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Careful Fear and Dead Devotion

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KING’S LANDING - Today marks the one year anniversary of the tragic death of Vice President Eddard Stark. A year ago the Vice President was gunned down after leaving a State dinner at the Red Keep. The single automatic bullet pierced the Vice President's heart and he died instantly. The planned attack is now thought to have been meant for President Robert Baratheon who was only steps away when Vice President Stark was shot.

 

A thorough investigation into the death was conducted by the Department of Justice and shared with the public in the form of a 448-page briefing released last month. The report stated that the FBI could not definitively conclude a motive for the killing and though several suspects -- international and domestic terrorist groups, oppositional extremists and even members of the Stark's inner circle -- were all interviewed, the FBI concluded no evidence existed to press charges. Though the case remains unsolved, the Department of Justice officially closed their investigation just last week.

 

Only a month after the Vice President's death, his wife Catelyn Stark and son Robb Stark died tragically in a car crash off Massachusetts Avenue, only a mile from their home at the Naval Observatory. Their deaths were ruled an accident and the mother and son are buried next to the Vice President in a family plot back in their hometown of Winterfell. Eddard and Catelyn are survived by their daughters Arya Stark and Sansa Stark and nephew Jon Snow, who the couple raised as their own after Eddard's sister Lyanna died during childbirth. Robb Stark's wife Talisa Stark ( née Maegyr ) has since left King Landing's metro area with their 10-month old son, Jackson. Recent reports state that the widow is living with family in Volantis and that the remaining members of the Stark family have no contact with her or her child.

 

Today the nation will remember Vice President Stark—

  

“Why are you reading that rubbish?”

 

Arya looked up, blinking herself back to the present. Jon was standing behind her now, reaching into cabinets and pouring coffee into the mug he retrieved as if his intention was to disrupt her moment. But Arya barely looked over her shoulder before returning her attention back to the newspaper on the counter. Her eyes were so clouded with tears she couldn't have continued to read even if she wanted to.

 

Sniffling, she pushed up off the counter and turned to look to Jon. “You know why.”

 

“I don't, actually. You know what happened.”

 

“Exactly. I do. They don't. Knowing what others are ignorant to or pretend to be ignorant to is important information. I can't change what people think if I’m not aware of what—”

 

"We're not getting into this again, Arya.”

 

“Then don’t ask,” she snarled.

 

Jon sighed and shifted so he was leaning back against the same island Arya hunched over. “If you’re crying in my kitchen then I will ask. It's trash,” he gestured with his mug. “They all are. Throw it out."

 

In an almost dramatic fashion, Arya huffed out a steady exhale. Then, she continued to read.

 

“Arya!”

 

“What?”

 

“Why are you doing this to yourself? Honestly?”

 

“Can you just piss off? Please?”

 

“Whose flat is this?”

 

“Yours but—”

 

“Watch your mouth.”

 

“I can go live with Sansa. Or!" She spun again as Jon moved too. "Better yet! I’ll live alone—”

 

“You won’t.”

 

“I could,” she parried, almost in song.

 

Jon ignored Arya and instead took a step toward her, gripping the back of her neck so he could move his lips down to her forehead. For a moment her eyelashes fluttered shut in surrender. A considerable height difference existed between the pair, convincing them that for a moment they were back in Winterfell, in the kitchen they grew up with where noise and the scent of breakfast filled the air and everyone was alive and seemingly happy. Jon’s flat in King’s Landing was hardly a comparable substitute and when Arya opened her eyes again the truth was one she couldn’t deny.

 

“You’re not going anywhere” Jon urged. For a man that often failed to articulate many of his emotions, it was practically an invitation. “I’m glad you’re back so stay as long as you want…”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Arya waved him off. This time when she looked away she picked up her phone. Instantly she was scrolling through her text list, then jumping from app to app to distract her mind.

 

Jon took it as an order to change the subject but before he’d obey he just looked at his cousin, forlorn and frustrated. Death and mourning looked different for everyone. For Arya it was nothing but rage and chaos. It was as if she were perpetually stuck in the first and second stages of grief, usually teetering casually between the two depending on the day.

 

“Don’t forget Gendry will be by later with some things,” Jon called out.

 

When Arya looked up she saw that Jon was several paces away, slipping into his officer’s jacket near the door. She hadn’t even noticed, meaning she’d only barely heard what he said. “Huh?”

 

“Gendry—”

 

Arya stood up. “Gendry? Gendry who?”

 

“Arya, honestly! I’ve mentioned this at least three times now. Gendry’s a mate from West Point. He spent the past year abroad finishing some intense engineering program abroad. He’s staying here for a few months while he gets settled.”

 

“He doesn’t have family he can stay with?”

 

Jon scoffed. “No, actually, he doesn’t. It’s why we got along so well at the academy. Something about being an orphan...we’re like magnetically attracted to one another.”

 

“You’re not an orphan,” Arya bemoaned.

 

“You’re right. Your mom and dad were always good to me. But Gendry...no such luck.”

 

“That’s...really sad, actually.”

 

“Eh, he’s done pretty well for himself. He got into the best military schools...then went on to the best military academy in the country. He’s wicked smart with calculations and mechanics…”

 

Arya quirked a brow. “Oh?”

 

“He’s so good with numbers it took me a year to find out he couldn’t read.”

 

Arya nearly spit out the tea she had sipped at. “What?”

 

“Well he can read now,” Jon explained, almost grinning.

 

“Bloody hell…”

 

“I don’t know why I’m telling you any of this, really. What I meant to say is he’s a normal guy and he’s going to be staying here for awhile. I’d trust him with my life so it won’t be the worst thing for him to be around when I have to start traveling.”

 

Arya stood again. “When’s that?”

 

“I’ll be heading to Braavos in a week. Then—”

 

“Dorne and High Garden. Right,” Arya nodded emotionlessly. “I remember now.”

 

Jon shook his head. “I’m on base until late tonight. Behave, will you? And maybe, I don’t know, keep your head down? Let’s all try to have a normal day.”

 

Arya’s eyes narrowed as if she were truly considering his suggestion; as if Arya had ever taken the advice of another person, even Jon. “Seems unlikely,” she finally deduced.

 

Jon breathed out a laugh and raised his hand to effortlessly catch the apple Arya tossed his way. She smiled in his direction then he was gone, taking all of the feigned joy with him. As soon as the door shut Arya collapsed back down to the counter, the article she was previously engrossed in pinned to the marble beneath the weight of her elbows.

 

With a heavy sigh she ripped the paper into thin strips, having to use a considerable amount of force to do so. Her erratic carelessness caused pieces to fell down to the floor. Arya dived for them and those too were crumpled up and added to the accumulating pile of newspaper scraps atop the counter.

 

It wasn’t the trash but it was a start.

 

~!~

 

Arya was quite fond of not wearing pants. She liked not wearing pants the way she liked all things her mother had explicitly told her not to do: riding her horse without a helmet, running through the woods in bare feet, staying up too late or telling a lie. Being an adult now those same things she was once cautioned against gained appeal: the wild in her was tamed by years that turned rebellion into a choice. A girl with self sovereignty was powerful, even in her stupid decisions, because the choices she made were ones only she could own. Not wearing pants, Arya rationalized, was about far more than just her not wearing pants.

 

It made sense then that when Arya got out of the shower and began to dress she cared for pants just as much as she cared to dry the hair on her head. She had no one to impress. She also had yet to unpack the trunks the academy had sent after her hasty departure. They remained filled with her uniforms, riding gear, fencing equipment and any other costume from her former life. That version of herself felt foreign to Arya now as she existed in a simple white v-neck and black cotton briefs. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been this alone and the music she had turned up loudly kept Arya from doing the math, calculating how many weeks it had been since her life felt normal.

 

She wasn’t particularly hungry but she never seemed to be lately. If it weren’t for her training schedule, she would have forfeited food altogether. Her meals consisted solely of protein shakes and the occasional piece of fruit. She craved muscle, not sustenance, meaning the currently empty apartment felt just as uncomfortable as the loaded pantry Jon kept, stocked with cereals and pastas and everything else to compliment the equally full refrigerator. It all would have made more sense if Arya were dreaming; her mother and father constantly ensured Jon’s apartment was well stocked and nicely maintained. He was far from being an orphan but she sympathized. Was that what she was now? Was there another name for a girl without parents? At least Jon never knew his mother and father. Somedays Arya wished she had been so lucky; Jon had less to miss.

 

Forgetting dinner altogether, Arya sipped at a room temperature glass of water, her eyes boring into the scraps of newspaper still dominating the kitchen island. The inked print looked almost dirty against the white marble and it taunted her, challenging her in its idleness. When her glass of water was finished she dropped it in the sink, hearing it clank against the steel basin in response. She walked out of the open kitchen, returning carrying a half-full metal waste bin she’d snagged from the nearby guest bathroom no one ever seemed to use. She also wore a stern look, one she donated to the newspaper clippings as if the unmoving pile were an opponent she was sizing up. Her gaze was not removed when she emptied the contents of the metal bin into the nearby trash can and it remained still even as she attacked the scraps, picking them up and tossing them in the can once it was firmly placed atop the counter. Their haphazard placement caused them to fill the mesh waste bin. Arya nearly scoffed, astounded the weight of each lie hadn’t flattened the paper back into one single sheet.

 

A breath separated one action from the next. Arya began throwing drawers open and shut again as she searched for her weapon of choice. Barely knowing the kitchen it almost looked comical as the sound of clashing utensils and dishware echoed through the apartment while her search continued. Finally she found what she was looking for and the room seemed to still. All was silent except for the strike of the match she tore from the pack of matches, friction turning to heat until a single flame glowed at the wood’s tip. Arya smiled, as if seeing an old friend, before tossing the match into the metal wastebin. Instantly the newspaper clippings ignited and the sound of the journey she’d taken to get here was banished by the slight swell of a flame. The edges of the paper curled into themselves, the words printed on them fading into one another as the ink and ash mixed into one black mass. Arya was so distracted by the fire she didn’t notice the door opening or the tall, broad man that walked through it. All her years of training had taught her to never get comfortable, to never get distracted but it was as if watching the article burn was a victory that felt guaranteed. Arya felt untouchable, unsure of whether or not she wished to laugh or cry.

 

“Uh, Arya, right?” the voice called out, causing her to finally look up.

 

Arya’s eyes went wide, clearly more stunned by her company than the fire she’d created. “Shit!” She nervously wiped her hands on her shirt and moved around the island to stand between her incendiary masterpiece and her guest.

 

“You’re Gendry! Right!” She was talking too quickly to notice his eyes darting from the fire behind her, down to her bare legs then back up again. “I knew you were coming.”

 

Gendry took a hesitant step into the kitchen. “Do you greet all guests like this?”

 

Arya looked down at her outfit then back up to him. “Just the ones I don’t know.”

 

“Is that—” Gendry pointed to the still smoldering contents of the trash can.

 

Arya turned around. “Oh, it’s...it’s fine,” she shrugged off.

 

“You’re...”

 

“Arya,” she stepped forward and offered her hand.

 

Gendry shook it, his mouth still dropped open. He nodded finally. “Gendry. But you knew that...sorry, Jon didn’t tell me you’d be here.”

 

“I’m staying here.”

 

“Oh.” He gave one last glance to the fire. “Okay.”

 

“I just mean...I’m not visiting. I’m home from school. For good. I don’t know how long I’ll be here but—”

 

Gendry smirked. “You sure you don’t want to handle that?”

 

Arya turned around. Her pyromaniacal attempt was a nearly failed one as the flame of the fire now rose over the trash can’s ledge. “Fuck!”

 

Gendry mustn't have been too concerned because he fixed the strap of his bag on his shoulder and began to walk out of the kitchen. Somehow he was more comfortable in Jon’s apartment than she was, a glaring fact as Arya ignored him and tended to her arson. She didn’t even notice him toss a hand over his shoulder, waving as he finally disappeared into the hallway, presumably to head toward his room. “Nice meeting you, Arya.”

 

Arya was mortified, mostly because she had lost control of the fire she had started. “Nice meeting you!” she called back as she grabbed for the trash can and moved it toward the sink.

 

Carelessly she dropped the mesh bin. The glass she had set down before fell over and shattered just as she turned on the water to extinguish the flame. Smoke rose before her, clouding her typical view out the window of the King's Landing skyline as the fire she’d concocted died down to mere ash and ember. With a laugh she slid down to the floor, breathless and exhausted.

 

She dropped her head back against the cabinet she leaned against and tried to steady her breathing. As the contraction of her lungs returned to a normal rate she tried to make sense of the mess she’d created: the sink stained with wet soot, the scorch mark on the counter and her meeting with Gendry. It felt good though to know the paper was gone, that she had treated the slander with the same disdain King's Landing always seemed to have for her family. She cared not for bystanders; she was a bystander once and the world didn’t seem to care for her — or for Sansa or even Jon, for that matter.

 

When the smoke disappeared and the smell of ash dissipated, Arya moved to stand. She was stunted though and she hissed out as she struggled to push up off the ground. Sharp pain seared from the tips of her fingers up the length of her arms. Looking down to her hands she saw the burn welts on her skin caused by the careless grip she held upon the burning trash can. Her palms were visibly red and angry as they began to blister.

 

At least the paper was gone.

Chapter Text

“Gendry!” The way Arya slapped at the bathroom door was anything but subtle. Her voice was shrill and her repetitive smacks against the wood were dramatic especially considering the bandages that covered her hands, concealing the previous night’s carelessness. “Gendry!” she tried again, this time even louder. The shower turned off, inadvertently increasing the volume of shout to a full-on scream. “Gen—”

 

The door swung open and Arya leaned back, shocked by the steam coming from the room and the man that appeared with it. Despite his presence being the thing Arya demanded, Gendry seemed to shock her. He stood on the tiled precipice separating the bathroom from the hallway he shared with Arya, his body nearly bumping her in the nose, causing her to take a step back. Even from her new angle Arya still found his chiseled chest at eye-level, sculpted undoubtedly by his years in the military. It didn’t help that he was dripping wet or that the towel around his waist was held up only with a bunched fist at his hip.

 

“Ew,” she let out, all before letting her eyes roam up to his own, the droplets from his shower cascading down in the opposite direction.

 

Gendry chuckled. “You needed something?”

 

Arya rolled her eyes and took another step toward him. With a hand to the door she attempted to push past Gendry but found that the casual way he leaned against the frame was much more solid than she originally realized. In an almost childish way Arya took a step back and placed her hands on her hips. “I have to pee,” she whined in defeat.

 

Still, Gendry smirked. “Remember when I knocked on your door twenty minutes ago and asked if you needed the bathroom? And you said no? And I asked if you were sure and you said—”

 

“I didn’t need to use it then. I need to use it now. I’m done with my iced coffee now.”

 

Gendry shook his head and shifted his weight from one foot to both, his spine straightening. With his towel now rolled at his waist to keep it up on his hips he gazed at Arya, his eyes scanning her just once before he returned her attention. “You’re so little. You have the bladder of a puppy.” Then he took a step into the hallway where Arya stood.

 

Her body spun to counter him. “Excuse me? That’s rude!”

 

He didn’t bother to look back. Gendry was nearly to his room when he tossed another flippant remark over his shoulder. “It was a joke, Arya.”

 

“Well it was rude.”

 

Gendry shook his head and kicked his bedroom door shut, leaving an aggravated Arya to stand out in the hallway, her mouth dropped open, all of her aghast. “Bathroom’s all yours!” He called out, earning him the groan Arya immediately gave.

 

~!~

 

“Want to be the best mate and let me borrow some cereal until I can get to the store?” Gendry asked as he entered the kitchen.

 

Jon sat at the island, his gaze donated entirely to the newspaper he read. A bowl of soggy cereal sat forgotten nearby; next to it was a lukewarm cup of coffee, half finished. Jon looked up and gave Gendry a smile before sitting back and folding his paper. Around him, a perfectly clean kitchen and now silence as Gendry waited for an answer. “What? Oh, yeah, of course. There’s...the pantry,” Jon fumbled.

 

Jon stood to bring his friend a bowl then he watched while Gendry grabbed for a spoon from one of the drawers. Without pause he also walked to the fridge to retrieve milk and when he returned and began to eat, he noticed Jon standing by the sink, sipping at his now cold coffee, his eyes and mind clearly elsewhere.

 

“You good?”

 

“What? Oh, yeah...sorry.”

 

“No need to be sorry. I’ll get to the store this afternoon. I just need to—”

 

“Don’t worry about it. Really. Take anything you want. Actually, I’m always worried about how much food I’ll waste before a deployment. Now with you and Arya around that’ll be easier.” Jon looked to his friend. “You two met?”

 

“We did. Didn’t you hear her yelling upstairs?”

 

“Arya yells at strangers often. I wasn’t phased.”

 

Gendry continued to grin. “We met. Briefly. When I got in last night.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“Your sister needs to learn some manners,” Gendry let out before taking another large spoonful of cereal in his mouth. A bit of milk dribbled out onto his lip and he wiped at his chin before realizing what he’d said.

 

It didn’t matter. Jon was already laughing. “She’s not my sister,” he reminded innocently before dropping his mug in the sink. Not a shard of glass existed in the basin as he turned the faucet on to wash the cup out.

 

“What do you call her?”

 

“Well, I call her my sister but—”

 

But Gendry already knew that and was visibly pleased that his point had been made. “Then she’s your sister.”

 

Jon shrugged. “She has plenty of manners actually, she’s just defiant in using them. My aunt and uncle spent a lot of money on prep schools. Too bad they can’t get a refund.”

 

“Prep schools? Like boarding school?”

 

“Yeah, but not like the boot camp we attended. For expensive universities. Rich girl shit.”

 

“Fancy.”

 

“They are.”

 

“That’s probably part of the problem. Has she ever even shared a bathroom before?”

 

Jon shook his head, still chuckling. “With Sansa. When they were younger. But I think she had her own at school.”

 

“Lovely.” Gendry drawled, returning to his breakfast.

 

“She’s...she’s been through a lot so—”

 

Gendry sat back. “Oh, I know. I didn’t mean...you know I—”

 

“It’s alright, mate. I know.”

 

There was a beat of silence before Gendry remembered his place in all of this. He’d always thought he and Jon had a lot in common: orphan boys forced into the military because life gave them few other paths to success. Then again, Jon’s flat and his current demeanor defending Arya was a clear line in the sand. Jon wasn’t truly an orphan — not really — at least not in the way Gendry was. Gendry remembered Jon telling him about the boyhood struggles he once had getting along with his aunt and even his eldest sister but Jon still had those things: an aunt and a sister and a home with some semblance of a family. It was likely why Jon was so calculated and sometimes so reserved and why, especially in tense situations, Gendry couldn’t help but to speak his mind. He’d been alone most of his life and it never really seemed to matter before.

 

Finally: “That’s why she’s home, right?” Gendry pointed to the folded newspaper on the counter. It bore the current date and a headline that matched the picture below it, one of the entire Stark family Gendry remembered seeing from President Baratheon’s inauguration. Arya was small: smaller than she was now and she wore a smile Gendry had difficulty matching to her current features. It was a different time then, a point made by the paper’s headline: The Last of the Starks: Rebuilding a Legacy after Tragedy.

 

“Unfortunately.” An ironic scoff departed Jon’s lips. “They sent her away from this circus and the circus brought her back. Now she’s alone and—”

 

“She has you. She’s not alone.”

 

Jon forced a smile. It came out lopsided, half-hearted and fleeting. “I guess.”

 

“I was only kidding. You know I—”

 

“I know,” he replied, his voice brightening. “And I don’t take it personally. She won’t either. I kind of expected you two to butt heads.”

 

“What? Why?”

 

“Arya can be combative sometimes.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“And you love nothing more than to stoke fires.”

 

Gendry dropped his spoon in his bowl and pushed back from the island. “Oh fuck you.”

 

Jon dropped his head back to laugh. “And ironically you two are similar in many ways. Butttt,” he derailed, “she’s not here much so I wouldn’t worry about it.”

 

“Where does she go? Boyfriend’s?”

 

“Ha! Noooo,” Jon disregarded lowly. “Though if she did I wouldn’t know about it.”

 

“Her having a boyfriend?”

 

“Her doing anything. She keeps everything to herself. She’s always been private but she’s a different girl since she’s been back.”

 

Gendry returned to his bowl. A single Cheerio floated about, encouraged by the waves he made with his spoon. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

 

“It’ll get easier. It all just feels so fresh. It’s been a year and...all of it feels like yesterday.”

 

“Well it doesn’t help that the papers treat it like a national holiday. This was on the radio and the news yesterday.”

 

Jon quirked a brow. “Why do you think I don’t keep a television in the apartment?”

 

Gendry forced a smile. He stood up, bringing his bowl to the sink just as Jon had done. But then he went a step further and placed both the mug and the bowl in the dishwasher. When he stood, his voice called Jon back. “I’ll be around. You know until I figure this whole school thing out. If you need...I mean, not that she needs to be watched but—”

 

“She doesn’t,” Jon assured. He responded to a text before shoving his phone back in the pocket of his jacket. “She can kick my ass. She could probably kick yours too.”

 

“What?”

 

“I gotta go,” he announced, sounding almost chipper. He grabbed his sunglasses from the counter and walked toward the door. “But that’s a conversation for another day.”

 

~!~

 

It was one cup of coffee, then two more before Arya finally appeared downstairs. The paper Jon had been reading was tossed in the trash and all that remained was Gendry, sipping at his almost empty mug as he flicked through his phone. When Arya appeared he looked to her then back to his device, his thumb suddenly more aggressive against the glass screen. He drank the last of his coffee as he watched, once again glaring at Arya as she disappeared into the pantry — Gendry’s eyes finding her only when hers could not find his.

 

He was ready to exit the kitchen and start his day when she called him back, her voice just as tentative as his steps. Their earlier shared demeanor of defensive and somewhat humorous defiance had been replaced by a careful dance neither knew the other was performing.

 

“Why did you clean the kitchen?” Arya asked softly, without pretense.

 

Gendry turned back to her. He shrugged, his lips rolled inward in an attempt to buy him time to think before he spoke. “Seemed like the right thing to do.”

 

“To clean up my mess?”

 

“I waited. Didn’t seem like you were going to clean up your mess. I thought that as a guest—”

 

“You’re not a guest. You pay to live here. It’s your flat too.”

 

“I like order,” Gendry tried. “Military and all. It’s a hard habit to break.” His voice, previously stern, faded out. “The ash would have stained the marble if you left it all night...” he explained frankly.

 

Arya nodded. There was a beat of pause before she continued, still refusing to turn and look to him. “Why didn’t you tell Jon?”

 

“Who said I didn’t?”

 

“I didn’t get yelled at. I know he doesn’t know which means you didn’t tell him.”

 

Gendry raised his shoulders in casual surrender. “Didn’t seem like any of my business.” He went to walk away but a thought kept him rooted. “He would have yelled at you?”

 

Arya breathed out a laugh. “Wouldn’t you yell at your sister if she almost burned your kitchen down?”

 

“Was that your aim? To burn it down? Because a contained fire usually isn’t the way to—” Arya’s smile cut him off. Gendry smiled back and there was silence. The people they had been that morning were gone, at least temporarily.

 

“Aren’t you going to ask what I was doing?”

 

“I know what you were doing,” Gendry returned nonchalantly. “You were burning your brother’s kitchen down. Without pants on.” Before Arya could give a rebuttal, he continued. “Is that your thing? Pantsless arson?”

 

Arya grinned. Soon, however — too soon — grief came in to steal the moment away from her. Her brow furrowed and her smile vanished. “I’m going through some stuff.”

 

Gendry understood. He nodded, suddenly scared that a misstep would revert them back to their old selves. If this was the girl Jon called his sister, Gendry had lied. He hadn’t met this version of Arya and he hadn’t known where she’d come from. But he wanted her to stay.

 

Gendry exhaled deeply, as if his lungs were filled with the same sorrow coated oxygen Arya breathed. “That’s why I cleaned the kitchen.”

Chapter Text

When Arya had first moved in to Jon’s apartment she made what she considered to be a few minor adjustments. She hung curtains and actually began to utilize his alarm system. She added a lock on her bedroom door and reinforced the existing lock in the bathroom. She also installed window guards, ones that kept each window in the apartment from fully opening. The latter modification annoyed a simple-minded Jon but he allowed his sister’s eccentricities because he was happy to have her around. He felt better with her nearby and if his flat made her feel safe, he’d accept the changes because it meant she was more likely to stay. 

 

The only adjustment Jon did question was the large mirror at the end of the hall leading in from the front door. Arya insisted that it slant up against the wall at a very particular angle and he caught her often moving it and then shifting it back again as if gravity had any power over the weight of the antique glass. It took only a week for Jon to realize what Arya had done. The mirror was installed in the home’s single blind spot, where a hallway forked off into two others. The kitchen and the living room were closest but light from each room’s windows often caused a glare. It was just a fancier, more expensive version of the safety mirrors that existed out in the parking garage. It was as if Arya didn’t even trust herself to be present all the time. Despite her modifications nothing was safe anymore. The innocence and protection once granted to her in Winterfell was gone. She hadn’t seen it since her mother’s passing and she doubted she ever would again. 

 

The mirror, no matter how ostentatious, served its purpose though it was admittedly harder to do now that Arya and Jon had company. Whether it was his military training or his natural movement, Gendry seemed to exist about the apartment in flashes. Despite his broad frame he was light on his feet; often Arya would find herself surprised to see him. It was almost a game she played with herself now and it seemed now he was playing too. She was equally quiet coming home but he heard her every time. Out of courtesy he’d make the faintest sound to signal she was not in fact alone, while at the same time assuring her that the nearby company was justified. 

 

They barely spoke but their routines had fallen into one another rather nicely. Arya knew nothing about Gendry but he left her alone and respected her space so she had no choice but to return the favor. They didn’t fight over the bathroom anymore. With Jon gone Arya often used his en suite bathroom but this was in the afternoon after her usual morning disappearance. Every day Gendry listened as she awoke only an hour after him. She made a cup of tea, then a protein shake, before changing and heading for the door. Each day he’d come up with a new story for where she went: some days she was taking classes at the local university, other days she was jogging in the park or volunteering as Gendry had known her sister Sansa to often do. His imagination got carried away as he bit his tongue, observing like he always did: quiet and still. The way Arya become more obvious in her morning exit was almost like she wanted him to ask and so eventually Gendry decided he would. He didn’t know when; Arya terrified him slightly, but each day the prospect seemed more plausible than it had the day before.

 

“I can see you staring, creep,” Arya said flatly, refusing to look up from the phone she tapped away at. It was a wonder she could see the electronic behind the shadow cast by the brim of her baseball hat. She also wore sunglasses so dark Gendry couldn’t see her eyes. If vigilance was her goal, Gendry was unsure of how she was so successful in her pursuit. 

 

He smirked anyway, returning her criticism with a quip of his own. “I’m washing the dishes,” he pointed out, his attention directed to the soapy water covering his hands. “You’re in my line of vision.”

 

Arya finally looked up. “Yeah, well when I go out there,” she said, using her phone to point over her shoulder to the window that overlooked the busy city street below, “they’re going to take pictures of me so if you’re patient you can just buy the tabloid tomorrow.” 

 

Gendry ignored her joke but made a mental note to mention it at a later date, possibly when they were familiar enough to call each other friends. Gendry didn’t know if Arya Stark had friends; he certainly hadn’t seen or heard her entertaining any guests. “I was actually going to ask where you go to the gym,” Gendry explained, gesturing toward the large gym bag tossed over her shoulder. 

 

Arya looked down to it. She removed her glasses so Gendry watched as her eyes genuinely scanned the bag as if she too was questioning its contents. “Oh, I’m not going to the gym. There’s a dead body in here,” she deadpanned.

 

Gendry grinned but did not miss a beat. “Oh good. I needed that location too. I also have a few bodies to dump.”

 

Arya rolled her eyes. She placed her sunglasses back on and headed for the door. “You’re ridiculous.”

 

“You started it,” he called after her.

 

She was at the door now, her hand on the knob. “I don’t go to a gym. None you could go to anyway.” 

 

“Girls only?”

 

“No. Fuck that,” she spat, causing Gendry to shake his head in continued albeit bewildered amusement. “I train. I like to do so in private.”

 

“Train?”

 

“Train,” Arya returned vaguely — deliberately. 

 

“What’s the deal? Expensive? I can’t go because I’m poor?”

 

Arya snorted out a laugh. “You’re poor? You just got back from a backpacking trip and you’re taking a break from work...you pay my brother a considerable amount in rent money...something I hear you insisted. Doesn’t sound too poor to me.” 

 

Gendry looked down to the sink. All the dishes were washed but his hands remained, keeping themselves busy. “Looks are deceiving. You don’t know me any more than those people outside with their cameras pretend to know you.” 

 

“Don’t get so defensive.”

 

“I’m not. You’re the one who won’t tell me what gym you go to.”

 

“You’re right. I won’t.” Arya pulled open the door, letting the hallway’s light and air inside in a way she never had before. “Bye Gendry!”

 

With her gone the apartment seemed more empty. It was quiet too but Gendry imagined the onslaught of attention Arya would receive as she drove out of their underground garage. He couldn’t imagine it: the flashes of camera bulbs prompted only by the most tragic thing that can ever happen to a person. They wanted a story but there was none. Arya was just a girl trying to move on.

 

~!~

 

“Hello?”

 

“Favor,” Jon muttered quickly, his voice unwavering. The hum of a loud turbine could be heard in the background but Gendry quickly got used to it, recognizing the vibration as a plane’s engine, one he could easily tune out. “Arya is having some car trouble. Something with her tire. I’m supposed to be flying out any minute now. I can leave if I have to but—”

 

“I got it.”

 

“I hate to ask but I know I can trust you—”

 

“Yeah, no problem,” Gendry assured, reaching for his keys. “Where is she?”

 

“I’ll send you her location. Just, uh...help her but don’t push. Change her tire or bring her to the mechanic's but—”

 

“Jon. Mate. I got it,” Gendry said, cutting his friend off. 

 

“Right. Thanks.”

 

“It’s nothing. Happy to do it.”

 

Jon didn’t say anything. The rhythm of the engine in the background surged as the propellers of a helicopter began to spin in anticipation for their secret journey. The phone call disconnected, inviting with it more silence. Gendry tossed on his leather jacket and made his way toward the door. No cameras existed outside and he made his way into the city, driving without direction until Jon’s text finally went through, a red dot marking Arya’s exact coordinates.

 

She hadn’t made it far but she’d also been gone for too long to still be so close to the apartment. Seeing her car, Gendry pulled up and jumped out of his own. He approached her window and knocked on it. The tinted glass disappeared as Arya rolled it down, revealing her nonplussed face, the perfect mixture of annoyed and unfazed. 

 

“You okay?” Gendry breathed out. He took a step back to look at her car but saw no visible damage.

 

“Yeah,” she sighed. Abruptly she was hitting him with her door as she moved to get out of the car. She didn’t apologize for the way she displaced Gendry, even brushing past him as she walked around him toward the trunk of her car. Gendry could swear he heard a single camera flash nearby, the sound hindered by the wind and a faraway car horn. “This photog rear-ended me then sped off. I was going to ignore it until I got to the gym—”

 

“Knew you were going to the gym.”

 

Arya looked up to Gendry and rolled her eyes. “My tire decided it was a good time to blow out and fly off.” Her features shifted and her shoulders slumped. “I’ve had worse Tuesdays but I’ve also had much better Tuesdays, you know?” 

 

Gendry smirked. “Let’s pop your donut on so we can get you out of the road.”

 

“Jon told me to call Triple A so they’re on their way.”

 

“Well Jon’s an idiot because the longer we stand here the more drama we create.”

 

It was Arya’s turn to smile. “You sure you’re not from King’s Landing?”

 

“I’m sure. Flea Bottom through and through.”

 

Her demeanor changed. “Shit, really?”

 

“Really.” Gendry was unaffected by his own history, moving instead to pop the trunk. “Where is your spare?”

 

“I don’t know,” Arya shrugged, almost in question. 

 

“Who picks a car without a spare?”

 

“I didn’t pick shit. It was my Dad’s car, dickbag. How about instead of insulting me you help me? Or fuck off? Also an option.” Arya pushed past him again, walking back to her still open car door. 

 

“Shit, Arya, I’m sorry—”

 

“Don’t apologize. By all means let’s cause a scene. They’re loving it.” 

 

Gendry turned around. The moment zoomed into focus and suddenly the clicks and flashes of light were more apparent. A group of paparazzi stood across the street attempting to capture Arya’s misfortune from the most lucrative angle. “Fuck. Here—” Without thinking Gendry tossed her his keys. “Follow me home. I’ll fix this there.”

 

“I need to go to the gym!” Arya sputtered.

 

“Then I’ll take you to the gym. In my car. Let’s just get you out of the bloody road.” He pressed a hand to her back and steered her toward the driver’s seat. She fell down easily and Gendry could only watch her, stunned by her almost peculiar beauty and the look she wore as if his kindness were a foreign experience. 

 

~!~

 

“What do you do?” Arya’s voice broke through the almost-silence caused by the turned down radio. She no longer wore her glasses but her baseball hat remained on her head. With her car safely hidden back in their garage she relaxed considerably, even sitting on one of her legs as Gendry drove her back toward where she’d gotten into her accident. 

 

“Where are we going?”

 

Arya looked to him. “Just drive. You’re going the right way.”

 

Gendry shook his head and returned his attention toward the road. Arya noticed then the way his hand curled around the steering wheel while the rest of him, strong and muscled, relaxed back into his leather seat. He wore no rings on his fingers and his hands looked calloused, but clean. Arya found herself wondering what his hands usually occupied themselves with, forgetting her original intention as she found herself distracted by the straining of the veins in his wrist as he moved ever so slightly around potholes. 

 

“So what do you do? For work,” she persisted.

 

“I’m in the military.”

 

“Thanks, genius. I know that. I mean what do you do in the military?” 

 

Gendry chuckled. “Do you care or are you just starting conversation?”

 

“I’m asking. Depending on your answer I might care.”

 

“Some people in the army have boring jobs. Like desk work and—”

 

“Do you?”

 

“No,” Gendry said with a chuckle. 

 

“Then what do you do? Negotiations? Like Jon?”

 

“No,” Gendry breathed out. “Weapons.”

 

“What?”

 

“I’m a weapons engineer,” he explained. “I develop, test, and patent military grade weapons.”

 

Arya leaned forward, her body even twisting toward him slightly. “Wait, really?”

 

“Yeah. Really.”

 

She nodded and looked back out the window. “That’s badass.”

 

“I enjoy it.”

 

“Is that why you carry a gun?” she tossed out quickly, effectively catching him off guard. 

 

“What?”

 

“A gun,” she pointed, reaching across the console to grab it. 

 

“Whoa! Fuck, Arya!” He almost swerved as his body shied away from her hands. Ironically the movement only revealed the item more fully as his jacket and the shirt he wore underneath it rose up. 

 

“I was pointing!”

 

“You were—”

 

“What? Copping a feel? As if!”

 

“If my dick is magically on my hip we have bigger problems.” With his breathing evening out, Gendry looked back to the road. “You clearly have no respect for what a gun can do.”

 

“No. I don’t. It’s a cop out.”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“If you train properly you shouldn’t need one.” She breathed out. “You missed it.”

 

“What?”

 

“The turn,” she explained plainly. “For the gym. You missed it.”

 

Gendry sighed and put on his directional. “You’re supposed to point it out before we hit it.” He spun the car in a perfectly executed U-turn. He guessed where Arya would want to hide, thinking of a nearby avenue littered with unmarked warehouses and indistinct vehicles. There were no photographers or unwanted attention. It was actually as if the Capitol failed to even exist here. 

 

“We were talking about your gun,” Arya reminded.

 

“Well we’re done talking about my gun.”

 

“Here,” Arya pointed. His guess had clearly been correct. The car hadn’t even slowed and already she was tossing her bag’s strap over her shoulder and moving to put her sunglasses back on. “See ya—” She opened the door and jumped down just as the car jolted into an abrupt park. 

 

“Wait! When do you need to be picked up?”

 

“What?”

 

“When—” 

 

Arya rolled her lips inward. “I’ll take a lyft.”

 

“No way.”

 

“I can call a lyft, Gendry.” 

 

“And I can pick you up.”

 

“I don’t like working on other people’s time.”

 

“And I told Jon I’d make sure you were—”

 

“What? Are you babysitting me?” Her voice was high, almost whiny. 

 

“No. I told Jon I’d take care of your car situation and make sure you got home safe.”

 

Arya sighed. “Good. I don’t need a fucking babysitter.” Then: “I’ll call you if I need a ride,” she conceded before slamming the door.

 

Gendry was already working to roll down the window. “Do you want my number?”

 

“No need. Jon gave it to me. See ya later!” she waved off as she headed toward a nearby glass door. It looked like all the others: like a storefront that required a membership and the ability to keep secrets. 

 

Arya didn’t know when Gendry drove off. She was already inside, taking off her glasses and accompanying hat as the smell of sweat and rubber and blood flooded her senses. Her eyes adjusted to the institutional light, narrowing for other reasons. Her trainer, Sandor Clegane, walked forward, a snarl of his own pulling at his lips. He’d once been Sansa’s security detail but her departure back to Winterfell ended things. King’s Landing was all Sandor knew. He’d spent his entire life protecting Presidents and their families and he retired after Ned Stark’s passing. It was an easy decision with Sansa gone. It made even more sense when Arya arrived. Knowing his background in defensive combat training Arya had approached Sandor for guidance and he agreed to train her after several unwanted visits to the small, unassuming flat he kept on the southside of town. She was every bit her father, though Sandor didn’t need to tell her that. He also didn’t entertain any of the fanciful notions she had, ones that told of vengeance and justice. It didn’t matter what he said; Arya Stark thought what she wanted and acted just the same. 

 

“You’re late,” Sandor spat. 

 

“Sorry,” Arya gave, not even looking to him. Already her bag was dropped to her feet and she was rummaging around inside. “I got caught up.”

 

He looked over her shoulder, his eyes squinting. “Who the fuck is that?” 

 

Arya turned around. Gendry’s car was gone so she shrugged in an attempt to feign indifference. “Jon’s new roommate.”

 

Sandor’s vision remained affixed out the door. “Why?”

