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      He had been there, when the first raven flew in to Winterfell.

      He’d been in the courtyard, training with Ser Brienne, whose eyes had turned harder and more somber since the Kingslayer’s abrupt departure some odd nights ago. He’d heard the squawk and the fluttering of wings and paused, craning his head back to watch it fly into the city and over the castle, where it disappeared from his sight.

      Later that evening, Lady Sansa had announced the news to the Lords of the North in the great hall: Missandei, the Queen’s most trusted advisor and closest friend, had been captured by Queen Cersei’s army. Queen Daenerys had lost most of her fleets and another dragon. Her army was dwindling. Panic was rising.

      The following night, when the castle was only dimly lit by the torches lining the halls, the second raven arrived, bearing an even grimmer message: Missandei had been executed. Lord Tyrion, who Gendry supposed had been writing the letters, seemed to fear for his Queen’s mental state.

      Lady Sansa’s eyes had been melancholy as she’d read the letter, but she neither wept nor shed a tear for the lost advisor. She said she’d written Lord Tyrion back, a private message that she kept to herself, but Gendry had a few ideas as to what she might’ve said. During his time in Winterfell, he’d learned of the Stark’s distrust towards the Dragon Queen.

      He was inclined to agree with their wariness.

      Gendry had kept quiet during the meetings, staying towards the back of the rooms, always out of sight. He felt out of place in the great hall, surrounded by the Lords of the North. Their presence loomed over him, and it almost felt like they could tell that he was a bastard and didn’t belong amongst them.

      It was only after they’d dispersed, and Lady Sansa had turned her attention to her brother, that Gendry had dared approach her. He cleared his throat, gaining Lord Bran’s attention and a quirked eyebrow from Lady Sansa. “Pardon me, milady, milord.”

      “How can I help you, Lord Gendry?” She asked, straightening.

      “Please, milady, just Gendry is fine.” He winced.

      Lady Sansa smiled politely, the corners of her mouth ever so slightly canting upwards. “Alright then, Gendry, how can I help you?”

      “I was wondering, milady, if Lord Tyrion had mentioned anything about your sister?” He asked, rushing the words out. He felt his cheeks burn.

      Lady Sansa’s eyebrows rose, surprise coloring her pretty face. “Arya?”

      “Yes, milady.” Gendry nodded, shifting nervously from foot to foot. “She appears to have left Winterfell. I don’t know when, or why… actually, maybe she’s just avoiding me—”

      “Why do you ask, Lord Gendry?” Lady Sansa’s tone was neutral, but her blue eyes were calculating. He noticed immediately that she had resorted back to using his proper title, her voice serious.

      “I…” Gendry paused. “Well, I care about her, milady. Quite a lot. I don’t need to know where she is, or what she’s doing, that’s her business and not mine. I just wanted to know if she was safe.”

      “How do you know my sister?”

      “He protected her,” Lord Bran said, his smooth voice cutting off whatever fumbling statement Gendry was about to make. Lord Bran continued, ignoring Gendry’s look of surprise. “Many years ago, back when Arya was lost to us all.”

      Lady Sansa turned to Gendry, confused. “You knew her?”

      Gendry coughed. “Yes, milady. She ended up traveling with me. We were both supposed to be heading for the Wall, getting sold to the Night’s Watch, but Yoren was hiding her from the Lannister’s. He was planning to take her back to Winterfell.”

      “What happened?”

      “Yoren was killed,” Gendry explained. “We were taken prisoner by the Lannister army and brought to Harrenhal. We managed to escape after a while and ended up running around the Riverlands for a bit until we were found by the Brotherhood Without Banners. We got separated after that, and I didn’t see her again until we came back to Winterfell.”

      Lady Sansa was quiet for a moment, pondering. “I didn’t know that,” She said faintly. She was silent for another heartbeat, before her gaze shifted to her brother, then back to him. “Bran says you protected Arya?”

      “In a sense, milady,” Gendry shifted awkwardly. “I think we all know Ary—Lady Stark doesn’t need anyone to protect her.”

      The ghost of a smile danced across Lady Sansa’s lips. “No, I suppose she doesn’t.” Her gaze went unfocused as she got lost in her memories. A real smile pulled across her face then, small, but real. “Though, I also think we both know that Arya has a penchant for finding trouble where ever she goes.”

      Gendry blew out a breath, huffing loudly. “If that ain’t the fucking truth.” Lady Sansa’s eyes snapped to him, amused. Gendry froze. “Apologies, milady.”

      “There’s no need to apologize. I grew up with five boys, Lord Gendry, your language isn’t shocking in the slightest.” She told him, still looking amused. “Did she give you a hard time during your travels?”

