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The King and the Master of War

Chapter Text

King Gendry Baratheon, first of his name, king of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the first men.

The first time he heard his new name and title, he felt nauseous. It was a cruel joke, having wished all his life to have a surname and be somebody, only for the council of the remaining great houses of Westeros to saddle him with the burden of the seven kingdoms.

Six actually.

It was hard to keep track of everything that had transpired. Thankfully, it had been agreed that the crown was no longer the privilege of a family, it was a duty conferred to the man or woman elected by the council. That thought allowed Gendry to sleep at night, knowing that if he ended up being a shitty king, the great houses would be quick to depose him and elect someone better.

Why was he chosen? It could have been that he was the last known Baratheon or the fact that Bran Stark had said that a monarch born into the common folk was what the Realm needed.

He had been stunned, surely the rest of the lords and ladies there would be opposed to that, but then he had seen Arya's soft smile, that one that she rarely used, the same one on her face when he had called her beautiful and she had broken his heart. Tyrion had been quick to suggest Arya, the slayer of the Night King, be part of the small council, and she had seemed delighted. After that he was lost, if Arya was going to be in King's Landing, that is where he would be.

That was four moons before, the Red Keep was still in shambles, and the city was slowly being rebuilt. Ser Davos Seaworth served as Hand, Ser Brienne of Tarth was Commander of the Kingsguard, Tyrion Lannister was Master of Coin and Whispers, Samwell Tarly was Grand Maester, Bran Stark, the three-eyed raven, was Master of Laws, Yara Greyjoy was Master of Ships and Ser Arya Stark, knighted by Ser Brienne, was Master of War.

It had only taken a day for her to sneak into his chambers in the veil of night. Many things were spoken, and many more were left unsaid, but it was understood that where one went, the other would follow.

Once, many years before, Arya had asked her father if she could be lord of a holdfast and Ned Stark had told her that she would be a lady instead. All the possibilities denied to her because of her gender had marked her, and her choices had been determined since then. She had planned to set sail once the mess had been cleared and she had secured the safety of her brother Jon, but later the stupid bull had been named king, and Tyrion Lannister had suggested she be part of the small council.

The decision had been easy for her.

That first night she had come into his chamber she had told herself it was to see if there was still something there, if that whole deal in the storeroom atop a makeshift bed had been just her curiosity and the adrenaline of certain death.

It had not.

As usual, Gendry had started babbling the moment he saw her, apologizing for his fumbled proposal blaming it on the wine. She silenced him with a kiss, and they were quick to test if a featherbed had any benefits over sacks of grain.

In the months of the new government, they had fallen into a routine of sorts, during the day they were the king and one of his advisors, sitting in council meetings making sure not to cause suspicion. And from time to time Arya would find her way into his chambers at night.

They hadn't talked more about how Arya had turned him down; at the end of the day, Gendry felt fortunate for having her in his bed, even if he didn't know when she would find her way there. Nothing was promised, and nothing was demanded, but he got to fall asleep embracing her, and on those nights that she joined him, they told each other about their years apart.

"Whoever did this to you," he said while tracing her scars, "is no longer living, right?"

"I killed her," she replied.

"Good, if not, my first order as king would be to sail to Essos to avenge you."

She laughed and told him that she was not the maiden of a song that needed a hero to settle her affairs. And he had crudely reminded her he was well aware she was no maiden.

Arya soon discovered that while she always feared rejection from her family if they learned of her past in Essos, there was always pride and desire in Gendry's eyes whenever she disclosed her adventures in the East.

Rebuilding a city was no easy task and Gendry was doubly invested in the efforts: he was not only the king, but he had been born and raised in Flea Bottom, and so he rolled up his sleeves and worked with the people, and once a decent forge was erected, he had started to hammer away, making nails and hinges.

He had been burning the candle at both ends. The city tired him by day, and his secret lover exhausted him at night.

Four months later, he was ready for a rest. Oddly enough, the idea of taking time for himself had come from no other than Ser Bronn, the new lord of High Garden. Tyrion had suggested Gendry make him Master of Coin, but there was no way he was going to name someone who would make fun of him. He would only deal with him whenever Tyrion had to secure resources from the fertile lands of the Reach. And it had been in one of those occasions, during a feast, when Bronn had jested that their new king had not received a raven letting him know that he didn't need to work anymore.

"Our new king is loved by his people exactly for that reason Ser Bronn," Bran Stark had offered.

"But he could take a break from time to time, don't you have a hobby, your grace? I believe your late father was fond of hunting, are you not?"

That very night Arya informed him that he could take a hunting trip with her. Luckily, Ser Brienne had taken a leave of absence to visit her ailing father in Tarth, leaving Arya to lead the Kingsguard in her name.

It was all settled then, King Gendry would take a hunting trip to rest from the burden of leading the six kingdoms. When he had announced it to his small council Davos had looked stern, but whatever he thought of it he made sure to save it for when he could talk to his king in private; Sam had looked uncomfortable, and Bran had simply said: "It is all as it should be." Tyrion's only response had been a grin and to call for wine.

Gendry suspected he was blushing, but he had thankfully grown a beard that he prayed hid it from his advisors. It was in times like this that he envied Arya's Faceless Men training, for she did not show any emotion.

The day they were set to ride out, he was finishing packing his bag when Ser Davos came into his chambers.

"Are you sure this is a good idea, lad?" Davos asked him with obvious concern, "I mean, your grace."

Gendry laughed heartily.

"Lad is fine Davos if anyone has earned the right to call me as he pleases is you, just don't call me your grace," he asked the only man, besides Ned Stark, who had treated him kindly.

"Fair enough Gendry, but maybe you shouldn't go on this hunting trip," he pleaded.

"Have I not earned a few days of rest?"

"You certainly have son, but do I have to remind you your late father met his end after a hunting trip?"

"Aye, but I am not my father. And I am not hunting for boar," Gendry noted.

"Of that, I am well aware," Davos replied and his eyes indicated that there was more to his concern. Gendry suspected that his Hand was well aware of what went on in the castle during the day, and certainly at night.

"Davos…" He warned him.

"While war is over and many of the common folk are thrilled to have you as king, there are still many lords who would be happy to see you meet a tragic end," his Hand justified.

"That is why I am not going on my own, my Master of War and current Commander of the Kingsguard is coming along. And you know I can take care of myself, I'm bringing my hammer," he added.

"I know you can take care of yourself, but I am concerned about it being just you and the Master of War. Consider taking some of your knights at least."

"They would only slow us down," he replied, going back to his bags.

"Of that, I am sure."

The tone was not lost on the new king.

"Davos!"

"Okay, just be careful. I have seen lady-, I mean, Ser Arya fight, but there are other… dangers… that you two should be careful about."

Gendry certainly knew, and since reuniting with her and being proclaimed king, he had made sure of taking every precaution, even to Arya's chagrin.

"We will be."

Chapter Text

Leaving King's Landing was liberating.

No more constant reminders of his lack of refinement, of figuring out which fork to use with which course, of remembering that no one could sit until he did it first. Davos would help him with an eloquent look or Arya would kick him under the small council table if she happened to be sitting next to him.

Still, he found it all exhausting.

He wondered how Arya could don her inscrutable mask, so natural to her since coming back from Braavos, while he feared that every person in the Red Keep could read his fears of inadequacy as an open book.

He wanted to touch her as soon as the city was out of sight, but he didn't want to look too eager. It wasn't until they were deep in the forest, and they found a clearing to set their camp, that he allowed himself to do it. While Arya was busy untying her bags from her horse, Gendry held her from behind and placed a soft kiss in the juncture of her neck and shoulder.

"I do not know what you have in mind, but we will actually have to hunt something in this trip. We cannot go back empty-handed. What are we hunting for? Boar? Pheasant?" She asked with a soft smile, slowly breaking from her detachment.

"I am pretty sure you have your heart set on snaring a stag."

Arya turned and pretended to be bothered, but she allowed Gendry to hug her thoroughly, "Idiot."

"You are the one bedding me," he said, waggling his eyebrows.

She shrugged following his joke, "Slim pickings."


 

 

For their first night, Arya caught a couple of rabbits for their supper. They figured they could hunt whatever they brought back to the keep the last day of their trip, which meant two days of freedom.

While Arya went to find their meal Gendry finished tending to the horses and started the fire. They had brought two tents, but the night was balmy, and thus he set their furs out. It was so much more than what they had had traveling with Yoren, huddled together for warmth.

He would have thought it madness if Thoros had told him, back when they joined the Brotherhood, looking for revelations in the flames, that one day he would have an antler-fashioned crown set on his head and that the scrawny boy Arry had been would grow to be the woman he loved and lusted for.

'You want to make the gods laugh boy?' Tobho Mott used to tell him, 'tell them your plans.'

Aye.

They ate grilled rabbit and drank from a wineskin. The wine was needless really, Gendry felt giddy with anticipation, of loving his woman out in the open.

"I missed this," he confessed forlornly taking another bite.

Arya's eyebrows rose as she spoke, "you mean to tell me that the fine meals from the royal kitchens pale to these meager rabbits I caught and cooked?"

He replied with a shrug, "I was never one for fancy stuff."

"Don't I know it, your grace."

"Don't call me that," he warned, following a script that both knew by heart.

"As you wish, your grace, " Arya dared.

"That's it. You're getting it," Gendry tackled her, and she giggled.

Soon their playful wrestling turned into something else, and they kissed lazily in front of the fire. They took their time to strip each other of their clothes, and Gendry decided that this was how he liked her best, under their furs and bared against his skin, with the moonlight reflecting on her bright grey eyes.

"This reminds me of our time in the Riverlands," he told her between kisses.

His statement distracted her from the kiss and looking intently into his eyes, she said, "you and I remember things differently because we never did anything remotely close to this."

To prove her point, she ran her foot lightly over his naked arse, the movement eliciting sweet friction in other areas.

"You know what I mean," he clarified with half-lidded eyes.

"I do."

They were still learning their way around each other, still mapping their skins as new lovers do, memorizing scars and freckles, measuring with fingertips and tongues.

The royal chambers with its massive featherbed had opened many new possibilities, but if Gendry were pressed to choose, he would say that having her under the stars with only furs separating them from the hard ground was his favorite.

One of the biggest regrets Gendry felt, when he learned that she had left Winterfell without saying goodbye, had been that their first, and perhaps only ever time together, had been rushed. Those days, still hammering away in the forge of her childhood home, trying to distract his heart from its ache, he wished he had had time to show her that lovemaking could be better.

Gendry was almost sure that he had pleased her that night, at least a bit, but the more he had time to ruminate on it the more he beat himself thinking that a rushed tumble over scratchy grain sacks couldn't have been the most pleasurable for her, having been a maid.

He raged because clearly if he had not proposed, drunk on wine and his new title, mayhaps she would have let him take her once more, this time on a bed, and with all the time to satisfy her repeatedly.

When they met again in the capital, he prayed to all the gods he knew, that he may get a new chance to show her pleasure.

One of those gods he prayed to must have been the true God, for one night, he had come to his new chamber, and she had been there.

He was not proud to admit that their second encounter had been just as rushed as the first one, all teeth and fumbling. But luckily this time no horns were calling them to battle, and he loved her more than once.

Following that initial attempt to minimize his befuddled proposal, he had consciously avoided talking about it. He had had time to make peace with the fact that she would never be his wife.

Thinking about a future was a luxury for a bastard, and while he was now a lord, no, a king, he was resigned to not taking this girl in his arms for granted.

Gendry knew he would always be a bastard, fine silks, crown and all. And like the wanton bastard that he was, he would take loving Arya secretly, for as long as he could.

He liked it when they took their time and peppered their lovemaking with fragments of conversations. He didn't grow up in a household with married parents, but he imagined that marriage was like that, long discussions into the night, where one could delay the coupling to discuss mundane things such as how much your landlord would be raising the rent or how good this year's harvest looked.

He had been thinking that when the exquisite feeling of their joining brought him back to their reality. Sinking into her flesh, while still entirely new, always made him feel something he guessed one would feel arriving home after a long journey.

The feeling was always slightly bittersweet.

"Am I a fool for feeling nostalgic of those days on the road?" He managed to ask between sighs.

It warmed her heart when he spoke to her in the middle of their union, she may not have had other lovers, as he did, but deep inside her, something told her this was not the norm. There was something that made those times all more intimate, and even more scandalous than the night he had fucked her on the royal desk over newly inked decrees.

"No, it was awful, but everything was simpler," she said, turning her face to the side and placing kisses over his muscled shoulder. "Do you think that if the Hound hadn't taken me away, and I had stayed with the Brotherhood, that we would have ended up like this?"

"Yes, but it would have been brief. Thoros or Beric would have gelded me for taking your maidenhead," he replied with a mischievous smile.

"I wouldn't have let them," Arya added, smiling.

He must have liked her reply, for he had nothing else to say for a while, and instead, his impetus surged. Arya enjoyed learning this new dance, knowing him in this form as she knew him in every other. It was challenging to observe him as she was fond of doing in the past while he forged new weapons, for her eyes would close with the intensity of their coupling, but in between sighs and moans, she committed everything to memory. She loved knowing, for example, that as he approached his release, he would set his forehead on hers and say her name with devotion.

Their mating was like sparring, and so much more. She didn't quite understand how, unlike a real fight, yielding in pleasure could render one victorious.

And whenever he surrendered himself to his bliss, aiming hard for it always to follow hers, she was ever compelled to kiss him wildly, proud to see his broad smile and his inability to keep his eyes open.

Once the fog of their rapture had cleared enough, and he had spooned her pulling the furs over them, he had had time to think more on their previous conversation.

"If we had stayed together when we were younger, I'd given you a bastard by now."

"You really think so? We are always careful."

"We are careful now, we haven't always."

She knew he meant their first time.

"That was different, we were meant to die, no need to run to the maester for some moon tea."

"Aye. But when we were younger? If you had flowered while we still shared a room in one of those inns we stayed in the Riverlands? No doubt I would have gotten a babe in you."

Arya had learned not to dwell on the past the hard way. The God of Death had seen to it when it viciously reaped her family.

No point wondering about what-ifs.

"It doesn't matter now."

Gendry knew then that once more he had managed to chase her back into herself, where he could not follow her.

"Sleep, love, " he said, holding her closer instead.

Chapter Text

Ser Davos Seaworth could not believe he was once more the Hand of a King.

Not only the Hand of a King.

The Hand of the King.

If he thought about it long and hard, he could not believe he was even alive when so many other more skilled warriors had fallen.

He felt tired.

This business of surviving was exhausting. But here he was, wearing the pin once more.

In all truth, he hadn't believed it either the first time around when Stannis had raised him from the humblest of beginnings and traded a name and a knighthood for four of his fingers.

He hadn't been the Hand of the King for Jon Snow officially, but he considered his time advising him his second term at the job.

And then, after the destruction of King's Landing, he had been ready to return to the Stormlands, to see if his saint of a wife would take him after years of devoting his service to those he believed to be rightful rulers.

How had he found himself back at square one?

It was the lad.

It wasn't that he reminded him of his dead son.

No, Matthos was a world away from Gendry, with his job as Stannis' scribe and his devotion to the bloody Lord of Light.

Mayhaps it was himself he saw in the boy, when he met him in the dungeons of Dragonstone, traumatized from whatever the red woman had done to him, dejected from losses only Gendry knew about, resigned to being a sacrificial lamb. He had told him he also came from Flea Bottom, and they had reminisced about its bowl of brown.

Davos had gone against his king's wishes and set him free, one more defiance that had earned him the loss of his best friend and king's trust.

And when he saw the lad again, lost among highborn who looked down on him, he had gladly traded the promise of retirement for advising the former blacksmith.

He knew what it was like to be elevated from the common folk, and rewarded with a name and land for his loyalty and merit, only to have one's new peers, who had never blistered their hands with hard labor, look at him disdainfully.

And the boy had been named king.

He wrote to his blessed wife and broke the news that his duty was not yet done, but he pleaded for her to join him at once.

And now Davos was standing by the makeshift stables of what was left of the keep, welcoming him back from his trip.

"Davos," his new king greeted him looking more relaxed that he had seen him in months, handing him five or six pheasants tied together.

"Your aim was certain your grace."

"Wait until you see Ser Arya, she got herself a deer."

"I am sure she did, your grace."

Gendry knew Davos wouldn't mock him as the Hound had so long ago, or like any other highborn would, but he knew he wouldn't hesitate to call him on what he perceived as him making a mistake.

"Is there something you want to talk about Davos?"

"We can talk on the morrow, after the Small Council meeting, your grace. No need to sour all the good gained with your trip."

Gendry nodded to his hand and retired to his chambers. Arya did not join him that night, and he was bothered by his greediness: three days and two nights of undivided attention and he still wanted more.


 

Arya arrived at the Small Council room to find only Tyrion Lannister already there.

"Welcome, Ser Arya, I believe it is you we must thank for the delicious venison we had last night for supper. Mayhaps you should accompany his grace more often,"

Arya looked at Tyrion, gauging him while taking a seat across from him.

"We shall eat better for it," he added.

"To be completely honest my lord, I have never understood hunting for sport."

"And yet you are so very skilled at it."

"I kill for necessity, not joy," Arya replied coldly.

"Let us not dwell on aristocratic pastimes then, tell me, have you been enjoying your tenure as Commander of the Kingsguard?"

"I have, as a matter of fact. I miss Ser Brienne, but I won't deny I find her post far more interesting than mine," she replied truthfully.

"You do not enjoy being Master of War?"

"I am Master of War during the most peaceful times the Realm has had in a decade, you tell me how useful my advice is for the king."

"Do you miss it then? Battle?"

"No, I do not, but I wonder if my appointment was merely a token for having slain the Night King," Arya remembered she was talking to the very man who had proposed she filled the position, "is that why you suggested it?"

"No, honestly, I did not. I believed it essential to surround King Gendry with the best people in the land as his advisors. You see, the post of Master of War is not just about determining the best battle plans, but it is a role reserved for a master strategist."

Arya wondered if Tyrion was truthful or the whole thing was but a ploy.

"You are aware that I did not take part in any strategic planning for the Battle of the Long Night, nor the sack of King's Landing."

"Aye. And we dearly paid for it," Tyrion noted.

"I just swung the sword, Lord Tyrion, my siblings passed the sentences. Mayhaps you should have suggested a better advisor for our king."

"No, he holds your opinion in high regard. Maybe I should have recommended you as Master of Whispers instead. Surely a better-suited position for someone trained at the House of Black and White."

"How did you know of my past?" Arya inquired.

"Your sister."

"Do you correspond often?"

"More, recently."

"Mayhaps, you chose the wrong kingdom, and you would have served better in her Small Council."

"I could ask the same to you."

"Sansa is brilliant. She doesn't need our council," she declared with a slight rise of her left eyebrow.

"True. But mayhaps, we often find ourselves in need of hers."

As Tyrion explained, Ser Podrick wheeled Bran Stark into the council room.

"Lord Tyrion, Arya," Bran greeted them with his customary aloofness.

"Lord Stark."

"Brother."

The youngest Stark looked at Arya and said looking intently into her eyes, "your choice was made, well before the question was asked."

Tyrion sensed that this conversation was not intended for his ears, and took the opportunity to find something to drink, leaving the siblings to their talk.

"And what question was that Bran?" She asked, intrigued.

"I do not know it. Only you will."

Was Bran even capable of stating his thoughts plainly? She could not say for sure. At times she wanted to resent him, for she wondered if so much ache could have been avoided if he could have taken a more active role in all of their lives, instead of silently seeing life unfold before him like an old stoic weirwood tree.

"What if I chose wrongly before?"

"Aye. I also know of regret," Bran said, and for a second Arya could have sworn that the ghost of his brother had blinked in his eyes. "Ships oft times find themselves adrift by the winds and the storms, but the currents will always set them back to the journey they were meant to take all along."

His crypticness never failed to make his sister seethe, and this was not an exception.

"Will you ever be the little brother I left behind?"

"No, as you shall never be the sister who left."

His words stabbed her icily in the hollowness of her chest.

Yara Greyjoy interrupted the tension by sitting and placing her feet on the table loudly.

"Can we get this shit over soon? I set sail at midday," in the few council meetings that the heir of the Iron Islands had attended it had been clear that her presence in them was hostile.

She had blamed the Starks for the death of the foreign queen to whom she had pledged herself. Arya was sure that she must have resented the Starks for the North having been declared sovereign, while the Iron Islands were still part of the Six Kingdoms.

And then there was the issue of the loss of Theon. He had been more a brother to Arya than he had ever been to Yara. But still, blood was blood, and pack was pack. Arya could not blame the pirate warrior for biding in her loss and anger.

An always jittery Samwell Tarly chose that moment to come into the room carrying parchments and greeted its occupants.

"My lady, Ser, my lords," he said nodding at each person already in the room.

Soon Gendry came into the room, followed closely by his hand.

"Your grace," they all greeted him as they stood up, even a surly Yara.

He sat at the head of the table, "please be seated."

Arya sat to his right, Tyrion Lannister to his left and Davos across from him.

"What is on the agenda, Sam?"

"Follow up on reconstruction plans, though we received a raven from Ser Bronn from Highgarden with a request, he asks that in gratitude to generous envoys of food and resources from the Reach, that he is given permission, and priority, in the construction of... ah..."

"Oh for god's sake Sam, please say it," Tyrion beckoned.

"A place of adult recreation," the Grand Maester finally said avoiding the eyes of the two women, comically, as they were the two least bothered people in the room.

Yara groaned and rolled her eyes.

"Brothels. He wants to build a brothel!" Arya yelled, annoyed at Sam's unnecessary euphemism.

Gendry was nonplussed at Arya's outburst, being accustomed to her lack of patience, particularly when others would treat her differently because of her sex.

"Unlike Maester Tarly, you do not seem fazed by the concept of brothels Ser Arya," Tyrion Lannister commented showing his amusement.

"Why would I?" She said taking an apple from the platter on the center of the table, "I lived in one for a year," and with that, she took a bite looking at him defiantly.

The king had a sudden coughing fit prompting Ser Podrick, who was standing guard by the door, to bring him a goblet with water hastily.

"Are you alright, your grace?" Asked Davos concerned.

"Something went the wrong way," said Gendry.

"Do we not have more pressing matters than discussing the necessity of brothels?" asked Ser Davos.

"Yes, but it all comes down to the same issue, what should be rebuilt first? the Sept of Baelor, the Red Keep?" added Maester Tarly.

"We are also vulnerable to any foreign force or disgruntled lord that could take advantage of the status of the city, we should center our efforts in recruiting a new army," Yara Greyjoy offered, finally interested in the matters of the council, "we should rebuild our armada."

"In bleak times like this, the people need something to believe in, a place to worship the seven," was Sam's proposal.

"What about something to get their minds off troubles?" added Tyrion with a shrug while before finishing his wine.

"You vote for brothels, then?" Asked Arya.

"No, brothels are mainly for the highborn to use and the poor to be exploited. We need taverns," Tyrion replied.

"My lords and ladies," Bran interrupted, "we should be asking those of us who hail from King's Landing and were not raised, like us, in the comforts of a castle. Ser Davos is from Flea Bottom, as well as our king."

"It's been too long since I called Flea Bottom my home, my lord," Davos said looking at Bran, and then looked at his king and continued, "your grace, you knew it better than anyone else."

Gendry could feel everyone's eyes on him, and he feared once more being unfit for the job but feeling Arya's hand lightly squeeze his leg under the table stilled his self-doubt.

"You could not go lower than Flea Bottom," he started looking at was his home in his mind's eye. "Nothing that I ever knew still stands today: not the alehouse where my mother worked, nor Master Mott's forge, not my very own on the street of Steel, nor the pot-shop where I ate a bowl of brown if I had the coin for it."

All of those present sobered up with the realization of the hardships their new king had lived through.

"I say we rebuild first the Street of Flour, the Street of Steel, and Tanner's Row, all better this time. We should widen the streets so no more crime and abuse can happen in the dark. We shall hurry to ready open markets, and pot-shops and inns. And yes, alehouses and taverns. Let us work a way to help the farmers sow the land, and buy chickens and goats and sheep. And this time, let us build a city that doesn't stink of shit."

"Well said, your grace," Bran praised him, with an unexpected smile.

Arya looked at him with wide soft eyes. The world knew Arya Stark's hard looks, but at times he felt only him was privy to that softness in her eyes.

Soon enough, the meeting ended, and everyone hurried out, leaving only Gendry and Davos.

"How bad did I do Davos, tell it to me straight."

"None of that. Your uncle Stannis, I admired his wisdom and his rightfulness," It was hard for Gendry to reconcile the image Davos seemed to have of the only blood relation he had ever met. How could he? When Stannis had willingly let Melisandre do things to him that still haunted him the nights that Arya didn't spend in his arms.

"Towards the end, he did things I could not forgive," he continued, and he looked at him with that last part. Gendry suspected he was referring to him and to the sweet girl he sadly never knew. "It was that wretched woman, and her god. But I used to feel proud of serving a good man, a wise man. It has been too long since I felt like I did early on when I decided to follow your uncle," at this point, Davos placed his hand on Gendry's shoulder.

"I never felt prouder than today, serving you as my king."

Gendry felt something prickle in his eyes. He was not used to kindness. He took a moment to gather himself, looking down at his hands.

"Do you really feel this way?" He asked looking up.

"Aye."

"I am lucky to have your help and your friendship Davos. No lord was ever kind to me, no one but Lord Stark, the one time he came to see me when he was hand. And I only contributed to getting him killed."

"It was not your fault lad."

"I know I bring bad luck, but thank you. I wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for you."

"I do care for you," Davos sensed this was the time to bring up a topic that he did not expect to be welcomed by his king. "And that is why I wanted to talk to you."

"What is it?"

"We should consider an alliance."

Gendry was confused by Davos reticence to bringing up this topic, even more, when he hadn't brought it up with the rest of the council.

"Don't we have the support of all the great houses of the Six Kingdoms, and of the Queen in the North?"

"We do, we do. But I meant another type of alliance, you are a young man, one who should not be alone."

That was it.

"Don't," he warned him rising from his seat.

"You don't know what I was about to say."

"Were you going to talk about highborn ladies?"

"It is important for you to wed."

"Why? Wasn't that the point of the great houses appointing their kings and queens instead of relying on heirs?"

"The more people talk about changing things with the new times, the more they hold on to their old ways. But it goes beyond that lad, one thing is the crown of the Six Kingdoms, but you also need to keep the Baratheon line alive, if they depose you, you would still need to hold the Stormlands, and it depends on the support of your bannermen."

"Bloody highborns who don't want a bastard Lord Paramount of the Stormlands."

"While most of the houses supported you, there are still some families who were not too keen to follow someone they did not consider their own. if you married a lady from a great house, your position would be secured."

"No."

"I know that you and Arya have history," Davos offered.

"We knew each other as children," he said unwilling to share anything else.

"Aye, and I know you have a bond. Have you thought of proposing to her? Yours could be the link between our realm and the North. Nothing would secure your position more among the lords of the Realm."

"Drop it, Davos."

"You like her."

It wasn't a question.

"She will not marry."

"I'm sorry, son. But if she is not agreeable, then you should seek others."

Gendry did not reply and left with determined steps.

There was only one place that could appease the fury.

He was going to make the steel sing.


 


By the time he had finally purged the ache and the rage, night had fallen. His muscles throbbed, and he was hungry. He went by the kitchens and ate some coarse bread and cheese, washing it down with simple ale.

When he came into his chambers, he found her there, sitting cross-legged on his featherbed.

He wondered how long she had waited there for him.

He walked to the table that held a basin and jug of water and used his tunic, wetting it in the basin, to wipe the sweat and soot from his upper body.

He didn't want to think about what Davos had talked to him earlier, and instead, looking at her brought him back to the new information he had learned about her life.

"A fucking brothel," he said once he got to the bed, but stopped next to it, without reaching out for her.

"That is what usually happens in a brothel, stupid."

He chuckled and shook his head.

"You are not going to share anything else?" he asked, finally sitting on the bed and removing his boots.

"I was blind for half a year."

"I meant about you living in a brothel."

"Why? Are you jealous? Scared? Aroused?"

Gendry could see clearly when Arya would put on the seductress mask.

"Yes, to all, all the fucking time!" He yelled, turning to face her. "But that is not the point. You've told me about the Waif and the Kindly Man. You never mentioned the brothel or being blind."

"My name was Mercy, I was with a troop of mummers, and I slept in an attic atop a brothel." She said, crawling slowly to him, his white tunic, the one she had been wearing, rising enough to let him see that she wore nothing underneath.

"Do you want me more or less now?" She asked, sitting astride him.

"I want you in my bed, telling me a new story of yours every night until the day I die," he said looking into her eyes right before kissing her until his worries disappeared.


 


The following day he woke up alone, as he always did.

Once he had dressed and broken his fast, he walked to the training yard. Arya and Podrick Payne were sparring with the young men of the Kingsguard. They all looked young and fresh-faced, sent from minor houses that were eager to swear fealty.

Gendry suspected they couldn't be much younger than Arya, but they looked as green as babes in their shiny golden armor.

One of them, Ser Ulric Luthon, one of his own bannermen, who arrived barely a sennight before, sparred with Arya. Gendry leaned on the railing overlooking the training yard. He knew Arya's swordsmanship in detail, her elegant movement and carefully planned strategy. He knew that her opponents often underestimated her and thought themselves having the upper hand in strength, but as usual, the lad was quickly exhausted, while Arya had barely broken a sweat.

"Do you yield?"

"Aye," He said, letting the wooden training sword fall to the ground.

As Arya took her stance with her hands behind her back, he saw the boy look at his armor and Arya's lack of it.

"You do not wear armor Ser Arya."

"I do not own armor," she corrected.

"How is that possible? A fabled warrior such as yourself?"

He could see her looking up to where he had perched himself to observe her.

"I lost my personal armorer."

"To the war?" Ulric questioned her.

"To the throne," Arya playfully responded, as if talking to Gendry and not the young kingsguard.

"I could make you armor if that is what you wanted," Gendry yelled.

"Armor forged by the king of the Six Kingdoms? I fear I could not afford it, your grace."

The young men looked intrigued at the familiarity of the interaction of their king and the lady knight. Podrick observed them as well, unsurprised having known they had a complicated history together.

"How do you know you cannot afford my prices?"

"I have never paid for my steel."

"Aye. I had forgotten you prefer to steal."

Gendry knew Davos would be soon admonishing for that display.

"Your grace!" Maester Tarly called for him, and Gendry turned around to see him approaching him, pushing Arya's brother. This concerned him since Bran seldom left the keep.

It had clearly worried Arya, who was soon joining them.

"Is something, amiss?" The king asked.

"The queen in the North is coming South," Bran offered in his normal detached tone.

"Did Sansa write?" Arya asked his brother.

"No, I can see her riding; she shall be here in a fortnight."

It was not even half a year since the fall of King's Landing and the great council that had elected them both monarchs. It was not a good sign to think about what could have been the reason for Queen Sansa to ride South unannounced.

Gendry and Arya looked at each other sharing their concerns in a silent conversation.

Bran offered more information to everyone and no one in particular.

"She comes for an answer, but she shall only gain more questions."

Chapter Text


It was not as if he didn't know how to read. He could, simple things. He knew, for example, that Arya had written 'dragonglass' in the sketch of the weapon she asked him to forge her.

But that wasn't enough for a king. When the council of lords and ladies chose him, he could not write a long message to his new subjects, and he could have read a parchment delivered by raven only if he locked himself in his new chambers and worked on it for hours.

And so, set himself to the task of learning and improving, and he worked hard with Davos and Sam's help. A little less than half a year from his coronation, he could read unaided the ravens that came, with occasional consults to his hand and maester.

Even Ser Brienne and Pod had been happy to help with his lessons.

But not Arya.

Not because she had denied him, but because it had been a conscious decision not to ask her for help.

Patience was not among her plentiful skills.

Gendry told himself that was the reason why he hadn't asked, but if he were honest, it was his pride.

He had never minded Arya calling him stupid or idiot; he knew it was in jest. But if he was sure of something, it was that he did not want her to know how far behind he was, because of being a lowborn.

He wasn't quite ready to start writing his own ravens, but he was proud to be able to read all the messages that arrived for him and replying with minimal help from his hand.

That evening he was at the desk in his chambers, going through the announcements, reports, and requests that had arrived during the week, when he heard a soft thud to his right.

"I have a door, you know," he said without turning to face the intruder who had come in through the window.

"You'd be dead by now if it were an assassin," her voice announced and he noticed it was getting closer.

"You are an assassin, and I know for sure that if you wanted to kill me, you'd be successful whether I tried to defend myself or not, so why would I worry about it?" he said dropping the parchment he had in his hand on the desk and pushing his chair as he turned to face her.

Arya treaded toward him, graceful as water dancing.

"Have you bled?" he asked.

Arya stopped as she lifted one eyebrow, "are we sharing the state of our bodily functions? Pray tell your grace, how many times have you pissed today?"

"You know what I mean."

"Yes, I have. Happy?"

"Just being cautious. You've been drinking your tea?"

Gendry saw something change her into a predator stalking its prey. She had resumed her walk towards him until she was standing right in front, their knees lightly touching.

"Do I need to show you the dregs in my cup?"

"I trust you," he said, taking her hand in his.

"No, you don't," Arya countered, letting go of his hand an instead setting herself on his lap.

Gendry let her sit astride him, placing his hands on her hips.

"Are you telling me you would prefer the opposite?" He asked, knitting his eyebrows.

"No."

"Then, why are we even arguing about this?"

"Because of your weird obsession."

"You don't want to be a lady, and I don't want to father bastards. Leave it there," he cautioned her.

Arya placed her left hand on his shoulder, and the right went to his jaw, her thumb caressing over the spot where a prominent freckle laid half-hidden beneath his beard. She would never admit it, but she loved seeing that freckle move when he talked.

"You need to shave."

"You want me soft-skinned like the green boys you train?"

"No, I want my thighs and my breasts to stop chafing."

Gendry chuckled loudly and took her off his lap. He stood up and walked to the table with his cleaning supplies and returned to her, handing her a small pot filled with a thick concoction and a soft brush.

"I trust your Cat's Paw is sharp enough," he said as he turned his chair until its back hit the desk, and sat back down. "Come on. Do your worst."

His hand found her once more and gently pulled her toward him and invited her to sit on him.

"Do I look like someone who would keep her blades dull?"

Hearing her words, Gendry pulled her down for a kiss with his other hand finding the back of her neck.

Arya managed to find her balance and yielded to the kiss.

"Talking about my blades arouses you?" She asked as soon as their lips parted.

"I am a smith after all," he said letting go of her neck and bringing his hands back to her hips to steady her.

Arya took the brush and swirled it slowly in the white soapy substance, and then covered his inky beard. Once lathered thoroughly, she set the pot on the desk, leaning deliberately over him.

Her eyes did not leave his as she unsheathed her Valyrian steel dagger with her left hand, the right settled around his throat, four fingers wrapping around towards his nape and her thumb dancing over his Adam's apple.

Arya knew how to kill, the right angles to stab, the precise depth to sink into someone's flesh to grant the gift of death. Experience had taught her the right speed and tilt to kill efficiently, without exertion to herself and minimal blood splatter.

This was new. It required expertise, dragging the blade over his skin without injury. After taking a few seconds to plot her strategy, Arya brought the edge to his neck, and Gendry felt the nipping steel.

His pulse was steady under her fingers.

"Last chance to change your mind," she announced.

"Go ahead."

The first go of the blade was even, Gendry barely felt it, all his concentration was on her weight over him, her powerful thighs around him and under his hands. He took the time to concentrate on the scar above her eyebrow, still pink and puckered. Her big doe eyes engrossed on the task.

The Cat's Paw went once, twice, thrice over his skin, and Arya would take a moment to wipe it on his loose tunic. Soon, she moved her right hand to the top of his head, her thumb on his forehead steadying him. He let her twist his head obediently, allowing her to lead like he did their first time together.

One of Gendry's hands started drawing lazy circles over the top of her leg, and her pulse faltered. He felt the blade no longer sliding but catching on his skin for a second, not enough to draw blood, but feel the scrape. Gendry thought to himself that he might be mad, but he liked that she wasn't infallible. He would take the irritation of his skin, and even a few drops of blood spilled for that.

After a while, all the planes of his face were covered. Arya sheathed the dagger once more and placed her hands on his chest, feeling its firmness. Her hands slid down until they reached the hem of his tunic. She pulled it up, and he obediently aided her taking it off. Arya used it to wipe his face, and he discarded it when she was done. She touched his face and rubbed her thumb on the dark freckle. She liked seeing it tense when he squared his jaw.

She laid back a little, pleased with her work, and he took the time to move his hands backward, from her hips to her backside. His left hand gave it a light squeeze while right traveled north, finding refuge on her back.

Flushed against his chest then, her lips caught his in a languid kiss.

Gendry then got on his feet while holding her tight, and proceeded to walk towards his bed. As Arya felt herself be lifted, she wrapped her legs around him and her hands nestled on the back of his neck.

Standing before the massive canopied featherbed, Gendry set her down. He stripped her from the light grey tunic she wore leaving her breasts bare, looking down he noticed her rosy nipples puckering, mayhaps to the cold air coming through the window, but he hoped it was because of his hand setting on her side, sliding up her body but stopping just before the swell of her breasts.

He then unlaced her breeches and pulled them down just halfway down her legs. She was still wearing her boots, and he had no intention of dealing with it yet. Instead, he held on to her backside and pulled her against him making her feel his need, and capturing her mouth once more. He swallowed her deep moan and felt empowered like he did when he knocked that first wight atop the battlements of Winterfell and it shattered out of the pure force of his warhammer. After the kiss, he gently pushed her back until she sat on the bed, and he was kneeling before her.

For a fraction of a second, Arya trembled, remembering another time when he bent the knee to her. At that moment, she felt something pull at her heartstrings, but he distracted her when he unlaced and removed her boots, followed closely by her breeches. He then started a trail of kisses up her legs, crawling on the bed to lay her on her back until she was looking up at the rich tapestry under the canopy. She stopped thinking when he reached her thighs, and he moved her limbs as she were a ragdoll.

He was only wearing his breeches, but he had no intention to remove them for the time being, he lifted her right leg instead and set it over his shoulder to reveal a magical place known, as far as he hoped, only by him.

She had said that she wanted him shaved so her breasts and thighs would stop chafing, and by the gods, he would show her then what he was able to do soft-jawed.

Back in Braavos, sleeping in the attic of a whorehouse, she used to look through an opening in between the floorboards. She was amazed at the number of positions possible between two bodies. The rarest of them was when a male customer used his lips and tongue in between a courtesan's legs. She remembered thinking it queer at the time. While she felt, back then, indifferent to most of what she had seen, Arya concluded that for sure she would not feel inclined ever to experience that.

She could not have been farther from the truth.

The first time Gendry had gone down on her she had tried to push him off with her foot on his shoulder, but he had gently moved it over his back, and kissed her there with the fervor of someone who had something to prove. Her mind and her mouth forgetting all words but his name.

While enticing, she didn't want to peak in this fashion; Arya wanted to feel Gendry's weight on her and his mouth on hers. She reached the top of his head with a hand, and after running her fingers through the lush obsidian hair, now longer than how it was when they had gotten reacquainted, she beckoned, "I want you."

"You have me," he reminded her.

"Over me, in me."

He climbed up and kissed her once more. His hands then played with her teats; he extended the fingers of his right hand, as far as they'd go. He was trying to touch both nipples at the same time, one with his pinky and the other one with his thumb, the same way he would use his hand to measure a piece of steel before turning it into a sword.

A bit later, he found her center with his fingers and tested to see if she was ready, growling when he discovered her slick for him. He felt his chest broaden with pride, of provoking this on her, with the same intensity as she did it to him.

He aligned himself with her entrance, and they moaned simultaneously when their flesh met. He wanted to sink into her, overwhelm her with sensation, but instead, he waited a few more seconds, greedy to hear his name spill out of her lips one more time. He might have been the king then, but he wanted her to command him to join her.

"Gendry," she said in a tortured whine.

He obeyed his queen at once.

They soon found their rhythm and Arya barely registered the creak of the old wood of the Baratheon's ancestral bed, brought from the Stormlands as an act of recognition from his bannermen. She fleetingly thought of the many generations of Baratheon heirs conceived on that same bed, but it didn't matter like it didn't matter that Gendry was undoubtedly conceived in a meager cot in an alehouse, and how it didn't matter that he wouldn't be getting her with child at that moment either.

The ludicrous thought of him getting his babe in her belly tightened her core, and she knew that later she would have to deal with the implications of that fleeting desire, but right then, she didn't care.

His face showed his determination, and it made her think of how it used to look when he hammered in the forge, as she stared at him. But unlike those times, his brows knitted and his lids closed from time to time, and she imagined that her own face was probably mimicking his. She soon felt molten inside, and she imagined herself as the weapon he was forging. A taut string inside her snapped, and her chest sang. With his forehead on hers, it was not her name that he chanted but an unending litany of 'love, love, love.'

Neither of them knew for sure how long it took them to catch their breaths, but at some point he let his sweaty and exhausted body back on the feather bed, pulling her with him until she was half over him, with her head on his chest.

Everything was peaceful until the rumble of his laughter moved her, and she felt like if she were at sea. She looked up at him and smiled widely at his sated state.

"You'll be the death of me, woman."

She didn't have a witty remark, so she just kissed him deeply with one of her hands set on his strong jaw. He then pushed her gently off him and settled her back on the bed, and then he got up and walked to the trunk that held his clothes. He pulled out a clean white tunic, and brought it back to the bed, to clean the seed spilling out of her.

A light breeze came through the window, making her moistened body shiver. She didn't know if it was the contact of her wet skin and the wind or the way he looked at her. He cleaned himself quickly and threw the tunic to the floor, joining her back on the bed and pulling the furs over their naked bodies.

He pulled her back to him, and they stared at each other. The air felt too charged. He noticed her big eyes soften, such an unusual expression in her, and it made him think of another time when she looked at him with those same big soft eyes, the night when Gendry called her beautiful. He felt vertigo knowing that he could start rambling again about how much he loved her, and how nothing mattered but her, and how he would never again call her m'lady, if only she allowed him to call her his wife.

He felt trepidation at opening old wounds that still smartened up, and so, despite all that he felt, he closed his eyes and laid his head back, trying to find something to distract his mind and his heart.


 


"Davos is concerned."

"About what?"

"About us. I'm afraid he suspects what we're doing."

That last statement made her turn to face him and raise one eyebrow.

"Would it matter? You are king now; no one batted an eye to your father bedding half of the women in Westeros."

"Don't say that. I will never be like my father."

He might not have known many things, but even before he knew who the man who sired him was, he knew he never wanted to be like him.

"Davos wants me to start entertaining eligible young ladies," he explained wistfully.

Arya remained silent and avoided his gaze.

"You have nothing to say about that?" He asked, raising her chin with his hand and forcing her to look at him.

"I'm the Master of War, not your Hand."

"I am not asking my Master of War right now; I am asking the woman who is presently naked in my furs."

"I understand the Realm demands you wed. And in any case, why is Davos pressuring you? I thought the whole point of this new system for the kingdom was that it does no longer rely on a king handing the crown down to an heir."

"Davos says that even if a new king or queen is chosen by the great houses, I still have a duty to make sure the Baratheon line serves the Stormlands."

"You will be marrying a lady, then," Arya stated.

Once more, he was cast aside from her mind, unable to reach her. He felt the nip of winter in his soul.

"So you'll be fine with that? Me marrying for political reasons?"

"For the good of the Realm and the Stormlands?" she asked.

"Are you serious?" He could feel his blood rage, "will you be fine seeing me wed some highborn lady and my babes growing in her belly? And then what? You and I take hunting trips every other moon and be the gossip of the Realm?"

"I am not required to like it."

"Damn it, Arya! I want to hear you say what you are thinking."

"I'll hate it, alright! But there is nothing I can do."

"Funny how you have complained your whole life about being powerless to be traded for political alliances, and yet, you have no qualms about it happening to me."

Since the House of Black and White and the game of faces, Arya had had trouble identifying her feelings. The only thing she knew at that moment was that she did not want to continue that conversation.

"I wouldn't blame you if you married and had children," she finally said looking away.

"No, because it will not happen," he replied, and while Arya wasn't looking at him, she could feel him burning her with his eyes.

Looking back at him, she countered, "you need an heir. You'd be a good father."

At that, Gendry placed his hand on her cheek.

"Are you planning on giving me babes? Because the only children I'd father would have to come from your womb."

"I don't even know if I can, you've seen my scars."

"Then the orphans you agreed to raise with me," he replied.

Arya wasn't sure where that left them, and for a moment she let herself hope for something she didn't know.

"But it won't happen," he finally said, and his words made her ache like a freshly open wound, "because we will not wed, and I will not be fathering bastards, not even with you."

Chapter Text

'How many fucking council meetings can there be?' Arya thought to herself as she played with her dagger, waiting for the bloody bull to arrive. She wondered what she was thinking when she agreed to stay in the capital to be part of the small council. It had been the possibility of her, a girl who had been told could not influence life beyond producing heirs for a lord, having an important role to play in the new government.

If only Septa Mordane could see her now, one of three women in the small council to the king of the six kingdoms.

How times had changed.

Of course, she hadn't known that it would be this fucking boring. It was meetings, ravens, and petitions.

Why didn't she stick to her plan of sailing west of Westeros?

It was the bloody bull. He had to go ahead and become the damn king. And he had looked at her with those eyes; they had reminded her of when they chose him for torture in Harrenhal or the forlorn way he had looked at her as the red bitch took him away.

She could try to fool herself and say it was because he was a bloody good lay.

But she knew it wasn't that.

Arya didn't like where her thoughts were taking her, but thankfully, the door to the council room opened, and she took her place at the table as Gendry and Ser Davos came in.

Once Gendry took his place at the head of the table, his eyes set on hers for a second and quickly turned away, acknowledging all the other members.

"My lords," he greeted the men and then looked at the two women present, "Sers."

"Your grace," greeted the rest of the council.

"Ser Brienne, it is good to have you back, how is your lord father?" he asked.

"Grumpy and stubborn, but it was nice to see him. Thank you for the leave of absence, your grace," Brienne replied and then continued, "Ser Arya, I hear from Pod that you did a great job with the recruits, I'm afraid they will be disappointed to see you leave."

"Nonsense, Ser Brienne. The pleasure was mine."

"It would be our honor if you continued participating in their training."

"As it would be mine."

"Your grace," Samwell Tarly continued, "we received a raven from lady Greyjoy, she has arrived safely at the Iron Islands. She will be sailing back with the new ships for our fleet."

"Any news on the Queen in the North?" Gendry asked.

"We should be expecting her in a day or two," Tyrion replied.

"I am sure that everyone is happy to be done with this meeting, and I sincerely doubt we were all needed here to hear that Yara is safe and sound in the Iron Islands or to inquiry when my sister is arriving, why were we summoned, Tyrion?" Arya asked impatiently.

"I called for this meeting because my sources have brought me news of potential risk to the Realm from the south."

"What is it?" Gendry asked.

"As you know," continued the Master of Coin and Whispers, "Dorne has a new prince, Alvar Martell, who was present for the council of the great houses, where your grace was chosen."

"Of course. He did not seem happy with the procedures," Gendry commented remembering the disgruntled attitude of the prince, he hadn't caught his name, and he was sure the Dornishman had no interest on getting acquainted with him.

"What do we know about him? I thought the whole Martell family had been wiped out," Gendry inquired.

"He is a distant cousin of the ruling Martells," Tyrion continued, "and the self-appointed prince regent in the name of the eldest of Oberyn Martell's remaining recognized bastard daughters. They survived, having been only children during the coup. I believe the eldest is Elia Sand."

"He wanted my brother dead," Arya offered visibly upset.

"Doran Martell had been secretly plotting to reinstate the Targaryens to the throne for years, and they backed Danearys," Bran added with his usual detached demeanor.

"And there's the reason why he was furious with Jon Snow for killing her," Davos declared.

"Prince Alvar took offense when your grace consented to Queen Sansa's request of granting independence to the North," Sam explained, "you see, much like the North, Dorne has a rich history of being a sovereign nation, only having joined the seven kingdoms through marriage."

"Not to mention the contentious relationship it has with King's Landing, with the deaths of Elia and her children, and the more recent death of Oberyn," Bran added.

"But they know it was the Lannisters, don't they?" the king asked.

"True, while my father, Tywin Lannister was responsible for the deaths of Princess Elia and her children," Tyrion explained with a pained face at acknowledging the horrible things done by his father, "Robert married my sister, and then, it was during my nephew Tommen's reign that Oberyn was killed, thus the lack of love for the Baratheons."

"One event happening before I was born and the other while I was a no-name bastard traveling the roads of Westeros," Gendry added as he shook his head. At the mention of his time on the road, he could not avoid looking at Arya, who only nodded.

"True your grace, but it sounds like the Dornish do not seem to care," was Brianne's contribution.

"It is worth to mention that the Iron Islands petitioned Danearys for independence, and she granted it," Davos added.

"But as opposed to Dorne, the ironborn are presently represented the small council," Tyrion explained.

"Are they planning on taking arms?" Arya asked.

"I do not have confirmation that they are planning an uprise. If they did, we would be at a great disadvantage, with the way the recent wars have devastated our armies and resources," Tyrion continued, "there is something else that my sources have reported. Another point of argument seems to be what they perceive as favoritism towards House Stark."

"What about us?" Arya asked bothered.

"Well, they mentioned the presence of three Starks at the council of the great houses," he continued avoiding the eyes of the Master of War.

"We were there to save our brother!"

"Arya..." Gendry intervened while placing a hand on Arya's arm, which was not ignored by the rest of the council.

"Not to mention that both Edmure Tully and Robyn Arryn have a direct relation to House Stark. And, the fact that two of the masters of the small council are Starks," he continued nodding towards Arya and Bran, "and the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard used to be the sword shield of Queen Sansa."

The term 'used to' bothered Brienne as if it were a statement of her lack of loyalty.

"And finally, what they interpret as lack of punishment for Jon Snow," Tyrion finished happy to be done with that information.

"Lack of punishment?! My brother was exiled beyond the Wall for life! He is forbidden from holding lands, marrying or fathering children."

"I'm with you, you know this," Gendry offered her looking directly at her, "what do you think we should do?" he asked, looking at his hand.

"We should always look for a diplomatic solution before anything else," was Davos proposal.

"It wouldn't hurt to fortify our armies and focus more effort to rebuild the outer walls of King's Landing," Brienne suggested.

"Your grace, if you allow me, perhaps there is a diplomatic avenue that we have not explored," Tyrion said.

"What is that?"

"And an alliance with Dorne. After all, you are of marrying age."

"You suggest I marry the prince of Dorne?" Gendry asked sarcastically.

"Not the prince your grace, one of his nieces."

At that point, Arya could feel ringing in her ears. Looking at Gendry, she noticed his anger blooming.

"You said they were children."

"Yes, but mayhaps one of the two eldest ones, if I am not mistaken, Elia must be fourteen, and Obella, twelve."

"Out of the question," Gendry replied icily while the rest of the council remained tense.

"But your grace,"

"No!" He yelled, slamming his hand on the table.

"It would be a way to avoid another war," Tyrion continued testing his luck.

"I will not marry children."

"The eldest one may have flowered already."

"I will only marry a woman grown with her full consent, do I make myself clear?" He said looking at Tyrion menacingly.

Tyrion hadn't seen the face of an enraged Baratheon in years, and he was sure it would be in his best interest not to contribute to seeing it again any time soon.

"Very well, your grace."

"Which brings us to another important issue," Davos added, trying to diffuse the situation, "our financial resources are dwindling, even with the help from Highgarden."

"We could always raise the taxes," was Sam's idea.

"The people have suffered enough, we cannot take more than what they have," Arya added.

"And of course there is the issue of the outstanding debt the crown has with the Iron Bank, both by the Baratheons and the Lannisters," Davos continued.

"Those who took the loans are dead," Gendry mentioned.

"The Iron Bank will have its due," Arya uttered the motto of the most important bak of Essos.

"You are correct Arya, for the Iron Bank the debt was incurred by the crown, not the individuals who wore it," Bran explained.

"What can they do if we cannot repay?"

"The way they operate is supporting a new monarch to depose the one who has defaulted on the loan, and then they collect both the debt from the previous king and the new debt incurred by the new one," Tyrion stated.

"I'm sorry to add to this your grace, but I can attest to that. Your uncle Stannis and I met with them. We secured a loan based on the likelihood of Stannis defeating the Lannisters. Your uncle made a deal to pay the old debt and the new."

"We could be sure to expect the Iron Bank to reach out to the Dornish and fund an uprising," Brienne theorized.

"Was this meeting called just for me to learn how fucked I am?" Gendry asked.

"Mayhaps the solution would be to send an envoy to Braavos to renegotiate the debt," Davos suggested.

"I could go."

"Ser Arya?" Sam asked.

"I lived there for years, and I speak Braavosi."

"You cannot go on your own," the words left Gendry's mouth before he had a chance to think how they would be interpreted by everyone in the meeting.

"I cannot go?" Arya asked visibly upset, "is that an order, your grace?"

"What if they want their due, for all that combined Baratheon and Lannisters' debt? I can't-" he stopped himself this time, and then corrected, "the Realm cannot lose you."

Arya was about to lose her temper, but she was able to control herself, deciding to save it for when they did not have an audience. She took a deep breath and recalled her training.

"Is that all your grace?"

Gendry knew he was in trouble and that his best bet was to dismiss the council and find his way to the forge for a few hours.


 

Unlike what he had planned, hammering in the forge had not distracted him, if possible, it had given him enough time to let his feelings fester.

His arms were sore, and his head hurt from all the problems he had inherited along with the crown. And to top it all there was Arya.

He hoped that a good sleep would give him a reprieve, but the moment he opened the door to his chambers he found her there, standing in the middle of the room, arms crossed over her chest and eyes wild with fury.

'Had she been waiting there long, ready to pounce as soon I came in?' he wondered.

"I cannot go to Braavos?!" She yelled at him, throwing her arms in the air.

He walked by her and sat on his bed to take his boots off.

"Am I your possession for you to forbid me to go?!"

"I never implied that I owned you!" He yelled back standing up and taking off his leathers.

She was barefoot already, and in response, she started unlacing her jerkin.

"Just because I expressed concern about you being safe, it doesn't mean I don't trust your ability to defend yourself. Seven hells Arya!" Gendry added yanking at the ties of his tunic.

"Just like you wanted me to go to the crypts!" Arya barked back as she was shedding her breeches.

"I've already admitted I was wrong about that!" He shouted and then proceeded to pull his tunic off by pulling it at the back of his neck.

"For one, the dead fucking came back to life!" She explained while walking on the other side of the bed from where Gendry was standing, "and who would have killed the Night King if I had played the helpless lady that you and Jon wanted me to be?!"

"I have never thought of you as a helpless lady, and you know it!"

Gendry had stripped from his breeches by now and was yanking at the covers and getting in bed.

"Do I? Didn't you ask me to be-" Arya started climbing on the bed from the other side.

"I was drunk!" He interrupted her and pulled up the covers off his lap and guided her to settle on him by patting her right hip.

"Not that drunk!"

"But I don't need you to go and fix my mess!"

"It is not your mess!" She yelled as she shimmied awkwardly atop him.

"Argh! What are you doing?" Gendry asked uncomfortable with the movement.

"What do you think?" She asked while shoving one hand on the middle of his abdomen while mistreating him with the other in a rather painful way.

"Wait, that's not... Careful there!"

"Why are you not hard?" Arya asked perplexed.

For a moment, she looked like she did when they were children, and she would get frustrated because the world did not work in the way she wished it did. In any other moment, Gendry would have found it endearing, but not in that particular one.

"Contrary to what you may think, princess," He knew he had chosen the word carefully to annoy her. It didn't make him feel proud, but the day had already gone to the shitter, "I don't get hard just because you exist."

"Don't call me that," she warned him, but at that precise moment his hand furrowed in between them, and his middle finger probed her entrance, "what are you...? Stop!"

"See! You are as dry as a bone. It's not just me."

"I don't really want to do this with you right now," she icily said while she dismounted him.

"Me neither," he added, "what are you doing?" he asked when he noted she was fluffing the pillow on the other side of the bed.

"Going to sleep," was her response as she lay down, facing away from him.

"Here?" He asked, sitting up.

"Are you serious?!" At that moment, she sat back up and turned to face him, her anger clear. "Are you kicking me out? What? I'm not allowed in your chambers unless I am servicing you?"

"I didn't say that!"

"Then what were you saying?!"

"Fucking is the only reason why you come to me," Gendry knew he was crass, but he didn't care.

"Well, you never seek me out."

Gendry closed his eyes and shook his head slowly. What could he say? That he was afraid of being rejected once more, and he had made the conscious decision of accepting whatever she was willing to give him?


"Just go to sleep Arya," he added in defeat blowing out the candle on the side table and going to sleep facing away from her.


 

Arya was having a pleasant dream.

A truly pleasant dream.

It wasn't as much that it was a sensual one, though it was indeed sensual.

She felt warm and cozy.

As she was slowly waking up, she started noticing things, like the strong leg over hers, the warmth on her back, and the hand engulfing her breast and the thumb rubbing her nipple slowly.

Except for the days during their hunting trip, they hadn't had a chance to wake up together this way.

She could get used to it.

And she suspected he could as well, as it was clear to her that he was also having a delightful start to his day.

After a few minutes, he must have woken up fully because she felt the shift in the bed, a soft groan was placed on her nape along with a kiss.

"Hey," He greeted.

"This is new," Arya offered as she turned to face him.

"What? Waking up together?"

"No. Us, just sleeping," she explained.

"I've slept with you plenty of times without getting in your breeches."

"I meant, not since I am a woman grown, and certainly, not in this bed."

"Arya, you do know that you are always welcome in my bed, even if there is no fucking involved, right?" He clarified with a worried tone.

She embraced him then, and unlike the way they had left things the night before, this day had great potential.

"Gendry..." She sighed as his hands were caressing her back, sliding down to her backside. Her own hands raking their nails over his shoulders and back, Arya was sure she was leaving marks, but she didn't care.

Things had started to heat up when the scratching of the great oak door to the chamber broke the spell.

"Sorry to interrupt you, your grace-" Davos had started to say but abruptly stopped once he saw his king was not alone. He saw a woman's very naked back and the wild dark brown hair that reached just below her shoulders. One of Gendry's hands was on her lower back and another one on the back of her head.

At that moment both lovers turned to look at Ser Davos and the woman turned over her shoulder, Davos was able to ascertain that it was indeed who he had been suspecting all along to be sharing his king's featherbed.

"Oh, I am terribly sorry, Lad-," Davos admonished himself silently at using the wrong title, "Ser Arya."

"No need to apologize Ser Davos," Arya offered, turning around making sure to keep the sheet covering her. "I suspect it is hardly news to you. And please, call me Arya."

"No, not really... Arya."

"Did you need anything Davos?" Gendry asked, trying to ignore his embarrassment.

"The Queen in the North has arrived. She asks for you and her siblings," he explained. "I'll see you both in your solar."

"We'll be there soon," Arya indicated.

"Mayhaps take turns leaving," Davos suggested with a grimace. He quickly bowed and left the chamber.

"Of all the times Davos he could have caught us, it was the one time nothing happened," Gendry groaned falling back to the bed.

"It wasn't so bad. Now get up and get dressed. And do something so it is not so obvious what we have been doing when you see my sister." She said gingerly jumping off the bed in all her naked glory.

'No, it is not going to be a good day.' He thought to himself.

 

 

Chapter Text


Sansa remembered the place the way it used to be, as it had impressed her the first time she had seen it, years and lifetimes ago when she still dreamed. It made her grin bitterly, to think herself, stupidly naive as she fantasized of being a queen.

Back when being a queen meant wearing the loveliest gowns and birthing gorgeous babes, heirs for her handsome king husband.

This place was once her cage. Sansa had vowed never to set foot on it when she was spirited away, many years before, and here she was, not yet a year since she was last here.

King's Landing used to be her prison, but she had the last laugh. All her jailers were dead, the place was destroyed, and she was queen.

Queen on her own right. Sansa, the freer of the North, the Red Wolf, the Queen of ice.

She didn't need a knight to save her at the end, nor a king to crown her.

She looked out of the makeshift solar, the Red Keep nothing more than livable ruins, a maze of patched up rooms and furniture, arranged to pretend the big gaping holes were not there.

"Queendom suits you," his clear voice brought her back from her musings.

"Freedom suits me, my lord," she corrected the man who had been her husband.

"Welcome to King's Landing, your grace."

"We were once married, Tyrion. You've earned the right to call me by my given name."

"Very well, it is good to see you, Sansa."

"I cannot say I am pleased to find my way back here so soon, but seeing you is a good perk."

Tyrion smiled that smile of his, 'the pained one' she thought.

"I am glad, having been once part of your shackles."

"I told you once, you were the best of them."

"Are you happy?" He ventured.

"I am... not unhappy."

"Not everyone is that fortunate. But I wish that one day you are. You have earned it."

"And you?" She asked in return.

"There was a time I thought of myself clever. I no longer make that mistake."

"You made it this far when many others did not. You shouldn't be so hard on yourself. You were chosen as an advisor to the king of Westeros. Your intellect is still required."

"My sentence is to make sure I do not repeat the same mistakes."

"If the king grows tired of you, you will always have a place in my small council."

"Careful. It might be a nice incentive to fail."

Sansa let her lips curve into a soft smile.

"That might be good. I esteem King Gendry, but mayhaps I should pay him with the same coin, he kept my siblings, my sworn shield and you. I wonder if he really has such little love for House Stark."

"I would wager it is quite the opposite," he spoke too soon.

"I beg your pardon?"

Tyrion grimaced, knowing he had said too much, but he and Sansa shared history. She had once trusted him with her secrets.

"It is not my place."

"That hasn't stopped you in the past, why start now?"

"Are you aware of your sister's history with him? The king, I mean."

"Arya told me once, briefly, when we waited for the meeting at the dragon pit, that they met as children, traveled together for a while. There is still much that I do not know of my own sister's life."

"That is the story they both have shared."

"Do you believe it not true?"

"I believe it not all."

"See, there was a reason you were named Master of Whispers. Tell me, Tyrion, what is whispered of this?"

"That his grace does not sleep alone, and nor does your sister."

"You are telling me this because she is my sister? Or because you and I still play the game?"

"Varys once told me everything he did, he did for the Realm. I thought it horseshit back then."

"And now?"

"Now... I understand better."

Sansa stood silent, digesting the news she learned. Life had taught her to consider everything, just as in a game of cyvasse. But before she had more time to ponder, the door to the solar opened, and Gendry Baratheon, king of Westeros, entered.

"Queen Sansa, King's Landing is yours."

"Thank you, but I want to believe you and I have earned the right to call each other by name. Not long ago, you came to my home, and you worked and fought for a cause that was not yours."

"It was mine, your... Sansa. Fighting to live was everyone's cause."