 

“What?” she chuckled. 

 

“Why’s the fucker driving you around?”

 

“I got rear ended and my tire blew out.”

 

“Jesus Christ, kid.”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” she waved off as she headed toward the boxing ring. “Trouble follows me wherever I go. I know. You say it all the time…” 

 

The gym was empty, just as it always was. Arya wouldn’t have it any other way, as if she wanted the world immune to her power until it was absolutely necessary. Their privacy was worth more than that though. These sessions often ended with Arya nearly collapsing, her lungs so tight as she fought back tears and with them the pain she funneled into her limbs as she punched and kicked at the heavy bag. It was blind therapy. Sometimes Arya forgot her form and just waled on the punching bag, moving so erratically and with such force that the ring she stood in shook with the pressure of it all. It was as if she believed her strength could bring back her parents. She was searching for the familiarity and warmth of her family while learning to keep the rest of the world at bay. 

 

“What happened to your hands?” Sandor beseeched as he grabbed for her palms. Arya had attempted to stuff her hands in the gloves but was stunted by the thick gauze beneath. Her careful movements caught Clegane’s eye, causing his eyes to blink as the rest of him seethed.

 

“Oh...”

 

“Arya?”

 

“I burned them. Cooking.”

 

“Cooking?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

He tossed away her hands. “You’re a shit liar.” He turned around and jumped up into the ring. 

 

Arya put her now glove-covered hands on her hips. “And you’re rude.”

 

“Great. We’re in agreement. Now shut your mouth and get in the ring.”

 

~!~

 

“If you can get here in twenty minutes I’ll let you drive me home.”

 

Gendry looked away from his laptop, the college application he’d only been staring at quickly forgotten as his nearby phone lit up. He pushed away from his desk and picked up the device. He didn’t have Arya saved in his contacts so she appeared to him only as an unrecognizable number. Even through the phone her snark was telling. 

 

“Is that a challenge?” he typed back. 

 

“A threat.”

 

Gendry was energized by the speed of her reply but just as soon as he began to formulate a response he stopped himself. He clicked off his phone and stuck it in his pocket. He shut his laptop too, officially disregarding the current web browser. He’d seen many like it and he’d deserted those too, all without the help of a mysterious girl only using him for a ride. The room went dark and he headed for the door.

 

~!~

 

Pulling up to the gym Gendry waited. Being with Arya put him on edge and he found himself leaning back in his seat, a gesture meant to conceal his identity and give him a better look at his mirrors. Nothing but black night existed around him while a nearby lamp post flickered. His car was the only one in the parking lot and he wondered how long Arya had been alone. For a girl who insisted on a mirror in her very private, very secure apartment, she was often reckless in her behaviors. He thought back to what Jon had said about Arya’s ability to protect herself. What he thought then might have been merely a brother’s joke with his sister now proved true. Arya, petite and fiery, existed beyond the glass door, punching at a speed bag. Her back muscles tensed with each repetition: forward, backward, forward, pause. Forward, backward, forward, pause. Forward, backward…

 

A knock on his window caused Gendry to look up. The vision of Arya faded into the background and he instinctively rolled down his window. A tall man — one notably taller than him — stood with his arm above the door. Gendry merely breathed, unafraid of the stranger, now mostly annoyed by the distraction. 

 

“I thought you looked familiar,” the large man gruffed. “I heard you were friends with Jon.”

 

Gendry leaned back. His eyes narrowed as he gave the man another glance. “Do I know you?”

 

“No,” Sandor chuckled, “But I know you. Anyone with half a brain in their head could match your face to his. It’s uncanny, really…”

 

“And you are?”

 

“No one of importance. But if you fuck with Arya I’ll be your worst god damn nightmare, you got that?”

 

Gendry almost scoffed out a laugh. “Right.” 

 

Sandor stood up and spat. “You’re lucky she needs your car to get home or I’d slash your tires for good measure.”

 

“Excuse me?” 

 

“Just leave her alone, alright?”

 

Gendry rolled his eyes, perplexed. “I have no idea what you’re talking about—”

 

“Good. I like that lie,” Sandor said, tapping at the car as if dismissing the boy inside. “Arya doesn’t need to know we talked.” 

 

He disappeared into the night and Gendry watched him go, using those same mirrors to track his path around the building toward where he could only the brash man had parked. He saw no lights appear, nor did he hear a car starting up. The loneliness was an invitation and without much thought Gendry removed his seatbelt and walked toward the gym. The lights inside highlighted the way and when he opened the door he found it louder than he expected. Arya had music blaring as she moved upon the speed bag. He wasn’t sure how long the conversation in the parking lot lasted but she seemed unmoved. She had no less energy than before. In fact, it seemed she had more. Her actions were faster now, especially as she spun around, first moving to punch at the bag with her elbows then to duck down, moving in a way that had her small foot pointed upward as it made contact with the bag. She did this once, then two times, not pausing to breathe or fix her stance. This seemed to be natural for her, even as her ponytail loosened and sweat slid down her back. Her face was red but when she finally stopped throwing her weight around she stood as if all of her, each dancing muscle twisting and pulling, mesmerizing and impressive, was unaffected by all the energy she’d just dispelled. Gendry was gobsmacked but managed to close his mouth. He swallowed too, unsure of what to say. 

 

“I told you to wait in the car,” Arya said over her shoulder as she walked past him and began to pack up her bag. 

 

Gendry chuckled, his body turning to follow her. The music turned off, somehow revealing Arya more fully. “You actually didn’t.” 

 

The loud echo of detaching velcro ripped through the air as Arya removed her gloves and tossed them down into her bag. “It was implied.” She smirked as she headed for the door, the same bag tossed over her shoulder. “Do you have friends?” she asked when she felt Gendry following. 

 

He did and Gendry found himself standing behind Arya, seemingly always waiting for her. He’d never tiptoed around someone like this but he remembered what Jon said. It was just that too: a reminder. Gendry had his own convictions. Arya was somehow easy for him to read. She was predictable in a way that was unsettling. 

 

Arya locked the door to the gym and shoved the key in her bag, the ring undoubtedly getting lost with all of her other things as she headed for Gendry’s car. “Did you hear me?” she asked, the question punctuated as she clicked open his car door. 

 

“What kind of a question is that?”

 

“One I’d like the answer to.” 

 

“Not really,” Gendry shrugged. “Don’t have much need for them.” He paused for a beat. “Do you have friends?”

 

Arya didn’t hesitate. “Not really. Don’t have much need for them.” She hopped up into the car and waited for him to join her. When he did it was all so simple again: Arya with her attention on the city outside the window, the radio low and Gendry wearing a smirk he found to be almost permanent when she was around.

Chapter Text

There was a guaranteed two weeks where flowers seemed to bloom endlessly around King’s Landing. As winter faded and spring began, before the relentless sun of summer arrived, trees sprouted flowers that lined avenues and parks in the most delicate shade of pink. Arya had only heard of the change but she had witnessed it firsthand last year when she was back in town for the funerals. No one could promise when the blooms would arrive but Arya now knew them well and as she looked out onto the skyline she not only saw the changing foliage but smelled the sweet florals wafting through the night air. Even without her mother and father, even without Robb, life moved on. 

 

So Arya sat, just as she often did, laying back on a lounge chair on the patio of the flat that had yet to feel like home. All of King’s Landing, and all of the world, existed just beyond the terrace and still she felt so removed from it. Yes, she was angry, but sometimes she was numb and she felt nothing — some days she could be no one and most days she liked it that way. 

 

Arya had been so quiet after they returned home that Gendry assumed she had left again. It was only when he saw the wisps of rising smoke (and remembered that her car was still out of commission in the garage) that he realized she was still around. He couldn’t see her though, and he moved without thinking, slowly opening the screen door so he could join her. Instantly the sound of crickets and the hum of city traffic down below greeted his senses. With it, a distinct smell Gendry knew well.

 

“I was going to ask if you were setting something else on fire but…”

 

Arya looked over her shoulder to where Gendry stood looking down at her. She reached out her hand, offering up the single joint she’d been smoking. She smiled too. Gendry chuckled. He didn’t take the drug but he took a seat.

 

“Don’t judge me,” Arya delivered after breathing out another puff of smoke. “It was a shit day.” Gendry nodded. His silence had Arya looking over again. “You’re judging me,” she observed, almost returning the favor.

 

“Not judging,” he swore, his hands raised in innocent surrender. 

 

Before the quiet settled in, Arya spoke, delivering her words out to the skyline. “I started smoking after my dad died. It kept my anxiety down. Then I found it was good for pain too so rough days at the gym were easier too. It’s a hard habit to kick when it works so well on...everything.”

 

“You don’t have to explain yourself.”

 

“I’m not explaining. I’m telling you about myself.”

 

“Oh.” 

 

Gendry reached forward and took a hit of the fag. He held his breath, hissed out the smoke and then proceeded to cough. Arya hid a giggle behind the back of her hand as she took the joint back. 

 

“It’s been a few years. I’m a little rusty,” Gendry explained.

 

Arya nodded and breathed in again. “You’re not going to get in trouble? Don’t they piss test you lot?”

 

“Sometimes. But there’s ways around it and I’m...I’m taking some time off.”

 

Arya sat forward. “What?” She put the cigarette out on the paver below, the black ash marking the smooth stone with obvious disregard. 

 

“Yeah, I...just had some things I needed to take care of,” Gendry explained through an exhale. “Not sure when I’ll be back yet. Haven’t decided.”

 

Arya turned to him. “Things?”

 

“Things,” he agreed. 

 

“How long have you been out?”

 

“About a year now. This time last year I was leaving for my trip. It feels like a lifetime ago but I know because of the—”

 

“Cherry blossoms,” Arya guessed.

 

Gendry’s mouth fell open but he quickly shut it to swallow down a choking breath. “Yeah. Exactly.” He watched again as Arya dragged on her joint. Gendry swallowed too, remembering what his original aim had been. “I was, uh...I was going to order take away. Want anything?”

 

Arya smiled, a wide grin that rouged her cheeks and lightened the overall mood. “Sure. Thanks.”

 

There was the typical shuffle as the pair fought over which restaurant to order from, then the inevitable shared silence when both took the time to scroll through the chosen restaurant’s menu on Gendry’s phone. Arya waited while Gendry placed the order, staring at him and the way he leaned back against the stone wall of the terrace. He was almost disgustingly fit, but Gendry didn’t look like any of Jon’s other army mates. There was the faintest bit of stubble on his cheeks and she couldn’t imagine him in his current dressed down state — just fitted jeans and a soft t-shirt — ever wearing a uniform. Even if he had been out of the service for over a year and even if he never intended to return, Arya didn’t quite understand how he’d managed to accept that life in the first place. She also didn’t understand why she cared.

 

“Twenty minutes.”

 

Arya looked up, her eyes catching on the sun as it turned Gendry’s silhouette to shadow. She raised a hand to fight the descending star and to hopefully see him more clearly. “Oh. Great.”

 

Gendry gave a small smile and shifted, first putting his phone in his pocket then turning so he was facing back toward the door.

 

“You’re…” The word came out without Arya’s permission. She blinked, aware now that she had to finish her thought. “You can stay. I mean, if you wanted. I just...it’d be weird if we ordered food together and then you brought it to me and we ate alone in the same flat, no?”

 

He chuckled. “I mean...not really?” Gendry’s voice melodied in an attempt to avoid offending her. “That’s actually how a lot of roommate situations work—”

 

“Oh! Oh…” Arya shook her head and turned back so she was facing the skyline. “Right.”

 

Gendry was still smirking. “Jon had said this whole roommate thing was new to you.” He sat again, but the way in which he did told Arya that it was a decision he’d come to on his own.

 

“You’re making fun of me again.”

 

“I’m really not!” He was still laughing. Or rather, he was laughing again. He was nervous , Arya concluded. “I just think we’re two very different people—”

 

“We don’t have to hang out then,” Arya quickly gave flatly. Her voice was low and coy, as if the girl now dismissing him was not the same one that invited him to join her in the first place.

 

“We can hang out. Like you said...we’re both here. Alone. I just didn’t know if the girl who wouldn’t tell me what gym she goes to wanted company. I don’t want to intrude on you and all your secrets.”

 

“You’re an arse.” Gendry shrugged and Arya, unbeknownst to herself, smiled. “It’s not really a gym,” she explained plainly. “I wasn’t hiding anything. There just wasn’t anything to tell.”

 

“You could have just said I have a personal trainer and —”

 

“He’s not my personal trainer,” Arya disregarded lowly. “He’s a...family friend. I don’t pay him or anything. We just...hang out.”

 

“You and that old man...hang out?”

 

“That old man could kick your ass.”

 

Gendry guffawed. “I’d like to see him try.”

 

A smile tugged at Arya’s lips. “Well now I’d like to see you two battle it out.”

 

Gendry thought for a moment, remembering his interaction with the strange man in the parking lot. He considered telling Arya but almost immediately thought better of it. “I don’t fight the elderly,” Gendry quipped instead.

 

The doorbell rang: a welcome reprieve from how unnervingly comfortable things were becoming. Arya smiled at Gendry as he disappeared into the house to retrieve their dinner. Reappearing, Gendry handed off the grease-stained bag before disappearing inside the flat again. When he returned for a second time he carried two long neck bottles. Arya looked up to find one hovering over her shoulder. She took it , accepting the alcoholic gift with another warm grin. Gendry proceeded to unpack their dinner and the two moved in an unplanned rhythm, turning so their meal was set up like a picnic between them — as if they’d done this so many times before. 

 

It was Arya’s turn to watch Gendry eat. He didn’t check his phone and she didn’t know where hers was so it was a comfortable silence with the pair occasionally looking out to the skyline in between bites of food. Finally, Gendry sat back to take in a different view: Arya unapologetically tipping her beer back to finish the last of bottle’s contents. With it gone she returned to her chips and approached the half finished container with a similar enthusiasm. 

 

Still Gendry waited, until finally Arya was finished and she leaned back too. 

 

“Hungry?”

 

Arya snorted. “Must have been. I can’t tell you the last time I ate like this.”

 

“I noticed you don’t keep much food in the house.”

 

Arya’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t know if I like how much you notice.”

 

“We live together,” Gendry chuckled. “I’ll try to notice less if you want.”

 

Arya paused, then her eyes narrowed. “Jon said you don’t have a family.”

 

To her surprise, Gendry laughed again. “Did he?”

 

“Well do you?”

 

“I did. Once. My mum died when I was ten.”

 

“And your dad?”

 

Gendry smirked. “You’re shit with social cues, aren’t you?”

 

“What? Am not!”

 

“Don’t you think if I wanted to talk about my dad I would have mentioned him?”

 

Arya shrugged. “Probably.”

 

Again, Gendry grinned, this time shaking his head in acknowledgement of his own defeat. “I don’t know my father.”

 

“Is he dead?”

 

“Not dead. Very much alive.”

 

“Do you want to know him?”

 

“What is this? Therapy?”

 

Arya grinned. “It can be.”

 

“No. I don’t want to know my father.”

 

There was a beat of silence before Arya shifted upon her seat, as if to invite a new topic. “Your turn.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“To ask me something inappropriate.”

 

Gendry snorted. “I don’t want to ask you anything inappropriate.”

 

“You just want to make inappropriate comments about my size and my grocery habits?”

 

“You have to admit, Arya, you’re a weird girl.”

 

“Is this how you make friends? By insulting people?”

 

Gendry shrugged. “Wouldn’t know. I don’t have any friends, remember?”

 

“Now I know why.” Arya rolled her eyes heavenward, mostly to hide the smirk she preferred to wear instead. 

 

“Alright,” Gendry exhaled, “Why are you in King’s Landing?”

 

“That’s it? That’s your question?”

 

“That’s my question.”

 

“Waste of a question,” Arya disregarded. “Jon lives here.”

 

“Nah, that’s not it.”

 

Arya blinked. “Excuse me?”

 

“Jon’s here because of his job but you...you hate it here. I can tell—“

 

“You can? How exactly?”

 

“Of course I can,” Gendry chuckled. “I hate it too.”

 

“Why are you here then?”

 

“No way. You had your chance. This is my turn.”

 

“My mother and father—”

 

“You grew up in Winterfell. You still have family there. Why wouldn’t you be there? In a place you know with people you know?”

 

“Jon’s here. He’s my brother. He’s my...best friend.”

 

“But Jon’s actually not here much,” Gendry pointed out flatly, his voice almost sounding annoyed that it had to. 

 

Arya sighed. “This just seemed like a good option at the time.”

 

“Bullshit.”

 

“Bulltrue!” Arya’s nostrils flared as the sound of Gendry calling her a liar.

 

He smiled anyway and now she was even more incensed. “What’s here? What makes someone stay in a place they hate?”

 

Arya thought for a moment. “I’ll answer if you do.”

 

Gendry shook his head and looked out. “That’s not how this works.”

 

There was silence, a long pause that seemed to never end. Arya’s chest would rise and fall or her breath would hitch and Gendry would freeze, patiently waiting for her to give in and explain herself. It seemed, however, that she was just as patient. And Gendry was well aware of how calculating Arya could be - a telling characteristic for a man that spent more of his personal life, than his professional life in the military, running from the enemy. 

 

“I want revenge on the people who killed my parents.” 

 

Gendry pulled himself from his own thoughts - the memories of his mother and those he never had the chance to make with his father falling away like the wisps of smoke from Arya’s joint. 

 

“What?” 

 

“If I can prove who did it I’m going to make them pay.”

 

Gendry wanted to laugh. It sounded insane to think that Arya, the petite girl with the fireball attitude and sometimes gentle disposition would openly extract revenge on someone. Then again, it was also insane for Gendry to believe her— and he did.

 

“You don’t think your mother’s car accident was...an accident?”

 

“I know it wasn’t. Anyone who believes it was is an idiot.”

 

Gendry waited. “You think you know who it was?”

 

“I have my guesses.”

 

“Prime suspect?”

 

“The fucking President.”

 

Gendry snorted. “You’re a fool.”

 

“Fuck you,” she spat, her words like steel. 

 

“If what you’re saying is true...they killed your parents, Arya. If you go poking around they’ll do it to you too.”

 

“I know.”

 

“Don’t you care?”

 

“I care that everyone knows what happened. My parents are dead. They’re not coming back. I get that. But I need to know what happened. I need the truth. If I die getting it then I’m okay with that.”

 

“You’re batshit.”

 

“Sometimes.”

 

“Does Jon know?”

 

“Parts. He suspects. I think part of him is curious and he wants to know so he can protect me but the other part of him knows if he pushes I’ll leave.”

 

“Leave? Where would you go?”

 

“Somewhere I don’t have to deal with stupid questions.”

 

Gendry smirked and looked away. With lazy hands he picked up his bottle and put the glass to his lips. Nothing but warm foam graced his tongue but he persevered, wearing a stony expression he’d long ago perfected. 

 

“I wasn’t saying your questions were stupid,” Arya finally said, reminding him of her presense. 

 

Gendry rolled his head upon the chair to look to her. “I know.” The pair shared several inhales, blinking to pass the time as they each thought better of the things they wished to say. “Is that what the training is for then?” Gendry finally asked. It sounded better than his initial inquiries and when his curiosity hit the air Arya smiled, as if agreeing with his choice. 

 

“My kickboxing? Ehhh…sometimes a punching bag is just a punching bag. Sometimes it’s a person. Depends on the day.”

 

“Is that something you picked up at your fancy prep school?” 

 

“No, that’s fencing.”

 

“Ahh, right,” Gendry nodded.

 

“I started fencing way before school though. I’m first in Westeros so you should remember that next time you poke fun.” 

 

“You like to inflict pain. Got it.”

 

“I like to protect myself.”

 

“Because of what happened to your parents?”

 

Arya blinked, her mouth gone dry as she stared over at him. “Because of what happened to Sansa, actually,” she explained, hoping she wouldn’t need to elaborate on her sister’s misfortunes. “Though my parents...that helped,” she agreed, her eyes cast heavenward. “I’m angry.”

 

“It’s okay to be angry.”

 

“I know. I don’t need your permission.”

 

Gendry shook his head and grinned. “Never said you did.” The perfect beat of silence passed before he continued. “You’re wrong, you know. About what you said. A gun’s not a cop out. If you’re protecting yourself from who I think you’re protecting yourself from it might not be a bad idea to have one.”

 

“Are you offering to get me a gun?”

 

“I’m offering to teach you to use a gun in case you ever make the very serious decision to purchase a gun, sure.” 

 

“Did Jon put you up to this?”

 

“Are you insane? He’d probably kill me if he knew I even offered.”

 

Arya smirked. “Sure. That’d be cool.”

 

“Jon killing me?”

 

“Well that too,” she said with a small smirk. “But you teaching me to shoot a gun. I guess I’m curious.”

 

Gendry rolled his eyes. “You tell me when. I’m going to the range tomorrow.”

 

“Tomorrow then.”

 

The electronic sound of an old-fashioned cash register rang out in the air, interrupting the moment. Gendry reached for the source, pulling his phone from his pocket with a haste that almost alarmed Arya. She looked to him, then to his screen and back again. Despite Gendry’s clear attempt to control himself, Arya watched the relief flood his features as he read the notification she still couldn’t see. On the screen, his bank account information was displayed detailing an increased amount; the deposit he had been waiting for all day had finally gone through.

 

"Gendry?"

 

He blinked as he looked back to Arya. In his relief he'd almost forgotten she was still there. "What? Yeah, sorry, I...tomorrow, right?"

 

She nodded and sat back, her fingertips curled tight around the cushion beneath her. "Yeah. Tomorrow." 

Chapter Text

It was a nasty habit, but all of Jon’s favorite past times seemed to be lately. The cigarette he lit and dragged on was just another secret to add to the pile, especially as he looked out onto the King’s Landing skyline and wondered why he was still in this place. Arya , he assumed, the thought like a whisper. And yet she told him she had moved here to be with him. She hated this place when her parents were alive and now she wanted to call it home. She was failing, Jon assumed. The lighter he found on the terrace, the same one he’d just used to ignite his cigarette, was proof of that. 

 

We’re orphans , she told him once, as if the sentiment when shared somehow became comforting. 

 

But they weren’t. Or they were and Jon felt as if the titles marked them differently. He had always been an orphan. His mother died in childbirth and he had never known his father. Arya had wonderful parents and a loving family. Jon knew this because if he pretended or if others were lenient in their definitions, they’d acknowledge that maybe it was his family too. Jon wore his role as orphan like a cape and allowed it to empower his career and the life he’d built for himself outside of the Stark family. Arya’s newfound orphan status was a noose - constricting and threatening to tighten the more she teetered on the edge of the already precariously placed chair that was her current life. There was no stability in King’s Landing; if Arya didn’t jump someone would eventually kick the chair out from beneath her. 

 

“I thought you kicked that habit.”

 

Jon turned toward the voice causing the smoke from his cigarette to ascend around him in a lazy trail. He smirked at Gendry and tossed his friend the lighter as Gendry stepped out onto the porch. Gendry caught it and did so effortlessly, not even spilling the cup of coffee he clutched in his other hand. 

 

“Same goes for you,” Jon replied before taking another hit. 

 

Gendry shook his head. “I did. S’not mine.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“The lighter. It’s not mine.” He handed it back to Jon.

 

Already he was turning back to the railing. He clutched his fag differently now, breathing at the paper almost in punishment. “Was Arya out here?”

 

Gendry shrugged. “Not sure.” When Jon said nothing, he took another step forward. “I, uh, I was going to make breakfast. You know, to make up for stealing your cereal a few weeks back—”

 

“You didn’t steal anything,” Jon said, chuckling. “You did me a favor. Arya barely eats anything so it all would have gone to waste...” Gendry had snickered, causing Jon to look to him, perplexed. “What did I say?”

 

“Sorry, I just...are we talking about the same person? Arya eats a ton…”

 

Jon looked up, his eyebrows raising with his chin. “Does she?” He was amused, but curious, causing Gendry to force an enthusiastic nod.

 

“We had dinner a few times. She doesn’t leave the house much…”

 

“And you’re a hobbit too. Yeah, yeah, I know…” Jon laughed again. He took a long drag on his cigarette before stubbing it out on the glass railing. As he walked past Gendry he grabbed for the lighter once more, this time causing Gendry’s coffee to slosh. Gendry just waited - watching as Jon disappeared back into the apartment. 

 

Inside it took Gendry a moment to readjust to the dark hallway. He closed the glass door behind him and nearly bumped into Jon who stood only a short distance away now, as if waiting for him.

 

“Just be careful with her, alright?”

 

A nervous laugh brushed past Gendry’s lips. “What?”

 

“Arya. She’s...she’s got a lot going on.”

 

“I...it’s food. We shared food a few times. Harmless.” He failed to mention the movie they’d watched the night before and though Gendry also thought that was a mundane activity, he felt the urge to keep it from Jon. It was as if he were suddenly on Arya’s side, defending the girl he barely knew from the boy he’d practically grown up beside — a boy he’d defended in combat simulations and ultimately trusted with his life. 

 

Seemingly lost in the thought, Gendry abandoned it as he followed Jon back through the flat toward the kitchen. 

 

“How’s her car?” Jon tossed over his shoulder. 

 

“It’s in the garage. I’m going to pick up a tire today and fix it for her. Her drum’s pretty fucked up but I think I can make it work.” 

 

“She needs to be more careful.”

 

“That asshole hit her.”

 

“She provokes them—”

 

“What?” Gendry scoffed. 

 

Jon turned away from the counter where he poured himself a cup of coffee. “Listen. She’s...I guess I should have told you this but Arya’s been...different since things happened with her parents, okay? So take everything she says and does with a grain of salt.”

 

“What?” Somehow there was even more disbelief coating the word this time. 

 

“She’s fucked up,” Jon stated flatly. “Her mind is all over the place. She thinks her parents were murdered and...even if they were, she can’t do anything about it. They closed the case. It’s done and she refuses to let it go. I’m not saying she should be over their deaths but...there’s nothing to prove and she goes around carelessly with this unprovoked vendetta...I don’t know even where she is half of the time. She’s…” Jon sighed. “She can be manipulative if she needs to be. She’s brilliant and she’s sneaky and it’s terrifying.”

 

Gendry cocked his head. “You and me have dealt with terrorists and you’re telling me I need to watch out for your sister?”

 

Jon laughed. “Fine. Don’t believe me. All I’m saying is I appreciate you being here and you know that and what you did to help her out was a huge favor and I’m really grateful...just be careful.”

 

It was Gendry’s turn to laugh. “Whatever you say, mate.” He paused. “So is that a no to breakfast?”

 

“Yes...that’s a no. Only because my flight is out soon. This fucking itinerary is all mucked up…”

 

“Yeah, I definitely don’t miss that.”

 

Jon was at the door now, already grabbing for his bag. “You sure about that? I heard they offered you a scholarship to—”

 

“Nah.”

 

“No?”

 

“I mean, they did but...I’m not taking it.” 

 

“You sure? Your answer is final? You know they love you…”

 

“That’s what they say. I just...I need a break. I’ve given my life to the military. I’m trying something else for awhile.”

 

Jon chuckled. “Alright. I just know they don’t make that kind of offer often.”

 

Gendry looked away. “I’ll think about it, okay?”

 

By the time he looked up Jon was gone. In his place was a girl who looked oddly similar in coloring: her hair a mess around her head. She pushed back at her hairline as she trudged slowly forward, walking in stunted steps like a zombie with eyes glued to the half-full coffee pot. 

 

“Did I walk myself up stairs last night?” Arya asked, her voice groggy.

 

“You must have. I fell asleep…”

 

Arya sipped at the black coffee and leaned back, a small smile tugging at her mouth as if the caffeine jolt was instant, and almost soothing. “Right.” She practically hugged the mug in her hands, watching now as Gendry moved near the stove. “Any of that up for grabs?”

 

“Yeah, actually. Want some?”

 

“I want all of it.”

 

“Was all of that takeaway not enough for you?”

 

“Don’t kid,” she disregarded as she hid her smile behind another sip of coffee. “Despite what Jon says, I eat a lot.” Gendry’s silence prompted Arya to continue. “I hear I’m fucked up too.”

 

Gendry shook his head. Behind him, bacon sizzled on a griddle. “He worries about you…”

 

“Yeah, well he shouldn’t.”

 

Arya expected another rebuttal but Gendry continued to tend to his meal. Feeling her eyes upon him, Gendry glanced over. “What? I’m not going to argue with you.”

 

“You can. I’m not going to break. I’m not that fucked up.”

 

“It’s fun, I’ll admit that,” Gendry agreed with a grin. “But there’s nothing to argue. You’re an adult. I’m not here to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t feel. You know your own mind.” He turned back to the stove as if he hadn’t said something profound. 

 

Arya smiled just the same, finding it easier to do so when she saw only his back. “Need any help?”

 

Gendry looked over to her. He expected her to be pushed away by his words but instead she stood right at his side, her shoulder nearly brushing his own. “Uh, yeah. You can manage toast, right?”

 

Arya grabbed for the loaf of bread, accepting the task. “Fuck you.” 

 

The pair settled into a silent routine, moving around one another in the kitchen until there was a full breakfast set out at the table. Even as they ate, Gendry found himself stealing glances at Arya. She scrolled through her phone, her fingers jumping from app to app with ease, her face altogether emotionless. Like their meal the previous night, this was harmless. The way she’d fallen asleep with her head on his shoulder, also harmless, he concluded. 

 

Arya was good company: accepting of silence and oddly fiery but with a gentle disposition. She made him laugh, perhaps a bit too much. He was amused by her, finding her quirks to be so entertaining he struggled with telling her not to conceal them. She wasn’t fucked up like Jon had said but if she was, Gendry didn’t mind. He was fucked up too.

 

~!~

 

Arya offered to do the dishes and when Gendry finally conceded and headed for the stairs he heard the telltale click of the lock on the dishwasher disengaging. As he turned to go upstairs, he saw the door open and watched as Arya bent over to begin loading the appliance. He shook his head, deciding against making a comment. If he didn’t motivate himself to get into the shower he’d have remained at that kitchen table all day  — staring. 

 

After his shower Gendry locked his own door. Immediately he heard Arya enter their shared bathroom, the shower rushing on in a way that suggested she was had likely been waiting for Gendry to finish and had grown impatient. Gone were the days of his brief military showers. Even having a roommate couldn’t convince Gendry to rush through his morning routine. He’d done that for many years; most of his life. As he’d told Jon, he was trying to move past all of that, searching for the man he’d perhaps have become had life not boxed him into a career so early. Jon had always said there were little other options for orphan boys but Gendry knew the truth, especially after having lived in Jon’s world now for more than a month: Jon had a million options and he had none. 

 

A knock sounded from the hall bringing Gendry out of his abstraction. He thought nothing as he advanced toward the door, thinking even less when Arya entered on her own before he could invite her in. 

 

He had locked the door — the door leading from his room to the bathroom. The door separating his bedroom from the hallway was, apparently, unlocked. 

 

Gendry immediately took Arya in. Shocked by her presence, he was assaulted by the scent of her: something fresh like wildflowers and — his mind drifted off as he tried to diagnose it. Apples? Mint? Orange blossoms? Giving up, his eyes scanned the length of her. This view of Arya was all too familiar. Although she was short, she was comprised mostly of legs. Her torso was hidden in a black tank top that matched the black underwear she wore. She was perfectly covered up, just as covered up as she’d been the night he met her, mid-arson. 

 

“What did we say about pants?” Gendry pointed.

 

Arya looked down. “Uh...nothing, actually.”

 

“Put them on. I don’t need Jon—”

 

“Put a shirt on,” Arya pointed.

 

Gendry looked down. He hadn’t even realized he too was underdressed. “You knocked on my door and then entered without permission,” he deflected. “I was changing. If I did the same to you, I’d get arrested so…”

 

Arya paused in thought. “That’s a fair point.” She smiled anyway. “Hey, what do I wear to this thing?”

 

“What?” Gendry balked, almost laughing ironically. “Clothes! Pants, for one!”

 

“Like I’m going to the gym?”

 

“Well, you want to be comfortable, sure.”

 

Arya allowed for another beat of contemplation. “If I get attacked and use the gun in public I might not be in my gym clothes so maybe I should just wear jeans.”

 

Gendry sighed. “Jeans work too.” 

 

Arya turned on her heel and headed for the door. “I’ll wear leggings,” she settled. Gendry was already shaking his head, moving to grab for a shirt as if quickly putting one on would erase the fact that she’d seen him bare chested. “Sneakers, right?” she snapped back quickly, giving him one last glance. 

 

Gendry’s face was hidden behind the cotton of his tee. In a huff he pulled the shirt down and nodded. “Yeah, sneakers.” Arya nodded and crossed into the hall. “And pants!” he reminded, just before she slammed her door. 

 

Back in her room she glanced to her phone. It flashed, turning bright then dimming again. Arya clicked at the device, bringing it back to life. It was not a message but three missed calls. Effortlessly she selected the option to call the number back and with her cellphone placed precariously between her ear and shoulder, she attempted to step into a pair of grey leggings. She was successful in getting one leg through the pant hole but sustaining her balance while she moved the other and kept her cellphone to her ear proved to be problematic. Just as the call connected, Arya lost her balance and fell to the floor. Even with such a slight build  the sound echoed through the top floor of the flat, shaking the chandelier above. 

 

“What the hell was that?” Sansa snapped from the other line.

 

“Lost a battle with a particularly tight pair of leggings,” Arya explained. “Busted my ass.” 

 

Sansa giggled. “Yikes. I’d ask if that’s why you’ve been ignoring my calls but I can’t imagine this struggle has lasted nearly a week ,” she emphasized. 

 

“What? I have not been ignoring your calls, Sans!”

 

“You have. And my texts.” She exhaled in an attempt to soften her approach. “You know I get worried, Arya.” 

 

“Well don’t. Aside from being perpetually clumsy, I’m fine. I’m...busy.”

 

“What could you possibly be busy with?”

 

“I...” Arya paused, her mouth almost stuck open as her mind and heart played an unfair game of toss with all she’d been thinking and feeling lately. “Things,” she settled eventually.

 

“Things?”

 

Arya sighed. “I’m...seeing someone, alright?” Even the sound of her own lie had Arya wincing. 

 

“What? I knew it!”

 

“We’re just messing around. It’s nothing serious or anything.” Arya shuddered again, her breath stunted as she waited for her sister to return her doubt.

 

“Well good. You could use a good fuck. God,” Sansa groaned, “We all could.”

 

Arya looked to the door. Beyond it she saw a shadow in the hallway; in her attempt to slam the door shut it jumped back out of her frame. It was only barely ajar but Arya still likely looked ridiculous, sitting on her bedroom floor with her leggings only pulled up to her thighs. “Uh, but I have to go...”

 

“Oh my god. Is he there?”

 

Her gaze remained on the empty hallway. “Uh, yeah.”

 

“You slut.”

 

Arya forced a smile. She was distracted by the nothingness, all of her seemingly lost to the plausible lately. “Love you,” she sung sarcastically before disconnecting the call. She only barely heard Sansa return the sentiment as she jumped to her feet and danced her way into her cotton leggings. 

 

When she turned around she saw Gendry standing in the doorway. She wondered if he’d seen her ass. Then Arya wondered if she cared. Maybe Jon was right. Maybe she was fucked up. This was a game she’d never played before: teasing, lying, altogether being a girl that would have been unrecognizable to her parents. 

 

Gendry stood before her, both of them more properly clothed than the last time they talked. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

 

“You didn’t?” she tossed back, smirking.

 

“Well I did want to return the favor of coming into your room without your permission but I didn’t know you were on the phone.”

 

“Oh, I…” Arya quickly leaned down to grab her phone from the carpet below. She held it to her chest as if guarding the secret she told. “You ready?” 

 

Gendry shook his head. He left because he knew Arya would follow, her legs seeming short now as she struggled to keep up with his stride on the way down the stairs. He turned over her shoulder just as they got to the bottom, causing Arya to nearly topple into him. “To watch you make a fool of yourself with a firearm? Absolutely.”

 

With her so close, Gendry recognized the scent now. It was grapefruit. Arya Stark smelled like wildflowers and grapefruit. 

 

~!~

 

Arya hadn’t been on any of the military bases in King’s Landing since she first arrived. Jon had shown her around then, explaining that her status as a dependent granted her access to many of the buildings: shopping at the market and mall, cheaper gas, the movie theatre and golf course, the extensive fitness facilities…

 

Jon had emphasized the last location but Arya had gone once and decided it would be her first and last visit. Everyone stared, mostly men. Arya tried to give them the benefit of the doubt, attempting to convince herself that they were staring because her parents had died and not because she was something new to look at. How the former conclusion was meant to be more comforting, Arya wasn’t sure. She didn’t like attention in any form, and certainly not from men who knew nothing about her. The only thing worse was those who felt sorry for her. She felt sorry enough. She didn’t want condolences, she wanted answers —  and revenge. 

 

Driving onto base, Gendry handed over his military card. They didn’t ask Arya for ID and she didn’t question it. She was too distracted by Gendry’s casual nature, even as he shifted to put his identification card back in his wallet while still driving his car.

 

“I thought you weren’t in the military anymore?”

 

“I’m on leave. I’m still enlisted.”

 

Arya raised a brow. “Shouldn’t I have been carded?”

 

“This isn’t a bar, Arya,” Gendry laughed, his eyes still trained on the road. “They know me. They know my car. I haven’t blown up the place yet.”

 

Arya didn’t laugh. Gendry looked to her, wondering if his statement offended her. Instead she looked out the window, her gaze seemingly lost on the base as it slowly passed them by. The minimal speed limit and the repeated bumps made the makeshift movie a slow one. 

 

“Been here?” Gendry asked, cutting through the silence.

 

Arya shrugged. “Once.”

 

“I—”

 

“Jon doesn’t come on base much,” she explained as she looked back to Gendry. “Do you know why?”

 

Gendry thought for a moment. He shrugged too. “I imagine for the same reason you don’t.” Arya blinked. “They may not have been his parents but they look at him weird too. Like he’s a science experiment.”

 

“Well—”

 

“You also know that everyone thinks Jon only rose in the ranks because of your…”

 

Arya shook her head. “My dad?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Her attention shifted back out to the window. The buildings became more sparse now. They were past where civilians were allowed, to several warehouse-like buildings offset from the main campus. If it were darker, Arya could have confused the row of aluminum sided buildings with the gym she usually disappeared to. 