      “Aye,” He nodded, grumbling. “I think she did it on purpose, the little brat. Used to love to see me get all riled up over nothing.”

      “You sound quite fond of her.” Lady Sansa observed.

      “He loves her.” Lord Bran announced. Gendry’s blood ran cold as both he and Lady Sansa turned to look at him, perplexed. Lord Bran’s dark brown eyes met his and it almost felt like the younger boy’s gaze penetrated his soul. “Isn’t that right?”

      “Er…” Gendry trailed off, his face flaming. He avoided Lady Sansa’s eyes when he nodded quickly. “Yes. I do.”

      “I never thought I’d see the day that Arya had a man falling at her feet.” Gendry’s eyes darted up to meet Lady Sansa’s entertained face.

      Gendry swallowed. “She’s told me many times how much of an idiot I am.”

      “I’m sure she has. That sounds like her.” Lady Sansa laughed, a light, tinkling sound. Gendry got the opinion that she didn’t laugh much these days. “Does she know?”

      Gendry’s gaze shifted downward. He could see Arya’s apologetic eyes in his head, remember the words she’d spoken when she’d turned him down, remember the feel of her lips against his as she’d kissed him. Gendry resolutely stared at the floor. “Yes, milady. She does.”

      Lady Sansa was quiet for a long moment. Gendry didn’t dare look up. He didn’t know what he’d do if he saw pity reflected in her sympathetic eyes. The silence in the room was suffocating before Lady Sansa cleared her throat and said, “Lord Tyrion hasn’t mentioned my sister in any of his letters. I’m sorry.”

      Gendry sighed, his shoulders drooping. “It’s alright, milady. I guess that just means she’s somewhere else, hopefully safe. I know she can take care of herself—”

      “—But you love her, and you worry.” Lady Sansa finished. Gendry finally met her gaze. It wasn’t pity that stared back at him, but understanding. “I know exactly how that feels.”

      Gendry smiled weakly. “I suppose you do.”

      “If I hear anything, you’ll be the first to know.” Lady Sansa promised.

      “Thank you, milady. I bid you both a good night.” Gendry bowed his head slightly to them, stepping back. Lady Sansa returned his nod kindly, excusing him, and Lord Bran’s eyes followed him as he exited the great hall.

      That had been nearly a week ago.

      He’d thrown himself back into training with Ser Brienne and Podrick. There was something therapeutic about swinging his hammer but not having to fight anyone. When he wasn’t on the training grounds or stuck in meetings, he kept close to the forges. Queen Daenerys’ army would still need weapons, after all.

      It was on the sixth night that another raven careened into Winterfell.

      Lady Sansa called a meeting later in the evening and everyone gathered into the great hall once more. She stood, tall and regal as ever, with her brother by her side. She announced to the group that Jon had arrived at Dragonstone with his army approaching. There was surprisingly no word on the Dragon Queen.

      The meeting was short and precise. As everyone started to clear out of the room, Lady Sansa’s voice cut across the hall. “Lord Gendry. A word?”

      A few of the other Lords glanced at him curiously as he hung back, confusion written all over his face. He hovered awkwardly in front of Lady Sansa and Lord Bran until the last man had left the hall. Lady Sansa waited patiently until the door had closed. Gendry cleared his throat. “Milady?”

      “Arya has been spotted. I thought you would like to know.” She told him.

      Gendry’s heart stopped. He was unable to find words for a few seconds before he choked out, “Where?”

      “Lord Tyrion said that a few of Jon’s soldiers claimed to have seen Arya and the Hound riding through the camp. Apparently she told a soldier that she was going to kill Queen Cersei and left with the Hound not long after.”

      Gendry closed his eyes. “Of course she did.”

      “You don’t sound surprised.”

      “Cersei’s on her list.” Gendry opened his eyes and stared at Lady Sansa steadily.

      Lady Sansa looked at him, intrigued. “You know of her list?”

      “I could probably recite the bloody thing if I wanted to,” Gendry grumbled. “She used to repeat it to herself every night before she went to sleep. I must’ve heard it a thousand times.”

      “There’s only a few names left.” Lord Bran said ominously.

      “She’s going to get herself killed.” Gendry muttered, fingers clenching and unclenching in his palm.

      “Have some faith in her.” Lady Sansa said.

      “I have all the faith in the world in her.” Gendry replied, frustrated. “It’s just that she’s on a suicide mission. I should be there.”

      “So you can die too?” Lady Sansa raised a red eyebrow.

      “He doesn’t want to live without her.” Lord Bran said, voice solemn. Gendry’s eyes flitted to him. He saw Lady Sansa shift towards her brother out of the corner of his eyes. “None of it will be worth anything if she’s not with him.”