"Not to anyone south of the Neck. Allow me to thank you for that."

"Then I must thank you because you welcomed me in the North, far longer than I should have stayed."

"Very well, Gendry. I assume you wonder why I came."

"Your brother Bran said something about a question that needs asking."

"No reason for ravens when he sees it all."

"I don't see it all, Sansa," Bran said coming into the solar, pushed by Maester Tarly.

"I will be outside if you need me, Bran," the maester said, before bowing to the queen and leaving the room.

Sansa was quick to embrace her brother and place a soft kiss on his forehead. Letting go of him, she was sad to see, just like every other time, that he remained unmoved.

"It is good to see you, little brother."

"Your grace," the voice of her sister made her turn to see her in her warrior stance, blank-faced and with her hands at her back."

"Don't call me that because I won't be calling you ser."

"It's good to see you," Gendry noticed that minuscule smile that Arya wore whenever something slightly chinked her armor, "why are you here?"

"Well, you only wrote twice," Sansa replied with fake annoyance.

"You came to ask me a question," Bran stated, "it's about Jon."

"Have you heard of him?" Arya inquired, her worry evident on her face, her mask already forgotten.

Gendry felt uncomfortable disrupting the family reunion.

"I'll let you get reacquainted with your siblings," He said.

Davos Seaworth, who had come behind the king spoke then, "if it pleases you, your grace, the king would be honored if you could join us for supper, some of the lords and ladies heard of your arrival, and they would like to pay their respects."

"Of course, Ser Davos. It will be my pleasure," Sansa replied.

"Not another bloody feast!" Arya complained.

The king and the knight bowed, and both men left the solar.

Sansa acknowledged with a nod, and she noticed that her sister's eyes followed the king as he left. Aye, this was something she would have to explore more.

Once left alone, Arya brought them back to the matter at hand.

"What is it about Jon? Sansa, has anything happened to him?"

"Not that I know of. I went to Castle Black. He wasn't there, no one was. Have you seen him, Bran?"

"He took his direwolf and his people, and he ventured north. He didn't look back."

It was no secret that Jon was Arya's favorite. The idea of not seeing him again pained her deeply.

"Can you see where he is? We need to get him back. I went there to bring him to Winterfell, screw what foreigners said."

"It was the king of Westeros who exiled him," their brother said stoically.

"To appease Daneary's followers. Who cares about that? They've gone." Arya added.

"Do you think Gendry would grant him a pardon?" Sansa asked.

"He should, he is his friend," Arya replied.

"He is more than that," Bran added.

"I will search for our brother, Arya, could you get Sam to wheel me to my rooms?"

Arya left and came back shortly followed by the maester who took their brother away. She intended to go as well when Sansa stopped her.

"Arya, I want to talk to you."

"Go ahead."

"Could we go to your chambers?"

Arya eyed her sister for a while, so very different from the one she remembered. She could admit that both had grown wary in their own ways. She finally nodded and led Sansa to her chambers, through the wrecked keep.


 

"Gendry," Davos started once they left the solar.

"You have something to tell me, Davos?"

"Couple of things, if I may."

They couldn't use the solar, and the castle had few options for private conversations, and so Gendry didn't have many options besides walking with Davos towards the royal rooms. When both men arrived, the bed was still in disarray. The sight reminded both how Davos had walked in the young lovers. Both men, uncomfortable and slightly embarrassed, avoided each other's eyes.

Gendry walked towards the side of the room where his desk was, as well as a small sitting area. He sat on one of the chairs and signaled for Davos to do the same.

"Everything has been arranged for the feast tonight. Three nobles will be joining us."

Gendry groaned in annoyance and wondered if he would ever be done meeting new lords and ladies, bowing to him and pretending to respect him. It was especially hard with the crownlands nobility, he wondered how many of the lords had come into Tobho Mott's shop to purchase armor and weapons and gave a disdainful look to the filthy apprentice there, ignorant to the fact that years later he'd be their king.

"It won't be that bad, son. Only two houses will be present: Lord Godric Brune and his wife Lady Dena of Brownhollow, and Lady Orla Massey of Stonedance."

"Aye."

Davos remained silent for a moment but did not try to leave. He was clearly finding it hard to approach the next subject, and Gendry thought he knew what it was.

"You want to say something, Davos?"

"I was very sorry to have interrupted you."

"Just spit it out."

"You love the girl."

He hadn't expected that question, maybe 'you're fucking Arya Stark', but not the love bit.

"I do," He answered truthfully.

"An alliance between the North and the crown would be well-regarded."

"She will not wed me."

"How do you know? Have you asked?"

Davos saw his king's face fall and regretted asking.

"I did. Back in Winterfell. I was a bloody idiot. She has no interest in being a lady."

"Good, have you asked her about being a queen then?"

"I sincerely doubt that she will be more agreeable to that."

"Won't you ask her again?"

Gendry shook his head dejectedly.

"And you won't consider marrying anyone else?"

Again, he refused.

"Well then, my boy, we are well and truly fucked."


 


Arya escorted her sister to her chambers in silence. Once they were inside, she was sure to bar the door, no harm on being cautious, after that whole deal with Littlefinger.

"Speak," she commanded, turning to face her sister.

"Aren't you going to invite me to sit?"

"I am sorry sweet sister," Arya said mockingly, "could I offer you something to drink? Water? Wine? Lemon cakes? I don't really keep any in my chambers, but if you do so desire it, I can always ask one of the girls to fetch some," just as the smiling mask had gone up it went down, "now, speak."

Sansa sat down on a bed that was clearly undisturbed. Her sister's room was pristine. It wasn't the lack of a mess that interested her, but how nondescript it looked, if she had gone in this room on her own, she wouldn't have known it to be hers. Then again, the Arya she had met after their years of separation was one that kept her secrets to herself.

Looking back to her younger sister, she spoke.

"You gave your maidenhead to the king."

It wasn't a question.

Arya rolled her eyes. It was always about the bloody maidenhead. No one ever worried about who rang her brothers' bells for the first time. And it wasn't only the nobles that concerned themselves with her virtue, the brotherhood and lady Smallwood had also worried about her being 'intact.'

Even the bloody way people talked about it bothered her, men 'took it' while girls 'lost it' or 'gave it away.' It was as if an integral part of herself would be lost. Thinking back to that night, she knew it was her who sought him out, she who prowled and attacked. It was her, Arya, who had taken away something from Gendry, a part of his soul that she had consumed and it was now stuck in her chest, a morsel that ached and buzzed oftentimes, that called for his skin and his scent, as powerful as her wolf dreams.

Her sister's voice pulled her from her thoughts, "Arya, answer me."

"I did not," she replied.

Sansa didn't have enough time to process her reply when Arya added, "I gave it to a no-name bastard blacksmith in the storeroom of Winterfell, and then the idiot got himself legitimized and not happy with that, he got named king of bloody Westeros!"

"I know you are trying to get a rise out of me, sister dear, but may I remind you I am not the same girl who came to King's Landing with you? I am not as old fashioned as you think I am."

"Who told you anyway? Or should I feel proud that the news of who I fuck reached the North?"

"They haven't reached Winterfell... yet. They say you are the mistress of the king."

"Who is 'they'? Someone you have been married to mayhaps? Don't think I don't know you two write to each other rather frequently. And Davos told me he was keeping your company before Gendry reached you."

"Someone must keep me informed of my family's wellbeing."

"Did he tell you he suggested Gendry marry a Dornish princess?"

"He did not."

"Those girls are the same ages we were when father was killed."

The words sucked the air from her lungs, taking her back to the caged bird she once was, with betrothals that weighed like sentences, and marriage beds that ripped her apart.

"He won't do it, will he?" Sansa asked, working hard at controlling her voice.

"No."

"Will he marry you instead?"

"I don't want to talk about that."

After all, she had never mastered the game of faces, no matter how many times the Waif struck her. It was always her wolf blood, her thirst for vengeance, and the memory of a boy who chose to keep her secrets expecting nothing in return.

"Very well. Then tell me about when you first lay together."

"It was just a bit of pleasure that I allowed myself to have before dying."

'You are lying, it was more' the Waif's voice hissed in her ear. There were things Arya was not ready to even think to herself. How seeking him that night had also been about self-destructing. Deliberately trying to prove to herself that she could lay with him with the mask of her coldness and leave him when the horns sounded without ever looking back.

To show herself, and him, that she was not the girl who had showed him her vulnerability, and offered him to be his pack just for him to reject her.

She had wanted to fuck him to prove that, though she had loved him before and she would have followed him to the ends of the world, she did not anymore. This Arya who came back from Essos, no one knew. She had believed that if she bedded him, maybe, she could let go.

"But you survived," Sansa added.

"Aye. And the idiot did as well."

"He could have gotten you with child."

Of course, her sister would put all her stock there.

"I thought I'd be dead. I did worry about it after when I escaped King's Landing, and I was lost in the woods for days. I was sick with the smell of the dead and the ashes. I laughed at the irony, but my moonblood came later, and that was it."

"You are careful now?"

"There is no need to worry. The stupid bull is obsessed. If he got it his way, he'd have me drink my tea in front of him daily."

"Why?"

"He is obsessed with not getting bastards in me."

"He is not as stupid as you may want to make him look," Sansa said, "so Maester Tarly knows about your dalliance as well."

"Why would Sam know about it?"

"Well, if he is providing you with moon tea."

"I don't get my tea from Samwell Tarly."

"Where do you get it from then?"

"An old woman from the village. Why would I trust a man for women's business?"

"As long as you are safe, dear sister, not just of babes in your belly."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"Just that you could get hurt, sneaking around, having the king come to your chamber at night."

"Why would Gendry come here? I don't even think he knows which one is mine."

"He has never been in your bed?" Sansa asked genuinely perplexed, "does he request you join him in his?"

"No."

"So, when do you... get together?"

"When I want to."

"Here I was worried you were the king's mistress, but it sounds like you've made him yours."

"Don't be stupid. It's not like that."

"Then what is it like?"

"We are friends."

"I have friends, I do not lay with them," she said, arching one eyebrow.

"You don't understand. We are just friends who happen to like laying together."

"Mayhaps, I should propose an alliance."

"Do not dare Sansa."

"I know that he cares about you. He didn't go to the North to fight for us because of Jon, or because our fathers were friends, no matter what he says about it. He went there for you. I just don't know why he would expose you like this."

"I can take care of myself."

"Still, if he cares for you, if you are friends and you protected each other as children, and if he enjoys sharing his bed with you, why not marry? Joining our houses would secure his support. Why wouldn't he-"

"Because I already said no!"

"He asked you to marry him?"

"Stubborn arse. He went down on his knee as soon as the dragon queen made him a lord. Who does that? Fuck once and propose?"

"Our brother did."

"And look all the good it did him. Got himself and his new wife killed, not to mention mother."

"Why don't you want to marry him?"

"I don't want to marry period. It has nothing to do with him."

"I never thought you'd be this stupid."

"Because I do not want to be a lady or even worse, a queen?"

"What is so bad about it? You do realize I am one."

"It's different for you."

"It really isn't."

"Father once told me that I'd marry a lord and bear his sons, who would be knights and lords. But I didn't want that, why couldn't I be those things?"

"So, are you afraid of proving him wrong, or you?"

"Can we drop this?"

"For now, but this is not the last we'll talk about it."


 


Arya hated feasts. Back in Winterfell when she was a child, a feast meant dressing up, and her mother donning a stern look whenever her boredom pushed her to do things such as throw food at Sansa or saddle Bran with all the greens from her plate. Most of all, she hated that Jon was not allowed to sit at the same table. If only her mother had known that she would have behaved better if Jon was seated next to her, engaging her by letting her tell him excitedly what she learned about Princess Nymeria of Rhoynar.

There was no Jon at this feast, and she did not feel inclined to throw food at her sister or to shove all her greens on her brother's plate. No much fun when Bran would not react at all.

At least she was wearing her breeches, and this was only a small feast. Just the king and queen, at each end of the table, Ser Davos and his wife Marya, Maester Samwell Tarly and his wife Gilly, Bran, herself and the three nobles there to kiss the king's arse, and the queen's as well, she imagined.

"Queen Sansa, it is an honor to have you. If it is not too forward of me, could I inquire about the reason for your visit?"

"Of course Lady Brune, family matters."

"I am sure Lord and Lady Stark are pleased to have you visit," her husband, Lord Godric added.

"It is Ser, my lord," Arya corrected him.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Ser Arya was knighted by Ser Brienne, on the order of king Gendry," Davos intervened.

"Two lady knights, how peculiar."

His condescending tone had Arya seething, which was not lost on the people at the table who knew her.

Lady Orla Massey, a widow who had lost her husband in the war of the five kings, chimed in, "family matters? As in the joining of two houses?"

The tension in the room was palpable.

"I beg your pardon, my lady?" Gendry asked, deliberately avoiding the eyes of either Stark sister.

"Well, your grace, I wondered if you and Queen Sansa had considered marrying, reuniting the Seven Kingdoms, and setting to rights something that was meant to be, I am old enough to remember Robert's rebellion, you know. And you are both of marrying age. "

"The North just won its independence, and my sister is queen in her own right!" Arya snapped.

"Of course, Ser Arya," the older lady tried to appease her.

"There is no love lost between our nations and our houses, Lady Orla," Sansa added, "the North and I are grateful to king Gendry for allowing us to keep the freedom hard-won by our late brother.

"The North is particularly grateful to him for arming the hosts against the dead and fighting by our side when so many doubted the reality of that war. We are both young and new in our posts, you are correct, but it is not quite the time to worry about marriage alliances, but to rebuild our decimated realms. And there is no need to secure an alliance when our nations are already bonded in friendship, just as our late fathers were."

"Well said, your grace," Davos was quick to say, trying to distract from the eloquent barb the queen had sent to the noble houses that hadn't helped contain the threat of death.

The conversation quickly changed to something inane, but Arya had already grown weary. She needed fresh air. Once the conversation broke into several different ones, she took advantage of the distraction and left the dining hall.

Gendry saw her leave, and his instinct was to follow her, but he knew he couldn't. After a while, he couldn't wait any longer, and he stood from the table, and everyone but the queen stood as well. He internally groaned at the fact that he could not do anything anymore on his own.

"Please be seated."

"Where are you leaving your grace, shall I call the kingsguard?" his hand asked.

"You mean to have them accompany me to the privy Davos?"

"I'm sorry, your grace, of course not."

He knew that was not very kingly, but he didn't quite care at that point, Davos would surely scold him for that later. He did not notice as he left, but Sansa stared at him as he went.


 


Gendry found her pacing in the shadows of the ruins, her left hand holding the pommel of her sword tensely.

When she turned to see him approaching her, frustration was evident, and he was sure he would get the brunt of it.

"What are you doing here, your people n-" he had no interest in letting her continue, and instead silenced her in a heated kiss, while pushing her back to an alcove created by Drogon's destruction.

Arya was caught unprepared, and she held on to his shoulders for support, as she had lost her balance with his abruptness. She found herself with her back flushed against the wall. One of his hands cradling her face, and the other wrapped tightly around her waist. Arya's hands moved back to join behind his head. Their mouths parted, and he continued kissing her jaw, and then her neck, making her groan. Gendry, emboldened by her sounds, let go of her face and brought another hand to her waist and using both, hoisted her up to bring her face at the same level as his and have better access to her mouth.

Despite not having had any wine with her supper, Arya felt drunk. There was a layer of excitement born out the risk of being seen if any of the people at the feast exited the dining hall.

When they finally parted, they were both out of breath. Arya looked at him, cheeks crimsoned and wild eyes, and suspected that she probably looked the same, plus disheveled hair.

"What was that?" she asked, unable to stop the pads of her fingers, touching her well-loved lips.

Gendry looked at her intensely and replaced her fingers with his thumb, softly brushing her lower lip, pleased with his handiwork.

"Me, taking what I want for once."

Chapter Text

"How do your faces work?" Gendry asked while she laid over his chest and he practiced writing hidden messages of her naked back.

The night was balmy; a summer rain hadn't managed to lessen the heat. As they lay on the bed, the breeze came through the window, leaving a pleasant feeling on their skin, still dewy from their lovemaking.

Arya had come to his chambers at his request, after he kissed her senseless outside the dining hall, telling her that he was taking what he wanted. He whispered in her ear, "come see me tonight," and left her to go back to his guests.

It was quite the contrast to how passive he had been with her since they reconnected, Arya knew he feared to say something that would scare her away, and it bothered her. The Gendry from before was harsh and willful, always angry, he never hesitated to call her on her choices, but always willing to let her lead.

"Why do you want to know?" She asked, fearful of where the conversation would lead.

"Just thinking creatively."

Arya lifted her face from his chest and said, "Already bored? Need a bit of variety?"

"No! not like that. I swear," Gendry replied with a playful smile, capturing her wrist and bringing her hand to his mouth to place a faint kiss on her palm. Arya's breath caught as the vibrant blue of his eyes seared into her.

"Then why do you want to know?"

"I thought that mayhaps you could... wear one? How does that work? Anyway, you could play the part of an Essosi princess or something, and it would look like I'm entertaining ladies, and then maybe Davos and the Realm would get off my back."

"And then what?"

"And then nothing," Gendry replied with a shrug.

"You would have to marry this Essosi princess, eventually. You do realize that, right?" Arya pointed out.

"Then I'd marry her, and Arya Stark would never have to marry."

"And then what when your people demand an heir?" She asked as she lay flat on his chest, supporting herself on crossed arms. "The faces are just that, faces; it is not a whole different body. What would you say when both your Essosi wife and your Master of War are swollen with your babe?"

"That the apple doesn't fall far from the tree?"

"Idiot," She said, attempting to move away.

"So you've told me all my life," he replied but holding her in place by her waist.

"Not to mention that this scheme of yours would do nothing to strengthen relations with the kingdoms that have no love for your reign."

"Funny that it is not me putting my babe in your belly that you are finding fault at, just my plan making no sense."

He caught her off guard, and she felt herself blushing. She looked away and changed the subject, "I don't want you to see me wear a face."

"Why?"

"The things I did, as a Faceless Man. I don't want you to see me like that."

"You did what you had to," Gendry explained, grabbing her chin and turning her face to him.

"I could have chosen differently. I did more than survive."

"I don't care."

"Truly?"

"Do you really need to ask?"

Arya kissed him softly, his hands still at her waist started caressing her tenderly. They hadn't planned to start anew, but soon their bodies began responding, and what was once a tender kiss rekindled the flame.

Arya sat back and placed her hands on his lower abdomen for support, and the movement prompted her to arch her back slightly. It made them both think back to their first time, but instead of the frantic pace of that night, they basked in their union. Gendry's thumb found her core, and he traced delicious circles on her while she swayed atop him.

Arya's eyes were half-lidded, her pale skin flushed pink on her cheeks and her chest. He liked what he saw, particularly enjoying how unashamed she always was to be nude before him, from that very first time. He loved that it was him doing this to her, that his fearless woman shared her softness only with him.

Arya felt powerful; she had her hard training to thank for the strength of her legs that had her moving steadily on him, chasing her bliss with just the right motion. Thinking back to the very first time she rode him, she was pleased with how sure she felt now, as she had felt clumsy back then, trying hard to keep the guise of control.

The second time of the night was shorter but no less satisfying, and soon they both peaked and collapsed together, falling asleep soon after.

That night the wolf dreams returned, for the first time since sailing back from Essos. She had thought they would never come to her again, not after betraying her name and her blood, trying to shed them to become No One.

And certainly not after Nymeria's rejection in the Riverlands.

When she sank in the black waters of dreams, she awakened in the purest white. She was cold and hungry and out in a forest. She was running, running to stay away from the cold, and to chase a warm beating heart.

She found her prey in the middle of a clearing, and soon she gorged on its flesh, hot blood spilling from her snout. She felt alive as she hadn't in years. Once she had her fill, she looked up to the moon. Her pack was howling, calling for her, she lifted her head and opened her mouth.

But no sound came.

She ran back.

Home.

A hand, covered in thick furs, petting her.

Home.

She needed to find home.

She woke up before dawn, with her bull wrapped around her, his head resting just below her breasts, one arm tight around her waist. Arya ran her fingers through his hair, it was growing, but it was still shorter than how it had been when they were on the road as kids.

The gentle breeze she felt before was gone, and instead, the air was humid, suffocating.

Home.

She knew she had to go back home.

Once more.

The thought hollowed her insides.

The home that was no longer her home, after Death violated every space and every memory.

Before the cold armies came, Winterfell was filled with her ghosts. Walking the halls of the keep, she could almost see her lady mother with Rickon in her arms, telling something to a frazzled Septa Mordane.

Down in the training yard, her older brother bare-chested, swinging a sword, his auburn hair blowing in the wind, and the kitchen maids swooning, stealing glances his way.

In the Godswood, her father was still sitting by the heart tree, cleaning Ice.

But her ghosts were now gone.

After her victory, Northerners, Dothraki, Wildings, Knights of the Vale, and Unsullied alike celebrated, and she couldn't stand it. Shooting arrows she wondered if her ghosts were gone because it was she who truly haunted Winterfell.

To top it all, the last thread that tethered her to the ground, Gendry, had said so many things that made her feel like a ship adrift, pulled to the open sea until she could not see him anymore.

She had told herself that it was for his own good when he told her the Dragon Queen had given him a name and a castle, but it was only her fear of him seeing how genuinely hollow she was.

And so she had left without saying goodbye.

But then everything had fallen apart.

'Have you seen my wife?'

The man's terrified eyes reminded her of Gendry's when he had tried to scare her, telling her about the wights and the white walkers, to convince her to go to the crypts.

'Have you seen my wife?'

The man had asked, and she knew, without really knowing, that his wife was painting the ground crimson with her blood. After all, she knew what it felt to run trying to keep life inside with bare hands.

The images, and the sounds, and the smells burning her.

The smell of burnt flesh and ash.

'You want to be like me?'

'Take her! Take her!'

'Live' bubbling out of Beric's mouth along with his blood.

Grey Wind's head sawn to her brother's neck.

Gendry, disappearing behind a veil of red.

The shrieks of rats.

'You got to carry me.'

The sounds of pigeons taking flight, startled by the swing of a sword.

She felt it again, the instinct to run, to flee.

'Home,' the wolf inside her howled.

'Look for what you have lost in the snow.'

Before, whenever the memories came to haunt her, she'd find her way to Gendry's bed and drowned the terror with his mouth.

It was the first time that she felt haunted despite having him next to her.

Tears were prickling behind her lids, and she could not stay there, chance him seeing everything spilling, memories of her blood and her guts, and her present tears.

She slipped away, and he stirred, and without opening his eyes he looked like he was going to say something, and for a moment she was terrified that he would say 'Have you seen my wife?' but instead, he mumbled something that Arya suspected was "don't go."

She planted a soft kiss on his temple and assured him that she'd be back.

She dressed quickly, unable to wait for morning. She grabbed the first tunic she found and her breeches. There was no time to put on her boots, and so she just held them and left. She didn't care if she ran into guards, but they were none outside his door.

She wandered the ruins for a bit, unsure of where to go until she found herself at the door of her sister's assigned chambers. She knocked and heard her moving inside; soon, the door opened to unveil her sister in her dressing gown, her long red hair loose.

Sansa stared at her sister's state. She was not in her usual collected self, cold mask on. She was wearing a loose tunic, too big for her, 'Gendry's,' Sansa thought, but she was careful not to say it out loud. The tunic was untucked over her breeches, and she was holding her boots in her hands.

She was not wearing any of her usual weapons.

"I need to talk to you," Arya offered.

"Come in."

"What's wrong?" Sansa asked once they were inside.

Arya shook her head, and her sister could see her distress.

"Gendry?"

"No. I had a wolf dream."

"What is a wolf dream?"

"I used to have them all the time, in Essos. I'd dream of being Nymeria."

"Is that what got you this worked up?"

"Not only that, sometimes, the memories. Father, the Red Wedding, the dragon burning everything. Sometimes I manage to stop them."

"But not this time."

"No."

"I have memories of my own," Sansa offered to let her sister know she understood.

She then hugged her sister, and she let her cry in her arms. Carefully, she walked them back to her own bed, and they both climbed on it. They never did this, not even when they were little. Arya would reach out to Jon instead for comfort, and she would go to her lady mother.

It didn't feel odd, though, holding each other for comfort. 'The pack survives' their father had told them, and 'family' was the first word of her mother's words. Sansa wondered why it had taken them this long. She didn't need Arya to spill her horrors to her, nor Sansa would be recounting her sufferings, but both sisters embraced until their tears stopped and slumber enveloped them.


 

Sansa and Arya woke up later than usual. Arya felt emotionally spent, but calm. They went to the kitchens and grabbed some bread and cheese to break their fast, and they walked to a terrace that overviewed the bay, sitting on a stone bench.

They were eating there when a servant boy pushed their brother to meet them.

"I've seen our brother," Bran announced without a preamble, once he knew the servant could not listen anymore.

"Where is he?" Arya asked, concerned.

"Where no ravens will reach him," was Bran's reply and turning to Arya, he added "you led your pack in a hunt last night,"

"What are you talking about Bran?" Sansa asked.

"It has been years since you hunted, really hunted," he continued ignoring the question.

"It wasn't a dream, was it?" Arya inquired.

"You were further north than you have ever been. After taking the first kill and having your fill, you ran to him."

"I thought it was Nymeria, but it wasn't, was it?"

"What are you talking about?" Sansa asked again, frustrated at not understanding her siblings' conversation.

"My wolf dreams, I told you about them," Arya answered, turning to her sister as she spoke.

"No, not dreams," their brother revealed.

"I used to think I would dream through her eyes, and then through a cat's in Braavos."

"You cheated. Used the cat's eyes to see the Kindly Man."

"Last night, I was there, north of the Wall. I tried to howl and I couldn't, I should have known I was not Nymeria, I was Ghost."

"Arya?" Sansa asked.

"Yes, I was there, I was Ghost, and I saw him. I saw Jon."

"I saw him too," Bran added, "he lives with the free folk north of the Wall. True North."

"What are we going to do?" Sansa asked.

"We go get him," Arya asserted.

"He will say that there is nothing for him south," their brother countered.

"There is Winterfell; there is us," was Sansa's response.

"A Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing," Bran continued.

"Not a Targaryen, a Stark. And he will not be alone; he has a pack."

Looking at Arya, he added, "you are the link that joins two kings. They are kin through you, but they also share the same blood that courses through their veins."

Arya knew that there was nothing hidden from her brother's eyes. There was no reason to correct him and say that she did not intend to marry the king. She would have to seek out Bran later, just the two of them, and ask about being a warg, among other things.

Bran's cryptic messages had distracted both sisters, so they didn't notice when Gendry had walked to them, speaking once he had reached the siblings.

"Is it true?" Gendry asked. Arya was not sure if he meant her wolf dreams, or where her brother being north of the Wall, or if he indeed had Targaryen blood within him.

When Gendry reached the place where Arya was standing, his hand searched quickly for hers. The gesture was not lost on Sansa; she knew this to be a statement.

"Yes, your great-grandmother was a Targaryen," Sansa informed him.

"And Orys Baratheon, the very first one, was the bastard brother of Aegon the Conqueror," Bran added.

"A bastard," Gendry repeated, "a family thing I reckon."

"Have I ever told you I have a soft spot for bastards?" Arya said tugging at their joint hands to get him to look at her. Gendry smiled and the unusual display of affection from the woman he loved.

"Do you know where he is?" He asked Bran, turning back to face him.

"Hardhomme."

"We need to get him. I'll go north with Sansa. I'll get him back," Arya proposed.

Gendry knew it was necessary, but it didn't mean that his heart did not fear being separated from her.

"Yes, but first you must go south," Bran announced looking at Arya and Gendry, "or there won't be a Realm to return to, nor you be a king who can grant a pardon."

"Dorne," Arya said knowingly.

"I'll go back to Winterfell. I'll wait there for you," Sansa said, "Come on, brother, I'll take you inside."

Sansa pushed their brother away, and Arya started walking behind them, but Gendry stopped her.

"Stay here for a bit," he pleaded

"Something on your mind?"

"I missed you this morning," he said, pulling her closer to him, his hand still clutching hers.

"I went to my sister."

He pulled their joint hands between them and spoke, looking down at them.

"I talked with Davos this morn. I told him I don't want any lords and ladies bringing me their daughters."

"What did he say?"

"He is worried I will lose support, especially now that we are vulnerable," he replied, looking back at her.

"You think it wise?"

"Probably not, but it doesn't matter. I am done."

"With what?"

"Having you be this secret I need to keep."

Arya felt her heart skip a beat, but her past had taught her how to keep that from reaching her face.

"You don't want me anymore," she stated matter-of-factly.

In contrast, Gendry always wore his heart on his sleeve. His eyebrows knitted, worried his words would be misunderstood.

"I will never stop wanting you," he said, cradling her face with his free hand.

"I won't marry you," she warned.

"I'm not asking," he replied with a smile. In all the time since his blunder of a proposal, he had had time to mourn all the things that they would never be.

"Then what?"

"If you still want to be with me," he said carefully, apprehensive that she might not agree to what he was proposing, "then we are together, but we don't hide it anymore. I will not keep this secret, as if this was something to be ashamed. It is not, at least for me."

"I am not ashamed of you, you know I have never been," Arya reminded him, her big eyes trying to show him she was sincere.

"Not when I was a bastard," he said, letting go of her face, looking down and shaking his head with a pained smile.

"I just can't be a lady," the slight tone of desperation in her words made him look up.

"You are not, you went and got yourself knighted so that I couldn't keep calling you m'lady," he said, trying to jest.

"You know what I mean."

"Why do you keep thinking I'd want to change you? I met you dirty and in boy's clothes and you became my dear friend. And then since I've known you as a woman, I've only ever seen you in breeches," Gendry made a pause when his words reminded him of all their times together, "...and out of them, and I don't need you to be like proper ladies."

The implication was not lost on Arya, and she felt her cheeks warm a bit. Gendry's ability to break through her masks both delighted and scared her.

"But your people, the lords and ladies that support you, they won't like me by your side," she stated.

"Fuck 'em," he replied, and despite his fancy leathers, Arya could see that he was still her willful bastard boy.

"It doesn't do it for me, you know?" He said, letting go of her hand and invading more of her personal space; his hands setting softly on her hips.

In the back of her mind, Arya registered that as the morning advanced, there was more movement around them. Surely people were noticing them, and soon there would be many more whispers about the King and his Master of War, but there were important things to focus at that moment.

"What?" She asked, intrigued.

"Gowns and embroidering, or whatever bloody highborn ladies do."

"Doesn't do what?" She asked, and he was fairly certain that she knew what he meant, but this woman of his wanted him to say the words.

"Get me going," he acquiesced, "just you, wearing breeches, throwing knives and threatening someone bigger than you to slit their throat from ear to ear."

"Is that so?" Arya asked no longer stopping the smile forming on her face.

"Aye. Want to know what is my fantasy?"

"What?"

"You, in battle next to me, wielding a sword I made," he explained, pulling her even closer and going for a kiss.

Arya closed her eyes in preparation, but once closed the sounds around her reminded her of where they were.

"What are you doing?" She asked, eyes still closed.

"Kissing you," he said right before joining their lips.

"In public?" She asked in between kisses.

Gendry pulled back a little and said to her smugly, "well, Ser Arya, have I finally found something that scares you?"

"Idiot," she replied and pulled him by his leathers back to her mouth.

From a higher balcony, Tyrion Lannister and Davos Seaworth observed the display.

"Well and truly fucked," the Onion Knight said.

Chapter Text

It was not that it was a significant change from what their relationship was before. There were no big love proclamations or passionate displays of affection out in the open after all.

Arya still kept her chambers, though she used Gendry's door instead of the window. She also spent more nights in his rooms, and they no longer cared about arriving together to council meetings.

It was the little things, really.

It was the way they spoke animatedly while eating their supper.

The way Arya used her thumb to clean a smudge of sooth from his jaw when he came in from the forge, having missed a spot.

It was how Gendry would place his hand on her lower back when standing side by side, looking at a map of Westeros in the small council room.

And their joint hands, resting on her thigh under a table when they thought no one was looking.

The unashamed banter out in the open.

And just how they looked to be so much happier and no longer avoiding to look at each other when they had company.

It took a full moon turn to change things, from the day the King and his advisors gathered outside of the Red Keep to bid their goodbyes to the Queen in the North and her retinue, riding back to Winterfell. When the Stark sisters embraced and promised each other to meet again soon in the North to find their brother.

A month in which one of the guards would tell another that the King and his Master of War retired together to his chambers, and the next day when a servant girl brought food to break his fast, he saw her in his chambers wearing only an oversized tunic.

A kitchen maid then told the cook she saw them sharing a kiss by the bay when she went to fetch the fish.

And one of the young squires of the Kingsguard shared in an alehouse how King Gendry and Ser Arya Stark sparred together using real swords.

 

"That sword is too small for you now. You've outgrown your Needle," Gendry said, pointing to her prized possession, while they paced around each other.

"It kills just fine, your grace," Arya replied with an arched eyebrow, while water dancing gracefully.

"Aye. It may be a good sword for an assassin, but it is not a good battle sword."

"And you know this because you are such a great swordsman?"

"No, I know it because I am a good smith."

With that, he charged swinging his sword forward, but Arya dodged him with ease.

"I'm starting to think you only go to that forge to bang things with your hammer when you're grumpy, but you are not actually making anything since I have yet to see a finished product."

"I made this sword I'm holding," he stated, lifting the hand holding his weapon.

"But can you use it?" She asked defiantly.

Gendry then stood sideways in a fighting stance.

"Good," she praised him, "side face, and it only took you six namedays to get it right."

He smiled at her words, a call back to a time long ago.

Gendry lunged and swung, and Arya, deflecting his attack, countered with Needle. He blocked her and stroke back, but she easily evaded the attack.

"You are slow," she scolded.

"I thought you liked it slow," he countered with a cocky grin.

"Idiot."

 

But of course, the stories would grow and take lives of their own. When retelling it, they would say how the knight girl was clearly the better opponent, but the King had only bested her when he kissed her so intensely she dropped her sword.

Soon, the stories left King's Landing's taverns and advanced to the inns, and the brothels on the road, no longer word of mouth, as troubadours made up a song 'The she-wolf and the bastard king.' Every time it was sung, newer and more salacious verses were added.

By the time it reached the Riverlands, it was told that Gendry had carried Arya to the armory where he fucked her so hard the she-wolf had howled.

The song and the gossip reached minor castles, and there they were enriched and retold by the castle servants, who told the maesters and the septas, who then reported their own versions to their lords and ladies, who wrote parchments and sent ravens to their liege lords.

Aye. It took one moon turn for the twisted tale of their love to reach every corner of Westeros.


 


"Is he wooing her then?" Tyrion Lannister asked Davos Seaworth as they sat at the small council table. The Master of Whispers had requested the Lord Hand to meet him to discuss the open relationship of the King with his Master of War.

"Oh, I think they are well past wooing," Davos answered.

It wasn't that he didn't care for the Stark girl, Davos thought. He had been quite impressed with her fighting skills in the Battle of the Long Night, though. It was just that he had been around long enough to know the politics of their nation, and he knew the lad wore his feelings on his sleeve, while she guarded hers dearly.

"Is she his betrothed then? Will she be crowned?" Tyrion asked, concerned.

"No. I have been advised by Gendry never to mention marriage in front of Ser Arya."

"Is she moving to his chambers?"

"She is keeping her own, but I am told by the servants she seldom uses them."

"So, she is his paramour," Tyrion offered, reaching a conclusion.

The onion knight was pensive for a moment and added inclining his head, "that's one way to see it."

"How very Dornish of them."

They were silent for a moment when the door opened, and Gendry came into the room. Both advisors were startled and feared their king's reaction to their meeting.

"Davos, Tyrion," he acknowledged them as he sat down.

"Your grace," both men greeted as they sat, having stood up quickly when their king caught them unaware.

"Don't your grace me; I know what you are discussing. Go ahead, tell me."

"Lad-" Davos attempted but was cut off by Tyrion.

"The houses are not happy."

"Most are confused, intrigued. We have received several ravens asking what it means," Davos explained as he pushed the stack of opened parchments to Gendry, who recognized a handful of sigils.

"That all?" He asked eyeing the heap of parchments.

"Well, we know those that counted on securing a marriage alliance are disgruntled, Crane, Farring, Hull, Staunton, they did not take well the news that you would not be looking for a bride."

"That, and the recent talk about you and Ser Arya have sour their favor," Tyrion informed his king.

"You did get some positive ravens though," Davos explained, looking down, "Lord Arryn counts on Arya being his cousin to gain points for the Vale. Lord Bronn sent quite a graphic message, but let's just say that he praises your prowess."

"Is that supposed to make me feel better?"

"There is also the news that some lords are riding to meet with you," Tyrion added, knowing they couldn't keep that from him for long.

"Which houses?"

"Some crownlands lords, Rosby and Brune, some Riverlands ones as well, Edmure Tully, among them," Davos appended.

"Arya's uncle?"

"Aya. They will be arriving within the week," Davos replied.

"Anything from Dorne?" Gendry asked with concern.

"Nothing, your grace," Tyrion responded.

"That is not good, right?"

"Yes, I think we should worry about their silence," Davos agreed.


 

A week later, a massive round table was set in the ruins of the throne room, the old iron throne was still not replaced, and in its place, a lump of melted iron stood as a reminder of the atrocities of the sacking of King's Landing. Gendry preferred to receive petitioners in a smaller room sitting on a simple chair, but with the number of lords who had arrived, the larger throne room was needed.

"My lords," Gendry greeted them, they had all stood up as he came in. Once he sat down, everyone else sat down. His small council joined him, with Arya sitting to his left and Davos to his right.

Gendry knew that it was a mistake to come into the meeting already predisposed to what they were going to tell him, but it was impossible for him not to have the disdain he had always felt reawakened.

"I'm sure it is no coincidence that all of you came to King's Landing at the same time, so why don't we skip the curtsies and we get right to it?" Gendry said defensively, unconcerned about his old distaste for nobility showing.

"Your grace," Lord Godric Brune commenced trying diplomacy, "we were surprised to receive a raven from your Lord Hand, indicating that you will not seek a marriage alliance with any of the great houses. Surely we misunderstood."

"You did not. I know many of you have inquired about bringing your sisters, daughters, and nieces to King's Landing, and while I have no doubt they are lovely ladies, I will not be seeking a betrothal," Gendry clarified.

"But you surely understand the importance of a marriage alliance with a great house or at least a minor one?" asked Lord Remon Keath.

"When you talk about the importance of me marrying, you mean to say to secure my crown or to dilute my bastard blood?" Gendry asked defiantly.

"Not at all, your grace. It's just that we are concerned because-" Lord Keath continued, but he was cut off by Lord Berolt Rosby.

"Stop dancing around the issue! Listen, your grace, word of what has been going on in the Red Keep has reached every corner of the Six Kingdoms, and to be frank, we are concerned."

"Concerned about my personal affairs?"

"There have been rumors about your bond to House Stark," Arya's uncle Edmure continued. "word has reached all the kingdoms of your... closeness, to my niece, Arya. The Tullys, for one, are surely pleased to be kin to the crown through your marriage."

"Uncle, stop," Arya ordered Edmure.

Gendry placed his hand on hers and gave her a knowing look.

"As I mentioned before, I do not have any intention of marrying for the time being."

"I'm just going to come out and say what we are all thinking, You are not the first king to indulge in your desires, seven know that your father did, but-" Lord Emory Saunton was interrupted by Lord Rosby.

"Seven hells! What he is trying to say is if you have decided to keep her as your mistress it's within your right, but why must the Realm suffer having her in the small council? A wisp of a girl with barely nine and ten name days to herself advising the King on serious matters? Or mayhaps the North is using her cunt to steer the Six Kingdoms for the benefit of her sister."

"Careful with your words against Ser Arya Stark, my lord!" Gendry yelled as he slammed his hand on the table and stood up, "you draw breath today because of her. If it weren't for her bravery, you craven lords who refused to fight for the living, your wives and your children would march today in the army of the dead. And make no mistake, you express doubt in her qualifications to serve in my small council or speak ill of her again, and you will cease to draw breath because of me."

It was not lost on the visiting lords that Arya Stark did not flinch when their King had yelled in all accordance with his house's words.

"Do you know of House Mormont, my lord?" Arya asked Lord Rosby.

"Of course, the house is extinct. It died with the traitor Jorah Mormont defending his dragon queen."

"It is extinct, but it did not die with Jorah Mormont. It died when Lyanna Mormont, of only two and ten namedays, took with her a dead giant with her last breath. Do not talk about me using my size, my sex, or my age as a weakness; they were not a hindrance when winter came for House Frey."

The mention of his lady wife's family name made Edmure Tully wince, Arya's words making him come to the realization of who he was to thank when a servant girl had come to free him from the dungeon where he spent his son's first four years.

"It was you?"

"You are welcome, uncle," Arya confirmed.

"This meeting is over. I believe you know your way out," Gendry said coldly as he left the room, uninterested in seeing the horrified looks in his guests' eyes.


 

Arya followed him as he left the throne room, unsurprised to find him heading straight to the forge. As she made her way inside, she found him gathering his tools rashly, making a louder ruckus than his usual forge noises.

"Are you really making something or you only need to bang things around to temper your sour mood?"

"Not now Arya," he warned her without looking her way.

"Just saying that this is a bit predictable."

"How are you not upset about that?" He asked, turning to face her and giving up on his endeavor and throwing the hammer to the table in front of him.

"Did you expect them to congratulate you? We knew there would be consequences," she said as she got closer to him.

"I just can't stand them speaking like that about you," Gendry confessed in defeat.

"You should hear what they say in the alehouses," she offered, looking around the forge, noticing several projects covered by pieces of cloth.

"What?" Gendry asked, intrigued.

"Apparently I seduced you with the skills I learned in a brothel in Essos."

"So I'm a bastard idiot you ensnared?"

"There are some good things said about you, if you must know, with both your Baratheon and bastard blood, you give it to me so hard I howl. They also theorize that with my small size one day you will surely split me in half. Ours is the fury and all," Arya explained nonchalantly.

Gendry knew she was trying to jest about their situation, but his blood kept boiling.

"How can you stand it?"

"I don't care about them," she admitted.

"What do you care about then?"

"You," she said, closing the gap between them.

Gendry pulled her by her tunic and crashed his lips to hers.

"There are other things we should worry about," Arya said as they parted.

"Dorne?"

"Yes."

"Is there a way to sort that mess?"

"Are you seeking the counsel of your Master of War now?"

"Yes, but later when we're in my chamber, I'd like my love to comfort me until I forget my foul mood," he explained embracing her.

"That crown has really turned you into a greedy little lordling."

"Haven't you heard I'm actually a king? But don't worry m'lady, there is baseborn blood in my veins still. So advise me."

"I think we need to sail to Dorne."


 

Later that night, Arya was sitting on the featherbed, crosslegged with a large map of Westeros splayed before her. Gendry was behind her, his chin resting on her shoulder.

"Must we really do this?" he asked, placing kisses on her bare shoulder.

"This is your kingdom, stupid; you need to study it."

"Winterfell is north, and Dorne is south, what else is there to know?"

"We need a plan. How do you unite eight regions?" Arya asked.

"Starting with Dorne?"

"Yes, starting with Dorne."

"So what is the plan, Master of War?"

"We sail to Dorne for starters. I am sure the Iron Bank will seek them out soon if they haven't already, so we go there first."

"We go there, but I will not marry anyone, understood?"

"Yes, but they do not have to know that. We'll meet the ruler of Dorne."

"Alvar Martell?" Gendry inquired with a displeased face remembering the obnoxious prince of Dorne.

"No, the true heir. Elia Sand and her sisters. We'll go to them first."

Arya had always been drawn to the tales of Dorne, with their more licentious ways, the laws of equal primogeniture and the stories of their brave female warriors. She might not have a plan yet, but she knew a lot more what it was to be a young girl in a world designed for men.

She looked forward to meeting with the young Sand Snakes.

"And then we go North," Gendry ventured.

"No. I will sail from Suspear to White Harbour. You will visit all your kingdoms. You need to let your people get to know you."

"It will take a long time," he warned.

"A few moons, I imagine."

"I don't want to be apart from you for that long," he confessed, pulling her tighter to his chest.

"We'll leave in a moon's turn. We'll just have to take advantage of the time we have."

"Then we're done with the geography lesson," he said, throwing the map off the bed.

"You haven't memorized it yet!"

"I have, look," he said, pushing her back onto the feather mattress. Laying on top of her, he cradled her jaw with a hand and getting as close as he could without their lips touching, he said, "this is the North," and kissed her passionately.

"That's not yours," she corrected him as they separated.

"I know, but I am quite fond of my neighboring nation," he said, resting his forehead on hers, and then opened his blue eyes and traced his way down with kisses.

"And here we have the Neck."

Arya realized that he was doing and rolled her eyes but let him proceed. He intertwined his hand with hers and brought it to his mouth, "the Fingers," he said, kissing each one, but not tearing his blue eyes from hers.

Letting go of her hand, he smiled and continued his quest.

"And further south we find the twins."

He took his time with her breasts, revering first the left and then the right.

He kept advancing down until he reached the scars that twisted on her lower torso.

"These are the Riverlands," he announced following each strand with his finger and placing a kiss below her navel.

"... And if you go further south," he said with a grin, "you'll find the Stormlands."

"That is the Stormlands?"

"Yes, and may I remind you that these lands belong to me?"

Arya did not have anything to say to that since he took his time to pay homage to his ancestral home.


 

"Why did you accept the crown?" Arya asked much later as she laid her head on his chest.

"You want the truth?"

"When haven't I?" She asked, raising her head and propping it with her hands.

"I thought it was ridiculous. I thought I was the absolute worst possible candidate. Sure, I know I was mentioned because my father's will said that his 'rightful heir' should inherit the crown, but I never thought anyone would take it seriously.

"When Sam proposed to have the people, including the common folk, vote for their King all the lords there laughed. I was one of the common folk, all of those lordlings with soft hands would have never looked twice at me if they had come to my shop in the Street of Steel. The bull in me said, 'Fuck it!' let them have a king who can barely read or hold a fork," he then took a moment to think and reaching out to push a strand of hair behind her ear, he continued.

"And then you said something about having the chance to make a change. I could see it in your eyes, the opportunity to do something that made a difference. I thought that if you didn't stay for that, you wouldn't stay for anything else. So I said yes. They chose me for the blood in my veins and the way I look, but I took it for you."

"Did you?" Arya asked, capturing the hand that had remained behind her ear.

"Aye. Why did you take it?"

"I asked my father if I could be a high septon or a lord, and he said no. He said I'd be the mother of knights, and princes and lords instead. When I was little, I wanted to do the things my brothers did, but instead, I was told I was to be like my sister. It didn't matter that I was far better with my bow than Bran and horrible at trying to copy Sansa's stitching. You were right, you know?"

"About what?" He asked, intrigued.

"I meant to leave Westeros after the council."

"But you stayed."

"I stayed because I thought I could have a say to make sure this stupid place could be different."

"Help me then," he invited her.

"To do what?"

"Forge a better world."

 

Chapter Text

The night before their departure, maps of maritime routes littered the royal desk in Gendry's room as Arya studied them for their trip to Dorne. It was there that Gendry found her, as he entered the room followed by two young smith apprentices carrying a metal box.

Arya looked up from her work when she heard Gendry instructing the boys to leave their parcel on the floor, and thanked them for their work.

"What's that?"

"Why don't you come and find out?" He challenged her.

As Arya approached him, Gendry opened the chest and pulled a long object wrapped in linen and placed it on the bed behind him. Inside the chest, Arya could see another piece of cloth covering the rest of the contents. When she reached to pull the linen away, Gendry captured her wrist.

"Wait a second," he indicated with a smile.

"What's gotten into you?"

"I know you are impatient, but good things come to those who wait."

"Is that so?"

"Fine, I had a whole speech planned, but if you cannot wait, go ahead."

She lifted the cloth and found small pieces of armor designed for her size.

"You made armor for me?"

"Yes, now you cannot go around telling people I only bang shit in the forge to temper my mood."

As Arya lifted a silver breastplate, she noticed it was emblazoned with two direwolf heads similar to her bother Jon's sigil on his armor. The difference being that, while Jon's had the two direwolves meeting in the middle, Gendry's design had them looking away from each other as if they were standing together in battle, watching each other's backs.

Maybe years before Arya would have liked the idea of armor made especially for her. She could have even imagined sneaking into a tourney, wearing one of her brother's armor as a secret knight, if only they had stayed in Winterfell. Her fingers traced the detailed carved pattern to the steel, and Arya thought back to Gendry's bull's helm, made with his big rough hands. She knew Gendry could make the steel sing between the hammer and the anvil, but at that moment she thought how much she tended to forget, that he was capable of such intricacy.

Beauty born out of his rugged blacksmith's hands.

"It's so light!" She exclaimed.

"I didn't want to weigh you down with heavy steel," he said as he palmed the back of his neck, suddenly nervous.

"I know you don't really need it. You don't have to wear it. It's not full body armor, just a few key pieces. I didn't want it to hindrance your movement and your speed. It is meant to be worn with some leather and chainmail pieces. They're all in there," he said pointing to the chest, "now those stupid green boys training to join my kingsguard can't complain that the 'Bringer of Dawn' owns no armor."

"Jealous?" She asked, arching her eyebrow.

"Make fun of me, and I won't give you the rest," he warned.

Arya rummaged through the box then, she noticed the rich leather waist belt and vambraces, and a chainmail tunic.

"I didn't make everything, got the best to make the leather pieces."

Towards the back, Arya found two familiar long wooden pieces.

"You made me a new spear?"

"Yes, I know you lost the last one. This one is made with castle-forged steel, though. But that is not the main thing I wanted to give you."

Arya could sense his uneasiness. Since when they were children, she had noticed how his confidence would flicker randomly.

"Did you make me a sword?" She asked, standing up and walking towards him with her hands joining at her back.

"No... and yes. Before I show you, I need to tell you something," he indicated, as he stopped her placing his hands on her shoulders, "Ser Brienne came to me, soon after I was crowned. She told me that there was something she wanted to return to its rightful owners."

Gendry then turned back and picked up the long parcel he had placed on the bed, and he unwrapped it slowly.

"Tywin Lannister had your father's broadsword reforged into two longswords," he explained, and Arya felt her whole body sob at the last image she had of her family's Valyrian steel sword.

"This was Widow's Wail. It was found with Ser Jaime. Brienne told me both she and Tyrion thought this sword and Oathkeeper should go back to House Stark."

"Ice," she said, touching the sword.

"I took Widow's Wail, and I reforged it into a longsword for you. Brienne wants to give Oathkeeper to your sister Sansa after I refashion the hilt and the cross-guard in Stark colors and sigil. We both agreed that it made sense for you and your sister to have each a half of your father's sword."

The sword had a simple design; it reminded Arya of her father's broadsword. The grip was covered with elegant black leather, and a dragonglass jewel was set into the pommel on both sides. The cross-guard was silver, and it had a lattice pattern with a direwolf on each end, and one in the middle on each side of the blade.

Arya studied the weapon in silence, running her fingers over the familiar texture of the Valyrian steel blade. Gendry was getting nervous at her silence, and soon he noticed tears falling on the edge, distorting its pattern.

"I'm sorry. If you don't like it-"

"It's perfect," Arya interrupted him with a sob, "how? I thought to forge Valyrian steel was impossible."

"Forge new Valyrian steel? Yes, but reforging is not impossible, just complicated. Qohor smiths are famed for knowing the secret. Master Tobho was one of them. He didn't set to teach me, but I paid attention when I saw him do it a couple of times. "

"Thank you so much."

"What will you name it? I didn't know if you wanted to rename it Ice."

"No, that's not her name," she replied, still caressing the surface of the blade.

"What is it then?"

"Ice Storm."

The implication was not lost in Gendry. He may not have been born in the Stormlands, but the moment she shared the name of her new sword with anyone in Westeros, the connection to his Baratheon heritage would be made immediately.

"Are you sure?"

"It's only fitting to memorialize the fine smith who forged back my family's stolen sword," she explained putting her right arm around his neck, her left still holding Ice Storm, and getting on tiptoes to show him her gratitude with a kiss.

After the kiss they remained close, their foreheads still touching and their eyes closed.

"Why now?" Arya asked.

Opening his eyes and making sure she was looking at him while he spoke, he responded, "I wanted you to have all this when you go North."


 

As they left port the following day, the wind blowing her hair back, Arya thought of that first sea journey to Braavos, the future was ahead of hers, exotic lands that promised to make her forget the staleness of King's Landing, just as she had felt leaving Westeros.

They had left in two ships: Fury and Storm, with Yara as the captain of Fury, the bigger one. They decided to have Tyrion, Arya, Brienne, and the Kingsguard accompany the king, while Davos, as the hand of the king stayed behind in Gendry's place, with Bran and Sam.

While Arya looked forward, Gendry stood next to her on the bow, leaning on the rail but looking back towards the stern. The view of the city from Blackwater Bay was somber, it no longer smoked, but it was clearly still in ruins.

'Your father's house' an uninvited voice whispered to Gendry, who chose to turn to embrace Arya, seeking to escape old memories.

Soon after they set sail, they were able to see the ominous shape of Dragonstone, with its angular turrets, in the distance. Gendry knew the island was deserted, but a part of him imagined Stannis, the Red Woman, and Danearys haunting its halls. He was happy once they turned around Sharp Point, and his uncle's castle was lost to the horizon.

There was no separate cabin for Arya on the ship, and Gendry liked that they both referred to his cabin as theirs.
He liked it there at night, it was the largest one, clearly designed for a king, rather cozy when compared to the royal chambers. The bed was soft and meant for two people to sleep in it comfortably, but it was narrow in comparison to his canopied bed back in the keep, so Arya didn't roll away from him at night.

Gendry didn't have fond memories of the sea, whether, on a ship with the Red Woman, rowing for his life, or on a suicide quest to capture a wight. But he liked being lulled to sleep by the waves next to Arya every night.

One of those nights he dreamt he was once more in Winterfell, laying on his back looking at the woman he loved shedding her clothes.

He knew this story.

Gendry had been there before. He knew she would take longer than she needed to pull her tunic off her torso, despite all her bravado. He had known it since before she kissed him when she announced that she would be sharing the last first experience of her life with him.

Arya had been playing a cat toying cruelly with its mouse, but he knew better.

The swallow right before propositioning him gave her away. He knew all her tells even before they were tells.

Arya had taken her time pulling her breeches down, and then she pushed back a strand of hair, too short to be bothersome, but it was the single most feminine thing he had ever seen her do.

And Gendry knew it was for him, and him only.

The story was the same as he remembered, but also different. His back was not sore from the lumpy sacks of grain, he could feel the softness of a featherbed instead.

He was distracted by the unexpected softness to notice Arya climbing on top of him, but his attention was back once she was running her palms up his torso and around his jaw, to hold him still while she kissed him.

Her hands reached his head, and as she was tangling her fingers in his messy hair, he realized then it could not be Winterfell, for his hair was longer than the short cut he sported back then, and her kisses were not those first Arya kisses, desperate and messy, but instead, these were controlled seductive ones.

Gendry's eyes were closed, and before he knew it, she had sunk on him, filling herself to the hilt. He wanted to anchor her to him with his hand on her hip, and he wished his other one to cup her breast, but he couldn't.

He couldn't, and it frustrated him.

He was calling her name, still with closed eyes, but she was a million miles away, or she had finally turned into stone. Gendry felt trapped and alone, and something in the back of his mind kept him from opening his eyes.

No, it could not be Winterfell.

His hands had not been bound together above his head. That was the other time, the one that didn't count. He knew he had to open his eyes, to see the woman he loved placing leeches on his chest.

He couldn't see through the horror, and the tears and the screams, that later he realized were his, but he knew that what hurt the most was that it was Arya draining his blood.

A hand yanked him away from his nightmare, and Arya was there, but this was his Arya, his real Arya, with her big doe eyes, saying his name. She was sitting up next to him as she cradled his head against her chest and repeated 'It was only a dream, you're here with me,' and she rocked him softly. They were not in Winterfell, and they were not in Dragonstone. They were in their cabin in the royal ship on their way to Dorne; he reminded himself.

He held on tightly to his lithe woman. All the time he had known her he had made fun of her size, and right then he thought how she was always the bigger one, when he was inside her, and she enveloped him, or right then, when she held him, and folded herself onto him, letting him lose himself within this world that was Arya Stark, and he could disappear for a second or an eternity.

"She hurt you," she said, brushing his high cheekbones with her thumb.

"No, I'm fine. It was silly, just seeing Dragonstone," he tried to downplay it as he sat up, shaking his head and avoiding her eyes.

"She hurt you, and I'm glad she is dead."

Her words grabbed his attention, and he turned to look at her.

"It wasn't like that. I told you I don't even count her."

"It doesn't matter, she used you, and she hurt you," she explained.

Gendry could sense Arya's hesitation, "you thought I was her."

"No, no, I know you weren't," he reassured her as he put his hands on either side of her face and rested his forehead on hers.

She pulled away and held on to his hands, "you thought it was me doing the same thing she did to you. You were speaking in your sleep."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't apologize. I hurt you too."

"Hey, it's fine. I didn't mind having to wait for you."

"I used you in another way, but I used you all the same."

"And I hurt you before. You offered to be my family, but I hurt you instead."

"I have nightmares too," Arya confessed.

"I know."

"Will they ever stop?"

"Probably not, but I do not want to sleep without you ever again. The dreams are not so bad when I'm with you."


 

A week into their journey, they sailed by Tarth and Shipwrecker's Bay. Gendry was happy to point out Storm's End to Arya. He was there for a very brief time, but he already felt tied to it. He had reached it on horseback, so it was also the first time that he got to see the big drum tower from the sea.

"This is silly," he admitted shaking his head.

"What is?"

"How excited I am to point out a place where I hardly slept a few weeks."

"It's yours," Arya added.

"Because I look like my father. Just like the stupid crown they put on my head. The only family I ever knew was my mother, and I hardly remember her."

"What was her name?"

"I don't know," he admitted with sadness. Arya had known that her origins had been significantly more fortunate than Gendry's, even if they had shared many hardships since they met. But her heart ached when he admitted he didn't know his own mother's name, and she felt a need to comfort the motherless child he had been.

"I was little when she died," he continued, "and she was only ever mama to me."

"I'm sorry," she said, holding him.

From the helm of the ship, the captain looked at the tender moment between them.

"I know I look nothing like her. Instead, I look like people I never knew, and the one I did meet wanted to kill me," Gendry continued, "everyone I meet tells me I look Baratheon through and through like it's supposed to be a good thing, but it's not."

"That is not what I think about when I look at you, you know?"

"What is it then?" He asked, intrigued.

"The Baratheon look to me is you, only you."


 

That night they had joined Tyrion in the mess for supper. Gendry's Master of Whispers had mostly kept to himself during the voyage.

"I am looking forward to drinking good Dornish wine soon instead of this piss we've been having."

"Why don't you stop drinking if it is that bad, my lord?" Arya asked.

"Did I ever tell you I once traveled to Essos in a wooden box?" Tyrion replied with another question, "I swore I would never again travel by boat unless I were drunk."

"Good job on it then," Gendry added, taking a bite of some bread, and placing his other hand on top of Arya's.

Yara came into the room and eyed the joint hands on the table with disdain. She sauntered to the table and took the wine bottle that was in front of Tyrion and walked to an empty chair. She poured herself a full glass and sat unceremoniously, putting her feet on the table, and drinking a large sip of her wine.

"Lady Yara," Tyrion acknowledged her, "please help yourself to this fine wine," he added sarcastically.

Yara ignored the jab from the Lannister man, and instead eyed the interaction between the king and Arya Stark.

"Rather convenient for House Stark to have you bedding the king," she finally said.

"Lady Yara-" Gendry started but was interrupted by Arya.

"Yara was speaking to me, allow me to answer."

"Of course."

"Who I fuck is none of your business. But I know that you have been holding onto something that goes beyond this, so out with it. What is your problem with House Stark?"

"It is my business if this is the price paid for the North and your brother's life," Arya threated, taking her feet from the table and leaning in.

At the mention of her brother, Arya stood up suddenly knocking her chair back and unsheathing her dagger and Yara did the same pulling out a knife of her own.

"Stop this!" Gendry yelled, standing up, "Sansa Stark asked for the North, and she stated her case. You did not. A debt was owed to the North, and I do not remember you or the ironborn fighting in the Long Night, nor has it been mentioned your presence during the sack of King's Landing, when your beloved queen reduced my city to ashes."

Yara remained silent, but she sheathed her blade back into its place at her belt, just as Arya did.

"I know I'm not the person you wanted on the throne, but may I remind you Yara that you accepted me as your king and took a role in my small council? If we are going to have a problem with you or the Iron Islands, I fucking want to know now."

"Your grace-"

"Think it through," he warned her.

"No, your grace," she acquiesced.

Gendry knew both Arya and Yara would not soon forget their differences, but he would take them being civil enough to not kill each other.

"More shitty wine?" Tyrion offered to try to cut the tension.

Gendry hadn't looked forward his visit to Sunspear, but at that moment, he couldn't wait to get off that wretched ship.

Chapter Text

Gendry knew heat. His hands had grown calluses through the licks of the flame, and he was familiar with sweaty shirts sticking to his skin and breathing hot steam as if he was breathing fire, but the heat of Dorne was something different, the air was dry, and before he could grow used to it, his lungs ached.

Setting foot on firm ground after many days at sea suddenly propelled him forward with the momentum of the waves, that got under his skin. And just as the tide crashed on the shore, he sensed the resistance of many eyes, who turned to face the newcomers as they disembarked the royal ships from King's Landing. All his life he had considered himself a Southron, but standing in the Dornish heat fresh off the boat, he felt as Northern as Tormund, for the way the Dornishmen at the harbor eyed him warily.

He had been ecstatic to get off the ship, after all the bad memories it had brought with it, and gods knew that he and his travel companions were getting stir crazy; and yet, his heart dreaded what was to come, every step needed that ultimately would take Arya away.

Contrarily to Gendry's experience, Arya embraced change, life had taught her to roll with the punches, always falling asleep eyeing the door, an exit strategy ever ready. Change never fazed her, but 'nevers' and 'forevers' did. She had thought Dorne would be like Essos, but once she was out in the sun, she realized this was hell on earth because of the weather, and far more exotic that Braavos had been.

The silence was broken by their captain, for Yara quickly eyed a young woman with dark skin and searing amber eyes, sensually swaying her hips while carrying a basket full of rounded ripened fruit that the ironborn couldn't name. Her voice then pulled the entourage from their musings to bid them goodbye, "well, since I'm just the Master of Ships, and I got you all fuckers here in one piece, I'm out. Send word to me when you need me, your grace."

"Fair enough Yara," Gendry said happier to see her go than keep her and Arya near each other.

Yara walked by Tyrion Lannister and winked at him while grabbing a bottle of wine from a wooden crate that was left unattended by workers loading another vessel.