 

It was sunny. Arya felt the heat just as she heard Gendry’s door shut. She hadn’t even realized he had parked and stepped out but she saw him now, patiently waiting near the hood of the car.

 

“You okay?” he asked.

 

Arya nodded and stepped in front of him like she knew where she was going. She rubbed at her arms as if fighting a chill. The sun continued to rise in the sky. “Yeah. Looks kind of like—”

 

“The Naval Observatory,” Gendry finished. “Yeah, I know. The weren’t very creative with army bases. They’re not meant to be fun places.”

 

“No? The movie theatre and the golf course could have fooled me.”

 

Gendry smirked. “Yeah, well they try...and fail. C’mon,” he ushered. He placed his hand to the small of Arya’s back, almost demanding that she return to the present. She did, shuffling past the door Gendry held open for her and into a dark room. There was another door with a desk. A man in uniform stood to greet them. Instantly the stoic pout he wore faded to a smile.

 

“Waters!” the officer let out as he grabbed for Gendry to give him a hug. The warmth of the embrace was palpable. Arya remembered what she had heard Jon say about the military loving Gendry. It was believable here, and she wondered if Jon was almost jealous. She hadn’t realized it but she was smiling, a gesture that grew as Gendry continued his conversation with his comrade.

 

“Uh, this is—”

 

“Arya Stark,” the man said, sizing her up.

 

With Gendry by her side, Arya didn’t feel nearly as naked as she used to at the gym or the market. This man respected Gendry and therefore, Arya presumed, respected her. “Arya, this is Jacob—”

 

He was already extending his hand. “Jacob Malcolm,” he elaborated. 

 

Arya shook his hand, letting out a small laugh. “Hi. Arya Stark.”

 

“What is an intelligent woman like you doing hanging out with this one?” Jacob asked, pointing to Gendry.

 

Arya grinned. “He’s a resource. He has something I want.”

 

Jacob quirked a brow as he turned back to Gendry. “Oh?”

 

Gendry punched his shoulder. “Fuck off. Mind out of the gutter, Malcolm.” 

 

“I see some things never change,” Jacob teased before releasing another hearty laugh - a boisterous cackle with a timbre Arya enjoyed. It made his insinuation seem less crass, though hearing someone else poke fun at Gendry was almost as satisfying as being able to do it herself.  

 

“You didn’t see us here, alright?” Gendry continued, handing over his gun and ID card. 

 

Jacob methodically took them and put them in one of the many safes behind his desk. The room was altogether plain - black mostly and accented only with the chrome finishings on each safe and the minimal hardware on Jacob’s desk. When the safe was clicked shut its minute sound nearly echoed in the room, a jarring tick that had Arya struggling to envision anyone other than Gendry coming to use this facility. Then again, this was his world, and even plain clothed and with hair grown out beyond regulation length, he seemed at ease here. Arya imagined this was how she looked when she was back at Winterfell: forever the girl shaped by the northern wind, wild in both character and dreams. 

 

“You think your appearance here, after a year, will go unnoticed?” Jacob asked Gendry.

 

“I don’t care if they know I’m here. I just don’t need them knowing I brought Jon’s baby sister—”

 

“Piss off,” Arya called out. She was beyond the desk now, observing the plaques on the wall near the room’s egress. Each detailed protocol for the building: checking in, weapon rental, and safety measures. She didn’t take her eyes off each placard, causing Jacob to elbow Gendry in jest. 

 

“Your secret is safe with me, Waters. I sure as fuck am not catching Snow’s wrath for whatever shit you’ve dragged yourself into this time…”

 

When Arya looked up again, Gendry was ushering her into the next room. She watched as he slid a plastic card into the door’s reader, the light going green before he pushed inside. Arya was so enamored by the room around her she didn’t notice the way he kept his hand to her waist, guiding her past glass walls and curtains as if this maze was his own and he only wanted her familiar with their final destination. It wasn’t protective or even possessive in the way Jon’s touch would have been. Gendry didn’t do it to support Arya. The gaze of wonderment she cast around the weapons room told him what he’d already known: she was more than capable of handling her own, here or back out on base. But he wanted her to feel comfortable. Suddenly the idea of teaching Arya Stark to fire a gun seemed beyond reckless — it seemed flat out insane. 

 

“Do you have any idea what kind of a gun you want?” Gendry asked simply. He shrugged out his zip-up and tossed it toward the single bench in the room. 

 

The bench acted as a precipice between several rows of matte black lockers and a thick paned window. Just beyond the glass stood the caged in range - only five rows of firing lines, each empty and almost sterile in their appearance. Unlike the rest of the building, the range itself was backlit in bright blue. The floors were a glossy white and glass etched in the military logo separated each lane. There were numbers above each lane as if it were the DMV or a batting cage and not the place Gendry and those like him harnessed their ability to kill.

 

“What?” Arya asked, finally turning back to him.

 

Gendry smirked. “You sure you’re okay?”

 

Arya approached him. “What? I’m fine. Just tired, s’all. Movies last night were a bad choice.” Her mood perked considerably. It was likely her years in the spotlight as a politician’s daughter that taught even a woman like Arya the power of a fake smile. It was nearly a superpower; even Gendry was convinced. 

 

“I asked you what kind—”

 

“Of gun...right. Uh, what are my options?”

 

Gendry side-eyed her. “You want it to fit in your pocket or your purse?”

 

“I don’t have a purse. My pocket, I guess.”

 

Gendry looked to the leggings she wore. “Which pocket would that be exactly?”

 

“Alright, you know what?” Arya sassed, spinning to turn to him. She jutted out her hip in offense. “Why don’t you tell me what kind of gun would work best and I’ll just follow your lead?”

 

Gendry shook his head. He took a step away, then several more, finally disappearing into one of the rows of lockers. Arya eventually followed, finding him back toward the door they entered into. She stood, her arms crossed over her chest as she watched Gendry look to each number at the top of each locker door. 

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“Finding you a gun.”

 

He took another step then stopped. Effortlessly he reached forward, typed a code in the locker’s keypad and waited for it to pop open. The metal shook as it did. 

 

“These are gun safes?” Arya asked, her eyes wide.

 

Gendry breathed out a laugh. “Yeah, what did you think they were?”

 

“Lockers.” 

 

He chuckled again. “No.” Turning back toward the safe, Arya watched as Gendry retrieved two firearms. He wielded both, continually flipping his wrists back and forth to assess each firearm’s body. “Here,” he gave, holding one out to Arya. 

 

She advanced and reached out for it. “Is this loaded?”

 

“No. That’s in a different safe. Just take it.” He shook the gun as if to show its current lack of value. 

 

Just as easily the locker was closed again. The light above door flashed from green to red. “How much time have you spent here?”

 

“In this room?” Gendry had moved to another locker now. He kneeled down before it, retrieving what Arya could only assume was boxes of ammunition. 

 

“Do we need all of that?”

 

Gendry stood. He walked back to Arya, brushing past her without much of a glance. “Which question do you want me to answer?”

 

“Uh...the room.”

 

“Yes, I used to spend a lot of time in this room. You can’t exactly build something and then trust someone else to test it.”

 

“This is where you tested the weapons you built?”

 

Gendry shrugged, unfazed. “Some of them.” 

 

“I thought you built...like bombs.”

 

Like bombs? No, we did build bombs but most of those are tested out in the field. I craft the body of the weapon and then a chemist has to work to actually load it. That’s not my area.”

 

Arya looked down to the weapon in her hands. It felt heavy but the size seemed to work with her petite hand. Like Gendry, she turned it over in her palms, then held it properly, her finger precariously placed on the trigger. “Can I get this gun anywhere else? I mean, why get used to it if—”

 

“It’s yours.”

 

“What?” Arya looked up but Gendry was gone again. She shuffled out of the row of lockers and found him entering the range. Again he used his card to gain access, causing Arya to catch the door with her foot so it didn’t shut before she could join him. Inside he had picked a lane and was already putting ammunition in the gun he’d chosen. Arya watched, momentarily distracted by the strain in his arms as he sized up the gun’s barrel, inspecting it in the way only an armourer or ammosmith could. 

 

She shook her head in an attempt to return to the present. “What do you mean it’s mine?”

 

“I mean that I’m going to log it out as being defunct. It’ll be erased from the database and we’ll take it with us.” 

 

“You can do that?”

 

Gendry scoffed, nearly choking on the laugh of disbelief that bubbled up in his throat. He looked around ironically. “Who’s going to stop me?”

 

Arya smirked. All of her relaxed as she walked toward Gendry. He offered his hand and Arya looked to it, confused. “What?”

 

“Give me the gun.”

 

“No,” Arya whined. She held the firearm to her chest in the same way she’d coddled her morning coffee. The sight of her had Gendry smiling.

 

“Did you not want to put ammo in it? Won’t be much use to you if it’s not loaded.”

 

Reluctantly, Arya handed it over. She stood before Gendry, a single platform extended of the brick wall acting like an altar at which Gendry prepared her gun. “Here,” he offered, handing her  several copper bullets. 

 

Arya looked to it then back up again. “Show me.”

 

“Watch me,” he instructed. His thumb pressed a lever near the base of the gun, releasing the magazine. It slid into his hand and he tossed it down to the table. One by one he packed the magazine then swiftly clicked it back into place, his hand to the butt of the pistol in a firm way. “Go ahead.”

 

Arya did her best to mimic Gendry but her movements were unsure. He coached her, careful not to let his own impatience interrupt her. She seemed more comfortable when the magazine was locked back into place. Her finger, previously hovering near the trigger, fell to the side of the gun and she held it down toward the floor like a child fighting the urge to run with scissors. 

 

At the lane, Gendry paused. “Do you want to watch me or do you want to try it?”

 

Arya released the grip her teeth had on her lip. “I’ll watch you.”

 

He turned away from her, his body falling into position as effortlessly as one falls asleep.  His muscles were taut, his biceps straining against the short sleeves of the cotton shirt he wore. Arya couldn’t picture Gendry in army fatigues. This version of him made much more sense. It was probably why he kept stealing glances at her, smiling in an attempt to make her feel more comfortable. This was his world, his home. She could be a similar host back in Winterfell, if she had stayed.

 

Any trepidation Arya felt seemed dramatic compared to how calm Gendry was, even after he fired his first bullet and the room echoed around them. She nearly jumped at the sound, deciding instead to concentrate on Gendry’s precision. The target paper was pierced in nearly the same spot two, three, then six times finally. The faintest smell of gunpowder rose through the air but when Gendry turned back to Arya, he saw only the smile she wore.

 

“Will you help me?”

 

“Uh, yeah.”

 

Arya stepped forward, occupying the space in the lane Gendry previously had as he shifted behind her. He was close, their bodies nearly flush, but he waited as she attempted to self-adjust. Arya raised her hands up as it to start to shoot but she paused and looked back over her shoulder. “I literally have no idea what I’m doing, Gendry, so any help—”

 

“Right, right…” He muttered, stepping closer once again. Still, he was stunted, unsure of where to start.

 

Arya snickered. “You can touch me. I won’t shoot you.”

 

“Yeah, well I’m not taking any chances.” Gendry’s  eyes scanned over the curve of her hips and how they extended down into thighs and calves that looked just as toned in leggings as they had that morning - naked. He swallowed but looked back to the target ahead before repositioning her. Delicately, his fingers inched over the outer curve of her hip to the back of her thigh. Chills coated her neck, causing Arya to force out another exhale in search of stability. 

 

Instead of manipulating her in the way her fencing teacher once had, Gendry used his featherlight touch to urge Arya to widen her stance. He tapped at the inside of her knees until they were the proper distance apart then he ran his hands up her arms, showing her which limbs and joints should be aligned for maximum mobility. He told her about the importance of a firm stance and he gripped her arm, raising it up a bit and then holding it in place as he explained that firing would cause her aim to eventually shift. His breath was warm and soft against her ear while he coached her, likely thinking nothing of it. Arya’s vision remained affixed on the target but she felt Gendry moving all around her, his touch so distracting her nerves vanished, filling her stomach with a different type of unease. 

 

“Go ahead,” Gendry instructed when he finally stood back.

 

Arya hesitated but then pulled the trigger, firing off a single round. It didn’t hit the target and as he promised, the force of the trajectory had her almost losing balance. “Shit…”

 

Gendry chuckled. He moved forward to set her back into place but she stopped him. Her fingers curled around his wrist, the most gentle of demands as she repositioned his hand to her hip. “Help me?” she asked over her shoulder. If Gendry hadn’t leaned back her lips would have brushed his chin. Already she was distracted by his morning stubble, finding herself content with the view as she waited for his answer.

 

“I...what do you mean?”

 

“Am I doing this right?”

 

Gendry chuckled and Arya felt it, all of his front vibrating against her back. Another smattering of goosebumps rose upon her arms, extending out and encouraging her trigger finger as Gendry settled into the space behind her again, her body like a smaller version of his as they both held the gun.

 

“Make sure you keep this arm up,” he showed, moving his right arm so hers would raise as well. “And loosen your grip…” His fingers upon hers spread a heat up to her chest and cheeks. “This hip needs to go back because you want this foot…” His directive faded into nothing while his touch did all the work, shaping Arya into the perfect position. When he was satisfied with her stance, he fell back into the space behind her again and leaned down to whisper in her ear. “Go on,” he urged, bumping her with his hip.

 

Her second attempt at firing her gun was much more successful. Unlike Gendry, she was still incapable of hitting the target but she did manage to make contact with the paper. 

 

“Again,” his voice came softly. 

 

In Gendry’s arms, Arya emptied every round from her magazine until finally the slide remained open, signaling she was out of ammo. With a deep sigh, she dropped her arms and turned to Gendry with a radiant smile. If it was pride or relief, he didn’t know, but she nearly jumped into his arms, clutching his neck without apology. Gendry couldn’t help but to enjoy the way Arya relaxed into him. Suddenly he didn’t want her to have to shoot a gun and he hated himself for bringing her here. He was angry, all of her small and strong in his grip, as he thought of anyone wanting to harm her. He thought of Arya’s own anger, how she missed her parents and how she had listened to Jon belittle her emotions like she was a child and not a grown woman very much capable of making her own decisions. The almost childish way he teased her, the same amusement causing him to agree to take her to the shooting range in the first place, vanished as she pulled back from their hug and just looked to him. Her brow was still high in amazement and her lips, freshly licked, looked plump. It was impossible for Gendry not to stare, the rest of him freezing up as he realized how much of her was still pressed into all of him.

 

“Arya?”

 

“Yeah?” Her voice was just as weak, so weak she wondered if she had even spoken at all.

 

“Good job,” Gendry returned, his gaze wide as if trying to capture more of her through such heavy lidded eyes. 

 

She nodded and parted her lips. “Thanks.” 

 

All of her attention was lost on his mouth, no longer distracted by his stubble but by his strong jaw and the way his adam’s apple bobbed when he spoke. The same arms she’d admired earlier were still wrapped around her, this time around her waist. She held the pistol in her hand. If she shifted he would have too and his hands would slide off her back. 

 

“Gendry?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

He leaned in and her breath hitched. The fingers she had pressed gently to his shoulders curled ever so lightly into his skin and another wave of excitement tickled her spine. Arya blinked, keeping her eyes shut for just a moment too long. When she opened them Gendry was somehow closer, still waiting.

 

“I’m…” Her eyes fluttered shut as if she were fighting sleep. “I’m going to Volantis.”

 

It was instantaneous. Gendry’s hands fell from Arya’s hips, not even bothering to rest on her thighs and instead found their home back at his side. His detachment lead to hers until it was just Arya standing before him, both of them separate - him with a half-smile and her with a gun. 

 

“What?” His voice nearly cracked.

 

“Volantis. To see Talisa and the baby.”

 

Gendry shook his head. “I—”

 

“Robb’s—”

 

“Robb’s wife,” he returned, remembering. “Right. Uh, that’s great.” He rubbed at the back of his neck and took a step away. “Sorry, I—”

 

“Did you want to come?”

 

He was nearly to the door now. Gendry hadn’t planned to exit but her words felt like a rejection, though from what he was unsure. “Uh...what?”

 

“Is that ridiculous? I guess saying it out loud it kind of is. I don’t know what I was thinking. I mean, I was thinking it’s a long drive and it’d be nice to have some company. Her family has a big house on the beach.”

 

Gendry’s mouth split into an almost-there smile. “You don’t want to be alone?”

 

“No. I’m terrified.” 

 

“Yeah,” Gendry nodded with newfound enthusiasm. “I’ll go.”

 

Arya brightened. “Yeah?”

 

“Sure. Why not? I haven’t been to the beach in awhile.”

 

Arya returned to the table and ejected the magazine on her gun only so she could load it again. She was more confident and  increasingly brave now with Gendry merely watching. It almost helped to have him separated from her. She didn’t like what she was capable of when he was so close. 

 

~!~

 

Arya spent more time talking to Jacob than Gendry would have liked. The pair got into a heated debate regarding mixed martial arts and Gendry nearly had to pull Arya out of the range, almost forgetting his own gun and wallet in the process. In the end, Jacob insisted Arya let him take her out next time there was a live match. Arya even gave him her number, shrugging off Gendry as he attempted to steer her toward the exit. 

 

Outside the sun was beginning its descent. Things were easy thereafter, as the pair piled back into Gendry’s SUV and headed off base. Arya smirked, remembering how it felt to hold her gun and eventually shoot it. Her fingertips smelled of gunmetal as they tapped upon her thigh. The weapon Gendry gifted her was under her seat, its safety switch engaged. 

 

“So are you going to tell Jacob you have a boyfriend or do you want me to?”

 

Arya’s mouth dropped open. “What? What boyfriend?” Gendry chuckled and looked back to the road. Arya looked back too as if staring at the same proof. “You little shit! You were eavesdropping!”

 

“Your door was open.”

 

“I don’t...well this is embarrassing,” Arya groaned. “I don’t have a boyfriend. I just said that because I wanted Sansa to leave me alone. She worries about me and I can’t tell her what has me so preoccupied. I also can’t tell her I’m hanging out with you because she fucked one of Robb’s friends once—”

 

“Are we fucking?”

 

Arya blinked. “No. But that’s the point. She doesn’t think guys and girls can be friends.”

 

“They can be friends.”

 

“Just friends,” Arya emphasized. She exhaled and leaned back in her seat. “What about you? You don’t have a girlfriend?” 

 

“I told you I don’t have much of a need for friends.”

 

“Yeah but guys have other needs…”

 

“Cheeky,” he dismissed with a laugh. “That gets old. There has to be more.”

 

“You’re not impressing me.”

 

Gendry snickered again. “I’m not trying to impress you. I’m telling it like it is.”

 

“Mhm.” She didn’t look away this time. “I’ve had one boyfriend and that was enough. We dated because I just thought it was something I should do. His parents knew my parents. He was wicked smart. Super athletic. Turns out he only dated me to impress my dad. Needless to say, it didn’t end well.”

 

“That’s beyond fucked up. Did you kick his ass?”

 

“I should have. But no. He wasn’t worth my time after that.” Arya shrugged. “Looking back, I don’t mind. It’s worked so far.”

 

“Has it?”

 

“Piss off,” she urged, pushing at Gendry’s shoulder, causing them both to laugh. “It has! Don’t throw stones from your glass house.”

 

“No stone throwing here.”

 

“Good.” All of the humor in her voice faded. “It sounds like you’re just as fucked up as I am.”

 

“More fucked up, I’d say.” 

 

“Great. We’re in agreement then.”

 

Gendry pinched her thigh, causing Arya to jump in reflex. She pushed at him, the two in a feigned fight as Gendry came to stop at a redlight and instantly began grabbing for her sides. The light changed again and Arya elbowed him. Gendry gave in only when the car behind them honked. He sped up, wishing they’d just be home already. 

 

“I only meant to say,” Arya began, cutting through the silence while both still tried to catch their breath, “that we can be fucked up together.”

 

Gendry flashed her a coy grin. “So fucked up…”

Chapter Text

Gendry’s car was oddly futuristic for a person that used a stack of military issued weapon manuals as a nightstand. It was gunmetal in color and had doors that rose up into the air so as to not inconvenience the passengers. The console was equally ostentatious: an all glass LED screen the size of a tablet that was capable of showing the weather, traffic, and currently, Arya was finding, Gendry’s poorly programmed radio. 

 

It was extremely comfortable though and impeccably clean. If Arya didn’t see Gendry disappear in the vehicle so often she would have thought it was barely used; it also existed without a scratch and after an hour of being on the highway she knew why. The car moved so precisely and in such a smooth manner it felt untouchable; Arya felt safe. She was enjoying the way Gendry gripped the steering wheel and kept his eyes on the road, not bothering to look to her when she spoke which was often considering how much she detested silence. 

 

“Do not touch the radio,” Gendry stated simply, his eyes not leaving the open road before him. 

 

Arya grimaced, unsure of how he’d seen her reaching out for the device yet again. “Why not?”

 

“It’s a rule. It’s rude.”

 

“What? Since when?”

 

“It just is.”

 

Arya sighed. “Well what do you want on the—”

 

“This is fine,” Gendry nodded, referring to the easy-listening radio station that had been playing faintly since they left King’s Landing.

 

“This is horrible ” Arya groaned. “We have over eight hours, Gendry. We should put music on.”

 

“Who needs music when I have you to argue with?”

 

Arya huffed and turned so she was facing the window. Her feet, previously on the floor, were pulled up to the seat in front of her and like a child she pouted in a single unit of quiet fury. “Fine. Be an ass.”

 

Gendry looked to her once more, wearing a smile he was glad Arya couldn’t see. He was amused by her and finding it more and more difficult to keep his sly smirks and light laughs of feigned disregard to himself. He was also noticing things he knew he shouldn’t notice: the fray on the jean shorts she wore and how her toenails were painted a color somewhere between turquoise and sky blue. Her shorter hair was down just as it had been the day they went to the gun range but it held a more natural wave, with highlights kissed by the sun coming in from the window. 

 

Gendry reached forward and tapped at the screen. The volume increased and Arya seemed to deflate a bit. He then rubbed at his mouth, concealing another laugh as he too leaned against his window for support. If he hadn’t been so focused on his own self-discipline he would have seen Arya fighting a similar battle; she had softened and was now glancing back to him wearing a warm smile of her own. 

 

~!~

 

About an hour into their drive they stopped at a local coffee shop right off the coastal highway. Arya made fun of Gendry for always ordering hot coffee and he threw a similar jab right back, stating her affinity for iced coffee was sacrilegious. But then things would quiet down, as if sharing smiles was a character flaw. 

 

Arya was sipping awkwardly at her drink, making no apology for the sometimes loud slurping noise or the way her impatience had her shifting around in her seat, alternating between putting her feet beneath her or up on the dash in front of her. All the while Gendry was unfazed, focused only on the road ahead. Arya looked to him, then to the scenery outside: nothing but sand dunes and private driveways leading to hidden beach houses lined each side of the highway and the closer they got to Volantis, the more the traffic thinned until it felt like they were the only two left on the road. 

 

“Sooooo,” Arya finally cut in, probably for what was now the seventh or eighth time since their departure. “Do you like the environment or did you just have a disgusting amount of money to burn through?” she asked, referring to the SUV she couldn’t help but to admire. 

 

Gendry snickered. “Both.”

 

Arya lowered her chin in question. “You like the environment?”

 

“Yeah. Don’t you? Shouldn’t everyone?”

 

“I mean, I don’t dislike the environment I just—”

 

“Do you know the kind of tax break a car like this gets?” Again, Arya cocked her head like a child confused. This time Gendry did look over, a grin tugging at his cheeks. “I had some requirements for my car and this one checked a lot of the boxes.”

 

“You’re an odd one, Gendry Waters.” With her head propped up on her elbow, Arya looked out the window. Then, she looked back again as yet another thought flashed in her mind. “Do you know where we’re going? I can plug in the GPS and—”

 

“No,” Gendry stammered, reaching out toward the dash just as she did. “I know how to get to Volantis. There’s a base out here, you know.”

 

Arya smirked. “You’re one of those weirdos that doesn’t connect to public wifi, aren’t you?”

 

“Usually.”

 

“Maybe you’d have friends if you didn’t stay off the grid.”

 

“Don’t need friends. And that’s not why I don’t have friends. Not having friends is a choice.”

 

“What about Jacob? He seemed like a friend.”

 

“He’s a brother...army and all. That’s different.”

 

“I bet you if you ever needed something, he’d drop what he was doing and come help.”

 

Gendry looked to her. “Of course he would. Any of those guys would. We’re a team. But—”

 

“Why did you get such a big car if it’s only you?” Arya asked, her head strained to look toward the back of the car where another row of seats hid the trunk where their luggage was stored. 

 

Gendry laughed and shook his head as he turned back to the road. “Is it exhausting being you?”

 

“Dude, you have no idea,” Arya gave easily. She turned around and looked out the front windshield. When Gendry didn’t answer, she turned her entire body toward him, nearly using the car door as support against her back. 

 

Gendry reflexed, clicking simply at the setting that locked the car doors. The last thing Gendry needed was for Jon to think he killed his sister because she made fun of him for not having friends. The idea had him chuckling to himself and this time, he did little to cover it up. 

 

Arya’s brow furrowed. “Gendry!”

 

“What?”

 

“I asked about the car…”

 

“Oh, right.” He let out one last chuckle as he continued to enjoy his dark humor. “I told you I had money to burn. Bigger the car, the more expensive it is…”

 

Arya’s jaw dropped rather dramatically. “You think you’re funny, don’t you?”

 

“I know I’m funny,” Gendry confirmed with a cocky grin. “You asked!”

 

“Well—”

 

“Alright, I’m sorry. You’re just too easy sometimes.”

 

Arya gave him the middle finger, only earning her a loud belly laugh. In response, she turned back around, eyeing the shore as it appeared and disappeared behind the rolling sandy landscape. She couldn’t afford to let him see how much she too was enjoying his teasing. 

 

“I used to take a lot of my work home with me.”

 

“Weapons?” Arya asked, her voice low and slow. “You took weapons... home with you?” 

 

“Some of them. Usually it was just the mechanics. You know...actions, timers, motors…”

 

“You needed a big car for all of that?”

 

“I told you, I didn’t let anything go to the lab I didn’t inspect first. So yes, occasionally I’d ride around with two hundred automatic weapons in my trunk.”

 

Arya guffawed. “You’re nuts.”

 

“You wanted to know!” he reminded.

 

In response, Arya’s mouth found its usual home in a lazy pout, one always accompanied by a scowl and the occasional bitten lip caught between her teeth. Gendry expected her to continue her questioning but when she didn’t he found himself angry at the phone she tapped at instead.

 

"Why are you always on that thing?” He inquired, nodding toward the device with his head as he switched lanes. “Talking to all your friends?"

 

Arya didn’t look up. "You sound like a grandpa,” she droned. 

 

"I mean, I love my phone as much as the next guy—"

 

"Loving your phone for wanking purposes doesn't count."

 

"You're crude."

 

"You laughed,” Arya said, still not meeting his gaze. He had; she had too. With a sharp inhale she clicked the device off and used the seat as leverage to once again fix her posture. "Yes. I check in on my friends.” 

 

"Friends? I thought you didn't have friends."

 

"I don't. Not any around here. Back at school I had lots of friends."

 

“Why'd you leave them?”

 

Arya blinked. “I can't prove a murder if I'm not here, Gendry.”

 

“Right.”

 

"They all have really normal lives...” Her elaboration was a question as if she too was still working through all the changes in her life — changes that happened over a year ago and still sat in the back of a closet in her mind like the boxes of her parents belongings she was still too afraid to unpack and sort through. “For awhile I shut down and didn't want to talk to them...because I didn't want to talk to anyone. Then when things calmed down they had all moved on. Most of them are in uni, being normal 20-somethings. It’s just...I don’t know if I’d be a good friend to them right now. I don’t know if I know what a good friend even looks like when everyone is dealing with such...normal stuff.”

 

“And you're living in the capital trying to prove a murder.”

 

Arya shrugged. “Yeah, exactly.”

 

“So you...check up on them?”

 

“Yeah. I look at their social accounts. Twitter, snapchat, insta...facebook if I’m feeling brave. I like things to let them know I'm alive. Some of them have tried to reach out but I freeze up. I don't know what to say. I'm not in uni and I can't tell anyone what I'm doing.”

 

“You told me.”

 

“You're just as fucked up as I am, remember?” Her taunt rolled off her tongue with the confidence of a compliment and this time when both smiled, they didn’t bother hiding it.

 

~!~

 

They stopped to get lunch and ate it at an inconspicuous picnic table at the back of the rest stop near where Gendry could charge his car. Arya handed Gendry the value meal he’d ordered then continued to unpack the rest of the bag: a cheeseburger, chicken nuggets, french fries with cheese, a side salad, and a piece of cake. Gendry looked to the food then back up again, finding Arya looked almost proud of her spread. 

 

“Want some?”

 

Gendry unwrapped his own cheeseburger and took a bite. He shook his head as he chewed and then washed it down with a sip of water. “Uh, no.”

 

“You never seen a girl eat like this?”

 

“I’ve never seen you eat like this,” Gendry reminded. “Usually it’s protein shakes and—”

 

“We’ve done takeaway like four times now.”

 

“Well this is…” He shook his head. “If you eat all of that I’m going to be so impressed.”

 

“Well it’s not all for right now.”

 

Gendry looked around, causing Arya to laugh into her milkshake. “Is there a reason we’re stockpiling?”

 

“Uh, well, no...not exactly. Talisa’s family is just, like...super healthy?”

 

Gendry’s mouth fell open. “How healthy?”

 

“Like kale and no red meat and—”

 

“Fuckin’ Christ,” Gendry said, shaking his head as he shoveled a handful of fries past his lips. “Do they have alcohol?”

 

“They do. Wine. They have a winery up north, so…”

 

“Wine it is, then!” 

 

Arya giggled into the back of her hand before continuing her culinary assault on another chicken nugget. She offered Gendry one and he took it and the pair shared her cheese fries as the day’s sun disappeared behind a patch of clouds. When it was time to leave, Arya ran back inside to get a refill on her drink. Returning, she handed Gendry a bottle of water and hopped back up into his car. 

 

“Thanks,” he managed. He looked to her, almost dumbfounded, especially as she had a new look of excitement across her features knowing they were only an hour or so away from their destination. 

 

~!~

 

Arya tried it again — the radio — as the sun continued its descent. Gendry stopped her with a strong grip to her wrist. He loosened it, realizing that his attempt at a joke may have been too forceful but when he saw her smiling he smiled too.

 

“Fuck, I thought you were distracted.”

 

“I'm driving,” Gendry gestured. “How distracted can I be?”

 

“You get this look on your face...you squint a bit and you get that line on your forehead.”

 

“Oh, do I?”

 

“I imagine you're thinking about something.”

 

He shrugged. “Never noticed.”

 

“Were you?”

 

“Was I what?”

 

“Thinking about something.”

 

Gendry chuckled. “You make it seem like that's not something I'm capable of.”

 

“I know you're capable of it,” Arya disregarded. “You do that face all the time which makes me think you're thinking all the time...like something's bothering you.”

 

“Nothing's bothering me.” Arya opened her mouth to speak but he stopped her. “Except for you trying to control the radio again.”

 

She rolled her eyes. “Can I please connect to bluetooth? You can pick the music. Orrrr! Oooh! This'll be fun! I'll play something and you say yes or no!”

 

“I…” 

 

"C’mon Gendry!” she pleaded. “Everything can't be no though! There has to be some music you like. I mean, you could just tell me what you like and if I have it—” 

 

Gendry breathed out a laugh. “Let's play your game.” 

 

“Give me a hint. Soft or hard?”

 

Gendry let out a cackle. “What?”

 

“Music...you know! Like Bon Iver or Led Zeppelin?"

 

“Led Zeppelin, definitely."

 

“Gross. You're so predictable.” She dragged her thumb up on her screen, continuing to scroll. “Alright, uh...Led Zeppelin or Queen?"

 

“Oooh...still gonna have to go with Led Zeppelin.”

 

“Led Zeppelin or Nirvana?”

 

“You can't do that to me.”

 

Arya wore a mischievous grin. “I can and I will.”

 

“Nirvana...no, wait, Led Zeppelin still...wait! Nirvana. Definitely Nirvana..."

 

Arya kicked up her feet she was laughing so hard. It was the most uninhibited Gendry had ever seen her and he was almost unsure of how to react. All he knew was that it was a lovely view and her laugh was so contagious he almost wanted to insist on hearing its song over the radio. Gendry wondered for a moment what he could do to prolong it. 

 

“Well it's your lucky day, buddy, because I only have Nirvana on here.”

 

Gendry shook his head and turned back to the road with a new resolve. “Of course you do.”

 

“What's that supposed to mean?”

 

“It means of course you’d get me to agree to a band you don’t even listen to. And, more importantly, you brood. So Nirvana—”

 

“You brood too!”

 

“I did pick Nirvana.”

 

Arya started predictably, the beginning chords of Smells Like Teen Spirit replacing the car’s silence easily. They made it through the entire discography: classics like Lithium and Come As You Are then basement recordings of covers and demos Gendry had never actually heard. With his eyes still on the road, Gendry saw Arya moving in her seat, tapping out the beat on her thigh or shaking her foot on the dash as a final chorus swelled. At one point she rolled down the window, running her hand out into the night air, already feeling the salt and sand of Volantis at her fingertips. When Gendry looked over, she did not apologize, she only shook her head and began singing out loud, holding her hand in a fist near her mouth to mimic a microphone. It was Gendry’s turn to laugh and he did and when they reached the end of Arya’s selection, he almost found the silence irritating. Arya wasn’t dancing in the silence or singing or making waves in the wind with a rolling hand. She was almost breathless and she ran a hand back through her hair before sitting back, pleased with her performance but ready to move on. This was somehow just as entertaining to Gendry. 

 

“Alright,” she exhaled with lungs still heaving. “Let's pick something else. A female."

 

“Don't say it like men can't like female artists. That’s very backwards thinking, Arya,” Gendry said in his most sarcastic tone.

 

“I didn't say that. Your tastes so far have just been typical.”

 

“That was your music library we listened to so if my tastes are typical, so are yours.” He looked to her to gauge her reaction. “I think you'd be surprised to find what's in my music library.”

 

“Oh yeah? Shock me.”

 

“Put on some Beyonce.”

 

Arya dropped her head back to laugh. “What?”

 

“What?” Gendry laughed too.

 

“You like Beyonce?” She was moving as she asked, flipping through her iTunes library to pick a song, her eyes never leaving him. 

 

Gendry immediately reached for the console to turn the music up. “Everyone likes Beyonce, Arya.”

 

~!~

 

Eventually Arya fell asleep. Her head lolled back against the window, tucking perfectly between the door and her seat. She stirred and Gendry expected her to realize her state and make an excuse for it but instead she pulled her legs into her chest and held onto them, snuggling further into her makeshift cocoon as he brought them closer to their destination. Seeing this, Gendry turned down the music and turned up the heat.

 

Thankfully Talisa’s home was right off the main highway. The land here was so thin there was really only one option. As soon as they crossed the bridge, the bay replaced one side of the highway, leaving houses to sparsely dot the tops of grassy hills along the sea. Gendry’s headlights caught upon the mailbox with the correct number and he made a slow turn upon the gravel, careful not to make too much noise as if Arya wouldn’t be forced to wake soon anyway. 

 

When the house came into view, most of the lights were on, including those along an intricate pathway leading from the seashell driveway toward the front door. Gendry put his car in park and the lights inside turned on. He was too distracted to be concerned about Arya; the house before him was the grandest he’d ever seen: the perfect mix of old-world charm and modern updates. 

 

“What is it?”

 

Gendry looked toward Arya. He hadn’t realized she had stirred and he closed his mouth as he acknowledged it was likely hanging open as he gawked. “This it?” 

 

Arya nodded. “Yeah. S’that okay?”

 

Gendry nodded too. “Yeah, just...big.”

 

Arya shook her head and let out a laugh, one Gendry recognized as nervous only after it settled into the remaining sound of nothingness. “Remind me not to take you to Winterfell.”

 

Gendry ignored her. He hated the cold but he almost wanted to correct her. Winterfell would be different. Winterfell was Arya’s home and he had this inexplicable craving to bring her there — if that was where she wished to go. Actually, Winterfell seemed like a good option now with this unfamiliar mansion before them. 

 

“Wait!” Arya managed, just as Gendry was reaching for his door to exit. 

 

He glanced down to where her hand curled around his arm. “What is it?”

 

“I…I have to tell you something. I...I almost forgot,” she explained.

 

“Tell me what? What is it?” 

 

“I might have lied to her.” 

 

“Al...alright?”

 

“I told her we were dating.” 

 

Gendry’s eyes widened. “Arya! You can’t keep lying to people about that!”

 

“I froze! She asked who you were and I realized that she wouldn’t talk to me the way I need her to if she thinks you’re just some random guy I know.”

 

“Well, thanks.”

 

“You know what I mean!”

 

“I doubt she’ll talk to me anyway,” Gendry offered. “She moved away for privacy. She doesn’t know me.”

 

“I told her we’ve been dating for two years. That you’re my best friend. That it’s pretty serious.”

 

Gendry wiped at his mouth. “Fuck, Arya...”

 

“It’s not like we actually have to do anything to prove it! Just...I don’t know! Act like you don’t hate me?”

 

“What? I don’t hate you.”

 

“You don’t have to...we’ll be fine. No one will know.”

 

Gendry turned to the house then back again. He sighed. “Does this mean I should be carrying your bags or…”

 

Arya opened her door. “Don’t you fucking dare.” 

 

Their smiles almost had a sound as they both made their way around to the trunk. Gendry didn’t offer to carry Arya’s suitcase, but he was patient as he handed each of her items off. He noticed, in particular, the smell of Arya upon her pillow as he handed it over: wildflowers and grapefruit now mixed with salty air as they made their way up the driveway toward the home. 

 

A figure sat on the porch, her frame willowy even from the rocking chair she sat upon. She stood and Gendry recognized her as Talisa, though her complexion was a bit darker than it had been the last time he’d seen her gracing the cover of the tabloids that were now so obsessed with Arya. She wore jeans too, ones with rips in the knees and her bare feet had Gendry feeling overdressed. 