      Gendry sucked in a harsh breath.

      Those had been the words he’d said to Arya, right before he’d proposed.

      “How did you…?” Gendry trailed off.

      “You read the situation wrong, you know?” Lord Bran said, in lieu of nothing.

      “About what?” Gendry frowned.

      “Arya loves you, just the same as you love her.” Lord Bran said, matter of fact. “Her response to your proposal would’ve gone otherwise had your chosen your words differently.”

      “Proposal?” Lady Sansa’s eyebrows shot up into her hairline.

      “She doesn’t want to be a Lady.” Lord Bran continued, as if his sister had never spoken.

      “I know. She told me.” Gendry said, blushing.

      “But she never said she didn’t want to be your wife.” Gendry opened his mouth to retort but closed it with a snap. He was right. “She was consumed by vengeance for such a long time, but now she’s learning how to love again. You and Sansa have both shown her what it means to have a family once more.”

      Lady Sansa and Gendry both made a wounded noise and met each other’s gaze. Gendry wasn’t sure what his own face looked like, but Lady Sansa’s was a mixture of shocked and heartbroken. He was almost positive that his was the exact same. Lady Sansa swallowed and looked back down at her brother. “Bran…”

      “It’s the truth.” He promised. “Arya is torn. For the last few years, her only goal has been to kill Cersei and complete her list. But that was back when she assumed everyone that she loved was dead or gone. She has a family again now, and it’s becoming harder for her to justify staying away.”

      “I never knew…” Gendry breathed.

      “I did.” Lady Sansa said, surprising him. “I could see it in her eyes when she looked at you. I always meant to ask her about it, but there was never time for it.”

      “Oh.” Gendry looked down at his shoes, consumed by his emotions. The air in the room was thick with unsaid words and a suffocating sadness. Gendry swallowed. “I think I should bid you both good night, milady. Thank you for telling me.”

      “Of course.” Lady Sansa dipped her head to him, gaze sympathetic.

      Gendry scurried out of the room as fast as he could.

      He went to sleep that night haunted by imaginary scenarios on what could’ve been. In his dreams, or perhaps they were nightmares, Arya smiled at him and accepted his proposal. They kissed until their lips bled and she was warm and solid in his arms. But when he awoke, alone in his bedchambers the next morning, everything felt cold again.

      Two days later, a white raven came screeching into Winterfell.

      Gendry knew something was wrong before Lady Sansa called the emergency meeting.

      He came skidding into the great hall to see Lady Sansa pacing in front of the other Lords, her porcelain skin looking green. She was clutching the note in her hand as she walked from one end of the hall and back. No one spoke as she muttered to herself, her voice too soft to carry across the room. Lord Bran was nowhere to be found.

      It was Gendry that broke the silence, quietly asking, “Lady Sansa?”

      She stopped moving and met his eyes. He saw fear reflected in her cerulean gaze. “Daenerys has destroyed the city.”

      Murmurs erupted around the room. His eyes widened. “What?”

      Lady Sansa squared her shoulders and addressed the room. “Queen Daenerys attacked King’s Landing and the Red Keep and burned the whole city to the ground. She decimated Cersei’s armies and allowed her men to slaughter everyone in the city. The Red Keep has fallen. Cersei Lannister is presumed dead. Thousands have perished.”

      Silence descended on them.

      After a few long moments, a brave soul towards the back croaked out, “Lord Jon, my lady?”

      “Jon is alive.” Lady Sansa declared. The room breathed out a sigh of relief collectively, but Gendry’s body was still coiled with worry. Arya was there. “Lord Tyrion states that the Dragon Queen is no longer to be trusted. She has turned on her advisors and executed Lord Varys. Lord Tyrion fears that he is next.”

      “What do we do, my Lady?” Someone asked, standing tall under her gaze.

      “We will fight her, if it comes down to it. But I will not attack King’s Landing with Jon still there. I must have faith that he can talk some sense into her.”

      “Do you really think he can?”

      “Maybe not.” Lady Sansa’s gaze was steely. “But he knows he must try. If not, I trust that Jon will do the right thing in the end. Until then, tell your men to prepare for war. It could come at any moment.”

      “Yes, my Lady.” The Lords of the North bowed their heads in respect. As they began to filter out, Gendry felt rooted to his spot. Surprisingly, Ser Brienne remained as well. Once the door had shut, Ser Brienne stepped forward, her face displaying all of her pain.

      “My lady, please forgive me, but I must ask.” She started.

      Lady Sansa nodded. “Go on.”

