She knew she’d find him in the forge.
With the sun setting and the shadows growing abundant in this stonewall castle, walking in without being noticed is easy. Maybe even too much so. She passes Ser Davos Seaworth, who seems busy chatting with the people and listening closely to their words and complaints, and even almost runs into one of the servants, who is running towards the kitchen with a large basket on hand.
Quiet as a shadow, she thinks to herself.
When she hears the steel singing and feels the warmth of the forge creeping closer and closer to her, she feels like she is no longer running, as time seems to slow down at every step she takes.
She spots him as soon as she enters the forge but stands quietly in the corner, allowing her mind to print his figure onto her memories - his hair, longer and messier, almost reaches his eyes, his face is half covered by a beard that only seems to make his eyes even more blue. His body broader but tense, as if he’s carrying an invisible weight onto his shoulders. His stupid face is still as handsome as ever, only now worn out by time and by the worries of a lord, she supposes. But the way his jaw sets as he hammers down the steel, that seems to have remained the same.
She finally decides to break the silence and asks “What do the people of Storm’s End think of their lord hiding in a forge?”
He nearly drops his tool, blue eyes shooting up quickly, wide in an almost comical fashion. She has caught him off guard and a small part of her likes it - likes the fact that, even after all of these years, she still surprises him.
“Arya.” He breathes out only to stop speaking, mouth gaping open and close like a fish. She raises an eyebrow, expecting more from him, but nothing comes out. Then, she speaks up again.
“Gendry.” She mirrors his tone with a hint of humor in her voice.
"You-" he hesitates, seeming cautious with his words, something she hadn't seen in him, ever. "-your hair looks longer."
Ah, yes. Always the eloquent one.
"Yes." she hides a smirk by staring at her feet. "Yours as well. You even got a beard now."
He touches his scruffy chin almost like a reflex. "The people say it reminds them of my Lord father when he was young, but I would not know."
"I only met him as a fat, loud drunk ." She comments. "And that I know you are not." This time, a small smirk formed in the corner of her mouth. "At least not yet."
He stays quiet for a moment, pensive. He seems to be much more thoughtful around his words these days. She wonders, only for a brief second, if the proposal rejection did that to him - if it made him more guarded of his feelings. Or maybe he just didn't trust her anymore with a full heart. She hoped that would not be the case.
"I wrote to the Queen of the North a couple of times. I tried to reach you."
He looks up at her and deep, Baratheon blue eyes stare at her, licking a flame in the pit of her belly. She missed being under his gaze - always so warm.
"I have not returned to Winterfell." She states. "No one but you knows I am here."
"But why?" The frown sits on his face as if it belongs there. It makes him look older, tired, but not any less handsome. It's almost annoying how she notes that so easily whenever she looks at him.
Gendry sits down on a wooden chair, resting his elbows on his knees and shoving his face in his hands, hunched over. “I hate the feeling of missing you.” He muffles into his hands. “It’s as if the moment I begin to heal the wounds of your absence, you return and poke at the scars and leave them open again.”
He sounds so mature, very lord-like in a way that she has never seen him act like before - but then again, she had been absent for a long while. They are both a little different now. His words, although softer and fancier, still allow his feelings to shine through, something she appreciates. Her Gendry had always been one to let his emotions show, even if he did not know how to express them.
“You sound like a poet.” She tries to lighten the mood.
“I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I’d say, should we meet again.” This time, he looks up and locks his jaw. “Three years, Arry.”
The way he brings her childhood nickname back to surface after she has not heard it for years makes her chest tighten and the nagging voice of “this is it, this is home” [that strangely sounds like Sansa] rings in her ears and makes her feel even worse as the sadness in his eyes falls onto her.
“I needed to explore the world.” She takes a small step towards him, still not entering his space. “I needed to see what it would be like to run across different places, to hear people speak different tongues, to smell different seas or else I’d just be bitter and trapped.” This is her truth and she needs him to know it. “But there was not one single moment that I did not think about you, Lord Baratheon of Storm’s End.”
“Why not write me, then?” He asks, frustration peeking through his voice. “Why not give me a sign, anything, to show that you are alive? That you are well?”
“Because sometimes I wasn’t either of those things.” Another step towards him. “Some days, all I felt was homesick and did nothing but lock myself in a cheap brothel room and stare at walls. Some days, I regretted everything and desperately wished I could just fly back and feel your warm touch on my skin, my sister’s comforting hands braiding my hair or even Bran’s vague stare.” She sighs. “But knowing that all of those who I love were well and unharmed motivated me to keep going.”