"Do not get any ideas," Gendry warned him, "I need you with me."

"Yes, your grace."

The young knights accompanying Brienne were distracted, looking at the men and women moving about in colorful clothing.

"Do I need to remind you all of the vows you made when joining the Kingsguard?" Their Lord Commander admonished them.

"Are we still doing that?" The rowdiest of the lot, Ulric Luthon asked, "seemed to me everyone was doing whatever they wanted."

"Yes, we are still doing that," Ser Brienne responded in annoyance.

They were soon greeted by the welcoming party sent by Prince Alvar to the docks, and ushered towards the Tower of the Sun, within the keep, where the prince awaited them. It was soon evident that even the lightest of clothes they had brought for their trip from King's Landing was ill-suited for the Dornish weather.

Prince Alvar Martell greeted them in his solar, his demeanor a stark contrast to his sullen behavior at the dragon pit.

"Welcome to Dorne, King Gendry. I was pleased to receive news from your lord hand, letting us know of your trip to Sunspear."

Gendry missed the subtlety in the Prince's words, but it was not lost on Tyrion nor Arya that he had chosen not to refer to him as 'grace.'

"Thank you, Alvar. Dorne is something else, so different from any other place in Westeros I've been to."

Alvar Martell smirked at Gendry's sincerity and simple words.

"I am pleased to see that you brought your paramour with you," he said looking towards Arya, "I can assure you that while all the stories have reached Dorne, us Dornishmen do not have the same qualms the Westerosi lords and ladies do. Here you will be praised for making such a conquest. I too wouldn't keep secret having such a fierce woman warming my bed."

Gendry felt the bile rise in his throat, but he contained himself. They had just barely arrived, and he couldn't afford to sour whatever was left of the Six Kingdom's relation with Dorne. He dared a look towards Arya, and he noticed the tension in her jaw, but they had one of their silent conversations, and they both chose to let the offense pass.

"Thank you, I guess."

"What his grace would like to make sure with this trip, is to let all of Dorne know of its extreme importance within the Six Kingdoms," Tyrion quickly added, ever the diplomat.

"Yes, I can think of many ways we could strengthen the bond," the prince added with a loaded smile.

"Your nieces, Prince Alvar, where are they?" Arya asked not getting distracted from their objective.

"I too would be interested in meeting my niece Elia if I were you, Lady Arya, you are clever making yourself part of this process, instead of resenting it," he replied condescendingly, and Arya knew that forgoing her title was a slight made on purpose, "they are in the water gardens; you will be taken there tomorrow. In the meantime, please rest. We have assigned you comfortable rooms in the keep, and far better-suited clothing for our weather as you will not make it in the clothes you have brought from the capital. It will be our pleasure if you could join us tonight for a feast, the great houses of Dorne learned about your visit, and they have come to pay their respects."

"It will be our pleasure," Tyrion quickly replied, knowing that neither Gendry nor Arya were too keen on feasts.


 

Arya palmed the bright gauzy items laid out for her. It was not as if she had an aversion to dresses, she had worn them in Essos, after all. It was the expectations they imposed, the restrictiveness their beauty placed on the body they housed. When she was little, in Winterfell, the heavy gowns in which her lady mother had dressed her had been intended to keep her warm, but those gowns slowed her steps in a way Bran's own clothes had not. Later, in King's Landing, her father paid no mind to her wearing breeches, but she despised the Southron fashion and its elaborate hairdos. It bothered her that Sansa hadn't realized how the lions were swallowing her whole with their pretty things.

But her sister had taught her something, once they met again as women grown, Sansa, with her own needle, had found the way to wear gowns as Ser Brienne wore her armor, and so, she dressed in the North itself, and customed herself for war with her scaly Tully skin and her Stark fangs snarling.

The clothes the servant girls had brought for her ranged between more feminine gauzy types, to the more tailored garments she had seen the prince and noblemen of Dorne wear. There were comfortable tunics made of the finest material, more akin to a spider's web, in colors Arya hadn't seen even in Braavos, but so filmy that the cloth was see-through. Some had sleeves, and some looked almost like dresses, with straps that left the shoulders and arms bare. There were breeches, made of linen-like material, some similar to what she was accustomed, but others with more fabric and give than the leather ones she regularly wore. Breeches made of silk with enough material that she was sure would move and feel like how the waves used to lick her legs when she walked along the Braavosi coast selling cockles. The most outlandish of the items were colorful embroidered small clothes, their beauty clearly stating that they were meant to be seen, poking out of cleavages, and armholes, and under the see-through tunics.

Arya knew that despite her dislike of feasts and the game of thrones, she needed to water dance her way through the noble houses, just as much as she knew she could in the training yard. She needed to choose her battle armor carefully that night, and wear the Dornish clothing just as well as she could wear a stranger's face.


 

While Arya had taken her time choosing the clothes she would wear, and even requesting the servants for special items she needed, Gendry chose quickly, opting for the more demure colors in a sea of tunics in bright oranges and deep purples. They were designed to be open far lower to what any other tunic he had ever seen, and while he was used to being bare-chested in the forge, he felt uneasy dressed in the Dornish fashion.

He felt self-conscious standing in the great hall at Sunspear, wearing a soft blue tunic under a light jacket adorned with intricate designs over iridescent gold silk, and a thick belt tying it together. The clothes were smoother than the royal featherbed back in King's Landing, and it made him self-loathe, for he thought of himself like all the lords he despised when he was young, soft-skinned and accustomed to wearing clothes expensive enough to be worth food that would feed a family for a year in Flea Bottom. He could even hear the old Brotherhood laughing at him in his head, pretending to be a royal, and the Hound calling him 'twat.'

His host hadn't wasted any time and had been busy introducing Dornish lords and ladies to him. So far he had met Blackmonts, Ladybrights, and Yronwoods and his Master of Whispers had announced him a few more houses were present Qorgyle, Uller, Dalt, and Fowler. He kept looking impatiently at the door needing Arya by his side. Tyrion was by him, he was also decked on Dornish fashion, and Gendry wondered about the effort placed in preparing clothes for all his retinue since they had prepared clothes well-suited for his Master of Whispers.

One noble among the lot didn't need an introduction, for Gendry's stomach soured as soon as he recognized the pale blond hair and the purplish blue eyes of the boy he had met many years before.

"Ah, King Gendry, allow me to introduce to you Lord Edric-" Prince Alvar spoke as he approached him with a hand firmly placed on the shoulder of the man in question, but he was quickly interrupted by Gendry who addressed him by his nickname.

"Ned."

"You know each other?" The prince asked.

"From another lifetime," Gendry replied.

"Your grace," Ned greeted him and bowed to him, "who would have thought back in the Riverlands that we would meet here and in these circumstances?"

"Certainly not me," Gendry replied and drank from his goblet of wine.

"I was very pleased to hear you were coming to Dorne and got on the road as soon as I knew about it. Where is Arya?" he asked, looking around the room, "I heard that she came with you."

"Wouldn't you want to know?" He asked, instead.

Tyrion sensed the animosity his king felt towards the blond Dornishman and quickly asked the prince to walk around the room with him, in the guise of getting acquainted with more of the lords and ladies, but really giving Gendry privacy to keep his personal business with his 'friend' to just the two of them.

Arya then came into the room, and the lively chatter died. Tyrion was certain every soul at the feast was well-aware of the complicated relationship between the king and the Stark lady knight, and that they had been highly-motivated to come to Sunspear to witness first hand the biggest gossip of the realm. Of what he was also sure was that the silence in the room was because of the attire Arya had chosen for herself. He thought his former wife would be proud of her sister, who seemed to be following her lead, and making a statement of her loyalties with her clothing. She was wearing a bright yellow strappy tunic that looked similar to a dress but had two long openings on either side, over tight dark breeches. The tunic was sandsilk that hugged her lean figure and dipped in the middle baring a lot of skin on her chest. Tyrion thought that Arya could get away with it for another woman with more substantial bossom would look scandalous in the garment. She seemed to be wearing the same smallclothes she remembered Ellaria Sand wearing out in the open, preventing her cleavage from revealing too much. Tyrion reminded himself that all the people in the room were accustomed to seeing such fashion and would not have stopped their conversations simply because the younger Stark had chosen to show more skin than usual. He theorized that the reaction was to the light long jacket she was wearing over the yellow tunic made of black silk, embroidered with tiny golden suns. That jacket was clearly made for a male Martell, he imagined because of the sigil motifs and repurposed after the Sand Snakes culling of all the male heirs.

Arya had chosen to wear an enticing outfit any sensual Dornishwoman would wear but topped with a lord's jacket, both items in proud Baratheon colors, tied together with her black leather scabbard, holding her prized Valyrian steel dagger of black and gold. Tyrion also noticed that she had styled her hair in a Northern braid, not so much as the noble women he saw in Winterfell, but more akin to the warrior wilding women.

Arya surveyed the room and found where Gendry was standing and was initially surprised to recognize the Dornishman standing next to him. She promptly recovered and walked to him with determined steps. She could hear people saying her name, and she knew her choice of clothes hadn't gone unnoticed.

"Lady Arya, it is the greatest pleasure to see you," Ned Dayne greeted her as he took her hand and placed a kiss on her fingers.

"It's Ser Arya now," Gendry was quick to correct him as Arya quickly pulled her hand back.

"Ned. It's nice to see you again," She replied with sincere warmth.

"I was just telling Gen-, his grace, that I wouldn't have believed all those years ago that I was in the company of the future king of Westeros and the hero who would slay the Night King and vanquish the army of the dead."

"It wasn't just me," she said uneasily as she always did when people recounted her feat during the battle of Winterfell.

"You did, you saved us all," Gendry corrected her, "and anyone who cared to be there and fought would know it."

Arya eyed Gendry and silently admonished him for the clear slight directed at their childhood friend.

"I have to say, I never saw you in a gown before, it is quite something to see you in Dornish garb."

"I wouldn't call this a gown," she said, looking down and her clothes.

Gendry was seething seeing Ned going over the length of Arya's body with his eyes.

"Had you seen her in a dress before?" Ned asked Gendry.

"Only once."

"Well, this is quite the statement."

"Is conversation really this dull that we have to talk about clothing?" Arya asked, taking Gendry's goblet from his hand and taking a sip of his wine.

"Not at all. I must say, news about the both of you arrived all the way south," his words made both uncomfortable, but Ned continued unaware, "not surprising really, you were always inseparable. Is it true what it's been whispered?"

"What is that?" Arya asked.

"That you came to Dorne seeking a betrothal," he explained avoiding their eyes, for he knew what it meant if it was true, regarding their relationship.

"Nothing is definitive, but you'd tell us the truth right, Ned?" Arya asked, remembering she had come to Dorne as Gendry's strategist.

"What do you want to know?"

"Everything you know about Prince Alvar."

"Well, he is a distant relation of the late Martells. To be honest, there is talk about him being so far removed that his entitlement to donning the surname is a bit of a stretch. Once Ellaria and the Sand Snakes attacked, there were no legitimate direct heirs left, and Alvar was quick to come to Sunspear and secure the place naming himself regent of Elia Sand, Ellaria and Oberyn's eldest surviving daughter, and claiming she and her sisters were under his protection."

Ned Dayne soon went silent when he noticed the man in question made his way to where the three of them were standing.

"King Gendry, please accompany me, I must introduce you to the Fowler twins."

Gendry was not happy to leave Arya with Ned, but he left begrudgingly.


 

When they retired to their rooms, Gendry was silent, and Arya could sense his grumpiness. He quickly took off his boots, the thick leather belt, and silk embroidered jacket.

"Do I need to throw a crabapple at you?" Arya asked as she peeled the black silken jacket and sat down on the bed to remove her boots and the breeches she wore under her tunic. The mention of the past, when Gendry had been clearly annoyed at Arya's animated talk with Edric Dayne, heated up his blood even more, and he continued brooding as he pulled the tunic off from behind his neck.

"I really do not understand why Ned has always bothered you this much," she continued.

"Why would he ever bother me?" He asked feigning ignorance, but adding under his breath 'pompous little lordling.'

"Says the king of the Six Kingdoms," she added invading his personal space.

"That's unfair, you know I was not raised in privilege like that idiot."

"Like me, you mean."

"That's not what I meant! You just don't understand," Gendry said, turning back and pulling the sheets from the bed, but Arya got in front of him, preventing him from ignoring her.

"What? That I have always been a stupid little lady that played at being an outlaw?"

"You are a lady, want it or not."

"And you are the bloody king."

"And you are wearing a dress! No one told you to wear a dress!"

"It's not a dress! And anyway, I get to decide what I wear. You don't get to get all grumpy because you don't like it," she said, walking away from him.

"You think I don't like it?" He asked, stopping her by holding on to her wrist.

"It clearly bothered you, so yes, I think you don't like it."

"Let me show you how much I don't like it."

He pulled her to him and smashed his lips to hers while holding on to the side of her face, his other hand finding her elbow, and pushing it forward to get her hand on his back. He kissed her fiercely, well aware both their lips would be swollen later. He quickly kissed his way down her snow-white neck and slipped the straps of her dress off her shoulder until a rosy nipple was revealed.

Arya inhaled deeply as his thumb worked the nipple to a stiff peak, which distracted her from Gendry's mouth, which was painting purple her alabaster skin on the joint between her neck and shoulder. Once his hand let go of her breast, she tried to pull the cloth from her body, but Gendry stopped her.

"Leave it on," he said as his hand found the side opening of the yellow fabric and held on tight to her thigh, pulling her up until he was carrying her and Arya circled her legs around him. He continued kissing her as he walked with her to the bed, where he sat down, keeping her on his lap.

He was at the perfect height to take her nipple in his mouth, and he frantically kissed and licked and bit, making her core tighten with his frenzy. His right hand left her lower back and reached her other shoulder, holding on to the strap and pulling down the tunic and the undergarment, that was barely two small pieces of silk tied together to cover her breasts. The sight of her clothes still on her, but pulled off to the side to reveal her teats, was making Gendry painfully stiff.

It had been a while since they had been this frantic, for they had been having long sessions of slow lovemaking since they decided to stop hiding their relationship; and while he wanted to attribute this wild coupling to being free of the confines of the ship, he knew that seeing Ned with Arya had gotten under his skin.

He wasn't jealous.

Well, he was, but that was the least important reason.

Gendry felt five and ten again, seeing his best friend and Ned talking animatedly and painfully reminding him with their similar pasts, just how lowborn he was, and how ludicrous it had been to think that they could continue their friendship once Arya found her way back to her home and her remaining family.

He was a bastard.

Well, not anymore on paper, but he knew the blood in his veins was as baseborn as they come. And he knew the way he was acting was all from his need to prove that there was something more meaningful binding him to Arya.

He needed to be inside her soon, and so his hand found her small clothes covering that sweet cunt of hers and he ripped it off her, the Dornish silk splitting with ease. Arya was startled by this action and made a sound half bothered and half needy. He liked that sound, and he chuckled lightly against her mouth, Arya yanked the hair at his nape forcing his lips to leave hers and looked at his grinning face, unable to stop herself from smiling as well. With that, she untied his breeches and promptly freeing his cock. Once liberated, she pulled herself up to a kneeling position and sank down, taking him within her, both gasping at the feeling. Gendry held on tight to her and buried his face on her shoulder.

"Say my name, please, say my name," he begged her. She had her fingers buried in his hair, and she could hear the desperation in his voice.

She felt his fear as well, seeing Ned had transported her back to their time with the Brotherhood, and she could sense the same walls he had placed between them, convinced that they belonged to different worlds. The despair she felt when he had called her his sister at the Peach, and gotten mad with her when she was upset about it; and later, when he told her, he'd stay with the Brotherhood, and had refused her offer to be his family.

"My love, say my name," he beckoned.

"Gendry," she sighed on his ear.

He seemed to calm once she had called him by his name, and he held on to her and turned them until she was on her back with him on top. He had carefully placed her on the bed, no longer rough in their coupling. His fingers searched under the yellow fabric, until his thumb found her folds, and caressed her until she felt mad with desire.

They moved in sync, now well versed on each other, both good at giving and taking, at anticipating the other's moves and wants.

Gendry felt greedy, he liked knowing Arya had chosen him, despite her refusal at his marriage proposal, and he couldn't deny there was love in her eyes when she looked at him. He didn't know if it was the Dornish wine, the way she had chosen to wear his house colors, or the fact that Ned Dayne had been there, clearly enjoying the way her curves looked, but despite his feelings on the matter, he had a fleeting desire of having his seed quicken in her womb that night; imprinting a part of himself within her, to keep her with him, to make sure she wouldn't be able to deny his presence in her if she decided she was done and left him for good.

He knew later he would loathe himself from thinking that and its implication. It was a way to shackle her to him, only proving her right, but it didn't matter in that precise moment, for Arya shattered around him, and he followed her down the abyss.

Chapter Text

Gendry could sleep almost anywhere. Sitting up, with half a body in a puddle in Harrenhal and rain pouring over him, on the road, on the hard soil, in a dungeon in Dragonstone, on a damp boat when he was too tired to keep rowing, and the tide kept him adrift. He was able to sleep over lumpy grain sacks, in the cold of the Northern winter, and with the army of the dead, looming close, though, that one after having the most mindblowing experience of his life, so maybe not a real hardship.

Lavish rooms in castles perplexed him though, with their downy soft featherbeds. For him, it was unsettling to come into a chamber where an invisible servant had been tasked with turning his bed down and getting a fire going. Every castle bedroom seemed the same to him, too large for only one or two persons, and that was the reason why he refused to sleep in the one Sansa had assigned him at Winterfell, once he was legitimized and Arya had left without saying goodbye. The chamber he was given at Sunspear was similar, fit for a king, the only differences being the lack of a fireplace and the intricate carvings on the walls.

Arya slept placidly on her back, on a bed covered only by a thin sheet, since the weather did not require anything else. The moonlight coming through the large window highlighting her form. While he was commonly the one sleeping deeply after their lovemaking and Arya being the one that always stayed awake thinking, this time, their roles were reversed. She had been moving slightly and making low growling noises from time to time, but she did not seem to be having a nightmare, just a very lucid dream. Gendry thought that it was not the first time he had witnessed that, not recently. He had seen her do it years before back in the Riverlands.

He enjoyed just looking at her, inscrutable, hiding away her secrets. She was bare, as they no longer bothered wearing anything to bed. The warm night of Dorne making her kick the sheet away. Her scars shone in the moonlight like rivers of molten steel. Laying on his side, head supported over his bent arm, he dared trace the puckered lines. He knew them intimately by now, having learned only the bare minimum about their origins. He knew the long sinewy ones had been superficial licks of a blade, while the thick short ones were stab wounds made by the Waif extracting payment for the life Arya had refused to extinguish.

The only thing tempering his rage at knowing how easily she could have been plucked from this world was that he knew Arya had killed the faceless woman.

The scars reminded him of their parting.

They took him back to a cave, standing in front the little girl Arya had been, begging him to go with her while she bared her soul to him and offered to be the only family he would ever need. But he had been proud and foolish, and looking away, unable to hold her sight, he had said no.

Those scars mocked him.

They hissed curses at him.

"I'm sorry," he said for his own sake.

"You rang my bell two times, what do you have to apologize for?" She asked with a raspy voice having been pulled from her slumber.

Gendry chuckled, startled by Arya.

"Nothing about that. I thought you asleep."

"I was, but my idiot lover woke me up fondling my scars, tell me, do they get you going?" She asked, finally opening her eyes and turning her face towards him.

"No."

"Do they put you off?" She asked, concerned.

Gendry shook his head, "they remind me of my failings."

"It wasn't your fault; you were not there."

"Aye. If it weren't for my stupidity, you wouldn't have gone there."

"If we had stayed together, we would have gone to the Twins, and we both would have died along with my brother and mother."

Arya's words attempted to assuage his guilt, and while he couldn't disagree with them, he wasn't ready to give the boy he was forgiveness from having abandoned her. Instead, he pulled himself closer to her and closing his eyes, he placed his forehead against her shoulder.

"I'm sorry I was grumpy before," he finally said.

"I don't mind if we get to do that after you stop being stupid."

"That was nice," he added, looking up and taking the time to give her shoulder a playful bite.

"That was beyond nice. I don't have as much experience as you, but I think we are really good."

"The other times, they were not even close. They were not you."

"Good. Why did Ned bother you?"

Gendry groaned and sat up.

"We were talking about how good we are in bed together, do you really need to talk about Ned now?"

"If you want to do that again? Yes."

"He just reminded me of before, and how seeing you both talk made me think how much more you have in common with him than me," Gendry confessed looking down.

"I chose you, you know?" She said, getting on her knees and pulling his chin to force him to look at her.

"What for?"

"To rule the Six Kingdoms," she deadpanned, "No, stupid! Here. I chose you here," she explained, pulling his hand and resting it over her heart.

Gendry looked at their hands, resting just above her breast, taking the time to feel her pulse underneath. Letting out a deep sigh for courage, he said something that he had never said before.

"You didn't mind him calling you a lady. If I think about it, you never seemed to mind it as much when someone else called you that as you used to whenever I called you m'lady."

"I never thought of myself as a lady, not like my mother or Sansa. I don't care what other people think about me, I never have," Arya could sense Gendry's lack of satisfaction, and noticed the deep furrow of his brow, "I always cared about what you thought of me."

Gendry had never entertained the notion that her reaction to him calling her m'lady playfully had anything to do with what Arya perceived as what he thought of her.

"What do you think I meant when I used to call you m'lady?"

"That I was a stupid rich girl."

"No. I know I used to joke about that, but that is not why I called you m'lady," he replied, pulling her to sit on his lap, her back flush against his chest.

"Then, why?" Arya asked, letting herself lean back on him.

Gendry sighed, letting his head rest on her shoulder.

"I used to call you m'lady because it was the only thing you could be of mine."

At that moment Arya understood something she hadn't many years before when she naively thought Gendry could go with her to Winterfell and continue being her friend while smithing for Robb. Now, at nine and ten, she understood that a bastard boy of eight and ten would have never had been allowed to call the sister of the King in the North, his friend.

"But you went and got yourself knighted, so there, you ruined it," he added trying to make light of his confession.

"No," she replied, turning her body to face him, "there is something you call me of yours now."

"What is that?"

"I like when you call me 'my love.'"


 

The next morning the royal retinue broke fast together in a private hall. Brienne was already sitting next to Gendry when Arya came into the room holding a steaming mug. Gendry guessed that she had intercepted one of the servant girls on her way in and asked for boiling water. She sat across from him and kept her attention on the liquid, blowing carefully before taking a sip. Arya's grimace was all he needed to figure out the contents of the mug. He had seen her drink it in the past, and he knew that the bitter tea had a very unpleasant taste.

When she opened her eyes, she saw Gendry staring at her.

Gendry felt both relieved and a bit disappointed, but he knew it was for the best. He still stood by his resolution of not sentencing a child into the life of a bastard. He thought that if he was ever so lucky to have a family with Arya, it should be because both of them desired it.

If they were ever in agreement, he wanted to know what it was to make love to her knowing that they were trying for a babe.

'Greedy bastard,' he thought.

Tyrion came into the solar and noticed the purple bruise on Arya's clavicle, peeking out of the white tunic she wore.

"It's nice to see you both have taken to the local custom," he said, sitting next to her and taking a piece of fruit from the plate in front of him.

Arya threw him a dirty look.

"Anyway, last night I was privy to some useful information," Tyrion mentioned in between bites, making sure there were no Dornish ears nearby.

"What is it?" Gendry asked.

"A Dornish envoy was sent to Essos."

"Braavos?" Arya inquired.

"Yes, I'm afraid the prince sent representatives to the Iron Bank."

"Shit," Gendry exclaimed, "what can we do?"

"If we are successful with what we are planning here, and the prince is not, the Iron Bank would simply determine the extra funds lost, as they probably did with Stannis' deal, but we would still be liable for the royal debt that was acquired in both your father's reign, and by my family's," Tyrion explained.

"We can deal with that when the time comes, we just can't risk new funds reaching Alvar," Arya added.

Brienne chimed in, "I also gathered information. They've been training young men starting at ten and four. They are growing their army."

"We don't have any time to waste," Arya added. She was meant to say something else, but the door to the hall open to reveal the form of their childhood friend.

"Good morrow," he greeted all those present with a slight bow.

"Ned," Gendry acknowledged him, schooling his face to cover his discomfort, knowing that he had taken a big step forward by having talked to Arya about his feelings of inadequacy.

"I've been appointed by the prince to escort you to the Water Gardens. He will be joining us in a couple of days."

"Good, we look forward to it," Arya replied, noticing Gendry's effort.


 

The journey to the Water Gardens was short, and they imagined it would have been quicker if they had been permitted to ride on sand steeds, instead of a carriage.

Tyrion had stayed behind in Sunspear and would be joining them later with Yara Greyjoy in tow. Brienne went with the five Kingsguard that traveled with the king to Dorne. Sir Podrick Payne having been left behind in King's Landing to guard Davos.

The entrance to the gardens was a pale stone construction of several ornately carved arches. Flanking the archways, they found themselves in a courtyard with painted tiles. There they were greeted by the steward of the Water Gardens who informed them their traveling trunks would be taken into their guest chambers and directed them to follow a path made of pink marble that led to a magnificent arch. Passing through the arch, they discovered numerous fountains and pools, surrounded by blood orange trees.

"Your grace, welcome to the Water Gardens," Ned Dayne announced proudly.

All of them gasped at the wonders before them.

"They're beautiful," Gendry exclaimed with wide eyes.

"They are," Ned agreed.

They walked further into the oasis and noticed the largest pool closest to the shore. There, several children splashed playfully. The children differed in ages and appearance. Most of them were nude, but a few of the older ones were in their smallclothes.

"Who are all those children?" Arya asked.

"The children of Dorne," The steward responded.

"Noble children?" Gendry asked.

"Yes, and lowborn as well," Ned replied.

"Playing together?" Ser Brienne asked, equally intrigued.

"Aye. Princess Daenerys-" Ned explained, but he interrupted himself abruptly when he noticed the shocked faces of his guests, "a previous namesake, married Maron Martell of Dorne, and he had the gardens built for her. Their children and the children of Dornish lords and ladies played in the pools, and one sweltering day, she took pity of the lowborn children, and since then, high and low come to play together in the pools."

Arya and Gendry looked at each other, full of hope by the impossibility of the sight before them. After a few moments of staring at each other and keeping their thoughts to themselves, they looked back to the frolicking children and instinctively, they reached out for each other and held hands. Ned Dayne noticed the movement in the corner of his eye.

"I used to play here whenever my parents came to meet with the Martells," he recounted.

"Does it make a difference? Having children of all classes play together? Does it change anything when they're grown?" Gendry asked.

"To some of us," was all he said in response.

"Your grace," the steward addressed Gendry, "if you would be so kind as to accompany me this way. The princesses await you in their solar."

The fountains and pools were in the center of a series of short buildings, following the same pattern of carved arches. They were led through one archway to a lavishly decorated lounge. The construction differed from what they had all seen north of Dorne, for the exterior and interior spaces seemed to bleed into one another. Outside, by the pools, there were sitting rooms with silken embroidered pillows and cushions, while inside, there were patios were large trees grew through openings on the ceiling, letting the sunlight in.

Around the room, the walls were covered by colorful tiles, one would have to stand closely to appreciate the elaborate designs that seemed to never repeat in the thousands of pieces used to pave the place.

So enthralled they were taking in the architecture and design, that they missed the entrance of four young girls, the first two right at the edge of being considered women and the younger two still young enough to need a septa.

"Your grace," the steward announced, "please, allow me to introduce to you the princesses: Elia, Obella, Dorea, and Loreza."

Elia and Obella curtsied, while Dorea and Loreza had to be scolded by their septa to curtsy to their new king, and soon ran out of the room.

"Your grace, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance," Princess Obella greeted him, while her older sister only nodded, clearly wary.

"Likewise, my lady," Gendry responded.

"Ser Arya," Princess Elia said, ignoring Gendry, "I have to confess that I've been excited to meet you, is it true you slew the Night King?"

"Quiet child!" The septa admonished her.

"I did," Arya replied.

"They say that you are more wolf than woman," Elia declared approaching her.

"And I've heard you are more sand steed than snake," Arya retorted, earning a small grin from the young princess.

"Do you like riding?" Elia asked.

"I do."

"Have you ridden a sand steed before?" She asked clearly pleased with the answer.

"I can't say I have, but I have my hopes up I will be able to do it soon."

"Then we must go riding together," she replied, her mouth breaking into a smile.

"I will be pleased to do so, we can leave the king here, he really isn't the best rider," Arya replied with a slight grin.

"I heard that," the king replied.

"Why are you here?" Elia asked, turning to Gendry.

"Child!" The septa scolded again.

"It's alright," he said, dismissing her candor, "why do you think I am here?"

"An alliance."

'She is not stupid,' Arya thought.

"I have to admit I don't know much about Dorne," Gendry said avoiding the topic of her reply, "I know your wine is the best, your horses are the swiftest and that you have never been conquered by any other kingdom."

"Here they say the rest of the Seven Kingdoms-" Elia was interrupted by her sister Obella.

"Six."

"They say they are not like Dorne. They say their people are prudish, and women cannot be queens," Elia continued.

"Women can be queens, they just have to marry a king," Arya specified.

"Your sister is a queen," Elia pointed out.

"She is."

"Did she have to marry?" Obella inquired.

"She did, to survive, but she is a queen on her own merit."

"They say the North is now free; they say you gave it to Queen Sansa," Princess Obella said.

"They say you did it because you love the Starks," Elia added.

Gendry threw a glance at Arya and addressed the princesses' statements.

"I do hold house Stark in great esteem. And I owe my life to Northerners. I didn't give the North to Queen Sansa. The North belonged to the men and women of the North before I was crowned. I only agreed that a great debt was owed to them, and I decreed that I would not try to annex the North back to the Six Kingdoms."

Elia seemed to process what he had said, and after a moment, she turned to face Arya.

"Would you like to go riding now Ser Arya?"

Arya turned to Gendry, hoping he would detect the opportunity it would be to get to talk to Elia privately.

"Go, I can entertain myself," he said and turned to his Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, "Brienne-"

"Don't you dare. Brienne will stay with you," Arya warned knowing that they were in the middle of a snake pit and Gendry was a sitting target.

"Your grace, I agree with Ser Arya. My duty is to stay with you," Brienne advised.

"Brienne, send two of the kingsguard with her," he instructed her.

"One," Arya countered.

"Fine," he acquiesced and nodded towards Brienne, who bowed and left to instruct one of the knights that had stayed outside.

"Lead the way," Arya said to Elia.

"You'll see, you will never want to ride anything else," She predicted, after bowing to the king and walking out of the lounge.

Arya followed her and going by Gendry she placed a hand on his chest and leaned in to whisper, "It doesn't look good for you, I'm afraid."

Gendry only coughed nervously.


 

Elia led Arya to the stables, where at least ten beautiful sand steeds waited in their stalls. The princess showed Arya to a pale horse, which Arya refused without explaining the unpleasant memories it brought her, choosing a golden mare instead.

Arya was given dark linen riding breeches and a veil to keep the sand off her face and eyes. They left the Water Gardens followed by Ser Ulric Luthon, tasked by Brienne to watch over Arya, and three Dornish guards assigned to the young Sand Snake.

"Are you ready?" Elia asked, smiling, clearly in her element.

"We'll just have to put up with our keepers," Arya replied nodding towards the guards behind them.

"Let them try to catch us," Elia said, whipping her black filly into a gallop.

It had been a while since Arya felt that free, her mare made her feel like flying over the sand dunes. The beast seemed to sense where she wanted her to go with the slightest of tilts of her body. She turned to see Elia ride with confidence, her ebony braid flying in the wind, Ned had told her more about the girl on their journey to the Water Gardens, how on horseback she seemed to be one with her steed and how she could knock a man three times her size off his horse with her lance.

Arya knew the girl had to be strong of thighs and arms to attack her opponent with a lance and take the brunt of the collision without being unseated.

After a while, they rested for a bit at a tented area in the middle of the dunes. Their minders doing the same at a safe distance, giving the young women privacy, but close enough to protect them if someone was to attack them, or to catch them if they decided to make a run for it, which Arya suspected was the most likely reason for their presence.

"You don't want to marry the king?" Elia asked after taking a gulp from her waterskin and passing it to Arya.

"No, I swore I would never marry," she replied after drinking.

"Don't you love him?"

"I do," Arya answered honestly, " I will not marry him, but I know that I will love him until the end of my days."

"My uncle thinks the king is here to secure a betrothal with me," Elia stated.

"Is that what you'd like?" Arya asked as she turned to face her.

"No."

Arya thought back of a time she dreaded growing up and flowering. She knew she'd be betrothed to a lord just as Sansa was to Prince Joffrey. It wasn't until years later that Arya learned that she had in fact been betrothed, even if she didn't know it at the time. One night in Winterfell, before Jon came back from the North, she and Sansa had shared a bottle of wine and recounted their pasts. Her sister told her that she was meant to marry into the Freys, along with Robb taking a Frey bride, bargained by their lady mother, so her brother, the King in the North, could use the Twins to cross the Green Fork river.

The irony had been that she once met the boy she was supposed to marry, in Harrenhal, but she hadn't known. 

Would she had married like Sansa did? Would she have escaped?

Sansa had laughed when Arya told her that she very likely killed her intended husband wearing the face of her would-be good father.

No one could blame the Stark sisters for their sense of humor.

Arya looked at this Dornish girl, a lethal horseback warrior being played as a piece in a new game of thrones.

This girl in front of her was born in a place where lowborn kids played along with highborn ones. A place where an heir could be a girl as much as a boy. A place where bastard children were recognized without shame.

This girl who should be leading her people was kept in a gilded prison, her body and her future traded for political gain.

"I never want to leave Dorne," Elia's voice brought her back from her thoughts.

'I never wanted to leave the North,' Arya thought to herself.



She found Gendry in the courtyard playing with the children. Princess Dorea was on his back, her arms wrapped around his neck. Princess Loreza was wrapped around one of his feet, as a younger boy was wrapped around the other. Gendry was growling in jest, and a gaggle of children sitting in front of him giggled.

The sight warmed her heart, a stubborn bull with anger issues who very likely never experienced what it was to be a child, now played with the little ones with ease as if he was always meant to be this gentle. Her heart often ached for the little boy he had been, who learned that bastards were the shameful dregs of society, the notion hammered into his head, just as the steel was pounded against the anvil. That boy was now the man laughing as he challenged the children to discover how many could climb him and hold on and he could still walk. Those children hanging from his back and arms, highborn and lowborn alike.

Arya didn't realize when she had started to smile and laugh at the sight until Gendry turned around and called for her.

"Arry! I've been defeated. I need my Master of War to come and save me."

She went happily to them to take the little bodies from him one by one and place them on the floor, only for them to then take her by the hand and lead her to the pools and fountains to play.


 

Later that night, Arya could feel the soreness from the riding on her hips and legs, but the pain was worth it for the experience.

When Gendry had joined her in bed and embraced her from behind, she had winced, and he had chuckled.

"You were right, there won't be any mounting here any time soon."

Arya turned to face him and batted at his arm playfully and shared with him an endearing kiss not meant to lead anywhere.

"You called me Arry today," she said once they parted.

"I did."

"You haven't called me that in years."

"I hadn't seen Arry in years," he pointed out, "I haven't seen you smile and laugh like that since we found each other again."

"You looked happy, with the children," she said in return.

"Some of those kids were lowborn, bastards even."

"Could you tell which ones?" She asked, caressing his face.

"No, and that was the beauty of it. Besides the princesses, I couldn't tell who was highborn and who was lowborn. They were all laughing."

"Would anything like this ever work in the rest of the Six Kingdoms? In the North?" Arya asked.

"It's a good dream. You know, I was never particularly fond of children, of the little ones," he said looking down, brushing the errant hairs off her face.

"You cared about me."

"And no one else. You were good, you cared about Weasel."

The memory of the girl stung. Gendry felt ashamed of having suggested to Arya that they left her and the others behind, seeing them as hindrances in their quest for survival.

"Does it matter? She was probably killed right away."

Gendry could see the despair in her eyes.

"It was not your fault."

"Tell that to Weasel. Tell that to the girl in King's Landing who was burned to ashes holding on to her mother and her wooden toy horse."

"Arya."

"I bring death with me," she said, attempting to turn away from him.

"You don't. Come here," Gendry said, pulling her shoulder and making her face him again, "you brought life to me. Don't go, be my Arry again,"

"Is that who you want?"

"Well, not right now, right now I want Arya, with me, in my bed. I like you naked against me, even if you are too sore to do anything."

"You're an idiot."

"The one you chose," he said with the cocky smile that both infuriated her and tightened her core.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Tyrion Lannister did not have fond memories of his travels.

Not the recent ones for sure.

To say that this trip had turned to be pleasant was an understatement, but of course, between traveling to Essos in a crate or almost being killed by reanimated Stark ancestors, the bar was set considerably low.

If only their host were not a threat, who may turn on them all of a sudden to have them killed.

But at least he had Dornish red.

He had spent his time in Sunspear chasing for whispers throughout Shadow City. His former reputation gave him an advantage, as he could pretend to be the same carefree imp, visiting pillow houses and winesinks alike searching for pleasure, while making sure to gather intel.

And intel he found.

Satisfied of mind, but not of body, he made his journey to the Water Gardens to join the king and their group, where they held an informal council session meeting at a terrace close to the shore, careful to drown their conversation with the sounds of the waves crashing.

"Alvar is not only brokering marriage alliances for Elia," he informed.

"Who does he want to marry Obella to?" Arya asked, with concern.

Tyrion looked down and cleared his throat before responding, "Lord Bronn of Highgarden."

"He could be her father!" Arya yelled, unconcerned for a moment of eavesdropping. Gendry held her arm, trying to comfort her, but his knitted brows showed his own worry.

Tyrion sighed audibly. The heavy burden of his part in raising Bronn to his current seat weighed him down.

"And I'm afraid that Bronn is not averse to the idea. It would be a great tactical movement for him," he admitted.

"The Reach and Dorne have been rivals for years. An alliance between them would be an imminent threat to the Stormlands," Brienne cautioned.

"That's not all. The prince seems to be seeking betrothals for the little ones as well."

This time was his king's turn to show his outrage, "they're eight and six!"

"He seems interested in your cousin Robyn," he reported, nodding towards Arya, "he wants to get all his nieces placed strategically all over the Six Kingdoms and keep Dorne to himself. He has even inquired about who holds the Westerlands."

Ser Brienne threw him a suspicious look.

"It is not me, Ser," he replied, vexed.

"He's counting on me marrying Elia," Gendry added.

"He is."

"And that notion is the only thing keeping him from attacking us here," the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard contributed.

"We have a plan," Arya reminded them.

"Pray to the seven it works out," Tyrion said.

Arya knew much rode on the strategy she had proposed.

"It will," she said, trusting her instincts.


 

"You slew the Night King with a Valyrian steel."

Princess Elia had inquired later that day, and Arya asked her if she wanted to see her weapons. The princess had been excited at the prospect, and Arya took the time to tell her about her brother Jon giving her Needle, and her brother Bran giving her the Cat's Paw dagger, the same one that was meant to kill him but instead had been anointed with their mother's blood.

The young Dornish girl was still wary of the king, but when Arya showed her Ice Storm and mentioned Gendry had reforged it, she had warmed up a bit. Gendry had thought that mayhaps he could tell her how he had been a bastard like her, but looking around the place Oberyn's bastard daughters got to live in he didn't deem they had a lot in common. Elia had grown up with a loving father, who had had no reservations on recognizing her.

When Arya had shown her the second spear Gendry had made her, Elia had asked her to spar together in the courtyard, to the panic of the steward and her septa.

"My lady, are you sure this is wise?" The man asked.

"Why wouldn't it be?" Elia replied.

"You are sparring with real weapons."

"Do you fear we will be drawing blood? We have no quarrels with each other. Do we Elia?" Arya asked, narrowing her eyes feigning confusion.

"Not at all, Ser Arya. Why would we?"

"Do you think they worry we are dueling for the favor of the king?" She asked, nodding towards Gendry, who looked at her with a sideways smile.

Elia turned to face Gendry and said, "no offense, your grace, but I'm not looking forward crowning you queen of love and beauty."

"And here I was all excited about the songs to come of you two fierce warriors dueling for my affections," Gendry said making Elia's little sisters giggle as they watched the sparring.

"That's a fine spear."

"Made by a fine smith," Arya replied winking at Gendry, "how about yours?"

"It was one of my father's. I prefer the lance, but we are not on horseback."

"And I'm afraid you'd best me immediately if we were."

Arya dodged the young girl's attacks with ease, twisting her body first to the left, the right, and finally ducking. After walking around each other, it was Arya's turn to advance on the princess, who blocked her attack with her spear.

Observing them, Gendry wondered if Arya could tell she was smiling, her blank face forgotten at some point during their interaction. Seeing her with Elia reminded Gendry of how protective she was of their pack, of Weasel, and Lommy and Hot Pie. He thought of Arry and her innate desire to protect others, and he wanted to row his way to Essos to tear down the House of Black and White with his hammer. He wanted to burn all their faces in his forge, for having locked the openness and warmth of Arya Stark in the darkest pit of her soul.


 

That evening Prince Alvar arrived at the Water Gardens, and with him, the idyllic peace of the place seemed broken. He was quick to call for another feast, more modest in the number of nobles attending, but far more ostentatious in the exoticism of the food, drink, and entertainment. Among the local lords and ladies invited was Edric Dayne, having remained in the Gardens, tasked with hosting duties by the prince himself.

Among those newcomers was Yara Greyjoy, who arrived after three days of doing little besides enjoying the company of voluptuous Dornish women, drinking wine and laying under the sun. She came visibly tanned, wearing her tight leather breeches, paired with a traditional Dornish male tunic and light jacket.

During the feast, Yara noticed the furtive looks between the king and his advisors. After the food was consumed, all guests were invited for drinks on the terrace, where musicians played Dornish tunes, and they were regaled with a show that included contortionists and fire eaters. The spectacle was not new to Arya, having witnessed similar displays in Braavos. It was clear that the prince wanted to make a statement on the splendor of Dorne.

"Your sister," the prince said, standing behind her and distracting Arya from the performance.

"What about her?" Arya asked, turning to face him, schooling her face to conceal her thoughts.

"So beautiful and yet unmarried."

"And yet, I think she has married plenty."

"Pitiful men. An imp and a dreadful Northern bastard," he said unquestionably looking towards Tyrion Lannister, "I've considered proposing an alliance. Showing her what real men are in Dorne."

At Arya's silence, Alvar continued, "so icy your sister, but of course, if she is anything like what they say about you in songs, I look forward to a possible match."

The thought of this man with Sansa turned her stomach, but she would not let him know. After all, she had managed not to wince, years before her training, when she was still a child, whenever Lord Tywin talked about her brother.

"Fear not for my sister, your grace. She runs her realm more than fine on her own."

"What of your brother then? The bastard? Is he still at the wall or has he been killed by the wildings he adores?"

"My brother is fine, thank you for your concern. I would repay your thoughtfulness inquiring about your immediate family, but I'm afraid I do not know of your background," Arya knew she was playing with fire, but she did not care, "Tell me, how closely related are you to the princesses?"

The prince stared at her, nostrils flaring, and he continued with an uncomfortable smile, "what about you, Lady Arya? What shall happen to you when the king marries?"

For a second Arya wondered, it all came down to the 'when' and not the 'if' for the realm. Were she and Gendry only trying to cover the sun with their thumbs?

"I shall remain the Master of War, of course, whether the king marries or not unless my king releases me from my service."

"What will you do when my niece is swollen with babe on a royal bed?"

It was not lost on Arya that the prince talked about a royal bed, and not the royal one. She tasted the bile rising, and wondered if this was a veiled threat in case Gendry refused the alliance. Did he mean to take the crown of Westeros along with the bride he was offering Gendry?

"If your niece, or any of your nieces for that matter, are of age and agreeable, I shall congratulate them on their happy lives," she admitted, "with your leave, your grace," she said walking away from the man.

Gendry had noticed the exchange from afar and didn't realize how tense he had been until a servant girl had come to him to offer him more wine. Looking down, he noticed that his knuckles were white with how hard he held on to his goblet.

"You seem tense, your grace," Ned's voice pulled his attention from seeing the Dornish prince talk with Arya.

"Sorry, Ned, just too much on my mind."

"I can see that," he said, looking toward their mutual friend, "can I ask you something, as a friend?"

He looked at the man who had always managed to infuriate him, and he had to confess that some of his contempt for him left him after Arya had forced him to talk about some of his insecurities.

But he also thought it far-fetched considered him his friend.

"Go ahead."

"Will you accept a betrothal to Princess Elia?"

"Will this information reach the prince's ears?"

"No. You can trust me, I swear on the memory of Ser Beric."

Ser Beric.

How long since Gendry had thought of Thoros and Beric?

He remembered his anger when meeting them once more, going beyond the Wall. His desperation at forcing them to admit for what they had sold him, and at what he had been utterly unable to express.

A name for what Melisandre did to him.

And the bit he kept to himself.

Their hand at his and Arya's separation.

Ser Beric.

This Dornishman swearing on Beric's name with reverence.

One thing he would concede to the knight with the flaming sword was his infinite gratefulness for having traded his life for Arya's.

Mayhaps Ned's word was worth it, despite the difference on esteem they had for the Lord of Blackhaven.

"I will not," Gendry confessed, "you know of my feelings for Arya, but beyond that, I would not do that to the princess."

"You must be careful then, for both your sakes."

Gendry turned to look for his lover among the people but could not find her. Instead, he saw the prince approaching.


 

Arya headed to their bedchambers, fed up with the mummer's farce, but she ran into Yara Greyjoy in a lower terrace on her way to them.

"Tired already?" the ironborn asked.

"Not particularly enjoying the company."

"Really? I find the Dornish delightful," Yara said with a salacious smile.

"All Dornish? Or just the women?" Arya questioned, suddenly considering possibilities.

"Well, it has been long since I've been persuaded by a cock."

"Any catch your fancy lately?"

"Not the prince, if that is what you are asking. I like Dornishmen, but he is as soft as the silk breeches he wears. I'd sooner let a one-legged pirate fuck me."

"Not enough options around us, I'm afraid."

Yara eyed her for a full minute, trying to elucidate the thoughts in her mind.

"Do not worry, I did wonder how magical our king's cock was to captivate a warrior such as yourself, but seeing the puppy dog eyes he throws your way, I have started to wonder if it is actually that cunt of yours that is full of wonders."

The allusion to hers and Gendry's relationship reminded Arya of the implication Yara had made about the way the North had gained independence.

"Magic cocks and cunts full of wonders? I didn't take you for someone who'd believe such nonsense."

Arya's jab sobered up the ironborn woman.

"You and I have unfinished business," Yara stated, standing up from the ledge on which she had been lounging.

"And you want to do this now, here?" Arya inquired, gripping the pommel of the dagger at her hip.

"Better here that when you and I are cooped up together on my ship when I take you to White Harbor."

"Very well."

They both took off their jackets, and they pulled daggers from their scabbards.

"I do not intend on killing you," Arya warned her.

"Good, me neither," Yara agreed, while tying her hair back with a string of leather, "I do intend on drawing blood, though."

"You're welcome to try," Arya replied.

They circled around each other in silence for a minute.

"You do not like me," the Master of War stated matter-of-factly.

"It's not personal."

"Back on the ship, it seemed personal."

"I don't care who you decide to open your legs for," Yara explained.

"Then what is it?"

"I care about the North being independent while the Iron Islands are not."

"You didn't ask for the Iron Islands. You could have, just as my sister asked for the North. You did ask Danearys though, Tyrion told me. And it was granted."

Why hadn't she asked?

'It didn't matter anymore,' a voice inside her whispered, but Yara was not ready to dwell on it.

"And that bloody worked so well. Theon," she was at a loss for words after the mention of her brother.

Theon, what?

Yara did what she did best when her thoughts started to pull her to the depths she feared, and so, she advanced on the smaller woman, aiming for her side. Arya twisted on her side, eluding the attack, using the momentum to elbow Yara on the ribs.

"I'm sorry about Theon. He was like a brother," she said, resuming her fighting stance.

"Really? He was my real brother," Yara panted, holding on to her side, "and he still died protecting yours," she said vaulting towards her and feinting, managing to land a hit with the pommel of her dagger, drawing a thin line of blood from the corner of Arya's mouth.

Yara did not fight clean, not like Brienne, or anyone else who routinely sparred with Arya. She appreciated it more, after all, there were no rules when fighting in reality. The Waif had not followed lordly rules about how one was supposed to engage in battle, nor had the white walkers.

"He cared about fighting the white walkers," Arya said brushing the blood with the back of her hand.

"He cared about fighting for the Starks," Yara admitted, "he cared about your sister, and he felt he had a debt to pay."

Looking at her hand slightly stained with her blood, her mouth broke into an almost imperceptible smile.

"All this time I should have sought you out for sparring," Arya said going on the attack, and once Yara deflected her blade with her own, she used her right hand to punch her on the face. The blow was not her best, having used her non-dominant hand, but it accomplished what she had set herself to do.

"Any time," Yara said chuckling and rubbing her eye.

"And Yara?"

"Yes?"

"Don't hold against him that you were not given something you did not ask for."


 

The Dornish prince approached king Gendry with a glint in his eye. The king looked on the periphery of his sight looking for Arya, or at least for Tyrion to no avail.

'This is it,' he thought, 'gods, make sure I don't fuck this all up."

"Had you seen anything like this before?" The man asked, extending his hand signaling to everything around them.

"No, I cannot say that I have," Gendry answered, taking a gulp from his goblet.

"Mayhaps you should take something from Dorne with you, to never forget us," he said clearly nodding towards Princess Elia, who was chatting animatedly with Ser Brienne.

"Some things are meant to be admired from afar," Gendry countered.

"The choices you make affect all of the realms, your grace, not just the Crownlands, and the North," Alvar pointed out before drinking from his wine.

"Is that so?"

"That she-wolf of yours," Alvar continued.

"What about her?"

"Strong-willed and mouthy. I like my women more silent," he confessed, "but then again, maybe you find a way to keep that mouth of hers more, occupied."

Gendry's free hand tightened into a fist on his side. He looked at the man in front of him, and he wondered if he would even register what was happening before he caved his head in with his war hammer.

Pity he did not have his hammer with him, though.

Nor it would be wise to ruin the well-crafted plan they all had agreed upon.

There would be a time to knock that smug smile off of his face, though.

"I am sure that you did not seek me out to talk about Ser Arya," he said instead.

"I must be frank, King Gendry. There has not been love between our realms in a very long time."

"Because of the actions of our predecessors, Alvar. We could be the ones changing history."

"I like the sound of that. I would like to have an official announcement tomorrow. Inform the realm of a strengthened bond between Dorne and the rest of the Six Kingdoms. Can I count on an alliance?"

"You can."


 

Gendry left the celebration looking for Arya, not seeing anywhere he headed towards their assigned chambers. He found her there, looking out of the large window, observing the waves crashing against the shore. He could make out her form, highlighted by the faint candlelight.

"I missed you at the feast, you didn't let me know where you were going," he said, announcing himself.

Arya turned and walked toward him.

"The prince is an acquired taste, and I'm afraid I can only stomach it in small a dose," she explained.

"Aye," Gendry conceded.

He caught her jaw with his hand and brushed at the dark mark on the corner of her mouth with his thumb. Arya winced lightly at the contact.

"Is this blood?" Gendry inquired.

"Don't worry," she replied dismissively, "Yara and I had time to work through our disagreements."

"Do I still have a Master of ships?" He asked cocking an eyebrow, just half joking.

"You do, though she may have a black eye come morn."

Gendry stopped her from moving away by holding her in his arms and kissing her slowly. The contact awakened his need for her, and his hungry mouth set forth an attack on the neck.

"What's wrong?" She asked, noticing the budding desperation.

"I need you. Alvar spoke with me, I'll tell you more tomorrow, I just need to forget. I feel dirty just having listened to him."

"What happened?" Arya asked, pushing him enough to be able to see into his eyes.

"He wants an announcement tomorrow."

"Did you agree to anything?"

"Don't look at me like that. I didn't ruin it if that is what you are thinking. Only thing I agreed to was to announce an alliance tomorrow."

"Good."

"Now, can I please have my way with you, or you have your way with me? I do not care which way around, I just need to forget for a moment how stupid I was when I accepted the bloody crown."

Arya's only response was to pull his face down to her and shut it up with a searing kiss. They took their time disrobing each other, the task taking longer than needed because of the time used to devour each other's mouths. When they were both topless, Arya pushed him against the door and kissed him hungrily. She had to force herself on tiptoes, and he slightly bent so they could continue kissing.

Arya nibbled on his lower lip and pulled it with her teeth, before kissing down his chin and his neck. Gendry then let himself lean back against the door, having Arya kiss down his neck and chest. He was surprised to discover how sensitive his own nipples were when she licked one and flicked the other one with her fingers.

Her hands and mouth had him enthralled and barely even registered when her small soft hands unlaced him. She stroked him a couple of times in the way she knew he enjoyed it, but soon the sudden warmth startled him.

"Wait, no," he said, pulling her back on to her feet.

"No?" She asked, confused.

"It's not like I won't like that. I'd love to, another time, just not tonight," Gendry admitted, remembering what Alvar had said, "I need to hear your voice, to know it is you, here with me."

"Suit yourself," she said, guiding him towards the bed and instructing him to lay back.


 

Once sated, they basked in the afterglow of their coupling for a while. Arya's head was over the right side of his chest, her hair fanned out over his should like a cloak. Her left hand playing with his right.

Her hands had never been soft, not even when she was a child and ignorant to the harshness of the world.

Her hands back then knew not of wielding weapons.

But Septa Mordane had made sure she never forgot how rough they were compared to her lady mother's or her sister's.

And yet, despite her hard-earned calluses, her little hand in his could not be called anything but soft.

'He makes you weak,' the Waif whispered, and Arya did her best to drown her.

"Your father was meant to marry my aunt," she said instead.

"Jon's mother?" Gendry asked.

"Yes, have you heard the story?"

"Only that my fath- Robert loved her above all else and he never got over losing her, and everyone else suffered because of it. But how much could he have loved her? He bedded hundreds of women and made eighteen wretched bastards, and one of them was me."

"He loved his idea of her, I guess," she explained, "they used to say that my aunt Lyanna had the wolf blood in her, just like me, but she was beautiful. They say Prince Rhaegar kidnapped her after crowning her queen of love and beauty, over his own wife, Princess Elia Martell."

"It wasn't true?"

"Bran said she loved the prince as much as he loved her, and she left willingly. He set his own wife and children aside, and married her instead."

"And she bore him a son, your brother," Gendry completed the story.

Arya pushed herself up to look into his eyes.

"And those who knew your father say that you look just like him when you wield your hammer."

"Am I doomed to be a fat lousy king who will do nothing but drink and sow bastards all over Westeros?"

"No, I told you. You are not your father."

"I just look like him."

"And I look like my aunt."

"Are you trying to tell me that I'm doomed to love a woman who will never love me back?"

"No, not that. Never that."

"Then what?"

"It is hard not to wonder if we are to repeat the same patterns. Is Elia doomed to be cast aside in a ploy to use her to keep Dorne into our fold? Am I the wild Stark, who wreaks havoc and will make the realm suffer for her whim? Are you a stag that is doomed to sacrifice his people for a wolf?"

"We are not them."

"I still don't know who I am. Most of the time, I still feel I'm only wearing Arya Stark's face. I've had nightmares where I realize I never survived the Waif, that I am her, wearing a mask made of my face. I dream that she came to Westeros to steal everything that used to be mine."

"Winterfell? Needle? Jon? Me?" Gendry asked, "she wouldn't have fooled me."

"What makes you so sure?" Arya asked, running her fingers through his black hair.

"You are my best friend and the woman I love. No one knows you like I do."

Gendry's eyes always seared into her, as if making a promise.

"I don't know me like you do," she confessed.

"Better stick with me then," he said before pulling her down to a kiss.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The horns calling for battle on the Long Night plucked Arya from a far-too-short dreamless sleep. 

 

'We are probably going to die soon; I want to know what it's like before that happens,' she had said to Gendry, but at the call for battle, she felt being pulled from the black void of whatever life was before birth. 

 

Now, many moon-turns from that night, Arya woke to Gendry already rising from bed, four long scratches adorning him as if pulling down from his clavicle. 

 

"Did I do that?" She asked, failing to remember their origin.

 

"You did," he said, and noticing the blush spreading on her face, he clarified, "but not the way you think."

 

Somehow Arya knew that was far worse.

 

"I'm sorry."

 

"I don't mind, though. I would have minded it far less if it had happened the other way," he added trying to jest.

 

Wolf dreams.

 

Nymeria was moving with her pack. Her direwolf was heading north, she could feel it, for each night Arya grew colder despite the Dornish heat. 

 

In her latest run, she sensed the overwhelming need to protect her pack. The feeling was not new neither in her life nor in her wolf dreams, but something was different this time, something far more valuable than the pack Arya saw when Nymeria found her on her return from Essos. 

 

Without truly remembering it, she could feel the muscle memory of striking a phantom enemy with her claws. 

 

"I've been having wolf dreams," she confessed.

 

"Is that what you call them?" Gendry asked, sitting on the featherbed facing her,

 

"You don't seem surprised."

 

"I've slept next to you enough to notice," he said with a shrug, "what is it like?"

 

"I dream that I am Nymeria, my direwolf, I see through her eyes. I feel her hunger, I howl, I kill as her."

 

"That explains this," he said carefully running his fingers over the scratches.

 

"Bran thinks they're more than dreams."

 

That caught his attention.

 

"The way he does the rolling eyes thing?" He asked.

 

"I guess so. I cannot control it, it only happens when I dream."

 

Gendry was silent for a few minutes, his eyes unfocused.

 

"Talk to me," Arya pleaded.

 

Broken from his thoughts, Gendry's eyes set on her once more and his hand cradled the side of her head. 

 

"This doesn't change my feelings."

 

Arya leaned in and caught his lips in a light kiss. 

 


 

The prince had called for an official announcement to be made mid-morning in the central courtyard of the Water Gardens. The lords and ladies that had attended the feast the night before were to be joined by new arrivals, clearly summoned days before. 

 

Arya and Gendry slowly dressed, in stark contrast to the mad rush in which they did right before the Battle of Winterfell. 

 

From time to time, their eyes would capture each other and conveyed all the things that they did not need to say. 

 

'This is a trap' being the most deafening.

 

Gendry donned the lightest of Westerosi doublets, a silken garment in gold and black that crossed over his chest to tie at the sides. He knew this piece was not commissioned for him, but surely a hand-me-down from his uncle Renly, or mayhaps from his own father, before he had grown fat. 

 

Despite the heat, the formality of the military function called for full regalia. It was too hot to wear mail, and they would have to avoid causing suspicion. Ser Brienne and the Kingsguard would be wearing as much of their armor as the weather would permit it, and so would Arya, as being a knight and the Master of War. 

 

If he had to admit it, Gendry would say that he had not planned for Arya to wear the armor he made her so soon, to be honest, if he could have it his way, she would never wear it at all, not because he would attempt to stop her from fighting, but because he wished she wouldn't be at the risk that his own actions caused. 

 

Once Gendry was dressed in his finest, and Arya had her light grey tunic, leather breeches, and boots on, the time to don the armor came. The young squires assigned to the Kinsguard were with them and would not be able to help Arya, but Gendry wanted to be the one to help her dress in her armor for the first time. 

 

Standing in the middle of the room, next to the trunk holding the pieces, he kneeled before her. 

 

Both tried to pretend it didn't take them back to another time,  on a night of celebration with drunken chanting far away, when he assumed the same position, one knee bent, one foot firmly planted on the ground.

 

If gods allowed them to live through the day, he vowed that soon they would have to address that fateful night.

 

He tapped her booted foot to place it over his thigh. Knowledgeable of his craft, he grabbed a greave from the chest and tied it over her shin. Once bound, his hand caressed what was left uncovered, and hooking it on the back of her knee, he rose, as he lowered her leg down. Gendry didn't stop the contact and ran his fingers up until reaching her thigh, a path his callused fingers knew by heart. 

 

His eyes staying on hers the entire time, making her breath catch in her throat. 

 

Gendry let go only to grab the cuisse from the pile and wrap it around each thigh, the yanking on the leather straps swaying her from time to time, her eyes fixed on him, and her lips slightly apart.

 

He had to turn away then, partly to continue with his task but mostly because of how she was gazing at him, doe eyes enthralled, soft-lidded. 

 

He grasped the leather waist, and Arya's hands helped him wrap it around her torso, fingers touching briefly, the charged contact burning through their limbs like wildfire. Gendry cinched each strap tight, taking the time to run his palm over the expanse of the bespoke leather garment with the guise of surveying its proper placement. 

 

Arya wondered about the bewitching power of his strong hands, she questioned if it was possible for the heat of the forges, in which he had grown into a man, to imprint their flame on his palms, thus making her feel it directly on her, through all the layers that separated them. 

 

The leather fauld came next, followed by the cuirass, which was already fastened at the top. He carefully placed it, guiding her head through the opening. Gendry lifted one of her arms and set it on his own shoulder, to gain access for fastening the side straps. He took a moment to touch the sigil on the breastplate and ponder on its significance. Arya's fingers quickly set over his, calling for his eyes to look at her and make each other promises that no one else could hear.

 

He soon set the leather gorget over her neck and pushed her head to rest on his chest, so he could secure the bands on the back. Then came the pauldron and the leather vambraces that came mid palm, with her thumb going through a side gap. The last piece was the thick leather belt holding a scabbard on either side, to make it possible to carry twin swords. 

 

When finished, Arya placed a leather-covered palm over his right cheek and closing his eyes, Gendry turned his head slightly to leave a kiss on her palm. She then pulled him down to a kiss that said everything they couldn't say, 'don't die' and 'promise me.'

 

"Look at you," he said, taking the time to run his fingers over the shiny steel of his handiwork. 

 

"Do I look stupid?" She asked in earnest. 

 

He shook his head, "you're a warrior queen," he declared, the last word smartening old wounds and making new promises. 

 

"I have a fine smith," she justified.

 

"You have a fine slave," he countered with a jesting smile.

 

Arya pretended to punch him on the shoulder.

 

"Careful, that's my injured shoulder," he reminded her.

 

She shook her head, knowing he was trying to make light of it all.

 

"I don't like this. You have no protection at all."

 

"I have you," he reminded her.

 

"What if-" She started but was cut short.

 

"I will be fine. I trust you. And Brienne will be there, and the Kingsguard."

 

"If my plan doesn't work," she considered not finishing her thought. 

 

"It will."

 

"Gendry," she called with her palm on his chest.

 

"Just kiss me," he pleaded.

 

They kissed once more, and their foreheads came together, staying like that for a couple of minutes, both remembering the last time they had done that, after the horns had called them to the battle lines. 

