, when you stroke her in a rhythm to match that of her hips over yours. She moves faster, her body tensing, her face contorting. She reaches for you, grapples at your arms and shoulders, catches your face between her hands to press your foreheads together as her pleasure takes her and leaves her shaking.
For once, you don’t say not yet, not yet.
The next day is too beautiful for work, no matter how much work there is to be done. She takes your hand and leads you through the wood, to the edge of a meadow that shines green in the sunlight. A lazy wind ripples the tall grass, and it whispers around you, tells secrets in your ears. You find a tree to lean against, the bark rough against your back when you sit back, pulling her down between your knees to lie against your stomach. You kiss her and you memorize her skin and when she falls asleep for an hour, you hold her tucked under your chin, knowing the day will be too short.
“Your eyelashes are gold at the tips,” she says when she wakes and looks at you, wondering, her voice still heavy with sleep, her face dreamy and vague. “And your eyes…they’re blue but the sun is making them look almost transparent.” She touches the lines that bracket your eyes with a delicate fingertip. Drags her finger down the plane of your cheek, traces the indentation of your upper lip.
“Does that surprise you?” you ask. You don’t think she’s ever looked at you like this before.
“Yes,” she tells you, focusing her eyes like she’d been looking somewhere far away. “I mean. No. I guess I’m surprised you’re handsome.”
“Thank you,” you say, but you’re laughing, and you know what she means. “I’m happy you think so.”
“Are you?” she asks. “Happy?” You have to think about it. You aren’t sure you’ve ever been happy before to know how it feels. The bees buzz in your ears, you feel the bones of her hips against the insides of your thighs and you squeeze them until she squirms a bit.
“Yes,” you say. “Are you?”
“I think so.” She frowns, not like she’s angry, but like she’s thinking. Like she hadn’t thought about whether she was happy, she just had been, and that makes you happy too. “It’s been so long. It’s like a fairytale I barely remember.”
“Ah,” you say. “The tale of the Lady and the Bastard.” She rolls her eyes, wriggles like an eel against you in both reward and punishment and delights in your groan, the hitch of your breath at the feel of her.
“The Orphan and the Outlaw,” she suggests.
“The Sword and the Smith,” you counter, and she smiles at that, gives a satisfied little nod before dropping her head back to your chest and curling her fists beneath her chin.
“We should probably get up,” she says after a while, but you pull her a little closer, wrap your arms a little tighter, and you say the same old refrain, not yet, not yet, not yet.