 

Arya instantly walked to Talisa and embraced her. The girl from Volantis was far taller than Arya — though, Gendry conceded, most people were. Murmurs laced with laughter could be heard as the two held on, getting reacquainted. Gendry didn’t hear what the women said, he only admired from a far, enjoying the way Arya was brought to life by the same girl she’d been so scared to come visit. Winterfell could wait, Gendry mused. 

 

“Lisa, this is Gendry…” Arya’s voice trailed off as she reached for Gendry and when she extended her hand Gendry took it, holding it in his own as he took a step forward. 

 

“Ahh, yes,” she beamed. Talisa offered her hand and Gendry accepted, giving it a firm shake. “So nice to meet you. I’ve heard far too many good things.”

 

Gendry swallowed. “The pleasure’s all mine. Thank you for the invitation.”

 

“Thank you for accompanying our girl,” Talisa returned warmly as she wrapped an arm around Arya and the two made it inside. Gendry followed, the vision of the women before him blurred only by the sound of the screen door hissing to a close. 

 

It was a precipice between the home’s old foundation and all of the preservation work that had been completed inside to keep it up to conservative Volantis standards. It was clear that Talisa’s family owned far more than a vineyard, though Gendry couldn’t remember where their money came from. He didn’t care to ponder either; it made sense that a woman like Talisa would fall in love with a man like Robb Stark. Their worlds fit together; their love, Gendry assumed, had come easily. 

 

As they made their way through the foyer and up the stairs, Gendry noted the photos that lined the walls. There were many of Talisa and her family, especially those of her as a little girl, but there were newer additions too: her wedding with Robb and the baby shower that followed. Gendry continued to take note of each as he heard Arya inquire about her nephew.

 

“Asleep,” Talisa explained. “Not on schedule but he’s been so fussy lately I don’t have the energy to wake him up. My parents are out at a fundraiser tonight and I figured with you two arriving it’d give everyone time to relax so I’m letting him sleep. You’ll see him in the morning,” she said with the sweetness of a promise. 

 

At the top of the stairs, several closed doors competed with several open ones. Talisa brought them to a room at the end of the hall and gestured for them to step inside while her own weight kept the door open. 

 

“I hope this one is okay,” she said simply. 

 

There were more windows than walls, all of them showing the vast sea outside and from their proximity on the highest floor, little else. There was a king-sized bed in the middle of the room and towels and extra pillows stacked neatly upon the chest at the foot of the bed. A door furthest away from the entrance was likely a bathroom and the one next to it, a closet. 

 

The sound of Arya shutting the door brought Gendry out of his reverie.

 

“What’s that look for?” she asked as she set down her bags.

 

Tentatively, Gendry followed suit. “This room is...we’re to share?”

 

“Yeah. I guess,” she shrugged in afterthought. “Is that okay?” 

 

“I...yeah, sure. I just...aren’t people from Volantis super strict? I mean, her parents are okay with this?”

 

“Well I’m not their child, so I’d assume so.” Arya then laughed. “You know Talisa was pregnant before the wedding, right?”

 

“What?”

 

“Oh, yeah. I mean, Robb had proposed but they moved the date up so she wouldn’t show on her wedding. Lisa is...she’s the Volantis girl her parent’s expect her to be but she’s also...not. She’s...her and my brother were perfect together,” Arya said, as if that statement alone was all the explanation anyone would ever need.

 

They unpacked in pleasant silence. Arya opened the windows and the screen door that lead out onto their private balcony. The waves accompanied them then, along with the most wonderful breeze.

 

“I’m going to...mind if I shower?” Gendry’s voice was awkward, his words slower than usual. 

 

“Sure. I’m going to go tell Lisa we’ll have an early night. I’m exhausted.”

 

Gendry gave an immediate smile in relief. “Me too.” 

 

He grabbed for two towels and walked into the bathroom. Before he even had the water running, he heard the bedroom door shut, signaling Arya had left. Gendry made quick work of his shower in her absence and when he was finished, he stepped out into the bedroom wearing nothing but jersey shorts. 

 

“I wish you’d told me about this whole dating thing. I would have packed more appropriate pajamas.”

 

Arya barely looked to him as she rifled through her toiletry bag in preparation for her shower. “Seems appropriate to me,” she shrugged, before disappearing into the bathroom to join the steam Gendry had left behind. It was only then that he noticed the cold glass of water on the nightstand on what he assumed would be his side of the bed. 

 

Returning after her shower, Arya clicked off the light in the bathroom, the glow vanishing behind her. The moonlight seemed harsh against the room’s overhead lights and Gendry was already sitting on the edge of the bed, the covers turned down beneath where he sat. Seeing Arya he sent a text and then clicked the device off. As he’d done all night, he waited for her to act before he moved, shifting to counter her, as if avoiding getting too close.

 

She was just as unmoved as she had been when he came out of the bathroom, now even more so with her hair wet and her silhouette drowning in a large t-shirt.

 

“I don’t sleep in pants so I guess this will have to do too.” Arya pulled back the duvet on her side of the bed and slid under. 

 

Gendry settled back upon the pillows and moved similarly. “You hate wearing pants so I’m not surprised.”

 

Arya kicked him in the shin as she pulled the covers up to her ears and turned over, presenting him with her back and the lingering scent of her, the usual floral and fruit notes mixed with mint and...cucumber? Gendry reasoned it was her hair but figured it could have also been a body lotion. The mint was certainly her toothpaste…

 

“Light off?”

 

Gendry rolled his head upon his pillow and nodded. “Uh, yeah. If that’s…” His voice trailed off as Arya reached up to turn off the light. The room faded into darkness around them, highlighted in patches on the floor and toward the edge of the mattress where the moon seeped in past the open window panes. 

 

Arya only nestled further into the mattress. She was almost a full arm’s length away; Gendry knew because he reached his hand out to test, wondering how much room he had to move so that they wouldn’t touch. He was thankful for the oversized bed and for Arya’s petite build because she barely took up any room at all. The featherbed beneath him was also attempting to swallow him, all of his weight compressing, keeping him still. It was vastly different from the army bunks he was used to and the mattress he had back in the flat for that same reason. Comforts like these seemed frivolous to Gendry and he was hesitant to admit how much he was currently enjoying them. It was hard to admit to himself as well; he didn’t like to think about what role Arya played in all of it.

 

Minutes passed but they could have been hours. Gendry remained flat on his back, his hands resting upon his chest where the duvet wrapped around him. Crickets now accompanied the ocean but the rest of the world felt oddly still. It was for this reason Gendry was startled when he heard Arya speak.

 

“There’s a couch in the office downstairs. I can sleep—” Arya mumbled, the words somewhat slurred as her face was clearly still dedicated to the pillow it rested upon. Gendry wondered if her eyes were even open.

 

“What?” he croaked.

 

“I know you’re still awake. If you’re uncomfortable I can—”

 

“Don’t,” he assured, fighting the urge to reach out and place a hand to her hip to keep her in place. 

 

Arya looked over her shoulder. “Do you want the couch then? You need to sleep.”

 

“I know. I’m...no, I’m fine. I’m just laying here.” 

 

“I know. You’re bothered—” With a sigh, Arya rolled over so she was on her opposite side, now facing Gendry who still had his vision donated to the white wooden ceiling.

 

“I’m not, actually. I’m thinking.” 

 

“You think very loudly.” 

 

Gendry chuckled. “So you say.”

 

It quieted down. Before nature could resume its lullaby, Arya inched closer to Gendry, finding a similar pull had her hands clutched tightly near her face. To let them wander would have been to risk them finding Gendry and already she wondered if she had moved too close.

 

"What is it?" she whispered.

 

“I'm just thinking…”

 

“You said that.”

 

“I think you'd be a good friend...to your friends back at school.”

 

Arya blinked. “What?”

 

“I just feel like you'd still be a really good friend and you shouldn't let life cheat you out of those friendships. I know you’ve had a lot taken from you...a lot you didn’t have control over and I just think that you shouldn’t let them ruin what you do have control over. I feel like that’s letting them win and I know that’s the last thing you want.”

 

There was a pause, where no sound of movement existed and Gendry wondered if he had in fact fallen asleep and was now in some dreamlike state where no answers existed to all of the questions he asked. 

 

Then he heard Arya exhale a breath she had clearly been holding. The moonlight caught her nose and he watched her smirk. "That's what you were thinking about?"

 

Gendry returned his attention to the ceiling fan and nodded. "That's what I was thinking about."

Chapter Text

When Arya awoke she saw nothing but ocean and light. The sun was almost unbearable, washing the entire bedroom out in a bright haze that caused her to blink in an attempt to acclimate to its harsh rays. As she sat up in bed she saw the same guest room with all its windows, each still open and flanked by sheer white curtains that danced as the wind blew. Just beyond their screens, the ocean slept, waveless, looking as hesitant as Arya was to greet the morning. 

 

Gendry was gone but Arya expected that. She hadn’t felt him in her sleep and his early morning movements clearly hadn’t roused her. It was entirely possible that Gendry had taken her up on her offer to sleep on the couch in the study and had been gone for much longer than she originally assumed. But as Arya tossed off the duvet and shifted to bring her feet to the wooden floor below, she sensed him: just the faintest trace of mint and sandalwood she’d come to recognize as being so distinctly him . Arya caught herself taking a too-deep breathe the night prior when she got into bed beside him and she still smelled him here now. If Gendry hadn’t slept beside her, it was almost cruel of him to leave so much of himself behind. 

 

She dressed and made herself presentable, finding she missed the familiarity of her morning gym routine in King’s Landing as much as she missed her childhood mornings in Winterfell where a full kitchen of food and family awaited her each day before school. Walking down the stairs and toward the kitchen, Arya quickly realized this breakfast was not going to be exactly like that but it would be similar. Animated chatter and the sound of antique silverware on new porcelain serving plates pushed in with that same sea breeze floating in through the back door. Arya’s presence caused it to pause, but only momentarily. Her eyes found Jackson’s immediately but she was thankful for the hugs Talisa’s parent’s insisted on for distracting her from the way the baby didn’t seem to smile. 

 

“Arya Stark? In my kitchen?” Talisa’s mother Nadia drawled as she took Arya in her arms. 

 

The matriarch was all long hair and bones, beautiful and warm. Nadia was shorter than Talisa and wore a dress that dusted her ankles; she certainly didn’t look old enough to be a grandmother. She held on to Arya’s arms even as they pulled away from their hug and Gendry watched from afar as Arya’s features maintained their brightness. 

 

Arya saw Gendry at the other end of the table only before she hugged Talisa’s father, Marco. Her eyes fluttered shut at the strong man’s embrace. Marco Maegyr always reminded Arya of her own father: tall and broad, with a boisterous laugh and a special affection reserved for his daughter. In a way she wanted to weep when Marco finally released her, and she may have had Talisa not advanced, bringing Jackson with her. 

 

Behind them Nadia and Marco sat back down. Like Gendry, they watched as Arya took the baby in her arms, that same smile from before growing as the nostalgia she’d done her best to dismiss engulfed her in a single instant. 

 

“Hiiii,” Arya cooed, pressing her nose and forehead to Jackson’s face as her mind ignored the calculations it craved, wanting so desperately to remember the last time she’d seen him. 

 

It had been just after Talisa had given birth. The grief-stricken mother insisted on a homebirth in Volantis but she made a trip a month later, first to collect any remnants of the life her and Robb built in King’s Landing, then to introduce Jackson to Arya and Jon. The baby had been motionless then, asleep and quiet and smelling the way only newborns do. Arya held him in her hands but she felt nothing then and as she handed the baby off to Jon she ran for her room before he or Talisa could see the way her anguish consumed her. She seemed to cry for hours that night, making herself nearly sick as her stomach filled with nothing other than sorrow and guilt to comfort the single protein bar she’d eaten before Talisa arrived that morning. 

 

That was almost a year ago. It was inevitable now to realize that the baby she met and the baby she was currently holding had little in common. As Arya opened her eyes she saw only Robb: his smile and crystal-blue eyes evident in this child that would never know him. Jackson certainly had his mother’s coloring: the darker hair and tan complexion a reminder of the woman that birthed him. Everything else was inexplicably Robb. 

 

Arya bounced Jackson on her hip, leaning to accommodate his chubby legs and the way he now removed his fist from his mouth and offered it to Arya, his sticky wet hand glistening, causing her to laugh. 

 

“Here,” Talisa explained as she placed a cloth over Arya’s shoulder. “He’s teething. You’ll be soaked through without that.”

 

“I don’t mind,” Arya sang, her eyes failing to leave Jackson’s as the two made their way toward the table. There was an open seat between Talisa and Gendry and as she neared, Gendry pulled out her chair, pushing it in only as Arya settled down with Jackson still curled into her. She pressed a hand to the baby’s back and kissed his forehead. Already he was more at ease and Arya was just thankful he hadn’t cried when he was placed in her arms. She wasn’t sure how her heart would handle rejection from the last true memory of Robb she’d ever have. 

 

“What do you want to eat? I’ll make you a plate,” Gendry offered, leaning into Arya to do so. Marco and Nadia were engaged in an animated conversation about an upcoming trip they had planned and Talisa’s attention was pulled between each pair, finding her gaze stuck on Arya and Gendry for increasingly longer periods each time.

 

“Uh, just a coffee.”

 

“You should eat,” Talisa encouraged. Arya looked up, clearly unaware that her sister-in-law had been paying them any attention. “Gendry made a delicious breakfast.” 

 

Arya’s mouth fell open but a grin had it pulled into a flat line that showed her amusement. “He did?” she asked, but her vision was donated solely to the man in question. 

 

“I’m sure you’re used to it, but it’s the best breakfast I’ve had in awhile,” Talisa confirmed. She raised her eyebrows as Gendry walked away. Arya averted her eyes, thankful for the baby in her lap and how his constant distraction was an instant apology for any behavior that could be perceived as rude. 

 

Gendry returned and placed a hot mug of coffee before Arya. It was the perfect color, only a splash away from being the black coffee he usually drank. As she sipped at the cup, Arya realized he had been paying attention. It was perfectly sweet too.

 

“Arya, darling, what are you up to these days? You graduated, didn’t you?” Nadia asked.

 

Arya quickly nodded. “I did.”

 

“University?” Marco inquired.

 

“Uh, perhaps. Not yet. I—”

 

“What did we say about the questions, you two?” Talisa urged, rolling her eyes at her mother and father. 

 

“I’m just curious!” Nadia defended. “I can’t ask my family what they’re up to? I’ve missed the girl!”

 

The titles had Arya softening and Jackson must have noticed because he laughed in her arms, a newfound obsession with Arya’s hair proving to be a source of entertainment for the infant. 

 

“I...I don’t know what I’m going to do yet,” Arya explained simply, doing her best to show she was happy to. “With everything…” She inhaled. “I just haven’t figured it out yet. Jon’s been traveling a lot with work and Sansa has all of her charity work...I’ll figure it out.”

 

“You will,” Marco agreed before sipping at his juice.

 

“Gendry,” Nadia began again, causing the boy to sit forward. “You’re in the military with Jon, aren’t you?”

 

“No, ma’am...well, yes, I was. I am,” he corrected. “I’m just on leave right now.”

 

Suddenly Gendry felt like Arya, only this wasn’t his family and he had no reason to care about the white lies he told to strangers, even if those strangers had opened their home to him. Gendry only cared about the white lies to told Arya; each time he repeated them it was as if he were trying to make them true. But he never hoped to believe them and he hadn’t really wanted Arya to believe them either — he only knew he couldn’t yet tell her the truth. To do so would mean to acknowledge it himself and he still wasn’t sure what the truth was. Each day the lines between what was required to be honest and what was required to survive, blurred closer to vanishment. 

 

Putting his cup of coffee back down to the table, Gendry reentered the conversation. They had moved on from Jon to Sansa, discussing the fundraisers she had planned and if she was dating anyone. Arya was proud to discuss her sister’s achievements, especially those that erected schools and hospitals that bore the Stark family name. She was less apt to discuss Sansa’s dating life and Talisa’s parents were quickly apprised of this, switching the conversation instead to the weather and the plans Arya and Gendry had for when they were in town.

 

“Actually…” Arya began, her eyes looking to Gendry in search of permission. “I think we just wanted to hang out here. Maybe head down to the beach but I’m here to see Jackson so—”

 

“You could take him out if you wanted,” Talisa suggested. “You’ve been a fine enough jungle gym for him so far.” 

 

“I…” Arya was still staring at Gendry. “We’ll figure it out. We don’t want to impose on anyone.”

 

“Impose?” Nadia asked as she stood. She leaned forward to grab for the empty plates in front of her and her husband. “If Gendry continues cooking, you can stay forever if you’d like.” Talisa and her father laughed in agreement and Arya once again found herself lost in Jackson.

 

Beside her, Gendry stood and joined Nadia in reaching for the used dishware. Arya reached out for him, her hand curling around his wrist like a foot to a brake. “Don’t,” she hushed. “In Volantis it’s considered poor taste to both cook and clean up after the meal. It’s rude.”

 

Gendry leaned down. “It’s rude to clean up after myself?”

 

“Volantis culture focuses on community,” Arya explained softly. “You’ve cooked and now those you have served will clean up.”

 

“I can’t possibly let them—”

 

“Do you want to offend them?” Arya hushed. “You’re a guest. If you want to be respectful, sit your arse down. Or,” she continued with newfound animation, “you can hold Jackson while I make myself a plate.”

 

“I told you I could get you—”

 

“I know but you don’t know what I like.”

 

“Yes, I do,” Gendry returned flatly. “Burnt toast with butter and jam and bacon. I made you both.” He pushed off the table again, ready to retrieve her meal. 

 

“Gendry!” Nadia called out. “I hope you’re not going to insist on helping us clean the kitchen. You know—”

 

“I do know,” Gendry lied. Because he hadn’t known anything of Volantis culture until Arya had said something. Now he was thankful for Arya’s sudden hunger because it gave him an excuse to ignore how uncomfortable he was, allowing his hosts to clean up the mess he and his meal made. “I’m grabbing Arya a plate.”

 

“Why don’t you take Jackson and allow Arya to serve herself?” Talisa attempted. “He’s been eyeing you all morning. You’re the only person in this room he hasn’t drooled on.”

 

A panicked look spread across Gendry’s features as he looked to Arya and swallowed. “Oh, I couldn’t—”

 

“Don’t you want a family someday?”

 

Gendry looked back to Talisa. “I...yeah, of course, I’m just not around babies much and—”

 

“You’ve held a baby before, haven’t you?”

 

“Uh…” Gendry paused. “No, I haven’t.”

 

“What?” Arya hiccuped. “How have you—”

 

“Where would I have found a baby to hold, Arya?”

 

She snickered while she tapped at Jackson’s back, eventually running smoothing circles upon his onesie, causing him to drop his head down to his aunt’s shoulder. Arya looked down to him. “Want to go see Gendry, Jacks? He’s not nearly as scary as he looks,” she said in melody. 

 

Gently she cradled Jackson’s head and shifted so she could stand. There was only enough room for the baby in the space between Arya and Gendry, making the hand-off a seamless one. With tentative hands, Arya helped Gendry take Jackson’s weight on. When he did, the baby looked much smaller in his arms, his legs barely reaching Gendry’s belt even as he rocked the child, holding him to his chest.

 

“You’re a natural,” Marco praised before disappearing with another pile of plates. 

 

Arya squeezed Gendry’s shoulder and slid behind him to walk toward the stove. “Why don’t you take him outside? I’ll grab some food and meet you out there.”

 

“Alone?”

 

Arya grinned. “Yes, alone. He’s not going to break. Look,” she pointed out, “he likes you.” Arya removed the cloth from her own shoulder and placed it to Gendry’s. She then tapped at his back and sent him off, his steps firm but his body wholly unsure as he made his way out onto the back porch. He disappeared, presumably to bring Jackson closer to the edge of the hill to show him the ocean. Arya exhaled in their absence. 

 

“Can I please help?” she asked now that she was alone.

 

“You did help. You held Jackson so I could eat,” Talisa reminded. “Please make yourself a plate and go hang out with that boyfriend of yours. He can cook and looks great holding a baby? He’s a keeper.”

 

Arya couldn’t help but smile. Lying was almost a comfort now; more familiar than the discomfort of the truth. “He is.” 

 

She made herself a plate, filling it with the very things Gendry had promised: burnt toast with butter and jam and several slices of still-hot bacon. Talisa and her parents made quick work of cleaning up the table and countertops until finally the kitchen resembled one in the magazines: all-white everything cloaked in just the right amount of summer calm. 

 

Arya walked back to the table just as Talisa was setting freshly picked flowers down. She grabbed for her coffee mug and attempted to balance it against her plate as she headed for the porch. Talisa stopped her with a hand to her shoulder.

 

“Can you do me a huge favor?”

 

Arya brightened again. “Of course.”

 

“Can you just watch Jackson while I shower?”

 

A laugh escaped Arya’s plump lips. “Of course. Lis...I’m here to help.”

 

“No, you’re here to see your nephew. That shouldn’t mean babysitting.”

 

“You’re right,” Arya confirmed with a reassuring hand to Talisa’s arm. “I’m here to see my nephew,” she inflected. “It’s not babysitting. I’m spending time with him. This is the happiest I’ve been since…” Arya didn’t want to cry so she rolled her lips inward instead, as if seeking out a memory she wasn’t sure even existed. “Take your time, alright? Gendry and I can take him for as long as you need.”

 

“I—”

 

“Maybe you can take a nap too? You look…”

 

It was Talisa’s turn to laugh and when she did, the eyes that had glossed over in thought, pushed out a single tear. “I know. I really don’t sleep much.”

 

“Is he fussy? He seems—”

 

“Things have been hard without Robb. Still.” All of her was rigid now as she squared her shoulders and swallowed to rid her throat of what sometimes felt like a perpetual lump of sadness. “I went to see one of my colleagues. She gave me some medicine to help me sleep but I don’t like taking it. I don’t know how long I’ll be sleeping and I’m all Jackson has—”

 

“You’re not, Lisa,” Arya urged. “ You’re not .” 

 

“Well, I—”

 

“Take a bath, alright? And if you want a nap, take a nap. Or if you have errands to run or just want to sit around doing nothing…” Arya breathed out, wondering ultimately if she was hurting or helping things. She hoped it was the latter. “I’d be honored to take care of Jackson for as long as you need.”

 

All Talisa could manage was a smile and as she turned away from Arya, Arya watched her wipe at her cheek, clearly angry at another tear for falling. Arya waited for a moment, considering going back to her but she walked away instead, focusing only on the food in her hands and the breeze amongst the trees out in the backyard. By the time she made it out onto the porch, Talisa was gone and it seemed the entire kitchen was empty, save for the flowers she had left on the table.

 

Arya sipped at her coffee and looked around. She was at the top of a set of steps separating the house’s wraparound porch from the sandy grass below. Just beyond it, another much taller staircase that hugged the rocky cliff line and lead down to the beach. A storm could devastate this place and yet it hadn’t. Arya felt just as untouchable in Volantis and she now understood why Talisa chose to raise Jackson here. 

 

“Arya!” Gendry called out, his usually gruff accent softening when his mouth was so close to Jackson’s ears. The baby looked up too, greeting his aunt with a wide smile as she nearly passed the pair sitting on a cushioned swing in the corner of the porch.

 

Arya walked to them and sunk down upon the swing, thankful the way Gendry’s long legs extended out from the seat had it barely moving. Jackson held a silicone ball in his mouth and when he squirmed upon Gendry’s chest, Arya recognized it.

 

“I like your necklace,” she quipped. She pulled her legs up underneath her and reached forward to grab for her mug and plate. She wore a satisfied smile, one that nearly shined as she set her coffee cup back down on the table. 

 

Gendry looked to the makeshift jewelry around his neck. “Thanks,” Gendry said, not an ounce of shame or mirth in his voice. “Nadia said he likes it so I figured why not?” It was a thick black string, long enough to hold several oversized beads made of wood and rubber. It clashed terribly with the simple grey t-shirt Gendry wore, but it was an endearing sight just the same.  

 

“A teething baby is not always a fun baby so smart move.” 

 

“He seems like a very happy baby.”

 

“He is,” Arya delivered with a sigh. 

 

There was a pause. “You okay?”

 

Arya looked up, a piece of bacon now sinking back down to the plate she held just beneath her chin. She chewed, then swallowed, before setting the plate down. “I...yeah.” She laughed then, a lovely sound that for once Gendry didn’t get caught up in. “Are you okay?”

 

“I’m...of course.” He chuckled too. This wasn’t them; this hadn’t even been them when they first met. “What do you mean?”

 

“I’m...I didn’t really get a chance to apologize. About the whole boyfriend thing. I shouldn’t have sprung that on you. That wasn’t fair.”

 

“Is this the part where I apologize for being a shit boyfriend?”

 

Arya smirked. “You’ve been a pretty great boyfriend so far. Peak boyfriend status, I’d say. Putting up with me being difficult. Dealing with my family. Holding a baby. Cooking ?” 

 

“This home is beautiful. I told you I’d tag along I didn’t think...this is practically a vacation. Usually I’m looking for reasons to leave King’s Landing but this is...”

 

“Is that why you agreed to come?”

 

Gendry looked away, then back again. “No,” he delivered softly. “Not at all. You needed help and I wanted to.”

 

Arya nodded. She had returned to her plate, now tearing off pieces of bacon and chewing them slowly. “Hey, where did you...they had bacon?”

 

“Uh, no. I got some when I went out for a run this morning.”

 

Arya’s shoulders slumped. “Gendry…”

 

“Arya, I’m here to make this easier for you. If I can...whatever you need, okay?”

 

Her brow furrowed. His kindness was foreign. Or rather, she wasn’t used to letting anyone get this close to prove their worth. Gendry happened without her permission. He was the first thing since her parent’s passing that she had no control over, and for once she didn’t mind. 

 

“What do you need?” she finally asked. “Now I feel like I have favors to return.”

 

“Finish eating so you can take him?” Gendry asked.

 

“Now why would I do that? Look at him. He’s in heaven.”

 

Jackson was content. His head was placed to Gendry’s chest, his chubby cheek squishing his face as he chewed lazily at a wooden ball. Arya saw a pool of spit beneath his mouth but Gendry didn’t seem to mind. He didn’t even seem to notice. 

 

“He actually looks like he’s going to fall asleep,” Arya diagnosed.

 

Gendry’s eyes narrowed and he looked down. “Fuck.”

 

“Language!”

 

“Sorry!” he whispered, still clearly bothered by the child’s choice of a bed. “What do I do?”

 

Arya giggled from behind the hand that covered her mouth. “You hold him and let him sleep.”

 

“Arya!”

 

Her laughter continued. “Let him fall asleep. When he’s out we can bring him up to his room.” She quieted down and the moment stilled to seriousness. “I thought you wanted kids?”

 

“I...I do. Just not right now. And I clearly need a bit of practice first.”

 

“I think you’re doing great. And, you’ve really made an impression on Talisa and her parents so...thank you. I mean that.”

 

Gendry, who had previously frozen up at the implication that he’d have to hold Jackson while he slept, finally put his hand to the child’s back, the width of it covering the baby’s torso. “When do you plan to talk to them?”

 

“Talk to them?”

 

“About everything that happened. That’s what your here for right? I mean, aside from seeing Jackson.” 

 

“Oh...yeah. Well...I’m not involving Talisa’s parents. They don’t know King’s Landing and I don’t think it’s fair to subject them to any of that. They always hated it there and Robb’s death...it confirmed what they thought about the city and its...values.”

 

“I’m from King’s Landing,” Gendry offered. 

 

“They mean the government.”

 

Gendry nodded. 

 

“Anyway, I was thinking tomorrow? If it feels right. I just need Talisa to know I’m on her side.”

 

Gendry’s brow furrowed. “You need her to know you’re not doing this for yourself.”

 

“I’m not!”

 

“It’s okay if you are, Arya. It’s okay if you have a stake in all of this too. I mean, you do. Of course you do. But you can want to find out for them and for you. I don’t know why everyone’s acting like it’s not okay that you’re angry. Honestly? I’d be concerned if you weren’t.”

 

“By everyone, do you mean Jon?”

 

“Well, sure. But you have to consider what Talisa’s going to say. She’s going to tell you not to poke around.”

 

“Like you did?”

 

“Like anyone who has experienced King’s Landing’s political scene would.”

 

“I didn’t know being in the military meant you were part of the so-called political scene.”

 

Gendry waited, refusing to blink and only giving in when he finally looked away, his gaze tossed out to sea. “I’m just saying…” He looked back now. “People show how they care in weird ways.” 

 

~!~

 

The day passed slowly but with the ocean to keep them company, neither Arya or Gendry seemed to mind. After Jackson’s nap they made him lunch and after lunch they took him for a stroller-ride on the beach. His second nap of the day happened after an invigorating two hours of floor play. Arya was pleasantly surprised to find Gendry on the floor beside her, actively engaging Jackson with his many toys, especially considering she had to explain to him what floorplay even entailed. This was after she assured him she had not in fact said a similar word, one that surely wouldn't involve Jackson. Arya blushed at the implication but Gendry just laughed. 

 

Jackson was an unbelievably happy baby, only fussing when he needed to be changed or when he dropped his teething ring. He had Arya in high spirits but Gendry certainly helped. Taking care of Jackson was much easier with someone to assist, a thought that Arya dismissed just as quickly as she happened upon it; Talisa likely did most of this on her own. Arya was happy she could at least afford her sister-in-law a day of downtime. 

 

It broke Arya’s heart to think of Talisa remarrying. She remembered how smitten Robb was with her when they first began to date and then she remembered being jealous of the love they shared leading up to the wedding and then thereafter. But Arya knew it was what Robb would want because it was what he always wanted: for Talisa to love and be loved in return. If it made her life easier, to have a partner by her side, Arya thought it selfish not to want that for her too. 

 

These same thoughts, mixed with a lifetime of memories she regretfully never held onto until after the people in them were no more, pushed Arya out to the beach long after the sunset. The waves upon the shore were more angry, the foam of each disappearing into the sand only to be resurrected again just moments later. The force of them drowned out the more unpleasant thoughts, those of vengeance and hate. Even in a place so beautiful, Arya couldn’t help but to hold resentment in her heart. Things could be great, wonderful even, but there was always the truth that they could be better too, if only her family were still alive. 

 

“Hey…”

 

Arya looked up at the sound. She didn’t need to; she knew it was Gendry. Talisa and her parents knew better than to bother her; Gendry did too, he just didn’t care. He seemed to push in perfect intervals, likely because it was a craving he bore too: to have someone know the right amount of persistence required to get you to open up without eventually pushing you away.

 

“Hi,” she smiled.

 

“I brought you this,” he offered, extending a throw blanket Arya recognized from the foot of their bed. “I didn’t want to go through your stuff or anything and you looked cold…”

 

Arya’s grin grew as she silently took the item and unfolded it, immediately wrapping it around herself before staring back out to the ocean. The wind’s relentless gusts had the tassels blowing in the wind, taking much of Arya’s wavy hair with it. She looked like a superhero in a cape and Gendry would have commented on it if he knew she wasn’t enjoying the silence so much. She was certainly brave enough to inspire. He couldn’t tell her that either but Gendry had been in awe of her since they arrived.

 

Finally, he spoke. “I can go…”

 

“No!” Arya’s voice came out more quickly than she imagined. “I mean, you don’t have to...if you don’t want to.”

 

“You sure?”

 

“Yeah. Stay. Please,” she said, looking down to the sand beside her. “If you wanted.” 

 

His movements were still hesitant but Gendry eventually made it into the space next to Arya, their shoulders touching and Gendry’s fingertips nearly brushing Arya’s waist as he leaned back. 

 

“Want some?” Arya teased, her fists clutching the edge of the blanket giving serious consideration to sharing. 

 

Gendry breathed out a laugh. “No. I don’t think we’d fit.”

 

“We’d fit,” Arya assured. “I don’t mind.”

 

“I’m fine...but thank you.”

 

She shared with him a tight-lipped smile before glancing up to the hidden horizon. “I’ve just been thinking....Jackson has a mom who loves him and he has his grandparents and this gorgeous house and the ocean. But he doesn’t have his dad, you know? And Robb was the best dad. He was so happy when he found out Talisa was pregnant. And Jackson will never know him.”

 

“I’m...I’m sorry.”

 

“Don’t be. It’s life I guess.” She shrugged. “It’s unfair.”

 

Gendry sat forward. “I...I grew up without my dad and I was fine. I mean, am fine. Sometimes it’s better than you don’t know them at all.” 

 

“Yeah, well not having either of my parents—” 

 

“I don’t either.” 

 

Arya nodded, almost in apology. Her voice came slowly, and existed at the same pace. “Right...it’s weird to think I’m an orphan.” 

 

“I don’t look at it that way.” 

 

“Do you look at yourself as a bastard?” 

 

“Yeah.” 

 

“I don’t look at it that way.” 

 

Arya glared at the ocean as if challenging the sea but found it unchanging — unyielding and unapologetic. Finally, she stood, wiping off her jean shorts and the back of her legs but still clutching tightly to the warmth Gendry had given her. Standing before him, her body seemed to miss him, even as he stared up at her. 

 

“You’re right. It’s freezing. You coming?”

 

Arya didn’t wait for an answer. She began walking back toward the house, her blanket blowing in the wind behind her.

 

“Arya?” 

 

She turned to find Gendry standing. At once he was before her, his movements hesitant and his mouth hung open, unable to speak.

 

The sight had Arya amused, and she let out a small laugh to fill the silence. “What is it?” 

 

“I...I lied to you.”

 

Her smile quickly dwindled to nothing. “What?”

 

“I lied to you. I...fuck…”

 

“Gendry?” Somehow her fear had her taking a step toward him, bringing them closer. 

 

“I can help you. I want to help you.”

 

“Help me with what?”

 

“With finding who killed your parents.” 

 

Arya’s forehead creased. “You are helping. You’re here. You don’t think I’m crazy...or if you do, you keep it to yourself. That helps.” She waited for just a moment more and when Gendry refused to speak, she shook her head and turned back for the house. 

 

Before she could, Gendry called back, his voice like the ocean: unyielding and unapologetic. “I can help you take down the President.” 

 

Arya laughed. She had her arms thrown out to her sides as if challenging the wind. “Oh yeah? How?” 

 

“He’s my…I’m his son.”

Chapter Text

“Arya! Arya, wait!” Gendry paced after her, watching as the cliffs hid the moon and cast her silhouette in shadow. With the blanket still wrapped tightly around her, Arya pounded up the wooden steps, barefoot and furious. Her hair whipped behind her and she didn’t give a single glance back to Gendry before committing to her own disappearance. 

 

At the bottom of the steps, Gendry let out a heavy exhale before starting his own climb. He stuffed his hands into the pockets of the zip-up he wore and kept his head down, essentially resigned to the treatment Arya was giving him. He didn’t expect anything less but each step had him wondering if perhaps he should have said something sooner. 

 

He lifted his left foot, then his right. Would they even be here now if he had told her the truth when they first met?

 

Weight followed weight, step by step. Had he ruined this anyway? Would it have been better to just tell her early on and have her cast him out in the beginning, before he’d grown so accustomed to her smile or the sound of her laugh?

 

Gendry was almost to the top. He passed the twentieth step before trudging up to the twenty-first and twenty-second. Before another thought could consume him, an unknown force had Gendry nearly stumbling to the ground.

 

“Fuck, Arya!”

 

Her blanket still balled in her little fists, Arya pushed at Gendry’s shoulders again and this time he remained strong, barely moving as he bent his knees and raised his hands to deflect her pummeling.

 

“Arya!”

 

“You...lied!” she made out between blows. She was breathless and unhinged. 

 

And Gendry was laughing.

 

“What...is...wrong...with...you?” Arya managed, each word emphasized by a push to Gendry’s shoulder and chest. She was a force, a whirlwind of anger and untapped physical energy, flailing and upset and lacking grace. 

 

“Arya, stop! Stop!” Gendry bellowed. Previously cowering to avoid her blows, he stood up tall now and towered over her. It was an easier angle at which to grab her wrists and pause her movements. The rest of her, her hips and even her feet, continued to move in his direction, but her hands were still and as Gendry was finally able to look at her, he noticed that she looked like she was going to cry.

 

He sighed, exhausted and defeated not by his lies but by the pain they’d caused. “Arya…” His grip loosened and her arms fell away from him. 

 

She got one last shove to his shoulder in before turning back to the house. “Jerk!”

 

“Arya!”

 

She was gone, vanished into the too-big house with its too-bright lights. Gendry followed, feeling now how alone one could be when standing along the shore beneath the moon. He could have walked out to sea and never have been seen again. Somehow, it was an inviting thought when he considered what awaited him inside. Arya Stark was far more terrifying than any angry wave on a black summer night.

 

Inside, Gendry noted that the house was silent and still. It was comprised of nothing but the warm lights he’d seen from the beach and he turned each off as he made his way through the kitchen and formal dining room, heading for the stairs. He took each step slowly, careful not to wake the house’s remaining occupants. Nadia and Marco had gone to bed after Arya helped Talisa give Jackson a bath, and now it looked as if Talisa had retired too. The entire second floor was just as noiseless as the first, making the slow journey to the end of the hall an agonizing one. 

 

Gendry existed without a plan or expectations. He slowly opened the door to the room he shared with Arya and heard the sounds she’d been keeping out: a tune that was slow and melodic coming out of her iPhone as she tapped furiously at the screen. Gendry didn’t want to stare but he saw how she’d tossed the throw blanket down to the floor before finding her current home sitting barefoot on the wooden deck, her periwinkle painted toes pointing toward the night sky as she reclined back against the porch’s railing. In the hand not holding her phone, she held what looked like a cigarette. The end burned a fluorescent tangerine as Arya breathed in on the brown paper. When she finally exhaled she did so upward, the smell of the meandering smoke confirming to Gendry that the cigarette she breathed on was not made of tobacco. 

 

It had him missing his own fags, or rather, the habit that used to keep his mouth so preoccupied. He picked it up the way many young servicemen do: an uneven mixture or boredom and camaraderie. Ironically enough it became his biggest comfort when he first took his leave and began traveling alone, where neither facet of his addiction existed to spur him on. He hadn’t had a single cigarette since returning to  King’s Landing but he wanted one now and he could practically taste the crisp paper and feel the exhilaration of nicotine in his lungs as he watched Arya breathe in on her joint. 