 

One last kiss, and a silent, intimate moment. Eyes that pleaded but made no promises, right before grabbing weapons and running to meet death head-on.

 

"You are missing something," Arya reminded him.

 

"What is it?"

 

Arya opened one of the trunks and pulled out an antler crown, a simple design made of steel, forged by the king himself. When his advisors talked about commissioning a golden crown for his coronation, Gendry had refused to wear gold and jewels while his people and his kingdom remained devastated. 

 

"But your grace, one of your house colors is gold," they had tried to make him see.

 

"Do not ' but your grace me,' I am a bastard king, I will wear a bastard crown."

 

Arya held on to the crown with both hands and raised it as high as her arms could go, making Gendry bend slightly to aid her in her task. As he did, he could hear her quietly humming an old tune, and Tom of Svenstreams's clear voice appeared in his head 'and on your head a crown.'

 

He despised having to wear it, even if he had prevailed on its simplicity.

 

"A pompous idiot, that's what I will look like, while you will be Queen Nymeria come again."

 

Arya smiled the rare bashful smile she reserved for him.

 

"You need to show them you're the king," was all she added.


 

The crowd gathered around the central courtyard, flanked by numerous Dornish guards, a fact that both Brienne and Arya acknowledged to each other silently.

 

A low dais was set up on one of the sides of the courtyard, with six ornate chairs arranged on it. The center one was clearly the one reserved for the ruler of Dorne, and four other chairs were set to its right and another, equal to the center one in grandeur, was set to its left.

 

The princesses soon marched in, lead by their septa and a maester, Elia had been dressed in a long bright orange gown with a plunging neckline, with sun and lance motifs in red and yellow. The gown was sleeveless, and it swayed as she walked, her long tanned legs showing through a high opening on her right side. To top the statement made with her outfit, over her lustrous black hair, a diadem of golden intertwined snakes had been set. 

 

Princess Elia walking proudly despite knowing she was a lamb to the slaughter, sharing with Arya a poignant look. 

 

After losing much of her family, Arya had stopped believing in the old gods of her father and the seven of her mother, recognizing no god but the God of Death. Although seeing the young Sand Snakes march to their places, Arya said a silent prayer to all the gods of her past for the four young women being clearly used for political gain.

 

At the dais, the young princesses took their seats to the right of the throne, as Gendry did on the place on the left. Brienne stood next to her king, as his Lord Commander, and Arya next to her, followed by the rest of his advisors, and the Kingsguard lined up next to the dais. 

 

The last to join was Prince Alvar himself, who stood at the center, addressing the crowd.

 

"My lords and ladies of Dorne. I am pleased to gather you here on this fine day to make an announcement on a renewed alliance between our kingdom and the rest of the realm."

 

The prince then signaled for his eldest niece to join him, and he held her hand high. Then he turned towards Gendry and addressed him.

 

"Your grace, will you join us?"

 

Gendry rose and walked to Alvar and Elia, with the princess curtsying to her king. Alvar offered the hand he was holding to Gendry, who took it with a little reservation. He gave a soft smile to Elia and then addressed the people.

 

"I feel grateful for the opportunity to see the real Dorne and its people."

 

Gendry had worked hard, figuring the right words that were to be said. To whoever knew him, it was blatantly evident that he always spoke his mind, even to his own detriment. Gendry abhorred the duplicity that for him, was inherent to being noble. He had given this speech a lot of thought, and he had planned to a certain extent what he was to say, with Arya and Tyrion helping to identify the pitfalls to avoid. He did not memorize a speech, but he was prepared, knowing the points he had to be careful to mention, wary of avoiding ambiguity.

 

"It is no secret that I was born a bastard," he continued, "and to me, the sight of the children of Dorne, low and highborn alike playing in the pools at these Water Gardens was life-changing.

 

"I am honored to have met the princesses. Young women who are strong and smart, and who represent the best qualities of this land."

 

He then turned to his side to address Elia. 

 

"Princess Elia, I am in awe of your skill on horseback, I've seen you wield your father's spear, and I've heard of your mastery of the lance. I've witnessed your wit and the love you have for your little sisters, as well as for all your people. I see in you all the qualities one could ask for in a queen," at this moment he knew Alvar would have a satisfied smile, thinking he had succeeded in his schemes.

 

Gendry then continued, "for all these reasons, it would be a pleasure and an honor to call you my friend," at the last line the corners of the princess' mouth started curling, as she realized the implication the king was making, and the whispers from the crowd grew in volume.

 

Gendry knew that Alvar would be seething, from what he could see in his peripheral vision, but he continued, silently hoping he'd have enough time before the prince retaliated.

 

"Our friendship should represent the friendship between Dorne and the rest of the Six Kingdoms. And I would be happy to know that you will always remain in Dorne, with the people you love and have vowed to protect."

 

There were audible gasps at the last words, and Gendry was sure no one but him would have been able to see the wide smile that had bloomed in Elia's face.

 

Alvar suddenly broke the contact between Gendry and Elia, and with nostrils flaring, he barked, "how dare you disrespect Dorne?!" He yelled and beckoned his guards, "seize this bastard lowborn usurper!" 

 

Gendry was expecting this, just as much as he awaited the first wight to climb to his station on the battlements of Winterfell. This time, however, his hand tightened around a non-existant hammer. He saw on the corner of his eyes the guards all around charging towards him. 

 

He didn't see it, but he heard the sound of steel being unsheathed and cutting through the air. 

 

"Protect your king!" Brienne's loud voice sounded immediately. 

 

The first of the Dornish guards charged at him but was quickly cut down by the Lord Commander's Valyrian steel. All of his guards promptly engaged in battle.

 

Arya crossed her hands and firmly held on to the leather grips of the swords at her hips, and with a determined move, returning each hand to its own flank, unsheathed them, to reveal Ice Storm on her left hand, and Gendry's own simple sword on her right.

 

"Gendry!" Arya roared, and her right hand threw the sword it was holding in his direction, which he caught and twisted into place with a flick of his wrist. 

 

Alvar had grabbed Elia's arm and pulled her back, placing her in front of him as a shield. The act of cowardice enraged the king, but he turned to look to where the rest of the princesses stood, and he yelled to Tyrion to get them, the septa and the maester to safety. 

 

The fights on the dais quickly spilled into the courtyard, with more Dornish guards joining, clearly outnumbering Gendry's ones. 

 

Yara, Brienne, and Arya, along with the kingsguards did their best to surround Gendry and keep him out of the fight, but some would pass their perimeter, and Gendry found himself engaging in combat.

 

Gendry knew he had no time to spare, and so he yelled at the top of his lungs, "I, Gendry of House Baratheon," as he blocked a blow from his opponent with his sword.

 

By now Arya had stepped to his right, facing the guard who had been fast approaching Gendry from the rear. He had not been aware of that until he heard the sound of steel digging into flesh and the dying grunt of the Dornish man.

 

He allowed just a side look to his lover, who did the same, and they both continued with mirrored movements. Ice Storm glinted in the sun and Gendry couldn't avoid a wave of pride, at the elegant movement created by the hand wielding it. 

 

Knowing what was at stake, he continued, "King of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men," he punctuated with a left punch to the guard with whom he was crossing swords. 

 

"Natural son of Robert Baratheon," he added as he ducked to avoid the path of the sword. 

 

He saw Elia breaking lose from her uncle and jumping to the lower ground, Gendry quickly pulling her back, but the distraction gave an opening to the man he had been battling, and he felt his side been graced by the blade. He heard a growl from Arya, who quickly intervened and sliced the throat of the culprit with a precise movement of her weapon. 

 

Arya quickly looked at him and at his side, which Gendry dismissed with a quick shake of his head, seeing new guards coming for them. 

 

"And lowborn bastard blacksmith," he continued, engaging the new guard, swinging the sword with force, but the man jumped back avoiding the blade. The momentum of Gendry's movement, given the excessive force applied to the swing, made it hard to bring it back in time, but when the man charged toward him, Gendry shifted to the side, avoiding the man's lunge, and quickly kneeing him in the groin.  Once he came down, he knocked him with the pommel of his sword. He was not among the most skilled swordsmen, but as a sword maker, he knew how to use his own creations. 

 

The prince came into the fight flanked by new guards, who quickly engaged Arya, Gendry, and the rest of his people, and he grabbed his niece's arm once more. 

 

Arya turned to look at Gendry and gave him a silent message.

 

"I declare you," he continued, "Elia Sand, natural daughter of Oberyn Martell, fallen prince of Dorne,"  his voice rang above the clash of swords.

 

He was so close to finishing what he had come to this land to do, "the legitimate heir to House Martell," he concluded, slashing the side of his opponent, and knocking him down with a punch.

 

It was done.

 

Arya doubted for a moment what they had believed. She wondered if the mere act of declaring Elia the legitimate daughter of Oberyn would shift the support for Alvar as the highest figure in Dorne. 

 

She could hear the yells and gasps from the people, and from the corner of her eye, she was able to see that a handful of lords had engaged in the melee. She was worried about Gendry's side wound, enveloped in golden silk, revealing a thin scarlet stain seeping through. 

 

But she had no time to worry about him, she had to trust his own skill at staying alive, nor she could take the time to help Elia, who struggled with her uncle. In the scuffle, she was able to see what the princess had hidden in the inside of her thigh, a blade for which she was now reaching through the side gap of her silk gown. 

 

Arya took that moment to address the princess, "Elia! You are the one and only ruler of Dorne!" 

 

At that exact moment, Elia had managed to take her blade out, and she held it tight under her uncle's ribs, on his right side. Arya knew just by looking at it that the placement of the blade was no coincidence.

 

"Let go of my arm uncle, lest you want your pretty clothes ruined, among other things," the young woman said with a loud, steady voice, prompting the man to release her. 

 

She then turned to the crowd and shouted.

 

"Guards! On the command of your ruler, stop this at once! King Gendry and his people are my dear guests. Leave them at once."

 

It took a moment, but the remaining guards were confused and slowly stopped their actions. The loud voice of a lord rang then, "you heard your monarch, stop this at once!"

 

Gendry recognized the man as Harmen Uller, a surly lord with a weathered face who had been introduced to him the night before as the Lord of Hellholt.

 

"Seize my usurper uncle," Elia beckoned the guards around them, who after a moment of uncertainty followed her orders. 

 

Alvar was dragged away, yelling for his niece to help him to no avail.

 

"My king," Elia addressed Gendry, and started lowering herself, but the king caught her before she did, gently holding her arm. 

 

"No, do not kneel," he said, intriguing the young princess. 

 

This had also been decided before they had even boarded their ship at King's Landing. He just couldn't afford to do it until he knew Dorne to be safe and in the right hards. 

 

"You told Ser Arya about the story of your family and your kingdom. Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken. Your family joint the Seven Kingdoms with a marriage alliance. Let's undo today, with the absence of one, what was done many years before. I declare Dorne sovereign and independent from the Six Kingdoms, and Elia Martell, Lady Lance, the one and true queen of Dorne."

 

The crowd erupted in thunderous applause and yells of excitement. 

 

"Thank you, your grace," Elia said with a wide smile.

 

"It is my honor, your grace ," Gendry responded, making a statement with his address of their new queen.

 

"I ask of only for two things," she requested.

 

"Go ahead."

 

"There was already one Elia Martell, my aunt, who died a horrible death in King's Landing, despite all the love she had for every person she met. There will never be another Elia Martell. In her honor, and to pay homage to my own mother and her bastard blood, I want to be known as Elia Sand Martell, I am sure you, of all people, will understand."

 

"Of course. And the other?"

 

"I do not know what was of my older sister, Sarella. There are rumors of her still being alive. I do not know if this is true, but if it is, it is she who must lead our people. I ask of you that you legitimize her as well."

 

"I declare all your sisters, Sarella, Obella, Dorea, and Loreza, as well as you, legitimate daughters of the late Prince Oberyn Martell," Gendry promptly declared.

 

Tyrion had made his way to the center of the courtyard and bowing to the new queen he addressed her, "your grace, I will prepare parchments of legitimation for you and all your sisters, to leave with you."

 

"Thank you."

 

Tyrion then turned to address the crowd and shouted as loud as his lungs would permit it.

 

"Elia Sand Martell, first of her name, queen of the sovereign kingdom of Dorne, long live the queen!" 

 

"Long live the queen!" the crowd yelled back.

 

At that moment both Gendry and Arya sighed in relief, and as if reading each other's minds they dropped their weapons and ran to each other joining in an embrace and searing kiss, uninterested of who was watching. 

______

 

Arya watched nervously as the maester bandaged Gendry's side while sitting on a table in one of the open corridors that surrounded the courtyard. Arya, as well as the rest of the council, had insisted on it happening there in the open, still fearful since they could not know if anyone remained an Alvar loyalist. 

 

"It was but a touch of the blade, your grace. It should heal soon."

 

"See, I told you," he said reassuringly to Arya, as he stood up. 

 

The maester quickly bowed and left them, sensing the personal nature of their conversation.

 

"You're still an idiot for letting yourself open like that."

 

"Should I had cowered and let you all fight for me?" He asked, pulling her to stand in front of him, while he leaned back against the table slightly, lowering himself a bit with the position.

 

"No," she acquiesced, "it doesn't mean it was not stupid."

 

"But now I will have an impressive scar to match yours," he said with a hint of pride, to Arya's annoyance.

 

"Go ahead, feel proud, but that stupid stunt of yours will put a dent to our lovemaking in the foreseeable future," she warned.

 

Gendry cocked an eyebrow and said grinning, "Lovemaking you said? Is that what we've been doing?" he asked, circling her with his arms and pulling her closer to him. 

 

"All this time I thought we were just fucking."

 

"Idiot," she said with a broad smile.

 

"So you keep telling me," he added before kissing her.

Chapter Text

Everybody loved the songs of battle, with their triumphant heroes and their fallen foes, but no one cared for the messy bit, the blood and guts, the pieces of armor and broken swords. They didn't sing about that, not about the poor servants who got to mop the blood, and sweat, and piss, and shit from the floors.

'Where were the songs about the week-long clearing after the Long Night? And the time it took to build pyres for thousands?'

Arya pondered on that as she watched the central courtyard of the Water Gardens slowly being cleared after the commotion.

The nobles certainly didn't stick around for that, they were kindly invited by their new queen to a different terrace, while guards took away the dead and injured, and servants busied themselves with the debris.

"I was right," Tyrion Lannister said with a smug expression, as he approached Arya.

"About what?" She asked as she undid the straps of the armor pieces she was taking off of her.

"Knowing you'd be a master strategist," he explained nodding towards the mess before them.

"I give it to you to believe I could avoid bloodshed instead of causing it."

"Well, I, for one, will remain in your debt, given how my blood would have been one of the firsts to be spilled, had this gone sideways."

'Had it not?' Arya wondered.

"How many died?" She asked, concerned.

"Four, though one is not out of the woods yet, I've been told."

"Of ours?"

"None, so far. Ser Ulric took a bad blow, but the maester says he'll live."

Ser Ulric was too eager, Arya saw it in training with the Kingsguard. Too young and with something to prove, which was always a downfall. She hoped he would learn self-control from what he experienced that day.

"No one should have died," she concluded.

"Four deaths to save the king, keep Westeros safe, and ensure a good relationship with Dorne. A small price to pay when we've lost thousands recently. Not to mention the fate of four girls."

"Elia will get to choose for herself," Arya noted with a satisfied look.

"Legitimizing Elia so publicly when Alvar took arms to the king was an exceptionally inspired strategy."

"It was a risky bet."

"All bets that pay off usually are," Tyrion grinned with his remark.

"And now, Dorne has a great queen."

"And yet, Westeros does not," Tyrion quipped, fully knowing he was stirring the pot.

"You'd rather he married her?" Arya asked incredulously.

"I'd rather you legitimized a union that is a marriage in all but name," he said looking at her directly.

"Fuck off, Lannister. What do you know of us?"

"More than I wish I did," he shrugged.

"You do not know me."

"True, but I can recognize a warrior queen when I see one."

'A seed may be strong,' Tyrion thought, 'but any seed must always be planted first.'

It was the second time she had been referred to as a warrior queen on the same day. First Gendry had called her Queen Nymeria, and then Tyrion right out called her on her refusal to marry Gendry. Arya shook her head, trying to rid herself of the implications. She walked the gardens instead, looking for him.

Arya found him sitting by the beach watching the waves, his silk doublet, and tunic discarded on the sand. His side covered with the bandage the maester had wrapped around his torso.

"I wondered where you went," she said, sitting next to him, dropping her boots unceremoniously on the sand, in just her breeches and thin grey tunic.

"You took off your armor. Pity, I was looking forward to doing it myself," he said with a faint smile. While the cheek was there, Arya sensed it lacked bite.

"Not with that wound."

"You'll have to wear it for me some other time, just so that I can take it off."

"Is that why you made it for me?" She asked, trying to stoke the fire.

"No, it is just an added benefit," Gendry replied, shrugging, as he turned back to look at the waves.

"How are you feeling?"

"Far better than I did after the Battle of Winterfell."

Arya couldn't avoid thinking that his poor state after the Long Night was only just partially due to his physical injuries.

"I spoke with Elia," he continued, "she demanded the maester uncovered my wound and she looked for poison, they both think there wasn't any on the blade. She said given her family's history; it didn't hurt to be vigilant."

"Are they certain?" Arya asked with concern.

"Yes, you are not getting rid of me yet," he reassured her bumping her shoulder with his own.

"Good. I am quite fond of my armorer."

Her words made him turn to face her abruptly.

"I'd thought you'd be more fond of me as your lover."

"An added benefit," she said, leaning in to kiss him.

They looked at each other as the sea breeze ruffled the hair that the battle had set loose from Arya's braid.

"We should gather with the council," he said, getting up and offering her his hand to stand.


 

"I've finished the legitimization parchments for the queen, and I've sent ravens both to Davos and to Queen Sansa," Tyrion informed the king and the members of the council, in the room Queen Elia had given them to hold a meeting, "I'm sure they both will be reassured when they learn a potential uprising was deterred."

"What's the plan now?" Asked Yara Greyjoy.

"We stay until Gendry heals," Arya replied.

"The maester reckons I should be able to ride in a week," Gendry added.

"In the meantime, we should take advantage of us being here and set up trading deals with Elia," Arya proposed.

"Better trade with Dorne can substantially increase the coffers of the crown, and make the realm less dependent on the Reach," was Tyrion's explanation.

"I'll support whatever means less contact with Ser Bronn of Blackwater," Gendry added.

"The new naval fleet could be put to good use in sea trade with Dorne," Yara contributed.

"And Essos," Arya remarked.

"Then I will be taking you up north," Yara said addressing her.

The reminder of their separation prompted Gendry to hold Arya's hand tighter.

"Yes," she replied.

"In the meantime," Tyrion said, addressing the king, "Ser Brienne, the kingsguard and I will accompany you to meet your people in the other realms."

"Do we have an itinerary?"

"Yes, we should start with High Garden."

'So much with not having to deal with Bronn,' Gendry thought as he openly grimaced.

"Now more than ever, we need to be in good relations with him. Anyways, we'll continue to Casterly Rock, and figure out which of my cousins holds the Westernlands; we'll wait for Yara there, and then go to Pyke; then Riverrun and later The Eyrie. And then we'll meet with Ser Arya in Winterfell."

"We have a plan then."


 

That night there was a simple feast. While the nobles clamored for a lavish event where they could ingratiate themselves with their new monarch, Elia did not want to follow in her uncle's footsteps.

Gendry was in the middle of a discussion with Tyrion, as Arya sat next to Queen Elia looking around the hall.

"I take it you are not one for feasts," the young queen stated.

"My cheery disposition didn't fool you?" She asked with a smile.

"I am not fond of them either."

"I'm afraid, your grace, that more will be in your immediate future," Arya predicted.

"Yes, I already have plenty of offers to fill my small council. Starting with my own grandfather who reckons he must be my Hand."

"Your grandfather?"

"Lord Harmen Uller, that old grump sitting next to Lady Yara," Elia replied, raising her head towards the man, "my mother was one of his bastards."

"I saw him fighting."

"Having his bastard granddaughter suddenly raised to a legitimate queen seems to have awakened his love for my sisters and me. Not that he lifted a finger while Alvar had us confined in here in the gardens and brokered strategic marriages, as he was trading broodmares."

"You won't take him as your Hand then?"

"No, I named him Master of Laws."

Arya raised her eyebrow in recognition of Elia's skill for the new game, 'keep your friends close, and your enemies closer,' she thought.

"You seem natural for this role."

"I don't think so. Could anyone truly be born for it? Look at the king; he was never meant for the throne, and yet he is good for his people," Elia replied, turning towards Gendry.

However, Arya couldn't stop thinking of her sister. Sansa always knew she'd be a queen, and mayhaps it hadn't happened in the way everyone else imagined, certainly not Sansa herself, but if Arya thought of someone born for the role it was her.

"My sister was born to be a queen," Arya offered.

"And you?"

Arya snorted.

"Something funny?"

"You are the third person to imply it today."

"Is the title what is ludicrous, or is it the man it comes with?"

Arya wondered how this girl, of a mere ten and four, had the wit to find the right wound where to stick her finger.

"It's complicated."

As she said it Gendry's eyes caught hers, and he gave her a soft smile.

"By what you said before, your aunt was also born to be queen," she said instead, trying to veer the conversation elsewhere.

"She was, and she was also good at dying. My father loved her like no other. He named me after her, and he died avenging her."

'How many little girls must mourn their dead fathers?' Arya wondered.

"Funny, I had an aunt like yours, my father didn't name me after her, but he always said I reminded him of her. She was also good at dying."

"I knew I shared something else with you," Elia said, looking at her intently.

"What is that?" Arya inquired.

"To have those dear to us look our way and see only ghosts."


 

The feast was over soon enough, with everyone desiring to rest after having enough excitement for a day. Arya and Gendry made their way to their chambers, walking in silence. As they entered, he held on to her hand, making her turn to face him. Gendry's lips barely curled into a smile; his eyes forlorn.

"Be my friend for a moment," he pleaded.

"I am always your friend," she replied, smiling back, but dreading what he was to say.

"Yes, you are. The dearest one. Fuck!" He exclaimed, rubbing his short beard, "the only one probably."

"That's a lie."

"The only real one. But could you listen to me like a friend? Not like the woman I go to bed with?" He asked as he took his hand from hers and instead used it to caress her cheek with a thumb.

"You want me to be your friend and talk about the woman you fuck?" Arya asked, half amused.

"Maybe. Probably. Yes."

"We need ale for this. I could wear a male face if it makes it easier."

"Don't jest."

"Fine, go ahead. How has that woman wronged you?" Arya asked as she sat on the bed, followed by Gendry, who did the same facing her.

"She hasn't," he said while absentmindedly caressing her thigh.

"Very well, but I require you to take your hand from my thigh, though; I am sure you wouldn't touch Hot Pie that way mid-conversation," she added tilting her head towards his hand.

"Fuck you! What do you know of my relationship with Hot Pie?"

Gendry had to sigh after continuing with their banter, already missing her.

"Apparently not enough, is he one of your previous three? Because if he is, you have absolutely no type, your grace."

"I only have one type, and you are well aware of that," he said, pulling her closer to him.

Now that Arya was looking at him with her big doe eyes, he felt at a loss.

"I promised myself we'd talk about what happened after the Long Night. During the feast."

The way her eyes narrowed scared him, her skin under his hands elusive, like an animal sensing danger.

"When you proposed?"

"Yes," he replied, his Adam's apple moving as he swallowed.

"Must we talk about it?"

"I cannot continue worried all the time, pretending that didn't happen. Afraid of the next time I fuck things up, and you leave," Gendry confessed.

"You were drunk."

"Aye. But what I said was still true, about loving you, about wanting to marry you. Not anything else, not my name certainly," Gendry explained, shaking his head.

"Why, then?"

"I was trying to do the right thing."

His words bothered her, and she pulled herself away from him but remained sitting.

"What right thing?"

"I dishonored you. I took your maidenhead," Gendry said, looking down.

"You didn't take shit!" She yelled, standing up from the bed, "I gave it to you!"

He looked up at her outburst, "I could have gotten you with child," he said exasperated that she did not see what was evident to him.

"Is that why you proposed?"

"No, and yes. I would never have thought about asking you to marry me before, being lowborn and a bastard, but then Daenerys gave me a name and I was finally worthy of you, and the honorable thing to do was that."

"Why do you need to be so bloody honorable?!"

"Your father was honorable, and Jon was honorable, and you loved them the most," he said standing up, "why is it wrong when it's me who wanted to do the honorable thing?"

"My father lost his head for his honor, and my brother is exiled because of his!" She was now pacing the room, throwing her arms in the air as she spoke, "you know who did the honorable thing and married a girl he fucked once? My brother Robb, and he is dead too!"

"Was she his dearest friend? Did he owe her his life? Was she the only person who ever gave a fuck about him?" He asked, making his point, "What do you think I should have done then?"

"Look for me, and I don't know, fuck me again? Maybe on a bed?"

"You would have wanted that?" He asked, genuinely perplexed.

"That is what I was hoping for!"

"Would it have changed anything?" He asked, reaching for her hand.

Arya knew what he was asking, and while her answer was not going to please him, she still said it.

"I would have still left the next day."

Gendry took a deep breath and sighed audibly.

"You broke my heart that night," he said, without emotion, as if stating an unknown fact.

"I'm sorry," she said it, her eyes holding back tears.

He pulled her to him and rested his forehead against hers.

"I just needed to say it. And I don't even think it was that you didn't want to marry me, it was just that I didn't matter enough for you to stay," Gendry said with eyes closed.

"To marry at all," she added.

"What?" He asked, opening his eyes, separating them enough to focus on her.

"I didn't reject marrying you; I rejected marrying at all."

"Is there a difference?" he asked with knitted brows.

"Yes," she replied.

"I know you won't marry me," he said reassuringly.

"I won't marry at all," Arya said, stressing the last part.

"Will you be with me?"

"Yes."

"I can live with that," he said, smiling.

"The Six Kingdoms won't."

"The Six Kingdoms can go fuck themselves," he said before kissing her.

"This is not all you needed me to be your friend for, is it?" She asked, embracing him, with her head resting on the crook of his neck, and she felt him shake his head.

"Go on then," she beckoned him.

Gendry walked them both back to the bed where they sat looking at each other, their knees touching.

"I always made sure there wouldn't be bastards," he started, looking down, "the women before you?" he said, trying to explain himself.

"Yes?"

"I told you three, that bit was true, but I told you the red woman didn't count. But it did, didn't it? I was a naive boy, and she knew what to say, what to do. She laid me down on a fancy featherbed and sank on me. Does it count if it was less than a handful of thrusts before she tied me down and put leeches on me?" Gendry asked, shaking his head.

"But you know what?" He continued, "I reckon that if Stannis wanted my blood, there could have been many different ways to get it. What she did to me, what could I do with that? It is not supposed to happen to a man. I was shouting and crying out of horror. No one tells you what to do with that. You're supposed to be a man, but that is not so manly, is it?"

His head turned away from her, and she knew it was so she couldn't see his moist eyes.

"She should have died by my blade," Arya stated, anger being the safe place her mind ran to whenever her heart ached.

"It's alright. You needed her to slay the Night King," he said, trying to comfort her, reaching for her hand.

"That doesn't make what she did alright."

Gendry only shook his head.

"Anyways, when I went back to King's Landing, I couldn't be with women," he continued. He had to pause for a second, knowing the words he was about to say he couldn't speak to anyone else, "not for a long time. I wouldn't even take myself in hand for a whole year. I would wake up having spilled in the night like a green boy, and I would hate myself. 

"There were girls interested, kitchen maids and laundresses, and even a tanner's daughter; it was years. Other smiths would tease me, and one night we went drinking, and I just wanted to forget. And I started thinking that it was stupid, how could I look like I do and have no experience at all, so I went with a whore. I made sure that she did not have red hair, for sure. I also made sure not to get with a black-haired woman; I didn't want to lay with a sister of mine. I told the woman there I didn't want one with brown hair or looking too young either.

"The one I chose had yellow hair. Her name was Alys. The fucking was fine, very short, but just fine. I asked her if she had been with many men, and she laughed at me. She asked me if I was jealous. I said no, I asked if she had ever gotten with child," he continued, looking up to Arya from time to time, "she told me only once, her sweetheart got his babe in her when they were both very young, but she took moon tea when he left her. 'Too much,' she said with sad eyes. She came to King's Landing after that and started working in that brothel. She was told by the midwife who helped her when her babe was born dead that she couldn't have anymore, but she told me she still took the tea daily. I was with her only once, but I walked by the place for a few moons, to make sure her belly was still flat.

"A year later, I stayed at a boarding house, and the landlady, she was older, she didn't have grey hair or anything, but she was no girl. Her name was Thea. She was kind to me, and one night she invited me to her bed. It was a trade-off of sorts, her husband died a year before, and she just wanted to pretend he was still there, to wake up in his arms. She said she thought I was a nice lad, just lonely. She said she could see that I had my own ghosts to haunt me. She told me she was certain she was barren, as she and her husband had never had children, despite wanting them, and in any case, she had stopped bleeding a couple of years before then."

At that point, he took a moment when his eyes looked up, reminiscing, and with a slight smile, he continued.

"After I laid with her, she told me I was shit."

"You are not-" Arya exclaimed but was cut short by Gendry.

"I was. And by the way, I love how worked up you are about it," he said, giving her a quick peck on the lips, "you and I, it's good. I want to think it is just because it is you and me, but we owe her a lot. I was quite shitty, and she took it as her task to teach me. 'One day a young girl will thank me,' she said."

"I should buy her a round of ale when we're back in King's Landing then," Arya added with a grin.

"You will have to spill it on the ground where Flea Bottom once stood," he said, "she's dead. Everyone I knew died the day of the sacking, or they fled. I looked for every person I ever knew when I came from the North. I couldn't find anyone, Tobho, Alys, Thea, none of the other smiths, the people I always saw at the pot-shop where I used to eat."

"I'm sorry," she said, wondering how many of the souls she encountered while she walked the streets of King's Landing were the ones for whom he had searched.

"If Davos hadn't come for me, I would be as dead."

"But you're not. And you are making a difference," Arya said holding on to his face, making him see her as she spoke.

"Anyways, I stayed in her house three full moons, and she taught me how to please a woman properly," he explained.

"Everything?" Arya asked quirking an eyebrow.

"No. You're the only woman I've tasted," he explained with a faint blush, "she told me some things were only for her husband."

"Good."

"I tried different things with her, but I never laid on my back. After the red woman, I couldn't," he added, looking down.

"Our first time," she said, thinking back of all her bravado the night she thought would be her last, "I didn't know. I'm sorry."

"Want to know something funny?" he asked, looking up, "it never occurred to me. I didn't think of her, it was only you, and it made sense, you, pushing me to fall on my arse like you did when I annoyed you when we were kids. And then you said you were not her, to take my own damn breeches off, it just broke the spell. Nothing you did was forced. Now I only think of you on top of me."

"I'm glad," she said, taking the turn to blush.

"I promised myself to tell you this, before the announcement, I didn't know if I'd still be alive."

"I wouldn't have let anyone kill you."

"I know. I still promised that if I still drew breath, I'd stop being a coward and I would say to you the things I'm afraid of saying."

"There is more," Arya stated, and Gendry nodded.

"Should I worry, then?"

"I feel like I am the one at risk of losing more. I don't want to fight when we're to be parted soon," he explained, bringing Arya's hand to his lips.

"But maybe it is the best time to do it."

"What?" He asked, knitting his brows.

"Fight."

"You're mad."

"Listen to me. You can't live avoiding talking about some things because you fear I'll leave for good."

"It would kill me, for real this time, losing you."

"But if we are to be separated. Maybe this is the best opportunity. You and I know I have to go North, but then I'll be leaving just for that, not for anything you say. And we know we are to meet again in Winterfell."

"What if you decide you do not want to return to King's Landing after?" Gendry asked.

"You will never know if you don't try."

There was one thing more left to say, and taking one more breath for courage, he continued.

"I've had horrible thoughts. That first night here, after we met with Ned and I was again a jealous, insecure bastard boy, I made love to you trying to prove something, trying to mark you as mine. And for a second, I wished I would get my babe in you. Something that bonded us forever. And I felt no better than the louse my father was, trying to force your hand."

It took Arya a second to think what to say, but the voice in her head reminded her of fleeting desires of her own.

"You are the one who said you would not father bastards."

"And that is why the thought scared me."

"I've never cared that you were one. I never cared that Jon was one either," she stated.

"I know. And while I know your life hasn't been easy, you don't know what it is to grow up one."

"You and Jon did not deserve that, but the tragedy was not that you were born out of wedlock. It was that neither of you had a mother and father who both loved you and raised you together," saying that she got on her knees on the bed and got closer to him, until she was straddling him, her hands on his shoulders, "if we had a child, it wouldn't have to be deprived of that."

"Want to know what scares me more than that? Thinking of actually putting my babe in you, and that after having it you'd leave us. Or that you'd never tell me, and you left, and I never knew about it, and I did to my child what my father did to me," he said ashamed of his own words.

"You think me that cruel?" She asked.

"No. But I cannot force you into something you don't want."

A sudden dread came to Arya, of their hopes and fears never aligning, despite what they felt for each other, as they hadn't in the past. She held on tighter to him, her chin resting on his shoulder.

"I've never had a family," he continued while he moved his hands over her back, and his words took Arya back to another night in a cave, "I know I did, but I don't remember much of my mother. Then Tobho wasn't bad, but he never pretended we were a family. He was a good master, and I was just his apprentice, but he sold me all the same. And then, there was you. And Hot Pie, and Lommy, and Weasel. Then I stupidly thought the Brotherhood could be my family. And then that woman took me away, and I met the only blood relative I've ever known, and he wanted to sacrifice me to make himself king. There was Davos. He was the only lord who was ever kind to me, after your father. I guess he could count as family. I thought you were gone then. And he came to get me, and he said I could fight for your brother, and I was ready. I always knew I would fight for the Starks, in your name. I told Jon we were meant to be friends, brothers, in the name of our late fathers, of their friendship. We were both born bastards, of course, it wasn't the same, but he felt we were kindred spirits, but he didn't know we had something else in common."

Just in case it was Arya who he was referring to, he separated them enough to look into her eyes and ran his thumb over her cheek.

"I never told him the only family I had ever had was his beloved little sister. I was a coward. I thought you were dead, you see? And I felt guilty about it. I couldn't face your brother and tell him that I betrayed you because I was too proud because I thought I wouldn't be able to forget our time on the road and be just another servant in your castle. And then you were back, and that night in the storeroom," just the thought of their first night was so strong that he had to take a moment and sigh, with eyes closed, before continuing, "before everything, what I was trying to tell you was that I was wondering if your offer was still standing, if you could be my family still. I didn't mean it like this," he said gesturing with his hand in between them, "not then I think. But you are the only family I've ever had. And I am always worried about losing you."

"You will not lose me. Even if I am not with you, you will not lose me," Arya reassured him.

"I don't want to father bastards. I've told you this. But there have been times, with you, when I've imagined we have a family. Through your womb or not, that bit doesn't matter. Just a pack of our own," he explained.

"Would you be my friend right now? Not the man I go to bed with each night?" She asked using his own words.

"Of course."

"I've imagined that too," she confessed.

The surprise was evident on his face, and Arya could feel herself smiling at his dumbfounded look, knowing it was her who often caused it.

"I cannot promise anything right now. I'm not ready. I cannot promise I will ever be. Not after the things I've done. But it is a nice dream. And you are the only man I would ever want that with."

Gendry kissed her knuckles and smiled proudly. Arya placed her hands around his face and pulled him to a kiss.

"Want to know something else?" She asked.

"Yes."

"I am your family, and we are already a pack. Nothing will ever change that."

Chapter Text

All the previous times they had been parted had been unexpected.

 

When Gendry informed Arya of his decision of staying with the Brotherhood once she was safely reunited with her family, neither of them had been prepared for Melisandre taking him away, and being out of each others' lives for years.

 

Later, despite his broken heart and all, he hadn't been ready to hear, from someone else's conversation no less, that Arya had left for King's Landing without saying goodbye.

 

On the other hand, Arya had always known her steps would lead her to complete her list, but in all fairness, she hadn't planned to find him again and to allow herself to feel once more.

 

At the end of the day, there had been no time to mourn what was to be lost.

 

This time was different; they had known for close to two moons that they would be separated for months.

 

They made love every night in the week they had together before they each had to leave Dorne, and neither of those times was extraordinary in itself, not in comparison with coupling before certain death, nor in a fit of jealousy, not out of anger. That, they found, was a quieter kind of love.

Just expressions of love, where innumerable things were conveyed without being vocalized, and instead, time was well spent committing to memory every look, and taste and moan.

 

"I should be going with you," Gendry said with his head resting on the plain below her breasts, and he looked at his fingers lazily drawing circles around her bellybutton.

 

"You know it has to be done this way," Arya replied, running her own through the black strands of his head.

 

"You're only jealous because this Southron made it beyond the Wall before you," he said looking up with a brazen smile.

 

In response, she pulled his hair harder, making him chuckle, with his voice low, in the way that made Arya's insides coil tightly. He had been lying down on his good side, and Arya could see his new scar, still angry and reddened, adorning his body.

 

She could tell him that she feared their parting just as much.

 

She could decide to fuck all to seven hells and take him with her to get Jon.

 

She could easily kick her legs around and land her right ankle on his wound and reinjure him in one fell swoop, unequivocally delaying their journeys a few more days.

 

Or she could make the solemn promise that when they reunited in Winterfell, she would take him in front of the heart tree and say words that frightened her.

 

But something inside her was still paralyzed, and she didn't do any of those things, and soon enough it was time to stand by Fury and say their goodbyes.

 

He kissed her passionately on the docks, with an uncomfortable-looking Yara nearby.

 

"Once you are north of the Wall," he said between kisses.

 

"Yeah?" Arya asked, opening her eyes.

 

"Tormund may mention the wilding way to stay warm."

 

"And?" Her left eyebrow cocked in curiosity.

 

He looked at her with the same smile of a boy of ten and five who teased her on the King's Road, on their way to Castle Black.

 

"I just rather you didn't do that without me."

 

She would have to ask Jon more about that suicide trip to capture a wight when she met him.

 

"Something you want to tell me about you and Tormund?" She asked then, choosing, like him, for banter to be their parting words, instead of the ones they already held deep in their hearts.

 

"I don't like redheads," he replied, trying to keep a light mood to avoid doing something rash, "just little brown-haired, grey-eyed shits who are pains in my arse."

 

"Lucky for you, I only like Southrons," she continued, following his lead.

 

"Southrons?" He asked, taking the turn to sound skeptical.

 

"Big dumb black-haired, blue-eyed blacksmiths covered in sweat and soot."

 

"Good," He said before kissing her once more.


 

Arya

 

The sea voyage, sharing her meals with Yara, hadn't been as long nor as tense as everyone else had feared. Many of the evenings they spent together, in the two and half weeks it took them to reach White Harbor, were spent silently passing a skin of Dornish red and not much else.

 

But there were a few times when they spoke, more than they ever had in the time since their tenure in the small council. By the time they reached port, they wouldn't call each other friends, but they were closer to that than to enemies.

 

They parted there, Yara taking the road to Banefort, where she would meet with the king and his entourage, while Arya head for Winterfell.

 

Before leaving, Arya thanked the Manderlys for their offer of a room for the night, but she refused it politely, eager to reach Winterfell and leave for the Wall as soon as possible. She did, however, accept a warm meal, a raven and a horse.

 

The raven that Gendry had sent to White Harbor had been awaiting her for days, with its royal seal still intact. Reading Gendry's words, squeezed together on the parchment, brought the Southern warmth to the Northen chill, and a smile to her lips.

 

Arya, I miss you. I don't think anyone can miss anyone as much as I miss you. This was the worst idea ever. Is Yara still alive? I hate Lord Bronn. He makes lewd jokes about you and me. He was mad because he didn't get to marry Obella. It took all my patience not to smash his head in with my hammer. He called me King Twat. Brienne challenged him to a duel for my honor. Tyrion got things under control. I feel like an idiot. You should be here. I'm one feast away from dropping everything, stealing a sand stead and riding all my way to Winterfell. I could do it. I rowed my way to King's Landing and ran my way down from up north. I can't go to sleep without you. I need to tell you more, but Tyrion says this is too long. All my love, Gendry

 

She had never written to Gendry unless you counted the piece of parchment with her specs for her weapon, and if you did, it only included one word. She found herself aching to send him more than words, but in the absence of any other way, she did send him a quick note.

 

It took her five days on horseback to reach Winterfell. As opposed as the last time she made it there on her own, the guards were aware of who she was before she even had to announce herself, and they ushered her into her sister's throne room.

 

She had seen Sansa in a crown before, and she was used to the majesty in her sister's step from years before she was bestowed with the title of queen. And yet, it was something else entirely to see her perched on the seat their lord father had held when he listened to petitions. A seat that was nothing but a wooden chair, simple in comparison to what the melted iron throne had been, but as strong and sturdy as Ned Stark.

 

Sansa stood as soon as she saw her, and she didn't hide a broad smile.

 

"Your grace," Arya had greeted her with an overdone curtsy, and Sansa had tilted her head slightly in recognition.

 

"Ser."

 

After their little farce, the sisters walked to one another and hugged tightly.

 

"You look happy," Sansa told her, "I'll fool myself into thinking it is because you are happy to see your sister and not because of the long-lasting effects of a certain king, or reuniting with your favorite brother."

 

Arya laughed with sincerity.

 

"I am happy to see you, Sansa. Are you happy?" She asked, and Sansa knew that her question had more to do with the empty throne room of the Queen in the North, and less with sisters reuniting after not seeing each other in a couple of moon turns.

 

"Working on it," she replied with the truth, "I received Tyrion's raven."

 

"Is that part of you working on it?" Arya asked her with a layer of impertinence.

 

"No, I just thought you'd be interested."

 

"Did he tell you of Elia's legitimization?"

 

"I received the one with that information a fortnight ago. I am glad things worked out. No, Tyrion sent a new raven three days ago. They had already been to High Garden. This one was sent from Casterly Rock. They are all fine, somehow managed to deal with Ser Bronn."

 

"That all?"

 

"There were parchments for you from the king. They are in your room. I believe we received two. Go on. I know you want to go read them."

 

She smiled and bowed to her sister before walking briskly towards her childhood chamber.

 

"We leave for the Wall at dawn!" She yelled at her sister, the queen.

 

"I expect you for supper Arya! Don't make me have to summon you."

 

"Is that an order, my queen?"

 

"It's a plea from your neglected big sister."


 

 

Two parchments with Baratheon sigil wax seals awaited for her on her bed, the same that had adorned the raven that had arrived for her at White Harbor. Arya broke through the first one with eagerness.

 

Arry, I was wrong. I miss you so much more. We're in the Rock now. I met with Tyrion's relatives. Can't remember their names, they all sound stupid and look the same to me. They are all blonde and with names than end on an 'l' or an 'n.' Brienne seems sad. Tyrion is uncomfortable. I want to hammer my head in. I can't sleep on any fucking featherbed without you. Do you have nightmares? I do. When we meet again, you are not allowed to sleep in a bed that is not mine. Or me in one that is not yours. Are you in Winterfell already? I miss waking up with you. Write when you can. Love, Gendry

 

As soon as she was done reading the first one, she quickly broke through the seal of the second.

 

Arya, we are about to leave Casterly Rock. Tyrion said I couldn't keep wasting ravens. I called him on sending ravens to your sister, but he says it's different. 'Crown matters,' he called them. I call it horseshit. The Lannisters asked when I will be getting myself a queen, told them already got one. Tyrion made up some shit trying to spin my words. Send a raven when you can. Even if it just the word stupid, or idiot in your hand. That's fine. I know when you say it to me you mean to say that you love me. Yours, Gendry

 

Arya hated how easily Gendry could bring a smile to her lips with such ease, now even without being present. Instead of dwelling on what it all meant, she turned to the simple desk in the room and noticed that her sister had taken the trouble to leave parchment, inkpot, quill, and sealing wax.

 

She had written to him from White Harbor less than a week before, but he wouldn't have received it before sending the three missives she had gotten from him. There would not be ravens to send from beyond the wall once they left Castle Black, and so she wrote to him.


 

Despite what she had expected, Sansa had declined a carriage for the trip north. She was, after all, a Northern woman and a skilled rider, but above all, it was clear that both sisters were eager to reunite with Jon.

 

It took them only a fortnight to reach Castle Black, where they rested for a night, along with Sansa's proud Northern Queensguard. After sending ravens, they changed into thick furs better suited for the cold of the true North.

 

"You look good in wilding garb, sister," Arya teased.

 

"Don't mock me. I'm as Northern as you are," she replied.

 

"This suits you though, a proper Northern queen."

 

"We should get going."

 

"Has Bran written? Does he know where Jon is?"

 

There hadn't been any ravens awaiting them from their brother in King's Landing. Sansa shook her head and added, "nothing new in the past moon, the last thing he informed me was that he is still in Hardhome."

 

Four days later, they reached Hardhome. When they arrived, they were greeted by Tormund, who bowed to Sansa and lifted Arya in his arms.

 

"The little she-wolf! Look at you! I knew you were a proper wilding."

 

"Nice to see you too, Tormund. Where is Jon?"

 

"He went hunting, but he should be back at sundown."

 

Jon made his way home in silence. His hunt had been good, and thanks to the cold, they would be able to preserve the meat and have enough for the next moon. A few paces from his hut, he saw Tormund in the middle of recounting a vivid story to newcomers in front of him. What caught his attention was a bright red braid over wilding furs, and for a moment, he felt time had not passed, and he had stayed in a cave beyond the wall. 'You know nothing, Jon Snow,' Ygritte whispered once more in his head, but the spell was broken when the woman turned and instead of her wilding smile and her eyes, that always burned hot despite the cold of the north, he found himself staring at the icy stare of his sister, the Queen in the North. Nevertheless, his heartache was soon replaced with joy at realizing both his sisters had now seen him, and they ran to greet him.


 

 

"It's good to see you, little sister," he said as he embraced Arya, "I must thank the king for letting you come all this way. I am sure it must have been hard for him to part with his Master of War."

 

Sansa snorted, as Arya let go of their brother to glare at her. The Queen in the North took her turn to hug her brother then.

 

"You have no idea," she said, letting go of the tight embrace, "it's so good to see you too."

 

"I cannot believe you are both here."

 

"We're here to get you," Arya explained.

 

"What for?"

 

"To take you home," Sansa responded.

 

'Home,' where was home? Was it Winterfell? Castle Black? A cave beyond the wall? A waterfall? Certainly not King's Landing nor Dragonstone. Indeed there had never been a home for either Aegon Targaryen nor Jon Snow.


 

 

After a feast prepared hastily, with the game Jon and Ghost had procured, Sansa had gone to sleep, leaving her brother and sister sitting outside in front of a fire.

 

"I don't think there is anything for me south," Jon finally said.

 

"Your family is south," Arya reminded him.

 

"In Winterfell? in King's Landing?" He asked.

 

"You like it here," she added not asking a question.

 

"I guess I do."

 

"Why?"

 

"Why do you like King's Landing?" He took the turn to ask.

 

"I don't. I hate the place."

 

"And yet you stayed there. You still owe me an explanation about that."

 

"Is this home to you then?"

 

"Hard to explain. It was, once," Jon replied, and his eyes focused into a past that longer existed. It was not difficult for Arya to guess the memories that had stolen him away.

 

"What was her name?" She asked.

 

"Ygritte."

 

"A wilding?"

 

"Yes, kissed by fire."

 

"What happened to her?"

 

"She is dead. Like all the women who ever loved me."

 

"I still love you, and Sansa does as well. We are still alive."

 

"Not the same."

 

"Not the same?" She repeated knitting her brows.

 

"Tell me of your other bastard," he asked her instead.

 

"Sansa told you?"

 

"No, but you were ready to leave Westeros until Gendry got crowned."

 

"It's a long story."

 

"Nights are long up here, nothing but time for long stories."

 

"I met him the day father was killed. Yoren was smuggling us out and taking us to you at the Wall, he thought his master just sold him to the Night's Watch, but I think it was father who arranged for his escape, he knew he was Robert's son. We were friends, and we cared for each other."

 

Jon chuckled.

 

"What is that for?"

 

"I knew he didn't join me because our fathers were friends."

 

"His father and yours fought for your mother, and his father killed yours."

 

"Yes, and now that you mention it, he never told me of his history with my little sister. Mayhaps I should go south to have words with your king."

 

"He is not my king. I am from the North."

 

"He is a king, and he is yours."

 

"Was she yours?"

 

Arya didn't have to say her name for him to know she meant hi fire-kissed wilding woman.

 

"Aye. And I was hers."

 

"Did you marry her."

 

"No. At least I didn't think I did. It was until much later that I realized that for the free folk, we were as good as married."

 

"Do you regret it?"

 

"Claiming her as mine? Being hers? No. I regret not realizing what it meant until it was too late. Are you marrying him?" He asked instead.

 

"No."

 

"Why not?"

 

"I was never meant to be married or to be a lady."

 

"You are wrong, little sister. You were always meant to marry. You have always been a lady."

 

"I always wanted to be like you."

 

"A bastard?" Jon asked with furrowed brows.

 

"No, free. Like you, and Robb, and Bran."

 

Her brother shook his head, sadly.

 

"What?"

 

"No one is truly free Arya. I never was, neither was Robb. Ask Bran how free he feels. People here are called free folk, but no one is ever really free. Freedom is not what you are allowed to be; it is what you make of the life you got."

 

"I don't know if I can. Be what he wants me to be, what he needs me to be."

 

"And what is that you think he needs you to be? A queen? A wife? A mother?"

 

"A lady. Someone like my mother, or like Sansa."

 

"If he wanted someone like Sansa, he could have chosen to love Sansa," he explained in a way that exasperated her.

 

"No one chooses who to love."

 

"Exactly my point."

 

"There are so many things I've seen, so many things I've done. I've killed so many."

 

"I killed a woman I loved. Do you care for me any less?"

 

"It's different."

 

"Not for me."

 

Both siblings remained staring at the fire in silence, and for anything that the Lord of Light may have set up in her path, she couldn't see anything in the flames.

 

"Hey, I don't owe him anything, nor I hold anything against him. So if he doesn't please you, you shouldn't just stay for his sake. But," Jon took a moment to think over his words.

 

"But?"

 

"But if I could have even a day with Ygritte back, I wouldn't care anymore about any of the stupid stuff that I thought was important back then."

 

"Who would want a mother who was a killer?" Arya asked then in a low voice.

 

"I would have. If she could have lived enough to raise me."

 

"Your mother wasn't a killer."

 

"My mother," Jon said, taking the time to savor the strange word in his mouth, "my mother just wanted to be free, but she didn't know how to go about it. Don't make the same mistakes that she made."


 

Gendry

 

Five namedays went by in between seeing Arya's reddened grey eyes disappearing in the distance, while he rode the cart Melisandre's men were using to transport him like cattle, and finding her again in his forge (her forge?) demanding a weapon.

 

This time around, he had already made it two whole moon turns, despite his threat of dropping everything only a fortnight in, but it still felt unbearable.

 

They had just returned to the mainland from Pyke, where not much had happened besides meeting with many skeptical ironmen and women, who had only welcomed him because Yara was there and once he had drunk with them into oblivion.

 

He hated himself the next morning, the absolute worst hangover of his life, but it had been worth it since he wagered the ironborn didn't want to murder him any more than they would any other outsider, which was already a considerable improvement, and at the very least they had now some respect for his drinking abilities.

 

He had made a point to Tyrion about it, to visit a tavern where the common folk ate and drank, in every one of the realms they visited. Of course, the diplomatic mission was planned, first and foremost, to visit the liege lords, and have his arse kissed by their bannermen, while Tyrion whispered names, and sigils and house words, right before introducing each one; but for Gendry, the main point had been to meet the common folk of each region, and meet the farmers, the bakers, the laundresses, the tanners, stonemasons, and the tavern wenches. He wanted to be in places where his true kin, the Flowers, Hills, Pykes, Rivers, and Stones gathered. He met the people in the orchards of the Reach, the miners of Casterly Rock and the seafarers of Pyke. Still to go were the fisherfolk and merchants of the Riverlands, and the farmers and candle makers of the Vale.

 

The chambers he got in Pyke were cold and damp, but it was there that he received Arya's first raven from White Harbor.

 

Gendry, we arrived safely to White Harbor. Yara is still alive, or she was up to the moment we parted a few hours ago. She is on her way to meet you. I will ride to Winterfell soon. You're an idiot. I miss you. Arya

 

Gendry laughed at the brief words she had sent him. She didn't tell him any new information whatsoever, with Yara being already with his party, and knowing that if she had written from White Harbor, it meant she would be heading for her home shortly.

 

Arya calling him an idiot hadn't wasn't news either. If anything, it was the proof of her missing him, in her hand, that kept him going and knowing that once she reached Winterfell, she would find there the other two ravens he sent her from the Westernlands.

 

In Riverrun he had met with Arya's uncle Edmure, who he discovered, although self-aggrandizing, was a lord who cared deeply for his people. From the common folk, he heard that their Tully lord was just and always listened to the little people, whenever they petitioned him, or whenever he heard of injustices on his frequent tours of the Riverlands.

 

His next stop at the Crossroads Inn was one he had looked forward fondly for the chance of meeting with Hot Pie.

 

"Gendry! I mean, your grace," the large man said as he embraced his king, to the chagrin of the royal retinue.

 

"Gendry is fine, Hot Pie. It's good to see you. How have you been?"

 

"It's been good. Did Arry come with you?" He asked, looking around the tables in the room.

 

"She didn't, she is in Winterfell with her sister. I'll be meeting her there in a moon."

 

After proper introductions and orders of food, they had found their way to a table where they could be appropriately reacquainted. Hot Pie's workmates looked with astonished eyes, as they had always been skeptical to the baker's stories of having met the King of the Six Kingdoms on the road to the Night's Watch.

 

"I saw her here once you know? Before you was king. Told her her brother was the king up north."

 

"Did you?" Gendry asked, amused.

 

"Yeah, I was surprised to see her, all grown up," he replied, looking down to the piece of bread he had taken from Gendry's plate, which made Brienne, who guarded her king, grimace in shock.

 

Hot Pie continued, "She is real pretty, don't you think?"

 

Gendry chuckled loudly, both at his friend's obliviousness to all the eyes surrounding them who stared in disbelief to the familiarity with which he addressed their king, and to the fact that Hot Pie was, in all honesty, asking him if he found Arya pretty, surely the songs had reached the Crossroads Inn.

 

He looked at his friend who did not understand why he laughed and took a calming breath before he responded.

 

"Yes, Hot Pie. I do believe she is rather beautiful."

 

"Can't believe I ever thought she was a boy," Hot Pie continued, "but of course, you would know she wasn't."

 

"Ah, yeah, do you get much gossip from King's Landing, Hot Pie?"

 

"Well, lots of traveling folk stop here at some point, so yeah, plenty of talk from all over Westeros. That's how I heard you was king. And then all those songs about you and Arry started being sung in these parts. Do you love her, Gendry?"

 

The king didn't even have to think of his answer.

 

"I do, with all my heart."

 

"Why do you do those things to her then?"

 

Luck would have it that Gendry had been drinking from his tankard of ale as Hot Pie spoke, which made him cough and cover the man across from him in beer head.

 

He also discovered that although his companions had taken seats in nearby tables to give them privacy, their words were not private at all, as Tyrion had cackled quite audibly.

 

"Sorry, what?" Gendry spoke, as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and noticed Hot Pie doing the same by removing foam from his right eye.

 

"Well, I've heard different versions of the song, and it is not like those soft ballads about the knights and the maidens. But of course, if what they say about you is true, Arry is no maiden, but I reckon she is a knight."

 

"You shouldn't believe what they sing in the songs, Hot Pie. What they say I do to her; it's not true."

 

"So you haven't bedded her then?"

 

"Alright, some of what they sing in the songs is not true."

 

"Did she slay the Dead King for real?"

 

"Night King, and yes, she did. She saved us all."

 

"That sounds like Arry. Are you going to marry her?"

 

"I would love to, but she needs to want to marry me."

 

Hot Pie took a moment to think.

 

"Well, I don't see why she wouldn't want to, the songs say that you please her an awful lot, and you are no longer a no-name bastard, but the king, and she always had that crush on you anyways."

 

"What do you mean?" Gendry asked intrigued.

 

"Now, who's the stupid one? You can't tell me you didn't notice how she would stare at you when you would take your tunic off and banged the steel in Harrenhal."

 

"Did she now?" He asked, amusement clear on his face, "she will be sad to know you and I met without her."

 

"You both can stop here on your way to King's Landing."

 

"That we will."


 

 

The journey to the Eyrie was disquieting, in particular, the climb on the narrow goat trail. Arya's cousin Robyn was weird, and he could not imagine living in a place with a hole on the floor, which would mean certain death.

 

As opposed to Arya and her siblings, Robyn Arryn had not been moved at all at hearing Gendry had once met his late father, but he had been more interested in hearing about his adventure beyond the Wall, and more recently, his trip to Dorne. If Robyn had counted on marrying one of Elia's sisters, he didn't show any resentment to his king for having legitimized Elia and made Dorne a sovereign nation, thus closing the door on a possible marriage in between the Vale and the Southern state, or at least, halting it for the time being, until Elia would deem such alliance a possibility. Something that Gendry sincerely doubted.

 

It was there that he received the message Arya had sent him from Winterfell.

 

Gendry, I am at Winterfell. We will leave for the Wall tomorrow. I also have nightmares without you, when I don't I dream of Nymeria. She is near, I can feel it. Maybe she'll be here when you arrive. The forge here is wrong without you. You are my pack, and I am yours, and you are indeed an idiot. The biggest one, and all mine. Arya

 

To anyone else, the words may have sounded harsh, but given what he knew he wrote to her, her words meant a lot more.


 

 

Arya

 

They had already spent a week with Jon in Hardhome trying to convince him to travel south to Winterfell with them to no avail. Unlike his sisters, he didn't consider his exile as an injustice, but a debt that had to be paid. The long nights of the true North lending themselves for him to think back and wonder where he had gone wrong, words that he failed to say to Dany, embraces owed to console her in her grief.

 

It didn't matter in the end, and despite the Targaryen blood coursing through his veins, he was Ned Stark's son first and foremost, and if he learned something from his father, was that a man must dispense his own justice, and always face the consequences of his actions.

 

"You must come with us," Sansa pleaded with her brother.

 

"I've told you already, there is nothing for me there," he replied as he busied himself chopping wood outside his hut.

 

Arya had not planned for this, everything had happened as she had seen it in her mind's eye, to the point of embracing Jon once they reunited, but this reticence of his, to cross the wall back into the North and Westeros, had been seriously bothering her.

 

It all came to a head, and she jumped off the stack of logs where she had perched herself, as Jon continued with his chores only half-listening to his sisters.

 

"Fuck it! You know what? If you want to live here that's fine."

 

"Arya!" Sansa scolded their sister, appalled that she would give up so easily.

 

Arya, ignored her, but continued to make the point she wanted to make, "but do it because you decided to do it, and not because of a foreign cunt decided for you."

 

"Grey Worm didn't exile me," Jon replied, finally stopping his movement, and resting his ax on the stump he was using to prop the logs.

 

"I certainly did not exile you, Jon!" Sansa yelled, throwing her arms in the air.

 

"And Gendry wouldn't have if it had been up to him," Arya was quick to add.

 

"I know that Gendry did what he had to, to make sure I lived, but Grey Worm was within his right to demand justice for what I did to his queen."

 

'His queen,' Jon didn't need anyone else to point out his choice of words, and wondered how long ago it had been since he had stopped calling her 'my queen.'

 

"And what of all the souls that she condemned? Who gave them justice?" Arya yelled.

 

"Jon, come with us. Let Gendry, and I pardon you, and then you get to decide whatever you want to do with your life," Sansa pleaded once more, with her hand on her brother's shoulder.

 

"Please," Arya tried with sad eyes that took Jon back, and he stared at her as if she was once more a girl of eight, and him, a boy of ten and four.

 

"If you decide to come back here and make the free folk your people, do it because it is your choice, but let the Starks stand together once more," Sansa added.

 

"When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives," Arya solemnly reminded her siblings.

 

It was a low blow, hearing their father's words.

 

"We made a mistake. We were always meant to stay together," Arya elaborated.

 

Jon could not hold on to the ax anymore, and it felt to the snow with a soft thud.

 

"Fine," was all he said.


 

 

The night before they were set to ride down to Winterfell Arya sat outside Jon's hut staring into the fire, where Tormund Giantsbane found her.

 

"Your brother told me that the pretty boy got named king."

 

"Gendry?" She asked, amused by the way Tormund referred to the king of the Six Kingdoms. She was sure to annoy him with that.

 

"Yes, your pretty boy who makes fine weapons? I fought next to him in the Long Night. I didn't think he would be a good warrior when he came up here to catch a wight, all soft and pretty, but he knows how to bang with that hammer of his, does he not?" He asked, waggling his eyebrows to Arya, who managed to keep her face schooled.

 

"You've called him pretty three times already, do I have to fight you for him, Tormund?" Arya asked with a wide smile.

 

The great man chuckled.

 

"No, the only Southron I've ever fancied was the big woman."

 

"You mean Ser Brienne of Tarth? Their families are both from the Stormlands, you know?"

 

"They have good warrior stock there then, in this land of the storms."

 

"She is traveling with him, and they will meet us in Winterfell in a month's time."

 

"Then I will be accompanying the little crow south then, you know? For protection?"

 

Arya smiled. She doubted Ser Brienne would ever give the wilding man the time of day, but she could recognize that Tormund was drawn to Brienne, first and foremost, because of her worth as a warrior.

 

"This pretty king of yours, did he steal you, or did you steal him?" He inquired, unaffected by the fact Arya had already called him on his penchant for calling Gendry pretty.

 

"Is that what you do here?" She asked in return, as the red-headed man shrugged and palmed his overgrown beard.

 

"You steal your bride here."

 

"That doesn't sound too good for the women then," Arya remarked.

 

"But our women are warriors, if a woman doesn't like the man who stole her, she will slit his throat."

 

"And then what?"

 

"And then he is dead and a sad fucker, who will forever be remembered as a sorry excuse of a man."

 

"And otherwise, what if he is a good man?"

 

"If a man is worthy, he will stop her from killing him. If he does, she will respect him even more, for his strength and his skill."

 

"And what if the woman is better than this man?"

 

"Stronger?"

 

"Or quicker, more skilled with her weapons."

 

Tormund seemed delighted by Arya's questions, and at the last one, he had leaned in, supporting his forearms on his knees, and then spoke as in a more intimate way, as if he was sharing a valuable secret.

 

"A woman can decide to let him win."

 

"Is that what happened with Jon and Ygritte?" Arya asked, desiring to get the wilding take on what she had learned, had been the greatest love of her brother's life.