      “Lord Jaime… is he…?” She stopped herself, unable to continue. Her voice broke on the last word.

      Lady Sansa’s face fell. She swallowed. “Lord Tyrion said that he tried to persuade his brother to leave the city but was sure that he didn’t listen. It is my understanding that he perished in the siege. I’m so sorry.”

      Ser Brienne’s face went completely ashen and her lips parted. Emotions warred across her handsome features, ranging from disbelief to panic to grief. After a breath, she closed her eyes and her face smoothed into an unreadable mask. She opened her eyes. “Thank you, my Lady. Good night.”

      Ser Brienne stormed out of the room without another word, Lady Sansa’s pale gaze following her. Gendry remained rooted to the spot and it was only when her eyes drifted to him that he felt able to speak. “Is there any news of Arya?”

      “No,” Lady Sansa said, and his head snapped up at the pain in her tone. “No, there isn’t.”

      “She could still be—”

      “She was there!” Lady Sansa wasn’t shouting, but it was close. Gendry jumped at the outburst, not used to hearing the normally mild-mannered woman so upset. “She was there, in King’s Landing. I can feel it in my gut.”

      “She can’t be dead.” Gendry shook his head. “I’d know.”

      “You’d think you would, but I never did.” Lady Sansa scoffed, tears leaking down her fair cheeks. She blinked and scrubbed furiously at her face. “I can’t lose another family member,” She whispered. “I can’t, Gendry, I’m not strong enough.”

      Gendry was moving before he realized it. He didn’t stop until he’d swept Lady Sansa into his arms, holding her against him solidly. She was much taller than Arya, almost his height, but she still laid her head on his shoulder and clutched as his jacket anyway. Gendry rubbed her back. “Arya always said that you were the strongest person she knew.”

      Lady Sansa sobbed into his shoulder. She sniffled and managed to choke out, “She did?”

      “Yes,” Gendry nodded. “The smartest, too. She had faith in you.”

      Lady Sansa pulled back slowly. He let his arms fall back down to his sides as she rubbed at her cheeks. Her blue eyes were rimmed red and her cheeks were flushed a dark plum shade. Her fiery hair clung to the wet patches against her skin. “I can see why she loved you, you know?”

      “Lady Sansa—” Gendry started, face heating up.

      “You’re good for her. I’m happy she has you in her life.” Lady Sansa gave him a watery smile. “And when Arya comes back, I think you should ask her to marry you again.”

      He shifted from foot to foot. “I don’t know, milady. I respect her wishes.”

      “I know you do.” Lady Sansa nodded. “Arya is stubborn, but I have a feeling you are too. You’re a good man, a kind man, something which is not that easy to find nowadays, though I’m sure Arya knows that better than most.”

      “I’ll consider it, milady.” Gendry said, his voice quiet. He was touched by Lady Sansa’s words, heart beating erratically in his chest.

      “As soon as I have word on Arya, you’ll be the first to know, Gendry.” She promised him. “I’m going to write to Lord Tyrion tonight about her whereabouts and I pray my letter reaches him in time.”

      “Thank you, milady.” Gendry took a few steps back, preparing to exit.

      “Sansa.” She corrected.

      “Milady?” He asked, confused.

      She smiled. “My friends can call me Sansa, Gendry.”

      A grin spread across his face. “Sansa it is then.”

      “Goodnight Gendry.” She tipped her head.

      “Goodnight Sansa.” He mimicked her movements and left the great hall.

      He made his way back to his rooms, where he laid down and stared at the ceiling for half the night. His mind drifted to Arya, as it always did. When he finally fell asleep, his nightmares were plagued with images of her, laying in the streets of King’s Landing, covered in ashes and blood.

      His nightmares persisted over the course of the next few nights, preventing him from getting any rest. Dark circles became present under his eyes and he could feel Sansa’s concerned gaze on him whenever they crossed paths. He poured his energy into his work in the forge, preparing for the war against the Dragon Queen.

      Three days after Lord Tyrion’s last letter, another raven flew into the city.

      Gendry was already waiting in the great hall when the rest of the Lords arrived. Lady Sansa swept into the room, looking as radiant as ever, parchment clutched in her thin fingers. Her eyes were glassy when she looked upon the room and Gendry’s heart dropped to his stomach before she even started speaking.

      “The Dragon Queen is dead.” She stated. She wasn’t looking at any of them. “Killed by Jon’s hand. Her dragon fled the city and her army has turned sides. Jon currently sits on the Iron Throne, with Lord Tyrion acting as his Hand.”

      The room was silent for a heartbeat before cheers erupted around the hall.