“How did you know?”
“I exchanged a few letters with the Queen of the North during my travels. I asked her to write to you every moon or so, so that I’d know of your whereabouts. I asked her not to tell you anything because I didn’t want you to wait for me. I did not know when or if I would return and it’d be unfair of me to come back only to disappear once more.”
"But I waited anyway."
For a moment, neither of them say anything, set on a matching stare. She reaches into her leather pouch and looks up at him, producing a small stone from it.
“This is a small crystal I found at one of the beaches during my travels. I stumbled upon it and almost paid it no mind, but the color of it is the same as the oceans I’ve explored and I wanted you to see it. Describing colors is a waste of time and you’ve always been more of a visual learner.” She smirked at her own words and came a little closer to the big man in front of her, placing the small object onto his large, calloused palm, allowing her own fingers to brush his textured skin ever so lightly.
He stares at the crystal in his hand, the small stone looking even tinier in his large palm. She recalls the feeling of those hands at the small of her back, grazing her thigh, unknotting her hair and-
“You said-” He purses his lips, measuring his every sentence carefully, afraid of how she’ll react. “You said you would not return only to disappear again.” He finally crosses his stare with hers, stormy blue meeting cold steel. “You plan on staying?”
This time, she allows herself to get close enough to feel the slight warmth of his breath. She is closer than she had been in years. Placing small hands onto his shoulders, she leans down and pressed her forehead to his, lashes fluttering as she drinks in his presence, always so calming to her.
“If you’ll have me, Lord Baratheon.” She stops and opens her eyes to stare deep into his. “I intend to stay.” Her thumbs graze his sharp jawline and she lets out a content sigh as he places a large palm on her hip.
“I do not know if I can trust you to stay yet. I do not know how much of this is my imagination and how much of it is real and I fear-” He sighs, burying his face in her neck and letting the smell of her suffocate him - of the sea, of leather and of Arya - “I fear losing you again. I would not be able to bear it.”
It is understandable, she thinks. She wouldn’t trust herself either. But she does know she’ll stay and she needs him to know it as well. “Then, I must prove myself to you and make sure you know how much I mean every word I say.”
His grip on her hip tightens as she leans down and presses her chapped lips to his, his beard tickling her upper lip. Her hand travels to his hair, now much longer than the last time she had seen it - and she quite likes it like that. It makes him look much more like the boy she met before.
“I grew tired of being alone. I grew tired of seeing all of the wonders of the world but having no one to share it with.” She eyes him, waiting for an answer. "I have yearned for being with a family again since those blood awful days in King's Landing. To reunite with my family, to have some of my brothers and my sister alive, it meant so much. And then when you-" Arya treads her words very carefully. "When you asked me to be your lady wife, I just. I could not. Just the thought of staying in a castle, bunddled up in skirts and popping out babes makes me sick to my stomach-"
"You know I would not ask for anything that you would not want. I only wanted you to be with me. I would never make you give up your Needle or stay in this bloody castle all day."
She smiles. "I know that now. I once asked you to be my family and then you left. When you asked me the same, I let you go. I think it is time we stop this dance and face it as it is - you will never leave my thoughts because I do not wish you to. I am no longer a confused, vengeful girl. I know who I am and I know what I want. And I want to be with you."
Gendry does not speak, seemingly lost in thought, so she goes on.
“No more wars. No more rush. Just us trying to figure out how to be proper in front of your people only to mess it up and make fools of ourselves.” He lets out a small chuckle - it is barely there but it is there - and she grins, knowing she is the reason of his happiness in that moment.
"I'll share with you my stories about foreign lands and you'll take me to all of your favorite places in Storm's End and tell me about your people."
He nods, forehead pressed up against her and eyes shut tight in thought. After a moment, he stares at her once more.
"I'll order a bath and fresh clothes for you. We will find you a warm bed."
She runs skinny fingers on his cheekbones, tracing the pattern of the face she knows so well. "I appreciate it, although something tells me I won't be spending much time in my own chambers."
He smirks and suddenly looks endearingly boyish, like his worries have been lifted off of him. "Let us worry about it later. Right now, I need to hold you like this for a moment."
Arya bites onto her lower lip. "As my Lord wishes."
His frustrated groan at her teasing remark makes her laugh and she lets herself be held for the first time in some while. It feels good.
She knows they are not done talking and she feels on his grip the incertainty, the way he is still so insecure and hurt, but they will figure it out. They always do.