 

"At first I thought so," he replied leaning back on his seat, "I was sure she wanted him because he was pretty, and I was sure she could have freed herself easily."

 

"And then?"

 

"And then, I got to know your brother, and now I know the little crow is strong and fierce."

 

"He is."

 

"In the end, I believe they both chose each other and decided to be together."

 

"And then she died."

 

"And then she was killed as we stormed Castle Black, and Jon's own crow brothers killed her. She died in his arms."

 

Jon had not disclosed this part of the story.

 

As if sensing the conversation had to move on, he reached under his furs to reveal a wineskin.

 

"What about your king. Did he win you over with the weapons he makes? He would be very popular with our women here just because of his blades," he asked her, and after taking a sip, he handed it to Arya.

 

She drank, and after a moment to still her thoughts, and sigh, Arya replied, "would it mean anything if I told you I had my blade on his throat and he lives still?"

 

Tormund turned suddenly to her and shook his head.

 

"Are you sure your father and mother didn't find you on this side of the Wall, little wolf? Because I could swear, you have wilding blood in you."

 

"Not wilding Tormund, just Northern through and through."

 

Chapter Text

Her steps had become hesitant, slower as the days and weeks had gone by. He would nudge her, from time to time, whenever he perceived her pausing. She could sense his unrest, his worry, but she felt in her bones that they would make it, that she would find the right site.

 

They were close; she could feel it in her bones.

 

Although she could not understand it consciously, they were on their way to where she opened her eyes for the very first time; a thrive in her blood, bringing her back, full circle. At the crest of the snow-covered hill, she looked down in the valley, the reddish stone of a walled fortress standing stoic.

 

When they finally reached the right spot by the riverbank, protected by trees and shrubs, he led her to lie down, to rest from the long trip, where they saw the moon turn full three times, the last one being that very night.

 

She finally lay down in the spot he had gotten ready for her.

 

This was the right place.

 

She closed her eyes and darkness enveloped her, it was alright, she was home, and it was her turn to rest.

 

Leagues away from there, Arya Stark opened her true eyes in the camp they had made to rest for a night, with a certainty she never had before, coming from slumber to wakefulness.

 

She was here.


 

Three days later the Stark siblings, along with Tormund and the Queensguard, stopped for a night at Castle Black, the stronghold just a shadow of its past self. No one lived there anymore despite Jon's sentence of exile. Nonetheless, the building remained, and it offered shelter.

 

The rest of their convoy took the rangers and stewards quarters, while the siblings took the Lord Commander's Tower. Once they had a fire going in the tower solar, the three Starks gathered around the table, having changed out of their wilding furs, with Ghost resting in front of the fire.

 

"Is that a new sword?" Jon asked Arya, having noticed as she had taken the scabbard from her belt and placed it on the table, that the shape of her weapon was bigger than the one he had given her.

 

"Yes, and no," Arya replied, pulling the sword from its sheath and handing it to her brother, who took it and studied the hues that reflected in the light from the fire.

 

"Gendry made this?" Jon inquired, looking up.

 

"Reforged it," a lump on her throat making it difficult to say what she wanted to say, "he learned how to reforge Valyrian steel from his master."

 

"Ice," Sansa's voice pulled both sets of eyes to hers, which were brimming with tears.

 

Jon could not have known it, for he was not there that day, but the look between his sisters took them back to the Great Sept of Baelor, for the first time acknowledging that they both saw their father executed with his own Valyrian steel sword.

 

Jon watched as tears spilled out of his sisters' eyes, and his chest felt tight.

 

"Tywin had Ice melted" Sansa continued, wiping tears from her snowy cheek, "and had it reforged into two swords, one went to Joffrey and the other to Ser Jaime."

 

"Ser Jaime gave Brienne his sword, Oathkeeper, and he kept Joffrey's. His sword was found in the ruins of King's Landing, along with his body and Cersei's. Tyrion gave it to Gendry, to set the theft to rights," Arya recounted.

 

"Widow's wail," Sansa revealed, the bitter hatred unmistakable in her voice.

 

"Gendry did a fine job with it," Jon added, looking down and running his fingers over the blade that used to belong to his father.

 

"I should have asked you both. We could decide what to do with it," Arya said, suddenly aware that she had accepted the sword without consulting any of her siblings.

 

"No," Jon quickly added, "you should wield it."

 

"Jon's right," Sansa agreed, "tell me you renamed it, that name always made me sick to my stomach."

 

There was no question to whose wail it referred.

 

"Ice Storm," Arya replied, looking down, knowing what its name disclosed of her heart's affections.

 

"A fitting name," her brother declared.


 

After arriving at Winterfell and settling down following their long journey, Arya made her way to the stables to venture out of the keep. She made sure to avoid her siblings, not ready to share her quest with them yet.

 

She had a vague idea of where to go, going only by what she remembered from years before, and what she had seen the last night she had walked in the borrowed skin.

 

Arya tied her horse at a safe distance and walked the rest, crossing the shallow river and retracing the steps she took in her dreams. A deep growl informed her she was in the right place, and moving back the branches of the willow tree that canopied the space, she found them.

 

Arya took cautious steps until her extended hand was inches away from Nymeria's snout. Her mate, ebony in color and as big as her, guarded the resting direwolf, eyeing Arya with skepticism. Once her hand almost touched her, Nymeria's mate moved abruptly, baring his fangs, but the grey direwolf nudged him with her own head.

 

He closed his muzzle then, and let Arya finally reach her friend.

 

Nymeria took in the scent from her hand and gave it a lick.

 

"So, this is what you've been doing, girl," she spoke, as she kneeled next to the direwolf, and petted the distended body carefully.

 

"I missed you."

 


 

Barely a few days after arriving at their home, they got news that the royal convoy had been spotted. Arya ran despite Sansa telling her that they had plenty of time. Jon looked at her with both favorite-brother jealousy and amusement at seeing an Arya he had not met since before he left to join the Night's Watch, placing a skinny sword on her hand.

 

A short time later, when the three siblings, along with Tormund and Ghost, lined up waiting for the riders to arrive, Jon couldn't stop recalling the last time he had been there, Sansa and Bran waiting to greet him.

 

It was not lost on him that Arya hadn't been bothered to line up for the protocol of greeting a royal guest when Jon had been the one arriving, and instead, now that it was Gendry, she awaited impatiently, with nervous energy preventing her from staying still.

 

The minute Gendry saw Arya in line with her siblings, he kicked his horse to gallop, unable to wait one second longer. He didn't even wait for it to stop entirely, and instead, he kicked his right foot around and hopped off form his stead.

 

Not being a particularly talented rider meant that he was risking falling off on his arse, to his shame and the snicker of others, but he wagered nevertheless. Thankfully, both of his feet made it to the ground, if not impressively, at least with enough grace that he was prepared when Arya ran to him, disregarding her sister's reminders of propriety. He swept her in his arms mid-jump, with his right hand finding her lower back and tugging, until she was flush against him, and their lips engaged in a passion-filled kiss.

 

They only parted at hearing Tormund's deep laughter and Jon clearing his throat.

 

"Are you done snogging my sister, your grace?" Jon questioned, with only a hint of a grin.

 

Arya smirked unapologetically, while a blushing Gendry walked to where Sansa was standing, their hands still intertwined.

 

"Gendry," Sansa was quick to intervene, "Winterfell is yours," punctuating the sentiment with a small nod.

 

"Sansa, thank you for welcoming me into your home once more," Gendry responded, his head bowing slightly.

 

"It's my home too, you know?" Arya reminded him, already bored with the formalities.

 

"But you don't live here, sister," the queen retorted.

 

Gendry then turned to the man he had called his friend upon meeting him for the first time, "Jon, it's so nice to see you," he said, offering him his hand.

 

"Gendry," Jon addressed him, as he took his hand and pulled him into a hug, prompting Arya to let go.

 

In the meantime, Tyrion greeted Sansa, and Brienne kneeled to the queen.

 

Once Jon and Gendry had released one another, Tormund was quick to hug him, "Tell me that this kingdom horseshit has not stopped you from making weapons, because if it has, this shithole of a world has lost a mighty fine smith and earned itself another useless king."

 

"He smiths still, Tormund," Arya promptly intervened, "but only for me. And don't go getting ideas, I've already told you I'll fight you."

 

Tormund then turned from Arya back to Gendry, and chuckling as he patted his back, he said, "you lucky bastard."

 

"That I know."

 

"Sorry to interrupt, but we have things to do," Arya said, taking Gendry's hand in hers and pulling him towards the keep.

 

"Arya," Gendry protested, embarrassed in front of her family.

 

"Do you have any decency?" Sansa asked her when she saw that her sister was dragging the king to the tower that housed the family's chambers.

 

"No, but you already knew that," Arya replied without turning to face her sister.

 

Jon laughed, "You owe me a conversation, your grace."

 

"Piss off, Jon," Arya addressed her brother.

 

"He still does," Jon replied, unconcerned, "once you are done with him," was all that they both heard, along with Tormund's chuckle.


 

"Where are we going?" He asked as he was dragged along hallways he had never seen before.

 

"My chamber."

 

"Never been."

 

"And whose fault is that?" She asked, stopping and turning to face him, having reached their destination.

 

"So this is your chamber?" He asked once Arya ushered him inside and barred the door.

 

"Aye."

 

"The place where you slept, before, when you were little?" He asked in awe, trying to imagine the dirty little boy she had been within those walls.

 

"Yes, Sansa gave it back to me when I first arrived."

 

"It's large."

 

"It's quite small compared to Sansa's. She sleeps in my mother's chambers."

 

"I just realized I have never been to your chambers. Not just this one. I haven't seen your room in King's Landing. Do you even have a room in King's Landing?"

 

"I do, stupid," she replied in the way he had expected, but then said something he had not, "it's the royal chambers," she replied with a smile.

 

"Yeah?" He asked then, pulling her back to him, having to look down because of their height difference. He had missed the intimacy of sharing conversations with the woman he loved in his arms.

 

"Yeah."

 

"I mean it, when we go back, you'll go back with me, right?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Will you move your things to my chambers?"

 

"I think so."

 

The kiss that they shared was different from the one out in the courtyard in front of everyone. This one being languid instead of desperate.

 

He was so lost in the kiss that he missed her unlacing his doublet, only noticing when she was pulling it off from him. Without breaking the kiss, her hand fisted the fabric of his tunic, pulling it off from his breeches, and finding a way to sneak under, settling on his taut abdomen.

 

The touch soon started a fire within him, but he still had the presence of mind to think about the poor state of himself, after his long journey.

 

"Arya," he beckoned her, pulling her hand from under his clothes.

 

"What?" She asked, opening her eyes and seeing his apologetic smile.

 

"I need to wash," Gendry confessed.

 

"You are fine," she replied, snaking her hand past his jaw and hooking it on his nape, and pulling him down back to her mouth.

 

He pulled away once more.

 

"I've been riding the past week straight, with barely any time to do anything besides sleep and piss, just to get to you," he explained.

 

"Well, right now, you don't seem too eager to be with me," she pointed out.

 

"I am," grimacing he said, "I just smell."

 

"You're perfect," she declared, "and I smell too. I went riding earlier."

 

Gendry saw her then, taking her boots off, along with her layers, until she was wearing only her grey tunic, prompting him to wonder what he would find underneath it.

 

He took the opportunity to take his boots off as well.

 

"Why are you complaining so much? Don't you want this?" She asked once more reaching for him, this time, he let her take off his tunic, and saw her reach for the laces of his breeches, to continue disrobing him.

 

"You sure you don't mind? I'm quite ripe over here," Gendry asked as he pulled her to him by her hip. As his hand slid up and down the swell, he could tell she was bare under her tunic.

 

To prove a point, she buried her face on the right side of his chest and inhaled deeply. His scent was rich in musk and sweat, but at its base was pure Gendry. Arya knew the smell, whether it was buried in sweat, soot and dirt; or the clean smell of soap when he was freshly bathed. Gendry's smell reminded Arya of the smell of steel and the woods, a scent that spoke to her of his strength and bullheadedness.

 

Since she had started sleeping next to him in the king's road, his scent had been imprinted on her mind; a smell different from Hot Pie's and Lommy's, and different too from each one of her brothers' and Theon's. Gendry's scent was the smell of the forge, and freshly chopped logs, and the smell of a fire, of the steam made by a hot blade when tempered in oil.

 

Arya knew that she would have lain with Gendry right after the Battle of the Dawn, if only they had found the time and place, both covered in blood, and brains, and guts, from both the dead and the living.

 

She would have loved him despite the muck that covered their bodies.

 

"I want you like this, but if you are not as desperate about having me, as I am about having you, I can ask for a bath, to be drawn for the king," she asked, daring him with the rise of an eyebrow.

 

His only response was to reach for the half-laced tunic and rip it off from her body.

 

His impulsiveness made her grin.

 

"What a wasteful man you have become, now that you have gotten used to the finer things in life," she said, wrapping her arms around his neck.

 

"No," he corrected her, "I have gotten used to having the affections of a beautiful woman," as he embraced her, his lips finding hers once more.

 

His hands then slid from her waist down to her bottom and scooped her, her legs quickly circling his torso. He walked them both towards the bed, depositing her on her back without breaking the kiss. He climbed on the bed on hands and knees, hovering over her, to avoid saddling her with his weight.

 

He sat back on his legs and peeled the remains of the tunic from her body, leaving her completely nude. She used her leg to brush his side, the one that now sported a silvery scar of the lick of a Dornish blade, and she twisted it around to follow the curve of his muscular arse with her foot.

 

Her movement made her groin brush against him, making him painfully aware of her moist warmth, and prompting him to seek her mouth, lowering his body to rest on his forearms. Arya could feel the hair of his chest brushing against her nipples, and made sure to slither against him, maximizing the contact all the nodes of sensation on their flesh.

 

She wanted his scent on her.

 

She wanted her scent on him.

 

The feeling distracted him from her mouth and made him bury his face on the crook of her neck, inhaling deeply the scent that was purely Arya, she smelled of the white flowers that bloomed only at night in the balmy nights of the Riverlands and the smell of freshly rained earth. Her scent, the aroma of lush woods of the North and the fragrance of the ripened peaches of Dorne.

 

It drove him wild to love her fresh from the training yard, discovering the scent of her confidence and fearlessness, the perfume of a woman unashamed about getting mud on her face.

 

All her restless movement, that sought to make sure every inch of their bodies would rub together, had managed to line up his hardness with her sheath. An involuntary jerk of his hips had him dipping slightly in her folds, eliciting a low growl out of his chest. Gendry hated how eager he was without having touched her properly yet. He had to still himself for a moment, pushing off on his palms, and resting his forehead on her heaving chest to give himself a moment.

 

He felt her giggling under him.

 

"Give me a second, woman," he begged her.

 

"Is that what I am now? Just a woman?"

 

Gendry sat back and scooped her up until she was sitting on his lap, with her legs wrapped around him.

 

"Not just a woman, the one I love," he explained, covering her clavicle with kisses.

 

"Yours?"

 

"Do you want to be mine?" Gendry asked, pulling back to see her face.

 

At his question, she lifted herself enough to line their bodies again, and slowly lowered herself taking him within her as she went.

 

"Mine," she claimed him, as she closed her eyes.

 

As she found her rhythm, he brought his right hand in between them, to caress her little nub with his thumb, and rub it slowly with circular motions. Arya knew well enough the texture of his fingers, the roughness that smithing had sculpted on their pads. The contact ignited her in a way her own soft fingers could not, in all those nights she spent touching herself thinking of him.

 

She was kissing his strong square jaw; her nose and mouth searching for something on his neck and behind his ears, taking the almost nonexistent earlobe into her mouth.

 

While she nuzzled him slowly, one of his hands reached for the coiled braid that was pinned on the back of her head and pulled on the pin that held it together, taking along the small string of leather that tied the braid. Once both items were lost, his hand combed her hair, setting free, and making it wild, releasing the woodsy smell of her hair that drove him mad.

 

The feeling of his fingers massaging her scalp enticed her further, and she picked up the pace.

 

"Mine," she said again, straining her legs to gather more purchase, increasing her speed.

 

"Yours," he reiterated, moving himself to add power to their coupling, bringing back his hand to join his other one on her rump, using them to help her move.

 

Soon they both needed more, and he moved forward, pinning her against her featherbed.

 

Arya felt overwhelmed by feeling, opening her eyes, she saw the intensity in his dark eyes and his half-open lips. She couldn't know what her face looked like then, but she imagined it mirrored his. He must have liked what he saw, for his eyes softened, and his lips curled into a smile.

 

Something tugged her inside, and imperative that sucked the air from her lungs and prompted her to speak.

 

"I love you," her words caught him unprepared, and he looked at her unsure of the words she had said.

 

"I love you," she repeated, and the words slowly started making sense to him.

 

"I love you," and he picked up the rhythm and the intensity of his thrusts.

 

"I love you," she sighed one last time before he captured her mouth in a kiss, and made her fall off the edge, him following soon after.


 

The low sound of his chuckling pulled her back to the world, and soon, she was laughing with him.

 

"We still got it," he said, turning to face her.

 

"We do," she agreed, looking over her shoulder, a lock of her hair falling over her eyes. Gendry reached to push the hair back, his hand lingering over her cheek, brushing her skin with his thumb.

 

After a deep sigh, she stood up and looked for the clothes that laid on the floor.

 

"Stop that, come back to bed with me," he called her.

 

"We have to go," Arya explained.

 

"Go where?" He asked as he sat up.

 

"I need to show you something," she explained, as she pulled a new tunic from her trunk to replace the torn one.

 

"Can't it wait? I just arrived from a long journey."

 

The annoyance in her face was evident, as she pulled her breeches over her legs.

 

"Come on, get dressed," she repeated.

 

He got off the bed begrudgingly and started putting his breeches on.

 

"You are not taking me to Jon, right? I can't go meet him reeking of just having fucked his sister," he warned.

 

"No, we're not going to Jon," she explained as she threw his tunic at him.

 


 

Once they reached the stables, he realized they were meant to go outside the keep.

 

"Riding? I did mention I've been riding non-stop, right?"

 

"You did, quit complaining."

 

"Arry, my arse is sore. And I'm sweaty and sticky, and I smell. I need a bath."

 

"Again with this horseshit. You are fine, your arse is fine, I'll kiss it better later if need be, and I promise I'll take you to the hot springs, but just come with me. This is important. You don't want to miss it."

 

The intensity in her eyes was all it took to convince him.

 

After a short ride, they reached the top of a hill and Arya instructed him to dismount and tie their horses together around a tree.

 

"We're almost there. Careful when you walk, try to be graceful," she warned him.

 

"I am feeling so undervalued right now," he jested.

 

Arya ignored him, and brought them to a densely vegetated area, by a weeping willow tree.

 

"We're here."

 

"Where?" He asked, not seeing anything of outstanding around.

 

"Don't make any sudden movements, get behind me. There is someone I want to introduce you to."

 

"What are you-" he started to ask as she pulled back a curtain of green to reveal two enormous beasts.

 

"Are those-?" he tried to question, but words failed him.

 

"Yes, this is Nymeria."

 

"Your direwolf?"

 

The grey-furred direwolf was lying on her side, while another black direwolf sat next to her.

 

"Yes," Arya replied as she got near, pulling Gendry behind her by the hand.

 

The black direwolf got up abruptly as they got closer.

 

"It's fine, you know me," Arya spoke to the beast, as she extended her hand to let him inhale her scent. Once the large male recognized her, he sat back on his hind legs once more, allowing Arya to kneel next to his mate.

 

"Hi Nymeria, how are you doing?" Arya asked, letting her smell her and petting her behind her ears.

 

"Come," she called for Genry behind her, "let her smell you."

 

Gendry kneeled and repeated the same motion. He noticed Arya rubbing the distended belly of the direwolf.

 

"Is she with pups?" He asked.

 

"Yes, and that's her mate," Arya explained.

 

"She's majestic," He declared with sincerity, as Nymeria moved her head under his hand to signal for him to pet her.

 

"She likes you," Arya said with a wide smile, "I wasn't sure they'd accept you."

 

"So they could have thought you were bringing them supper?" He asked with worry.

 

"I needed to make sure they could smell our joint scents, so they'd know you are mine. He only accepted me because of Nym."

 

"Is this why you didn't want me to wash?"

 

"It worked," Arya replied with evident pride.

 

"I feel used. And here I thought that you had missed me."

 

"I did want you that desperately, stupid," she said, cradling his face, "the convenient part was not letting you bathe before or after."

 

He looked back to the direwolves, Nymeria's mate, nuzzling her side, where the movement of their pups caused ripples on the grey fur.

 

"They know I'm yours?" He asked, turning back to Arya.

 

"And I yours," she assented.

 

He couldn't stop himself from kissing her there.

 

After running her hand over Nymeria's fur a bit more, they slowly retreated, leaving the direwolves and walking towards where they had left the horses.

 

"That was your direwolf," He said, embracing her before she could mount her steed.

 

"Yes," she replied with pride.

 

"And that was her mate?" He asked, moving his head towards the place where the direwolves had built their den.

 

"Yes," Arya responded a bit warily, figuring out where his questioning was going.

 

"And she is carrying his pups," he asked, getting her closer, so their faces were just inches apart.

 

"Yes."

 

"And when you dream, you are her," he explained as if making sense of it all.

 

She only nodded, which made his face break into a wide grin.

 

Sensing what he was implying she pushed him away and mounted her horse.

 

As he got on his, she quickly added, "I'm not carrying your babe if that is what you are wondering."

 

"Not yet," he said, fully aware of his boldness, making her blush deeply.

 

Having caught her in such a human reaction made his chest fill with pride, and annoying her further, he winked and kicked his horse to a gallop.


 

Once they were back at the keep, they reached the south gate and stabled the horses.

 

Just as when he had just arrived, she had held his hand, and led him through the central courtyard, briefly stopping once they came at the entrance to the guest house. Arya spoke with a servant girl and asked her for a few things to be brought from her chambers, where he learned, his traveling trunks had been delivered.

 

They crossed through the guest house into the godswood, he had seen this place only once, back at the end of the battle, when suddenly the dead had plummeted where they stood, and he had turned to see Tormund, next to him, with the same bewildered eyes. A minute later, when the fog in his brain had cleared, and he was convinced that they would rise no more, he jumped from the pile of bodies and ran, looking for her.

 

When he finally came to the entrance of the Starks' sacred woods, he'd seen her body limp in Jon's arms, and her younger brother staring in silence.

 

His knees had buckled right then, and while his voice faltered to yell her name, he heard it, shrill in the voice of her sister, as she ran past him towards her siblings.

 

He felt bereft, and yet, an intruder without a right to mourn.

 

Her sister's scream had made Jon turn, and the once limp body in his arms moved, pushing gently, making her brother set her down on her feet.

 

There was no relief like what he felt then, and slowly, before anyone else could fault him for intruding in the scene he had witnessed, he walked away.

 

She had come to find him later, and in the privacy of the forge, they had kissed, both relieved at finding they had survived the long night.

 

Coming back from his memory, he was once more in front of the same godswood, and for the first time, he looked at the tall trees that stood close together, and the magnificent red-leafed one at the center.

 

There were three pools in front of them; Arya pulled his hand and led him down a rocky entrance that led to a cave underground. It was not dissimilar to the access to the crypts, but it was less developed: there were no chiseled stone steps leading down, but the natural formation of the cave and the makeshift steps that he imagined had been formed by hundreds of years of Starks stepping down.

 

The underground hot spring was magnificent, while the pool by the heart tree seemed black and cold, the water in the spring was clear and turquoise, illuminated only by the sunlight that filtered through the rock entrance, several feet above where they now stood. Arya walked to the rock wall on the left, where a torch hung. Next, there was a small ledge with a piece of flint, which Arya used to spark a flame and give a bit more light to that darkness of the cave.

 

"I promised you I'd bring you here," she said as she began taking her cloak off and unlacing her quilted doublet.

 

A smile crept on his lips, remembering another time, in that same castle, when she started disrobing as if putting on a display for him. Noticing that he was enthralled observing her, she rolled her eyes.

 

"You said you were in dire need of a bath, stupid. I brought you here to have the best one in your life. Are you going to just stand there and watch me undress?"

 

Her words broke his trance and brought several wanton scenarios to mind. It pleased him to see that unlike their first night in the storage room, she had lost that self-consciousness of being nude in his presence. He remembered the extra time she had taken to take off her tunic and lower her breeches. While he missed that blush of the first night, and those early times in King's Landing as well, his heart swelled at realizing the normalcy of their union.

 

He reached and held her to him as he kissed her, her naked flesh against his black Baratheon doublet, the one with the fur-lined gashes on the shoulders, the same one he had commissioned in a desperate attempt at showing where his loyalties lay. The boiled leather clothing was cold from their ride and made her nipples pucker — the feeling of his still clothed torso against her bare one stirring things inside of her.

 

"As nice as this feels, the girl is bringing us fresh clothes and towels, I do not think that at her young age her impression of the King of the Six Kingdoms should be seeing him bending me over here in the open."

 

"You weren't so worried about being found when you fucked me in this very castle out in the open," he brazenly noted.

 

"We were about to die," she pointed out.

 

"When have we not been at risk of certain death?" He jested.

 

"It will be something nice to get used to."

 

"What is that?"

 

"Being together and living, instead of always escaping death."


 

They had finished disrobing and found their way to the hot water, just in time as the servant girl had come and left the fresh linens and clothes on a neatly folded pile on the side. Arya had been quick to tell the girl to inform the rest of the staff that they would require their privacy.

 

Gendry avoided looking at the girl, still unused to ordering others, in particular when it pertained to the activities in which they were sure to engage. He silently prayed that her brother wouldn't hear of it, for even if their stations in life had been reversed, Jon was still the brother of the woman he took, just as he would have taken a wife, without the sanctity nor the social commitments of marriage.

 

Arya sat behind Gendry, washing the expanse of his back, muscled and taut from hitting the anvil with all his might. She hadn't taken the time to study it in the past, always covered in sweat and soot. A dusting of freckles born out of working barebacked under the sun splayed before her, constellations to trace with her fingers and reveal its hidden beasts: an auroch, a raven, a griffin, a direwolf, a stag, a bull.

 

"So, what is this about me not being allowed to sleep in a bed that is not yours, your grace?" She asked, making sure to pinch the skin on his side, just above where her legs wrapped around him, sitting on a ledge.

 

"I know I shouldn't have written that," he admitted sheepishly, "in my defense, I said the same thing about me. But I did not imply that I get to decide what you are allowed to do, ever."

 

At his words, she moved around to sit on his lap under the water so that she could talk to him face to face.

 

"I appreciate the sentiment, but don't go around thinking you can tell me what I am allowed to do."

 

"Never," Gendry promised, with a quick peck to her nose.

 

"Good."

 

"Though you are completely welcomed to tell me what I am allowed to do or not. Not that you ever needed permission for that anyways," Gendry said with a grin, making Arya laugh.

 

She ran her fingers over his face, taking time to follow the deep lines around his eyes.

 

"Have you ever looked this old? Or you aged badly during the three moons we were apart?"

 

"The gall you have speaking to your king!"

 

"You are not my king. I am a Northerner."

 

"True, but I am still yours. And to answer your rude question, I am not that old. I reckon I should be about your brother's age. Same age difference there has always been between us. You didn't seem to have a problem with that in Dorne."

 

"Just pointing out the lines here," she said, rubbing the lines with her thumb.

 

"Well, they are all your fault."

 

"How?"

 

"I got those from laughing, and I only laugh when I'm with you."

 

"You are charming, Baratheon. Ever fucked in a hot spring?" Arya asked, getting closer to him and wrapping her arms around his neck.

 

"Can't say I have, but should we do this here?" He asked with a bit of worry.

 

"I'm sure I'm not the first Stark to fuck in this spring."

 

"Is that so?"

 

"Yes, but I am pretty sure you will be the first Baratheon."

 

"How did I ever get this lucky?" He asked, looking at her intently with eyes that matched the spring water.

 

"You decided to protect a scrawny dirty boy by threatening to hit his bullies with your hammer," she replied before capturing his lips. 

Chapter Text

The first time Gendry came to Winterfell had been a surreal experience. He was given a white horse and proper Northern clothes, nothing fancy, but of far better quality than anything he had ever owned. He felt like in a mummer's farce, with the fur-lined cloak strapped across his chest. Gendry convinced himself that his unrest was due to his lacking horseback riding skills, but deep down he had to accept that it was the dread of seeing the home to where she had fought so hard to return.

Gendry felt like an impostor, marching behind the King in the North and the Dragon Queen as if someone of importance. The truth was that his heart ached, looking at the rounded towers of the castle ahead, knowing that the only person to ever give a damn about him had begged for him to come with her years before, and only now he had finally arrived, while she was gone.

His thoughts kept him from looking at the people lining to see the procession, and it wasn't until one of their first nights together in King's Landing, that Arya told him, as she lay in his arms, that she had seen him while she was among the crowd.

The second time he arrived at Winterfell, Gendry had also ignored the villagers waiting to see him because he had refused the steady pace, and instead, he had his steed gallop full speed, eager to have her in his arms once more.

But back when he was just a blacksmith, he had only ambled in the public spaces of the keep: the courtyard, the great hall, the stables, the kitchens, the forge, and the storage room. However this time, from the moment Arya had led him to her chamber, he had been allowed to an inner sanctum, the place that belonged only to the Starks, the wing that housed their private quarters and their solars, rooms that held memories of Arya and her siblings, along with hundreds of years of their ancestors.

That evening, after coming back to her chambers from the hot spring under Winterfell, he had finally had the chance to rest, and Arya had taken the time to plait her hair, now far longer than anything else he had seen, into her traditional Northern braid. A page had knocked on the door sometime later, and Arya had received her sister's summons, to join them for supper in her solar.

Finding only Arya's siblings sitting around the table, and Ghost keeping guard, seemed unusual. While Arya was sure Sansa would spare them the feast for their first night back together, they had expected at least to find Tyrion Lannister sharing the meal with them.

"Where is everybody else?" Arya asked.

"I decided it should be just family tonight," Sansa explained, prompting Gendry to let go of his lover's hand.

"I'm sorry, I should look for Tyrion and Brienne," he started to say when, as if on queue, both the Queen in the North and his Master of War yelled.

"Sit down."

"Sit down, stupid!"

Gendry quickly obeyed, sitting to Jon's right, who leaned in and whispered, "you'll get used to it," with an apologetical smile.

"It's a shame that Bran is not here," Sansa pointed out as she signaled for the meal to be brought to them, "this castle has been entirely too lonely. I dream of a time that it houses all the Starks once more."

"Isn't he, though?" Arya asked, tilting her head to the window, where a raven could be seen, perched on the windowsill.

"I wouldn't put it past him," Sansa conceded.

"When are we doing it?" Arya impatiently asked while she poured wine in her and Gendry's goblets.

Gendry looked into Jon and Sansa's faces as they seemed to understand what Arya was referring to, which he still ignored.

"What?" He asked.

"Jon's pardon," she explained, prompting Gendry to nod.

"I don't think it is that easy Arya," Jon added.

"We'll have a ceremony in a week or so, to give ample time to all Northern lords and ladies to arrive and witness the North granting the pardon, but," Sansa said, leaving her sentence incomplete.

"But?" Jon asked.

Gendry suddenly understood what Sansa was referring to, although unsure of how to break it to her brother, and so he voiced it.

"But the pardon from the Six Kingdom's should be given in King's Landing."

"No," Jon sputtered, shaking his head.

"What do you mean no?" Arya asked bewildered.

"I will not go to King's Landing," he warned.

"You have to. If not, there will be a doubt on the legitimacy of the pardon," Sansa explained.

"We have nothing to hide; it needs to be done. Please, Jon," Arya pleaded.

Jon's face betrayed his emotions, his eyes contorted, cast down, and his head shaking until he looked up to his sisters' pleading ones and finally consented.

"Fine."

Servants brought then a simple meal, and the four of them ate in silence, with Jon slipping scraps to his loyal direwolf under the table. Once finished with her meal, Queen Sansa took the white linen napkin and dabbed the corner of her mouth before speaking, "since we are already waiting a week, we could have a cloaking ceremony before you go back to King's Landing," she explained as a servant girl took the plates away, and a boy refilled the goblets.

Gendry hadn't caught the reference to the ceremony Sansa was referring to, but if he didn't know it, he quickly learned it, for Arya's visceral response.

"No," she told her sister with an icy tone.

"I'm sure I could repurpose something," she continued ignoring her, "get you both proper cloaks with your house sigils."

"I said no, Sansa!"

"I just don't understand why you are against the idea," the Queen in the North insisted.

Gendry felt uncomfortable at being a bystander to an issue that involved him so intimately, more so when he noticed Jon's uneasiness, trying hard to concentrate on Ghost instead of the argument.

"We won't marry just because you find it convenient," Arya countered.

"You think this is convenient?! This union of yours is anything but convenient! It would have been convenient when he asked you over a year ago in this very castle! It would have been convenient if you announced it at the dragon pit! Fuck!"

The profanity made both men, but not Arya, jerk, unaccustomed to hearing Sansa Stark swear, "it would have been bloody convenient if it had happened before crude songs about your relationship reached every corner of two different kingdoms!"

Arya stood up then, "Seven hells! Why is it so bloody important that I marry? If you are so desperate for a wedding, why don't you marry?"

That had been a low blow, and despite it having reached its target, the Queen in the North had long ago learned how to keep it from her face.

"You are well aware that I've done my duty. I married!" Sansa yelled, standing up.

"And look at what you had to endure! I would think you'd be the first one to understand!"

"That is precisely it! I married out of duty, I would not make you go through it against your will, but why would you be against marrying someone with whom you are clearly in love? Better yet, you don't seem to have a problem with the world knowing about it!"

"It is not your decision to make, Sansa!"

"And it is only half yours. Have you asked Gendry what he wants?" She asked, pointing towards the man in question.

"I am here and can speak for myself," he added.

"Stay out of this!" Arya yelled.

Jon was quick to get Gendry's attention, "Now, these are the sisters I remember. Let's go," he signaled, patting his back with his hand and standing up.

"But they are arguing about our future, my future," he pointed out, though he stood up.

"It may seem like it is about you, but this has nothing to do with you right now, trust me," their brother explained.

Jon and Gendry were down the corridor when Jon mentioned that they should have grabbed the wine, and Gendry offered to go back. As he approached the open door, he was able to hear Arya and her sister still quarreling.

"Think of the risks!"

"To the North? To House Stark?"

"No, to you, you could get with child, what would that child be? What name would it have? Ask Jon and Gendry what they think of the life of a bastard!"

"There is moon tea. I take moon tea, and it hasn't happened."

"It's not what you told me in King's Landing," her sister had said icily.

Gendry was sure Arya's sister was wrong, but then Arya had spoken.

"That is what you chose to remember?"

He suddenly felt dizzy, despite having drunk only one goblet of wine. He decided against coming in and grabbing the wine bottle, and instead, choosing to leave empty-handed.

When Jon saw Gendry walking towards him empty-handed and with a bewildered look on his face, he questioned him.

"And the wine?"

"Ah, they were arguing, I decided against it."

"They can be scary. It's fine, we could have someone bring us ale instead," Jon said as he walked with Gendry to the library, and they arranged two chairs around the fire.


 

They sat down in silence, and Ghost, down at Jon's feet, glared at Gendry. He took the time to observe the direwolf and compare it to Nymeria and her mate. They were of similar size, Ghost just slightly smaller, he remembered Arya had told him that he was the runt of the litter. The direwolf kept eyeing him cautiously, and Gendry wondered if he shared a bond with his wolf sister and if he could see, through his red eyes, how he had met Nymeria that very day and had been claimed by Arya as hers.

Once Ghost was satisfied, he lowered his body down, deciding to sleep in front of the fire.

Gendry had then turned to Arya's brother, who looked intently at the flames as if searching for something lost long ago. Gendry had always been suspicious of those who worshipped the Lord of Light, even if he had witnessed with his own eyes, and at the cost of his blood, the magic that its acolytes found in the fires. He wondered if Jon could see something in the flames, but for him, there had never been anything there.

After a short while of drinking idly by the fire, Gendry had finally cleared his throat and turned to face Jon, sensing that it was him who was meant to breach the subject.

"I owe you an apology."

Jon snorted and stayed silent for a bit, after that, without turning to face Gendry he asked, "what for? Not telling me you knew my sister when we first met or for bedding her right under my nose?" he then turned to face him for the last bit, squinting his left eye slightly.

Gendry gave him a nod, and rubbing his half-grown beard, responded, "the first one. I am not proud of what I have done, but Arya would have my head if she knew I apologized to her brother for the second."

The reply made Jon's lips curl almost imperceptibly. He nodded as he took a sip from his mug of ale.

"You do know my sister."

"She has called me stupid, and punched me enough times to get that one right," Gendry explained, as both men smiled lightly.

"I did dishonor your sister," he continued, "and while I cannot honestly tell you I would not do it again if I had the chance to turn back time, I'd understand if you need to punch me."

Jon seemed to consider it for a moment.

"I mean, I rather you didn't, but I'd understand. I have no sisters," he thought for a moment, "well, I certainly did with the whoremonger I had for a father. Quite a few, I reckon, but I never knew them, and I believe they are now all dead. In any case, I have no idea what it is to have a real sister, but I think I would have wanted to punch at least the fucker who dishonored mine."

Jon sighed.

Would he have punched him or worse, if he had come upon them wherever it was that they coupled before the Long Night?

'That was the other one,' he thought. The other Jon Snow that had enough turmoil in his head.

"Maybe if I had found out before, without any context," he replied, "but I didn't, I was quite preoccupied with other things. And now that I think about it, I should have seen it, the way you stared at her."

"You mean 'before' as in before when I was just a baseborn bastard?" Gendry asked, old insecurities rising to the surface.

"You know I was a bastard as well; I still am. I meant before everything that happened and before I got to talk to Arya up North."

Jon took a moment to think and continued.

"Was she the reason you joined my quest?"

"Yes," was Gendry's immediate response.

"I should have known when you introduced yourself that you were not joining me on a suicide mission because our fathers were friends," he replied with a knowing grin.

"No," Gendry accepted, and rubbing the back of his head, he continued "to be honest, king or not, I always hated the fucker that sired me, don't know what your lord father ever saw in him. But it gave me a reason to seek out the King in the North."

"Thought so."

"Before Arya and I separated," Gendry recounted, "when we were kids, she wanted me to smith for her brother, the King in the North."

"Robb," Jon added, looking back into the flames, hoping to see in them the easy smile lost so long ago.

"Aye. But I was a proud idiot, and I didn't. And when Davos told me about you, I knew I needed to join you, smith for you, and fight for the North, for anything that ever meant anything for her, even if it meant dying in the process. I was in her debt. And you were not the brother she intended, but you were her brother, her favorite one, no less."

"Why didn't you tell me you knew her when you met me?" Jon finally asked, turning back to him.

Gendry let out a deep sigh, unsure of the answer. It was not as if he had set himself to keep that secret, but out there, north of the Wall, the Hound, Thoros, Beric and himself had chosen not to mention her name to the brother who would have given his own life for hers.

Why had none of them mentioned her name?

Their reasons had died along with the three of them, leaving only him, Gendry, to explain that, although her name had not been spoken, she had been ever-present in his mind.

"Honestly, I thought her dead. And I was ashamed because if I had stayed with her, I could have protected her, or at least died trying. I guess a part of me felt that as long as I never heard you talk of her death, it could be as it had never happened."

It was not lost to Jon how Gendry swallowed a lump in his throat at the mention of Arya's death. He had also feared her dead and mourned her in his own way.

"Arya said Melisandre took you away."

The mention of the red woman's name always made old wounds smart.

"She did, but before she took me, I had already decided to stay with the brotherhood."

"Thoros and Beric?"

"Aye. But they sold me to her."

The long months of his exile had given Jon ample time to think. He was not as ignorant as Ygritte still enjoyed reminding him in his head, but in those years since he had been parted from his family, each one of his siblings had been frozen in time, captured in his mind as they were when he said goodbye. One by one, the three that came back to him, had been returned different, but the years in between had remained murky, unreal. In those long nights of the true north, he had wondered about their fates and tried to reconcile what he, Jon had been doing while they escaped death and endured pain.

It had been easier to think them dead at the time.

"Thank you," he said after a while.

"What for?"

"Protecting my sister."

"She was the one protecting me. We looked out for each other," Gendry said, looking ahead, past the fire and the old stones that formed the keep, to a time that did not exist anymore.

Jon wondered about the memories that inevitably were replaying in Gendry's mind, of an Arya that by then had ceased to be his little sister and turned into someone foreign to him, but so familiar to the man sitting to his right.

"Were you...?" He started asking but stopped unsure of how to continue.

"No!" Gendry was quick to answer, "never then. Arry was little. I never saw her like that back then. I know I must have developed some feelings at some point, but there were not like that," he explained.

"Arry?"

"That was what she called herself when she pretended to be a boy. Yoren cut her hair and told her not to let anyone know the truth. It wasn't safe for her to travel with the Night Watch recruits."

Jon knew that well. While he found honor among his brothers, he knew what crimes doomed men to the life of a crow.

"But you knew," Jon pointed out.

"Figured out soon enough. Promised her I would not tell her secret."

"Good. I am glad Arya found you then."

Gendry laughed at a memory only he knew.

"What's that about?" Jon asked, looking at the man shake his head.

"I've always been certain that what drew her to me was the fact that I was a bastard," he stated, and then turning to face him, he added, "I reminded her of you."

"Surely not anymore," Jon was swift to add.

Gendry blushed at the implication, and they both laughed out loud.

"Gods, I hope not."

Once their laughter died, Gendry took another sip from his drink.

"I shouldn't have exiled you," he said, placing the empty tankard on the floor.

"It was not in your hands."

"It was. It was my bloody name that signed the decree."

Jon did not regret, despite his sorrow, what he had done in the throne room. He had had time to think of all the other possible steps he could have taken in that very moment. He would never be proud of it, but he did not regret it. Not once his family was at risk.

He regretted quite a lot of what had happened before, though. All the words he could have said and the actions that he should have taken days and months before.

But not regretting the final decision did not mean he did not accept his fate. He had craved the sentence. Spending the rest of his life paying for the one he had taken was the only thing that appeased the damned sense of honor he had gotten from the man who had not sired him but had been the only father he had known.

"You needed to appease the Unsullied and the Dothraki. We could not afford to have them stay in Westeros."

"I've been wearing your crown," Gendry confessed.

"It was never meant to be mine."

"Nor mine, but I would give it to you in a heartbeat. Want to trade places?"

"Are you sure you want to go north of the wall again? I recall you were not so fond of freezing your balls off," Jon asked in jest.

"It was freezing, aye, but I reckon it may be a life Arya would rather have," Gendry explained, "she might even say yes this time."

"You did ask her then."

"I did. As soon as I was legitimized," Gendry said, looking away in embarrassment.

"No wonder why you were in a hurry. She said no?"

Gendry nodded. "She broke my heart but still kissed me. Hard to understand, your sister," he acknowledged with a shrug.

"Not going to lie, it is still hard reconciling the image of the little sister I left all those years ago with the one who is a skilled warrior and is your... whatever she is of you."

"She is the love of my life."

Jon felt envy of the man his sister had chosen. The same man he had been eager to call his friend, mayhaps in a transparent attempt to feel closer to his late father, by mimicking his affections. Jon envied the easiness with which Arya would come to Gendry's mind and heart when he spoke of love. Who would he think of if he was asked about the love of his life? Did he have any right to call Daenarys that when he was the one to kill her? Ygritte, when it was not his arrow that had snuffed her light, but he had still chosen to betray her?

"I loved Daenerys. I really did, but I did not try to know her better. Enough to give her what she needed, and avoid her feeling so utterly alone in this world. I will pay for my sins for the rest of my life, whether it is beyond the Wall, or here in the North or even in the South. No pardon is going to lift that from me.

"But there was another I loved before. She died as well, but not by my blade. I won't say I wouldn't rather have you both marry, for the sake of my sister, and for the sake of any possible children you two have. But I do understand because I so wish I had done things her way instead of mine."

"I don't want our children to be bastards," Gendry confessed.

"She doesn't understand that, does she? She never cared I was one. And I do believe she has always thought it means some kind of freedom from the constraints of the life she got."

"No, she does not know what it is like."

"No one does unless they have to live with the lot."

Gendry nodded, leaning in, resting his forearms on his knees.

"I know it was not the same," Jon added.

"What?"

"My lot in life, I had no mother, but I did have a father and was raised in his castle."

"I had a mother once," Gendry recounted, "I don't remember much of her from before she died, just that she had yellow hair, that she used to sing to me, and that she would swat my arse when I misbehaved."

"And here I thought I got it so much better than you," Jon added with a smile.

At that, both men laughed, with the promise that the hasty friendship they claimed to have when they first met, was indeed still a possibility.


 

After reaching an impasse, the Stark sisters had declared a truce and gone to Sansa's chamber along with a bottle of wine. They ended up lying across the bed, the one that had belonged to their mother, and where both their parents regularly slept, eschewing noble traditions.

They had only drunk half the bottle left forgotten on the table, as they got distracted by their conversation.

"How is it with you two?" Sansa asked, looking at the ceiling.

"What do you mean?"

She had hoped Arya would understand what she meant since Sansa didn't know how to phrase what she was inquiring about.

"I mean, is he? Are you? Is it any good?"

"Are you trying to ask me about our fucking?" Arya asked, turning to face her sister and propping her head on her right hand.

"Must you be always so crass?"

"You've always known I have no patience, and polite speaking takes too long when vulgar words go to the point," Arya explained with a shrug.

"Fine, your encounters, are they any good?" She finally asked, turning to her side.

"They are," Arya responded with honesty, "why in seven hells do you think I would agree to live in bloody King's Landing?"

Sansa laughed.

"So, not only it is not painful; you enjoy it."

Sansa's words pained her. While she knew her suffering came from the Bolton bastard, Arya hadn't given the time to imagine what she had had to endure.

"I'm sorry it was like that for you."

"I could have made it work you, know? I was not naive. I willingly married him to take back Winterfell. I've always known I'd marry for political reasons, even when I wanted to romanticize it. Mother certainly learned to love father."

"She really did, didn's she?" Arya agreed.

"I could have made it work with any other Northern lord, even if the bedding was not pleasant. Ramsey was something else entirely. He didn't hurt me because he was selfish in bed; it was something else entirely."

"I'm sorry. You don't have to say it if you don't want to."

"I may not want to, but I need to. Ramsey enjoyed my suffering, that was the bit that pleased him. The more I cried, the best for him. I learned how to keep my tears to myself."

When she was little, and she was 'Arya Horseface,' no matter how much she hated Jeyne and Sansa for the nickname, she could not think of anyone else more beautiful than her sister, except for their lady mother. The thought of her sister's husband torturing her for sport made her want him to be alive just so she could kill him again, as slowly as it was possible.

A new thought entered her mind, then. Not just about the injustice of what her sister had to endure, but the tragedy that was her sister never knowing what it was to feel the way Gendry made her feel.

"You deserve to know what it's like when it is pleasant, Sansa. Even more, you deserve to know what it is like to be loved," Arya said, taking her sister's hand in hers.

"How could I, after all of that? And then of course, how could I know someone would want me for me and not for my crown?"

"You don't need to marry to enjoy a man, or a woman, in your bed."

"You are seriously suggesting I follow your example, dear sister?" The Queen in the North asked, with the first smile Arya saw on her face in that entire evening.


 

Arya made it back to her chambers before Gendry and had enough time to disrobe and put on one of his clean tunics as a night shift. She waited for him, sitting in front of the fireplace in her room, over thick furs.

Gendry arrived not long after, and Arya turned back at the sound of the creaking wood.

"Hey," he said, coming into the room and closing the door.

"Hey yourself," she greeted him with a smile but stayed on her place by the fire.

He sat on the bed and took off his boots, then undressed until he was wearing only his breeches. Gendry then sat next to her by the fire, and she was quick to scan his exposed chest.

"I see that you have no wounds. I told you Jon wouldn't hurt you."

He smiled but remained silent, having had enough time in his walk back to ponder on the private conversation he had heard.

"Arya," he called her and took her hand in his.

"Yes?" She answered warily.

"Have you ever been with child?" He asked, the blue of his eyes shining in the flickering light.

"You know the answer to that," she replied, looking down to their joined hands.

"It is clear I do not if I heard your sister correctly."

"What did she tell you?" Arya asked, concerned.

"Nothing, she told you something earlier, when you were arguing, and I left with Jon."

"Were you eavesdropping?"

"No, I came back to fetch the wine, and I heard you. I decided not to interrupt, and I left empty-handed, but I heard enough."

Arya stayed silent, unsure of her answer.

"Arya," Gendry insisted, "did I ever get you with child?"

"I, just, I don't know."

"How could you not know?" He asked with only a trace of frustration.

"There was a moment, after the sacking. I barely made it out. I found a white mare wandering, and I rode my way out of there. I was out of it for days. After a while I started getting sick, I didn't know if it was from all the ashes and smoke I had inhaled, or something more. After a while, I started worrying and counting days. I thought I would have to go back to the camp and find a maester, but then, I started bleeding, and that was that."

When Gendry didn't say anything, Arya could feel the worry tightening in her stomach. She hadn't set herself to hide it from him since she could still not be sure, and the fact that there had not been anything to worry about at the end of the day. She probably wouldn't have thought twice back about it had Sansa not asked her about it when they first talked in King's Landing, and then again that very night.

"You should have told me. And I should have been there," Gendry finally spoke, as he turned his face to the flames.

"I didn't want you to hate me," she explained with a voice he seldom heard, mayhaps only in a cave, pleading with him to not abandon her.

"Why would I have hated you?" He asked, surprised, getting closer to her and placing his hands on her folded knees.

"Because if my fears were correct, had I not rejected you, I wouldn't have lost it," she replied, her eyes still cast down, "and now," she continued looking into his eyes, "you would have a wife and a child, and who knows, probably another one on the way, but instead I did what I did, and you didn't get to have your family."

Her large eyes were filled to the brim with tears, and he felt the same sorrow pulling inside his chest, the same way he had felt it in that cave. He pulled her to him and set her astride on his lap. He held her in place with his left hand on her back, his right cradling her face, and his thumb brushing away a tear.

"But you would hate me. If I had you trapped in Storm's End against your will, heavy with my babe and our child pulling at your skirts, you would hate me."

He wasn't crying, but he had to blink a few times.

Arya burrowed into his chest, feeling his arms circling her into a safe cocoon.

"Are you saying it was for the best?" She dared ask.

"No," he answered, looking down into her eyes, "but I want to know. If you ever think or fear again, I want to know. Do not keep something like that from me, even if you plan to drink the tea. I want to know if the possibility saddens, scares, or elates you. I want to know."

"I will, I'm sorry."

"It's my fault as well. If hadn't been licking my wounds and had gone to King's Landing with you, you wouldn't have had to go through that on your own," he said, sharing in her guilt.

"It's not like I made it easy."

"You didn't, but if I am there to create the possibility with you, then I have to be there for the fear as well," he made a pause before continuing, "or the hope. You would always get to choose, but please, don't cast me aside for that."


 

Later that night, as Arya slept in his arms, Gendry had trouble falling asleep. There was turmoil in his mind, and knowing her to be deep asleep, he let his hand venture and placed it on her lower abdomen, under her scars. It didn't matter if it had only been a worry, or if there had truly been a trace of him in there. The ghost of a possible world inside of her still haunted him.

He had to accept then that the same fears that had always plagued him lingered still in his mind.

 

Chapter Text

A chill woke Arya up as if slowly ascending from deep waters; her eyes opened to the blueish light right before daybreak. She felt the air cold air on her bare skin; the thick furs pulled to the side. 

“Fuck it’s cold!” Gendry’s voice made her turn to see him by the fireplace, naked as a babe, stoking the embers of the fire, trying to get it going once more. His hands a bit shaky from the chill, him shuffling from one foot to the other. Arya was not moved by his plight, too distracted by the taut muscles of his back in the twilight. Her sight was spilling over the lines of the broad shoulder blades, sliding down to the small of his back, taking the time to twirl around the two dimples just above his arse. She had missed the sight of the nude form of this man, who against everything she believed in, belonged to her.

“Bet you miss Dorne,” she spoke teasingly.

The sound of her voice beckoned him to turn as a smile bloomed on his lips. Gendry quickly walked back to the bed to join her, and lying down behind her, he dragged her back flush against his front and threw the furs back on the both of them. 

“I miss many things that happened in Dorne,” he whispered seductively into her nape, making her giggle against her will.

“Then you should have stayed in Dorne, and found yourself a Dornish lass.”

“No, I only miss the nights in Dorne, with my Northern woman sleeping on my bed.”

Arya turned to face him, her cold foot rubbing his leg making Gendry shiver.

“Seriously? This is not that cold. How did you ever survive north of the wall?”

“Ran a lot,” Gendry confessed.

Arya pushed herself to kiss him and gleamed as she pulled back. Gendry found himself thinking that the naked woman in his arms was not Arya Stark, but a grown version of Arry, with her smile untarnished, uninhibited by their shitty life. That woman in his arms almost looked like the daughter of an honorable lord, who loved her like he loved no other, and indulged her every unusual whim, despite his lady wife’s wishes. This imaginary woman was allowed to grow in the North, wearing breeches, and shooting arrows in the central courtyard of her father’s castle, messy braid blowing in the icy wind.

That woman wore Arry’s face, and she made Gendry think back of a little girl who pretended to be a boy, all covered in mud. But that little girl in his mind’s eye was not Arry, she was one he didn’t know: younger and smaller than Arry, wearing gowns in proud Stark colors, and her long hair braided lovingly by her mother’s hands.

The thought of that little girl made Gendry’s chest hurt. 

“There is one thing I do miss from Dorne,” He confessed, pushing her hair behind her ear.

“What is it?”

“The kids in the gardens,” he sighed, “I want that in King’s Landing.”

“Water gardens?”

“Not exactly that, but I want that sort of place, for kids to play together.”

“High and low?” Arya asked, already knowing the answer, the longing evident in his eyes, as blue as the Dornish sea.

“And bastards and orphans.”

Arya Stark’s childhood had ended at the age of nine, scythed in one blow as she stood in front of the Sept of Baelor, and yet, Gendry’s had been even shorter, not having lasted beyond his sixth nameday, forced to beg and then work for his keep. 

“A place where children can be children,” Arya offered, lying in his arms. Her left hand was caressing his face, a thumb brushing over the deep lines that framed his eyes, skin too rough for his barely five and twenty namedays, the consequence of a life of hard labor.

“And with a training yard, and a forge, and a kitchen as well, so girls and boys could come and learn to fight, and learn a trade if they wanted.”

“You’ve given it some thought,” she offered with a soft smile.

“Aye. Had many lonely nights to think about it,” Gendry explained, after a quick kiss to her lips, “already sent a raven to Davos telling him about it. Asked him to find me a place for it.”

“Do you think the nobles will like it?”

“I’m pretty sure they won’t, but I don’t care. If they are going to dethrone me, I want that to be my legacy,” Gendry explained, “our legacy.”

“Ours?” Arya questioned, her big eyes saying more than she could put into words.

“Aye. I want people to remember the bastard king, hundreds of years from now, and say that what he did was build that, with his fearless Northern woman by his side.”

‘Tomorrow,’ a woman’s voice whispered in her mind, demanding a promise that was quickly forgotten in the arms of her beloved.


A large group broke fast together in the Great Hall of Winterfell. The King of the Six Kingdoms and his Master of War having found their way there after everyone else had arrived. After sitting down at the main table, alongside the queen and her brother, Gendry found a large goblet of water placed in front of him.

“Water, your grace, you must replenish,” said a winking Tyrion Lannister, eliciting the loud and unashamed laughter of Arya Stark, to the chagrin of her brother, and the pinking of the king's ears.

“Did he tell you what he did?” Tyrion asked Arya, signaling towards the king.

“He doesn’t tell me shit; you know that,” she replied, aggravating the man in question.

“He asked to see the forge and meet the blacksmiths of every castle we visited,” A grinning Arya turned to look at Gendry, who couldn’t hide his self-satisfied smile, “and not contented with that, he would ask for an apron and roll up the sleeves of his tunic.”

“I can proudly say that I have smithed in the forge of every region of the Six Kingdoms, plus Dorne and the North,” Gendry announced.

“Talk about making the eight!” Tyrion bellowed.

“You did not work in the forge in Dorne,” Arya confronted him.

“I most definitely did. Only once, one of the many times you went riding with Elia, I didn’t make anything, just aided the smiths there on their projects. I observed their technique more than anything.”

“They have stopped calling him King Gendry 'The Bastard,’ he is now known as King Gendry 'The Smith,'” Tyrion explained, “I could not make this shit up!”

“Which reminds me, Sansa, could I make use of your forge?” Gendry asked the Queen in the North.

“Our forge is yours, Gendry,” she professed.

“You’ve already worked in that forge. What on earth do you need to do there?” Arya inquired.

“Maybe I want to go there for sentimental reasons,” he replied, in a flirtatious way.

“Fine. Then if you are going to be busy working in the forge, I will go see Nymeria.”

“Your direwolf?” Jon asked, surprised to hear a name that hadn't come to his mind in years.

“Yes, she came to the North. She has a mate, and she is about to birth her pups,” Arya explained, looking down to hide the slight tint on her cheeks.

“It’s nice to know that there are more direwolves still in this world,” Jon added, looking at Ghost. 

After all, he knew what it meant to be the last of his kind.

“A new generation of direwolves, for a new generation of Starks, mayhaps?” Tyrion Lannister ventured.

“No,” Arya was quick to answer.

“A direwolf is not a pet,” Sansa said with a knowing smile and longing eyes.

Tyrion Lannister wondered, not for the first time, about the memories of the woman he had once claimed as his. He remembered hearing about Cersei’s wrath at the Stark sisters' wolves, never stopping to think of the beasts particularly, and not about their owners’ feelings at the loss of them. He never asked Sansa for the name of her direwolf, but that very moment during their morning meal, he wished he knew the name that surely was present in his former wife’s heart.

“I remember when Robb found them,” Jon Snow’s low voice broke through Tyrion’s thoughts, “he yelled for me to join him, and he showed me the huge body of direwolf who had whelped them. It wasn’t a good omen for the Starks. He told me to get on my horse and call father. When our whole party was there, Theon said, ‘there has not been a direwolf south of the wall in two hundred years.’ He was wrong. Something then moved under the beast, Robb squatted to find the five pups. I told father that there were five, one for each one of his trueborn children. ‘Don’t you want one for yourself, Jon,’ father said. We were leaving when I heard Ghost; he had wandered away from the others.”

Sansa didn’t realize she was crying until a tear fell noisily on her porcelain plate, the intense emotion drawn by Jon’s story startling her. Bran was not there, and so, Jon was the lone survivor of that story, for all of them were long gone. Her ivory hand quickly went to her cheek, to brush the tears away, and she wondered who she cried for, Robb and father? Theon? Lady? Grey Wind, Summer, Shaggy Dog? The loyal Northmen whose names no one would ever remember?

“No, it was a privilege back then, so nurse those motherless pups,” the Queen in the North spoke.

“Nymeria’s pups are hers, and hers alone. We will not take them,” Arya cemented their resolve.

'Tomorrow,’ the voice in her head reminded her of her promise.


 

A forge was a forge.

And as long as its fires blazed hot, it mattered not if it was large or small. If Gendry closed his eyes, he could move about in a dozen or so forges in which he had had the privilege to work. He could extend his arm, and he knew exactly where to reach to grab each tool hung at Tobho’s, just as well as where to walk to avoid tripping with the bucket of oil in his shop in the Street of Steel. Gendry wondered how could those places be crystal clear in his mind as if they stood still when they were nothing but rubble. 

He remembered arriving at Storm’s End for the first time, heartbroken and lost, the first words out of his mouth being ‘Point me to your forge.’ He craved having the fires lick his body. He needed to singe the pads of his fingers and forget the imprint of Arya's velvet skin on them.

He banged on steel three days straight until he had sweated all his unshed tears. 

How many days had he worked at the Winterfell forge? Arya had meant for this forge to be his forever home when she offered him to be his family. He may not have worked long at the Winterfell smithy, but he had made a home for himself there, however short the stay really was. And now, Gendry was once more working there, as if the place was always meant to be his. He must have been working there for a couple of hours when along with the cold air nipping harsher at his sweaty skin, he felt eyes watching him work.

“Don’t you have anything better to do than watch me work?” He asked without turning to see his admirer, his knowing grin evident in his tone.

“I do, quite a lot actually, but who better than you to understand the hard labor it takes to run a kingdom.”

The voice alone corrected his assumption, and he covered his work abruptly to turn to see the Queen in the North stand at the entrance of the forge. 

“Sansa! Forgive me for my tone. I thought you were Arya. I did not expect to see you here.”

“Is my sister fond of watching you smith?”

“She used to, long ago. Not so much anymore. Is there anything I can do for you?”

“You asked my sister to marry you once,” Sansa inquired, ignoring his question.

“I did.”

“And she said no.”

Gendry wondered why she needed to hear what she already knew to be true.

“Aye.”

“Many men would not have gotten over the rejection.”

“Your sister is worth it,” he declared as if he were explaining an obvious concept, such as the sky being blue.

“But wearing a crown is not easy. I am sure you feel the pressure from your great houses.”

“They are not happy about my decision, no. But I won’t cast your sister aside and take a bride just to appease them.”

“That decision may cost you the crown,” Sansa warned.

“But it won’t cost me the woman I love.”

“Nobles will continue to pressure for a marriage,” Sansa warned him.

“How much pressure do you get about marrying?” Gendry asked instead.

“Enough. But I’ve been married before. For convenience.”

“Does that mean you won’t marry again?”

“I don’t know what that means beyond not now. Will you ever marry my sister?” Sansa insisted.

“If it is something she wants, but the promises I’ve made to her, they won’t change if she wears my name or not.”

“I’ve seen my sister wear other faces as easily as I can wear different gowns. I do not understand why she won’t wear the face of a lady, or a wife, or a queen,” the Queen in the North wondered.

Gendry smiled to himself.

“I don’t want her to wear a face. I only want her to be herself.”


The day of the pardon Gendry had been busy with Sansa and Tyrion, carefully planning the pardon ceremony, and reviewing the documents that had been drafted for Jon from both the North and the Six Kingdoms. Tyrion had insisted on having the parchments written and sealed together to avoid any retaliation they could encounter once they reached King’s Landing. Tyrion would keep the document from the Six Kingdom with himself as they rode, but this pardon needed to be witnessed by enough lords from the North as insurance. 

While the pardons and plans were drafted, Arya donned her armor along with Ser Brienne and the rest of Gendry’s Kingsguard, arriving at the Great Hall with the rest of the knights, where her brother Jon, and Gendry were already waiting. 

“Is that your work?” Jon asked Gendry as soon as he saw Arya come into the room in her shiny armor and her hair braided in a more intricate Northern braid than the simple one she regularly plaited herself. Gendry wondered if it was the Queen in the North herself who had fashioned it, for it resembled her own way of coiffing her red tresses.