      Gendry’s eyes never strayed from Sansa. Something was wrong. She politely excused herself from the room as the others kept cheering, calling for a celebration to commence. Gendry followed her out of the great hall and into the hallway, where he found her leaning against the stone walls with her eyes closed.

      “Sansa, what is it?” He asked.

      She startled at his approach and her lower lip wobbled as she looked at him. “The Hound is dead. They said he perished in the fire, alongside his brother.”

      Gendry’s body froze. “What about Arya?”

      “One of Jon’s men said they saw her lying amidst the rubble.”

      “No.” Gendry backed up, already shaking his head.

      “They said they hadn’t realized it was her at first. Not until they saw Needle at her side.”

      “I don’t believe it.”

      “They said she got caught in an explosion—”

      “No!”

      “—they said she was bleeding and unmoving and they didn’t grab her because the dragon was nearby, and they had to keep going—”

      “Sansa, stop!” Gendry shouted.

      Sansa fell quiet, whimpers escaping her lips as tears streamed down her face. “Gendry…”

      “She can’t be gone. She can’t!” His voice cracked. Without another word, Sansa opened her arms and he fell into her chest. They clung to each other, sobbing like children. His fingers fisted in her orange hair and her hands clutched at his broad shoulders as they shook. He pulled back. “What did Bran say?”

      “He hasn’t said anything,” Sansa scoffed, rolling her eyes. “He’s been having visions, or whatever it is that he’s doing. I haven’t been able to speak to him in days.”

      “She can’t be gone, Sansa. She can’t.” He swallowed thickly, almost begging her.

      “They said…” Sansa stopped and collected herself, a fresh wave of tears slipping down her cheeks. “They said there were women and children all around her. They think she was trying to lead them out of the city.”

      “Arya…” Gendry’s voice broke off as another sob smashed into him. He buried his face back into Sansa’s shoulder. The two of them held each other for what felt like hours before they both were completely spent. After an eternity of clinging together, they pulled away and assessed each other.

      Sansa’s pretty face was puffy and inflamed. Her blue eyes almost bled purple with the dark pink and red tints around her eyes. Her lips were swollen, and her cheeks were so wet that they glistened every time she moved. Her fingers trembled as she brushed her hair away from her face and behind her ears.

      Gendry was sure he looked identical.

      “Jon writes that he’s looking for her body himself.” She told him, voice weak and scratchy from crying. “He wants to bring her home.”

      “I could go down there, help them look.” He offered.

      “No,” Sansa said quietly. “There’d be no use. It would take you too long to get there.”

      “Yeah.” He agreed.

      “Besides, I need you here with me.” Sansa said, sniffling. “It’s always good to have strong allies around. I think I’d go insane if the only people I had to talk to were Bran and the Lords of the North.”

      “Of course, milady.” He bowed his head to her.

      She smiled a broken smile. “Get some rest, Gendry.”

      “You as well, Sansa.” She nodded her head once to him and his feet carried him all the way back to his chambers.

      He laid down on top of his sheets, staring up at the stone ceiling. He stared at it for hours, or maybe it was only minutes, before his eyes fell shut and darkness surrounded him again. This time, when sleep finally came to him in the early hours of the morning, the gods blessed him with a peaceful, dreamless slumber.

      The next few days were hell.

      Winterfell celebrated Jon’s coronation and the death of the Dragon Queen. They mourned the losses of those who’d perished in the battle. Sansa had chosen to keep Arya’s death a secret between only them, and for that, he was eternally grateful. When Sansa announced that Jon would be returning, his heart had stuttered to a stop.

      He’d only calmed down when she’d told him that Jon hadn’t found her body yet. For that, he was thankful, since seeing the lifeless corpse of the love of his life surely would’ve broken him completely. Sansa didn’t state why Jon was returning to Winterfell, only that he would be there within a few days.

      Surely enough, not a few days later, Jon’s crew arrived at the gates of the castle. Atop his mass of black curls, a delicate golden crown rested. He looked uncomfortable when the crowds started cheering and clapping for him, and dismounted his horse with a grimace. When he hugged Sansa, it seemed to last a lifetime.

      Gendry was only a little surprised when Jon tugged him in for a hug, clasping at his back like an old friend. Jon addressed the people of Winterfell later that night, giving a rousing speech about promising to be fair and just for as long as he lived. The cheers and applause that followed his words were deafening.

      That night, after the celebrations had died down, and they all had a moment alone, Gendry made his way to the Stark family. “Your Grace.” He bowed carefully to Jon.

      Jon scowled. “Enough of that. It’s just Jon, please.”

      “Apologies… Jon.” Gendry said.

      “Be easy on him, Jon,” Sansa intervened, smiling lightly. “He’s just being polite. How can we help you, Gendry?”

