Gendry asks her to marry him, and all Arya can think of is Father.
You will marry a high lord and rule his castle, he had promised her once. She had told him no, and she knows she must do the same now. She had been a child then, and the idea of marriage had never entered her head. Now... Now she is a woman grown, and she would be lying if she said that she has never once entertained the thought, but she knows in her heart that she cannot.
So she kisses him, soft and slow and sweet, and watches his face fall as she tells him that she can't be what he wants. It's almost funny, she thinks; she had once so desperately wanted him to be her family, and now she is turning him down. Perhaps they were doomed from the start just for being a Stark and a Baratheon; her aunt Lyanna was once promised to Robert, and Father used to tell her how similar Arya was to his sister. Gendry, too, is Robert's son through and through - he must be the image of his father before he turned to drink and women.
But, just as Robert and Lyanna could not be, neither can they. Arya goes back to her archery, and she feels Gendry linger for a moment longer before he turns and shuffles away.
"Gendry," she calls out on impulse, spinning around to face him. He stops, but does not face her, the set of his shoulders tight and tense. She could ask him to look at her, although he outranks her now, if either of them had ever cared about such things. She opens her mouth to say something, perhaps to apologise, but she cannot force the words out. She will not apologise for being who she is.
Instead, "I hope you will be happy, my Lord," she says, and the words feel heavy as she speaks.
He half turns towards her but doesn't meet her eyes. "As do I, you, m'lady," he replies, then turns on his heel and walks away, leaving her alone in the dark.
She watches him go, and she feels nothing. She releases more arrows into the wall and waits for the guilt, or regret, or something to set in, but none of them come.
(She hates herself for the relief that does)
Later, when battle plans are drawn up and she's packing her saddlebag to travel to King's Landing, she wonders if he will come too. She doubts it; even if he wants to, Queen Daenerys will probably send him straight to the Stormlands where he can't do anything to jeopardise her throne. Arya doesn't even know if Gendry himself has realised it, but he has a claim to the Iron Throne now he's been legitimised.
She allows a small smile at the thought that Daenerys, who had once thought herself the sole heir, now has two men with claims to fight against, much as neither of them will want the throne. In spite of herself, though, Arya admires the Dragon Queen. As a girl, she had loved to hear the stories of Rhaenys and Visenya Targaryen, and she finds Daenerys has much in common with Aegon the Conquerors sister-wives.
She realises soon enough, that perhaps she will never see Gendry again. She does not intend to return to Winterfell after the war is done, but she does not know where she will go. Sansa will hate her for leaving her home and her family behind, but too many ghosts walk Winterfell's corridors, and Arya is not one to settle in one place.
She tries to conjure up an image of him, to remember him once more before she leaves him behind for good, but all she can think of is the look on his face the last time she had seen him, when she had told him no.
It hits her then, that he had truly loved her. She had loved him too, she thinks, but it was not enough.
Still, he will have other women. She is sure Westeros's ladies will throw themselves at him once he takes Storm's End; he is young, and handsome, and the head of a Great House. They will give him everything she cannot, and, with time, he will forget her. It is the way of things, and Arya does not begrudge him that.
She will not have such an opportunity, and she knows that she will never be able to forget him. But she has made her choices, and she cannot regret them. She fears that if she does, she will be lost.
So she leaves Winterfell for the last time and sets off down the Kingsroad, not sparing a glance back. She pushes all thoughts of her past away and tries desperately to banish Gendry from her mind.
I'm planning another chapter to this from Gendry's POV, and I'm also going to upload a fix-it because god knows we all need one, so keep an eye out for those!
Chapter 2: Gendry
If the gods are real, then Gendry thinks they must be mocking him. Fool, they whisper from the trees, the sea, the air. Fool.
If the gods are real, then they would be right.
If the gods are real, then Gendry thinks they must be laughing at him. Fool, they mock from the trees, the sea, the air. Fool.
If the gods are real, then they would be right; he is a fool, and Gendry knows this now. A fool to think that she would marry him, to think that she loved him in the same way that he loved her.
No. He is being unfair. Perhaps she does love him, in her own way. Perhaps not; Gendry doesn't know. He had thought, naively, that he did know her, that he had finally been able to see past her carefully controlled masks and disguises, through the shadows that she wraps so tightly around herself. But no, he realises, he had failed in that regard, and now he is paying the price for it.
He cannot bear to look at her any longer. Not through her fault - she has not wronged him, she could never wrong him - but through his own, for coming to her tonight and asking something of her that she can never give. He does not blame her for that; he at least knows that Arya is not someone to be contained. He wonders if she came to him because he is the only one who did not try to; everyone else around here calls her Lady Arya, but he never did. And then.
And then, 'Be the Lady of Storm's End,' he had asked, and he could curse himself now for it. Arya is a lady in nothing but name; she has reminded him of that fact often enough that it should have stuck by now.
It is cruel, he thinks. When he was just a bastard, she had begged to be his family, and he had turned her down because she was high-born, unreachable. He is Lord Baratheon now, her equal, yet she is no less unreachable, no less unknowable.
"Any Lady would be lucky to have you," she told him, but he is not so sure. These Ladies she speaks of, they were all born into this life of privilege and wealth, of good manners and etiquette. They would not want a husband such as him, who grew up under a roof that always leaked and knows nothing of politics or ruling.
More to the point, he does not want a wife such as them. He realises, all too abruptly, that he does not want a Lady who would manage his household and mend his clothes and birth his children. He does not want a Lady to address him as 'my Lord' and stand meekly by his side. He wants a sharp tongue and a steely glare; he wants skilled hands and deadly precision; he wants wildness and freedom and bravery. He wants Arya.
But he cannot have her and he must learn a life without her in it. He'd managed it once, but that had been before. Before the dead and before whatever this is - before her, really. He doesn't think he'll be able to ever forget her, never again.
That night, he sleeps fitfully, startling awake after dreams of her mouth and her hands and her body on his. Eventually, he gives up and walks out into the deserted courtyard, shivering in the early Northern air. Dawn is barely upon them, but soon everyone else will be waking and preparing to leave, Gendry amongst them. He will travel to Storm's End, to take what was once his father's seat and begin his life as Lord Baratheon. Arya is travelling South too, to King's Landing, to war and death and bloodshed. Gendry wants to believe that this is not the last he will see of her, but there's a heaviness in his heart that tells him this is the end.
Gendry thinks, as he rides away from Winterfell and from Arya, that if the gods are real, then they are cruel indeed.