“Aye.”

“She looks…” Jon halted his thought, at a loss for words.

“Beautiful,” Gendry was quick to add.

“Deadly,” Tormund added as he joined the two men at looking Arya, but quickly distracted when Ser Brienne of Tarth entered the Great Hall following the smaller knight.

Jon shook his head at the outbursts from his two friends.

“You got it bad mate,” Jon added, patting Gendry’s back.

“Piss off,” the man in question replied with a wide grin.

“I cannot believe that is my little sister.”

“Can you believe we wanted her in the crypts during the Long Night?” Gendry asked, reminding them both of their worries. Jon had not known it at the time, but given the king’s words, he imagined it mustn’t have gone well when Gendry surely pleaded with her to stay below ground with their sister, and the rest of women, children and elderly. 

It had been a fatal mistake, that none of the strategists of the Long Night ever considered the possibility of the Night King summoning the corpses of past Starks. 

An even bigger mistake was for both Gendry and himself to underestimate how truly mighty the sprig of a girl he had once armed had become. 

“Thank the gods she didn’t listen to us. We’d all be dead,” Jon acknowledged.

“Stop looking at me like that,” Arya said to both as she came to stand next to them.

“Like what?” Jon asked his sister.

“The way you are both looking at me.”

“I’m only enjoying the view,” Gendry replied, ignoring the uneasiness of her brother witnessing their flirtation.

“Sometimes I wonder if it is me you like, or you’re just enamored of your handiwork.”

“I am enamored of you only,” he added, pulling her into a stiff embrace, burdened by the armor, “having you decked out in my work is just a bonus.”

“Show-off,” Arya called, pushing him away to take her place.


 

The pardoning ceremony was a short affair. Queen Sansa stood in the center of the dais with King Gendry standing on her right side, both of them dressed in full regalia, wearing their wolf and stag crowns proudly. Jon Snow stood in front of them in his black Night’s Watch garb, even if there was no Night Watch anymore, Longclaw and Ghost on either side. 

“Kneel, Jon Snow, son of the North,” Sansa commanded, as she walked ahead, stopping in front of Jon, who despite any revealed secrets, would always be her brother.

The man who had been crow and King in the North sank to his knees.

“Over a year ago, at the sacking of King’s Landing, you were faced with an impossible choice. History will be the judge of your rights or your wrongs, but the North will not condemn you, for you acted in defense of those who were defenseless. Rise, Jon Snow. You have been pardoned in the kingdom of the North. You may come and go as you please here, for this is your home, and this realm owes you a great debt that cannot be repaid.”

Jon was not sure who he was meant to be anymore, a direwolf or a dragon, a wilding or a bastard, a crow or a stranger. He had come south of the wall to please his sisters, and he would put one foot in front of the other to go back to the place that still held the worst memory of his life, mayhaps to seek closure.

But he had no plans beyond that. 

He found himself once more thinking of Ygritte, sure of only one thing at that moment, and it was that he was Jon Snow, and he still knew nothing.


 

Sansa meant to dismiss the attendees when the voice of the man who had been her husband called for her to listen to his petition. Tyrion walked from his place on the side of the Great Hall until he was standing in front of the Northern queen.

“Your grace, if you may, I wish to make a petition.”

Sansa remembered once joining Tyrion at another Great Hall, long ago, in a past life. Their wedding was meant as a humiliation for her: being married into the family who slaughtered her father. His family cruelly used Tyrion’s dwarfism as an instrument for mocking the girl who once was the betrothed to the heir to the Seven Kingdoms. But their revenge had been outliving all who subjugated them, and Sansa had found, in the very man who all his life had been described as nothing short of monstrous, the kindest hand extended to her in the lion pit. 

“Speak, Lord Lannister,” she invited him, both sets of eyes meaning to say much more.

“Queen Sansa, your lord father was killed in a cowardly and unjust manner, and along with his death, House Stark was wronged with the loss of your house’s fabled Valyrian steel greatsword. I am ashamed my family took it, and destroyed it,” with shame evident in Tyrion Lannister’s eyes and demeanor, he too thought back about how he had been meant to be another vise to torture the woman standing in front of him. His own family had counted on his lewd tendencies to tarnish her, to soil the honor of House Stark through her flesh. 

He wished one day both of them could see each other free of the heavy burden of their shared history, and he thought that mayhaps that day, he could be the instrument to undo part of the injury his family had done to hers.

 “The Valyrian steel of House Stark has made its way back to the North, one half already wielded by the brave Bringer of Dawn,” he said looking towards Arya, “but it is my wish, and the wish of Ser Brienne of Tarth, that the other half of your father’s sword makes its way back to you today.”

Sansa had already seen the sword that King Gendry had reforged for her sister, but she was not prepared to see her former sworn shield, Ser Brienne of Tarth, walk towards her, holding out a sword held across her two hands. From afar it looked like her father’s sword, but once it was close enough, she could see little differences: it was thinner in its length, and the pommel was fashioned into the Starks sigil direwolf. 

Sansa extended her arms to receive the offering, and the tall knight kneeled in front of her once it was given. She turned to look for her siblings’ eyes, and she was sure their moist eyes mirrored hers.

“Your grace,” Brienne’s voice captured her attention, “I made an oath long ago to your lady mother, to protect her daughters with my life. When I met you, I then pledged myself to you. I did not want to leave you, but you deemed important in your heart that I remained in King’s Landing with my liege lord, as he became King of the Six Kingdoms. With his leave, I come to you today, to pledge myself to you again, this time, until my death.”

It was not lost on Sansa that the sword returned to her, while half of her father’s sword, had been given to Ser Brienne by Ser Jaime Lannister, and she knew of the significance for the knight of Tarth.

“I accept, Ser Brienne, with a condition,” she responded.

Parting with the sword Jaime had placed on her hand and told her it would always be hers had not been an easy decision, but Brienne wished to honor the memory of a man, who had tried so hard to put to rights the sins of his family.

“Whatever you wish, my queen.”

“That you take your rightful place as my Lord Commander of the Queensguard, and that you wield one of the Valyrian sister blades of House Stark, which name, from today on, is Winter’s Oath.

The Queen in the North did not have to say anymore, for the name she chose for the new sword had great significance. With this name, referencing the words of House Stark and the honor of Eddard, Brienne was also reminded of the loyalties that defined her. The new name of the sword reminded Brienne of the oath she made to Lady Catelyn, but it also told the story, if only to her, the first female knight of the Seven Kingdoms, of a man who had been ashamed his whole life of his reputation as an oath breaker. Whatever bond she had ever shared with Jaime Lannister was based not on a broken oath, but the promise of keeping one.

 Brienne had not expected for the sword that she had agreed to return to House Stark to remain at her hip, but she was determined to keep both oaths made to the lady and the knight who had shaped her until the end of her days.


After the ceremony Gendry and Arya had found their way to her chambers, they were set to start their ride to King’s Landing in two days. 

“You said you wanted to take off my armor the last time,” she said still clad in it, standing in the center of her chamber.

Gendry had smiled thinking back to the first time she had worn the armor when he asked her to let him take it off the next time she wore it. The smile had deepened the lines next to his eyes, catching Arya’s attention.

Something that had been uncertain for so very long started to take shape right in front of her eyes. The lines on Gendry’s face had begun to show her a path, and Arya could see it, so clearly, the map showing her the way. 

Back when she was in Braavos, before the doors to the House of Black and White had opened for her, a foreign woman, speaking a language Arya had yet to learn, had called for her. The woman had mimicked for her to show her the palm of her hand, and her wrinkled fingers, smelling of ink and old parchment, had traced its lines. Even if she never knew the prophecies she foretold, Arya was mesmerized by the conviction in her cloudy eyes. She left the woman with one certainty that day: that her future was already set in stone, and therefore, there was no point to fear whatever laid ahead. Back then she thought the augury of the soothsayer, even if delivered in a foreign tongue, had to be about becoming the harbinger of doom for those who betrayed House Stark, to turn into the proverbial winter falling on the land of her enemies. 

But now, without any names to cross out on her list, that possible future had changed.

The lines on Gendry’s face came from all the hard labor he was sentenced to do for being a bastard. She had asked him about the lines around his eyes, and he had said they were not from the hardships, but the joy she had brought into his life, looming the lines onto his face. She wanted to follow the lines with the same fervor Gendry followed the lines of her scars; to divine the secrets hidden behind. 

As Gendry shed the steel from her body, she thought she could finally glimpse her future on his face.  

'Tomorrow,’ the voice demanded.  

They were standing in front of the lit fire in her room, and the scattered pieces of steel glinted in the light, set up in a pattern like runes. When Arya’s attire was only her tunic and breeches, she had reached to Gendry’s head to take his crown off his head, and thrown it to the floor, to join the other pieces of his work. They peeled layer after layer from each other’s bodies, ripping away the masks and costumes of the multitude of people they were: the king, the knight, the warrior, the slayer, the lord, the lady, the smith, the stranger, the sacrificial lamb, the assassin, the bastard, the orphan, the boy, the girl. 

Once bare of clothes, and names, and roles, when they were only a woman and man, naked as the day they were born, he, as the very first man, pulled her, as the very first woman to his arms and his lips.

She had raised herself to her tiptoes and wrapped her arms around his neck as they lips met. He had bent to meet her halfway, his arms wrapping around her waist, one on her back stilling her, and the other scooping her up, and carrying her weight. Once he had her safely in his arms, he sank to his knees on the soft fur, their kiss not missing a beat.

Holding her to him with one hand, he bent to gently settle her on the furs, her back arching unwilling to lose contact. 

“Look at me,” Arya asked him, wanting his complicity. 

'Tomorrow,' the voice beckoned once more.

Arya willed the pads of her fingers to trace the crow’s feet around his eyes, and the furrow of his brow. She took the time to study the bare elements that made him: eyes as blue as the sea, hair as dark as night, skin hot to the touch, as if he were forged in the same flames as his work.

She willed for her future to be revealed on his face. 

Her heart racing as she sensed herself crossing a threshold.  

Gendry kissed her once more, and lowered himself carefully, letting some of his weight on her, her right leg instinctually hoisting over the bone of his hip, creating space for him. 

The trail of kisses led him down to her chin and her neck, and then it took the way north to her ear where he sighed, “I want you on top.”

Arya followed his plea and rolled them until he was on his back and she sat astride him. Gendry’s attention caught the dance of the firelight on the puckered lines of her skin. Arya wondered if his fingers were trying to read prophecies on her scars, the way she had been reading her future on the lines of his face, and if he were, she wondered what secrets they told, and if his revelations matched hers. 

Arya’s thoughts were blurred when one of his hands lost interest on divination and climbed up to cup her breast, and the other one searched for something in between her folds. It didn’t take him long to get her ready, and he aided her elevating herself enough for him to find his way home. 

Yes, tomorrow she’d deal with the consequences of her actions.

Just not right then.

Chapter Text

She came to with her face on the frozen ground, her breath smoking in the cold air. The frost ought to have been torturing her despite her being from the North. Unlike him, who didn’t do well in the snow, she was born on this land, and from birth, she knew nothing but the chill. Nevertheless, he came all the way north because of her, and because of the secret that she held within.

The nip of the cold didn’t register for her, for there were more pressing matters: an ache that howled on her back and her spine threatening to break like a twig with the kicks in her womb. She had no mother to tell her about these things, and yet, her body knew what needed to be done. He nuzzled her from behind, useless, his part complete moons before, but he ached in his own way, for not being able to take her pain away and house it in his body. He walked this path with her instead, licking her tears.

This pain bloomed strong from his seed.

His blood was trying to rip its way through, and she was only happy to oblige. She walked a path that she had never thought would be hers.

Her legs couldn’t take her weight anymore, her body ready, and the ground below her turning red.

The pain came in waves, constant like sorrow. It was almost time, the strain made her growl, announcing that it wouldn’t be too much longer.

It was not helpful, but he growled as well.

After all, it was also his blood what was tinting the snow red.

The agony was ripping her apart, and she could feel the shape as it descended. She could not see it, but it soon crowned. Despite the cold, the head burned her as it came out, like a ring of fire, branding her from within. Once out, it gave her a small reprieve, but then it all came down too fast, and she could feel every angle of the body she was birthing.

Arya moaned with relief. Without opening her eyes, her hands reached below in between her legs looking for it, to pull the bloody and wrinkled body up to her breast. She felt swollen with the first milk, and she ached to have the little thing suckle at her teat.

Her mind was still fuzzy, but she knew nothing besides the nursling being hers, and his.

She craved burying her nose in its dark hair as it nursed and inhaling the sickly sweet smell of her flesh and blood. She wanted to imprint the scent inside her nose, and never forget it.

Her hand searched for what was theirs, but it was not the little bundle on the bloody snow that she found, but the warm furs of her bed. Desperate, she sat up, opening her eyes and spreading her legs wide, searching.

Her eyes shot open, and both hands frantically searched under the furs for something she was sure had to be there. She had felt it, pulsating and hot, wriggling like freshly-caught fish.

Her mouth tasted the salty tears she hadn’t realized she was shedding for the piece of him and her, and with her chest tight, she howled, realizing there was nothing there.

Her eyes shut, and the grief of her loss spilled out of them. Gendry’s arms were soon around her, and he was turning her and performing a search of his own, pulling furs and bedding away, running his fingers over every inch of her naked flesh, looking for the wound he was sure had ripped that sound out of her throat.

There were no fresh gashes on her skin, at least none that could be seen through one’s eyes.

“Arya, open your eyes, please!” his voice pleaded.

When she was finally roused, she felt spent and empty.

“What’s wrong?” He kept asking, confused.

When she eventually realized that she wouldn’t find what she was searching for on her childhood featherbed, it was not pain she felt anymore, but an infinite sorrow.

“What is it?” Gendry urged her, the lines on his face too harsh.

“Nymeria,” was the only word that poured out of her mouth, as she brushed away the tears.

“What happened?”

“Her pups are born.”

She would spare him her heartbreak, of losing something that existed, for the briefest of moments, only in her dreams.


 

The last time Arya left Winterfell she did it before dawn and without saying goodbye. There was no dwelling on who would end up discovering her absence first. But now, so many moons and lifetimes away, she wondered: was it the servant girl who tidied up her chamber? Her sister Sansa if somehow she had been distracted from the political game she was playing? Her brother Jon if his anguish allowed him?

She had a hunch it must have been Gendry, even with the cruel way in which she had turned him down the previous night. At the time, she had considered kissing him softly a kindness, before explaining that while every other woman in their world would be lucky to have him, she couldn’t. But now, she knew that it had been far worse, rubbing salt into his wound. He would never know how her own stomach was twisting as she forced herself to keep shooting arrows at the target, painfully aware of his silent presence.

This time, it was very different. Arya took the time to say goodbye to everyone and everything, starting with Nymeria. She was grateful to have had the chance to meet her pups, despite the phantom sorrow they made her felt. There were four pups all in all, and she was thankful that Nymeria had not birthed the same number of pups as her own litter, for the coincidence would have brought a false sense of repetition. Arya hated the thought that her generation was doomed to repeat the errors of the past. After all, she refused to be Lyanna Stark reborn.

Her brother Jon was not Rhaegar, but he was not Ned either.

Her sister would never be a mad queen.

And Gendry, despite the heartache she had caused him, should not be forced to be Robert Baratheon, sitting on his sorrowful throne.

Nymeria’s pups would grow in a pack, probably up north, and they would know nothing of being faithful companions to another generation of Starks. Sansa, Bran, and Arya would forever envy Jon’s fortune at having kept Ghost with him this whole time, but she found plentiful solace in knowing that there would be one day that seeing a direwolf south of the wall would not be a once-in-a-lifetime affair.

“Keep an eye on them, Nym,” Arya said as her direwolf licked her hand for the very last time, and taking one last look she turned and started walking towards Winterfell, not looking back even once.


 

Both Stark sisters spent the evening before the departure together, sipping sweet Dornish wine and eating lemon cakes over Sansa’s featherbed, the same one that had belonged to their mother, and where both of them, along with their younger brothers, had come wailing into the world.

“I’m going to miss you,” the Queen in the North said, her own arms tied around her long bent legs.

“You could come with us to King’s Landing,” Arya offered, sitting against the headboard, “Gendry was here for your pardoning ceremony, you could be there for his.”

“No. There must always be a Stark at Winterfell.”

“Winterfell has been without a Stark plenty of times in recent history, we can’t keep using that as an excuse when one of us doesn’t want to go somewhere,” She pointed out.

Sansa smiled, not even trying to correct her sister.

“I don’t want to move anymore, I’ve done enough of that in the past few years. I want to stay here,” Sansa said, taking one more bite of a lemon cake, letting the tangy taste melt in her mouth.

Arya stared at her sister’s Tully blue eyes, so different from Gendry’s. Sansa’s eyes were light as spring water, and despite how clear they were, they held so many hidden secrets. Arya tried, unsuccessfully, to search for the lost dreams and songs that used to gleam in them when they were girls.

“Will you consider what we talked about?” Arya asked.

Sansa didn’t need any clarification to what her sister was referencing. She would not talk of the longing within herself.

“I don’t know if I will ever have it in me to let down my guard. Meet someone, share all the burdens of my past. It tires me just thinking of the time needed to grow enough trust.”

“You wouldn’t have to.”

“What do you mean?” The queen inquired.

“If the idea of letting someone new in is hard, what about someone who you already trust?” Arya ventured, bringing up a thought that had been in her mind.

“You have someone in mind already.”

“I think you may have someone in mind already.”

“No.”

“You were married once, it would be hardly scandalous.”

“Arya,” Sansa warned.

“Just think about it. He’ll be in Winterfell for only one more night. If it is awful or awkward, it is not a problem, since he will be leaving tomorrow. And…”

“And?”

The fact that she had asked made Arya’s lips curl slightly.

“And if he is not, I can always convince Gendry that the Master of Whispers must travel to Winterfell for important political reasons.”

“I don’t know,” Sansa replied, shaking her head slowly.

“You said he was kind to you, and he could have demanded his right back when he married you, but he didn’t. I think if someone could be kind again, it would be him. And he loves you.”

“He does not.”

“I’m not saying it is love like in the songs, but he cares for you, he holds love in his heart for you, I see it whenever he talks of you in the Small Council. I really cannot believe I am trying to convince you to bed a fucking Lannister, but I told you once, you deserve to know what it feels like when love is involved.”

There was a time when Sansa wept bitterly at the humiliation of being married to Tyrion Lannister, and there was also a time when she dreaded their marital bed. Back then she thought being married to an Imp was the worst that could befall her. After everything, she no longer dreaded the sight of his deformed body, but she feared to have a man, who had always talked to her like he could see through her soul, look at her bare, with no carefully stitched gown to hide under.

She took a moment to imagine it, and she wondered if his melancholic eyes would look at her with the devotion they held when they were about to die together in the crypts.

“I’ll consider it,” Sansa finally said.

“Well, consider it quickly because you have only one night. Though,” Arya added, as she reminisced, “I once thought I had only one night and look where it got me.”

Sansa laughed a belly laugh, and Arya thought there was no sweeter sound in the world.

“Now, if that doesn’t do it for you, I could convince Gendry to send Pod north instead, to say goodbye to Brienne or something.”

“Why in the world would I want Podrick Payne?” The Queen in the North asked, her confusion evident.

“You haven’t heard then.“

“What?”

“Word around is he’s got quite the magic cock.”


 

As the group gathered at the courtyard to say their final goodbyes, Brienne thought of the past, of another time when she was also the one staying at Winterfell. She had not allowed herself to think of him often, for she believed that if she let his name bloom on her lips, she would once more forget how to breathe.

But it was a lie to pretend that he was not with her, deeply rooted under her skin. That whenever she unsheathed the blade that was not meant to be hers nor his, it was his hand as well as hers on the grip.

No, better not to think of his name on a day like this.

“Brienne,” the lithe woman she made into a knight called her.

“Arya,”

While their size difference would look comical from afar to someone who didn’t know them, there was deep respect and care between them.

“I promised your mother I would protect you once, but you never made it easy,” Arya thought back to the day when she saw the very best knights she had the pleasure of meeting, combat one another.

It was also the day she stopped giving a fuck.

She wondered what her life would have been like if she had believed Brienne and allowed her to take her under her protection.

No point in dwelling on that anymore, for the only life she got to live was the one she had.

“Back then I didn’t have a lot of faith in others,” Arya added.

“You never needed protecting. I was glad to realize it, to assuage the guilt I had about failing your mother.”

In King’s Landing, before they left for Dorne, Brienne had told her the story of how she came to be her mother’s sworn shield, and how Lady Catelyn had defied her own son, the King in the North, and freed Jaime Lannister as a gamble, to try to secure the safety of her daughters.

She had never really given a thought of the burdens her mother and father had to bear when they both realized they couldn’t protect their children. She had been so consumed by her own grief to imagine what had gone through her father’s mind when he realized he was about to die, with Sansa standing behind him, and not knowing where Arya had gone. There had been a fraction of a second, while she was watching him helplessly when their eyes had seemed to lock. She knew it was unlikely he did see her in the crowd, but now, looking back, she was sure her father had looked for her, having to trust that she would be safe. And her mother, her mother had also tried so hard to keep her children safe.

How many things were lost along with her mother? The memory of her and her siblings’ childhoods to start. Would she had ever asked her about the worries and hopes in her mind and her heart if she had survived? Would her lady mother have condemned the choices she made with her heart?

If anything, she would like her mother to know she was safe, and she was loved.

“You didn’t fail her. Both her daughters made back to their home in one piece.”

At those words, Brienne nodded slowly, while she blinked too many times to be natural.

“Will you promise me something, Brienne?” Arya requested.

“Anything.”

“Teach my sister to wield that sword.”

“It will be my honor,” Brienne promised, and then asked on her own, “will you take care of Pod for me, and get those Kingsguard recruits in top form?”

Leaving Pod on his own had been the only thing she regretted about her decision, though Brienne hoped he would understand, once he received the raven she had sent him, telling him she was sure they would meet again.

“It will be my honor.”


 

“Are you sure you want to go back there little crow?” Tormund said eying Jon skeptically, as they surveyed the preparation for his departure.

“Not really, if I must be true.”

“You are from the true north,” he said, placing his hands on this shoulders, “don’t forget that.”

“I won’t. I’ll see you back there,” Jon replied, trying to give him a hopeful smile, that accomplished nothing but show his uncertainty.

“I’m inclined to wait for you here, you know. That way, your sister will let me know about you from one of your blackbirds.”

Jon could sense Tormund’s doubt about his return.

“I will come back Tormund.”

“You are taking Ghost with you, it does not look like you will to me.”

“I will,” Jon reiterated.

“You may or you may not, but that’s fine, as long as it is you who decides that, little crow,” Tormund punctuated his words by poking him in the chest.

“Take care of my sister,” Jon requested.

“I will, but she has a magnificent warrior already,” Tormund explained, tilting his head on Brienne’s direction.

“And that fact has nothing to do with you waiting for me here at Winterfell,” Jon jested, eliciting Tormund’s rumbling laughter.


 

When Arya closed her eyes, mid-embrace with her sister, Sansa’s fragrant red hair almost convinced her she has once again nine and in the safe arms of her mother. There was never a doubt that Arya was her father’s child, but she remembered hugging her mother goodbye when Ned, Sansa, and Arya were leaving for King’s Landing, ignorant of the grief that the trip would bring them.

Arya knew the fleeting feeling of imagining herself back in her mother’s arms would not last, but she wished for one more second of the ghost feeling. There was something tucked away, in the back of her mind, like the small room in the maester’s tower at Winterfell, where she loved to sneak in and scavenger in years-old heirlooms of the Starks. The persistent voice in her mind had slowly begun to fade, now, many days later. The thought, as faint as the ghost you believe you can see out of the corner of your eye.

That idea that had been nagging her endlessly in the past week was lost forever, once her sister spoke, breaking the fantasy of being embraced by the mother whose absence had so deeply marked her. The proverbial thing that goes unnoticed until you no longer have it.

“Make sure to write this time,” her sister Sansa demanded, with that self-assured smile of hers.

Arya laughed with a sob.

“You know well that my writing is awful.”

“It is not your handwriting that I long for, silly sister.”

“Gendry can tell you,” Arya pointed out, trying to distract herself from her harrowing feelings, “my sentiment on parchment is not any better than my handwriting.”

“I’ll have to have him write to me about you instead then.”

“I’ll miss you,” Arya finally said with teary eyes.

“Just promise me you will come back home at some point. There shouldn’t be only one Stark at Winterfell,” Sansa urged her, with eyes that matched her sister’s.

As they hugged, their older brother joined them.

“This is not goodby forever,” he reminded them.

“Get in here, stupid,” Arya ordered, as she pulled him into their embrace.


As Arya was getting on her horse, she saw Tyrion Lannister approach her sister. He silently stood in front of the Queen in the North, his sad green eyes looking up to her light blue ones. Arya felt as is she was intruding, for the former spouses seemed to have a whole conversation with one look. She didn’t know if her sister had followed her advise, and she tried to spy for anything that seemed more than what had been there a week before.

“Sansa.”

“Tyrion.”

No other words were spoken, but Tyrion reached for her hand, and once the queen granted it, he brought it to his mouth, placing a silent kiss on her knuckles.


 

They hadn’t traveled the king’s road together in over seven years, but it felt as natural as breathing. Their companions noticing the easiness with which the king and his new lord commander set camp.

Jon could see the change in his sister in the way a smile graced her face the more they traveled the king’s road and reached towards the Riverlands. He never knew Arry, but the form in which the name escaped Gendry’s mouth more and more, convinced him that this woman that his sister had become was more Arry than his little sister Arya, and than Arya Stark the slayer of the Night King.

The group was advancing fast towards King’s Landing, deciding to ride down and leave the slow carriage with their trunks to catch them later in the capital. It was ironic that his sister and the man she loved seemed so eager to get there when Jon himself felt as if he was walking towards his execution.

He had started to warm slowly to the relationship of his sister and his friend, but it had been awkward at the beginning of their trip when they found themselves in such close quarters, with his sister unapologetically joining the king in his tent mere steps from where Jon’s stood.

It was not as if it hadn’t happened at Winterfell, but then their more personal interactions occurred out of Jon’s sight, and so, they remained more a notion than a reality. And it wasn’t like they were flaunting their relationship on the road, if anything, the matter-of-fact way of their rapport, as they worked together as they set down camp or went hunting, betrayed their intimacy much more than if they had kept the whole campsite awake with their lovemaking.

That day though, a week into their trip, Jon had woken up in a good mood remembering what day it was.

“Congratulations,” Jon greeted Arya as she sat next to him before the new fire to break her fast.

“What for?” Arya asked, confused.

“You don’t remember?” He asked astonished, this was not the sister he remembered, “Really?”

“I really don’t know what you are talking about.”

“It’s your nameday,” Jon reminded her, “You are twenty.”

Jon had a sincere smile on his face, having realized that morning that against all hope, in those years when he thought Arya had perished, the little girl he said goodbye to, with a kiss and a new sword, had lived to turn twenty.

So deep in his memories he was that he didn’t see the king approaching, and sitting down to the other side of Arya, smiling at having heard Jon’s greeting.

“I never knew when your nameday was,” Gendry said to Arya nudging her shoulder with his.

“It’s not like I have celebrated it these past few years, but I cannot believe I lost track of time this year.”

“Wait until you are my age, you’ll want to forget it altogether,” Tyrion Lannister intervened.

“How old are you really Tyrion?” Jon asked.

“Old enough to be this jaded, but not as old as Davos.”

‘But not too old to fuck my sister,’ Arya thought, though still unsure if Sansa had spent their last night at Winterfell with her former husband.

“When is yours?” Arya asked Gendry, realizing she had never known this about the man she loved.

“I don’t know,” he replied humbly, and Arya felt her heart break once more at realizing the true magnitude of his loneliness, “I just remember it was during the hottest days in King’s Landing, my mother used to take me to the beach to play in the water on my nameday.”

“Shouldn’t be too long then, a moon turn tops,” Tyrion pointed out, “we should hold a celebration.”


 

That night Gendry was roused from his sleep by movement.

“Go back to sleep, it’s only me,” Arya said with a soft touch to his arm.

“Where are you going?” He asked, brushing away the sleep from his eyes.

“It’s my watch,” she explained.

“I’ll go.”

“Don’t be stupid, you’re the king. It is you we are watching over,” she explained.

“I can take care of myself.”

“I know you can, that’s not the reason.”

“Stay,” Gendry pleaded, holding onto her wrist.

“I cannot, it’s my turn.”

“You said so, I am the king, I can tell someone else to take your place.”

“You made me the Lord Commander of your Kingsguard, I need to take my watch, or those stupid boys won’t respect me.”

“Let me go with you, then,” Gendry pleaded.

“If you go with me I won’t be watching anything,” she said with a smile and bending to give him a quick kiss on the lips.

“I won’t sleep if you are not with me,” he declared, pulling her for one more kiss.

“Then wait up,” She added once they parted, and opening the flap of the tent.

Gendry had been determined to stay awake for Arya, but he didn’t realize when he had dozed. The sound of the tent flap moving, and the sudden light from the fire rouse him, though.

“Arya?” Gendry asked in the dark.

“Expecting your other mistress?” She jested.

“I’m afraid you don’t leave much for another lover.”

“What are you doing up anyway?” Arya asked as she divested herself of her cloak and her boots, and she lay down in front of him, making sure to scoot back until her back was against his chest. It was a cold night, and because of it, they had kept their breeches and tunics on, despite the heavy furs.

“I’m not sleeping. I told you I couldn’t,” Gendry said as his right hand went under her tunic and settled on her lower belly, running her fingers over the crisscross designs of her scars.

“What are you doing?” She asked as she felt him nipping at the crook of her neck.

“I think you would know by now,” he replied teasingly.

She didn’t want to admit that it thrilled her, to feel him so eager.

“I thought you too tired from riding.”

“Not tired at all,” he said as his hand pulled at the laces of her breeches to get them loose, and once they granted him access, his fingers burrowed under the leather.

Arya sighed.

His other arm found its way to her front, cushioning her head, and it reached down, dipping under the loose collar of her tunic to cradle her breast. The feeling of having him caressing both sensitive places in sync made Arya arch her back, baring her neck, only for Gendry to take advantage of the exposed skin, and greedily kiss and suck on it, leaving a mark they wouldn’t find until much later the next day.

His name spilled out of her lips, overwhelmed by the attack on her senses.

“Gendry.”

At that, he let go of her breast to hold her head and tilt it back so he could kiss her passionately, without losing the rhythm his fingers were keeping. He pulled his right hand out of her breeches, only to have her groan in frustration, and he buried his face in her hair to muffle his laugh at how impatient she was. His slick fingers quickly pulled at his own laces, and then he hooked them on the back of her breeches and tugged them down to reveal her milky and perfectly-round backside. Her breeches were abandoned mid-thigh, and instead, Gendry focused on yanking her tunic up, just enough to expose her heaving chest. He may have already seen his woman nude a thousand of times, but there was something unbearably enticing to see her with her clothes just pulled to the side, with her eyes shut and her swollen lips half-open, tasting his name in her mouth.

Gendry quickly removed his own breeches, and he dragged her body back against him, her perky backside bumping him right where he needed her, his cock aligning with her entrance.

She groaned audibly when he entered her, and he covered her mouth with his hand.

“Shh! Your brother will hear us.”

Arya twisted her head to face him, his hand falling from her mouth.

“Don’t talk about my brother when you are deep inside me.”

His only response was to cover her lips with his own, hoping to give each other’s mouth something to keep them quiet.


 


The only long stop they made was at the Crossroads Inn since Gendry had promised Hot Pie to stop with Arya on their way back to King’s Landing, but they also had been looking forward sleeping on a proper bed, however modest.

They both had been eager to have the three of them together once more.

Hot Pie was ecstatic to have them in his inn, and he was starstruck once Arya introduced him to Jon.

“You’re the King in the North!”

With an uncomfortable smile, he replied, “not anymore.”

They had eaten with Hot Pie, laughing while they recounted their adventures together. Both men teasing Arya for having them walk in circles, following the bloody moss growing on the trees, and Arya had mocked Hot Pie for implying that they could have passed the Red Fork river without them realizing it.

They also took the time to remember the fallen, and they had a drink for Yoren, and Lommy and Weasel.

“I reckon I was the one who got you together,” Hot Pie said after a while.

“Really Hot Pie? How do you think you got us together?” Arya asked, amused.

“Well, if I hadn’t threatened to kick you to death, Gendry wouldn’t have defended you,” Hot Pie explained as he picked up the crumbs from his plate, and he threw them into his mouth.

“Arry was a child back then!” Gendry exclaimed worried at the implication, “and I thought he was a boy! We were not together back then, Hot Pie, you know that right?”

“I know you didn’t mess with Arry back then,” he said attracting the attention of Arya’s brother, who craned his neck at the outburst from his seat a table away, “but you wouldn’t have become friends like that without my part. And I am sorry I said those things to you Arry.”

“Nothing to apologize for. You’ve been a good friend since then,” Arya added, as she placed her hand on top of Hot Pie’s.

“Gods, I really don’t know how I ever thought you were a girl Arry,” he declared, despite him already telling her that long before, “you are real pretty, isn’t she Gendry?”

“No, Hot Pie,” Arya eyed him carefully, “Arry is not just pretty, she is beautiful.”

“Stop trying to get into my sister breeches Baratheon,” Jon said as he joined the trio at their table.

“He’s already gotten into my breeches brother, you are just tad too late,” Arya added with a broad smile, making Hot Pie laugh and Gendry look away from Jon.

“Just not in front of us, dear gods.” Jon retorted.

“Hot Pie, there is something we want to ask you. We were wondering if you’d like to come with us to King’s Landing.” Gendry asked.

“That sounds good and all, but I don’t know if King’s Landing is the place for me, you know? Didn’t do very good when I lived there before. Here people listen to me, and they say my pies are famous, that travelers are told to stop at the Crossroads Inn to try my pies. I just don’t know if castle baker is the right path for me, I’ve always seen myself more of an inn baker, you know?”

“Don’t tell me. ‘It’s not you.’ Fuck my life.”

Arya laughed knowing the reference and turning his face, she gave him a quick kiss on the lips, startling the three men at the table.

“You should consider it Hot Pie,” she added, “it wouldn’t be just about making pies in the keep. We want to build a place where all children can play and train and learn a trade together. All children,” she reiterated, “high and lowborn, orphans and bastards alike. I could teach boys and girls to sword fight, and Gendry would teach them to smith, and you could teach them to bake. You could tell them how the secret is in browning the butter before.”

Hot Pie smiled at the mention of his baking secret.

“You are a good friend, Arry. I’ll think about it.”

“You do, Hot Pie,” Gendry told him, “as long as we are in King’s Landing, there will always be a place there for you.”


 

They were thankful for having a chance to have a proper bath, and bed, after a little more than a week and a half into their journey.

“This is a shit mattress,” Gendry said as he sat on the hard bed.

“How soon you’ve gone soft. We have slept on far worse.”

“Well, those sacks of grain may have been lumpy, but you were naked and on top of me, and even if I was meant to die in a few hours, I certainly had not expected to have some last-night-of-my-life fucking, and so I guess it didn’t register as too uncomfortable of an experience.”

“You know I didn’t mean that,” Arya said coming to join him over the straw bed, “I meant when we used to sleep on the ground.”

“I know what you meant. I just like talking about you fucking me out in the open,” Gendry teased with a wink, “I enjoyed the fucking, though not particularly having the Hound walk in on us.”

Arya laughed.

“You do know that if we were not about to be killed, he would have wrung my neck himself, right?”

“I wouldn’t have let him,” she said before kissing him.


 

Arya fell asleep after making love and, contrary to their usual patterns, Gendry found himself wide awake. He enjoyed watching her sleeping so calmly, and he wondered if it was that recount of their past life, what had given her the peace she had searched for half her life. Gendry rose from the hay mattress and dressed in silence, careful to not disturb her sleep. He went downstairs to the main room, where there was still a fire going. He expected to find someone else awake at the time, but he was surprised to find Arya’s brother.

“Jon.”

“Gendry.”

“I did not expect to see you here,” he confessed.

“We are traveling to the place where I killed a woman I loved, I wouldn’t deem it surprising to find me unable to sleep. Now, you, on the other hand, why aren’t you sleeping placidly on my sister’s bed?”

“I’m usually the one who falls asleep after,” Gendry replied without considering his words.

He cringed when he noticed Jon getting a bit uncomfortable at his comment.

“I don’t know what is worse, hearing you talk about it or actually hearing you bedding my sister.”

“Fuck! I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking,” Gendry apologized, and then realized what Jon had insinuated, “you heard us? I’m sorry, we’ve tried to be quiet.”

“Let’s just change the subject.”

“Gladly.”

“Your friend Hot Pie is nice,” Jon remarked.

“I met Arya because of Hot Pie.”

“Really?”

Gendry nodded, and continued, “he was bullying her, and I stepped in, threatened to hit him with my hammer if he didn’t stop bullying the little ones.”

“I have been drinking with my sister’s bully?!” Jon asked, evidently upset.

“He is really not like that,” Gendry explained, “we were all stupid kids back then. Hot Pie was here?”

“He left a little while ago. Talked my ear off about how to make proper dough. Left because he says he has to wake up early to start the baking.”

Both men stayed silent for a while, looking at the dying embers of the fire.

“What’s on your mind?” Gendry finally asked.

“The usual. Thinking that going to King’s Landing is a fool’s errand, when I intend to go back beyond the wall as soon as you grant me a pardon.”

“You don’t have to,” the king pointed out.

“There is no place for me here.”

“You have as much royal blood as I do, even more, I reckon.”

“I’m not a Targaryen,” Jon warned him.

Gendry nodded in agreement and added, “No, you’re not. You’re a Stark.”

“Not even that,” Jon continued looking down, “I’m just Jon Snow.”

Gendry felt that he understood Jon far more than what Arya’s brother considered. He had been so proud to receive a name he could call his own, even if it belonged to a man Gendry had always found disgusting, even before knowing he had sired him, and to another one who had no qualms on ordering his torture and humiliation. Aye, he had been proud about finally having a respectful name to give Arya, but in all truth, the Baratheon name didn’t mean anything for him.

“You don’t have to be,” Gendry offered.

“What do you mean?”

“I could legitimize you.”

“And be Jon Targaryen, no,” Jon refused.

“Not a Targaryen, no,” Gendry agreed, but continued, “but you could be what you’ve been all along, even if you didn’t get to call yourself that.”

“What is that?” Jon asked, knitting his brow.

“Jon Stark.”


 

They finally made it into King’s Landing a day short of three weeks on the road. Davos had been beaming when he greeted them. They had arrived in the evening, and so, no one else had been there, since Gendry’s hand had instructed them to give the travelers some space and time to rest, there would be enough time to greet their king in the morn.

“Ser Davos, it’s good to see you,” Arya stated, raising herself on her tiptoes to give the Onion knight a quick hug.

“Not as good as it is to have you home,” he replied.

“Davos!” Gendry greeted him as he embraced him tightly, both men patting their backs loudly.

“It’s good to see you lad.”

“I’ll leave you both to get reacquainted,” Arya said, feeling tired and wanting to give them both time to talk, “I must go to bed. I’m knackered.”

“Sleep well,” Davos wished, bowing his head slightly.

“It’s great to see you Davos, really,” she reiterated, and then she turned to her lover, “Gendry, don’t wait too long.”

Davos could see in his king’s reaction how truly gone he was, looking at her, mesmerized.

“You should never leave the realm to me ever again,” Davos declared, distracting Gendry from watching Arya leave.

“Why is that?” he asked, “it looks as if everything is running smoothly.”

“Everything, aye,” Davos concurred, “not so much my gut. Too bloody stressful this job of yours.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel happy about coming back?”

“Maybe not,” he conceded, “but maybe this will, my boy. I found you the perfect spot for that project of yours.”

“Truly?” Gendry’s eyes sparkled at the mention of the project he had deemed would be his legacy.

“Aye. Tomorrow we will survey it. Now, off with you lot to bed. Don’t let that spitfire of yours realize the bed is far more comfortable without your hulking body in it.”

“That little faith you have in me, Davos?”

“No, but take it from someone who has abandoned his wife far too many times. It’s better if they don’t find out the way to go on about their lives without you.”


 

After close to six moons traveling, they had been happy to be back home. ‘Home,’ the word felt strange in Arya’s mind, when it referred to a place that had only brought them sorrow in the past. But coming into the royal chambers, and seeing once more the heirloom bed of the Baratheons, Arya had also remembered that it was also in that wretched place that they had really gotten together.

She had taken the time to browse through the open parchments on the royal desks, as she waited for Gendry to arrive.

“Reading anything interesting?” Gendry asked when he came into the room and saw her going through the papers.

“Ned wrote,” Arya announced, lifting a parchment.

“Ned wrote to you?” Gendry asked, and Arya could feel the bite in his words.

“Don’t be an idiot,” she warned him, “he wrote to you, not me.”

“What does he want?” Gendry asked as he took off his boots.

“Nothing, he wanted to inform you that he is hand of the queen. Apparently, Elia thought him a good match for the post.”

“Is he though?” Gendry asked, coming to where she sat and placed a quick kiss to her forehead.

“Stop it! He is our friend, and it will be good to have an ally supporting Elia.”

Arya stood up then, and she walked to the bed, sitting on it to pull her own boots off, and then her breeches. She then lay back on the soft feather mattress, feeling surprised having forgotten truly how comfortable it was.

“I missed this bed so much,” she declared with lidded eyes.

“I thought featherbeds didn’t do it for you,” Gendry added lying down next to her.

“Idiot,” she said, opening her eyes at his jab, turning to her side to cradle her hand on his jaw and pulling him to her for a kiss.

Gendry sat up on the bed, and Arya found her seat on his lap. They were both wearing just their tunics. After a kiss, she sat astride him, with her arms wrapped around his neck tightly, and her legs circling his torso. Her face burrowed in the crook of his neck, and she inhaled deeply, smelling the crisp smell of soap that she had always associated with the back of his ears. She liked to imagine Gendry’s mother being a proud lowborn woman, who had instilled the importance of washing properly when he had been just a toddler, for she could not think for other reason that he had always been so meticulous about scrubbing behind them.

The contrast between Gendry’s size and hers was so evident, whenever he held her against his body. His broad chest and shoulders wrapping around her made her feel safe and protected. She could feel his heat through his tunic and the rhythmic pulse of his heart. Something that had been in the back of her mind weeks before suddenly came to the surface, and the words flowed freely to her lips, prompting her to whisper it in his ear.

”I’ve stopped drinking my tea.”

Chapter Text

“I’ve stopped drinking my tea.”

 

Arya's words winded him. After her confession, her face had buried once more in the crook of his neck, and he could feel her nuzzling him with her nose. The first thing he had felt was a warmth in his heart, but the feeling had been fleeting. Since he was a child, apprenticing in a forge, he had learned that once you burn yourself, you learn not to put your hand back in the flame, and so, Gendry had not let himself believe that her words meant what he wanted them to mean.

 

Gendry pulled away abruptly, making Arya's eyebrows knit.

 

"What's the matter?” She asked with sincere confusion, “I thought you'd be glad."

 

"Since when?" He asked icily.

 

"Since we met again at Winterfell."

 

"Why?" He asked as he turned his body away from her, planting his feet on the ground for he felt once more untethered, a leaf on the wind.

 

"At first, I just forgot, I was so happy to be together again. I really didn’t set myself to deceive you. I worried when I realized I missed it, but I told myself ‘just drink it tomorrow.’ But I forgot again. I kept telling myself I'd drink it the next day, and then the next day. And then, we talked about what may have happened or not after the battle of King’s Landing, and it made me think of it. Then we were on the road, and I thought of our past in the Riverlands, and I was happy like I haven’t been happy in years. After that, I just didn't want to drink the tea at all."

 

“When did you bleed last?”

 

“Right before you came to Winterfell,” Arya replied honestly.

 

Gendry did a quick calculation in his mind, it had been a little under a moon turn since they had reunited, and gods knew they had done plenty to warrant her actions successful. At least they’d know soon, he thought, trying to temper his fury.

 

He failed.

 

"Fucking hells Arya!" He said, standing up and pacing the room.

 

"You're mad?" She asked, the beginning of her own rage showing in her tone as she stood up as well.

 

"Of course, I'm fucking mad!" He roared, turning back to face her.

 

"Why? It's what you wanted!” She shouted in return, getting on his face.

 

"You think this is what I wanted? You know very well I did not want to father bastards. And you also knew that I did not want to be kept in the dark."

 

The eyes that had always held such love for her were now full of rage.

 

"I thought you'd be happy."

 

Gendry looked down and shook his head in defeat.

 

"You won't change your mind, but you expect me to change mine."

 

A tiny part of his heart hoped that by having said that, if there were any chance that Arya would accept him as her husband, then it was the moment she would say it.

 

"I don't understand why you are so hung up on stupid beliefs!"

 

She wouldn’t.

 

There was a sick sense of triumph in having guessed right. Arya wanted his child, but she would still not marry. The satisfaction of not having proposed and being rejected once more tasted bitter in his mouth.

 

"I wouldn't go throwing stones, sweetheart."

 

“You are worried that they’d dethrone you for this?”

 

Arya’s blood was starting to boil, realizing that having a legitimate heir would still matter so much to Gendry.

 

“You think I care what the nobles think? Seriously Arya,” he had to take a moment, feeling out of breath, “if you don’t understand why I’m furious, then you do not know me at all.”

 

‘Just like you don’t know me,’ a voice in her head retorted.

 

“Why most you want to own me?” Arya challenged him.

 

“You know it’s not about that.”

 

“What is it about then?”

 

What was it? Gendry knew he could pretend many things, don fine leathers and a crown, and deal with the lords and ladies trying to show them he was worth as much as them. He could look down on weak men who had not worked a day in their lives and still thought of him as an ignorant brute. He relished showing them just how wrong they were. But deep down, he knew his insecurities. The biggest one his fear of abandonment.

 

“I’m afraid. I’m afraid of our child going through the same life I went through,” Gendry took a moment to think with his eyes closed, and said something hard to admit, “I’m afraid you’ll leave me with our newborn in my arms.”

 

Gendry’s words cut her deeply. She was not a woman or a mother, she was a monster with a kill count and a penchant for fleeing when her heart got too heavy.

 

“That is the monster you think me to be.”

 

There were tears in her eyes, and she was trying hard to keep them in. Noticing them made Gendry want to kick himself.

 

“I know it’s not nice to say that, but it is the way I feel.”

 

“Listen to me! I won’t ever abandon my pack. You know that about me.”

 

“Do I? I was once part of yours, and you left me still.”

 

That was another low blow.

 

If that was the game they were going to play, she was willing to hurt him back, “You left first.”

 

“And so you are going to punish me forever?"

 

“How is this punishment?!” She yelled once more.

 

“I’ve tried to respect your feelings. I never asked you again because I knew the way you felt. I’d thought you would respect mine,” Gendry was looking down, feeling the fight leaving him only with the sorrow.

 

“But you said so yourself! In Dorne, you wished you would get me with child, and then when I took you to meet Nymeria, when I said I wasn’t carrying your babe then, you said ‘not yet,’” Arya reminded him.

 

She was right.

 

He did think and said those things.

 

Why did it hurt still?

 

“But I explained why those thoughts were dangerous for me, why I regretted wanting that in passing.”

 

“Why is marriage more important to you than this?!”

 

“Because I want a real family!”

 

“How in seven hells would this not make us more family than marrying?”

 

They were never going to see eye to eye. In their own way, they were both realizing that and feeling their chests fill with dread.

 

“I’m sorry, I just can’t,” Gendry sighed, turning away from her.

 

"Where are you going?" Arya panicked.

 

Gendry was walking to the cupboard that held his clothes and grabbed a fresh tunic to put on.

 

"I can't be here right now,” he explained, as he dressed and put on his boots.

 

"You hate me then.”

 

The way she said it, with a sorrowful sob, made him turn to face her, and it took him back to that cave. In Arya’s eyes, he saw only Arry’s pleading for him to stay.

 

"No, I am angry. I am furious with you, but I don't hate you. You know very well that I won’t ever stop loving you, but right now, I need to be alone,” and after saying that Genry left.

 


 

He went into the forge already convinced that it was a cliche. What was he going to do that late and with the fires dead? He just tidied up and looked through the projects that the smiths had left on the tables. A forge without flames was just a drab and grimy place. He sat down on a bench thinking, the voice in his head berating him for being a coward hiding away. After a while, he walked back to the royal chambers.

 

The room was somber with only a flickering candle left on for him. The blankets were off on his side of the featherbed, and he could see Arya's sleeping form. As he lay down, he saw that she was wearing one of his tunics, and it wasn’t a freshly laundered one, but the one he had been wearing when they arrived.

 

After blowing off the candle, he settled behind her, spooning her. He placed his hand on her hip and noticed that the rhythm of her breathing stayed the same. He let his hand move toward her midsection, resting it on the place under where his child could already be taking root.

 

Gendry thought about his feelings, the hurt that his rage was masking. At the end of the day, it all came down to him being that little boy, not older than six namedays, with no father or mother, and no one to care that he hadn’t had anything to eat in days, or that there was not a warm place for him to rest his head. After he was legitimized, everyone said his temper made sense, that his fury came from the Baratheon blood in his veins. But he was furious at them giving credit for the traits that made Gendry the man he was to fucking Robert Baratheon. No, the rage in his blood didn’t come from the Baratheons, the wrath in his blood was all from a boy that had no one. A boy who had the only person who ever loved him die, when he was too young to fend for himself.

 

Very quickly, on those first days after his mother passed, when he no longer had a place to stay or a source of food, he realized what dangers were out there for little kids. He had almost been tempted to accept offers for some food from men who only asked him to accompany them in return. But despite Arya jesting all the time about him being stupid, he was not, and he knew that in his world no one gave anything for nothing. He wandered around instead, and he saw the blacksmiths, and Tobho Mott’s shop was were the best worked. Tobho had been berating a young apprentice for not sweeping the metal scraps from the floor. He went to the master and offered him to clean if he could only employ him, give him a place to stay and enough to eat one meal per day. To this day, Gendry didn’t know if he had moved Tobho’s heart, or if there was someone, in the shadows, looking after him. But if there had been someone, they hadn’t been too keen to help out before he had spent close to a week, sleeping rough and surviving on the food he found in the trash.

 

Gendry wondered what kind of man he would have grown up to be if his mother hadn’t died, or if at least she had died when he was older. His mother loved him, but she was not too indulgent. Gendry wondered if the same people who saw Robert Baratheon reborn on his looks and on his temper would have thought the same if he had that other life. Would he have been the same sullen boy prone to anger? Mayhaps he would have been softer, still the kind-hearted and hard-working man that his mother wanted him to be, but one who didn’t hold a grudge against life. Gendry bet no one would have told him then that he was a Baratheon through and through.

 

Life had chewed him and spat him out over and over. He had felt the acrid taste of his fury in the mouth when Tobho told him he had sold him to the Night’s Watch despite his obvious talent smithing. He was his best apprentice, Tobho had said so to Lord Stark himself. In hindsight, Tobho must have been trying to protect him, or someone else had paid him to do so for the same reason, but it didn’t matter, because, at the time, he had felt used. He had been tortured and made a slave at Harrenhal, and then when they had met with the Brotherhood without Banners he had thought there was a place where he could finally be able to decide for himself, and yet they had sold him to Melisandre and Stannis, just to bleed him out.

 

All his life, he had been used.

 

That was why it had hurt him so when Arya had chosen him to share the last hours of her life, but they lived, and he had thought they were something to each other, but she had rejected him when he finally had something to offer. He took his father’s name like blood money, to finally be someone and have something, to once and for all be able to make decisions for himself. But she had still rejected him, and standing there, watching her keep shooting her arrows while his heart was breaking, and he couldn’t move because he forgot how to breathe or command his legs, Gendry had realized what a fool he had been.

 

Still a leaf on the wind.

 

Her rejection still stung, and he did what he always did when those memories came: pull Arya closer to him, and bury his face in her wild fragrant hair, and remember that despite the past she was there, alive and willing in his arms.

 

Every time his old wounds gnawed at him, and he took the time to think of all the other possible lives he could have lived, he never dwelled much on the possibility of having made it to the Wall. He would have become a crow and a true brother of Jon Snow. Maybe he would have finally found that sense of belonging that he thought the Brotherhood would give him.

 

One thing was for sure, he would have taken vows, to hold no lands and father no children.

 

His fingers caressed Arya’s lower belly at that thought, and he almost laughed at the irony.

 

A little less than a moon turn before he had spent another sleepless night with his hand on Arya’s midsection, thinking on the very likely possibility that he had gotten her with child on the Long Night, and that she had lost it after the sacking of King’s Landing. If Arya had really been with child, and if she hadn’t lost it, he would have still done what he always told himself he wouldn’t do: father a bastard. But that hadn’t hurt like this. He wondered why it felt different, and after a long time thinking he came to the conclusion that back then, even with their lack of restraint and with their imminent deaths nipping at their ankles, he would have been fully responsible for the consequences.

 

But this time, he felt hurt. He felt used by the woman he loved. He believed that Arya didn’t love him enough to understand him.

 

Though even if that were true and if their child was already growing strong in her belly, then what?

 

He wasn’t a cruel man to reject the woman he loved, who could very well be the mother of his child already.

 

Why was he unhappy if he was to get what he always wanted?

 

And without missing a beat, when he almost got himself to feel joy, the voice in his head hissed once more: he was still not good enough to marry, she could one day wake up and decide to leave him.

 

Leave them.

 

But having her say vows to him with witnesses and make her wear his name, could that convince him she’d stay?

 

The crux of it was what might already be quickening in her womb: the fear of his child being a bastard like him.

 

Why couldn’t Arya realize what it meant to him that she was forcing him to be his father’s son?

 

Robert Baratheon had not stayed long enough in his mother’s bed to place his own hand on her womb and wonder about Gendry, and yet, this was giving him one more reason to be Robert Baratheon reborn.

 

Gendry didn’t know how long he had wallowed in his despair until he succumbed to slumber, but daylight had roused him, and once awake, he could sense that it had awakened Arya as well, for she was moving slightly. They had stayed together, her back still flush against his chest, and his hand still protectively resting on her abdomen.

 

"You're still mad at me?” She asked without moving to face him.

 

"Not mad,” he replied, “but not happy either,” Gendry answered with honesty.

 

They both stayed silent for a long while.

 

Gendry willed himself to say the thing neither was saying, “you could be carrying our child already.“

 

Despite all her training, she couldn’t mask her feelings with his hand on her bare skin. He felt her tense before replying.

 

"Yes."

 

Gendry let his other hand go under her, and he embraced her fully against him, his face buried in the crook of her neck. Despite the display of love, Arya knew the chasm between them was far from being over.

 

"How long will you be angry at me?"

 

"I don't know,” he replied on her neck, “you've forced my hand."

 

"I thought you'd be happy."

 

"This is not how I wanted it to happen."

 


 

They both got off the bed and went through their morning routine without sharing words. A servant girl brought them food to break their fast and informed them the Lord Hand had summoned the Small Council as soon as the king was ready for it.

 

Gendry wondered as the council sat down for the first time in half a year if those present could sense something was amiss between Arya and him.

 

“It is nice to have everyone together after such a long time. Of course, Ser Brienne will be sadly missed,” Davos announced.

 

“Brienne was always going to go back to Sansa,” the king explained, “the Queen in the North did a great kindness to me by instructing her to stay in King’s Landing and being part of my council.”

 

“While we will all miss her, we could not have asked for a better Lord Commander,” Tyrion declared, nodding towards Arya, “I’m sure your grace could not ask for better shield than the Slayer of the Night King and the Bringer of Dawn.”

 

Fuck.

 

Gendry had not thought of this.

 

If there were an uprising, Arya would be expected to protect him with her life.

 

If that cost had not been a price he was willing to pay in the past, it was even steeper now.

 

“The honor is mine,” Arya responded to Tyrion’s compliment. If she had looked towards Gendry, he wouldn’t have known, since he had avoided looking at her, for fear of her seeing his feelings and worries showing on his face.

 

“Your grace,” Davos continued, “we were pleased to hear the news from Dorne. The threat from the South has now been defused, and not only we have an ally in Queen Elia, but the new trade agreement has already brought new income to our coffers.”

 

“Which brings us to another threat that unfortunately has not been dealt with yet,” Tyrion intervened, “while we now have better funds, it is still not enough to settle the crown’s debt with the Iron Bank.”

 

“Surely the situation is not as dire as it was when Alvar was conspiring with the Iron bankers,” Gendry ventured.

 

“Yes, of course, it could have been far worse. At this point, we can probably pay the interest we owe, but one bad harvesting season or a hurricane affecting our sea trade could make us default on our loans,” the Master of Coin and Whispers explained.

 

“We could go back to the original plan of having one of us go to Braavos to deal with them,” Arya offered, her words quickly making Gendry turn to look at her, angry eyes showing that if he had once worried about her going to Braavos, his fear had increased tenfold.

 

“Let’s not be too hasty with that. If our new trade with Dorne is becoming so lucrative, mayhaps the solution could be to restructure other trade routes with the rest of the Six Kingdoms. Tyrion, let’s work on this together further.”

 

“It will be my pleasure, Davos.”

 

“Pardon me, I have a question,” Samwell Tarly interrupted, “Is it still technically the Six Kingdoms now that Dorne is independent?”

 

“It was never seven kingdoms joint,” Bran stated, “not it was six, once the North received its independence. The Seven Kingdoms were nine regions in reality.”

 

“So, we still have one region to spare, if another one of our regions decides to petition for independence,” Gendry declared clearly looking towards Yara Greyjoy, to the shocked faces of the rest of the council, except Bran, who simply smiled.

 

Davos cleared his throat, and continued, “then we have the issue of the pardoning ceremony for Jon Snow.”

 

“How soon can it happen?” Arya inquired.

 

“We need the representatives of each region to arrive at King’s Landing, I suggest we plan for three weeks.

 

“A fortnight,” Bran’s voice announced.

 

“I beg your pardon,” Davos asked.

 

“You already sent ravens requesting their presence. In a fortnight all the lords and ladies that need to be present will have arrived,” Arya’s brother declared.

 

“Very well then, a fortnight it is.”

 

“Is that all Davos?” Gendry inquired.

 

“For now, it is.”

 

The Small Council was dismissed, and Gendry asked Davos if they could see the plot of land that he had found for his project.

 

“Of course, lad,” Davos said, “I’ll be happy to take you and Arya now.”

 

Arya had almost reached the door when she heard her name and the plans that Davos was sharing with Gendry. Even if they were fighting, she still wanted to see it, after all, Gendry said it was meant to be their legacy.

 

The plot of land was bare, all ruins already cleared. It sat close to the shore, with a beautiful view of Blackwater bay.

 

“Not much to see now,” Davos announced, worried that his king’s silence was due to disappointment.

 

Contrary to his thoughts, Gendry was not looking at the barren land, he saw instead crowds of children running and laughing. He saw a kitchen where the older ones would apprentice to learn how to cook bowls of brown, pies and loaves of bread, and maybe even biscuits in the shapes of animals. That kitchen would serve hot food for the kids who didn’t have food to eat back home. Thinking back to his recent memories of his childhood, he thought of the orphans, and he mentally added boarding rooms for the homeless children. Turning to the other side, he could already see the perfect placing for the forge and the artisan stations. Children learning how to work steel and pottery and textiles. And on the back, a training yard, where Arya would teach girls and boys to defend themselves. At the front, a small pool for the hot days, a modest replica of the ones in Dorne.

 

“It’s perfect Davos,” he said with a smile.

 

Arya’s eyes were inscrutable, looking at the sea, and a thought hit him suddenly: he had been planning this legacy of his, of theirs, for anonymous kids, the children of Westeros.

 

But maybe, just maybe, he could imagine among the imaginary little ones, his own child running around, wielding a wooden sword, raven black hair, and stormy grey eyes.

 

The thought made him smile.

 

Turning to look at Arya, he saw her no longer the woman who had made time stand still the night before with her revelation.

 

There was no Arry left on her face.

 

Just a mask made of Arya Stark’s face.

 

The smile fell from his lips, and he almost felt it blow away like a leaf on the sea breeze.

 

Her cold grey eyes looking at his, demanding something.

 

“Don’t worry, m’lady,” he said, the old nickname meant to sting, “It was never meant to be a wedding present.”


 

The following days advanced monotonously. They didn’t fight anymore, but nothing else happened either. They talked as much as it was necessary but nothing more. Gendry spent some time with Jon, talking about the changes to the city, Jon feeling relieved that the capital was very different from the one he had left in shackles.

 

At night, Arya And Gendry would go to bed together without saying a word. Every night, Arya would let Gendry pull her to him, and she would fall asleep with his hand over her belly. Something about the gesture always made Arya’s throat feel tight.

 

Neither of them talked about the what-ifs, of their thoughts of a girl or a boy half hers and half his. Every day that Arya woke up without moon blood on her smallclothes made her wonder if every night Gendry’s hand could feel anything expanding. Gendry didn’t tell her either, that at night he would wait for Arya’s breath to even out, to move his hand, and splay his fingers wide, trying to measure it, and trying to let its warmth reach his possible child, to let it know its father was there.


 

One morning, Gendry saw Arya out in the training field with the Kingsguard and the new recruits. He stopped to watch, pleasantly surprised to see three girls among the new recruits. Mayhaps if they were in better-talking terms, he would have known about this already.

 

’Stubborn bastard,’ the voice in his head hissed.

 

He saw the new recruits train with wooden swords, Arya making corrections as she walked around with her hands clasped behind her back. He was leaning on the railing on the upper balcony, out of earshot of whatever was being said below. Arya appeared to have mentioned something to the young recruits, and she called for one of the Kingsguards to join her in a demonstration. The young man in question made a motion for taking one of the wooden swords, but he was interrupted by the Lord Commander, and instead unsheathed his real weapon. Gendry’s fist tensed around the iron railing when he realized they were meant to spar with real swords.

 

Every time that Arya unsheathed Ice Storm, Gendry would feel his chest fill with pride, and his male ego was assuaged convinced that by making the very best of swords, he was protecting his woman, who was more than capable (even more than him) to wield it.

 

He didn’t feel that this time.

 

Arya twirled the blade effortlessly in her left hand, and both she and the man started to spar, as Gendry had seen her do hundreds of times before. Every time that the young man’s sword swung, and Arya dodged it without breaking a sweat, Gendry could feel his heart skipping a beat. Same thing for every time she blocked a blow with her blade and diverted her opponent’s sword. Gendry thought he had mastered his apprehension, and his hand had almost let go of the railing, but then Arya had twisted and seen him there looking at them, and she had missed that the guard had swung once more. It had been almost too late for any other swordsman, but not for Arya. It was not her usual elegant movement, she had gotten out of the way abruptly, narrowly missing the blade, which kissed the surface of her jerkin near the place where her navel should be.

 

“Arya!” The king’s thunderous yell had made all of those in the training yard look up startled.