      Jon quirked his head at the lack of formality but didn’t comment on it. Gendry swallowed and glanced at his boots. “I was wondering about Arya. You haven’t…?”

      “We haven’t found her yet, no.” Jon said, the air around them turning grim. His face was sad, and he looked far older than Gendry assumed he was. Jon’s dark eyes were haunted and hurt. “I’ve got all my men looking.”

      “Alright.” Gendry said softly. “I’d like to ask your permission to be there. When they bury her in the crypts.”

      Jon looked confused, but Sansa cut off his remark. “Of course, Gendry.”

      “Thank you, milady.”

      “I’ve told you not to call me that.” She retorted lightly.

      “As did Arya, once upon a time.” He laughed, brokenly. “I used to tease her with it, you know? I’d call her milady just to see her get all huffy and annoyed. She was like a wet, angry cat, bristling fur and everything.”

      “I wasn’t aware you knew Arya.” Jon commented, still frowning.

      “I loved her,” Gendry admitted, the words sticking in his throat. “I met her years ago, on the road to the Wall. We traveled together for a few years before we got separated, but I think I loved her back then, too. I just didn’t realize it until it was too late.”

      Jon looked gobsmacked, like he didn’t know what to say. Gendry’s eyes found the floor again. Sansa took pity on him. “Have you been sleeping, Gendry?”

      “No, milady.” He shook his head. “I see her face when I close my eyes.”

      “As do I.” She whispered. They locked eyes for a second before Sansa cleared her throat. “You should get some rest.”

      “Milady, Your Grace.” Gendry bowed to them, taking his leave. Instead of heading to his rooms, he headed for the forge. He lit up one of the fires and started hammering away, letting the repetition focus his mind on something other than gray eyes. He stayed in the forge until the sun rose and his eyes felt heavy.

      He practically crawled back to his chambers and passed out the second his head hit the pillow, still covered in soot and sweat. He woke up sticking to the sheets and grimaced when he pulled himself upright. He bathed in his room, scrubbing the dirt off of his skin until it was pink and clean.

      He regretted the decision though, when he made his way back to the forge a few hours later and dirtied himself up again. People filtered in and out of the forge all day, other blacksmiths pounding away at steel and metal, and a few Lords coming to request custom swords and weapons from him.

      He accepted every order that came his way and put himself to work. Things continued in much the same way for the next several days. Gendry would stay in the forge as long as possible, until he was practically asleep standing up, then sleep as little as he could before waking up and heading back down to the forges.

      On the fourth evening, his routine was halted by a clamoring outside.

      Shouts echoed into the halls of the forge, getting lost in the clangs of armor being assembled. He paused in his movements to listen, but the shouts were excited and happy, not scared and fearful, so he continued his work. It wasn’t until the shouts got louder and more vivacious that he tossed his hammer down.

      He emerged from the forge just in time to see Sansa and Jon burst out of the castle, running at full speed. There was a crowd gathering in front of them and Gendry could only see a pale, white horse without a rider standing off to the side. The horse was covered in blood and mud.

      The sounds of Sansa weeping carried his feet towards the group of people, her voice carrying across the courtyard. He pushed his way up to the front of the crowd, his heart hammering in his chest. As he broke through the throng of Northerners, he froze at the sight in front of him.

      Sansa and Jon were cradling Arya Stark in their arms.

      She was sandwiched between them and they looked to be partially supporting her as they sobbed into her hair and hugged her. Jon’s gloved hands were clutching at the back of Arya’s dark hair and Sansa’s fingers were gripping onto her dirty jerkin. Sansa looked up from Arya’s shoulder and met his gaze.

      She was beaming, tears streaming down her face.

      His heart stopped.

      Sansa reluctantly pulled back, taking Jon with her. Arya swayed a little on her feet and Gendry could already tell she was hurt. He took another step forward, and Sansa’s eyes flickered to him over Arya’s head. Arya must’ve followed her sister’s gaze, because she turned slowly and finally met his eyes.

      She had looked bad after the fight against the dead, but that was nothing compared to how she looked now. Her face was littered with bruises and cuts. Her hair was dirty and clinging to her chin. The remnants of a black eye were still fading from her face and there was a hint of dried blood at her hairline.

      She was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

      She took a faltering step towards him, her hand moving as if she wanted to reach out to him, and he moved for the both of them. He wrapped himself around her tightly, loosening his grip when he felt her wince in pain. “I’m sorry,” He whispered apologetically into her hair. She squeezed him back in response.