 

“I’m going to…”

 

Arya’s icy stare was instantaneous and her complexion was pale and stoic with wide eyes that had grown so cold they balanced out a redness Gendry attributed to tears. It was silly to think Arya had been crying and that he was the cause. His walk inside was slow but they’d only been separated several minutes. Even Arya couldn’t have recovered that quickly. Or, Gendry was finding as she continued to stare him down, waiting for words her glare simultaneously warned against: only Arya Stark could recover so quickly. 

 

Before he could mutter an apology, Gendry turned away from the patio and unzipped his sweatshirt. He hung it in the closet, stopping on his way to pick up the blanket Arya had discarded. He folded the throw and placed it back atop the chest beneath the window and Arya just watched the sky and the sea and how they faded into one another with only the stars to tell them apart. While her eyes stared out to the missing horizon, her mind seemingly lost to nothingness as she took another drag on her joint, Gendry continued to move around her — unaffected. She had been watching his reflection in the glass of the open French door, just fragments of him catching the light. Arya only took notice when he was bare-chested, his t-shirt thrown into the hamper to contrast her own clothes that existed in crumpled up piles elsewhere. Without the cotton constraint Gendry’s skin moved tight upon his muscles. His arms and back were nothing more than waves of tension Gendry did his best to wade through as he neared the bathroom door. 

 

Arya looked away before Gendry could see her watching him. He sighed, fighting off another explanation before padding to the bathroom. The click of the door’s lock falling into place gave Arya permission to stand. She inhaled at the last of her fag and then stubbed off the ash in the dirt of a nearby flowerpot. Without pants her legs had been marked by her chosen position: lines from the deck decorating her thighs all the way up to the swell of her backside. She had been purposefully ignoring Gendry, not yet capable of forming a coherent thought to challenge him and oddly not believing he was truly deserving of all the horrible things inside her head. They were misplaced as were her current emotions, those which clouded her judgement too, making anything other than breathing and walking seem extreme.

 

Arya shut the patio door and made her way toward the bed. She sank into the edge of the mattress and peeled off her tank top. The bralette she wore beneath was a poor substitute for a shirt but she suddenly felt warm and as she slid beneath the covers she was happy with her decision, the cool cotton hugging her skin in welcome. 

 

She reached up to turn off the light on her nightstand before proceeding to nestle back beneath the covers. The warmth was gone and only comfort existed now — comfort and the painful knot in her throat that she had to stifle and that she felt tighten the longer Gendry stood before her, also trying not to speak. 

 

It could have been minutes or an hour later but Gendry finally emerged from the bathroom, a towel wrapped around his waist and kept in place by a fist to his hip. Arya had her back to him and she heard the towel fall. She closed her eyes at the sound as if the proximity of him, now mixed with his indiscernible smell, was too much. She didn’t want him gone, she only wanted to want him gone. But she didn’t think of asking him to leave. Actually, she wanted the opposite and Arya only exhaled when the overhead light turned off and she heard Gendry move for the bed. 

 

“Do you want me to sleep in the study?”

 

She didn’t bother glancing over her shoulder at him. “Why are you asking me?”

 

“Because you’re...upset.”

 

“M’not upset.”

 

Gendry nearly scoffed. He turned down the duvet and sat down on the edge of the bed. Arya felt it decompress behind her but she continued to stare at the mirror on the wall — blinking. 

 

“Did you sleep in here last night?” She inquired softly. 

 

“Yeah. Of course. Why?”

 

“I didn’t...just didn’t realize, I guess.”

 

“Where would I have gone?”

 

The study , Arya thought but somehow did not say aloud. He was uncomfortable sleeping beside her. She had told him to go. She had wanted him to go if he wanted to go. Did he want to go? If he wanted to go now he would have. He didn’t need her permission. But he asked as if she were in control , Arya deduced. In control was the last thing she was currently feeling. 

 

Arya felt Gendry lay down. She noticed the way the mattress rose up to engulf the lines of him and how he remained stiff atop it, just looking up to the ceiling until finally he turned on his side too. Together their bodies extended away from one another like repelling magnets that had been shifted from their attracted poles in a sort of cruel joke. 

 

“I can hear you thinking,” Gendry finally said, cutting through the silence. 

 

Arya could practically hear him smiling and through her own whirlwind of emotions, her chaotic mind, she almost smiled too. Finally, she turned over, ready to stare at his back as if she was the one that owed an apology. But when she rolled upon the sheets she saw only him, his eyes crystal blue, reflecting like the moon over the ocean. 

 

Shit . But she didn’t say it aloud. Arya was paralyzed, her breath stuck in her throat until finally she could swallow her anxiety down. “Does Jon know?”

 

Gendry’s brow furrowed. He swallowed too, then shook his head upon his pillow. “No.” If he leaned in only an inch his nose would have brushed hers. 

 

“I’m not mad—“

 

“You said that.”

 

Arya released a nervous smile. “I’m angry at you for lying. I don’t know why you didn’t just tell me. But I’m not angry that he’s your father.”

 

“He’s not my father,” Gendry said strongly. “I’m his son. There’s a difference.”

 

Arya pursed her lips and gave a firm nod. “Of course.”

 

“What was I supposed to say? I didn’t know about you and your plans when Jon offered me a place to stay. He didn’t even tell me you’d be there until after I already agreed. It’s not like…”

 

“I know.”

 

“Can I say it anyway? Just so you can hear it from me?” Her silence was permission. “I hate him. I don’t know him. I’ve never met him. But I hate him.”

 

“Right.” Arya rolled her lips inward. “How did...I mean, it’s none of my business but he and your mom, I just—”

 

“How did they meet?” Gendry returned, his words punctuated by the grin he wore. “I don’t mind. I don’t talk about it but...I owe you an explanation.”

 

“You don’t owe me anything.”

 

“I owe you an explanation,” he insisted. “My mum was essentially a secretary underneath his Chief of Staff back when he was running for Mayor. He was twenty six at the time. She was eighteen. My mum always said he was charming. I think she was confusing that with manipulation but…” The thought was an unpleasant one so Gendry persisted, but on a slightly different trajectory. “My mum knew he was married. She never said she regretted it the affair but I know she would have if she didn’t have me.”

 

“I’m sure...mistakes happen.” Gendry smirked. “Not you! I’m not saying you were a mistake...fuck…”

 

He opened his mouth, a near laugh falling out. “I was an accident, sure. But it wasn’t...their affair lasted almost a year. My mum was the one who eventually broke it off. He was elected by then and already talking about someday running for president. He’s a narcissist. From what I can tell, I don’t think he really cared about losing her until he saw her out at this fundraiser. She brought a date and he was angry. And she was angry at him for being angry because the asshole had the fucking nerve to be jealous when she had to share him for how many months...I’m not saying it’s right. She knew it wasn’t. She was young—”

 

“She’s your mom,” Arya whispered. 

 

Gendry closed his eyes for just a moment too long. When he opened them, his gaze was hesitant, but grateful as if Arya’s words were encouragement to continue. “They got into an argument. Next thing my mum remembers she’s waking up in a random room at the hotel the event was at. She had no idea how she got there. She remembered nothing after the argument but...a month later she found out she was pregnant with me.”

 

“Gendry, she should have gone to the police. That’s—”

 

“I know what it is, Arya. I know what I come from. I hate him.”

 

“Of course you do.” Then, more quietly: “I do too.”

 

“She stopped at the desk that morning to check out and she asked for a receipt. It was his name on the receipt...or the name he always used when they went out. I mean, she didn’t doubt it was him but she needed to be sure.”

 

“Does he know about you?”

 

“Yeah,” Gendry scoffed. “She wouldn’t let him forget. She threatened to expose him. If she could prove it his career would be over.”

 

“She should have.”

 

“Why bother? Her career was over. She was a single mother. She couldn’t work for him anymore and who was going to hire someone pregnant?” He sighed. “He offered to give her money. To pay her off.”

 

“Fuck…”

 

“She took it.”

 

“Good.”

 

“So she started getting deposits each month. At least five grand. When she passed, they started coming to me. I never went to anyone demanding it. I was kind of surprised. I didn’t want his money but...I just feel like my mum would have wanted me to have it. Like I didn’t have a father and that was all she could give me...his dirty money.”

 

“Gendry, I’m—”

 

“Please don’t say you’re sorry.”

 

“I’m...not. Well...I am. Of course I am. And I’m sorry that I’m sorry. It’s not pity or anything I just...when you told me all I could think was that I felt bad for you. After I calmed down. And that was before I knew what he did…”

 

“He’ll get his. I told you I’d help you and I will.”

 

Arya let a small smile pull at her lips but she looked away as if embarrassed to share it with him. She only looked up when Gendry spoke again, this time his voice lacking all forced humor, so serious it felt insane to think even forced lightheartedness had ever been an option. 

 

“But you’ve never met him? Not even once?” 

 

“Not even once. He doesn’t know what I look like. He doesn’t even know about me and the military.”

 

“Shit...well that explains the money.”

 

“It’s dirty money but it is what it is.”

 

“I’d spend it on trips too. Why not? You deserve it.”

 

“It wasn’t a trip.”

 

“What?”

 

“I mean, it was. But I have a friend who’s with the FBI. After everything happened with your parents he suggested I go away for awhile.”

 

Arya squinted. “You’re kidding.”

 

“I’m not.”

 

She thought for a moment. “What did my parents have to do with you?”

 

“I...I don’t know, honestly. He thought what you thought, I guess...that this was all deeper than just a betrayal. That if the President would kill his best friend none of us were safe. I mean, personally, I think Cersei is the culprit. But...”

 

“She’s a cunt.”

 

Gendry let out a loud laugh. “That’s one way to put it.”

 

Arya just looked to him, fighting the urge she had to place her palm to his cheek in an offer of comfort. She hadn’t lied when she said she didn’t pity him and yet all of her ached, so much so she could barely fathom how she’d originally been so upset. 

 

“Can I ask something?” Gendry cut in, interrupting her thoughts. “And you can’t laugh. I just need an answer so if—”

 

“What is it?”

 

“What’s he like?”

 

“Your...the president?” Gendry said nothing. He didn’t even blink. “He’s...fine, I guess.”

 

“Fine? You guess?”

 

“What do you want to know?”

 

“Is he nice to you? Is he nice to anyone? What does everyone else who knows him think of him? How are he and his kids? Just...anything.”

 

“Yes, he’s always been nice to me. A bit rough around the edges but he means well. My dad and he were best friends, you know.”

 

“And your dad was a good man.”

 

“Yeah, he was.”

 

“I know.” Gendry grinned. “It wasn’t a question.”

 

Arya’s forehead creased. “You know my father?”

 

“I met him once. Jon and I were...fifteen maybe? Still at military school. He and your mum came for parent’s weekend. Your dad insisted I do everything with them.”

 

“He would.”

 

“You have his smile.”

 

There was no beat and Arya’s nose scrunched upward and she giggled, buying herself time to process what Gendry had just said. “What?”

 

Gendry just forced a smile and looked away. 

 

“You certainly didn’t miss anything by not having him around. He’s a mediocre dad to his own kids...at best. He’s not really present a lot, plus there's rumors that they’re not even his. I think he could have been a great leader once. But he stopped listening to everyone else. He did what he wanted.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“If you’re wondering...you two have nothing in common.”

 

Gendry laughed. “Thanks.”

 

“I mean it. You could lie to me a thousand more times and you’d still be twice the man he is.”

 

~!~

 

When Arya awoke she was surprised to see Gendry still beside her. She was even more surprised to find her arm tossed over his chest and his own pinned beneath her, curling up onto her hip. She didn’t remember falling asleep, an uncomfortably ironic thought considering all Gendry had told her about his mother. But it was the kind of amnesia she’d welcome if this is what it meant: a sunlight that painted their exposed skin, somehow promising them more time instead of forcing them to greet the day. 

 

Arya had never woken up in someone else’s arms because she’d never fallen asleep mid-embrace. Surely her and Gendry hadn’t fallen asleep attached. It was almost as if they found each other in the night, unconsciously - their touch safe and soft and inevitable. Feeling his chest rise and fall beneath her, Arya had difficulty thinking that they’d shared a bed the night before last and she doubted his presence beside her. It didn’t seem possible now for her to exist without him. 

 

Arya was terrified. 

 

Not wanting to wake Gendry, she rolled out of his grasp and let her feet slowly fall to the floor below. Her movement thereafter, grabbing a fresh change of clothes and disappearing into the bathroom to get ready for the day, did nothing to rouse him. In fact, when Arya emerged from the bathroom, Gendry had turned over onto his stomach, his arms stretched out to either side of him as if he had sensed she was missing and was now seeking her out in his sleep.

 

Arya grabbed her phone and snuck out into the hallway. Despite the air blowing up from the baseboards there was a certain warmth in the home as the sun greeted the morning with an intensity Arya hadn’t noticed the day before. The first floor in particular was painted in sunlight, beckoning her toward the kitchen with the assistance of a freshly brewed pot of coffee. 

 

Talisa was sitting at the island, sipping at her tea while she flipped through a magazine. She was clearly lost in her own thoughts, or possibly not thinking at all, because when she saw Arya she nearly jumped up, ready to excuse her very-appropriate behavior.

 

“Don’t move on my account,” Arya dismissed as she walked by her sister-in-law. She was direct in her intention, her arm reaching out for the coffee pot as if she were in a trance. 

 

“I didn’t hear you come in, is all,” Talisa managed. She turned toward Arya, her magazine easily forgotten. 

 

“Where’s Jackson?” Arya sipped at the mug she now clutched between both her hands, able to disregard its temperature in exchange for the caffeine it provided. Volantis coffee was notoriously bold and last night’s conversations had Arya exhausted in too many ways. 

 

“Asleep still.”

 

Arya smiled. “He’s a good baby.”

 

“He really is. I’m lucky.”

 

“He’s a happy baby too.” 

 

“As happy as he can be,” Talisa managed, her voice nearly cracking. It wasn’t intentional but she couldn’t help but to be honest. The sorrow just slipped out sometimes. 

 

“Talisa, I’m—”

 

“So what about you and Gendry? Two years? Robb never mentioned—”

 

Arya’s eyes widened. The smile she had worn in an effort to comfort Talisa faded to panic. “He’s friends with Jon so we kept it a secret until recently.”

 

“He seems like a really great guy, Arya.”

 

She nodded quickly. “He is.”

 

“I don’t...I hope this doesn’t upset you but I think Robb would have really liked him. He always wanted a good guy for you.” 

 

“Yeah...” Again she was hiding behind her mug, blowing on the coffee despite it now being the perfect temperature. 

 

“Do you think he’ll propose soon? I know you’re young but Robb and I were too. Your parents were—”

 

“Oh, I don’t...not anytime soon,” Arya said, breathing out a laugh. “We’re just enjoying things right now.” 

 

“Well you’re lucky to have him. He seems to really love you.” 

 

Another forced smile had Arya forfeiting her coffee completely. Instead she gripped the edge of the counter, unsure of how Talisa was believing a word she was saying. 

 

A response wasn’t necessary. The morning didn’t seem to give them time for one anyway. A wail could be heard from down the hall and as Talisa put down her tea to head toward her crying son, Gendry entered. After tossing a brief good morning his way, Talisa brushed past him and disappeared out of the kitchen. 

 

Gendry fell into the space beside Arya, grabbing for a mug from the cabinet so he too could make himself a cup of coffee. He looked over his shoulder and noted they were still alone. Arya hadn’t said anything, she just stared at the marble countertop, her own coffee untouched and turning cold. 

 

“You okay?” he asked softly with a bump to her hip. 

 

Arya swallowed and nodded. “Uh, yeah, just...that stuff we talked about last night—”

 

“Yeah,” Gendry sighed. “Heavy, I know. I just—”

 

“No, not that. Well...sure, that. Just Talisa...I wonder how long it all takes.”

 

“How long what takes?”

 

Their backs remained toward the archway of the kitchen. It would have been foolish for any company to think the pair was doing anything but sharing secrets. “Getting over it. When someone you love dies...they were so in love ,” Arya exhaled. 

 

“It’s different for everyone…”

 

“Well, of course.”

 

“I think it also depends on what kind of love it was.” Arya looked to him, her forehead creased. “I think we grow up knowing our parents won’t live forever. It’s normal to face a portion of your life without your parents. That’s just how it goes.”

 

“It shouldn’t have been,” Arya responded curtly.

 

Gendry managed a smile anyway. “Well it’s different for us. Premature death is...and with your parents—”

 

Arya’s head snapped in his direction. “The way my parents died doesn’t make it any more or less tragic than you losing your mum young.”

 

“No, I just—”

 

“It’s not,” she assured, her voice begging him to believe her.

 

“Alright,” Gendry replied, giving a nod for good measure. He sighed too. “What I was saying…”

 

Arya grinned. “Sorry,” she mumbled.

 

“But the goal is that when your parents are gone you have someone else. You’ve made a family of your own. So to not have that...I don’t know. I can’t imagine.”

 

“Well you…” Sensibility cut Arya off. Then, the way Gendry raised his brows in question spurred her on again. “Your mum didn’t have—”

 

“No, she didn’t. And I told you, I was fine...am fine,” Gendry self-corrected. “I think…”

 

Arya giggled, her laugh soon concealed as she reached out for her coffee again and began to sip at the cooled beverage. If she weren’t so impatient — so nervous and sad — she could have waited for it to truly turn cold. It’d have been closer to her preferred iced coffee but she needed the distraction and was thankful for it, regardless of its unsatisfactory temperature. 

 

Gendry looked to her, altogether impervious to the quiet sound of her laughter. His own coffee was momentarily forgotten, even more so when he felt Arya’s hand to his neck, her fingers brushing along his nape. Gendry was confused but he waited, trusting Arya and finding he didn’t mind her touch. In fact, his skin felt electric when covered by hers, almost as good as it felt the previous night when he awoke from his slumber to find her head on his chest. 

 

Without warning Arya brought Gendry down to her. He leaned forward willingly, even putting a hand to her hip to steady himself. The height difference was hard to ignore but he still didn’t question it. Then, suddenly, he couldn’t. Arya had placed a gentle kiss to his cheek. With lips close to his ear her mouth was still upon his skin, her eyes shut and remaining so even as she pulled away and moved her lips toward his ear. His hand shifted upon her back, dragging her t-shirt with it. 

 

“Thank you for being here,” she whispered. 

 

Gendry’s own eyes fluttered open at the timbre of her voice and the way her breath landed upon his cheek, just inches from where her fingertips now dragged past his pulsepoint before departing completely. He was lost in the feel of her beneath his own hand, though that was soon gone too. Then it was just the pair staring at one another, deciphering a moment that felt so natural despite neither being prepared for it. It seemed they found each other without the moon and without soft cotton sheets to hide beneath. 

 

Talisa re-entered, carrying Jackson on her hip. She beamed as she too calculated the moment she had clearly interrupted. She witnessed the intimate way they held onto one another and the way Arya’s mouth was without regret upon Gendry’s skin. She believed every breath of it and Arya did too. 

 

Gendry was terrified. 

Chapter Text

“Try this?” Arya extended a rubber spatula toward Gendry, the sight and smell of chocolate buttercream disrupting his vision of the stovetop he was working at, trying to cook dinner. 

 

Gendry turned down the burner and stepped away from the stove. He wiped his hands on the towel that was slung over his shoulder and reached out for the spatula. Taking it in his hand he licked at the end, his tongue instantly tasting the rich frosting Arya had made. 

 

“This is good. Really good, actually.” He leaned in to take another lick but Arya was already before him, snatching the utensil back into her possession. 

 

“You’re just trying it!” she reminded. 

 

Gendry breathed out a laugh. “You can’t use that spatula after I’ve licked it, Arya. Just grab another one.”

 

“I will! But you’ve done your duty. The rest of this is mine,” she said, all before devouring a dollop of buttercream from the same spatula his mouth had just been acquainted with. 

 

Gendry’s mouth watered at the sight, especially as more and more of the spatula’s neon-colored head came into view. Eventually it was licked completely clean and Arya was left glaring back at him, completely unaware. She existed like that sometimes; Arya Stark was nothing but recklessness and good intentions. Gendry believed the plans she made, he didn’t doubt her tenacity or the hatred she swore she harbored in her heart. All of it was easier to acknowledge when he saw this other side of her, giggling and carefree — the girl he imagined she once was before the world took so much away from her.

 

Arya had turned back to her bowl and was now scooping some of her buttercream mixture atop her cake. Airy mousse separated each spongy layer of chocolate cake, all of it soon to be concealed by the buttercream Gendry had approved of. It was delicious and he craved it now as he returned to tending to his own meal, the paella made from the ingredients Arya and he had collected at the farmer’s market that morning. 

 

“After everything,” Arya cut in, now using an icing spatula to carefully drag buttercream around every surface and curve of her cake, “Sansa and I stayed holed up in Jon’s flat. The funeral was done up north but they were still holding memorial services in the capital. We attended, probably to appease everyone else, but we couldn’t do anything other than that. The photographers and the reporters were awful. Jon had trouble getting to base—”

 

“I remember that,” Gendry commented, his voice softer than usual.

 

Arya smiled at the memories, no matter how unpleasant. Meanwhile, her wrists continued to roll, delicately covering every inch of exposed cake until finally her layer of buttercream seemed even. “Sandor ended up bringing us groceries and things. We really couldn’t leave. We both got fat because we didn’t want to eat and when we did eat, it was usually something very, very unhealthy.”

 

“Chubby Arya?” Gendry tossed over his shoulder. “I’m sure you were adorable.”

 

Arya looked over her shoulder too, her mouth spreading into a sly grin. “That was only a year ago. Watch it,” she warned, her smile unwavering. If anything, it grew. “Eventually we’d watched everything on Netflix, read all the books we could...we were bored. So we started baking. Sansa, of course, was much better at it. But it became something to do. It helped too. Sugar really does fix a broken heart.”

 

Gendry smirked. “Or it distracts…”

 

“Or that,” Arya smiled in agreement. “We couldn’t eat it all so Sansa started calling around to see if shelters would accept any of it. There were a few that actually did. Then some arsehole reporter found out about it and wrote a story. We couldn’t keep it up after that. They thought it was a publicity stunt.”

 

“Publicity? What did you need publicity for?” Gendry balked. 

 

“I don’t know. We wanted them to leave us alone...we just had too much food. I...I think that’s when I really started hating King’s Landing. They think kindness is a weakness.”

 

Gendry went to respond but Arya was suddenly beside him, her cheek nearly pressed to his arm as he stirred at the last of his ingredients. “That looks so good…” She was beaming when she looked up to him; Gendry couldn’t help but smile back. “Here,” she continued again, this time extending the metal instrument she’d used to spread her frosting. The finished product was on the counter behind her, decorated with the help of the memory she shared. Judging by how unaffected she seemed, Gendry knew now that there was weight to his observation and he was thankful for it. Sugar certainly distracted. 

 

He turned off the stove and pushed the saute pan off the burner, replacing it with the nearby kettle. Just as the wooden handle was in his palm, he saw Arya move quickly before him and felt the tell-tale stickiness of thick buttercream frosting now smeared across his cheek.

 

“Arya!”

 

She dropped her head back to laugh. In further punishment she licked at her finger, the digit completely clean when it passed her lips again.

 

Gendry reached up to touch at the frosting but somehow made the mess worse. Once again Arya was before him, attempting to help.

 

“Stay still!”

 

“Really?” Gendry chuckled. With frosting still on his fingers he reached forward and pushed Arya away with the force of his elbow. His other arm was there to catch her and all of her body leant back, the two performing a dance as she flailed away from him, feigning helplessness. Their laughter filled the kitchen, surely echoing out onto the porch where Talisa and her parents sat drinking a bottle of freshly made wine. 

 

Arya’s small frame was no match for Gendry’s broad shoulders, or the way his height had him towering over her, keeping her flush against him while she attempted to push at his shoulders and release herself. She was successful, finding reprieve only after Gendry had re-gifted her offering, spreading some of it back on her nose. Incensed, her eyes widened but unlike Gendry, Arya made quick work of the confection, wiping the tip of her nose clean and making no apology for the way she quickly made the sugar disappear.  

 

This is how Talisa found them, breathless and in a stand-off as they waited for the other to move. She waited too, keeping her wine-glass close to her while she cocked her head, diagnosing the moment she’d clearly interrupted. “Dinner ready?”

 

Gendry’s chest heaved. He didn’t bother looking away from Arya, he just nodded. “Yeah. All set.” 

 

~!~

 

Dinner was a success. Conversation flowed just as easily as the wine did, nearly eight homemade bottles being consumed by the time they cut into Arya’s cake. Gendry was relieved to find Talisa’s family shared in his politics, those that involved having compassion for others. It was a comforting thought considering the way he’d grown up and how it felt worlds away from this life in Volantis. He hadn’t ever experienced such a carefree way of living but he imagined wealth and local power played a significant role. For only a moment he wondered if this was the life his mother and he could have had if she hadn’t threatened Robert Baratheon. He didn’t want it; Gendry believed that. But it was easier to swallow with Arya by her side, the alcohol in her system causing her to sometimes place her hand to his thigh each time a loud laugh had her seeking balance. 

 

Marco and Nadia insisted on cleaning the kitchen but found that little beyond clearing the table and filling the dishwasher was required. It was at least an excuse to take a break from the wine and move to coffee, though the lack of work meant that the reprieve was short-lived. They soon excused themselves. By then the alcohol in Arya’s bloodstream had her breathing slowed down and all she could manage was a small smile as she and Gendry and Talisa bid them goodnight. 

 

Arya rested her chin in her hand, staring off at the ocean while Talisa and Gendry attempted to uncover mutual friends. Their own glasses of wine had their speech hurried and their laughter much louder than it had been before they sat down to eat. The noise of them did nothing to wake Jackson who was sleeping soundly on his back in the playpen beside the table. His little fists were raised above his head and his face was peaceful, eyelashes light and cheeks full and pink. 

 

Arya saw only Robb when she looked at her nephew now. She was overwhelmed by how a comforting thought could bring her such pain. Things weren’t as they were supposed to be, at least not how she imagined they’d be when she was still a little girl growing up in Winterfell: naive, mostly. To hear Talisa speak of a wedding made Arya consider what seemed impossible. Similarly, Nadia and Marco had inquired about Arya’s plans now that she was out of school. It was the second time they’d brought the topic up; it was the second time Arya didn’t have an answer to give. The truth was that she didn’t let her mind wander too far past the week she was living. She couldn’t see a future. Her vision was too clouded by all she felt she needed to accomplish in the present. And some days, the dark days, she didn’t care to plan for what would come after . Perhaps she’d get lost in it all and she wouldn’t need to find out. Then she wouldn’t need to discover what life, her own life with the family she created, was like without her mother and father. She’d be back with them then. They’d be happy. 

 

This week she had almost remembered what it felt like. Sugar distracted but Gendry helped too.

 

Arya was pulled from her reverie when Gendry moved to stand. She hadn’t realized her hand had been resting on his knee and the way he stood and forced it to fall away told her that maybe he didn’t want it there. She sipped at her wine again, punishing herself with the thing she assumed caused her carelessness. 

 

Gendry rounded the table, giving Jackson a glance and a smile before disappearing inside with the empty bottle of wine. The moment was still, with Talisa finishing the remainder of her glass. The redness remained even after she placed the stem back on the table.

 

“I need a favor, Lisa,” Arya stated boldly just as Gendry sat back down. He refilled their glasses but sat back. The tension of the unknown between the two women was palpable and had both drinking their wine. 

 

“What is it?”

 

“Did Robb...do you have any of his old things?”

 

Unexpectedly, Talisa laughed. “Of course I do.”

 

“If they’re in a box could I maybe—“

 

“A box?” Talisa released a noise that was altogether uncharacteristic. It was silly dismissal, clearly encouraged by the alcohol in her veins. “I have a room.”

 

Arya blinked. “What?”

 

“Well it’s a closet, I guess,” she rambled, rolling her eyes. “But...what do you need?”

 

“I’m looking for his iPad. His phone. Do you have all of that?”

 

Talisa sat forward. “His phone was wrecked with the car. I’ve tried to get it back now that the case is closed but the police have it still. I have his laptop.”

 

“Can I see it?”

 

She paused. Her eyes followed where Arya’s had been, set on a sleeping Jackson then back to the table that separated them. Before the could even speak she attempted one last glance to Gendry. He had sat back in his chair, his wine forgotten in front of him. It was clear to Talisa that he was not surprised by Arya’s words and the way he looked down to the folded hands told her that he also supported Arya’s inquiry. 

 

“What are you getting yourself into, Arya?”

 

“Nothing.”

 

“They’ll hurt you. You know they will.”

 

“I’m...he has some photos and I know he stored them in the cloud. I tried to access them but I don’t know the password. I tried everything but I’m hoping he had it auto-saved...or that you could help,” she added with a forced chuckle. “That’s it.”

 

Talisa’s eyes were dark. “Don’t get yourself into it. You won’t win. You know how powerful—“

 

“I just want the photos,” Arya bit. Her jaw was tense and her lips tight. Her teeth nearly gritted as she spoke, likely to keep the tears in her throat from creeping up. “Please...”

 

With a sigh, Talisa finally stood up. She padded softly toward Jackson’s playpen and breathed out as she reached down to retrieve him. With a tender hand to his neck she kept her still-sleeping son pressed to her chest. He still looked peaceful , Arya thought. He still looked just like Robb.

 

“The rooms locked,” Talisa explained. “I don’t...I’ll show you in the morning, alright?”

 

She disappeared into the house. All around Arya and Gendry the night was still again. The lost company stole the joy, a fact that was only cemented by the wine they drank and the way the moon continued to rise in the sky, waiting for no one. 

 

Arya shifted forward, clearly ready to bring the last of the wine inside. She was stopped with a soft palm to her back, Gendry’s calloused hand feeling oddly soft as it curled around the curve separating Arya’s neck from her shoulder. From its position, Arya could hear the click of his watch. Her breath hitched as she felt her body vibrate beneath his touch. Only five seconds of passing time shared between them but soon she was breathing again, finding her balance when Gendry leaned down to whisper in her ear.

 

“Head to bed. I’ll take care of all of this. I’ll be in soon.”

 

All too easily she complied. Arya didn’t remember Gendry pulling away or the way she stepped up into the house and trudged out of the kitchen toward the stairs. Her body ached and she felt lightheaded; she was so exhausted she didn’t think to argue with Gendry. She trusted him to clean up the way a girl should trust her boyfriend. But he wasn’t…

 

The thought dwindled and when Arya opened the door to their room the windows and the breeze they carried in from the black night urged her to bed. She felt dizzy as she fell down to the mattress but she persisted anyway, clumsily peeling off her shirt and shorts so she was left sitting by herself with only the wind to kiss her skin. Her mouth was dry; she was thirsty. She considered for a moment going to retrieve a glass of water but she remained, unsure of how she’d even move. Arya was thoroughly drunk and somewhat embarrassed that she’d let herself get this way. Gendry must have sensed it, she deduced. It was clearly why he’d sent her to bed, treating her like the child she often mimicked: directionless in life beyond avenging her parent’s death and now young and drunk and sleepy. 

 

She tried to stand but was stopped when she heard the door behind her open. Gendry only saw the arch of Arya’s back, each vertebrae dotting her spine, covering the expanse of exposed skin separating her underwear from her bra. He wasn’t fazed now. Pantless was how he’d come to recognize her and he would have laughed, possibly even made a joke, if he didn’t soon notice the way her body shook. As he approached he saw what he feared: Arya had her head dropped into her hands and she was sobbing, painting her pink cheeks in a sorrow she’d likely kept hidden since they first arrived. If Gendry’s own experiences were any indication, he suspected it had been simmering for far longer than that — a full year, maybe. 

 

“Arya?”

 

She looked up rather quickly and wiped at her nose with a similar speed. Her wavy hair was a mess around her face and Arya pushed back at her hairline as she attempted to stand. Her legs wobbled, the cause unknown. She was still lost in her own shame and now powerless against all of the alcohol she had consumed. It was like sadness, glaringly unmanageable only after you’d acquired too much of it. 

 

“I’m fine, I’ll…”

 

“Arya, talk to me please…”

 

“What do you want me to say, Gendry? My parents are dead ! Robb is dead ! Everyone is dead !” she wailed. 

 

In an attempt to push past him, Arya found herself met with resistance. She couldn’t help but to give in, the hands that she’d pressed to his chest in an effort to escape now gripping his t-shirt, the same cotton collecting the tears she cried as she dropped her head to his shoulder. 

 

“Shhh,” he soothed. He was hesitant to hold her but soon gave in, not caring that his hand was splayed across her naked back, his fingers brushed against those same bones that now held her upright. Even in his arms, Arya was strong, and he’d have told her if sobs of agony didn’t continue to wrack her body. He held her instead.

 

Finally, Arya pulled away but her body remained pressed into his. With red eyes she looked up, sniffling again and almost laughing as if to excuse her sadness. Gendry only softened, wondering if perhaps he didn’t provide her enough comfort. He’d not understood how to comfort others when they grieved, especially because he knew the process was different for everyone. Gendry only knew of what he’d gone through alone and the things he wished had been different. He gave Arya all he’d never received: patience, mostly, in the form of the pad of his thumbs wiping at the tears beneath her eyes. 

 

She blinked but her lungs seemed calm and Arya allowed Gendry to tend to her. At one point she squinted, unsure of how someone who was usually so tough could be this tender. Arya felt lightheaded and she craved sleep but she wanted this more. Without warning she leaned in, her mouth parted and her breath stuck for only a moment before her lips met his. 

 

This was a different kind of slow motion, a rhythm unlike the dance they’d performed around one another in the kitchen. Arya’s mouth was hesitant, a sharp inhale sparked when Gendry’s lips finally curled upon hers. She angled her mouth ever so slightly and his own grip upon her face shifted, his thumbs moving to her chin as he gripped her neck. Arya’s hands fell down to his sides, clutching at his shirt for a different kind of support. Meanwhile her body instinctively rolled upon his, bending in search of constant contact. Gendry’s hands ghosted down her back, one resting at the base of her spine where the lace of her underwear failed to conceal the dimples there. He’d have moved his mouth away from hers, if only to taste her neck, if Arya hadn’t abruptly pushed him away. 

 

Her tear-stained cheeks were high on her face and her gaze was wide. She looked sober but felt much of the opposite and she nearly stumbled back when his fingertips dragged away from her skin. “I’m...I’m sorry.”

 

Gendry just blinked, waiting. His forehead creased, his vision narrowed as he watched her sit back down on the mattress and cover her face. 

 

“I’m sorry. I...I’m drunk.”

 

When she looked up, Gendry was gone. All Arya could see was the bathroom door shutting, the telltale sound of the lock confirming the distance she’d created. Instantly she was crying again, softer now and possibly for a different reason. Just as she had the previous night she melted into the covers, bringing the duvet up past her ears for her to burrow beneath. As the fan spun overhead, she wondered if she failed to move if she’d vanish altogether. She wanted to; she also wanted to take the taste of him with her. 

 

Gendry eventually emerged. The humor he’d attempted the night before when they were in a similar state was gone now and when he grabbed for the pillows on his side of the bed, his voice was much more sincere than it had been. “I can sleep in the study—”

 

His offer had Arya closing her eyes, pushing out the last of her tears.The wet heat almost stung her cheek. “Please don’t.” Then she said it again: “I was just...I’m drunk…” 

 

Gendry nodded, silently accepting the apology he did not want. He wasn’t. He hadn’t been.

Chapter Text

Hidden behind a locked door just off of the main entryway was the closet Talisa told Arya about. The door’s large mahogany frame was decorated with paneling meant to mimic the hallway in which it sat with a recessed latch for further concealment. The key Talisa used to grant Arya and Gendry access was of an older variety: a worn steel turned matte by years of uselessness. Arya wondered for a moment where Talisa hid the skeleton key. Then she wondered if her sister in law had become emotional retrieving it. 

 

Talisa had warned Arya against getting involved in the things she couldn’t control and yet she offered to show her the room of Robb’s belongings as soon as breakfast was finished. She opened the door to the room just as easily, and then she stood back, emotionless, as if the room didn’t hold everything that once meant the world to her. 

 

“How much time do you need?”

 

“I…” Arya looked around, doe-eyed. “I’m not sure.” 

 

Behind the women, Gendry stood closest to closet’s back wall. The glances he bounced between Arya and Talisa were calculated; he wanted to warn Arya against her foolishness just as much as he wanted to sit by her side while she rummaged for information. 

 

Talisa forced a smile and stepped back into the hall. She then extended her hand, the weight of the skeleton key unwavering in her palm as she offered it up to Arya. The Stark girl swallowed and took the key, instantly holding it in both of her hands and assessing it, turning the metal over as if it also had the ability to conceal secrets. In a way, it did. 

 

“Lock up behind yourself,” Talisa’s voice cracked, the sob stuck in her throat excusing her lack of manners as she gave a curt nod and stalked off. She shut the door quickly behind her, causing the room to dim and for everything to become still and silent. 

 

Gendry looked to Arya, waiting, but she remained, fidgeting with the key as if she hadn’t even realized Talisa had gone. “Are you—”

 

“I’m fine,” she assured quickly with shoulders tossed back. Arya shook her head too, resolve painting her cheeks as a tress of hair fell from its clip . “Let’s get to work.” The room suddenly felt stifling, but Arya paid the humid air no mind. She simply sat upon the carpet and reached for a nearby box, her movements almost robotic while she clearly avoided Gendry’s glance. 

 

He found himself stunned so he joined her, his hands spread upon the plush carpet as he settled down against one of the shelving units. There were many of them, most containing neatly placed banker’s boxes. The closet looked much like the evidence rooms Gendry had visited on base, or had even seen on television programs. It felt just as sterile. Similarly, there were clusters of hangers, bound together by rubber bands and cloaked in black trash bags, likely concealing what Gendry could only assume was Robb Stark’s impressive suit collection. 