 

Arya calmed the worried guard, and convinced him that he had not been at fault, and dismissed all those present.

 

Gendry had stood where he was until he noticed the young recruits and the Kingsguard leaving, and only then he made his way down the steps to the training yard.

 

“What the fuck was that?!” She asked visibly angry.

 

“Do you think that was wise?” He asked in return, “you could have been hurt.”

 

“You do not think me capable of the new position you gave me?”

 

“You know it is not that.”

 

“Then what? Are we back at you telling me what I can and cannot do?”

 

The gauntlet was thrown. Arya had not said the word ‘marriage,’ but it was out there, implied.

 

“I just want you to be safe,” Gendry explained, putting more effort than usual in choosing his words.

 

“I am weak then.”

 

“Seven hells Arya, no. You know I don’t think of you weak. But you have to at least admit there is a reason for me to worry,” he said, his eyes lowering to her abdomen at the last words.

 

Since the morning after her revelation, they had not talked about the possibility of her being with child, even with him going to sleep with his hand on her belly, they never mentioned it. And though Gendry hadn’t said the word right then, they were both aware of what, or better yet, who they were talking about.

 

“Will a nice high tower be erected in your keep for my confinement, your grace?”

 

“Stop it, Arya.”

 

“Stop what? You are the one who cannot see me anything but weak.”

 

“Vulnerable is not the same as weak. I just want you safe. Both of you,” Gendry explained, “I love you.”

 

It was the first time his profession of love was meant for two.

 

“And how come it doesn’t feel like it?” Arya said before turning around and leaving him alone.


 

“You two are fighting,” Jon said to Gendry, finding him in the forge.

 

“You could tell,” Gendry replied without turning his gaze from the steel he had been shaping.

 

“You do know that if you hurt her, I am required to kick your arse.”

 

“Wouldn’t expect anything else,” Gendry said, turning back to face his friend, wiping his hands on his apron.

 

“Now, my sister can be stubborn, but if you are just arguing, even if she is in the wrong, I must take her side.”

 

That line prompted sad laughter.

 

“I understand, though if you knew what it was about, I sincerely doubt you would.”

 

“Want to talk about it?” Jon asked.

 

“I do,” Gendry replied, “but it is something that must stay between her and me, so I won’t.”


 

That night Gendry came into their room to find Arya sitting by the fire. He walked to her and sat down on the floor by her side.

 

“My moon blood came. I thought you’d want to know.”

 

Gendry lost the ability to breathe.

 

“I’m sorry,” he said as his hand came to rest on her knee.

 

“Are you?” She asked, turning to face him, “It’s what you wanted.”

 

Her words felt like a dagger in his gut had been twisted.

 

“You thought it wouldn’t sadden me as well?” Gendry asked quietly.

 

She could see it in his eyes.

 

“The night Nymeria birthed her pups, I was in her,” Arya explained instead, looking back at the flames.

 

“I figured as much. Thought that’s how you knew of her labor.”

 

“I felt it,” Arya explained, her hand coming to her midsection, remembering the ache.

 

“It must have been painful. The way you screamed.”

 

“It was. But that was not what made me scream. I could feel it inside me, wiggling, eager to come out. When I dream of Nymeria, it is not just Arya Stark looking out of her eyes. Before she hunts, I feel her hunger, and I taste the flesh in my mouth, and I smell the blood dripping out of her snout. When I dream of her, I am her. The wolf pups in her womb were mine that night, and I felt the first one being born. I felt my hips widen, and my flesh tear. And I felt every angle of its bones as it came out of me. And once it was born, I was sure it was mine,” making a pause, Arya turned to make sure to look into his eyes for what she had to say after.

 

“And yours.”

 

The depth of what she was saying felt like a punch to his face. Gendry remembered that night well. The way Arya had screamed, the most animalistic sound he had ever heard. It had pulled him from his slumber, and in his confusion, he hadn’t known what it was. The only thing Gendry knew was that she was hurt, and in his muddled brain, he thought of wights, and faceless assassins, and Lannister soldiers, and the torturers at Harrenhal. Once she had told him Nymeria had birthed her pups, he had understood that Arya had been in her, and it was easy to think that Arya had wailed out of pain. But that was not what he had witnessed. He knew that now. Arya had screamed out of the pain and the sorrow of having lost the babe she had just birthed. A babe that she was certain was his.

 

“I tried to reach for it and bring it to my breast. I was so sure I had just birthed our child, and I couldn’t find it. And once the fog lifted from my brain, I realized our babe didn’t exist, and it wasn’t just as if I had dreamed of that. I felt it all. And I felt robbed.”

 

“My love,” Gendry sighed, and he pulled her to his lap and embraced her tightly.

 

“After that,” she continued, her face against his shoulder, “I didn’t drink my tea, not because I forgot one day, and then another, and then because I wondered how bad would it be if I didn’t. After that night, I never once thought back about the tea because I wanted to feel your babe inside of me move again. I wanted to go through all that pain once more, but hold our child afterward and never let go.”


 

That night, as they got in bed together, Gendry reached for her almost automatically, but as his hand was going to settle on her abdomen, he stopped himself, knowing that the gesture would be painful for both of them. Instead, he turned her body, so it was facing him, and he held her against his chest.

 

“Next time-” He started to say when Arya interrupted him.

 

“Next time?” Arya asked startled, hope evident in her voice.

 

“Aye,” Gendry replied, pulling softly at her head so he could look into her eyes, “next time, I don’t want to be in the dark. Next time I make love to you, I want to know we’re trying for a babe.”

Chapter Text

Arya could feel it.

Something stuck inside of her, buried away like she once had buried Needle. A voice, tightly bound, like she used to bind the buds of her breasts, to pretend that she was still Arry, the orphan boy who was too shy to piss in front of the others and let them see his cock.

That voice in her chest had been silenced, placing stone after stone, breaking its back, making it crouch and twist in its prison.

The sound of the crowd gathered around the Sept of Baelor and of pigeons taking flight had effaced a voice as old and sturdy as a weirwood tree.

A voice that fell constant like snow.

A Northern voice.



The cost of forgoing her moon tea had been steep, and the price she had to pay was measured in Gendry’s anger and the torture of sleeping with him embracing her in such a loving way while he remained so very distant.

But despite it all, she had been hopeful.

The night when he left her alone in their room when even his will to yell at her had died, she had tried to sleep, angry tears burning in her eyes. The big Baratheon bed, too big and soft without him in it mocked her, and so she had picked up his tunic from the floor and worn it just to feel him on her skin.

She only noticed that he had come back when she woke up the next morning, with his big warm hand splayed on her midsection, still mad at her, but letting their possible pup know that he was there for the long haul.

But despite those days when he had been furious and then sad every night, he had held her tight and kept his hand on her, guarding their future.

A future that in the end, was not meant to be.

While they had made up, they had yet to be intimate again, and now that her moon blood had ended a few days before, she didn’t know where they stood. Arya was not sure if Gendry had told her that he wanted to actively try for a babe, or if he had meant that whenever they actually did something that could potentially lead to a babe, he’d want to be fully aware. She leaned more for the first one, but given the consequences of her recent impulsive behavior, she did not wish to assume.

In the meantime, they continued sleeping side by side and waking up huddled together as they used to when they were orphans on the road, though this time, it was not the cold that brought them together in their sleep. Every morning, after breaking their fast, they’d smile and share a quick kiss, before going on with their lives.



“You’ve made up,” Jon said to her while they ate their morning meal.

“You knew?” Arya asked, wondering how much Jon had been privy to the whole ordeal.

“It was hard not to see it.”

“Did he tell you what it was about?” Apprehension was evident in her voice.

“No, I told him I would listen if he wanted to talk, but he said it should stay between you two. I warned him, though, that I would take your side and kick his arse if he hurt you.”

Her brother’s blind faith moved her first, but then it soured.

“You wouldn’t have if you knew,” Arya confessed.

“Funny. Gendry said the same. What was it about?”

Arya remained silent for a moment before speaking.

“I thought I was with child,” she started explaining, but Jon scowled, and the hand on the table clenched into a tight fist.

“Was he not going to take responsibility?” He asked sternly, quiet enough so Arya would be the only one to hear him.

“It was not like that,” Arya was quick to explain, “just the opposite. He was mad because I didn’t tell him I stopped taking my tea.”

“And you still won’t marry him,” her brother’s complete certainty of what she clearly had done worried her.

Since when had her beliefs become so predictable? If she had presented the motivations of this Arya Stark to the Waif in the game of faces, she would have struck her immediately for it being a feeble made-up story. And yet the bound feeling at the top of her gut paralyzed her still.

It was the Northern voice, speaking again.

And her heart trying to follow its footprints in the snow, before they disappeared under the storm.

“What the fuck, Arya?!” Jon’s outburst startled her.

“I told you you’d take his side.”

Her brother had just looked at her, and with a hand on the back of her head, he pulled her close and kissed her forehead, before standing up and leaving her alone.

After leaving the dining hall, she walked to the docks to think, and by high noon she had found her resolve.



Gendry waited at the Small Council table having been summoned by Davos with a cryptic message ‘A member of a great house wishes to talk terms.’ While he waited, he fidgeted with the quill on the table and grumbled at wasting his time with the pompous lord when he could be doing something productive in the forge or working logistics for the children’s place with his lord hand.

His thoughts were interrupted by the door opening and Arya coming into the room.

“Anything the matter? Davos said I have to meet some stupid noble fucker who wants to talk terms, but if you need me for something, I can just tell him to go fuck himself.”

Arya’s lips curled just a bit as she went to sit next to him.

“It’s me,” she announced.

“What is you?”

“The stupid noble fucker who wants to talk terms,” Arya explained, noticing Gendry’s consternation.

“Should I be worried that you need to talk to me at the council table instead of discussing this in our bed?”

“We’ll never get this right if we leave it to our bed,” Arya explained with a hand on his jaw.

Gendry took a moment to relish the feeling of Arya’s thumb softly moving over his stubble. Placing his own hand on top, he moved it until the palm was at his lips, so he could plant a quick kiss on it before bringing it to the table.

“Very well, Ser Arya of House Stark, how can your king be of service?”

“I do not wish to deal with the king, just Gendry,” she announced, giving him that look, with eyes open wide, as her sense of wonder, still remained intact.

“Then you should have looked for him in the forge,” he replied with a smile, trying mask his concern.

“He wouldn’t pay attention to me if he was busy making the steel sing.”

“What is bothering you?” Gendry finally asked.

“Nothing,” Arya explained, “It’s just that I haven’t been good to you.”

“You are always good to me.”

Arya could sense Gendry’s thumb drawing circles on her palm, and once more she wondered if the lines on it already told what lay ahead for them and if this whole talk and her reticence could already be moot. Forcing herself to stay on track, she continued.

“I hurt you in a way I didn’t intend to, but I still did, and so, I wanted to say that if you want me to drink my tea again, I understand, and even if I don’t want to, I will.”

Gendry paused briefly considering her words.

“I appreciate that. The truth is we both were hoping the other one was going to change their mind.”

“But we didn’t, and it scares me that we may never will.”

Gendry looked down at their intertwined hands and took an audible sigh.

“I was furious at you for having made the decision without me, but-”

“But?” Arya interrupted him.

“But before your blood came, I started imagining, and it’s hard to not want to try, now that the dream has a face,” At the last word, he raised his head to look directly at her.

Arya searched in his blue eyes, as she used to see old women in the East look for signs in fountains of still water.

“A face? Have you been dreaming of a son?” She asked with a smile, her cheeks as warm as if she had been standing out in the Braavos sun.

“Or daughter,” Gendry added, staring at the face that he was convinced he wanted his own daughter to take after.

“Tell me about this face.”

“When Davos took us to that plot of land, I saw it, a little thing in breeches, long raven hair, and stormy grey eyes like yours, wielding a wooden sword.”

“Long hair and breeches?” Her tone was low, and it reminded Gendry of that night in the storeroom, when he had presented her weapon, and she interrogated him.

“Could be a daughter as well as a son,” Gendry indicated.

Arya pulled the hand in hers to her lips and kissed his knuckles.

“But you didn’t come here to for that,” he continued, bringing their joint hands back to the table, “I believe you said to my lord hand that you have terms?”

“Yes,” she sighed and continued, “you are the king, and you can legitimize anyone.”

“Yes.”

“You could recognize our children and legitimize them,” Arya proposed.

“Children?” The word spilled effortlessly from his broad smile, “we’re having children now? Not a child?”

When Arya nodded, letting him tease her without a retort, he continued:

“This may be my most successful negotiation of terms I’ve ever been part of.”

“Idiot,” She berated him rolling her eyes.

“Aye,” he agreed with a smile, and giving her a quick peck on the lips he continued, “the idiot who is going to father your children.”

His words made her cheeks feel warm.

“So?” She asked once he had had enough time to bask in the promise.

“So?” He repeated a bit dazed.

“Did you not listen to anything else I said?”

“I’m sorry, it’s not every day the woman you’ve been madly in love with tells you she is willing to bear your children. Plural. What was that other thing?”

“Legitimation, you recognizing our children as yours and giving them your name.”

“My name?”

His question and the look on his face threw her a bit.

“Well, if you are dead set on them being Daynes they could, but I’m not making them with Ned. What other name but yours, you silly bull?”

“No, not Daynes. Do not ever jest about that ever again. No, I always thought you’d want your children to be Starks.”

“All my children will be Starks, regardless of the name they bear.”

“It’s just that Robert was an awful man, while your father was just and honorable. Wouldn’t you prefer your children to have your father’s name instead of my… instead of Robert’s?”

“I loved my father. I love him still. My father was a great man, yes, just and honorable, but he was also loving, and strong, and funny, and the most wonderful father. And he loved me unconditionally,” at the last word a fat tear rolled down her cheek and Gendry brushed it with his thumb.

“Aye.”

“I believe our children will feel the same about you, and they’ll be proud of bearing your name. I told you once Gendry, Baratheon is not Robert, or Stannis, or Renly, or any other one of your ancestors. Baratheon, for me, my love, is you, and only you. I love you.”

Gendry felt paralyzed, his bright blue eyes were the biggest Arya had seen them. Just as she was starting to get worried about his silence, he stood up and pulled her to her feet. His hands framed her face as he joined his lips to hers, startling her.

“What was that for?” She asked when the kiss ended, eyes still closed.

“You love me,” Gendry explained, prompting Arya’s eyes to open.

“You knew that already, stupid.”

“No, I didn’t,” he confessed, and the innocence on his face confused Arya.

“I’ve said it before.”

“Aye,” Gendry agreed, and rubbing the back of his neck, he continued, “but everyone knows that it doesn’t count when those words are spoken in the throes of passion.”

“I’ve said it other times, not only when we fuck,” Arya added, trying to convince herself more than him.

“No, you haven’t,” he admitted.

“How do you know?”

“Oh, I know,” Gendry reiterated, letting his hands fall to her lower back, pulling her closer to his body.

“I love you,” Arya said it then, for good measure.

“And I love you, but that, of course, you’ve known for a while,” he explained.

“Still nice to hear.”

Arya started to move, ready to walk back to their chamber hand-in-hand, but Gendry’s feet were firmly planted on the ground.

“Hey, where are you going?” He asked.

“I thought we were done.”

“You haven’t heard my terms,” Gendry reminded her.

Arya’s eyebrow rose.

“I don’t know if you are aware, but coming to your king and demanding something without anything in return is not a negotiation, that is a petition.”

“But I came to offer you something, not ask to receive it.”

“Will you not listen to my terms, woman?”

“Terms you said?”

The voice in her chest spoke again with solemn words.

“Don’t look so scared, love. Aye, terms. Not a marriage proposal, I promise.”

“I’m listening.”

“Do you think I should remain king?”

“Are you thinking of giving it up?” Arya asked instead.

“No, I’m asking you if you think I’ve done anything good for the realm. If there has been a fucking point to those pretentious lords having a bastard for their king.”

“You have, and you have still a lot of good to do.”

“And you don’t think I accepted being king because of the power or the lands?” Gendry inquired.

“No. Not you.”

“Why did you stay?” He asked, “why did you become my Master of War, and now my Lord Commander?”

How could she explain the memory of those words? Of a solemn promise made years before?

That the voice in her chest was the voice of her father, who had left her hollow as he cast her future.

“Because, I can have a say, and help this wretched place be better for once. Because I can help you,” Arya continued touching his chest with her hand, “my father said I couldn’t be a lord or a septon, but I could birth sons who would do all the things that I couldn’t.”

“You are much more than a broodmare to birth lords, and knights and septons… or princes, in our case.”

“I haven’t heard your terms yet,” she reminded him, letting her wide grey eyes reach his.

“I will not ask you to be my wife again,” Gendry explained, careful with his words.

‘That’s not me,’ she had said to Ned, rejecting his hopes for her.

“But there is a role I would like you to take.”

“And what is it?”

It was not easy not to feel transported back to the time when he proposed a future together, and she said the words that haunted him still.

The solemn promise she made to her father.

“Rule with me. Be my warrior queen.”

“How is that different from being your wife?” Arya asked, and while she had still not said yes, her eyes didn’t fall like that other time.

“I don’t know the answer to that because I do not know what wife means to you, only what it means to me. But I did not ask you to be the Queen of the Six Kingdoms, I asked you to be my warrior queen. If we go to war, I will not ask you to stay behind in a tower or a crypt. You would be required to wear your armor and fight alongside me,” he explained.

“And what about when I grow heavy with your babe?”

“I’m sure I’ll try to convince you to let me protect you, and for the love that we share, I trust you will understand,” Gendry took then a breath and resting his forehead on hers, he continued, “but above all, I trust the woman I love to be capable of protecting herself, and guarding our pups fiercely like the she-wolf that she is. If you still decide to come to battle with me, I will just make sure to smith the best armor plate for your expanding shape.”

Arya’s only response was to give him a searing kiss, while her hands circled his neck, and Gendry held her tight against him.



That night when they went to bed, Gendry cuddled with her from behind, but the hand that would normally stay at her waist went under her shift and brought it to her breast. He let his mouth search for her neck through the wild hair, spilling on her shoulder. Once his lips were just above her pulse, he whispered into her skin:

“Has your moon blood stopped?”

The question kindled the fire in her core knowing what it meant, since Gendry was not put off by it, and had even taken her a couple of times while she bled in the past.

“It has.”

Gendry growled in response and pulled her back, until she was flat on the mattress with him above her, claiming her mouth. While they kissed, his hand came to her hip and started lifting the thin garment off of her body to leave her bare.

He then took a long moment to admire her, taking time to glide his fingers over the freckle that adorned Arya’s left breast.

“I missed you like this,” he confessed.

There was no doubt about exactly how much he had missed the feeling of her naked body under him, the reminder hard against her skin. Arya spread her legs, and brought them to his sides, to create a space for him and have him closer, and he dipped his head to catch her dark pink nipple in his mouth.

While he teased the hard peak with his lips and tongue, Arya ran her fingers through his hair. The soft caress making him lift her eyes to hers; the sight of his dilated eyes, staring at her while he suckled at her breast never ceasing to make her gasp.

He then went back to her mouth and her neck, and pausing for a second he said, “Don’t close your eyes,” as he brought his long powerful fingers to her core, teasing and caressing, to make sure she would be slick for him.

As he watched her fight to keep her eyes on his, feeling her tight and hot, beckoning him like the song of the steel, he sensed himself impossibly hard, knowing she was ready, and that her body was the firm ground for his seed to finally take root.

“Keep your eyes on me, love,” he pleaded, as he lined up to her entrance, and sank into her slowly.

Arya’s hands held on to his muscular back. Her hands feeling the taut lines of his shoulder blades, knowing that while he shaped steel with his hammer, the steel carved him in return. Moving her hands over his back, from his waist to the nape of her neck was tantalizing, and it pleased her to feel him shiver, and falter in his thrust. Their lovemaking was playful, and he retaliated by nipping the place where her neck met her shoulder, he half laughed, and half groaned, and left his mark for good measure.

The first time they had coupled, they burned like wildfire, but they had remained silent, no promises made standing at the very mouth of death. This time, they would take time to whisper sweet-nothings and groans. And then some things that tasted obscene in their mouths, subversive, of dreams of a future taking root.

Gendry had grabbed the leg that was tightly wrapped around his well-defined hip, and brought it over his shoulder, letting it hang behind himself and made them both gasp at the sudden deepening of his presence in her flesh. Arya could feel him taking all the space there was to take in her mind, and in her heart and in her cunt. When she couldn’t keep her eyes open anymore, she wished for the old gods of the North to let his seed take root in her womb, and with that thought, the tight coil in her core snapped.

He continued relentlessly meeting her in the middle, trying hard not to let his lids close. His skin as slick as it was when he worked in the forge. The sated look on her face, the blushing on her cheeks, and on her heaving chest, beads of sweat making her nipples shimmer, finally pushed him over the edge and made him surrender to his own bliss.

His forehead landed on the middle of her chest, the sheen on both their bodies created by their mingled sweat. Arya took the time to run her fingers through his hair, proud of herself for undoing the mighty man that he was. When he finally managed to rise, they had looked into each other and released deep rumbling laughter.

Gendry fell back on the bed and pulled Arya to rest on his chest, both staying silent until they had time to catch their breaths.

“I like your hair like this,” he said, playing with the strands with one hand, while the other one rested on her arse to keep her in place.

“Messy?” She asked, supporting herself on her forearms.

“No, loose and wild.”

“Because I look more feminine?” She asked, her eloquent brow rising.

“No, not that. I just like that you let it down when we’re in our bed.”

“Why?”

“Because you wear it like this only for sleeping, and because I am the only one who gets to see that.”

Arya lowered her face to his to take a kiss from his lips.

“Are you sleepy?” Gendry asked.

“You can’t possibly be ready for a second round,” she asked, raising herself again, and Gendry gave a look of approval to the way the position showcased her breasts.

“No, not yet, but not saying no to that when I have time to recover,” He replied, still looking at her breasts, making her playfully slap him, and prompting both their laughter again.

“No, I wish to discuss something with my queen and master of war,” Gendry explained, bringing the hand that was in her hair behind his head.

Arya thought that there was something wrong with how Gendry calling her his queen made her desire renew.

“Has Jon told you what I proposed?” He asked.

“Are you marrying my brother now?”

“No, you very well know I’m weak for only one Stark,” Gendry replied with a smile.

“That does not reassure me since my brother’s name is Snow.”

“And that is precisely what I offered.”

“What’s that?” Arya inquired.

“I offered to legitimize him.”

“You want to make him a Targaryen?” Arya’s brows knitted.

“The opposite. I asked your brother if he’d like to be Jon Stark once and for all.”

Arya stayed silent while her eyes misted.

“What did he say?”

“He has always wanted to be a Stark in name, but he wants you, Sansa and Bran, to decide. He made sure to say that he won’t take the North from your sister. He’ll take the name but only that.”

“He’s always been a Stark, even if was not sired by my father. We share the same blood, Lyanna was as Stark as my father was. My answer is yes. Have you asked Bran and Sansa?”

“Not yet. I wanted to talk to you first. We’ll talk to Bran tomorrow and send a raven to your sister,” he proposed, and taking a deep breath, he continued, “there is something else I want to discuss with you.”

“What is it?”

Gendry fidgeted with the hand that had been anchoring her, running it up and down on her back.

“Your coronation,” he finally said.

Arya groaned, letting her face fall on his chest.

“You agreed, can’t take that back now,” he reminded her.

“I won’t,” she promised, lifting her head, “I’m just not keen on all the pomp and circumstance. Can we just let people know?”

“And what? Have you casually show up in a crown?”

“Not a bad idea,” she said with a smile.

“Don’t think you can dodge that, love; and if I had to go through the stupid coronation, you will have to as well. In the meantime, I have to let the council know. I want to meet with them to announce it, but I didn’t want to say anything until we had a chance to talk.”

“I have only one request.”

“What is it?”

“My crown.”

Gendry thought that those two words together had no business reawakening his desire, but yet they did.

“Aye?”

“Made of steel like yours. The simplest you can craft.”

He couldn’t contain himself at the opportunity, “as you wish, m’lady.”

His words made her smile, and while an old Arya in her mind tried to scold her for grinning and blushing like Sansa and Jeyne used to while seeing the Knight of Flowers joust, this Arya knew that it was too late to try to ignore what Gendry’s words did to her.

“It’s going to be weird,” she added.

“What?”

”Me wearing an antler crown.”

Gendry kept his thoughts to himself, but he knew Arya wouldn’t wear an antler crown. He already knew what her crown would look like.



The next day Gendry and the three Starks broke fast together in his solar, and discussed the possibility of Jon becoming an official Stark. Bran had been his usual cryptic self but welcomed the proposal. After they talked, Gendry and Arya wrote to Sansa and had the parchment sent immediately by raven to Winterfell.

A couple of days later they had her response, and so, they met with the Small Council.

“Thank you all for coming. There are some pressing matters I want to discuss with you,” Gendry greeted his advisors.

“Regarding the pardoning, your grace?” Samwell Tarly inquired.

“Aye, and other matters as well.”

“The paperwork is ready, since we worked on back it in the North,” Tyrion announced.

“Almost all the lords and ladies have arrived, we are just waiting on Lord Robyn Arryn, and two of his lord companions,” said Davos.

“They should be here in a couple of days,” Bran informed them.

The Lord Hand then continued, “the ceremony should be held in three days then.”

Tyrion looked around the table and grimacing, he stated, “we need to address the fact that there are some disgruntled lords, who did not take well that Dorne has become independent.”

“I am aware, and I am planning on holding a meeting with all the nobles after the pardoning. It’s high time things get settled. I am planning on having talks regarding the debt to the Iron Bank as well,” the king continued.

“Should we worry we’ll have all of them here in King’s Landing at the same time?” Sam asked.

“The kingsguard is prepared should any get any ideas, Yara and I are working on that,” Arya explained looking at the woman in question.

“The Ironborn fleet will be ready,” she reassured them.

“There is something else that I want to inform the council regarding Jon Snow. I have offered to legitimize him.”

“Are you sure it is wise, lad?” Davos asked.

“The nobles will not take well having another Targaryen in King’s Landing after the last time,” Tyrion stated with dread.

“I never said I would give him the Targaryen name.”

“Jon Stark is a nice name.” Bran expressed.

“Pardon me, your grace, but, won’t it be contested, given that his true father was Rheagar?” Sam inquired.

“Only two of us hold proof Sam,” Bran explained, “my visions no one will believe, and you hold still the only record in existence.”

Arya took a moment to think what she wanted to say, and once resolved, she went ahead.

“Westeros has always believed that the only dishonorable thing my father did was break his newly made marriage vows to father a bastard. My father was willing to bear the weight of that dishonor and keep the secret even from my mother. My siblings and I know the truth and believe that if father was willing, and he always saw Jon as his son, then he deserves to bear the name of his mother, and the only man he called father.”

“Aye. Jon has agreed, and I have informed the Queen in the North. Jon asks only to receive the name Stark and wants to add that he will not attempt to take the crown from Queen Sansa. Her siblings are agreeable.”

“Queen Sansa remains heirless, should he not be among her heirs then?” Sam said, bringing the question to the table.

“As long as Queen Sansa remains childless, her immediate heir is Ser Arya, and then Bran,” Tyrion responded.

“About that…”

“Yes, Arya?” Davos.

“I will not ever be Queen in the North. Bran and Jon will be Sansa’s heirs. I’ve informed my sister already.”

“Why?” Tyrion expressed the confusion of all of those present.

“Because she will be rather occupied being Queen of the Six Kingdoms,” Bran Stark declared.

“Are we to celebrate a wedding then?” Davos asked, turning to face his king, with the cautious smile of a parent.

“No,” Arya responded.

“Why the fuck not?” Yara Greyjoy asked.

“I’m sorry,” Tyrion interrupted, "but I doubt the highborn will respect your decision of crowning Ser Arya, despite our feelings in the matter.”

“I am worried that this may throw more kindle to the fire, Gendry,” Davos warned.

Gendry had been prepared for the backlash, but it didn’t mean it didn't bother him.

“The only thing the realm needs to understand is that I will take no wife that is not Arya Stark and that I shall have no heirs that are not through her.”

“Bastards then?” Tyrion inquired.

“Not if I recognize them, not if I say they shall bear my name.”

“Our children will be Baratheons,” Arya declared.

“I just wonder if our world is ready for it. Wars have been started for less,” Davos added.

"What is marriage, after all?” Bran’s voice interrupted them, “is it a political alliance? A bond between houses? The account recorded by a high septon on a book buried in the Citadel that no one will ever read? Is the reciting of vows in front of a heart tree in a godswood, or before a septon, a drown priest or a priestess of light?

"Or is it lying together as man and woman? Is it the man covering their naked bodies with his cloak, sharing their warmth against the cold in a night that was long and full of terrors, like Orys Baratheon did the first time when the warrior queen Argella Durrandon was presented to him naked and in chains?

“Is it two warriors stealing each other, a sharp blade of steel held to one’s throat and yet, choosing love instead of death?

“Is it sharing secrets, protecting one another or simply saying, ‘I am yours, and you are mine, now and forever’?

“What is marriage really, when you have already chosen your mate and started your pack?”

Bran’s words caught Arya unprepared. She wondered for a brief moment what the rest of the council could make of his words, if they sounded as prophetic to them as they did to her and to their king, or if they were as arcane as anything else uttered by the Three-Eyed Raven, easily dismissed but then proved right in hindsight.

Not to her, and not to Gendry, who she had turned to see, after just a couple of sentences, clearly reliving the same moments of their shared life.

Gendry forgot how to breathe, and as long as Bran spoke, he had to consciously command his lungs to fill and empty.

For a moment, everyone remained silent, until Bran spoke again:

“I told you once, sister, ‘your choice was made, well before the question was asked.’ But you have always feared a life that weighed you down like a sentence, despite our father promising it out of love. You told him it was not you and feared that letting yourself love would prove him right and you wrong. But you did not get to where you are because it was expected or because you were forced, the journey you took to reach home was only yours.”

At those words, both Gendry and Arya stood up abruptly, knocking their chairs back and embracing. They looked at each other and noticed the beginning of tears forming in each other’s eyes.

“Are you my wife?” The king asked, cradling her face, and his words seemed to echo the haunting image that plagued her nightmares, of a man desperately looking for his wife.

But on Gendry's face, there was no fear but hope.

Arya nodded and held on tighter to his neck.

“And you are my husband.”

Chapter Text

'Wife.'

The word tasted of warm milk, sipped by the fire during a too cold night at Winterfell.

Like Dornish red as a sea breeze cooling down the balmy air.

No.

'Wife' tasted like Arya's heated kiss, and the faint taste of salt of her skin whenever he loved her right after training with the Kingsguard.

The word 'wife' sat still in his mouth, and he swirled it on his tongue, grinning like an idiot. Gendry thought himself the biggest fool, unable to fall asleep at that late hour, knowing that the beautiful naked woman lying in his arms was his wife.

It was as if a veil was dropped. It shouldn't have felt any different, having committed Arya's body to memory already, and if he was pressed, he could map every freckle and scar on her skin easily. Yet, that night Gendry had made love to her like it was the first time. Her new epithet acting like an incantation, turning her into yet another Arya, in the multitude that made her who she was.

It was stupid the way she bewitched him. When they reached their rooms that night, he had stayed still, leaning against a pillar, while watching her disrobe.

"What are you doing?" Arya had asked, noticing him staring at her, while she continued with her endeavor.

"Watching my wife undress," Gendry replied, not even bothering to look at her face.

"Still not tired of saying that word, husband?" She asked, intending to mock him for getting distracted by something as silly as using a different word, but she realized, once her own word came out of her mouth, that she couldn't say it without it making her lips grow into a grin.

"Not even close, wife," he replied, pulling her into another greedy kiss.

Bran's words had been eye-opening, and it was laughable, really, that the point that kept them apart ended up being moot because it was true, their union had been a marriage in everything but name. Gendry scolded himself a little for being too caught up on that because he knew that if Arya had been as lowborn as him, she would have become his wife the moment they both decided to shack up together. At the end, it all came down to the fact that he had chosen to love a woman of noble birth way above his station, that even as a prank from the gods, old and new, who transformed him into a king, she was still out of his league, and being a stubborn possessive bastard, he had desperately clung to the hope to bind himself to her forever.

And now a raven was en route to the Citadel with the official document informing the archmaesters of their marriage, and soon the scribes would be transcribing it into the books that held the history of Westeros. It made Gendry warm to think that in a thousand years, when a scholar looked through the records, his name would be found right next to Arya's.

Gendry was grateful to Bran. He ought to have felt ashamed, of having his new good brother witness the most intimate of their memories, but there was no room in his mind to care since the intrusion had conjured their marriage into existence. Instead, he was mesmerized by realizing he had gained a family: the Three-Eyed Raven was his good brother, just as Jon Snow; and the Queen in the North was his good sister. He was no longer flotsam in this life, but part of a family. It was odd really, not even when Arya had offered to be his family all those years before, had Gendry stopped to consider that he'd be gaining more family than her. When they had left the Small Council, he had been so happy to see Jon, and he hugged him with enthusiasm.

"What was that for?" Jon had asked him, amused at Gendry's overjoyed state.

"Here," he said, handing him a parchment, "you are officially Jon Stark, and I am delighted to call you, not only my friend but my good brother as well."

The look in his new brother's eyes had been priceless, his dark eyes as big as plates, searching for confirmation in his little sister's own grey ones, and once he got it, his mouth had broken into the biggest grin, and he had embraced Gendry, and patted his back loudly, before hugging Arya for a long time.

'You are the link that joins two kings. They are kin through you, but they also share the same blood that courses through their veins,' Bran had said to Arya many moons before, and Gendry suspected it had been another exasperating morsel dropped by the man who had been once Brandon Stark.

His new good brother had said something else on which Gendry hadn't consciously let himself dwell too long: a promise of a future already taking root in his wife's womb. Still, given previous disappointments, he chose to ignore it. He didn't know what it was like to be a woman, and despite knowing the basics of childbearing, he ignored how soon lovemaking could lead to the quickening of a child, and so, would the Three-Eyed Raven know of the beginnings of a babe taking form inside Arya already? Or could he simply know that they had chosen to try? It was stupid how much it still stung to think back to when he learned about their possible lost child, bled out of her beaten body either by the Night King, or in the sacking of King's Landing; and even worse, thinking of the nights he spent caressing her belly, imagining that a part of him already grew under his hand.

He would not let himself believe until it was the woman he loved herself, who told him he was meant to be a father.

In the meantime, he still had plenty: he was a husband when all his life he had thought himself to be nobody.


 

Arya woke up, wrapped around her husband's back. The wondrous thing had not been to awake wrapped around Gendry, but to stir with the word 'husband' on her lips, as warm as the skin she was kissing. It should have been less remarkable because Arya knew they were both the same man and woman they've been since they found each other again in Winterfell. She still couldn't understand why it had been easy to accept they were married while it was unsurmountable to imagine being wed at the Godswood of Winterfell or in front of a Septon.

Mayhaps it was all that Bran said about the journey having been hers, even if she ended up in the place she had rejected. She wondered for a moment how much of their history Bran was privy to. Had he witnessed every encounter? Right then it didn't matter as much to her as the thing Bran had implied about their pack having started already. It scared her to think how easily she had learned to want when she had trained for so very long not to.

She was pondering on that, as she traced the planes of his back when she felt his breathing changing.

"Good morning, husband," she greeted him, and let her hand travel to the middle of his chest.

"Good morning, wife," he responded, turning back to embrace her.

Meeting in the middle, they kissed softly.

"I have to admit, every time I say that word I expect you to say 'don't call me that' and push me until I fall on my arse."

Arya shrugged at his words.

"It is surprisingly not the dirty word I thought it was. Can I ask you something?"

"Always."

"What does it mean to you? You told me before that you didn't know what it meant for me, because you only knew what it meant to you."

Gendry looked at her and pushed the hair off her face.

"I know you were afraid that marrying me would mean that I owned you. I don't know what it means to grow up a daughter of the lord of a castle, but I imagine from what you've told me over the years that it did not involve a lot of freedom. I didn't have anyone who told me what to do, but I also didn't have anyone to care for me. I know you wanted your freedom, and I felt guilty because all I wanted was to call you mine."

It was hard for Arya not to want to hold Gendry tight, thinking of the little motherless boy he was once.

"But I've thought of it, and there are different ways of claiming something to be yours. You are not mine like the crown of the Six Kingdoms is, you are mine only like the land where I was born is mine, because I belong to it, and I belong to you. I didn't want you to be mine to cage you, I wanted to be your husband so I could belong to you."

Arya kissed him languidly, not really understanding what it was what she had frightened her so.

"What did it mean to you?" Gendry asked, in turn.

Arya took a moment to think before she answered.

"Disappearing," she finally answered, and Gendry shook his head.

"You will never be no one to me, Arya Stark."


 

They got up from bed reluctantly, knowing they had to deal with the noble guests that had already arrived. The day was a procession of greetings and arrangements for what was to come, and by that evening, there was a feast.

Arya donned clothes she had made in the style she had in Dorne. She wore a less revealing outfit as the first one she had worn in Sunspear, but the statement was the same: her golden yellow tunic was made of silk, it was long-sleeved, and it tied in the front in the style noble Dornishmen wore, but she made sure it didn't show enough skin to scandalize their guests. Over it, she sported a black tailored silk jacket, and she paired both garments, with black leather breeches. Gendry wore a light grey tunic with a black silk doublet. At the shoulders, he had the same pattern of gashes he had on his leather jerkin so long ago at the Dragon Pit Council. There was no fur peeking through the slits since the weather was too warm for it, but the nod towards House Stark was blatantly obvious.

Davos had him promise that he'd save the news of their marriage for after the pardoning ceremony when it would be announced to all the houses present, and Arya would be crowned Queen of the Six Kingdoms.

Gendry hated feasts, but he had done his best trying to socialize with his guests, making small talk and only saying something rude or crass once or twice. The social demands of such events overwhelmed him, finding them extravagant and a waste of resources. He found himself gravitating towards Arya, only to be pointed out by Tyrion and Davos, that he needed to keep mingling with his lords and ladies, which only accomplished making him grumpier. It was that way that he found himself in the presence of Lord Rosby, who was clearly not pleased to be there.

'Join the fucking club,' Gendry thought to himself. He remembered the man alright, having already made known his displeasure of his relationship with Arya in the past.

"Three hundred years of the Seven Kingdoms and you managed to lose two kingdoms in less than two years," the man in question said, masking his jab as jesting, before taking a sip of his wine.

"Technically, the North had declared independence way before King Gendry was crowned," Tyrion pointed out.

"Yet you go to Dorne to seek a betrothal, and instead of that, you returned with a smaller realm than what it was when you left. Tell me, should we expect you to legitimize all our bastards and give away more of our territory?"

Gendry's fists were tight, and he had to count to ten in this head before saying anything. At least Arya was not in hearing distance, and Tyrion and Davos were both giving him panic eyes.

"Maybe instead of faulting us bastards, the nobles that sired us should have kept it in their breeches, instead of making a mess of the world and died, leaving everything in shambles," Gendry replied forcing to keep a smile on his face, but failing miserably, "I did what I could to avoid any more bloodshed, and I stand by that decision, my lord. But this is not about that, is it? Why don't you just come out and say what has obviously been eating at you."

"My lord, a great uprising was avoided because of King Gendry's strategy," Davos tried appeasing the man.

"Is it a strategy to bend over the will of a little girl who is barely four and ten?" Lord Rosby asked instead, referencing the new Queen of Dorne.

"Queen Elia is wise beyond her years," Gendry offered.

"Tell me, should we expect losing more territory and more concessions to House Stark, all because you are fucking her?" he spat, pointing towards where Arya was standing.

"Careful with your tone when addressing my wife!" Gendry yelled loudly, causing all the people gathered around to become quiet suddenly, clearly stunned at the news.

"There goes the plan to announce it diplomatically," Davos lamented.

"Did you really expect anything else?" Tyrion asked in return.

"Comparing it to the last time I told him not to disclose sensitive information, he has shown great restraint, I must say."

"Your wife?" Lord Rosby asked, "we were not invited to the wedding, nor informed of this development," he added, showing his displeasure.

"It was a private Northern ceremony, and we were going to announce it tonight, as you can see by the colors they have chosen to wear," the Lord Hand was quick to add.

"Should we expect a coronation ceremony?" Lady Orla Massey asked, having come closer, trying to defuse the tension.

"After the pardoning," Davos replied.

"Raise your cup for Queen Arya, the Bringer of Dawn!" Tyrion suddenly announced, prompting the cheers of all those present.


 

The following day everybody had gathered in the center courtyard, finally clean of all the ruin and debris left from the last war. Around them, the Red Keep slowly grew back, while outside, the city had been transformed, construction booming outside the castle walls.

This time, both Gendry and Arya wore armor, crafted by the king himself.

Gendry hated making speeches, but he understood the importance of them. This one and the one right after were too important to mess up, and he had prepared extensively for them.

"I have gathered us here to undo a grave mistake, dictated by others. While Jon Snow killed Queen Daenerys, the monarch he had chosen to recognize, he did it when he realized that the lives of thousands were on the line. If anyone doubts this, they should talk to the survivors of the sacking," he said, looking directly at Arya, "it is my decision, then, to pardon Jon Snow."

He then walked until he was standing in front of his good brother.

"Jon Snow, kneel," Gendry commanded, and Jon did as he was asked.

"Jon Snow was twice a brother of the Night's Watch. His watch started, ended, and started again. But today, Jon Snow is no more. Your sentence to live out your days at the Wall, to hold no lands and to father no children is now lifted. Rise, Jon Stark, Lord of Winterfell, brother to the Queen in the North, the Three-Eyed Raven and the Bringer of Dawn. The Six Kingdoms thank you, for the sacrifices you were forced to make for your people."

The crowd cheered as both men embraced. Jon then walked back to this place, and Gendry took a moment to gather his thoughts, knowing what was to come.

"Everyone here knows I was born a bastard, and I am well aware that no one will ever let me forget it. I am not stupid enough to not know I was raised above my station as a ploy, and I will also admit that I took it for selfish reasons, because all my life I had nothing, and someone dangled in front of me the chance to have everything I always wanted."

Gendry couldn't stop himself from looking at Arya at his last words.

"It may have been wrong, and it may have brought me more grief than I expected, but I took the lordship. And I came to King's Landing after the last war, and every place I ever lived was razed. Every person I ever encountered, when I lived and worked in Flea Bottom, was killed. And so, I took the crown that you placed in front of me to better the city where I was born, to have a say in where this wretched place and the rest of Westeros should go. I took the name for me, but I took the crown because of my people. I mean to make a difference, and I want you here to help me. I ask that you stay here in King's Landing to meet with the Small Council and me, and we make the changes needed to make this place good once and for all."

It didn't escape Gendry' e attention that the cheering was less thunderous as the previous one had been.

"Now, I call Arya of House Stark, Master of War and Lord Commander of my Kingsguard to step forward."

Arya came to stand before him, and they both shared a smile and a silent conversation.

"Kneel, wife," Gendry asked quietly.

"Arya of House Stark, Bringer of Dawn, I proclaim you Warrior Queen of the Six Kingdoms, to protect your people as fiercely as you protect your pack."

Gendry presented her with a simple crown made of steel, fashioned in the likes of a weirwood tree, of branches intertwining and adorned with tiny red leaves of lacquered metal.

"Rise, Queen Arya."

Gendry couldn't stop himself and kissed Arya, prompting the crowd to cheer.

At that, Tyrion came forward and addressed all present:

"Arya Stark, the Bringer of Dawn, first of her name, Warrior Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, Protector of the Six Kingdoms," and after a pause, "Gendry Baratheon, the Smith, first of his name, King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, Protector of the Six Kingdoms."

At the proclamation, Arya and Gendry raised their joint hands to the crowd.


 

If the spirit at the Red Keep had been joyous after the coronation, once everyone had been gathered for the Council Meeting of the Great Houses in the old throne room, it had sobered by then.

"My lords, I asked that you stay here and meet with my Small Council and me to discuss important issues for the Realm."

"Losing Dorne?" Lord Rosby was quick to ask.

"Dorne regaining its independence, yes," Gendry responded, already losing his patience.

"Should we expect other regions gaining their independence then," the man continued taunting him.

"As a matter of fact, yes. Lady Yara Greyjoy and I have talked, and The Iron Islands will become an independent kingdom," Gendry replied.

"Unbelievable!"

"Before you condemn this, the Iron Islands had already been granted independence by Queen Daenerys upon her conquest of the Seven Kingdoms," Tyrion Lannister was quick to point out.

Yara nodded towards Gendry, acknowledging the decision.

"Big deal, a dead queen gave them independence," Rosby replied dismissively.

"You have a problem with the Ironborn, Rosby, you talk to me," Yara challenged him.

"However brief her queendom was, she was still queen. The Iron Islands and the Six Kingdoms will remain friendly nations, and we have already secured trade agreements using their naval fleet, which will benefit the sea trade we have already started with Dorne and Essos," Gendry continued, "this brings me to another important issue I want to discuss with you, the debt the Six Kingdoms still holds with the Iron Bank of Braavos."

"Why should we be saddled with the debt of your family? Pardon me, your grace, but those were your father's mistakes. Robert Baratheon may have been your father, but he was a sorry excuse of a man."

If there was something that annoyed Arya as much as being called 'lady' was hearing Gendry being addressed as 'your grace' as an insult.

"You think I'd be offended by the tone you use to talk about Robert Baratheon?," Gendry shook his head, and let his lips twist in a lopsided smile, "let me say what you seem too craven to say, my lord, fuck Robert Baratheon. The only thing that drunk fat fucker did for me was fucking my mother, and believe me, my lord, if you knew the life I was born into, you would not consider that a kindness. Those responsible for the debt accrued by the realm were not my family. The Six Kingdoms is as mine as it is yours, and it belongs to all the highborn here and the lowborn outside. We are going to pay for it, to rid ourselves from foreign influence."

"I don't need to listen to a bastard, you keep rocking the boat, boy, you will be out were you belong sooner than you think."

Berolt Rosby knew that he had crossed a line, but he was too enraged to care anymore. The rest of the lords and ladies present were stunned into silence.


"You want to take the throne from me? Then you challenge me right fucking now," Gendry challenged him, standing up, prompting all present to rise as well.

"And have your wife fight for you?" The lord asked, looking towards Arya who had her hand on the pommel of Ice Storm.

"No," he replied, signaling for Arya to let go of her sword, "you want the throne? You and I fight, no champions."

"Are you sure she'll stay out of it?" Rosby asked, continuing to refer to Arya in the third person, despite looking at her directly in the eye.

"Arya will not intervene. As my wife, she will not like it, and I have no doubt I'll be cold tonight for it, but as a warrior, my wife will respect me more. So, what is it going to be, my lord?"

The man looked around and then eyed the king carefully. Despite his taunts, he knew he had no chance against any of the knights of the Kingsguard without a champion, let alone facing the king or his new wife.

"It will not be necessary, your grace," he replied in defeat.

"Very well then," Gendry replied, "to anyone else who wishes to challenge my rule I offer the same deal I just offered Lord Rosby. And listen to me carefully, you have a problem with me being king, you take me down on one-on-one combat, and you convince everyone here that you have a plan to solve all the shit our fathers saddled us with, but you do it now. I swear my Kingsguard and my Lord Commander will not intervene. I will fight for this crown because I have a plan, we have a plan. So what is it going to be?"

No one dared move, and once satisfied that there would be no more challenges, he continued.

"I take it, then, that you want the best for the Realm, and with that, I will give you a choice. Stay with the Six Kingdoms, and we will work towards bettering this place together. Let us restructure our systems of trade and supplies, and work towards settling the debt to the Iron Bank, to free ourselves from Essosi intervention."

He then took a moment, knowing the next thing he was going to say would be controversial.

"If you think you can do better on your own, petition for independence for your region, make a proposal of how our nations can work together, and how our two nations can increase our mutual coffers and reduce the debt to the Iron Bank."

"Are you proposing buying independence?" Lord Bronn of Highgarden asked.

"I'm proposing looking for the wellbeing of all people in Westeros. But there is something you should know if you decide to go your way. I will be holding a summit in three moons here in King's Landing, Queens Sansa Stark and Elia Sand Martell have confirmed they will attend, along with queen-to-be Yara Greyjoy. We will start the Great Council of Westeros, and our first order of business will be an agreement that if any sovereign region decides to attack another one, the rest of the member nations will intervene."

"Another Great War then," Arya's cousin, Robyn Arryn, asked.

"No, no more wars. Knowing the risk of being isolated and your uprising crushed will deter any possibility of another Great War."

"So the options would be stay and work as one nation or leave and work along with all the great nations of Westeros?" Edmure Tully inquired.

"Aye. In the coming weeks, we will talk about all the reforms I intend to introduce to better our nation. By the end of it, the main houses of every region must make a decision and declare yourself part of the Six Kingdoms or an independent nation and part of the Great Council of Westeros."

At that, everyone present clapped.

"Very well. Let us get started," Gendry replied, sitting down and prompting everyone else to do the same.

"Do you think this is wise?" Samwell Tarly asked.

"It is ballsy, I can tell you that much," Tyrion replied.

"It could work, this thing they're doing," Davos added.

"What are they doing?" Sam asked.

"They're breaking the wheel," Bran offered.

It was a long first day of negotiations, and everyone felt exhausted at the end, but hopeful, for the first time in a very long time.

At the end of the day, as Lord Rosby was leaving after supper, Arya approached him before he was able to leave the Dining Hall.

"Lord Rosby," she addressed him, "I just want you to remember tonight when you go to bed, that you will be drawing breath because of my husband, but do not forget that I have put names on my list for threatening less harm to him than what you did today."

The man did not say anything in return and instead left the room as quickly as he could.

Gendry came to join Arya, after seeing her share words with Lord Rosy.

"You made him piss himself?" He asked, setting his hand on the small of her back.

"Mayhaps."

"Will my dear wife be so kind as to accompany me to our chambers then?" Gendry asked, placing a quick kiss to the top of her head.

"You seem optimistic despite announcing to all our guests you knew you'd be cold tonight."

"I have my hopes up, after all, I am a lucky bastard, and only newly married."


 

Gendry was thankful for having a respite in the middle of meetings with the nobles, who bitched and moaned about all his reform proposals. Arya had initially argued that as her responsibility was strategy and defense of the realm and not lawmaking, there was no need for her to sit through the frustrating sessions, but Gendry quickly reminded her that while the Master of War and Lord Commander of the Kingsguard may not be directly involved in lawmaking, the Queen certainly was.

While some of the meetings had been incredibly dull, so much that at times Arya had found herself dozing off, the ones regarding the freedoms and rights of women had her arguing passionately.

After five straight days of tense negotiations, that day had been marked as rest, in the hopes the chance of relaxation may provide a window of reflection for the lords representing each one of the regions of the realm. If you asked Gendry though, it was his gods-given chance to rest from the fucking nobles who were a pain in his arse.

He had planned to spend his morning in the forge, banging his frustrations away, but a servant girl brought him a note from Arya, which said 'Dear husband, please follow Myra to the cove where she will lead you. Love, Arya.'

Gendry had told her that morning that he meant to spend most of the day in the forge, and while he was slightly annoyed at the change of plans, he smiled knowing that Arya had purposefully addressed him as her husband to butter him up.

Once they had reached the cove and Arya was visible standing in the sand next to a small white tent, Myra left quickly.

"What are we doing here?" Gendry yelled, a few feet away from her.

"Can't a woman summon her husband in the middle of the day?" She asked.

Gendry took a moment to look at her, wearing the strappy golden yellow tunic she had worn many moons before in Dorne, making her alliances clear. This time, she was wearing it without breeches underneath, more like a dress.

"Take off your boots and join me," Arya commanded.

After taking off his boots and his tunic, and rolling up the legs of his breeches, he walked towards her.

"What can I do for you, wife?" Gendry asked, once he reached her, and quickly circled her waist with his arms.

"I wish to eat our midday meal together down here," she explained, taking his hand from her hip and leading him under the tent, that provided enough shade to protect themselves from the blazing sun, but allowed them to enjoy the view.

"Last time I was here I was fleeing the city with Davos and Tyrion, and I caved in the heads of two Lannister soldiers," Gendry explained looking around.

"And before that?"

"Before? I must have been a kid, and my mother brought me."

"You were," Arya confirmed, and taking his hand in hers, she continued, "and that was exactly twenty years ago today."

"What do you mean?"

"Today is your nameday."

Days had started getting longer, and the temperature was hotter, and so Gendry thought it was a good day as any other to consider his nameday.

Arya placed a small parcel on his hands, wrapped in a colorful piece of cloth that Gendry theorized Arya had brought with her from Dorne.

"What's this?" He asked.

"Your present."

"You didn't need to."

"I wanted to, but wait until you see it before you thank me."

Gendry unwrapped a small canvas from the cloth and found himself staring at a face that he had long forgotten but that he would recognize anywhere.

"Is she my mother?" He asked, looking up with huge eyes.

"Yes, I asked Bran to help me figure out your nameday, and he saw you being born. He said you were a large babe. I should probably be scared."

Arya had intended for the last part to be in jest, but Gendry was too distracted moving his finger pads over the features of his mother's face.

"Your high cheekbones," Arya said then, touching the hard angle on his face.

"What about them?" Gendry asked, turning to face her.

"They're not Robert's, they're hers."

Gendry felt a hammer's blow to his chest.

"Did he find out her name?"

"Gemma… Rivers," Arya responded.

"Rivers?"

"Yes."

"A bastard then, from the Riverlands."

"But not a Tully," she was quick to point out, "I had Bran double-check that we are in no way related."

"Good," he said, pulling her into a quick kiss, "because at this point, there is no way I could give you up."

"Your mother grew up in the Riverlands, and moved here after her own mother died and she became of age."

A thought came to Gendry's mind, and it made him chuckle, "that night when I proposed, I told you my name was Gendry Rivers."

"Seems like you weren't quite as mistaken as we thought," Arya replied, amused.

Gendry took a deep breath and asked something he had feared, "was she… happy… ever?"

"Bran said she was a happy child."

"And then she met my father."

Arya ached at the thought of Gendry's conviction that his very existence was his mother's ruin.

"Life was not easy for her, but Bran said something else."

"What?"

"You were the happiest thing that ever happened to her, she would tell you that every night before she sang to you to sleep."

The tears that Gendry had been trying to hold spilled at that.

"If we ever have children, and we have a daughter, we could name her after your mother," Arya offered.

"When," Gendry corrected her, "not if, when we have children."

"When."

"But no, I rather not. I don't want our children to have to live up to the ghosts of our pasts. If that is fine with you. I don't know if you want to honor your parents and your brothers. If that is the case, I'll understand, I just won't name a child of mine after the Hound. I cannot honor a man who only ever referred to me as twat.'"

"No, we won't. Very well, then, husband. Our children shall have clean slates."

"Thank you."

"What for?" Arya asked.

"Being you. Giving me so much."

At that, Arya stood up, pulling Gendry by the hand.

"Let's get in the water, husband."

They played in the water, leaving all their worries behind, and they felt young again, laughing and splashing each other like they were in the Riverlands, when they used to play in a river, with Hot Pie. Gendry got close to Arya and embracing her he whispered in her ear.

"I'll be making love to you in that tent."

"Are you?" Arya asked.

"It's my nameday," he pleaded with the cheeky glint in his blue eyes that always made her weak.


 

After over a fortnight of talks, Gendry was more than done. One thing he'd had to concede was that despite what he previously thought of highborn business, it was taking a toll on him and Gendry would have never fathomed it could leave him as tired as he usually did working dawn to dusk at a forge. He was pleased it was finally done, and now all his guests were on their way home. The remaining regions had decided to stay within the Six Kingdoms, but he proposed that they met again in a year, giving enough time for the new reforms to be enacted. A couple of the most significant points of discord had been those on the rights of the common folk, and even more controversial, Gendry's reform regarding marriage: banning the practice of children being betrothed in childhood, and specifying both bride and groom would have to be consenting to a marriage alliance. It was not enough yet, from Arya's perspective, but it was a good start.

As soon as he had reached their chambers, Gendry sought Arya out and found her sitting by the royal desk, a sealed scroll in her hands. She stood as she saw him come to her with a determined look.

"Good, you're here. There is something I need you to read," Arya said, handing him the scroll, which he quickly threw with the pile on the desk.

"The last one of the lot left, and I cannot stand another minute of politics," he interrupted his own train of thought to pull her into a kiss, "… I'd like to have some time with my wife now," he continued without missing a beat and kissing her neck.

Arya was half amused and half annoyed at him not paying attention to what she wanted to tell him.

"That parchment was from someone important."

"Fuck them. The only important person here is you, and to show you just how much, I intend to worship you like the goddess you are."

"You keep trying to up my title," Arya replied amused, prompting Gendry to chuckle mid-kiss.

He pulled her towards their bed, and they undressed each other slowly, taking their time to look and kiss, no longer in a rush knowing they had plenty of time.

Gendry thought right then that he should feel guilty of not giving Arya a rest, but with so many lords testing his patience, the only thing that kept him sane was loving his wife every night, reducing their time for sleeping significantly. Mayhaps that was why she was so tired, as he had caught her yawning a few times during their meetings, but he could hardly fault her for that.

He could let her rest that night, but he was feeling so very selfish, and lately, she had started looking and feeling even more delectable. She felt softer, less hard angles. Mayhaps they were both getting too complacent, since having all the lords and ladies in the keep meant they had less time for their usual activities. He had worried his muscles would start getting less firm without time spent at the forge, and Arya did not have time to train with the guards or do her water dancing or even riding.

And then there were all the bloody feasts and suppers. No wonder why his father had become so fat. Though it pleased him to see Arya having lemon cakes, made with the fruit brought from Dorne by the trading vessels. He knew it had been a childhood indulgence that reminded her of her sister. Arya had spent so much of her life suffering and wanting, and she had always been too skinny. He could make fun of her for being a rich girl and a lady, but she had spent countless years going hungry, almost as long as him. He was pleased her body had filled out a bit lately. Once they had more time, the extra weight would be turned into hard muscle again. Though he thought, it was nice to feel her softer under him, and her breasts seemed fuller now.

She also felt warmer, and not as cold against his body when they went to sleep. Gendry thought of this as he found his place against her and Arya circled his body with her legs, her feet resting on the back of his thighs. Instead of the usual icy contact, her dainty feet felt warm.

Her hair was fuller and shinier as well, and she seemed to have a permanent blush on her cheeks. Gendry had noticed that recently, in the middle of meetings, when he got distracted by the blush that highlighted the few faint freckles over her nose, and he had gotten aroused being reminded of her face right after they made love.

He kissed her breasts as he rubbed his length against her folds, and she whimpered in response. He bit a nipple lightly, making her jerk, and he briefly wondered if he had been too rough. Gendry then let his calloused fingers play with her sensitive bud, making her arch her back and present her breasts back to him, an offer that he was happy to take, trying to temper his enthusiasm.

They both moaned as he entered her, and through the pleasurable fog of their union, he noted that she also felt different around him. Opening his eyes, while he took her, he saw her eyes closed and smiling and biting her lower lip the way it always drove him crazy. He thought of how much he loved her smile, having been deprived of it for so long. He could catalog all the different ways Arya Stark could smile, and he noted that she seemed to smile differently of late.

He was a lusty bastard, he knew that. One who hardly ever gave Arya any respite. Maybe all those bawdy songs were right, and his father's blood really made him want her so much. At least it didn't make him look for different women, it only made him want one woman relentlessly, and thankfully that woman was his wife and his best friend. But she could say no, he knew that well. She could seek him out as much as he did her, and lately, she was just as keen on bedding him. They tired each other out, lately Arya being the one who would end up exhausted after their couplings and even falling asleep mid-way through a second round.

Mayhaps he should give her a break, though he knew he usually left her alone when she had her moon blood, except for a couple of times in the past when they both hadn't contained themselves and ended up having messy encounters. So no need to refrain just then when her moon blood was due to arrive any time soon, right?

How long had it been?

Gendry started counting days in his mind, and suddenly he felt faint and stopped his movement altogether, and pulled out of her.

"Already tired of me?" Arya asked, confused, as he supported himself on one forearm, taking his weight off of her.

"No," he quickly said, and he took a moment to look at her, her rosy cheeks and her sparkling eyes. His free hand went over her skin, moving up and down, from her breast to her belly, to her hips, and back again. Her breasts certainly looked and felt fuller, and her skin seemed to be almost translucent, showing the blue-green veins in her chest. Setting his hand on her midsection, he really couldn't feel a noticeable difference, but something told him he was right.

"Did I…? Are you…? Arya?" He looked at her, unable to put into words what he was inquiring.

"I'm not absolutely sure yet, but I think so," Arya replied, looking up at him, "my moon blood is over a week late."

"Were you going to tell me?"

"I tried earlier, but you were too eager to get me in bed. I wanted to wait until I was sure, but you said you wanted to know."

"Earlier?" Gendy asked.

"The scroll?"

Gendry walked to the desk and picked up the folded parchment, bringing it back to the bed and sitting against the headboard. He looked closely at the black and gold wax seal, with a stamp of a crowned direwolf. He took a moment to admire the seal, feeling his chest swell with pride.

"Open it, you idiot," she commanded, as she sat upon their bed, next to where he was.

He broke the seal and found his name with the long litany of his titles, written in her delicate hand, Arya was amused with the way his brows were knitted in confusion until he reached the very last word 'father.'

He threw the parchment away and tackled her so her head was pointing to the foot of the bed. They kissed until laughter made them stop.

"We may have a pack?" He asked Arya.

"We may have a pack," she responded, cradling his jaw in her hand, and prompting Gendry to turn his face to kiss her palm.

Gendry then rotated to his side and set his large hand on her midsection, caressing her soft skin.

"I did this to you," he said with a smile full of pride, a primal feeling that Gendry suspected was bigger than himself.

"We did this together," Arya corrected him, pulling him into a kiss.

After a while of feverish kissing, his renewed desire made itself known in between them, prompting them to separate, Arya, looked down to it with a smile, making Gendry blush.

"I believe we have some unfinished business."

"Do you think it will be fine? I don't want to hurt you."

"Don't be stupid," she said, pulling him back on her, "and you'll be the one hurt if you interrupt us again."

Gendry laughed then and said, "as my queen commands."

Chapter Text

Arya remembered what if felt like to run with her siblings in the snow. She and Bran would hide behind crates in the central courtyard of Winterfell waiting with icy ammunition ready, for Robb and Jon to come back from an errand from their father. Whenever they managed to catch them unprepared, they would both giggle and run away, while their older brothers chased closely behind. Bran was always captured first, but Arya was swift. She would find crevices, and small openings to escape whenever they were about to get her. Jon knew his sister would make her way to the godswood eventually, and after many failed attempts, he learned to let Robb chase after and then wait behind a tree in the sacred place. Jon would launch at her then, catching an arm or an ankle, making her fall backward on the snow, cheeks icy but flushed, and giggling hard, while he tickled her until she almost pissed herself.