      He tucked her head under his chin and closed his eyes, breathing her in. Her arms were like vices around his waist and he could feel her trembling against him. He tangled his fingers in her dirty hair and cupped the back of her head. He pressed his lips to her hairline, a tear dripping down onto his cheek.

      “Sandor is dead.” She said quietly.

      “I heard.” He said, just as soft. “I’m sorry.”

      “He was my friend.”

      “I know.”

      “He saved my life.” Arya whispered. Gendry clutched her harder to him.

      “I owe him everything, then.” He told her.

      “He told me to run,” She said. “Told me that if I stayed with him, I was as good as dead. But I left him to die and I almost did too. She destroyed everything. Women, children, innocent men—good men. She made them all burn.”

      “She’s dead.” Gendry reminded her gently.

      “I heard.” She pulled back from him slightly to look up at him. “I left King’s Landing as soon as I could, but I was hurt and had to rest for a few days.”

      “Have you been checked out yet?” He asked her.

      “No.” She shook her head slightly and winced.

      “Let’s get you checked out then, and then you can rest some more.” Gendry suggested, rubbing her back soothingly.

      “Gendry’s right, Arya.” Sansa said, a few paces away. “You should have your wounds looked at.”

      “Alright,” She agreed quietly. “I’ll go.”

      “Good.” Gendry pressed another kiss to her hair and stepped out of her space.

      Arya frowned. “Where are you going?”

      “I…” He paused.

      “You’re not coming with me?” Arya asked, hurt flashing across her features.

      Gendry moved closer immediately, taking her hand regretfully. “Apologies, milady, but I wasn’t sure if you’d want me with you or not.”

      “And why wouldn’t I?” She narrowed her eyes at him.

      “Well… it’s just… the last time we spoke…” He fumbled for words.

      Understanding lit Arya’s eyes. “Ah. I see.” She paused for a moment before smacking him across the back of the head without warning.

      “Ouch!” Gendry touched the back of his head, confused. “What was that for?”

      “You’re an idiot.” Arya announced primly.

      Behind them, Sansa snorted.

      “Yeah, and you’re a pain in my ass.” Gendry grumbled, rubbing at his head.

      Arya only smirked in response. Sansa stepped forward, gently taking her sister’s arm. “Come along, Gendry.” Sansa began to lead Arya away, her pacing slow so that he’d have time to scramble after them. Jon’s dark gaze followed them as they walked past him, and Gendry found himself unable to meet the King’s eyes.

      The maester was a kind looking older man, who ushered Arya to have a seat in a rickety chair. Gendry and Sansa awkwardly hovered behind Arya as he bandaged her wounds and stitched up her cuts. Arya hardly made a sound as he did so, barely blinking when he sunk the needle into her skin.

      It was unsettling to watch.

      Gendry could see how tired Arya was as the maester examined her. Her eyes were ringed with dark purple and blue circles under her eyes, and her gaze started to waver in and out of focus as she struggled to keep herself awake. Gendry laid a hand on her shoulder and she seemed to ground herself for a few moments.

      When the maester was finally done and had stepped away, Sansa and Gendry picked Arya up without a word, both of them leading her back towards her chambers. Halfway there, Sansa nudged Arya in his direction and met his gaze over her head. “I’m going to send someone up to run a bath for her. Will you be alright taking her?”

      “Of course, milady.” Gendry nodded his head. Sansa rolled her eyes at the term and shooed him away. He continued supporting Arya as they wandered down the halls.

      “You and my sister seem close.” Arya noted. It was probably meant to sound unassuming, like it was something she’d noticed off-handedly, but since it was Arya, Gendry knew that she was looking for something in his answer.

      “Your sister is very kind.” He told her slowly, unsure of where the conversation was headed.

      “She’s pretty too.” Arya stated, voice monotone.

      Gendry quirked an eyebrow at her, understanding flashing through him. “She’s a bit tall for my liking.”

      Arya glanced up at him, aiming for nonchalant and missing by a mile. “You don’t think she’s pretty?”

      “I never said that.” Gendry conceded. Arya frowned. He laughed a little bit at her disgruntled face. “Why are you asking me that, Arya?”

      “You’re a Lord now,” She reminded him, not meeting his eyes. “You’ll need to marry soon.”

      “Yes…?”

      “Sansa could use a good man in her life.”

      “You think I want to marry Sansa?” Gendry stopped moving. Arya stumbled to a halt next to him, clutching on to him to keep her balance. “Seven hells, Arya, have you gone mad?”

      “What?” She snapped. “It’s true.”

      Gendry rolled his eyes. “Aye, it is true, your sister does deserve a good man, but that man isn’t me.”

      “Why not?” Arya asked, defensive.