 

There was no dust atop the bags or anywhere in the room and the carpet looked to be freshly vacuumed. Even with the room’s lack of a window, the air smelled clean. Gendry could only assume that these things had been put here by Nadia and Marco and were tended to similarly. The room would be ready for Talisa to unpack whenever she finally found the courage and she wouldn’t need to sift through disorganized bins or clothing folded haphazardly in mismatching tote bags. The memories in this room would need to be peeled back, one by one, like petals falling from a wilting flower.

 

“What did she say to you?”

 

Gendry looked up and found that Arya’s own features did not match her question. She didn’t bother to look to him; she didn’t even stop her rummaging. Her petite fingers continued to flip through a box of mail as she waited for his response.

 

Using his hands again, Gendry pushed up off the floor to reposition his weight. “I...what?”

 

“Talisa,” Arya nodded toward the door, still not meeting his eyes. “I know she said something to you earlier. I’m sure it was about me—”

 

“She’s worried about you.”

 

Arya finally looked up. Her eyes were glass, cold and sure, causing Gendry to nearly shiver. “What did you say to her?”

 

“I told her not to be. I told her you wanted to look at photos.”

 

She cocked her head only slightly. “You’re lying.”

 

“Yeah, I did. For you.

 

Arya returned to her box, now taking out some of the letters to place them in her lap. “I need to know you’re on my side.”

 

“What? Of course I’m...what do you think I would say to her Arya? That what you’re doing is dangerous? That I don’t agree with it?” She merely looked up, unfazed. Gendry sighed. “If I thought those things do you think I would have gotten you a gun and taught you to use it?”

 

“You think I can’t protect myself.”

 

“No, I know you can. But I also know there’s a lot that’s out of your control. You’re going to do what you want anyway. I’m just...I’m trying to help but you won’t let me. You won’t let anyone help. Anyone that cares about you, you just push them away…” Gendry’s words hit the air like static, nearly creating sparks of light with their heat. 

 

His anger was misplaced, but so was hers and he knew, even if Arya wasn’t ready to admit it, that a lot of it had to do with the way both woke up this morning choosing to forget the kiss they’d shared. Arya was ashamed and sorry she was drunk. Gendry was too. 

 

Arya sighed. “Are you going to help me?”

 

Gendry softened. “I’m waiting for instructions.”

 

She allowed a small smile to tug at her lips. Arya leaned back and pointed upward. “Take your pick,” she said with a dramatic wave to the boxes all around them. 

 

Gendry looked up. “We’re going through all of these?”

 

Arya rolled her eyes and returned to her task, the stack of mail in her lap now making it uncomfortable to lean into the box she unpacked. “You are the worst co-detective.”

 

He smirked too and stood to grab for one of the boxes. He stopped, moving it and several others down to the bench below. Arya couldn’t possibly reach these from their original location and when Arya caught him being thoughtful she only looked away, now returning each piece of mail to its home in the box. 

 

“This is all junk.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“It’s literally credit card offers and sales flyers to Brooks Brothers.”

 

Gendry wiped at his upper lip. “Alright,” he exhaled, “here.” With a thud another banker’s box landed to Arya’s side. As she eyed the cardboard, Gendry returned the box with the mail to its position on the rack near the door. 

 

Again, Arya removed the box’s lid and began to dig in. This collection looked more promising: several accordion files and various packets held together with binder clips. As Arya continued to treat each item with ultimate care, as if she were handling artifacts and not legal briefs from Robb’s most recent cases, Gendry finally moved to sit down. His box seemed lighter and didn’t hit the carpet with nearly as much sound as her first two did. 

 

“Maybe he was working on a case and someone wanted him gone,” Arya suggested while her eyes scanned pages of case law.

 

“And your mum was just...a casualty? And it had nothing to do with your dad?”

 

She looked up. “I’m throwing out ideas.”

 

“And I’m shooting them down. I can’t possibly believe that their murders aren’t connected. There’s just no way.” Arya ignored him; she didn’t even flinch. But it was her silence that was the most telling. “Are you still mad at me?”

 

Still, Arya didn’t look up. “No. You’re right.”

 

“I don’t want to be right. I just—“

 

“Well you are,” Arya stayed curtly, tossing just one of the briefs down. It landed with a pronounced thwack ! upon the upturned lid of the box. “I’m grasping at straws here.”

 

“No you’re not,” Gendry mollified as he gently took off the lid of his own box. “We haven’t even started. There has to be something…” His voice faded out as he took stock of the contents before him. A laptop, a tablet, and various charging cables were mingled haphazardly, the cords causing the electronics to rest unevenly in the box. “Arya…”

 

“What?”

 

“I found the laptop.”

 

Immediately Arya tossed down the paperwork she was sifting through and crawled quickly to where Gendry sat. Carelessly she placed her hand to his back, using his broad frame as leverage to look over his shoulder. Gendry could practically hear her smiling but as he turned around to witness it, he lost her touch, all of her energy donated to the things he’d just uncovered. 

 

Frantically Arya searched for an outlet and was relieved to find one tucked behind Robb’s suits. She plugged in the laptop, then the tablet, and then tapped at both until each screen illuminated, revealing the manufacturer’s logo. Gendry could hear the reluctance in the computer’s motor as it slowly came back to life. The tablet gave less of a delay but Arya was already lost amongst the files on Robb’s desktop, clicking each folder and barely giving them time to load before she was exiting again. 

 

“Slow down!”

 

“If he has anything important on here he’d encrypt it. This is all...stupid copies of emails and…” Her voice trailed off as she continued to read. “Invoices for clients, mostly.”

 

“Well—“

 

“Got it!” 

 

Gendry leaned over so he could see the computer screen. A PDF reader had loaded but it was nothing but a grey screen. Before it, a dialogue box with a blinking cursor requesting a password. 

 

All at once Arya was furiously typing, entering birthdays and key words — even chancing the obvious variations on the word password . “Fuck!”

 

“What have you tried?”

 

“His birthday. Talisa’s birthday. Jackson’s birthday. Their wedding date...the numbers and spelled out...every way I could think. Nothing.”

 

Gendry bit the inside of his lip, thinking. “Robb wasn’t there for Jackson’s birthday.”

 

“What?”

 

“He...he couldn’t have known when Jackson was born. He could only have known the due date so maybe—“

 

“Yes!” Arya celebrated. “I love you, you know that?” Her mouth was afire with giddy laughter as she reached for her phone and began to dial. 

 

Gendry’s own lips were parted, watching and then listening as the call connected.. He didn’t have to hear the voice on the other end to know it was Talisa. Arya gave her sister in law nothing in return. All she could manage was a brief Thank you! before she hung up. She loudly tapped at the return key to enter the password. Gendry leaned further in, watching as the dialogue box disappeared and was instantly replaced by a rotating circle to show that whatever Arya had uncovered was loading. 

 

The title appeared first, then the page count: 1 of 561. Arya’s eyes widened at the sight. It was the same look she’d given the target the first time she’d fired her gun. It was determination and satisfaction and just the faintest amount of fear. 

 

She blinked. “What’s the likelihood that they all have the same password?”

 

“Uh...we’ll have to try them all, I guess? I didn’t know Robb so—“

 

“You’re right. He’s smarter than that.”

 

Gendry shook his head. “I didn’t say—“

 

“Well I did. But we got in. Let’s move on and—“

 

“What?”

 

Again Arya’s lips were parted, confusion splitting her forehead in two. “Did you honestly think I just wanted the laptop?”

 

Gendry opened his mouth but no words fell out. He inhaled, ready to speak, but Arya had already returned to her box, the laptop placed on the floor beside her, almost forgotten. 

 

“I’m never going to get to go through any of this stuff again.”

 

Gendry paused. “Well—“

 

“I’m not. This is like an old wound. I know this is killing Talisa. She’s saved these things for Jackson, I’m sure, but it’s clear she can’t come in here. This stuff will just sit here until…” Arya placed tentative fingers to her chin, avoiding Gendry’s glare. “I need to take what I find useful and then say goodbye to the rest.”

 

“Arya…”

 

“Help me, alright? I don’t know how long this will take and I promised you we’d leave after lunch. We can make copies of anything we find and go over it all when we get back to King’s Landing. I don’t want to be in here any longer than we have to be.” 

 

With a new resolve Arya returned to her initial task. A concentration like no other marked every move, every breath, existing where the carefree failed to. So Gendry joined her there, flipping through work documents before scouring an entire box of greeting cards from birthdays and anniversaries. When Arya was ready to remove the lid on the room’s last unopened box, she finally looked up.

 

“I need a favor.”

 

Gendry nodded, the cellphone he had been tapping at was tossed aside, a message typed but not yet sent. “Uh, yeah.”

 

“Can you go through his clothes?”

 

“Uh…”

 

“Robb was notorious for leaving money and notes in his pockets when we were younger. Our housekeeper—“

 

“Housekeeper?” Gendry chided. 

 

Arya rolled her eyes. “Shut up. Not the point. When she used to do laundry she...she used to find notes he wrote in class and money and scraps of napkins he wrote  girls’ numbers on. He was a teenager then but I assume—“

 

Gendry was already moving to stand. “That’s really smart, actually.”

 

Arya shrugged. “I can’t let you have all the ideas.” 

 

She returned to her box. Inside were the makings of Robb’s desk at work: a wooden pencil holder that clearly was in the same state it had been when first collected. There was stationary with his name and firm’s crest and a desktop calendar; his framed diplomas and a single framed photo of he and Talisa from their honeymoon. Robb’s lips were pressed firmly into Talisa’s cheek and she smiled, radiant and beautiful as ever, as the picture was taken. The ocean foamed behind them and in the foreground the sun was setting. Arya found herself staring at the most subtle detail: the way Robb’s hand was splayed across Talisa’s belly as if holding their unborn child. It was perfection, even the bittersweet — their love captured in a single moment in time. The picture was enough for Arya not to want to return to the room again. She hadn’t blamed Talisa for her hesitance but she understood it better now. She couldn’t possibly live in the same house with all these memories. 

 

“Arya…”

 

She looked up and wiped at her cheek. “I’m fine...I’m fine,” she assured with a forced smile. She returned the frame to its box and almost deserted it, ready to be done with the room altogether, when she noticed something leather bound sandwiched between Robb’s diplomas. She lifted his law degree and grabbed for it: a day-planner that had been fattened by constant use. Some pages even crinkled, signaling that they’d had something spilled on them. The lightest brown tinge covering the tips of a few sections told Arya it was most likely tea that stained the paper. 

 

She studied the cover. Real leather was etched with the planner’s duration. It was Robb’s most recent planner, and though Arya doubted her brother would hide too many secrets in an easily accessible notebook, she was interested in it all the same. Arya no longer wanted to run. She could have sat on that floor and flipped through each page for the rest of the day. It was a piece of Robb she’d never get back and Arya held it to her chest as her vision blurred, lost in the thought of him and how the year contained within the binding was a year she had missed while away at school up north.  

 

Coming out of her sorrow, Arya realized that Gendry had unwrapped all of Robb’s suits and was carefully going through each pocket. His positioning told her that he was nearly done with the rack and she figured he’d proceed as he had with all the clusters before it, wrapping them back in their trash bags and slowly lacing the rubber bands around the tips of the hangers. It was an odd sight, and one that was almost endearing; Gendry’s broad frame and large hands sometimes had menial tasks looking comical. But this was delicate and not because Gendry was aware of the almost ridiculous cost of each suit. 

 

“Anything?”

 

He shook his head as he dug into another hidden pocket. “No. One receipt from a parking garage but—”

 

Arya’s eyes lit up. “Which one?”

 

“The one outside his office. But you can’t make out the date or time.”

 

“Oh…”

 

“Arya, don’t do that. We found a lot of stuff.”

 

“Yeah, you’re right,” she shrugged, ultimately giving in. Suddenly she was tired, craving the floor she’d retreated from. “I...are you packed?”

 

Gendry’s vision narrowed. “Not really but it’ll only take me—”

 

“We can stay for lunch if you want but I’m thinking now that maybe it’s better if we just hit the road…”

 

“Yeah? I mean, whatever you want. I just have a friend visiting tomorrow so I have to be back into the city for that but—”

 

“I’m packed. While you pack and load the car I’ll say goodbye to everyone.”

 

“Load the car?” Gendry grinned. “I’m just your bag boy, aren’t I?” He gave a small chuckle before turning back to group of suits he’d finished inspecting. He wrapped them again and was just about to tie off the hangers when he felt Arya’s hand to his arm. Her fingertips curled upon his bicep, her chin nearly on his shoulder.

 

“Thank you for coming, Gendry.”

 

“Uh, yeah. Of course.”

 

“No, I mean it. Thank you,” she insisted. “I don’t think you know what it means to me.” 

 

~!~

 

Talisa must have been expecting Arya and Gendry’s sudden departure because when the pair emerged from the room she announced that she had packed sandwiches and other snacks for their journey home. Jackson was on a blanket in a playpen in the kitchen and Arya reached for the child, holding him and smattering his face in kisses until Gendry returned downstairs. The toddler tipped back his head, his small hands flat to Arya’s cheeks as his laughter filled the air. Then, ironically, when Gendry appeared in the space behind Arya the child’s eyes went wide and he reached out for him.

 

“Uh, I…” Gendry looked to Talisa then back to Arya, who now wore her brows high on her face, challenging him. 

 

“Here, he clearly wants to see you,” she offered, already shifting Jackson’s weight off her hip.

 

“Oh, Arya, I—”

 

“Take him,” she instructed firmly as she handed the child over. Gendry complied and Jackson bent, conforming to his broad chest. Only a week ago the two had been strangers but as Jackson nestled into him, Gendry felt a strange pull to stay in Volantis. The comfortable infant in his arms was only one of the things encouraging him, the others being the way Arya’s bones seemed to relax here and how he trusted she was safe and knew she was carefree. In the company of family, she wore a smile he’d never seen before, and one he knew he’d miss in the days and weeks following their return to King’s Landing. 

 

With Gendry entertaining Jackson, Arya pulled Talisa aside. “I wanted to let you know what I’m hoping to take and if—”

 

“Take it all,” Talisa waved off.

 

“It’s not mine to take. It’s Jackson’s. So if—”

 

“Arya, what is it?”

 

“His laptop. His tablet. His day-planner—”

 

“Why his day-planner?” Her hand flew to her hip. “Arya, I told you—”

 

“I’m not doing anything foolish!”

 

“You promise?”

 

“Yes,” Arya sighed, “I promise!”

 

“Good,” Talisa began, now walking away. Arya looked over her shoulder to glance at Jackson and Gendry, both boys oblivious to anyone else’s presence. Satisfied with what she saw, she followed Talisa. “Here,” Talisa presented. In her hand she held a gift bag that she now extended out to Arya. 

 

The sight had Arya’s brow furrowed as she took in the gift and scanned upward, meeting Talisa’s gaze. “What is it?”

 

“It’s a gift.”

 

“I see that, but—”

 

“He’d want you to have it.” When Arya said nothing, and still failed to reach out for the bag, Talisa nodded. “Go on…”

 

Arya accepted the ribbon handles and placed the gift bag on the console table the women stood beside. It was beneath a large port window, where beyond the glass the ocean kissed the shore and would continue to, relentlessly, long after Arya departed.

 

Gingerly, Arya peeled back the tissue paper, almost attempting to remove the gift without disrupting its packaging. She heard Talisa giggle and was finally encouraged to remove the paper. She reached in, not looking at what her fingers touched as if she were picking a ticket for a raffle and she didn’t want to cheat. Finally she retrieved the item and instantly she felt its weight cause the fabric to unfurl, revealing something Arya hadn’t seen in many years.

 

It was a hooded sweatshirt made of grey jersey knit that had been softened by constant wear and several wash cycles. Bold letters marked the front and back of the hoodie respectively: Stark and Winterfell in athletic script. On one arm, the Stark crest with its wolf emblem and on the other, the number 86 — Robb’s birth year. 

 

“I…”

 

Tears pricked at Arya’s eyes as she instantly clutched at the sweatshirt the same way she’d clutched at his day-planner. It was another piece of him, this one somehow more personal. Arya had given the jumper to Robb as a gift many years prior. He hadn’t been married to Talisa then and a naive, thirteen year old Arya believed her brothers were hers to love. She didn’t yet understand that someday they’d all grow up and find partners of their own. She only knew how much she adored her brother and how at thirteen, with her limited view on the world, she was so proud of Robb for all he had accomplished. Even when he died, he had achieved more than most men would in a lifetime. The thought didn’t make any of it easier.

 

“Talisa, I…”

 

“Don’t,” she insisted, with a hand held out as if to stop Arya’s words. “He would have wanted you to have it. He loved that damn thing.” She was almost crying now too. “He adored you, Arya. But he’d want you to be safe, okay?” Talisa wiped at Arya’s undereyes with the pads of her thumbs before performing a much clumsier task on her own cheeks. “If you want to honor his legacy just live your life, okay? Be happy. Find what you love to do and do it. Get married and have a family...do whatever you want to do, Arya. That’s how you keep them from winning.” 

 

Arya nodded. Speech was nearly impossible in her state, one that found even blinking to be done in agony. Her ears rang and her face was hot and each breath did nothing to clear her tear-clouded vision. Even as she folded up the sweatshirt she found herself crying and now unable to stop. 

 

Talisa could only wrap her arm around Arya’s shoulders, squeezing, causing more tears to fall. She kissed the crown of her head. Then she walked away. 

 

~!~

 

With the car packed, their final goodbye was much more lighthearted. Arya eventually calmed herself down and when she returned to the kitchen she found Gendry still holding Jackson. Together they put him down for a nap and when Arya closed the nursery door she concentrated only on the way Gendry had his hand to her back, guiding her through the dark. To do anything else would have been to cry again and she was already so tired, and incapable of comprehending how her body could possibly withstand any more emotional pressure.

 

On the porch, Nadia and Marco stood with Talisa ready to say goodbye to the couple. Gendry stiffened when Nadia insisted on a hug but found himself warming up to the gesture when Talisa gave him the same. After giving a handshake to Marco and thanking them all profusely for their hospitality, Gendry dismissed himself, affording Arya the alone time he knew she wouldn’t give herself.

 

Arya hugged Nadia and Marco, holding on for just a moment longer, her eyes shut tight to savor the feeling. She wasn’t sure when she’d be in Volantis again and she wanted to remember this moment and the feel of a mother and father embracing her. It was a silly concept, but Nadia and Marco seemed all too happy to comply. When they finally pulled away they looked to their daughter, witnessing the tears in her eyes. With an arm wrapped around Nadia’s shoulders, Marco steered them back toward the front door to give Talisa and Arya one last moment alone. They and Gendry had merely been decoration for this visit, the true gift was seeing Talisa and Arya reunited, both women able to pretend and reminisce, even temporarily. The hurt would come when they were finally separated, when the memories drifted away and both girls found clutching onto them to be unmanageable without the other by their side. It wasn’t realistic; they had emulated the world as it could have been but lived in the world as it was. 

 

“I wanted to thank you—” 

 

“Don’t thank me. I should be thanking you. Do you know the things I was able to get done with you here?”

 

Arya beamed. “I’m glad. I know it’s hard and I know we live far apart but I’m always here. Even for a phone call. I know you don’t want to visit King’s Landing and I get that but maybe you could come to Winterfell sometime? We could go together?”

 

“I...yes, I’d like that. I owe that to Jackson too. The invitation means a lot.”

 

“You know my parents loved you, Lisa. We all loved you. Sansa still asks about you all the time. You’re family. No matter what. You’re welcome whenever you want.”

 

Talisa squeezed Arya’s hand. “Thank you.” She took a step back, her hand floating back to her body just as tentatively as Arya’s when the two finally detached. “Go. Gendry’s waiting for you.”

 

Arya looked over her shoulder. She was hesitant to even begin the journey down the steps but slowly she gave in, letting her weight pull just one leg to the stair below. “I...thanks.”

 

Talisa said nothing. She took a step back, the move shifting her closer to her parents, adding to the distance separating her and Arya as she made her way toward Gendry’s SUV. Arya didn’t look back; she didn’t want to cry again, but as she opened the car door, she heard Talisa’s voice one last time. 

 

“Don’t forget what I said about that wedding!” Talisa called out. “I better get an invite!”

 

Arya’s eyes widened at the sound. Any sorrow she was feeling vanished from her body, only to be replaced by mortification. “Very funny!” Arya called over her shoulder before shutting the door. 

 

The car was noiseless, carrying a new type of silence even as Gendry looked up from his phone and smiled at Arya. He was happy to see she wasn’t crying. He was also taking one last snapshot of this version of her; she was the hardest to say goodbye to. 

 

“So she told you?” Gendry took the car out of park and began to drive, the front end of his vehicle creating a cloud of sand as he made a u-turn out of the driveway toward the main road.

 

Arya’s attention was lost out the window, watching the skyline and all the distance Gendry was putting between her and the sea. “Huh?”

 

“The wedding Talisa mentioned. I assume she’s talking about Jon and Ygritte.”

 

Arya shifted on her seat. “I’m sorry, what ?” 

 

Gendry paused. “Shit.” 

 

“Yeah, shit,” Arya taunted. “Why the fuck would Talisa be telling me about Jon’s wedding? What wedding? And who the fuck is Ygritte?” she shrieked.  

 

“Uhh, fuck…”

 

“You Baratheons are shit secret keepers,” she spat. “Who is she?” When his silence continued, Arya’s voice grew loud. “You better talk, Gendry, or so help me God—”

 

“Alright, alright!” he deflected. “You just can’t tell him.”

 

Arya rolled her eyes. “Like I want to start anything with Jon right now.”

 

Gendry paused but quickly thought better of the questions he wanted to ask. He proceeded with answers. He’d already lied to Arya and now that she knew the truth, he promised himself he wouldn’t do it again. Even the insignificant had to be honest; Gendry was too vulnerable to hold himself to any other standard. “Talisa and I were talking this morning and she asked about Jon and if he was still dating Ygritte—”

 

“Who the fuck is Ygritte?”

 

Gendry’s features deadpanned. “I’m getting there. You gonna let me finish?”

 

Immediately Arya was smirking. She rolled her lips inward and looked out the window, mostly to hide her amusement. “As you were,” she nearly snickered.

 

“She works for Internal Affairs. Apparently she was great with Talisa after Robb’s accident. They became friends or something...I don’t know.”

 

“Oh!” Arya’s voice piqued. “Does she have red hair?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“She’s cute.”

 

Gendry smirked. “How do you know her?”

 

“She worked on my dad’s case too…” Her voice trailed off. “Ew, is that when they hooked up? Way to mourn, Jon.”

 

Gendry turned back to the road. “He...fuck, Arya, you really can’t repeat any of this.”

 

“Do you realize the amount of information you have that could ruin my life? All of this stays between me and you. I thought that was obvious.” 

 

“Right,” he exhaled. “Well Jon got into some stuff about a year ago. It was right after your parents died. He showed up to work trashed—“ 

 

“What?” Arya barked. 

 

“Yeah. Hammered. Gone. I actually tried to get him to go home and he got loud so I left it alone. If we caused a scene he’d be found out and I didn’t want to do that to him.” 

 

“Shit...” 

 

“It was pretty obvious. They suspended him. There was an investigation and then he was essentially put on probation. That’s where Ygritte comes in.”

 

“He fucked the woman working his case?” 

 

“I don’t know what they—“ 

 

“He fucked the lady working his case?” Arya challenged, earning a heart belly laugh from Gendry. 

 

He only shrugged, suddenly feeling coy. “I don’t know if they’re dating. I just know he fancies her.”

 

 “He’s an idiot.” 

 

“I think he really likes her. I mean, yeah it’s not ideal but you can’t help how you feel about someone.” 

 

Arya’s eyes narrowed. “Why is he keeping it a secret then?” 

 

He blinked, then shrugged. “He probably doesn’t want to hear what everyone else has to say. He probably knows it’s problematic and he doesn’t want the judgement to cloud his feelings. He likes things untouchable.” 

 

Arya thought, wondering how Gendry seemed to know so much more about her brother than she did. She refused to believe that her years away at school had changed things that much. They still saw one another on holiday. Jon was just like Robb: an older, more successful version of his younger self. He was softer though, and never afraid to reveal his true feelings to Arya. That was where her two older brothers differed. Robb was a professional at pretending everything was in control; Jon had never mastered that task. He had always failed to hide his emotions and often he struggled to even keep them in check. It was unfathomable to think that he was keeping secrets from her. And for what?

 

She’s fucked up , Arya had heard him say - over and over and over again. His words had been so flippant, teasing her with their carelessness even weeks later.

 

“Put your music on,” Gendry suggested with a nod to the radio. His voice pulled her from her reverie. When Arya was slow to move Gendry even manipulated the dashboard, changing the input so it’d connect to Arya’s phone. Only then did she smile, but Arya didn’t let Gendry see. She kept her elbow upon the window, her cheek nestled beside it as the sandy shores of Volantis morphed into rolling hills that brought them over bridges and through tunnels, closer to King’s Landing.

 

They stopped for gas, then for coffee. They played word games and roadtrip games and then argued about politics (though they had little to disagree on). Then sometimes it would grow quiet and neither minded it. They missed the conversation, the tone and timbre contained in the words they shared, but the silence was nice too. It was even nicer to think that they were content existing in it together. So often Arya found herself craving chaos. Before Gendry, chaos had felt like home. Now, with him by her side, she didn’t know what home was and she also didn’t know which outlook she preferred.

 

Arya offered to drive and Gendry politely declined, just as she knew he would. They took more breaks than they had on the way out, almost prolonging their return. On one stop, when Gendry returned from the bathroom he found Arya had bitten into one of the sandwiches Talisa had packed them and was sitting cross-legged in her seat, a notebook spread out before her. Robb’s tablet was on the dashboard and an opened bag of chips sat in the console atop her watered down iced coffee. She smiled as he climbed back into the car, unable of speech with all of the bread in her mouth. 

 

“I see you have no self control.”

 

Arya was unsure if Gendry was referring to the food or her pseudo-investigation so she ignored his quip altogether. Swallowing her mouthful, she reached for the tablet and settled back into her seat so they could get back on the road. The music on her phone continued to play but at a more subtle volume and Arya was quietly animated, doodling in her notepad as she scrolled through Robb’s emails, occasionally scribbling information she must have deemed pertinent. 

 

 

Arya looked up, staring out onto the road to give her eyes a moment to adjust to the light. Then, she looked to Gendry, glancing up at him with a gaze that could convince a stranger that she’d almost forgotten he was still there. “He’s got all of these shorthand notes. I can’t tell if they’re grocery lists or notes about cases he was working on or what.”

 

“Make a list of them. Maybe there’s a trend…”

 

“I am...I mean, I have. But what could it be? Like a code? Robb’s brilliant but…” She chuckled. “If that’s what this is then we’re fucked. Whatever secret all of this is hiding, I don’t know if I want to know what it is if he needed a secret language to keep it hidden.” Gendry looked to her, almost to glance to the notes in her lap but by then she was already continuing. “Like this one is in an email to my dad,” she pointed, “I shit you not, this is what it says: We’ll discuss it when we meet. I don’t want to talk about any of this via email. As I told you on the phone and then he spaces down and all it says is No Rob ...I’m thinking he was signing his name? Or he typed something and it messed up his signature?”

 

“Maybe he was just talking about Jackson. He told your parents, right?”

 

“Yeah, but...why wouldn’t he want to talk about that via email?”

 

“If the tabloids follow boring you around I imagine a story about Robb Stark and Talisa Maegyr having a child out of wedlock would really sell.”

 

“Fuck you,” Arya said, unable to stunt her grin. Her nose even scrunched upward, causing Gendry to laugh too. 

 

“We can look at it later. Why don’t you put it away for now?”

 

“I feel like I’m running out of time.”

 

He sighed. “Arya we’re not even back to the city yet. We have all the time in the world. I’ll be much more useful to you when I’m not driving.”

 

“Doesn’t this thing have autopilot? Put that shit on and help me out.”

 

“It does but I won’t. Why don’t you take a nap? You look...knackered.”

 

She quirked a brow. “Is that your way of telling me I look like shit? Not very boyfriend-like.”

 

Gendry shook his head. “Good thing I’m not your boyfriend anymore.” 

 

Steadily, Arya’s smile fell to nothing. With Gendry’s eyes immediately back on the road, she shut her notebook and pulled her legs up onto her seat, hugging them to her chest. She suddenly found it very easy to fall asleep. 

 

~!~

 

It was dark when Gendry pulled into the carpark beneath their flat and even the change from the night sky to the dim institutional lighting above did little to wake Arya from her slumber. Even when he parked the car and cut the engine she continued to sleep, her chest rising and falling and her eyes closed ever so gently, confusing Gendry with their delicacy. All of her seemed small, a single mass hunched away from him, likely in anger. He was angry at himself too, and trying to rationalize against it. Her words had hurt him once; he was merely returning the favor. If anything, Gendry was shocked to find that his passing remark had any affect on Arya. He wished it hadn’t. 

 

Slowly and quietly, Gendry removed their bags and brought them inside. He cleared out their food wrappers and empty cups, tossing those in a nearby trash can. Still, Arya refused to stir.

 

He thought for a moment, fighting the urge he had to just pick her up and bring her inside. It was what made the most sense. It felt almost cruel to pull her from whatever rest she was finally getting. Waking up in King’s Landing after a week in Volantis was shock enough. But Gendry thought better of the action. He’d moved her once before, carried her to her bed and even draped a blanket over her curled up form. The next morning Jon had said things that convinced Gendry that he somehow knew.

 

She’s fucked up , he had said. Gendry still thought he was to blame. 

 

The guilt from that day had him eventually placing a hand to Arya’s shoulder. It hung in the air for several moments before Gendry committed to the gesture. Then he curled his hand gently upon her, giving her just the slightest shake. It didn’t work so Gendry paused before trying again. He’d only barely moved when he felt Arya awaken beneath his touch. Instantly he pulled his hand away, like fingertips running from an open flame.

 

“We’re home,” he managed, his voice a gruff whisper.

 

Arya blinked, nodding slowly before looking around, taking in the dark vehicle and the carpark around them. She could hear crickets in the distance and the occasional whoosh of a speeding car just outside. 

 

She unbuckled and almost slid out of the car. Her limbs felt like jelly and she found her eyes struggling to adapt to the light despite its dim nature. Entering the house was just as difficult and the painfully slow trudge up the steps toward her room felt treacherous. Only when she reached the landing did she realize that Gendry was right behind her. He gave a weak smile and she returned it. She saw her bags placed neatly outside her bedroom. Then she saw Gendry take a step toward his own room, the action followed by several more until he was finally at his door. 

 

“Night,” he tossed over his shoulder.

 

“Night,” Arya’s voice cracked. 

 

Arya made it into her room and almost collapsed atop the bed. She counted: one, two, three, four...it was instant: the sound of the shower starting. Gendry was predictable, his body like clockwork, so precise. But he wouldn’t be by her side tonight and she knew that now. Arya wasn’t actually sure why she’d expect anything else. 

 

I’m not your boyfriend anymore , he had said. It sounded a lot like She’s fucked up , as if one sentiment could not exist without the other. 

 

Arya pushed up off her mattress and clumsily made her way toward the suitcase she’d dragged into her room. She pulled from it the gift Talisa had given her and held the hooded sweatshirt up. It was soft beneath her fingers and even softer when she pulled it to her chest and inhaled, sensing Robb, smelling a trace of him she knew would fade eventually. Arya stepped out of her shorts and tossed off her shirt. She put the hoodie on and crawled back into bed. Then she began to cry. 

Chapter Text

Could something be considered a lie if you told it without knowing the truth? Gendry wasn’t sure. 

 

The truth burned in his pocket in the form of a ripped piece of paper. He was too scared to put it in his wallet, fearing that it would have fallen out during one of the many stops he and Arya took on their journey home the day before. So it rested tight between denim and his hip, homeless and hot. He wanted it gone, he just wasn’t sure if he was ready for the consequences of its reveal.

 

Somehow, on a Friday while Parliament was in session, Gendry was able to find a parking spot on the main road separating his biological father’s estate from the nondescript flat he shared with Arya. The thoroughfare split the city in half, a clear division drawn between those who ruled and those who were ruled. He and Arya seemed to sit on the precipice of both. For awhile he believed they existed there together; after yesterday he couldn’t tell. The lunch meeting he was about to partake in also played a factor, and this weighed heavily on Gendry as he entered the restaurant and looked around. For a moment he forgot about the note in his pocket while he searched for a familiar face.

 

“Sir, can I help you?”

 

Gendry’s height had him an entire foot taller than the hostess that moved to stand before him. She smiled, then cleared her throat when she found Gendry still ignoring her.

 

“Sir?”

 

His eyes narrowed, his jaw tight in slight irritation as she stood uncomfortably close to him in the otherwise empty entranceway. The way she looked him up and down told Gendry that perhaps he hadn’t dressed formally enough for this establishment. He gruffed but then his eyes illuminated as he recognized a man sitting in a booth in the restaurant’s back corner. Its placement was discreet, almost private, but the journey Gendry would have to make to get there would not be.

 

“Uh, no,” he stammered, finally looking to the hostess. “Thanks.”

 

Quickly he brushed past her. With his head cast down he somehow made it past the bar then between several rows of tables to his desired location. 

 

“You’re late.”

 

“Needed to find parking,” Gendry explained as he shuffled into the booth. He began removing his jacket, his vision trained on the perspiring glass of water set out before him. 

 

“There’s valet, you know.”

 

“Fuck valet.”

 

A laugh escaped the man’s lips. “Alright then.”

 

Gendry reached forward for a menu. “What’s good here?”

 

Davos didn’t look up. It was his turn to be distracted, this time by the hostess at the door and the way she continued to look toward their table. Now she had a waitress standing by her side. Another would likely follow; it had happened many times in the past. Each glance from the women told Davos things he already knew; the way Gendry remained focused on his menu only confirmed his theories. 

 

He sighed and sat back. “Everything, really.”

 

“Everything?” Gendry repeated, his voice laced with vexation.

 

Davos didn’t seem fazed. He only shook his head and crossed his arms over his chest while he waited for Gendry to make a decision. 

 

“Did you order?” 

 

“Not yet. I was waiting for you.”

 

Their waitress came then. Even as Gendry placed his order, Davos continued to feel the glares of the women standing by the entrance. Gendry seemed to be particularly oblivious today; he simply handed his menu to the waitress before leaning back, waiting for Davos to do the same.

 

“So how have you been?”

 

Gendry shrugged. “Fine. Took a trip. Went away for awhile.”

 

“Another one?” Davos grinned. “Where to?”

 

“The beach,” he gave curtly. 

 

“Hmm…” His voice trailed off as he sipped at his water. “With who?”

 

“Does it matter?”

 

“Well, no, but now I’m curious because you seem to want to hide things from me. You used to tell me everything, Gendry.”

 

“Yeah,” he scoffed, “I told you everything before you showed up on base at two in the morning, telling me I was given an honorable discharge and had thirty minutes to pack all my shit up so I could board a plane—”

 

“You know I did what I did to protect you.”

 

“Did you? And protect me from what?”

 

Davos sighed. “You just need to be careful.”

 

“So you say…” He sat forward, his palms curling around the edges of the table that separated him from his old friend. “When does it end?”

 

“When the dust settles. Which—”

 

“Will it ever? I mean, realistically?”

 

“It should,” he grumbled. “But if you keep your head down it’ll go more quickly.”

 

Ironically, Gendry looked up. “What?”

 

Davos removed his phone from his pocket. He unlocked the device, his thumb moving around the glass with a clear motive. When he found what he was looking for he tossed the phone down, its rubber case keeping it from making too much noise as it landed. Gendry reached out for it, his eyes wide at what he saw. It was an entire album containing photos of him and Arya. In many of them there were cherry blossoms in the background and the pair wore sunglasses. Gendry even had a baseball cap on, somehow concealing himself better than Arya ever did. In a way she had given up. Gendry wondered now if she was aware of the photographers that day and just failed to say anything. They were a fixture in her life, like the sun in the sky or sadness. 

 

“I don’t even know when that was,” he mumbled, tossing the phone back.

 

“You don’t know when you went out with Arya Stark? Are you mad?”

 

“Yeah. Sometimes. But...we got lunch that day, I think. I don’t know. She has people that follow her around. It’s really fucking creepy, actually. She can’t help it—“

 

“But you can!” Davos fired back. “Tell her no. Eat...don’t you live together?” he inquired in suggestion. 

 

“Sure but...she wants to be normal. She’s trying to be normal.”

 

“Well you can’t afford to be normal.”

 

“I...” Gendry exhaled, looking away. “Whatever.”

 

“Gendry, you know I worry about you. That’s all I’m saying.”

 

“I know. And I hope you know that I’m grateful for you and everything you’ve done for me. But I’m done hiding. It’s exhausting. When I told you I was coming back I meant it. I miss having a normal life.”

 

“Hanging out with Arya Stark doesn’t make you normal, it makes you crazy. It’s as if you want everyone to know you’re back in town.”

 

“No one knows who I am,” Gendry reminded.

 

“But they could! They don’t know who you are now but that may not always be the case.”

 

He quirked a brow. “What? You going to tell them?”

 

“You’re delusional if you think secrets remain secrets forever.”

 

Turning away again, Gendry breathed out a laugh. “It’s nothing, alright? I’m sorry. I’ll try to be a bit more cautious.”

 

“Don’t you have other friends?”

 

“No. I don’t,” Gendry chuckled again. “You know that. And neither does Arya.”

 

Davos paused. “Where’s Jon been? Is he not your friend anymore?”

 

“Traveling. You know how that goes. He can’t tell Arya where he’s going he’s just...elsewhere.”

 

“So it’s just you two? In that flat? Alone?”

 

“Don’t give me that. It’s not like that.”

 

“It better not be. You can have any young lady, Gendry. She’s not—“

 

“She’s my mate’s little sister. If we are friends it’s because there’s no other word for it. I mean, I barely know the girl.” He felt like a fraud saying that. It had only been a few weeks and Gendry felt like he did know Arya. He knew her well enough to know she wouldn’t even argue with that statement. He’s tasted her mouth and knew what it felt like to have her beside him in bed. There was a peace he’d experienced the past week, all because he had gotten to know Arya Stark. Her pushing him away was a reminder that maybe he knew her too well.

 

“Why don’t I believe you?” Davos persisted.

 

“I don’t know. Why don’t you believe me?”