Once more on her back, she thought fondly of the memory, her cheeks not cold, but warm, and just as flushed. She wasn’t bundled in warm Northern furs over snow, but bare as her nameday, over the soft featherbed where her babe was made. She concluded that from the very moment she left Winterfell with her father and sister, her heart had been galloping after the memory of a past gone, chasing after a family, a pack, that didn’t exist anymore.

While Gendry traced patterns on her midsection, she realized her heart had finally stopped running. She had made peace with the fact that her family would never be the one she had craved for years. Her family now was Gendry, and their babe, who had him hypnotized, unable to stop touching her. Her family was also her siblings, not the ones from her memories, but the ones she had come to love for themselves and not who they used to be. As well as all the others who she had welcomed to her pack.

In the middle of her musings, Arya looked up to the embroidered tapestry that adorned the inside the massive Baratheon bed’s canopy, as Gendry kept trying to warm their babe with his hand. She recalled the nights Gendry had been on top showing her his love, while she looked at the symbols depicted on it, her hands on his back her feet urging him. Back then, she had wondered about all the Baratheon heirs conceived in that very bed, convinced that none would ever take root in her since her body was a temple of death and not life.

And yet that night, the girl who had been once no one was instead many women rolled into one: an assassin, aye, but also a warrior, a queen, a wife, a lover, a best friend, and now even a mother, but above all, she was always herself, Arya Stark.

“Have you ever looked at this tapestry?” She asked, playing with his hair, as Gendry’s head rested on her shoulder, still mesmerized by his own hand, writing secret messages to their babe.

Gendry looked up to the craft in question.

“Every fucking night as we go to sleep.”

“No, I mean, really look at it. What do you see?”

He had never really stopped to think about it, while he was sure he would be able to describe it if someone asked him, having spent many sleepless and lonely nights staring at it.

“Bunch of stags, waves, that swirly thing? Wind, maybe? The drum tower at Storm’s End, I guess. Storms, swords, more fucking stags,” he replied, realizing he had never stopped to look beyond the surface.

“Basically how virile the Baratheons are,” Arya declared.

“I guess,” he replied, amused.

“Ever wondered why this tapestry is on the underside of the canopy?”

“Not really.”

“I have. You see, I’ve thought of how many Baratheon brides were on their backs being reminded of the supremacy of House Baratheon while their Baratheon husbands were putting babes into their bellies.”

Gendry laughed at the image, his face buried in her hair. He also looked back to all the nights he had loved Arya in that very same featherbed, when she was not his bride, but the woman he loved, and every time she came to him he prayed to gods he didn’t believe in that it wouldn’t be the last time he’d get the chance to remind her, not with words, how deeply she was loved.

“Well, fortunately,” he replied, kissing her behind her ear, “ you not only like it on your back.”

The laughter started slow, but it fed off as they looked at each other, until tears were spilling out of Arya’s eyes.

“How are you?” Gendry asked her while rubbing the tears from her eyes.

“Fine.”

“No, for real. With this?” Gendry asked as he rubbed circles on her for emphasis.

Arya took a moment to reflect and read the concern in his eyes, and with a sigh, she responded:

“I’ve been tired. Got dizzy a couple of times while water dancing. Hungrier than normal.”

“Have you seen someone? A maester?”

“You mean Sam? Why?” Her expressive eyebrows knitting defensively, “women have had children for thousands of years, why would I need a man to tell me how it is?”

“A midwife then?”

“I wanted to tell you first.”

“Good. But maybe you should talk to someone, don’t you think?”

Arya knew what concern looked in his eyes, the way his eyes would turn sideways to her and convey fears of imminent doom that he foresaw in their futures. Those were the same eyes that stared at her at Harrenhal.

“You’re thinking something. What is it?”

“Nothing,” he replied, avoiding her gaze. Fear squeezed her chest for a moment, of finally that they had met in the same place, they’d still be so far apart.

“You are not regretting this, are you?”

“No,” he was quick to reply, setting his forehead on her neck, “not at all. It’s just, you said Bran mentioned I was a large babe, and you are-”

“Don’t say small,” she warned him.

Not as large as me,” he was quick to reply.

“Good.”

Gendry hadn’t had much in the past, and it was easy not caring when there was not much to lose, but peeling away from her slightly to see her better, he saw everything that he was not willing to lose.

“What if something happens to you, and it is my fault?” He finally confessed.

“Don’t be stupid.”

Arya took the hand that had left her skin, and placed it back on her, over her scars.

“This didn’t kill me,” she explained, letting his fingers trace the terrible memories, “and the Night King didn’t kill me. And a fucking dragon didn’t kill me.”

She let go of his hand and brought hers to his jaw, “your love is certainly not going to kill me.”

Arya then pulled him down to her to kiss him softly. As they separated, she could see the pleading in his blue eyes.

“Promise?”

“I promise,” she swore.

Gendry lay back down and pulled Arya to rest her head on his chest.

“There is something else.”

“What?” She asked, lifting her head to look at him.

“I want to talk terms.”

“So soon and you want to renegotiate?” Arya asked with a teasing smile.

“Well, there’s been a development,” he said as his eyes looked down to his hand, finding his way in between their bodies to touch her abdomen.

“What are your new terms then?”

“You see, I have this nice tower…”

“Idiot,” she admonished, pulling at the hair on his chest, making him wince.

“Love.”

Their lips meet once more in a slow kiss.

“If there is an uprising,” he started to say as they pulled away, and before Arya had a chance to open her eyes.

“There won’t be an uprising.”

“But if there is, as Lord Commander you are supposed to protect me with your life, but-”

“We protect the babe,” Arya quickly replied.

“We protect the babe,” Gendry repeated with a smile, as his hand brushed back her hair.

“Anything else?”

“Training.”

“Are you going to forbid it?”

Gendry could see her expression hardening and felt the tension in her body.

“No. I was going to suggest no real weapons.”

“Fine.”

“…and I rather you didn’t spar with the knights.”

“Then you are sparring with me.”

“Me?”

“I’m going to get as big as a house, and I’ll be moody if I can’t do anything. And you will get anxious if I spar with anyone else. I trust you will not harm our babe.”

“Fair point.”


 

There was power in secrets.

A secret had cast Jon as a bastard all his life and driven a wedge in the marriage of Arya’s parents. The secret of who had father Gendry had put a hefty price on his head without his knowledge, and it had cost Ned Stark his life. The secret they now shared was different but no less powerful.

The next few days after their discovery had been blissful, both Arya and Gendry deciding to keep their news to themselves until they had absolute certainty, as the shadow of what may have happened after the fall of the capital still hanged over them both. Whenever they caught each other’s eyes across a room, in the middle of a meeting, there would be a silent acknowledgment, and a teasing smile caused by the thrill of the secret they shared.

Whenever they were together, and no one else was looking, Gendry would embrace Arya from behind, making her lean on his front and pulling her face back to him for a kiss. The hand holding her chin would lower until he pressed it against her belly possessively.

Every night he would go to sleep touching her, whispering sweet-nothings into her loose hair, his low voice behind her ear enthralling her and making her wet. Her abdomen was still flat, but they both noticed that it had become firm, and while it hadn’t grown noticeably, lacing her breeches too tight was already uncomfortable. Having her breeches laced loosely, opened up an opportunity for Gendry’s hand to have access to the bare skin of her belly.


 

The first time it happened, a fortnight into their news, she had been about to join Jon and Gendry. To her delight, her brother had decided to stay in King’s Landing for the Council of the nations of Westeros, as Tormund agreed to accompany Sansa south for the meeting, and after it, both men would ride back North. Mayhaps Arya had convinced him, mentioning that there should be someone representing the free folk, but mayhaps Jon just couldn’t deny his little sister.

Arya had come into the room where both men were eating their midday meal. Jon had smiled seeing his sister, but Arya stopped dead in her tracks after just taking one look at her brother and husband. Her smile suddenly fell from her face, as the smell of the meaty stew they were eating hit her. She turned back at once and ran out of the room.

Jon turned to look at Gendry, and his knitted eyebrows asked a question, but his good brother ignored it altogether and instead, he ran after his wife. He found her outside, looking out to the ocean, the sea breeze blowing the hairs that had escaped her half-braid.

“What’s wrong?” He asked as he approached her.

“Your babe did not like the smell of that stew,” Arya informed him, as she turned to face him.

Gendry smiled sheepishly and attempted to embrace her, but she pushed him away.

“Go away, you reek of it.”

“I’m sorry,” he said apologetically.

Arya just shook her head.

“I’m going to go lie down.”

Gendry stood there as she walked towards their room, unaware of Jon, who looked from afar, concerned at his sister’s explicit rejection of her husband.

After that, Arya would suffer daily nausea. Her food would not come back up all the time, as she had witnessed some women in the past, but she felt sick to her stomach day and night. The only that would bring her relief was eating. Every time she managed to eat, there was a glorious time when she would feel human again, though finding the food the would appeal had proven a difficult task.

“I’m going to get really fat if the only way I have to feel better is stuffing my face.”

“You’re not fat, you are only carrying our child,” Gendry would comfort her, with kisses to the top of her head.

“It’s not fair that I wake up every day feeling like I got in my cups the night before while I haven’t drunk at all.”

“I’m sorry you are feeling this way. What can I do to make you feel better?”

“Bread. I want bread. It is the only thing that doesn’t make me want to throw up.”

Arya knew muck. She knew the smell of blood and guts, and the sickly sweet smell of death. She knew the smell of seafood, wafting through the sea breeze. She knew the stench of burnt fur, and how when someone was cut in the gut, the smell of shit quickly overpowered that of blood. She knew how a brothel smelled, and what was the scent of a body after being washed and prepared. She could also remember King’s Landing’s stink, noticeable a mile away. But that was the old King’s Landing, the way her babe was making her so sensitive to aromas made her grateful for how they had tried to rebuild a city that did not smell of shit.

The tragedy of her enhanced sense of smell had not been how it had made her avoid certain places, and reduced the foods she could eat. The real tragedy had been the implication it had in her own chambers, as scents that had once aroused her had the complete opposite effect.

It happened one night when Gendry had arrived feeling amorous.

“You smell of sweat and soot.”

“I better be, for how long I worked at the forge,” he replied, still trying to get his arms around her.

“I don’t like it,” Arya declared, pushing his arms away.

“You used to like it, I remember vividly how wild it used to make you when I came to you smelling of the forge.”

“I wasn’t growing your child in my belly then,” she retorted.

“Are you telling me my child does not like the smell of the forge?” Gendry asked, a bit of hurt evident in his voice.

“I’m sure the little bull will love it when it’s here, but right now, it is not helping me stop gagging.”

Little bull?” He asked with a smile, “is that what we are calling it? I thought you’d prefer little wolf.”

“It is a little wolf when it behaves. Right now it is making me feel like I want to die, so little bull it is, like its father.”

Her words filled his chest with pride, and he knew he was too predictable, but he was not Arya, and their babe did not grow inside of him. Most of the time he felt like he was just looking from afar and the desire to feel connected to both made him lay claim to their babe, it would typically show with his need to be always touching her almost non-existent bump. And now, hearing Arya give the babe a nickname after him made Gendry smile despite her discomfort, welcoming each reminder that their babe was his blood.

“Go have a wash!” Arya yelled, pushing him away from her.

“Are you really kicking me out?”

“If you want to sleep in this bed, you will go wash.”

“You are telling me that I will need a bath every night to sleep in my own bed next to my wife? People will start to talk.”

“And say what? That you are clean?” Arya replied, eliciting his laughter.

“Very well, my queen, I’ll go have a wash. I look forward to however you decide to reward me.”

“I’ll reward you by letting you sleep in my bed and not kicking your arse.”


 

During Small Council meetings Gendry tried to avoid Bran’s eyes. He was sure Arya’s younger brother already knew the secret they were keeping from everyone else, and he often wondered if he would suddenly blurt out their news in the middle of a session. He still liked having it being a secret, shared only between the two of them. When they sparred together and her tunic hanged loosely out of her breeches, he couldn’t help himself and stare at the place in her body where his child grew.

He found it hard, though, to keep the news from Davos. He did not know what it felt to have a father, though he had witnessed what losing Ned did to the woman he loved. But the way Davos had cared for him when he was just another one of the dregs of society, and ever since, made Gendry feel that mayhaps, just mayhaps having a father would feel a little like that. He would soon be a father himself, and he felt a little bit less scared knowing that Davos would be around to help him figure everything out.

They had known about the babe for a little over two whole moon turns by then, and every day they would be a bit more convinced that it was true. He would tell him soon, he thought as they stood on the place they had been busy building, Davos looking proud as he showed all the Small Council and Jon the progress they had made. The dormitories still had a bit to go, as well as the small pool. The small kitchen, the ovens, the artisan stations, and the forge were finished, as well as the training yard. They were planning to open the place and let children come when the rulers of Westeros arrived. Gendry and Arya were particularly excited to show it to Queen Elia.

“It’s beautiful,” Arya said, standing in front of him, “you did this,” she added, leaning back to her husband.

We did this,” he corrected, as he leaned in and kissed her quickly on the cheek, he then rested his chin on the top of her head. His hand coming naturally to her belly, without thinking about it, but Arya quickly slapped the hand away, hoping no else had seen it.

She didn’t notice, though, that her brother Jon hadn’t missed the gesture.


 

“What’s wrong with my sister?” Jon asked Gendry a week later, as they sat at the balcony that oversaw the training yard.

“Nothing is wrong with your sister,” Gendry responded, concentrating on Arya’s movement.

“Bullshit. Last time I saw Arya hold a training sword she was eight.”

The image of an Arya of only eight namedays wielding a wooden sword in the central courtyard of Winterfell invaded his mind, making him smile, but the picture soon transformed into a dream he had before, and it was no longer Arya but his own daughter being trained by his wife while he watched full of pride. He must have been smiling because Jon seemed to become more upset.

“You think this is funny?”

“Look, she’s not holding a training sword now, she is holding the very sword you gave her.”

“She is water dancing. She wasn’t using Needle when she was sparring with you earlier today.”

He had been nervous the first time they had sparred since he knew she was with child. Remembering how she had almost had been struck the other time when they incorrectly assumed their babe had taken root, he was well damned sure it would be him sparring with her. That thought didn’t make him less nervous, though. After a few times, it was a little less nervewracking, and she was more annoyed at him than anything, for taking it easy on her and instead, receiving more of the blows of her training sword, but at the end of the day she was happy, and they both knew their babe was safe.

“Do you want me to go there and have her skewer me with Needle so you can stop imagining something that is not there?”

“She stopped eating supper in the dining hall.”

“You have a problem with my wife and I eating supper in our chambers?”

“I do if it has coincided with her pushing you away from her all the time.”

“She doesn’t push me away, all the time,” he replied with a cocky smile.

“Do you need to make that point?”

“You brought it up.”

“She is not herself.”

“There is nothing wrong with her,” Gendry reiterated.

“Pod started sparring with the knights and the recruits.”

“She’s the queen now, there will be times when she won’t be able to fulfill the task of being Lord Commander, she just wants Pod to share the responsibility with her.”

Jon let it go with a huff then, though he remained skeptical.


 

“I can see our babe now,” Gendry blurted out that night as he looked ar her unlacing her breeches.

“Is it that obvious?”

“It is for me.”

Arya came to sit on the bed next to him and exaggeratedly fell to the bed.

“I cannot wear my leathers anymore. I need to leave my doublet unlaced, and my breeches feel uncomfortable even when they are loose.”

“I’m sorry. What do you want to do about it?” He asked, lying down next to her.

“I’m seriously entertaining the idea of wearing a fucking dress.”

“We’ll have to let people know about it. I do not believe they will be convinced that you suddenly developed a taste for gowns.”

“Once I feel it move,” she promised, and he nodded in agreement.

“What about Dornish clothes? I recall they had silky breeches that were not laced tight. Mayhaps you could ask Elia to bring you some with her.”


 

“You two are hiding something,” Jon asked, a week later, as they drank ale in his solar.

“We are not.”

“My sister may make fun of me, and call me dumb-”

“She calls me an idiot all the time, and she is still happy to be married to me, so I wouldn’t feel bad about that,” Gendry interrupted.

“What I am trying to say is that I am not blind, and I can see that something is going on between the two of you. Are you fighting again?”

“We are not fighting, far from it really,” Gendry said, looking down at his mug, unable to stop a smile growing on him and warmth in his cheeks.

“She may be your wife, but she is my sister, and if you did something to her-”

That had been the final straw.

“She’s with child! Are you happy? It’s just my babe that is making her feel ill all the fucking time, and smells make her sick. And I suggest that if you decide to get close to her, you make sure you have a bath before.”

The usual brooding face of Jon Stark broke slowly into one Gendry had never seen before, and his eyes looked almost wet before he embraced him and then he ran out of the room to look for Arya.

He hadn't witnessed the moment between the siblings but decided instead to give them time together and wait for Arya in their rooms.

“You told my brother?!” Arya yelled as she slapped her husband’s arm, the moment she came into their rooms, where he had been waiting for her knowing what was to come.

“In my defense, he has been on my case for days! He was sure something was wrong with you, and that I had done something to you.”

“You did do something to me.”

“But it wasn’t a bad thing!”


 

Davos met with Gendry in the Small Council room the following day.

“Anything on your mind, son?”

“I want to make sure a decree is signed changing the law of primogeniture in the Six Kingdoms. Though I know we only slightly brushed over it during the sessions with the great houses.”

“I believe it was decided to give it some time for all the other reforms before pushing for this one.”

“I won’t enforce it in all the regions, yet. But I want it in writing and signed regarding the Storm Lands, and the crown, as long as the great houses do not choose someone else to succeed me.”

“Why the sudden rush, Gendry?”

“Because no matter if a boy or a girl currently grows in my wife’s womb, it will be my heir.”

The old smuggler looked at Gendry dumbfounded for a little while and then stood up, prompting Gendry to do the same. With huge smiles on their faces, both men embraced.

“I’m so happy for you, my boy, and for Queen Arya as well, of course.”

“It’s a long way from talking through the bars of the dungeons of Dragonstone, isn’t it Davos?”

“A very long way. And I am glad that I have been able to help you get here, in a small way.”

At that moment Davos’ words, came to him ‘I did it for my son, I wanted him to have a better life.’ Gendry no longer had a doubt that what he felt for Davos was not too far from what a son would feel for his father.

“Davos?”

“Yes?”

“Help me make sure my child has a better life.”


 

Three whole moon turns had happened the night Gendry’s eyes opened suddenly in the small hours of the night. He was confused, and he looked around t see that it was still dark, but the air announced that it wouldn’t be too long before dawn. For a moment he wondered what had roused him as his sleep tended to be heavy, but soon he discovered that it was the luscious body of his woman, undulating on top of him what woke him.

“Am I dreaming?”

“You are certainly not dreaming,” Arya explained, as her movement and moisture had him almost ready.

“Then what heroic feat did I do to deserve this?” He asked now fully awake, as he held on to her hips.

“Why would this be for you, stupid? This is for me.”

“My scent is no longer making you ill?”

“No,” she replied, “better yet, I feel good. I woke up and had this great need of you.”

“I’m not complaining. I am certainly here to please my wife.”

“Gilly said that this would happen. I thought it was horseshit, but she was right.”

“About what?” He inquired, bringing his thumb to the secret pearl between her folds.

“She said that after a few weeks, nausea would go away and that I’d feel aroused all the time.”

“This is, by far, my favorite symptom. You’ve gone to Gilly?”

“She has three children, lived beyond the Wall, and she helped her sisters deliver their babes. I am confident that she knows more than her husband or any other maester,” Arya explained.

“How old is their youngest?”

“Coming up to six moon turns. And the one before is less than two namedays old.”

“They've been busy. And brave, I guess.”

“Or Sam is shit at making moon tea. Which means that if I had gone to him for mine, we would have gotten ourselves into this a lot sooner, when we were in no way ready.”

“I’m glad you didn’t, love.”

Arya did not reply and instead lowered herself taking him in her. Gendry looked at her riding him, and thought that in the blueish half-light she looked regal, her small body looking larger than life itself. Her breasts bounced a little with every thrust, and he liked seeing the swell of her belly, and he felt surrounded by her slick flesh, knowing that it was precisely that way that he had planted his seed in her.

Looking at her he wanted to reach her breast with his left hand and play with the puckered nipple, but he remembered how tender they had been, another consequence of her condition, and instead, his hand moved back from her hip and squeezed her backside greedily.

It was embarrassing how quickly he felt ready to spill inside of her, for it had been weeks since the last time they had made love, but he was determined to give her the bliss she had been seeking.

Soon she had started panting, and leaned on him, supporting herself on his chest. Gendry sensed her exhaustion and helped her continue, as he held on to her hips and moved her on him, creating delicious friction with his own thrusts. Arya let herself lie down on Gendry’s chest as she surrendered to her bliss prompting Gendry to his own.

They stayed together after that catching their breaths, basking in the pleasure they had reached together.

“That was…” Gendry said once he found his voice, but couldn’t find the right words for what had happened.

“Indeed.”

“You know what we need?” He asked, rubbing her back.

“What?” Arya asked, moving her head just enough to be able to see him.

“A Stark tapestry. We need one to hang here so I can look at it while you do that on top of me.”

Chapter Text


When it finally happened, she hadn’t been prepared. It started softly, like an idea in the back of the mind. Once it grew enough to be acknowledged it reminded her of the feeling of Jon putting Needle in her hand, or sailing under the giant of Braavos, or seeing a dragon for the first time; but most of all, it reminded her of the way it felt when Gendry told her the only thing he knew was that she was beautiful. A fluttering under her scars, in the sacred place that cradled her babe.

It took a whole fortnight for Arya to realize what it was. She had been water dancing when the image of her beautiful mother invaded her mind, and at the moment, it was no longer the wings of a butterfly but the wiggling of a fish inside her. It did not feel like Nymeria’s pups had felt, and she wondered if mayhaps it was because they had been just about to be born. No, her little Tully fish had room to wander, to move about swiftly within her.

Her mother’s words had always felt stiff to her, each one of them a shackle that shrunk her world more and more. She had never wondered about the meaning beyond the three tenets set by her mother’s family, and, having favored her father’s house, the importance of the pack always felt organic and free, while the Tully’s words felt stifling. But that morning, with Needle on the one hand and the other under her tunic, trying to trace the movement of her babe, she finally understood her mother’s words: duty and honor were essential, but family always came first.

She left the training yard at once looking for Gendry, and she found him at the Small Council table, clearly annoyed at the parchment he was reading.

“If you keep your face like that any longer, it will freeze into place,” she warned him, noticing his deep frown.

“If you mean the scowl, it is already frozen. It’s been frozen since before I met you, but you haven’t realized it yet because you are the only one who makes me smile,” Gendry replied without looking away from his work.

Arya walked to him, and once she reached him, she made him push his chair back, wiggling her way until she sat astride him.

“While tempting,” he said, joining his hands on her lower back, “if you fuck me now on his chair, I won’t want to do any work for the rest of the day.”

“Why must you always think I seek you out only to fuck you?”

“You don’t?” Gendry asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Not all the time.”

“Fine then, to what do I owe the pleasure of having my love come to find me when she normally would be training at this hour? Is anything wrong?”

“The opposite, I come bearing gifts.”

At his confusion, Arya took his hand and placed it on her bump. It was not so prominent yet that it would be easily noticed, especially with her tunic hanging loose, but when it was bare, the roundness of it was more than evident, and it mesmerized Gendry when he was free to look and touch it.

They both looked at each other in silence for some time as Gendry was not sure what was they were waiting for.

“Is something supposed to happen?” His voice came out a bit louder than he had intended, but at that, there was something Gendry couldn’t quite what it was, but he certainly felt it under his hand.

“Was that…?”

“Yes, stupid. That is most certainly your babe.”

“Arya…”

Gendry brought his hands to her face and kissed her with a devotion that sought to convey his gratitude for what she had given him. Such expression of emotion was not new for Arya, and it didn’t sit well with her, sensing that Gendry acted as if he was undeserving of what he was receiving. The implication that he loved her more than she did him bothered her.

“Stop looking at me like that?”

“Like what?” He asked, looking up.

“Like I hung the moon.”

“No, you are doing something far more impressive. You are growing a whole person from scratch.”

“Hardly a feat. Every person in this world, including you and me, is here because women grew them in their wombs.”

Gendry shook his head in disagreement.

“But this is no ordinary person. This is our babe, and you are giving me more than the world, you are giving me a family.”

“I didn’t make it all on my own,” she pointed out with a sly smile.

Gendry laughed loudly and pulled her into a quick kiss.

“I think my contribution didn’t involve as much sacrifice as you make for our family every day.”

“This is not a huge sacrifice,” Arya pointed out by placing both palms on her bump, “and neither is loving you.”

“Is it not?” He asked with such sincerity that made Arya’s heartache.

“No.”

“You’re sure you wouldn’t rather be out adventuring instead of being stuck here, with people calling you ‘your grace’, not allowed to train or spar properly, and married to my stubborn arse?”

“Who says this isn’t an adventure?”

“Truly?”

“Aye. And even more so, do you know what is like loving you?” She asked with big wide grey eyes.

“What is it like?”

“Effortless.”

Gendry couldn’t find the words to respond to her sentiment, and he kissed her, letting his lips do the talking.

“What does it feel like anyways?” He then asked, looking down at their hands on her belly.

“A bit odd, having something inside you move about with a mind of its own. When I was in Braavos, I used to walk by the shore, and the water was so clear, you could see the fish swimming against your feet. I tried catching one once, and it was wriggly and slippery, and it feels like that, but inside me.”

Gendry looked at her with love.

“What?”

“Nothing. Sounds magical.”


 

The first monarch to arrive at the summit of the leaders of Westeros was Sansa Stark. Arya had written to her, letting her know of their marriage right after they had shared their news with Jon. Ravens had been sent to Winterfell and the Citadel, a week before the rest of the regions and houses were informed. On the matter of the babe, Arya hadn’t let her sister know initially, hoping to tell her, as well as her brothers when the four reunited in the capital, but Gendry’s disclosure had thwarted that plan. And so, once Jon knew, Arya wrote to the Queen in the North, to Winterfell and a couple of places where she was likely to stop along the way.

Telling Bran had been something different altogether. Arya was sure he knew, but the day she looked for him to talk about it, he greeted her with a knowing smile.

“Your babe will be-”

“Do not spoil this for me, Brandon Stark,” she warned him sternly.

“…happy,” he replied.

Arya could swear that something sparkled in his eye. His eyes looked directly at her, instead of through her, as if sifting through the sands of time.

That was information she didn’t mind possessing beforehand.

Arya was still wearing loose clothing that hid her precious cargo when they lined up to greet her sister. When the two queens embraced, it was clear that there were many things that they both wanted to say but wanted to keep for when they were away from prying eyes and ears.

“So, you married him?” Sansa inquired, quirking an eyebrow and looking down to something she had noticed as they hugged.

“I didn’t realize I had already married him in all the ways that long before he asked,” her words made all of those present laugh, and Gendry blush slightly.

“It is very you to do all things out of order,” was all Sansa said before continuing on to greet her brothers and her new good brother.

Tormund had come, along with Sansa and Sir Brienne, in representation of the free folk beyond the wall, for the first time included with the rest of Westeros. The wilding man had been excited to embrace Jon first, but then he spotted Gendry.

“Tormund,” Gendry greeted him.

“Pretty boy, looks like you’ve been keeping warm,” he said with a teasing tone and a waggle of his eyebrows, as he threw a side glance to Arya, “

“Fuck off, Tormund!” Arya was quick to intervene, “I already told you he is mine.”


 

After all the greetings, the Stark sisters walked together to the guest rooms assigned to the Queen in the North. Once there, with the privacy the chamber provided, the sisters felt at ease to share what they hadn’t when they reunited.

“So, when can I expect my niece or nephew to be born?” Sansa said as soon as the door had closed.

“Good, you received my news,” Arya added, as she sat down on her sister’s bed.

“A charming raven, I must say. ‘My husband got his child on me already, I guess the seed is indeed strong,’ was a memorable letter from my sister,” Sansa recounted, joining Arya on the bed, “and anyways, even if I hadn’t, that bump is hard to miss.”

“I’m not showing that much,” Arya said, as her hands measured her belly, giving a chance for her sister to appreciate its roundness.

“Since you came back to Winterfell, I’ve not seen your leathers unlaced and your tunic hanging loose. You know you would be much more comfortable in a dress.”

“We haven’t announced it to everyone yet.”

“Well, I don’t think you are fooling anyone. I think Tormund noticed just by looking at you.”

“At first, we just wanted to wait until we knew for sure, and then until I felt it move, and now I don’t really know how you go about telling people.”

“I’ll help you alter your clothes, you can’t be very comfortable wearing those. So, how long? I need to know the time I have to sew and knit for the little one. I started a couple of things on the way here.“

“Just about four moon turns to go, at least those are Gilly’s calculations.”

Sansa touched her belly, and her niece or nephew moved in return.

“The pack survives,” Sansa said, her voice faltering a bit.

“The pack survives,” Arya replied, with the same emotion.

Tears flowed freely from the sisters’ eyes as they embraced.

“And how about you?” Arya asked her sister as she wiped the tears on her eyes, “you seem happier. Has anyone been loving you well?”

“Actually, I have been learning to love myself first,” Sansa responded.

“Maybe next you will let someone into your bed and let them ring your bells,” Arya proposed, half trying to get a rise out of her sister, and half being serious.

“I never said I haven’t done that as well,” she responded, quirking one auburn eyebrow.

Arya had not expected those words from Sansa, and certainly not the way she had smiled enigmatically before biting her lower lip. The glint in her eye made Arya laugh, an honest laugh that came from her belly and made her Tully fish swim around it. She collapsed back on the bed, still amid a fit of laughter that infected her sister, and made her lie down with her, holding hands.

“Good,” Arya said, bringing her sister hand to her chest, “you deserve it.”


 

Elia Sand Martell arrived three days later, accompanied by her hand, Ned Dayne, much to Gendry’s chagrin. Arya and Gendry were surprised to see that she had grown in the many moons since they had last seen her, but they found her just as witty.

“Elia, how is Dorne? I would have expected your hand to stay behind in your stead,” Gendry greeted her, while Arya frowned at his continued animosity towards their childhood friend.

“I left Dorne in excellent hands; my sister Sarella has come back to us. I offered her the crown, but she declined, deciding to become a trusted advisor instead, with all the knowledge she acquired at the Citadel.”

Arya remembered what it had been to reunite with Sansa, despite the differenced between them growing up, there was nothing like getting the family you thought lost.

“Elia, this is my sister Sansa.”

“I’ve heard a lot about you,” Elia said with a small tilt of her head.

“And I of you,” Sansa replied, returning the gesture, “my sister tells me there is no fiercer rider in all of Westeros, and that you are lethal with a lance.”

“Have you ridden a sand steed, Queen Sansa?”

“Please, call me Sansa. No, I can’t say I have.”

“You must come to Dorne. Arya told me you love lemon cakes. Don’t believe what the Reach may say, the best lemons are from Dorne.”

“It will be my pleasure to visit you in Dorne. And you must come to the North.”

“I look forward to it. I’ve never seen snow,” Elia confessed.

“It will be my pleasure to show it to you.”

“And these are my brothers Jon and Bran.”

“Your grace,” both men said, bowing their heads.

“A pleasure to meet you, Arya talked very fondly of all her siblings while she stayed with us in Dorne. While I only had sisters, it was nice to know she also came from a large family.”

“Your grace,” Ned said addressing Sansa, as he bowed, “it is a pleasure to meet the Queen in the North, and if it is not too forward for me to say so, I can see that it is true that beauty is a trait of all Stark women.”

Gendry rolled his eyes, prompting his wife to elbow him. Clearly ignorant of the less than love that Gendry felt for him, Ned was particularly interested in becoming acquainted with Arya’s brother, Jon.

“Jon, it’s an honor to meet you. You know, when I met Arya all those years ago, I told her you, and I are milk brothers.”

Jon looked clearly confused, and so Ned elaborated:

“We shared the same wet nurse when we were but babes.”

“It is nice to meet you, Ned. I’m glad to know that Arya had friends who looked out for her when she was on her own.”

“See,” Arya said, bumping at her husband’s side with her shoulder, “that is the proper way to mention your childhood friend when you meet her family.”

“Will I ever live that down?” Gendry asked.

“I mean seriously, you were stuck north of the fucking wall, nothing around for miles, and it never occurred to you to mention me?”

“It was probably good he didn’t,” Jon added, “I don’t think he would have made it back in one piece if I had heard, without any context, that he cuddled you to sleep every night.”

“Who told you that?” Gendry asked, his voice a little higher than what he would have liked.

“Hot Pie,” Jon replied, “that was a long night.”

“I can see that congratulations are in order,” Elia pointed out, looking at the now noticeable bump, showcased by the tunic Sansa had altered for her, instead of just hanging loose, the tucks around her breasts and the flare at the bottom accentuated her figure.

Gendry rubbed the back of his head.

“Thank you,” Arya replied.

“We are excited,” Gendry admitted.

“Who would have thought it, back in the Riverlands with the brotherhood?” Ned asked.

“Not me!” Gendry was quick to reply, looking at Jon.


 

Yara Greyjoy was the last monarch to arrive, coming back from the Iron Islands now as their crowned queen, just a day after Queen Elia. The Ironborn having taken well their new queen and independence. The losses they had suffered in recent years, exacerbated by Euron Greyjoy’s hubris and the prosperity they were experiencing from their trading partnership with the Six Kingdoms, contributed to their acceptance of Yara as the best leader they had had in years.

Sitting around a large round table, with the monarchs of Westeros made Arya remember the talk she had once with her father when she asked if she could be a high lord of septon. Around the table, four queens, including herself, sat in the first summit of the leaders of their land. How long had it been since the war of the five kings? The only men in the meeting were Gendry, the king of the Six Kingdoms, along with Jon and Tormund, as representatives of the free folk.

The world had indeed changed.

The four queens present would not be expected to stay silent and breed heirs as their only duty to their nations.

“I want to formally welcome all to King’s Landing,” Arya said, raising her glass, “I believe that if we decide to work together, we can make Westeros a better place for ourselves and for our children. Let us begin.”


 

The following day, all present were invited to the official opening for the children’s place built by the King and Queen of the Six Kingdoms for all children of their nation, and in particular, for those orphaned by recent wars.

“We are really excited to show you this. We were inspired by the Water Gardens of Dorne, to build a place for the children of the Six Kingdoms,” Gendry announced to their guests.

“This is beautiful. Is it also a wedding present like our Water Gardens were?” Elia asked.

“Not really,” Arya responded.

“It does coincide with our marriage and start of our family,” Gendry continued, “but we built this because we wanted to leave a legacy for our nation.”

“When we met, on the outskirts of this city, we were among a group of destitute children,” Arya explained as she held her husband’s hand, and remembered what was undoubtedly the worst day of both their lives.

“If Arya hadn’t been disguised as a boy, in a ploy to spirit her away to safety, we would have never met,” Gendry explained, “the daughter of a high lord and a bastard boy had no business ever meeting. We hope this place is a start for a change and a place where all the orphans of the many wars we’ve suffered can learn a trade and find their way in life.”

“Children in the Iron Islands learn to walk on the deck of a ship, with the movement of the waves,” Yara recounted, “we are good sailors because we learn it at the same time we are still sucking on mother’s milk. I like this.”

“Have I told you the story of how I came to be known as Tormund Giantsbane?” The wilding man said to Yara with a glint on his eye.

“Not now, Tormund,” Ser Brienne was quick to admonish him.

Tormund found no offense to Brienne’s words, and instead shielded his eyes from the sun, and pulled on the collar of the silly Southron clothes he was forced to wear in King’s Landing with its inclement weather.

“How do you survive in this hellhole? It’s too hot! How do you fuck with this heat? If I lived here, I wouldn’t have the energy to walk, let alone fuck. We should have let the army of the death march here, surely they would have melted.”

Elia Sand Martell laughed at Tormund’s tirade, next to Ned, who blushed furiously.

“If you think this is hot,” Elia told him, “you would think Dorne is hell on earth, but that is why Dornish men and women are the best warriors, we’ll fight for hours barefoot on the hot sand without tiring. All of you Northerners wouldn’t last an hour battling in the Dornish desert.”

“King’s Landing is not the North,” Tormund was quick to point out.

“It is to Dorne,” she responded with a wink.

Jon chuckled loudly at Tormund’s frown.

“This is beautiful,” Sansa said as she embraced her sister and good brother. After letting go of both, a group of girls approached her, handing her a crown of flowers.

“That’s it,” Gendry said, “they can take my crown as long as this remains as our legacy.”

“Is it as you dreamed?” Arya asked him, leaning into his chest.

“Almost.”

“What is missing?” She asked.

“This one,” he replied, caressing her belly, “running around in breeches and a wooden sword.


 

Saying goodbye to Sansa and Jon was the hardest thing Arya had to do. It had been years since she had cried that much, and she blamed her pregnancy for her emotion, and Gendry for making her soft.

“I’ll be back, I promise you,” Jon said, embracing his little sister.

“Will you, really?”

“I need to come to this forsaken place to meet my nephew, don’t I?”

“Niece!” Gendry and Sansa both yelled in unison.

“I will come as well,” Sansa said then, taking her turn to embrace their sister, “and I’ll make sure Jon comes along.”

“I don’t know how I will go through this, without father or mother.”

“I told you once you are the strongest person I know. You are also the bravest, and you are not alone,” she said, looking at Gendry.

The day after their siblings left, Bran sat outside, looking at the ocean, when Arya came to sit next to him.

“Do you ever think about Bran?”

“I am Brandon Stark,” he replied, his eyes still fixed on the ocean.

“Are you? You told me once you were not the brother I left in Winterfell, and I was not the sister who left, but is there any bit left of my brother Bran?”

“A little bit more every day,” he said, finally turning to look at her, and she felt it.

“Will you ever be yourself again?”

“There is no way of knowing for sure, but I want to believe that as the Three-Eyed Raven needs me less and less, I will get to live my life as Brandon Stark, instead of just observing it from afar.”

“Do you have any regrets?”

“Too many to count, but only one that plagues my mind,” Bran replied, looking away, hiding his thoughts from his sister.

“What was her name?” Arya asked knowingly.

“Her name is Meera.”

“Why don’t you go see her?”

“I do every day. I watch from above as she practices archery.”

“You’re wrong to look at her,” she warned him.

“How so?”

“She needs to know you are there. One day you should go to meet her in person.”

“When I met her, all those years ago, she reminded me of you. She had a brother as well, and she was always better with the bow than Jojen was. Like you and me.”

“I think I’d like to meet her,” Arya said, leaning her head on her brother’s shoulder.

“That will be nice.”


 

The cry tore the night in half, and Arya reached for the babe lying the cot next to her side of the bed. As soon as she brought it to her chest, her dark-haired boy rooted against her covered breast, without opening the eyes, that without seeing them, Arya knew were as blue as the Braavos sea. ‘Eager like your father,’ Arya thought to herself. She pulled the shift down one-handed and guided the babe to her teat. The first latch was always a bit painful, and Arya had to use her pinky to break the seal of the plump red lips around her sensitive nipple, prompting a better latch. After her babe sucked a few times, she felt her milk let down, and a sense of relief to her engorgement. She let herself lean back on the headboard of her bed, as the warmth from her babe, and the soft snores of her husband, asleep with his hand on her hip, made her feel complete, safe within her pack.

“A girl thinks it is life she gives, but it is naught but the gift.”

A voice that she had hoped never to hear again pulled her from her safe cocoon. Looking away from her babe, she saw, no longer the inside of the royal rooms at the Red Keep, but the dark atrium of the House of Black and White.

Arya looked back down to her babe, but it was no longer her breastfeeding her son anymore, and instead, it was the water from the pool of the Many-Faced God that sprung from her hand into the ashen-faced babe’s parched mouth.

A scream woke her violently, and it took her a moment to realize that it came from her because her throat felt raw, and her cheeks were wet, as well as Gendry’s bare shoulder. He was holding her tight and rocking her back and forth.

“It’s a nightmare, love. Just a nightmare. You’re not back there.”

It wasn’t until Gendry felt the sobs easing up that he let go of her. His hand taking hers and bringing it to her bump.

“Our babe is here, and it is alive and safe.”

“I thought… I thought…”

“I know. They didn’t come for our babe. And if they did, they’d have to face me.”

“You don’t know what they are like,” Arya told him.

“They do not know what I am like if anyone threatens my pack.”

After a while, she let herself sink into sleep once more, and she woke up, hours later, in Gendry’s arms, her head on his chest.

“How are you feeling?” He asked.

“Shaken, but better. Did I scare you?”

“Almost as bad as when Nymeria had her pups. But this was different, wasn’t it?”

“It was.”

“Want to tell me about it.”

“It’s not nice,” Arya replied, looking down.

“Nightmares seldom are. You were back at the House of Black and White.”

“How do you know?”

“You said his name, Jaqen,” Arya could taste the bitterness in his mouth as he said a name from their past, “you pleaded him to give you back our babe.”

Arya cried, burying her face on his chest once more.

“I was nursing him,” she said, pulling back, “a black-haired, blue-eyed boy, and I heard Jaqen say that I couldn’t give life and that all I could really give was the gift.”

“The gift?”

“Of death. And when I looked down, I wasn’t feeding him anymore, and instead, I was pouring water from the poisoned pool into his mouth.”

“It was just a nightmare.”

“But that is what I am. I bring death,” she confessed, looking down.

“You are not the bringer of death,” Gendry admonished her, lifting her chin with his hand, “you never really were, and that is why you left that place. You’ve always been life, and right now, you create life within you,” he punctuated his words by placing his hand on her bump.

“What kind of mother will I be? She said there was darkness inside of me.”

There was no question as to who was the ‘she’ Arya was referring to.

“Fuck her. She said I would make kings rise and fall, and what she meant was that she’d bleed me like a pig for my cunt of an uncle.”

Arya felt terrible for bringing Melisandre up, knowing how much she had hurt Gendry. But despite all the hate she still harbored for the red priestess, her words haunted her still.

“But there is so much death, so much hate inside of me.”

“You think you won’t be a good mother to our child?” Gendry asked her, brushing her hair back.

“How can I?”

“You’ve always cared for your pack. You cared for Weasel, and for Lommy, and Hot Pie, and me. How pathetic was the boy I used to be? Towering over you, but so desperate for the way you cared for me like no one had cared for me since my mother died.”

“You really think I’ll be a good mother?”

“I know so. And anyway, if someone is bound to be a shit father is me.”

“No, that’s not you,” she said, knowing well the words she had chosen.

“I’ve no idea what a father is supposed to be like. Never had one, and if it is something you’re supposed to have in your blood, well, then our children are already fucked.”

“No.”

“You’re that sure, m’lady?”

The old nickname was said with a knowing smile.

“I know so.”

“Then why won’t you believe me when I am just as sure about you?” He asked.

“You are not as stupid as you let on.”

“Aye. And don’t you start thinking that was any more than a bad dream. You, dear wife, are no greenseer. This one here is a girl,” he stated, massaging her belly.

“Are you that certain, my love?”

“I know my Stark girls,” he explained with a wink.


 

“I got you a present,” Gendry announced one morning as she was waking up.

He placed a tray on her lap and then he took the linen off the plate in front of her and revealed pieces of bread shaped into beautiful direwolves. Arya bolted out of bed, and barely pulled a pair of Dornish breeches on her before running off to the kitchens, with her husband following her close behind.

“Hot Pie?” She asked, finding her friend there.

“Hello, Arry.”

She threw herself into his arms, catching him unaware and making him blush furiously, as the other cooks around watched dumbfounded, as the queen embraced the large man, while the king looked with a wide grin.

“What made you change your mind?” She asked once she let go of him.

“Gendry sent me a raven. Said you’ve been craving my direwolf bread. I see what he meant now,” he explained, looking down and her condition.

“You really came all this way, just because I’ve been craving bread?”

“And because of your plan and Gendry’s for the place to teach orphans a trade. I reckon I would have liked that when we were kids, having a place like that instead of being sold to the Night’s Watch,” his voice got a bit quieter once he continued, “Lommy would have liked that.”

A deep sob made Gendry pull Arya to him.

“Are you crying?”

”It’s your babe! It is making me soft, and it is all your fault.”

“It is, love,” he admitted, brushing tears from her cheeks.

“I miss him and Weasel. I wish they hadn’t died.”

“Weasel’s not dead,” Hot Pie’s voice pulling them from the tender moment.

“What is that?” Gendry asked.

“She didn’t die.”

“How do you know that?” Arya inquired.

“I’ve seen her.”

“When?!” They both yelled.

“Came by the inn about a year ago. All grown up, she even has a sweetheart.”

“How can you be certain it was her?” Arya asked once more.

“She saw me and yelled Hot Pie. Told me the night she ran into the woods, she managed to lose the soldiers. She hid for two days straight, and on the third, she was brave enough to get out and try to find us. She wandered around and almost didn’t make it, she was found by a village woman who took her in. That woman was there, and she told me her side of the story. Weasel was traveling with the family who took her in when she came to my inn.”

“Is she happy?” Arya asked.

“Yes, she is in love with a nephew of the couple who took her in, and they plan on marrying when they’re older. She asked about you.”

“Us?” Was Gendry’s question.

“Yes, but mostly Arya. I told her you were in King’s Landing. She said one day she’ll come to visit.”

“A year ago? And you didn’t think about telling us when we saw you last?” Gendry asked, surprised that they hadn’t heard this before.

“You didn’t ask.”

“We should tell the guards to look out for a girl named Weasel,” Arya instructed Gendry.

“She doesn’t go by that name anymore,” Hot Pie informed them.

“Did she tell you her real name?” Gendry asked.

Hot Pie shook his head.

“Never remembered it, but when she finally learned to speak, she said to her new mother that her name was Weasel, or something close to that. Her new parents thought her name was Willow, and that has been her name ever since. She used to say your name a lot too,” he said, looking at Arya, “so much her mama and papa thought you were her mother.”

“See? I told you so. You’ve always been a wolf mother protecting your pack,” Gendry said, kissing his wife’s forehead.


 

Arya grew bigger as the moons went by, the babe inside her growing under her hands and Gendry’s.

“If the babe is a girl,” she started saying to Gendry one night.

“The babe is a girl.”

“Have you talked to Bran?”

“No.”

“Then, how are you so certain.”

“I just am. Anyways, what about the babe?”

“If, indeed, I carry a girl. What will happen?” She asked her husband.

“She will be my heir, our heir. I’ve asked Davos to prepare that parchment. Regardless of the crown, no matter if it is a boy or a girl, you are carrying our heir.”

“Heir to the Stormlands?”

“Aye.”

“And the crown?”

“I’m still not clear about the crown. Will a new king or queen be chosen once I croak? Will a child of ours inherit the crown if none is appointed? Can I fuck off from here and let another idiot take this burden from me?”

“Wouldn’t that be a dream?” Arya asked, getting closer to her husband, and resting her head on his chest.

“We could leave it all.”

“And go where?”

“Storm’s End, or Winterfell. Or even give it all up and go north of the Wall with Jon, or live like outlaws in the Riverlands.”

“And what will the little one do while we’re outlaws? Be the lookout?” She asked grinning, as she looked up from her spot on his chest.

“We could just be Arya and Gendry, and live in some village where no one knows our houses, or care enough about our names. What do you think? You could still be the wife of a blacksmith.”

“I am the wife of a blacksmith,” she corrected him.

“I guess you are. Sorry about that.”

“You think I married you because you’re the king? For your information, I married you despite you being the king.”

“If I remember correctly, you did not decide to marry me, m’lady, the marriage fell upon your lap, really.”

“Are you complaining?” She asked, and she climbed as much as her bump allowed her, so her face was right in front of him, his hands coming to her hips to steady her.

“No, never,” he replied and pulling her into a kiss.


 

The pains started one evening after supper. They were faint, no different from the preparation pains Arya began to having as she had grown heavier, and her little bull had been hanging lower. Gilly told her it would be a daily occurrence after the eighth moon turn. She ate little at supper and told Gendry she would be going to bed early, but he chose to go with her. The pain ebbed and flowed, light, like the lapping of waves, and she felt heavy and swollen. Her husband wrapped around her, both of them bare. He caressed her languidly, his big hands setting on her hip, and the thumb pressing firmly on the base of her spine, massaging the knot there. A moan of relief sprung from her, and soon she felt him firm against her arse, which made her giggle.

“Really? Moaning in relief from all the ache in my lower back does it for you?”

He buried his face in between her shoulder blades with a deep growl.

“Sorry, love. My stupid body doesn’t know the difference.”

He pulled back, breaking the contact, but Arya quickly stopped him setting her hand on his thigh.

“Are you sure? You are tired and sore, the least I could do is deal with a little frustration of my own.”

Arya turned her head back to see him.

“It may very well be the last time in a long time, and it might very well help me sleep.”

“I’m here to please my queen,” He said, capturing her lips with his and his hand cradling her neck and jaw.

It was slow and a bit clumsy. Arya didn’t feel remotely enticing, and instead of swollen everywhere, including her lips and her nose, but Gendry’s body certainly seemed to disagree with her perception. He placed kisses all along her spine, starting in the center of her shoulder blades and all the way down to the place where she felt the most tension, right in the middle of the two dimples on her lower back. He took his time massaging each limb, pressing his thumb along as he moved down pressing with his hand. Arya felt herself release the tension that had been accumulating. Once done with her arms and legs, he took the time to trace the expanse of her belly, using the ointment she had been given to avoid tears on her skin and itchiness from all the stretching. As his hand caressed the surface, their babe kicked, poking Arya’s skin out, like ripples blooming from its father’s hand.

“Hello there, little wolf. I missed you too, but let’s give mama a rest so she can sleep.”

Arya could feel her babe getting restless at the diminishing space, and its movements were getting slower and more contained.

Gendry’s hand then moved up, cupped a breast carefully, knowing how sensitive they were. The barely-there touch did the trick and made her so eager that she turned her face towards her husband once more, looking for his lips, Gendry indulged her, and brought his face close to her, letting her kiss him passionately, feeling her desperation as she bit his lower lip with more force than her usual. Arya felt herself searching for something in him, something she couldn’t quite name, but knew only he could give her.

When he had her ready and restless, writhing against him, he took her from behind as she lay on her side, her distended abdomen resting sideways on the soft featherbed. The angle was a bit challenging with her enlarged belly for Gendry to reach her core with his hand, but he managed to play with her nub as her head rested on his other arm, which bent forward, managed to touch her breast over her front. It didn’t take her long to feel the vertigo of standing at the edge of her pleasure and feeling herself let go. Gendry quickly followed her peak with his own, and once they had both got their breath back, he took the time to clean her lovingly.

By the time Gendry had finished, Arya was dozing off, and so he joined her, spooning her from behind and setting the blankets on top of both of them. He took the time to caress her belly with his hand, feeling amused at the babe’s reactions to the warmth of his palm.

“Want to play with papa now that mama went to sleep, eh little one?”

As he continued with his caresses, the babe poked a limb out at different places.

“I’ve been waiting my whole life to meet you. But tonight we have to be patient and let mama rest.”

Despite her eyes being closed, and being on the cusp of surrendering to slumber, she heard every word coming from Gendry’s mouth. She would do that sometimes, listen to her husband talk to their unborn child with a voice she had never heard before. She liked listening to him explaining things that ranged from the proper way to keep the forge fires hot by working the bellows, and why oil was better for tempering a blade than water; to his memories of the Riverlands, of Hot Pie and Arya. And sometimes, of his few memories of his own mother.

Arya had her own way of communicating with her babe. Speaking to her child out loud, like Gendry, did not come naturally to her; instead, she could feel the string connecting them both, pulsating, flowing like a river. Her babe came alive when she water danced, moving about with its own elegant spins and extensions. Every morning, her babe would kick on the side of her torso that lay on the bed, trying to rouse her and get them to start their day. Despite her sleepiness, it made her smile, and Gendry would look at her, intrigued.

“What’s funny?”

“Why must something be funny?” She would ask in return.

“You’re making that face again?”

“What face?”

“Like you are in on a joke that I’m too stupid to get, and you prefer to keep your secret.”

“You are stupid, that is no secret,” Arya would say, smiling, stretching her neck to kiss him softly.”

“What are you two keeping from me?”

“Nothing.”

“It’s fine, don’t tell me. I still like how our babe makes you smile.”

“How do you know it is the babe that makes me smile?”

“Because, Arya Stark, I know all your smiles, and this one,” he would say brushing his thumb over her bottom lip, “which is rapidly becoming a favorite of mine, started since our babe has been growing inside you.”

Arya wondered, every night as she fell asleep against the firmness of her best friend’s chest if her babe knew it was her, that she was its mother. She liked to wonder about that, whenever she got excited about something, her heart beat faster, and her babe would start moving frantically. Or whenever Gendry would whisper something in her ear, with his low tone, making her feel her stomach twisting, and their child would seem to be so in tune with her reactions. And after a while, she decided that her babe may not know that it was hers, but her babe surely knew that she belonged to him or her.

She woke in the middle of the night, feeling overheated. Arya groaned, looking at the window and noticing it was still pitch black outside. Her back was sore, and she felt like she had gone to sleep right next to an open flame.

Gendry’s large hand was covering her belly, and one of his legs was curled around hers. And, feeling the suffocating heat coming from behind, she wriggled and pushed both her husband’s limbs behind her, and forced her shoulder back, making him roll back, carving space on the bed for her. She couldn’t believe that while the Baratheon bed was massive, Gendry could still hog so much of it, as he splayed out when he slept.

“What did I ever do to you to warrant such violence in our own bed?” Gendry said, annoyed, as he roused from his slumber.

“You and your Southern blood! Not only I have to sleep with a forge behind me and you all around me, but I have one attached to my front.”

“It wasn’t so bad when we used to sleep rough, and you would cuddle against me to keep you warm,” he pointed out, placing a quick kiss to her bare shoulder.

“I did not cuddle you!” She yelled, pushing him away.

“Whatever you say, m’lady.”

“I am this close to send you to sleep in the forge,” she warned him, gesturing with her hand.

“Fine, I’ll move to my side,” he replied, rolling away.


 

When Arya woke up the next day, the babe had changed the place it liked to kick, and she could feel it now kicking against her spine. Gendry had already left, having told her he wanted to give the final touches to the wrought iron cradle he had been working on for their babe.

As Arya rose from the bed, she felt the ache nestle on her hips. While it had been dull the night before, she could feel it becoming more acute. She dressed as good as she could and started walking towards the kitchens, hoping Hot Pie would have some bread to break her fast, not feeling particularly hungry, but knowing that if she didn’t eat something, she would feel light-headed later.

Halfway there, she changed her mind when the pains made her steps falter, and instead, she walked toward the forge to watch Gendry work. As she approached the door, she felt her back spasm, and she had to stop and hold on to the door frame for support. Once recovered, she came to the forge and sat down on the bench that Gendry kept there, for her to sit and watch him.

“Good morning, love. How are you?”

“Big and slow. Swift as a deer, my arse. You’ve made me useless.”

Gendry laughed.

“Sorry about that, Arry. I promise you will be yourself very soon, once you birth our pup.”

“It was all your ploy, so I wouldn’t go anywhere. I’ve figured it out.”

“Love, I seem to recall you being quite eager to have me get my babe in you.”

“You tricked me with all those muscles and your sweet words.”

Gendry laughed once more.

“So, what do you think?” He asked, showing her his finished work.

Arya walked towards him to fully appreciate the cradle.

“It’s beautiful,” she said, running her hand through the intricate design of the bars.

A sudden pain made Arya wince and hold on to the railing of the cradle.

“Arya? Are you alright?” Gendry asked, quickly holding on to her waist to give her support.

“It’s fine, just some pain.”

“How long have you been in pain?”

“I don’t know. Since yesterday?”

“Is the babe coming?” He asked, his voice getting higher.

“Probably, but it may take a long while still. My waters haven’t broken yet.”

And as in queue, she felt a swoosh of liquid soaking her.

“For fuck’s sake!” She exclaimed.

“What?”

“My waters just broke.”

Arya laughed, letting her weight fall more against Gendry, who was rapidly losing it at her reaction.

“Why are you laughing?!”

“Of course, your babe would want to be born in the forge,” she replied with a smile.

“Our child is not going to be born in a dirty forge!” He yelled and picked her up on his arms.

“What are you doing?”

“Taking you to our chamber.”

“Stop it! I’m too heavy.”

“You may be big with our babe, but you are still a tiny little thing. And I’d be damned if I couldn’t carry my wife and our babe in my arms.”

By the time they reached their rooms, Arya would have to concentrate on breathing whenever a contraction hit. Gendry set her on their bed and yelled for a servant to fetch Gilly, and then returned to Arya’s side.

“Promise me,” Arya said.

“What?”

“You do not let Sam or any other idiot maester in here.”

By the time Gilly arrived, Arya was getting up from the bed.

“Should she be doing that?” Gendry asked Gilly nervously.

“Her body knows what she needs, you may have gotten the babe in her lying on that bed, but she gets to decide how she births it.”

Gilly and Gendry helped Arya out of her breeches, and her tunic, leaving her in only a light shift. Arya walked around the room, stopping and holding on to Gendry whenever the pain came. After a while, she wanted to lower herself on her knees, and Gilly brought a pillow under her. She rocked on all fours, as Gendry massaged her lower back, and Gilly checked between her legs.

“Babe is almost here, Arya. You are doing a great job.”

“I’m so proud of you. And I’m sorry you are in so much pain, it’s all my fault, I’m sorry.”

“Could you just shut up for a second? I love you, but it is not about you just now.”

“Gendry, I need you to sit against the foot of the bed and have Arya rest her back on your chest. You need to be her brace now.”

It took three pushes for the babe to crown.

“Oh my, I’ve never seen so much black hair on a babe before,” Gilly said, amused, from between Arya’s legs.

“Tell me something fucking new!” The queen yelled, only amusing her midwife.

“One more push, and the shoulders will be out, Arya. This bit is going to hurt, but you can do it.”

“I’m so proud of you, Arry, love you so much,” Gendry said, kissing the back of her head.

“One last push, and babe will be out.”

Arya grunted, and Gendry could feel the strength of the push by the tension from her back. Arya’s eyes stayed closed, and after feeling the small body slid out of her, she heard, first, the hearty cry of the babe, and then a belly laugh coming from her husband.

“Open your eyes, Arya, look at your babe,” Gilly instructed her, and she placed the small bundle on her chest.

“What is it?” She asked.

“It’s a girl! You have a daughter!” Gilly announced.

“You’re going to be so smug now,” Arya said, looking back at Gendry, who took the opportunity to kiss her.

“I love you. Both of you,” Gendry said, with his hand going around his wife, to brush the black hair on the babe’s head.

“I love you too. And you, little pup,” Arya said, looking down to the babe on her chest, “we’ve been waiting so long to meet you.”

After a little while, Arya could feel something starting anew within her, and Gilly announced, as she noticed too the firmness on her deflated belly, while she checked her.

“Arya, you need to deliver the afterbirth now, one more push and you’ll be done, I promise.”

The new mother felt exhausted, but she could feel her body contracting once more, and holding her daughter to her chest, she gave one final push and felt as the afterbirth was expelled from her body.

“Good, it came out in one piece.”

“Is that a good thing?” Gendry asked, noticing how Gilly had been frowning as she checked the bloody thing she placed in a basin.

“Yes,” she said, looking up to her king, with a stern look on her face, and glad that Arya was distracted tracing the babe’s face with her finger, “less risk of childbed fever.”

Gendry knew what that meant, more than once he had heard wailing in Flea Bottom, from the mother of a young girl who had just given birth. A wrapped body would be following the wailing, and the only thing that remained was a husband with vacant eyes holding a crying babe in his arms. He quietly thanked the gods and placed a kiss in the crook of Arya’s neck.

“Your grace, we need to cut the cord once it stops pulsating. Do you have anything sharp around?”

Gendry stood up carefully, letting Arya rest against the foot of their bed, as he looked for what he was looking for. He picked up Arya’s sword that was lying on the floor by her clothes.

“Right here, in between my hands,” Gilly instructed him, pinching the cord in two places.

The symbolism was not lost on Arya. Ice Storm was anointed with her father’s blood, as his life was snuffed, and now, it was their joint blood, just born, tinting the water-ripples pattern of the sword. A sword reforged and tempered by Gendry’s own hands.

After tying the cord and wiping the blood from the head of the babe, Gilly addressed the queen.

“Arya, let’s get you clean and changed into a fresh shift.”

“Gendry, hold her,” She instructed her husband, passing him their daughter.

He held on to their daughter and walked around the chamber while Gilly helped Arya clean herself from the drying blood, and changed into a new shift. Arya could hear Gendry quietly humming a song she didn’t recognize a song to their babe.

“Alright papa,” Gilly said to the king, “can you move your family to the bed now?”

“Gladly,” he replied, handing the babe back to his wife.

“Arya, your grace, I’ll leave you now. If you need me, please send for me no matter the time. I will be back later tonight to check on you, Arya.”

“Thank you, Gilly.”

“Thank you for helping them,” Gendry said, holding Gilly’s hands in his.

“No need to thank me, Arya did all the work,” she said as she bid them goodbye.

After setting Arya and their babe on the bed, Gendry sat next to his wife and kissed the forehead of his daughter.

“Did you hear that?” He asked her.

“What?”

“We’re a family now.”

“We were always family, silly.”

“You know what I mean. We’re family by blood now.”

The babe broke their spell, as she rooted against the shift of her mother, looking instinctively for her breast. Arya pulled at the ties on the front of her shift and brought the babe to her breast, who quickly found the darkened nipple.

“She’s real,” she said, brushing the rosy cheek of her daughter.

“Aye. Not a wolf dream, and not taken from you in a nightmare.”

The babe let go of the nipple, and opened her eyes for the first time, squinting a little, until she got used to the light, and then looked around, letting her parents see the color of her eyes.

“She has grey eyes,” Gendry said, amused, “yours.”

“Good. After all that, it is the least I deserve. I thought she’d have blue eyes like yours, with all that ‘the seed is strong’ business.”

“Well, Baratheon blood may be strong, but it has no chance against Arya Stark’s.”

Gendry kissed her softly, but they were interrupted by their babe’s soft cries.

“We haven’t forgotten about you, little one,” He said to their daughter.

Gendry noticed then that Arya had gotten quiet, caressing the soft skin of their yawning babe, and he could see silent tears spilling.

“What’s wrong, love?”

“Nothing, for the very first time in years, nothing is wrong.”

“Why are you crying then?”

“Happiness, and a bit of melancholy, but I was thinking how far this is from everything I ever imagined of my life.”

“I’m sorry.”

“What for?”

“Changing your plans.”

“There I was, planning on dying a glorious hero’s death, and you had to thwart all my plans, making me face a far scarier future.”

“And what is this far scarier future?”

“Living and forcing me to let you and my family in my heart again.”

“I won’t apologize for that,” he said as he kissed her softly, and he embraced his family in his arms.