      “How hard did you hit your head?” Gendry asked, peering down at the top of her head. She smacked him in the chest. “Maybe I should take you back to the maester.”

      “I’m not joking, Gendry.”

      “Neither am I.” He fired back. He took a breath and composed himself. “I don’t want to marry Sansa, Arya. I never have.”

      “Why not?” She asked again, but her voice was softer this time.

      “Because there’s only one woman I want to marry, and I’ve already asked her.” He told her, firmly holding her steely gaze in his. “She said no.”

      “Oh.” She trailed off, her eyes going distant. “I’m sorry. It’s just that… well… I saw the two of you together, and I just thought…”

      “Arya, look at me.” He cut off her rambling.

      She looked up at him, grey eyes stormy. “I love you. I’ve only ever loved you.”

      “I…” She trailed off again, blinking harshly. “I love you too.”

      “I know you do.” He told her. She stared up at him helplessly and he shifted his grip on her, nudging her forward slightly. “Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.”

      Arya didn’t respond, but when she looked at him, her eyes were thankful. It took them a few moments to finally get back to Arya’s chambers, where a basin filled with steaming water was patiently waiting when they pushed the door open. Gendry suddenly became nervous and he reluctantly let go.

      He hesitated for a moment and took a step back and away from her. Arya’s eyes immediately followed his movements, a frown tugging her lips down. “What are you doing?”

      “I don’t think it’d be appropriate for me to stay while you bathe, milady.”

      “Don’t call me that,” She huffed, half-heartedly. “And don’t be an idiot. You can stay.”

      “Arya…”

      “Gendry.” She cut him off, turning to stare at him. “If you leave me alone in here, I’m likely to fall asleep in the tub and drown myself.”

      He laughed weakly. “That’d be a pretty pathetic way for the Nightslayer to go out.”

      “Exactly,” She quirked an eyebrow. “So, do me a favor and help me protect my reputation.”

      “Yes, milady.” He sighed, closing the door behind them. Arya began undressing slowly, wincing when her body tweaked in certain ways. He helped her remove her clothing, his cheeks flaming when the last piece fell away. Arya ignored him and climbed into the tub gradually, sinking down into the water with a hiss.

      Gendry knelt on the floor next to the tub and picked up a washcloth, gently removing the dirt and grime from her face. She closed her eyes and relaxed against the tub, trusting him. He dabbed and swiped at her skin until it was red and raw. He re-wet the rag and started scrubbing at her arms and neck.

      He worked his way along every visible part of her skin, getting as much of carnage off of her as she could. Arya sat quietly through the whole ordeal, her head tipped back against the side of the tub and her breathing even and slow. He let her rest for as long as he could, before he lightly jostled her shoulder.

      Her grey eyes peered up at him through her eyelashes. “You should wash your hair, Arya.” He told her, his voice soft and unobtrusive in the otherwise silent room. She nodded and blinked lethargically, dipping her whole head under water. He watched her run her fingers through the brown, matted locks before she resurfaced.

      She sat up in the center of the tub, wrapping her arms around her knees and resting her cheek against her arms. She watched him as he found a comb and began working the knots out of her tangled hair. She didn’t make a sound as he carefully brushed her hair until it was silky and straight against her shoulders.

      “You’re all done, milady.” He told her, voice still low.

      “Help me out?” She asked, yawning. Gendry offered her his hand and she took it, pulling herself upright. She stumbled a little when she stepped out of the tub, but Gendry was there to help her, holding her to him as she shivered in the cold air. He left her side to grab her some clean clothes, instantly wrapping her in them.

      Arya dressed in silence, her movements sluggish as her eyes dropped further. Once she was fully dressed for sleep, Gendry guided her to her bed, helping her climb under her covers. He pressed his lips to her forehead as she fought to keep her eyes open. “Sleep well, milady.”

      “Gendry.” Her voice stopped him as he started to pull back. “Stay with me.”

      “Are you sure?” He asked her.

      “Yes.” She nodded her head. “Please.”

      “Alright.” He blew out the candles around the room, letting the darkness slowly take over. He kicked off his outer layers until he was in nothing more than his underclothes, and slowly climbed into bed alongside Arya. She found her way to his side immediately and pillowed her head on his chest.

      Her right ear was pressed over his heart.

      He curled his arm around her waist and held her close to him, listening to her breathe. “I was so worried about you.” He blurted out after a few moments of peace. He seemed unable to contain the words any longer. “I thought you were dead.”

      “You should’ve known better.” Arya said, amused. Her eyes were still closed. “You know my words. What do we say to the God of Death?”

      Gendry grinned, feeling lighter than he had in weeks. “Not today.”

      “Not today.” Arya agreed.