 

“You just told me you don’t have friends. But she’s a friend? The girl that also doesn’t have friends?”

 

“It’s innocent.”

 

“You’re full of shit.”

 

“I’m not.”

 

“Jon will kill you.”

 

The moment hit a wall and for just a second Davos thought he saw Gendry flinch. “I know,” he said stiffly. 

 

“I told you moving in there was a bad idea.”

 

“You told me that because you think Jon gets undue attention.”

 

“I did because he does. I didn’t even think of any of the other problems it may cause. I certainly didn’t think you’d befriend Arya.”

 

“Well I did. It’s complicated.”

 

“But it’s not like that right?”

“No. Definitely not.” He sighed. “Is it my turn to ask some questions?”

Their food arrived before he could. Both men sat back, allowing the waitress to serve them. They each rejected refills on their waters, not wanting to be interrupted again. They were already risking too much having this conversation in public. Davos was right: even for the most careful of people, secrets couldn’t remain secrets forever in King’s Landing. The thought had Gendry almost smiling; it was good news for Arya — it was hope. 

 

“What is it?” Davos inquired between bites of his sandwich.

 

Gendry swallowed and wiped roughly at his lips with the linen napkin he’d set on the table. “Here,” he offered, tossing down the piece of paper he retrieved from his pocket. He said nothing and gave no explanation or even nod toward the item, so Davos reached out to pick it up. It was weightless in his hands as he held it between his two fingers. 

 

Gendry Waters , it read, in almost indiscernible script. Then his phone number, the digits just as messy.

 

Immediately Davos tossed it back down. “What’s this?”

 

“I don’t know,” Gendry shrugged coyly. “Why don’t you tell me?”

 

“I’m going to need some context here, son—” 

 

“It was in Robb Stark’s suit jacket. Why the fuck would my name be in Robb Stark’s coat pocket, Davos?”

 

“You think I—”

 

“Fuck yes, I think you know why,” Gendry hushed through gritted teeth. “You know everything and as usual, you tell me nothing.”

 

Davos sighed. He wiped at his mouth too, using the tip of the napkin and dabbing at his lips rather gently. “I tell you what you need to know.”

 

“Clearly not!”

 

“How about you?” the older man tossed back with increased volume. “Where the fuck did you get Robb Stark’s—”

 

“That’s not the point. We’re not going there right now. Tell me why the fuck—”

 

“Cersei Lannister wants you dead.”

 

Gendry let out a nervous laugh as the room around him went silent. “What?”

 

“I...I imagine,” Davos said, attempting a whisper then, “that Robb Stark had access to the same documents I had access to. The ones that had me at your door that night I made you leave. I don’t know how. Only a select few of us in the bureau were given access but Robb was a smart man. I’m sure it’s why they killed him too. Though, God rest the boy’s soul, it worked in your favor. He likely thought you murdered his father.”

 

“Excuse me?” Gendry bellowed.

 

Davos’ mouth fell open, uncommitted to the truth. “I didn’t plan on telling you this.”

 

“That’s obvious,” Gendry spat.

 

“I only wanted to protect you, Gendry.”

 

“You said that.”

 

“You don’t know what these people can do!”

 

“I do, actually! They killed Arya’s family. I know exactly what they can do, alright?”

 

Davos thought he could almost hear Gendry’s heart pounding, rattling against his ribcage in search of a release. His own breath was caught in his throat, his ears ringing. “So much of the report was redacted but a specific request from the Red Keep had them analyzing the weapon that killed Ned Stark. I’m sure we can guess who this request came from.”

 

“Cersei, yeah, fuck her. So what?”

 

“Gendry,” Davos attempted, almost in warning. His voice begged, pleaded, for the boy to come to the conclusion on his own. Then, when he did, Davos wished he hadn’t. Gendry’s eyes widened and his shoulders slumped, all of him suddenly wracked in shock.

 

“No…”

 

“Yes,” Davos gave strongly. “It was the same gun you’d presented to the special ops division weeks before. A gun that was merely meant to be a prototype. A gun with a computer meant to increase precision and speed.”

 

Gendry coughed out a laugh. “Fuck no. You’re kidding.”

 

“I wish I was.”

 

Gendry shook his head. “No. No way,” he tried sternly. “How the fuck...what’s the motive? You said you didn’t even think Cersei knew about me. Why would—”

 

“I don’t know. But now I think she might. I mean, we can’t say for sure that she ordered the testing, but we can assume. All I know is you’re specifically mentioned. So excuse me for getting you the fuck out of here. Excuse me for arranging a trip for you that kept you safe. And I’m sorry for asking that you lay low now that you’ve returned. You’ve always done what you wanted, Gendry, but I need you to just trust me when I say that you are not safe here.” His directive was syncopated, each word like a stab to Gendry’s side, replacing the itch from the scrap of paper that now rested lifeless on the table.

 

Gendry rubbed at his mouth as it attempted to coax words from his lips. He had none. He was angry and confused and irritated. He felt betrayed and somewhat stupid. Mostly, he was terrified. The world had never worked in his favor and it would have been all too easy for the world to believe a poor armsman wished to seek revenge on Westeros royalty. To imagine that everyone would somehow learn of his parentage was just an added layer of fear. Davos was right and slowly that was becoming more apparent. These secrets, his secrets, that built walls like fortresses around his life, were already beginning to crack and crumble. 

 

“What do I...Robb never called me. He had my number. Why would...from what Arya says, he wasn’t the type to sit on information.”

 

“I’m sure he didn’t. If I had to guess, they killed him before he ever had the chance to reach out to you. They work quickly, Gendry. That’s why I’m telling you this and then we’re putting it to bed. You need to act like you don’t know. Nothing has come of it so far. Let’s hope it stays that way.”

 

“Nuh...no,” Gendry managed, his voice soft. “I...no,” he gave again. “I have to tell Arya.”

 

Davos almost laughed. “What?”

 

“I have to tell Arya. I promised...I told her...I can’t lie to her again.”

 

The older man leaned forward. “Again? What do you mean...Gendry, you didn’t…”

 

“I did. I had to. She deserves to know.”

 

“Gendry! This is...if Robb wanted you dead, what makes you think she’s any different?”

 

“I know she is!”

 

“Because you’re spending far more time with her than you originally let on, I’m sure.”

 

“Maybe I am! Maybe we live together and...fuck it, alright? It is what it is. But she already knows who I am and what I come from...I can’t keep this from her. I won’t keep this from her. You can’t make me.”

 

Davos opened his mouth, then quickly shut it again. “No,” he finally said, “I can’t, can I?”

 

~!~

 

Arya’s return from the gym was marked by the slamming of the front door, then the inevitable click of all three deadbolts, as if it were more than the world she wished to block out. She had spent the past four hours pounding endlessly at a punching bag, pushing all of her weight into each raise or jab of her fist. The sadness that plagued her the previous night had transitioned to pique, then to a quiet fury. 

 

Arya imagined her, the girl Gendry was undoubtedly spending his day with, the girl she assumed was kind and sane and completely lovely— the girl she hated. If Arya was lucky the two were already getting reacquainted up in Gendry’s room and she wouldn’t be forced to actually see her, much less meet the girl. Maybe she’d hear her. The thought made Arya shudder.

 

Arya assumed she was tall (mostly because everyone was taller than her) and she assumed she was smart and witty and undeniably pretty. She probably had glowing skin and an even brighter smile and she likely looked beautiful when she dropped her head back to laugh. She probably looked good sleeping too. She probably even looked good beneath Gendry as he moved above her, his hands curled around her waist, their hips bumping, eyes locked…

 

Arya tossed her gym bag down to the floor with a force that interrupted her own thoughts. It echoed in the hallway just outside the kitchen where inside she heard giggling. Arya froze, her anger immediately fading to fear. With tentative footsteps, Arya advanced, ready to put on the smile she had perfected at so many of her father’s campaign fundraisers. 

 

“Hey Jeyne, sorry to cut you off, but I have to go. Arya just got home…” A sweet smile spread across Sansa’s face, radiating down on Arya from her position sitting atop the counter. Her usual skirt and heels was replaced by denim skinnies and a simple v-neck t-shirt. She was barefoot and oddly carefree. Sansa Stark sat in her sister’s kitchen as if it were the only place she was meant to be at the moment. 

 

Arya’s face, her mouth agape, would have told any stranger that she disagreed. “Sans, what the fuck?”

 

Sansa chuckled and jumped down. “Nice to see you too,” she sassed as she reached forward to wrap Arya in a hug. Her sister’s body was stiff but eventually Sansa felt Arya wrap her arms around her. The two breathed in together, each seeking a different comfort as their lungs pushed and pulled. 

 

“I...sorry, I just…”

 

“You call me crying last night so I called Jon but he didn’t pick up. As usual he forgot to tell me he was heading out of town. So what was I supposed to do? It’s not like I have anyone here that I trust enough to check on you. So I hired a plane and flew down. You really left me with no other choice.”

 

“I’m…” Her speechlessness was no longer caused by shock and the single tear that cascaded down Arya’s cheek revealed this. “I’m sorry.”

 

“Don’t be sorry. You know I’ll always drop what I’m doing to come. Besides, it worked perfectly. I have no events this weekend. I was planning on spending the time in the house alone but…” She inhaled through the words. “This works too.”

 

Arya beamed, the action ironically pushing more sorrow down her cheeks. Immediately she pushed the sadness off her cheeks, sniffling and looking away to regain her composure. “I just didn’t…I was a mess last night.”

 

“Yeah, I could tell. You want to talk about it?”

 

Arya crossed in front of her sister, padding to the refrigerator in search of a water bottle and a moment to collect herself. “I saw Talisa,” she said from behind the door. Closing it, she leaned back against the island. “And Jackson.”

 

Sansa’s eyes nearly changed in color as the crease in her forehead narrowed her vision. “You didn’t tell me that part.”

 

“Are you angry?”

 

“I mean, well a bit, sure. How is she? How’s Jackson?”

 

“Perfect. He reminds me so much of Robb. Handsome and happy and so easygoing.”

 

“And Lisa?”

 

“Devastated. Still not okay.”

 

Sansa looked away and gave a half hearted shrug. “I wouldn’t expect her to be. None of us are.”

 

“Right. It was hard. I mean, it was amazing. Volantis is gorgeous—"

 

“I remember.”

 

“But it was a lot sometimes. I don’t know what to say to her to make her feel better. I hold Jackson and I get so sad because he won’t ever know his father. Gendry says it’s almost better that way, which I get, but—"

 

“Gendry?” Sansa’s brows raised, her mouth suddenly twisted into a pucker. 

 

“He came with me. For the ride.”

 

“For the ride?”

 

“It’s not like that,” Arya assured, a laugh added for good measure. 

 

Sansa paused. Eventually: “Right. We can talk about that...after we eat. I’m starving.”

 

“Yeah, food sounds nice. I just need to shower and change.”

 

“Is there a good place to order from? I really don’t want to have to get ready.”

 

Arya eyed her sister’s outfit again. Compared to the sweat and spandex she wore, Sansa looked flawless. But of course she’d manipulate herself if they were facing the world. She had always been better at playing that game, so skilled that she made a career out of it. 

 

“Sure. Uh, there’s menus in the box on top of the fridge. I’m gonna…” Arya was already walking away, all of her zoned out with her mind clearly elsewhere. 

 

“What do you want?”

 

She stopped, ready to ascend the staircase. “Uh, surprise me.”

 

“Healthy?” 

 

“Whatever you want.”

 

“Not healthy,” Sansa called back. “This is practically a vacation for me…”

 

The redhead’s voice trailed off as Arya climbed the steps up to her room. At the top she glanced quickly to Gendry’s closed bedroom door. She heard nothing and most importantly, felt nothing. The entire second floor of the flat seemed just as untouched as the first.

 

Arya held this feeling in her chest as she stripped out of her gym clothes and stepped into the bathtub. She opened the window and heard nothing but the wind. If she closed her eyes the mixture of the air and the spray of the shower were enough to convince her she was back in Volantis. Running circles along her scalp to remove the shampoo suds, Arya reveled in the daydream. Then, as the water began to cool, she was reluctant to open her eyes and cast the wishing out. Just as simply as the thoughts had rushed upon her they vanished, cut off at once with the shower’s stream. Now when the wind blew, goosebumps appeared on Arya’s wet skin. Wrapping a towel around her form she shivered, finding that the cool breeze didn’t exist well without the ocean to accompany it. 

 

Standing before the mirror, Arya brushed her teeth and combed through the tangles in her hair. She was apt to think that her skin, though slightly sunkissed, looked sallow. Her posture was weak and all of her body suddenly felt very, very sleepy. If Sansa weren’t downstairs, Arya imagined she would already be back in bed.

 

A knock on the door reminded her that she wasn’t alone. 

 

“One minute!” she called out, her vision still donated completely to the girl she stared at in the mirror. Emotionlessly the real Arya put her toothbrush back in its cup and shut the drawer containing the comb she’d used to brush through her hair. She looked to her reflection one last time before turning toward the door. Her eyes were cast downward as she turned the handle and pulled the door open. A passing breeze painted her skin once more and when she looked up she immediately stepped back.

 

“Hey,” she whispered.

 

Gendry was standing outside the door, his arm leaning against the frame, still wearing his jacket and with it a grimace stuck somewhere between relief and resentment.

 

“Hey,” he managed too, his voice raspy, but soft in volume like Arya’s. “Sorry…”

 

She shook her head. “Where were you?”

 

Gendry looked up. “What?”

 

“I mean, I just…” She looked down and nervously ran her finger behind her ear, keeping the hair she’d combed in place as it began to dry into uneven waves. “I didn’t see you before I left this morning,” she offered. “You’re always up before me so I thought—”

 

“I need to talk to you.”

 

Arya’s brow furrowed. She nodded again, this time with lips twisted tight so she could barely speak. “I...sure.”

 

“Arya?”

 

Gendry and Arya turned to the top of the stairs where Sansa now stood, all of her existing hesitantly, reaching out for the bannister in a way that put doubt in her footsteps. 

 

Arya could only imagine what she looked like, a fluffy white towel wrapped tightly beneath her arms, concealing her chest and the tops of her thighs. Remnants of her shower danced upon her skin as she brushed past Gendry on her way to the door. For just a moment he shut his eyes, cursing the interruption. He kept his arm leaning upon the wall outside the bathroom and his back to Sansa as the two sisters conversed. He heard small whispers but could not make out any of what was said. Soon though Sansa was gone; he felt her leave and heard the sharp intake of breath, confirmed by Arya’s heaving chest when he finally turned to look at her.

 

“I...later,” she mumbled. “We can talk later.”

 

“Oh...sure,” Gendry sighed. “That’s fine.”

 

“Unless...you have plans. You probably have plans, right?”

 

“Uh, no. Why would I have plans? When do I ever have plans?” Despite the tension, Gendry managed a grin.

 

Arya had no choice but to smirk, forgetting for a moment the life she’d built for him in her head. Behind him his bedroom door remained closed, the sight of it causing Arya’s small smile to fall. “Your friend. With her in town I figured—”

 

“Her?” Gendry shook his head. “Who said it was a her ?”

 

Arya’s cheeks flushed and she blinked for further clarity. “I...nevermind. I thought you said...alright,” she faltered yet again. “So I don’t have plans either—”

 

“The girl?” Gendry pointed toward the stairs. “Who’s she?”

 

“Sansa,” Arya bit out cooly. Then, she closed her eyes in punishment and tried again. “My sister. Sansa. She surprised me. I didn’t know she was coming. I—”

 

“Alright,” Gendry laughed. “You don’t need to explain yourself to me. I just...when you have time, I need to talk to you, alright?”

 

“Is it urgent? I mean, does it have to do with...I could…” She took a step forward, ready to occupy the same space again but Sansa reappeared, carrying with her a paper bag and two plates stacked with napkins and cutlery. 

 

Gendry glanced to the items and remembered a story Arya had told him once about the picnics she and her mother and sister used to have when winter had them shut inside the halls of Winterfell with little else to do. When he looked away Sansa was gone and it was just him and Arya left in the hallway. 

 

Nearly all of the water was gone from her skin. Arya straightened her posture and tossed back her shoulders, shaking her damp hair off her face. “Later, okay?”

 

She didn’t wait for Gendry’s response. He must not have expected her to, because just as she disappeared into her bedroom, so did he, their absence returning the flat to a once familiar equilibrium. 

 

Inside Arya’s room Sansa was already plating the things she’d ordered, separating them between their respective dishes with an almost laughable care. Even as Arya disappeared into her closet to change she watched her sister tend to their meal as if she had prepared it. Despite all of her attempts, Sansa could never fully abandon the ladylike habits that had been instilled in her as a little girl. Denim and bare feet and greasy takeaway could not rid her of her propriety.

 

“So that’s Gendry?” Sansa called out. She continued to arrange their meals, training her eyes on each fried item in an attempt to seem casual. 

 

“Mhm,” Arya returned before slipping a clean tank top over her head. 

 

“Is that common? Him seeing you in a towel?”

 

Arya’s face twisted. “No, obviously not,” she rejected, stepping into her yoga pants. She shut the light in the closet and emerged. “Why would you even ask that?”

 

“It just seemed...casual.”

 

“Well we live together, Sans, so yeah—”

 

“Calm down, would you? It was a question.”

 

Arya took the plate Sansa held out to her and sat on the loveseat beneath the window. She pulled her feet up on the couch and sat down upon them, immediately grabbing for a french fry as Sansa moved to join her. The eldest Stark girl sat opposite her sister, her own posture much more stiff. Together they began to eat in silence.

 

Eventually though, Sansa exhaled and pushed her plate away. “Is he single?”

 

Arya looked up, her eyes turned to slits. “Who?”

 

“Gendry,” Sansa said, nodding toward the closed bedroom door.

 

Arya shrugged. “I don’t know.”

 

“You don’t know? Do you see him with a girl?”

 

“I mean, no, not really.”

 

“Maybe he’s gay,” she suggested.

 

Arya paused. “No. I don’t think he’s gay.”

 

Sansa’s eyes widened. “Is he the one you’ve been shagging?”

 

“What? No!” Arya dismissed quickly — too quickly.

 

Sansa grinned. “Oh my god! You’re shagging him!”

 

“I’m not!” Arya’s voice grew in volume and pitch. The sound of it had her on edge and in a subtle apology, she sipped from her water bottle and looked out the window, as if asking that they choose a new topic. 

 

“He’s cute,” she shrugged.

 

“He’d probably say the same thing about you,” Arya admitted. She hadn’t stopped playing it over in her head, the look Gendry gave Sansa when she appeared at the top of the staircase. It was the same look he gave her moments later when she disappeared with their food. 

 

“He’s not my type—” Sansa began, almost as if she had heard Arya’s insecurities and wanted to correct them — almost as if it mattered. It didn't; the rejection of someone's feelings didn't make them any less true.

 

“Yeah,” Arya agreed with a laugh, “you’ve already done the whole fuck my brother’s best friend thing. You’d hate to be predictable,” she teased. 

 

Sansa shrugged. “I was young and stupid. But that’s not what I meant. He’s...just not my type.” 

 

Arya waited, calculating. “I know what you’re doing.” 

 

“What am I doing?”

 

“Trying to get me to admit to things I won’t admit to...because they’re not true.”

 

“If you say you’re not sleeping with him, I’ll believe you. But maybe you should be. I mean who is this mystery boy anyway?”

 

“Oh…” She took another swig of her water. “That’s over.”

 

“Alright. Who was he?”

 

“He was no one.”

 

“I swear to god if you let Ned Dayne back in your bed—”

 

“No. Hell no. Never again,” Arya groaned.

 

“Good. God, the stories you told me when all of that was over...I wouldn’t wish bad sex like that on an enemy.”

 

Arya quirked a brow. “It wasn’t bad sex we just weren’t compatible.”

 

“I’ve slept with several people I wasn’t compatible with. The sex can still be good.”

 

“Alright, well it wasn’t like that. Just like it’s not like...anything with Gendry. Can we talk about something else?”

 

Sansa dropped her head back to laugh but in typical fashion, she moved her hand up to cover her mouth before Arya saw her teeth or heard her giggles. “You’re still such a prude!”

 

“I’m not, I just—” She reached up, deflecting the pillow Sansa tossed her way. It fell down to the sofa then off the couch completely as an uncomfortable Arya shifted upon the cushions. “Is this why you came here? To ask about my non-existent sex life?”

 

“No. Well, yes, kind of.”

 

“For fucks sake, Sans…” Arya put her plate down on the coffee table and laid back, crossing her arms tightly over her chest.

 

“I worry about you, you know.”

 

Arya scoffed. “If only I had a big strong man to take care of me,” she sang kiddingly.

 

“No. Not what I meant. I just know Jon’s not here nearly as much as he said he’d be and you won’t come back to Winterfell. We text but you never call so then we only talk on the phone if I call you. That’s probably why last night scared me so much. I didn’t hear from you for a week and then I get a call and I can tell you’ve been crying...it really upset me, Arya.”

 

“Well, I’m sorry—”

 

“You don’t need to apologize. I just need to make sure you’re okay. And I don’t know how to help because you don’t tell me things.”

 

“What do you want me to tell you?”

 

“Anything.”

 

“Well—”

 

“But we can start with the things I had to hear from Jon. Like what you’re doing. The stupid shit you’re getting yourself into. What are you thinking, Arya?”

 

She pushed off the back of the couch, ready to stand. “Okay, you know what—”

 

“No, Arya, please sit down. Let’s talk about this.”

 

“I didn’t call you to get lectured.” Arya’s voice was loud. 

 

“Yeah, and I don’t want my next visit to King’s Landing to be for your funeral!” Sansa’s voice was louder. 

 

The assault of angry noise on deaf ears erased to nothingness. Sansa blinked, almost shocked by her own words while Arya covered her mouth and looked out the window. Somehow, amongst her shower, the awkward whispers shared between her and Gendry and Sansa’s current interrogation, the sky turned black. 

 

“I started dating someone,” Sansa began softly after a steady inhale.

 

Arya looked to her sister, a single brow raised. “Who?”

 

“Harry.”

 

“Hardyng?”

 

“Mhm.”

 

Arya looked toward the window again. “Oh.”

 

“He makes me happy.”

 

“Good.” 

 

“I know that’s not the path for you, Arya. I didn’t bring up Ned or Gendry or whoever else to upset you. I only mean to say that I’m starting to live my life again. I’m not saying it was easy but pushing people away and staying holed up in the house alone...it was exhausting. I still struggle to trust people but I’m fulfilled by my work and Harry’s been great. He’s patient, you know?”

 

“I don’t need—”

 

“Of course not. Neither do I. But it’s still nice to have. He’s a friend, first and foremost. And that’s all I want for you. Friends and a social life and something beyond this cesspool of a city. I was fine with you taking time off from school and I’ll support you in whatever you want to do but I also don’t want you waking up five years from now realizing you’re right where you were after…” 

 

“I know,” Arya nodded. She swallowed too, forcing down the lump in her throat and the way its presence had tears pricking her eyes.

 

“So what can I do to help? I’m only in town for today but...I’m here for you, Arya. Me and Jon. I spoke with Sandor and—”

 

“He can fuck right off.”

 

Sansa smirked. “He’s actually not worried about you. But he did mention Gendry...or he mentioned that a man dropped you to the gym one day and that after that you kept talking about a friend. Based on his description I know now that he was talking about Gendry.”

 

“He’s just a friend.”

 

“Great,” Sansa implored. “I want you to have friends. You used to be…” She almost giggled. “You were always better at making friends than me. Everyone always loved you more than they loved me. I always had to work twice as hard to make the impressions you made. I still do.”

 

“Sans, that’s not…”

 

“It’s fine. We’re past all of that now. I know what my strengths are. Just like I know what you’re good at and I don’t want you focusing on...whatever it is that you’re doing. They’ll hurt you, Arya, and if they don’t, you’re letting them win anyway.”

 

Arya nodded, still biting back tears. “Lisa said the same thing.”

 

“I always did love that girl,” Sansa beamed.

 

“I just...don’t you want to know what happened?”

 

“Sure,” she returned easily. “But I won’t risk my life to do it. And it doesn’t matter anyway. They’re not...they’re not coming back, Arya. Mum and Dad wouldn’t want this for you. This obsession, this need for revenge...whatever it is, it needs to stop. I mean it.”

 

Arya paused. Finally, she looked to her sister, Tully blue on Stark grey. Her lips parted, waiting for her wild pulse to calm. “I’ll be careful.” 

 

“I don’t want...I don’t want you to be careful, Arya!” Sansa begged. “I want you to forget all of this. It’s not worth it! You know what happened. You know someone in the administration killed them. That’s it. Figuring it out...they’re not going to charge them. No one will go to prison. The same system that failed Mum and Dad and Robb will fail you.”

 

“You don’t know that.”

 

“I do know that! I work in this world now, Arya. I play these games every day. Sometimes the bad people win. I won’t let that dictate how I live the rest of my life. I could be angry, and trust me, I’m angry. I’m furious. But that’s not helping anyone. I just...I need you to look out for you. I need you to start putting yourself first. Maybe it’s time to set you up for a couple classes at the community college or, if you wanted to come back to Winterfell—”

 

“No. I can’t.”

 

“Just...think about it, alright? Whatever you want to do, I’ll help you get there. But I can’t support this foolishness. Jon may be a right arse but he’s right.”

 

“That I’m fucked up?”

 

Sansa’s breath hitched. “What?”

 

“That’s what he told Gendry. That I’m fucked up.”

 

“You’re not…” She released a steady exhale. “We’re all fucked up. Him especially. Don’t listen to him. You know his stupid mouth comes from a place of concern.”

 

“It’s still stupid,” Arya grumbled.

 

“Oh, absolutely.”

 

Sansa’s agreement had Arya cracking a smile. She stood, finally giving in to the desire she had to run. Sansa had no option but to watch, waiting for a change in her sister but witnessing only defeat. With their empty takeaway containers in the trash, Arya climbed into bed. She moved over, encouraging Sansa to follow. All at once they were like children again, reverting to the scared little girls they once knew, hiding during thunderstorms as kids and then later from the world after the death of their parents. 

 

They binged an entire season of The Real Housewives of Dorne. Their cellphones remained untouched while they hid away, pretending for just a night that everything was normal. If their parent’s death did anything it was bring them together. It was easier now to forget all of the horrible things they’d once said to one another, even with Arya currently feeling stripped naked by Sansa’s intervention. 

 

When it was well into the early morning hours of the next day, both fell into a routine, their mutual agreement to fall asleep being a silent one. The television was turned off and alarms were set. Sansa had a plane to catch in just a few hours and the realization of their separation suddenly had Arya thinking of all she hadn’t said. She wondered then if it mattered; if there was anything she could say to calm Sansa’s anxieties.

 

“You know I want to move on, right?” her voice cracked so softly through the night air that Arya wondered if it would rouse a sleepy Sansa. 

 

Sansa shifted, turning over so she was facing Arya. “I know,” she nodded.

 

“I’m trying.”

 

“I know.”

 

“I’m happy for you. Everything with Harry and all of the charities. And if things go to shit, you know I’m always here, right?”

 

Again, Sansa shook her head. This time no words came out; Sansa feared what would spill with them — tears, likely, maybe even a choked sob. 

 

~!~

 

The following morning found Arya leaving early to go to the gym. She was out of bed before the sun rose and when it was time for Sansa to awake she looked to the clock and realized her sister had likely only gotten one or two hours of sleep. She had a plane to catch at noon but the charter allowed her time to be lazy, first showering and getting ready then meandering around Jon’s flat, taking time to inspect the photos on the walls and the view from the balcony without someone standing over her shoulder. 

 

King’s Landing had once felt like a dream but her wishful thinking vanished with the death of her father. Losing her mother and Robb only cemented the disdain she had for the city and suddenly everything she once loved — the heat and the energy — was lost to pure hatred. If anything it made her appreciate Winterfell and the overall idea of home. It was ironic then to think that Arya, the girl who had always embodied the spirit of the North, chose to reinvent herself here.

 

Despite her aversion, Sansa couldn’t deny that it was a beautiful morning. The sun was a welcomed companion as she left the flat in search of a chai latte. She sipped at the drink and smiled, enjoying the anonymity her sunglasses afforded her. She wore her happiness proudly, even as she bounded back into the flat and called out for Arya. Met with silence, Sansa made her way toward the kitchen, figuring she could at least make herself breakfast. 

 

She could and she wanted to, but Gendry stood at the stove, poking at what Sansa could only assume was bacon.

 

“Oh, hi,” he managed when he sensed her standing behind him. “I can…” 

 

“Don’t,” Sansa insisted. “It’s your flat. I was just going to make Arya breakfast.”

 

“I have extra,” Gendry explained. It wasn’t a lie, but it wasn’t what he wanted to say. I already did , he thought. “Want some?” 

 

“Oh, I don’t eat meat.”

 

Gendry chuckled. “You and the Maegyr’s have that in common. I don’t know how you do it.”

 

Sansa grinned. “Right. Arya told me you went to Volantis with her.”

 

“I...had friends to visit,” he mumbled.

 

Sansa gave a slow nod in forced acceptance. “Whatever.” She shrugged too. “Thanks...for doing that. Since my parents...Arya always does things by herself. I feel better knowing she didn’t travel alone.”

 

Gendry nodded too. “Uh, yeah. No problem.” 

 

With little hesitation, Sansa advanced, sitting on one of the stools at the island while Gendry turned off the stove and plated his bacon. There were two plates set out and he split the strips between the two, letting them join the eggs and fruit salad he’d prepared just moments before. Sansa noticed, watching and doing her best to keep her clear interest hidden. 

 

“So how close are you and Arya?”

 

Her inquiry almost caused him to snort. “You and her have a lot in common.”

 

“What does that mean?” 

 

“No filter.”

 

“It’s a simple question.”

 

“Then here’s a simple answer,” Gendry chuckled. “Not very.”

 

“But you went with her to Volantis—”

 

“I had—”

 

“Friends to see,” she mimicked. “I know.”

 

“You don’t believe me?”

 

“You and her have a lot in common too.”

 

“Oh do we? How so?”

 

“You’re both full of shit.”

 

“Ha!” Gendry pressed his hand to his stomach as an exaggerated laugh bubbled out. “There it is. No filter.” 

 

“You’re encouraging her, aren’t you?”

 

Gendry paused, the fork full of eggs he had begun to stab at falling back to the plate with a clang. “Encouraging what, exactly?”

 

“Her. Whatever stupid things she’s getting herself into.”

 

His brow furrowed and he ignored her, returning to his meal.

 

“She said—”

 

“If you think that anyone can do or say anything to sway Arya, you’re nuts.”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“I said what I said.”

 

“Don’t you agree that she’s putting herself in danger?”

 

“You’re assuming I know where she goes or what she does. She’s her own person. She’s an adult. If she’s making certain choices I think you should respect that.”

 

“Even if they’re stupid choices?”

 

Gendry sighed. He even put down his plate. “I think she knows her own mind. What’s stupid to you isn’t stupid to her.”

 

“So you do know what she’s up to.”

 

“I didn’t say that,” he bit back.

 

Sansa smirked. “You’re not saying much of anything.”

 

“Yeah, it’s kind of my thing. Keeping my mouth shut.”

 

Behind them, the sound of keys rattling in the lock echoed down the hallway. Sansa turned to the door then looked back to Gendry. “I just need a favor, alright? I don’t know you and you don’t know me but I think you care about Arya and if she’s doing something—”

 

The door opened, bringing with it a gust of wind and an oblivious Arya. 

 

Sansa turned quickly back to Gendry. “I’m going to leave you my number. Just...if she needs help, call me. Because she won’t and I...I can’t lose anyone else so…”

 

Arya was to the kitchen now. The sight before her, Sansa casually sitting at the island looking at a surprised Gendry, told her that her suspicions from the previous night had merit. If Sansa hadn’t told her about Harry, she would have been more concerned. That knowledge only allowed anger, and the telltale jealousy from her teenage years to stir and pound at her chest, shortening her breath. 

 

“Hey…” she let out.

 

“Hey! Gendry made you breakfast,” Sansa said cheerily as she stood up and walked to her sister. “I’m going to go make sure my bags are together. You should eat…” She didn’t allow time for a rebuttal. She gave one last look to Gendry before walking quickly toward the stairs. All the while, Arya’s mouth remained agape, her eyes darting back and forth between her sister and her roommate. She didn’t know if she considered either a friend. 

 

Arya watched Sansa exit and when she turned back to the kitchen she saw only Gendry, still standing leaning against the counter, poking at his mostly cleared plate. He nodded toward the stove where the meal he’d prepared for Arya sat waiting for her.

 

“Uh, thanks,” she said as she picked it up and moved to stand across from him. Silently, the two ate. Gendry concentrated on his food and Arya observed, noticing the care he took. The speed at which he ate was telling. She remembered that he wanted to tell her something. Swallowing, she set her plate down and did her best to forget about the envy coursing through her.

 

“What is it?”

 

Gendry looked up. “Huh?”

 

“Yesterday, you said—”

 

“Oh, that’s...we can wait.”

 

“I don’t want to wait,” she gave softly. “I was thinking about it all night and then this morning at the gym—”

 

“I found something,” Gendry blurted out.

 

Arya quirked a brow. “Found something? What? Where?”

 

“In Volantis.”

 

“What?” she thundered.

 

“I didn’t want to keep it from you but I needed to know the truth first. I wanted all the facts before…”

 

“What? Before you broke my heart? Again? God, Gendry, when will—”

 

“They think I killed your father.”

 

Arya’s throat went dry. “I...what?”

 

“They—”

 

“Who?”

 

“The administration. The justice department. A lot of very important people.”

 

“How?”

 

“It’s a long story but—”

 

“I have time,” she insisted, her lips tight in disbelief. 

 

“I didn’t, obviously.”

 

“Well I’d fucking hope not.”

 

“The gun, the one that killed your father, it was mine...mine as in one of my models...a prototype,” he stuttered nervously. “I’m the only one that had access to it...or so I thought. But the president is the president and he can do what he wants and—”

 

“You think my father’s best friend killed him?”

 

“No, I think Cersei Lannister killed him. Or hired someone to kill him. And she’s framing me because...well, I don’t know why. Davos swore she doesn’t know who I am but—”

 

“Who the fuck is Davos?”

 

“A friend. He and my mother were close. I’ve known him since I was a boy, I...he looks after me. He always has. He works for the Bureau...he knows things.”

 

“He’s who you saw today?”

 

Gendry nodded. “Yeah.”

 

“What did he say?”

 

“Nothing. I brought it up to him. I...I found a note in Robb’s pocket. Well, a piece of paper. It looks like it was written on a receipt...ripped, you know? Like he’d written it quickly.”

 

“What did it say?” she snapped.

 

“My name. My phone number.”

 

“But...why? I mean, no...no. Why would Robb have your number? That’s not…”

 

“Davos thinks he had access to the justice department’s files. The sealed ones. I’m named as the gun’s manufacturer.”

 

Arya paused. She rolled her lips inward, buying her just a moment to calm the stray thoughts that existed like a sharp headache behind her eyes. “You didn’t know?”

 

“I swear I didn’t. I would have told you sooner but—”

 

“I believe you.”

 

Gendry’s face shot up. “What?”

 

“I believe you.” Arya shrugged. Seamlessly she returned to her meal, her head bowed as she chewed, existing as if her whole world wasn’t continuing to collapse around her. This was commonplace now, the pretending. She and Gendry had perfected it in Volantis; they’d been so good at it that for a moment she believed the lies they told. But they were lies. They were both liars: talented and deceitful — broken.

 

“Arya? You ready?”

 

Gendry looked around Arya to where Sansa stood in the entryway, her suitcase by her side. She looked between the two, noticing that as Gendry averted his eyes, Arya finally lifted her chin. 

 

“Sure,” she announced proudly. She moved to set her plate in the sink, not bothering to give Gendry a look while she brushed past him, her body moving as if he failed to exist. He felt like a ghost with the way she looked through him. It was hardly the first time he felt invisible; it was just the first time it mattered.

 

Sansa waved to Gendry, remaining just a minute longer, her overdue presence a reminder of the promises he failed to make. Every question she had was answered in the span of several seconds. He’d never call her, even if Arya was in danger. He owed her nothing; and as she turned to leave, she felt the way his eyes remained staring in her direction — not upon her back but on the door before her, the same one Arya vanished behind. 

Chapter Text

“Uh, hey, it’s me, uh, you texted me and said you landed so I’m sorry to do this but if you could come get me...I’m at the hospital. I’m fine, they’re just saying they’d prefer to release me if I wasn’t alone. I can explain when you get here—”

 

Jon disconnected the call and tossed his phone to the passenger seat as he sped off of base toward the hospital. The guarded suburbia, its own little world, transitioned quickly to city — to the real world where anything seemed possible. Not dreams or wishes but the unimaginable; his mother and father were dead and the parents that raised him were gone too. Oddly enough, Jon expected that sort of pain now. What he didn’t expect was Arya’s voice, broken and quiet, asking for help. It was a devastating sound, so foreign that Jon barely recognized it. 

 

His mind raced, almost as energized as the gas pedal beneath his foot, searching for reason behind Arya’s voicemail. I’m fine , she had said. But he’d heard that before. He heard it so many times from his own lips that he was almost conditioned to question its authenticity. Those who were fine never needed to say they were fine and those who said they were fine were usually anything but. 

 

Jon left his car directly outside the emergency entrance, the door ajar and his keys flying through the air toward the already advancing valet. He was too distracted to ensure his vehicle’s safekeeping. He focused only on making it inside, all of him frantic and light on his feet as he looked around. 

 

The last time Jon had been here he hadn’t even made it past the door. The news of Catelyn and Robb’s passing had been released shortly after the crash so by the time Jon arrived to the hospital that night he was somehow one of the last to know. A nurse had let him take refuge in a back office away from reporters where he later collapsed against the wall, silent screams bubbling out as he was brought to his knees. While he waited for meetings with doctors and the police, he held his phone in his hand, wondering how he’d ever tell Sansa and Arya the news. It seemed he didn’t need to; Arya had called him that night. It was like she knew because somehow she always knew . Arya stayed with him, neither saying much, just breathing in the phone or releasing a nervous cough to let the other know they were still there.

 

A week later Arya was back in King’s Landing for the funerals and then several weeks after that she made the decision to move to the city permanently. Jon knew her choice was motivated by him. He was so thankful, and looking back now he realized how unfair he’d been. His show of gratitude was given to Arya in the form of a persistent absence: lack of communication on increasingly long trips out of Westeros. 

 

“Arya Stark?” In realizing his voice was loud, he attempted to calm his breathing. “She—”

 

“One moment, sir,” the male nurse said. His fingers tapped at his keyboard and his eyes took an excruciatingly long time reading whatever information he had retrieved. “Gendry?” he asked, looking back to Jon. 

 

Jon’s chest felt tight. “I...no. Jon. Snow. I’m—”

 

“Ahh, yes, sir. You’re her brother. You’re on here too.”

 

“On…”

 

The nurse was already standing up, ready to buzz Jon into the emergency unit. “ID?” 

 

Jon grabbed his military badge from the pocket of his jacket. The male nurse eyed it quickly before handing it back. Jon took the time to look around the room again. The waiting area was mostly empty, just parents and their sick children and the occasional sports related injury. Jon wondered if Arya had waited here before being seen. Or, frantically he wondered if she’d been brought in via ambulance. 

 

“Sir?”

 

Jon looked up, dumbstruck. “Uh, yeah, sorry—”

 

“Your badge. You’ll need that. The wing I’m bringing you to is guarded and—”

 

“I’m military.”

 

The nurse’s smile was a consolation prize. “You’ll just want to keep the ID out.”

 

Only mildly offended, Jon followed the nurse past the double doors protecting the emergency ward. Together they traversed curtains and glass walls that sectioned the urgent care unit into more manageable rooms. At the end of one hallway, just beyond a tucked away nurse’s station, was another set of double doors. Even the nurse’s badge didn’t grant them access. When he typed in a code on the door’s keypad, the expected sound of a lock disengaging did not follow. 

 

Jon waited, somewhat awkwardly, spending the time sending another text to Arya. She hadn’t answered any of them but maybe this one would be different. “Almost there,” he promised — blindly. 

 

Finally the door did click but instead of walking into the ward, a doctor met them just outside. 

 

“Dr. Davis, this is Jon Snow. He’s here for—”

 

“Arya. Yes. She mentioned you might be coming.”

 

Jon softened. “Oh. Great.”

 

“Thank you, Nathan,” Dr. Davis delivered softly. The nurse excused himself before Jon could thank him for his help. When Jon turned around he realized he was alone with the doctor and she was ushering him into the private ward. 

 

“What happened?” Jon croaked out as his eyes adjusted to the softer, more dim light of this particular hallway. 

 

“Well, we’re not quite sure. Someone else called the police. They heard gunshots and saw Arya on the ground so they assumed...she’s fine, just a bit shaken up. She’s an adult so I can’t explain anything beyond that. I’m hoping that maybe you can get some more information out of her? We want to make sure we shouldn’t be processing a rape kit or—”

 

“What?”

 

“Just to be precautious.”

 

“Is that a concern?”

 

“Mr. Snow, Arya is acting like everything is fine but she was nearly catatonic when they brought her in and we received two separate calls regarding the incident. I know you and your family have been through a lot and I know what trauma can do to a mind. It affects what we remember...what we don’t remember. My job is to just make sure we’ve covered all of our bases. If Arya needs additional care I want to give that to her but I can’t do that if she’s not open with us about what happened.”

 

“I’ll talk to her.”

 

Dr. Davis gave an almost sweet smile. “Good. I think that’ll help.”

 

It was nearly silent in the ward. Only one other room looked occupied but frosted glass concealed the occupant and darkness cloaked each uninhabited bed thereafter. At the end of the hall, past a small desk with one nurse, a door was ajar. Jon saw the curve of Arya’s spine, bending with her body beneath the zip-up she wore. The heels of her palms gripped tightly upon the edge of the bed causing the starched sheets to bunch and crinkle under her touch. Arya looked up when they entered but the relief Jon witnessed in a single flash seemed to vanish just as quickly. While making a considerable effort to fix her posture, Arya took the time to stretch, allowing discomfort to race through her veins as Jon looked her over. In her hands she fidgeted with her phone, only leaving it face down on the bed when Jon coughed, his dry throat demanding the attention Arya didn’t seem to want to give him. 

 

Her eyes narrowed before looking away as if she hadn’t called him — as if it weren’t her voice, soft and low, that asked him to be there. 

 

“Arya,” Jon’s voice almost admonished. 

 

Arya didn’t look to him. She looked to the doctor beside him, the same one with her saccharine smile and fists tucked deep in the pockets of her white coat. Dr. Davis dismissed herself with a nod of her head. The action allowed Jon to move closer to Arya, his eyes still scanning. There was no blood, no bruising. He saw nothing but tired eyes and a weak smile. 

 

“What—”

 

“Can we just go?”

 

“Absolutely not,” he breathed out in disbelief. “What happened?”

 

“Jon, I’m tired, okay? I’m fine. I don’t need to be here—”

 

“Bullshit!”

 

“Does it look like I need to be here? I’m just fucking small so they’re treating me like a child. Maybe if I wasn’t fun-sized…”

 

“Arya, it’s not funny.”

 

“No, it’s not. I’m annoyed and I want to go home. We can talk about it there but there’s no need for us to hash this out—”

 

Jon shuffled forward, his movements jerky and almost abrupt. Looking at Arya his eyes grew dark and his voice dropped in volume. “She asked if you needed a rape kit, Arya!”

 

“What?”

 

Arya jumped down from the bed and grabbed for her bag from the floor. When she stood again Jon was before her, keeping her from leaving. Over his shoulder she saw Gendry, his body terror stricken as he took her in. She softened at the sight of him, finally wanting to tell him everything she resented having to tell Jon. 

 

Jon took notice and turned around. He blinked, unsure of what he was seeing, and hoping his hesitance might afford him an explanation. 

 

Awkwardly, Gendry lifted a hand and gave a weak wave. “Hey…”

 

Arya looked away as the two men met eyes. 

 

“I…”

 

Instantly she thought better of allowing him to cover for her. Gendry had been making up stories his whole life, constantly manipulated by others and made to do their bidding in the name of basic survival. It was an easy role for him to fall into and he played it well. He also played it without guilt. Arya admired that strength but she suddenly hated him for possessing it. He could be that way with the world, she wouldn’t expect anything less. To think that he was playing the same game in her honor had her stomach churning. 

 

“I didn’t think you’d get my message so I called Gendry,” Arya sputtered. 

 

Jon looked to her then back to his friend. “Oh.”

 

“I…” Gendry ran a hand back through his hair and sighed. “You okay?” he attempted casually. His shoulders were dramatic in their rise and fall, telling Arya that perhaps he had run to get to her. While she allowed her smile from before to creep back in, she saw in his body language something almost foreign. He wanted to apologize, though for what, Arya was unsure. All she knew was that he would have and he likely would have said so much more if Jon weren’t standing between them. 

 

Quickly Arya closed her mouth and nodded. Gendry sighed and took a step back. “Uh, right. Good.”

 

Jon’s eyes bounced again. “Thanks, mate. I’ll bring her home,” he insisted. 

 

Gendry gave Arya one last look, their eyes lingering, causing chests to heave for an entirely different reason. “Of course.”

 

Arya swallowed, then nodded, encouraging him to go. Gendry felt frozen, stuck to the shiny floor below as if only Arya’s mouth held the secrets to release him. The only thing more powerful was the glare Jon gave him. Gendry was unsure of its motivation but it frightened him. It must have scared Arya too because when he turned around he felt her deflate behind him. Her exhale had him breathing in sharply; it took everything in him not to run back and insist on his own presence.

 

“You called Gendry?” Jon gritted, still leaning in despite the two being alone again. “The nurse said—”

 

“They asked me who to look out for. Who else was I supposed to call? When you didn’t pick up I panicked.”

 

“Well I’m here—”

 

“Well you haven’t been!” Arya returned forcefully. With fists clutching the straps of her backpack she pushed past Jon and made her way out into the hallway. “Let’s go.”

 

“Arya, I—”

 

“Now, Jon! Or I’ll walk home.”

 

“Arya, please…”

 

It was her turn to lean back in. “Listen, I don’t know what they told you but they don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m fine—”

 

“Great! Then tell me about how fine you are! Tell me anything, Arya! My sister gets shot at—”

 

“I wasn’t shot at!” she screeched. 

 

“They said there were gunshots—”

 

“Warning shots. I freaked out. When he grabbed me I reached for my gun and it went off—”

 

“You have a gun?”

 

She looked away. “I might. Yeah,” she shrugged. 

 

“What the fuck do you have a gun for?”

 

“Because this is my life now, Jon! I can’t go anywhere without anyone following me. I’m scared all the time. It’s a good thing I do because who knows what would have happened if I didn’t scare that asshole off.”

 

“Does the Hound know?”

 

“Hell no! And you won’t tell him! I didn’t even want you to know but they clearly don’t care about patient confidentiality—”

 

“They’re concerned, Arya! And so am I!”

 

“I was spooked. It all happened super fast. I’m fine though. I’ll be more careful next time. Apparently I can’t even go to Whole Foods without it being an issue.”

 

“Maybe we need to talk about getting you a guard full time. Someone to drive you around and—”

 

“No! I’m fine! Can we please go?”

 

Outside Dr. Davis walked from the nurse’s station to the other occupied room at the end of the hall. Her presence was a reminder that they weren’t alone. Jon gave in and waited for Arya to make the first move. Once she did she was unstoppable, walking just a step ahead of him as they made their way toward the exit. 

 

“Do we need to…”

 

“Already did!” Arya responded, shaking her release paperwork in the air. She would have tossed it to Jon as proof but she wanted to run away more. Even as they made their way out of the emergency room Arya refused to acknowledge Jon. She kept her head down, her fists clenched around the straps of her bag, her red-rimmed eyes trained on the waxed floor below. It reminded Arya of all the times an intended good deed wound her in trouble, when her father would leave work to collect her from the schoolmaster’s office. On their way out, he would put his hand to Arya’s shoulder and sigh. Ned was often incapable of little else with Arya. Even as a little girl her heart was too big for the world and he likely thought she’d finally grow into it. Arya wondered what her father would think of her now, still so clumsy in her emotions, nineteen and still getting herself in trouble. 

 

Jon apologized to the valet and even managed to make pleasant conversation with one of the men while the other retrieved his car. Arya stood in the shadows while they waited, tapping erratically at her phone. She had managed many messages now…

 

Hey?

 

Thanks.

 

Where are you?

 

You okay?

 

Are you going home?

 

Jon’s an asshole.

 

And then the one she didn’t erase and eventually sent: I’m sorry…

 

It loaded and marked itself as delivered. Silence followed, the rest of the world drowned out even as the valet delivered Jon’s car and Jon helped Arya settle inside. Jon turned the radio off and drove Arya from one end of the city to the other. It had been three weeks since he’d been home and his movements weaving in and out of traffic, cutting down side streets, and tempting fate with yellow lights reminded Arya that Jon called King’s Landing home. It was also a clear reminder that her old life was officially gone; this was nothing like any of the rides she’d taken with her disappointed father when he picked her up from school all those years ago. 

 

At a red light Arya found herself brave enough to tap at the phone, the screen illuminating itself to reveal only the time. Gendry hadn’t responded. All that marked the screen was the photo of Arya and Jackson, the Volantis sea behind them. Arya’s tear stained cheeks and tight chest looked to the girl in the photo as if she were a stranger. Arya wanted to weep again when she remembered that Gendry had captured that moment. It was the night she’d kissed him, the same night she’d pushed him away. 

 

“Arya?”

 

The light changed and Jon accelerated. Arya lifted her head from the windowsill and looked to him. “Hmm?”

 

“I...I worry about you. That’s it.”

 

“Yeah, Sansa said the same thing.”

 

“You saw Sansa?”

 

“Yeah. Thanks, by the way, for telling her whatever you told her. She’s so worried she just showed up. Nice of her, innit?”

 

Jon looked to Arya then back to the road. “I only confirmed what she already knew.”

 

Arya scoffed out a laugh and turned back to the window. “Whatever, Jon.”

 

He sighed. “Will you please tell me what happened?”

 

“No.”

 

“Will you tell me why you have a gun? Who gave you a gun? Why—”

 

“No,” Arya said again, somehow more softly this time. 

 

“Do you know how…” But he stopped himself. Arya’s head snapped in his direction. It was a warning and he continued anyway. “You know what you’re doing would kill your parents, Arya.” She blinked. In the single second it took her eyes to adjust, Jon’s mouth fell open, dejected and lost and losing. “Fuck, I—”

 

“You can’t kill the dead, Jon,” her voice bit. “And they’re not here and that’s why I am doing what I’m doing. But what happened tonight? I was just going to the store...just like Mum and Robb were just coming back from dinner. This has nothing to do with me and everything to do with them...whoever they are. Someone wants our family dead. If they’re going to try to kill me I’d at least like to know why.”

 

Before he could respond a ringtone echoed out as the map on Jon’s dashboard illuminated to reveal a phone number Arya didn’t recognize. Both looked toward the source. In her peripheral Arya watched Jon tap at his steering wheel, presumably to disconnect the call. He greeted the caller instead. “Hey.”

 

“Hey,” the female voice on the other end breathed out. “You okay? How is she?”

 

Arya sat forward. “I’m fine. How are you?” she quipped, causing Jon to roll his eyes. The silence on the other end had Arya smirking. She could practically hear the caller making the connection between her snark and everything Jon had likely said about her. Arya wondered if Jon told this woman what he had told Gendry. She’s fucked up , he had said. For the first time in many months, Arya couldn’t disagree. 

 

“Hey, uh, I’ll call you when I get home, alright?” Jon’s voice cut in again. 

 

In response the woman perked up, thankful for the opportunity to exit. “Right. Of course.”

 

With a beep the call was disconnected and the dashboard returned to its usual setting, the screen dimming as the streets of King’s Landing spread out around them, disappearing with each passing landmark the closer they drew to the flat. Arya wondered about the things Jon would have said if she weren’t there. Perhaps a sentiment similar to the one she’d shared with Gendry via text. I love you , maybe. 

 

“Who’s she?” Arya asked flatly. 

 

“A friend.”

 

Arya rolled her eyes. “Mhm.”

 

“I’m allowed to have friends.”

 

“You’re allowed to have secrets too, apparently.”

 

“She’s not—”

 

“It’s fine.”

 

Jon ran a hand through his hair and let out an exhale that did nothing to relieve his body of all the tension. “Arya, I’ve failed you and I’m sorry.”

 

She scoffed. “What?”

 

“I...this hasn’t been easy for me either. Your parents and Robb…it was like being ten again, losing my own parents. It was going through the worst thing in my life all over again. You know I’d do anything for you so when you said you wanted to come stay with me I didn’t think twice. I didn’t know then how bad things were for me. I’m better but...I shouldn’t have offered to be there for you. Because I haven’t been and a lot of this is my fault—”

 

“None of this is your fault.”

 

“It feels like it is.”

 

“You haven’t failed me. I didn’t ask for anything other than a place to crash while I figured my life out.”

 

“Yeah but you came here to escape and I couldn’t give that to you. I know I haven’t been around and I’m sorry, alright? I just...I’m working on it but I shut down. Work distracts me. Unfortunately that’s let you alone and—”

 

“I’m fine.”

 

“Clearly you’re not.”

 

Arya dropped her head back. All of her ached as she fought tears she’d spent all night denying. “I am. I’m trying to live my life. I never asked you to look after me. I don’t need a babysitter—”

 

“But you needed me. You needed your family and I fucked up. I can’t take it back but I’m going to try to be better. Tonight was...I can’t lose you too.”

 

His sentiment cracked, his voice raspy as his words were underlined by the jolt of the car being put into Park . Only then did Arya realize that they’d made their way into the car park, finally hidden from King’s Landing. Oddly enough, it had been a structure just like this one that she’d been assaulted in. It felt different with Jon beside her, but she still didn’t feel safe. Quickly she grabbed for her bag and headed for the entrance to their building, slamming the car door in her wake, causing the bump of metal on metal to reverberate around them. Arya could feel Jon following her, his footsteps heavy and deliberate as he tried to keep up. She didn’t hold the door for him but he managed to grab it before it could shut and separate them. 

 

There was silence in the elevator as they rode it to the top floor. A beep rang out and a robotic female voice announced their arrival. Arya took a step forward and Jon followed. Instantly he was stopped as she turned on her heel, nearly pushing him back inside the lift. 

 

“I’m not alone. I have friends. Clearly you do too,” she managed emotionlessly. Then she inhaled, still battling the sob stuck in her throat. “Thanks. For coming to get me. I appreciate it.”

 

She left him with nothing else. As Arya made it toward the door to their flat she realized Jon was no longer behind her. She didn’t bother to turn around and look for him and for a moment she considered the possibility of him leaving again — of him doing the very thing he swore he wouldn’t do. She didn’t care. She was home and suddenly she felt safe, a fact confirmed by the car keys on the counter, confirming she wasn’t alone. 

 

Slowly she made her way up to her room. She didn’t bother looking to Gendry’s door. He still had yet to respond to her and Arya made the conscious decision to stop questioning why. She took a shower instead, drowning out her thoughts in steam and spray that scalded her skin to a bright pink. Closing her eyes she heard nothing. All of the world felt still around her as she washed the shampoo from her hair and felt the suds cascade over her tired bones before swirling away down the drain. She continued like this, thankful for the muscle memory that allowed her to shut off the faucet, wrap herself in a towel and walk back to her room without much thought. Just as easily she was dressed and her hair was combed. After throwing her wet hair up in a messy knot she pulled on Robb’s sweatshirt. The material covered her to mid-thigh, concealing the tight cotton shorts she wore. She had to smirk, thinking briefly of what Gendry would say about her pantsless appearance. Even in all her detachment it was a welcomed thought. Suddenly she found herself missing him and she clicked at her phone, the time still lonely on the screen where it existed with no other notifications. 

 

Arya grabbed for the device and walked down to the kitchen. It was just as it had been when she arrived home: keys were still on the counter and the lights were still off. She used the glow of the refrigerator to pour herself a glass of wine. Then she gave the locked front door one last glance before disappearing upstairs again. 

 

~!~

 

Gendry was surprised to see the flat as he had left it. Everything was dark and when he reached the top of the steps he was concerned to see Arya’s bedroom door shut with no light spilling out beneath it. Then again, Jon’s door was shut too, a typical sight but one that put Gendry on pause as he considered that maybe Arya and Jon hadn’t returned home yet. His thoughts were interrupted by his phone vibrating, several messages suddenly loading as the device connected to the flat’s wifi. Gendry blinked, realizing then that his previous location underground had made receiving text messages nearly impossible. He ignored the ones from Davos, ones that no longer mattered after he’d talked to him in person. His eyes caught only on the message from Arya. A simple I’m sorry sitting lonely on the screen.

 

With a sigh he padded toward his room and opened the door. A gust of wind pulled at the frame as a cross breeze blew through. Gendry turned around, hearing now how crickets mixed with the muted sounds of the city pouring in with a single outdoor light through the open terrace door. Immediately his task was forgotten, fear gripping him as he reached for his hip where his gun rested, hidden beneath his t-shirt. 

 

He only relaxed when he saw the terrace, vacant but the wind and a single wisp of smoke rising up from behind one of the lounge chairs, concealing its source. A creak cut through the silence as Arya turned around, revealing herself to him. She smiled and he smiled and for the first time that night Gendry felt relaxed. She put out her joint and walked to him. At the same time his mouth fell open, nervous words spewing explanations and apologies:

 

“I’m sorry. I tried to get there as soon as I could. Traffic was terrible and then—”

 

He was cut off by the pressure of arms around his waist, Arya’s cheek following a similar pattern as she pressed her face to his chest. Gendry was frozen but he gave in, the feeling foreign but wonderful as he felt her body soften into his. Returning the favor he caressed her sides, committing to silence as he gave her what his words couldn’t. Gendry felt it the way all of the tension left Arya’s body and her breathing stilled. Hugs were odd concepts for an orphan but this felt right. When Arya’s grip remained, Gendry fixed his touch upon her hips as she breathed him in. He would have held her all night if that was what she wanted. When she finally pulled away her hands dropped to his lower back, clasped together, keeping him close. Gendry’s lips parted but no sound followed. 

 

A grin spread, gently tugging at Arya’s cheeks. “It’s okay,” she exhaled, her smile somehow growing. “I called you first but—”

 

“What?”

 

Arya nodded. “I called you first.”

 

“Well it's good Jon was back. I didn’t know—”

 

“I didn’t know either. It was a shot in the dark. But I...I didn’t want him to come get me. I wanted you—”

 

“Fuck, Arya, I’m sorry—”

 

“Don’t be,” she assured, her voice nearly pleading. “I just...it’s important that you know that.” She exhaled again, the tears she’d been hiding all night drifting further away with each passing breath. “I called you first.” 

 

Gendry nodded, unsure of what else to say. Her declaration had explained it all and now he felt as if he had nothing else to offer. The way Arya’s hands remained around his waist told him that maybe she didn’t need anything else. When her head fell back to his chest, Gendry expelled more relief. 

 

The night continued around them, moments passing like minutes until Arya finally pulled away. “You’re not going to ask what happened?”

 

Gendry smirked. “You didn’t seem to want to talk about it in the hospital so I figured…”

 

“I didn’t want to talk about it with Jon, no. But I’ll tell you...if you want to know. I’d like you to—”

 

“Yeah, sure. I mean...of course.” Then: “Please.” Gendry looked over Arya’s shoulder to where she’d sat near the railing. An empty glass of wine stood solemnly beside the chair, the joint she’d stubbed out just beside it. “Did you eat? I know it’s late but—”

 

Arya’s nod was loud, cutting him off. “Yeah. I had a bit but I’m not...I’m not hungry. Did you? I could order—”

 

“No, I’m fine. Not really hungry either.”

 

“I’m tired so…” She swallowed, doing her best not to focus on the way she no longer wanted to cry.

 

“Oh, right. We can talk in the morning.” Gendry removed his hands from her hips and took a step back, all of Arya seamlessly detaching, a gust of wind instantly filling the short distance between them.

 

“No!” Arya’s eyes widened, causing Gendry to grin. “I mean...could you...I was thinking…” A nervous laugh breathed its way past her lips. “Could you stay with me?”

 

Gendry nodded. “Sure. Of course.” Another word sat dormant on his tongue: Always. 

 

He waited for her to move and when she did, Arya grabbed his hand and brought him with her. She walked not for the chair but back toward the door, pausing only when Gendry turned around to shut and lock it behind them, essentially agreeing with her plan. The action told Arya that she didn’t need his touch to know he was following. 

 

Just as easily Gendry continued the journey, nearly brushing Arya’s back with every step he took just behind her. When they reached her bedroom door he stepped forward, occupying the space just beyond the threshold. Arya paused but she did not hesitate. A small smile graced her features as she leaned back against the door, rocking it in its jamb while it held her weight up.

 

“You want a shower,” she diagnosed. Before Gendry could respond she giggled. “I’m not going to break. Go on. I’ll be fine. I have a phone call to make anyway.” 

 

Gendry accepted. He was too distracted by her knowledge of his habits to fight her on it. He didn’t want to leave her alone but the smile she shared with him told him that he could. Without warning his gripped her neck and placed a kiss to her forehead. The action was equally foreign as their embrace but it felt just as right. Gendry’s lips buzzed with the feel of her until moments later when the bathroom door was shut and the shower poured over him. It still smelled like Arya, the pleasant scent of lavender flooded his senses as he surrendered to the steady stream above.

 

Back in her room Arya sat upon the bed. She pulled her phone from her pocket and waited for the call to connect. As it rang she leaned back. The sound of her sister’s voice on the other line brought her out of the memory she was still lost in while her eyes continued to affix themselves to the space near the door where Gendry’s lips had lingered upon her skin.

 

“Arya?”

 

She blinked, realizing the worry in Sansa’s voice was caused by her own silence. “Oh, shit, yeah, sorry...hi,” she settled.

 

“Everything okay?”

 

“Uh, yeah, it is now.”

 

“Now? What happened? Are you alright?”

 

“I’m fine,” she promised. For the first time that night she meant it. “I’m fine now . Uh, Gendry’s here.”

 

Sansa’s brow raised. “Oh?”

 

“I don’t want to talk about it. That or...any of it, really. I just wanted to call and let you know that Jon’s probably going to reach out to you and I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t listen to what he has to say. It was just a rough night and...I’m fine. We’re all fine. I just want to tell you what happened but I’m not ready to yet and I want you to hear it from me.”

 

“Okay.” There was a pause. “He did.”

 

“Hmm?”

 

“Jon. He called me.”

 

Arya’s lungs deflated. “Oh.”

 

“I didn’t pick up. I’m with Harry so—”

 

“Shit, Sans, I’m sorry…”

 

“Don’t be. I wanted to answer your call,” she shrugged. “Just didn’t feel like talking to Jon. Now I don’t feel as bad for ignoring him.”

 

Arya exhaled. “So, uh…” The sound of the bathroom door opening distracted Arya. Her mouth fell open at the sight of Gendry, a towel rolled low on his hips, moving upon him as he walked for his room. It was a view she’d always tried to ignore and then when she couldn’t she denied enjoying it. 

 

“Arya?”

 

“What? Sorry…”

 

The laugh that escaped Sansa’s lips tickled Arya’s ears across the line. “I don’t know what’s happening there but you seem a bit preoccupied.”

 

“Sorry, I—”

 

“Don’t be. If you say you’re fine I’m going to let you go. Harry and I—”

 

“Right, of course. Sorry. Have fun!”

 

“Yeah,” she breathed out. “You too.”

 

Brief love you ’s were exchanged but by the time the sisters hung up both were mentally elsewhere. Gendry returned, pausing for instruction. Arya’s eyes trained on him encouraged the way he shut the door, then the light, and walked simply toward her. She removed Robb's sweatshirt and laid down. Gendry existed similarly, a naked chest and cotton shorts. Together they wore far more skin than they had in Volantis. The smell of him surrounded her, settling into her sheets just as he did. They’d done this before but tonight felt different. Willingly the pair nestled warmly beneath their shared covers, passing the time waiting for the other to speak. When only the quiet persisted, neither wavered. Arya would breathe in and Gendry would breathe out and time passed without consequence. 

 

“You okay?” Gendry finally asked, his voice soft, the force of it brushing Arya’s cheek from the proximity.

 

Arya nodded upon her pillow. “Yeah. I’m fine.”

 

“What happened?”

 

She shifted, and when her body inched toward Gendry’s, he didn’t pull back. “I just needed a few things at the store so I did what I always do. I didn’t even feel anyone following me. Things felt normal...maybe they shouldn’t have. I let down my guard, I guess.”

 

“Arya, it’s not your fault.”

 

“Maybe not,” she shrugged. “But I felt safe. I parked underneath a light like I always do. I looked around...you know, the stuff I’m used to. Things felt normal but then he grabbed me—”

 

“Who?” 

 

“I don’t know. I didn’t see his face. He pulled on the strap of my bag, you know, to bring me closer. When I kind of fell back I felt what I assume was a gun…”

 

Gendry’s throat was tight. “Arya…”

 

“I stepped on his foot and pushed him away. When he reached back out for me I had already grabbed my gun. I just wanted to scare him off, y’know? But when I turned around he was pointing his gun at me. I panicked. I don’t even remember doing it but the next thing I know I was on the ground and my hands were shaking. Somehow I must have gotten the safety off and just fired.”

 

“Did you hit him?”

 

“I don’t think so. I don’t know. He was gone and I felt like I was going to pass out.”

 

Gendry’s breath hitched. “And he didn’t...I thought I heard Jon say…”

 

Arya shook her head. “No. It wasn’t...it wasn’t like that. I don’t know what that doctor told Jon but—”

 

“Well good,” he said, dismissing his own question now that he felt he had an acceptable answer. “As long as...fuck,” Gendry laughed out. “I don’t think you know how fucking worried I was.”

 

Her eyes narrowed. “I’m sorry.”

 

“Don’t apologize. I’m just...glad you’re safe.”

 

“Me too.”

 

“Is Jon—”

 

“I don’t want to talk about him, okay?”

 

Gendry understood and he nodded quickly. “Yeah. Of course.”

 

Arya breathed out. She reached out too, her hand resting upon the curve of his neck, her thumb gently stroking the skin there. She was stronger than him, somehow able to fight the need she had to press her lips to his cheek. 

 

Gendry turned over to lay on his back. He raised his arm, allowing for Arya to slip into the space beside him, the leverage she had upon his shoulder helpful as she scooted closer until finally her head was on his chest. He couldn’t help it; he kissed the crown of her head again before donating his gaze to the ceiling.

 

“I have that thing tomorrow,” Arya whispered.

 

“What thing?”

 

“The President’s Ball. At the Keep. I told you—”

 

“I remember,” Gendry confirmed. “I forgot but...I remember.”

 

“When I told you it was kind of an invitation. I know I didn’t make that clear and you probably don’t want to go. It’s not really my scene either but—”

 

“I’ll go,” he managed quickly.

 

Arya smirked and looked up to him. “Yeah?”

 

“Yeah,” he assured, swallowing. “I’ll go.”

 

The smile Arya wore brightened as she returned her head to his chest, listening to his heartbeat. “Are you going because you want to go or because you don’t want me to go alone?”

 

“Both.” His voice didn’t shake.

 

Gendry’s heart continued to thud beneath her ear, pushing her toward a sleep she wished to avoid if only to hold onto this moment for as long as she could. “Okay,” Arya breathed out, still beaming. “Acceptable answer.” 

Chapter Text

“Arya?”

 

“Yeah?” Arya called back, not bothering to look to the voice. Instead she leaned forward to secure a diamond earring to her lobe, the second in a pair that once belonged to her mother. Standing back from the mirror on her dresser, she admired her work. 

 

From his position in the doorway Gendry couldn’t help but join her. The bow-tie he held in his hands was immediately forgotten as he took Arya in, the green dress she wore rendering him speechless. It was silk and when Arya moved it caught the light, sending the glossy fabric into different billowing shades with each passing step. The thin emerald straps that kept the frock up did little to conceal the muscles in Arya’s back; they merely kept the satin to her hips in a way that allowed the fabric to collect delicately at the curve just above her backside. When Arya finally turned to Gendry, he found little reprieve in the gown’s front. There was just as much exposed skin, this time in the form of bare shoulders and a plunging neckline. 

 

In an attempt to be respectful, Gendry looked away, deciding the floor was a much safer harbor for his eyes. Unfortunately his gaze didn’t get far; there was a slit up the dress’ side, revealing Arya’s pale leg to the middle of her thigh. All day Arya had told him that they just needed to blend in. Gendry couldn’t imagine how her dress would help them do that and if he could barely manage words with her so close, he imagined she wouldn’t be too pleased with his speechlessness either. 

 

“What?” she inquired, her grin hesitant as she attempted to diagnose his pause. “Is it the hair? I thought maybe I should leave it down but—”

 

“Nuh...no,” Gendry mumbled with a shake of his head. “It’s...no.”

 

Arya took a step forward. Gendry could smell her now, not her usual organic notes but something far stronger: rose and honey and another muskier scent Gendry couldn’t quite place. It only added to the craving he had for her and it took everything in him not to reach out and put his hands to her hips. He swallowed instead. 

 

“Need help?” Arya asked with a nod toward the bow-tie in his hand. 

 

“Uh, yeah, actually.” 

 

Arya occupied the space before him, taller than usual, her nose nearly to his adam’s apple. It was a different angle and as she brought her body flush against his, Gendry looked up. He focused instead on the ceiling fan. To let his eyes fall to hers would have been to let them drift further and already he was doing his best to move on from the vision of her in her green dress. It didn’t help that his mind had sequeued to what possibly laid underneath. With Arya pressed into him, he had few answers and as she reached up to fiddle with his starched collar, he was fairly certain he wouldn’t find any. 

 

Arya took her time setting and perfecting the knot of his necktie. Even after she was happy with the loops and had smoothed his collar back down, she found herself staring. Her touch had been so deliberate upon his freshly shaved skin, her short nails scraping upon his neck, teasing the heat near his pulse point. She could have easily leaned forward to kiss him there but instead she took a step back, detaching from him completely. 

 

“All set,” she gave proudly. “Look in the mirror and tell me what you think.”

 

Gendry shook his head. “I’m sure it looks great. Thanks...I’ve never done one of those before.” He looked down at his shined shoes. “Do I look ridiculous?”

 

Arya smirked. For a moment Gendry expected her to be honest and confirm his insecurities. Instead she let her smile grow and rolled her eyes. “No. Not at all. You look very handsome.”

 

Gendry breathed out a laugh. “You look...good...too.”

 

Arya quirked a brow. “Good?”

 

“Yeah...good,” he persisted. 

 

Arya’s bestowal of handsome seemed neutral. It felt kind and non-committal. The words Gendry had originally thought upon seeing Arya were more unequivocal in nature. Beautiful , he wished to say, knowing that one would have fallen off his lips so easily. 

 

“You ready?”

 

“Yeah. Just need to grab my jacket…” His voice trailed off as he turned around and began to exit. When he returned he saw Arya standing at the top of the staircase, the only addition to her ensemble being a single black clutch. “Won’t you be cold?”

 

“If I am you can be a gentleman and offer me your coat,” she teased.

 

Gendry grinned too. It was a dismissal of his other fear; he didn’t want anyone looking at Arya the way he wanted to look at Arya. His original fear of keeping her safe was now multifaceted as the pair made their way down the stairs and toward the door. 

 

Inside the elevator, Gendry watched as Arya applied a clear gloss to her pouty lips.  “All of this is normal to you, isn’t it?”

 

The magnet on Arya’s clutch clicked into place. “It used to be.”

 

“You’ll have to help me then.”

 

“You didn’t go to your military balls?”

 

“Not usually. If they weren’t mandatory I definitely didn’t. It’s not like they were anything like this anyway.”

 

“Well if you’ve never been to a Presidential Gala, how do you know what it will be like?”

 

“I can only imagine.” He paused. “I’m dressed like this.”

 

The elevator dinged and began to slide open, revealing the marble lobby of their building and beyond it the revolving door. Somewhere on the other side of the glass was the ride Arya had told Gendry she secured for them. Arya smiled at the concierge and walked ahead of Gendry. He fell into step behind her, a feat that became easier when she reached back to offer him her hand. Gendry took it and Arya gave his palm a small squeeze, almost in appreciation. 

 

Outside Arya looked around. It had rained earlier and now headlights and streetlights highlighted puddles as leftover dew continued to roll down cars and storefronts. From inside her bag Arya’s phone vibrated. She let go of Gendry’s hand but quickly grabbed it again so she could steer him toward their ride. 

 

Gendry was thankful for his stride. Before they reached the black SUV, he placed a hand to the small of Arya’s back. Instead of focusing on her naked skin, he concentrated on leaning over her shoulder to open the door. She couldn’t contain her smile then, and it widened as he extended his hand for leverage while she gathered her dress and pulled herself up. By the time Gendry was sitting beside her the car’s driver had already turned around. Above them the light dimmed as they pulled out into the street. 

 

“Where the fuck is the rest of that dress, baby Stark?”

 

Gendry looked toward the driver, suddenly finding his longer hair and aggressive tone to be oddly familiar. Before Gendry could correct him, or even think better of interfering, Arya was speaking. “Somewhere with your manners, I assume,” she quipped, eyes lost upon the downtown streets as if his words were of no consequence. “Lost forever…” she continued, a grin curling her mouth just as she dropped her hand to the inside of Gendry’s thigh. He’d been too distracted by their driver to notice its original placement atop his knee. 

 

“You’re lucky I’m letting you—”

 

“Oh piss off, would you? You’re not letting me do anything. I was stupid enough to mention this and you insisted you drive me.”

 

“Actually what I said was that you shouldn’t fucking go—”

 

“Yeah, and the best way to get me to do something is to tell me you don’t want me to do it so here we are, Sandor…”

 

Gendry leaned over, his lips brushing against Arya’s ear as he spoke. “Is this what I was missing by not going to the military balls? Awkward rides given by overbearing guardians?”

 

Arya giggled and Sandor adjusted his mirror. “What’d you say, you little shit?”

 

Gendry laughed and shook his head. When he refused to give the Hound an answer, the older man looked to Arya who was still laughing to herself, now adding a shrug to show her indifference. They made what Arya knew to be their final turn before arriving to the Red Keep. It was also the longest part of their journey, where cars began to file into one line, inching closer to the almost-palace at a glacial pace. They’d undoubtedly get stuck at several lights and the clearance process at the gate would take just as long but in the meantime, amongst the silence and with Gendry by her side, Arya felt oddly calm. She thought better of retrieving her phone to text Sansa as she often did when she was anxious and just held Gendry’s hand instead.

 

The slow journey found the clouds moving, coating the car in soft droplets while they advanced in their pseudo-parade. Arya looked to Gendry who continued to gaze out the window as if seeing a different city than the one he had grown up in. He looked so incredibly sharp in his suit it was almost difficult for Arya to think the world they were ready to immerse themselves in had never truly been his world. The haircut he’d gotten just that afternoon and the tuxedo they purchased together were both convincing. His calm demeanor and loose jaw told Arya that he was comfortable, or at least had mastered faking it. She wondered if she was to blame, if she had ruined him. 

 

Maybe, she entertained, this was a world he belonged in. He’d match the men they would soon surround themselves with and she’d still be the clumsy girl with the too-loud laugh. Arya was ready to be a spectacle. Everyone would stare at her and then subsequently they would stare at Gendry too. She hadn’t prepared him for that, the inevitable way looks of pity would be cast upon them. It was just one of the many things Arya realized now she should have shared with Gendry. They’ll gawk was a warning that could have seemed unassuming if Arya could have only followed it with a joke: But it’s only because you look so fit. Glancing to him now, handsome didn’t feel like a fair assessment. Was there a single word that existed to convey Arya’s appreciation? She was at a complete loss for words, suddenly obsessed with finding one. If Sandor wasn’t there, she may have been bold enough. I wouldn’t be able to do this without you , seemed like a good place to start. 

 

“You okay?” 

 

Arya looked up from where her eyes had been trained on Gendry’s hand, calloused and comforting holding her own. She smiled, perhaps out of habit, and nodded. His words hadn’t alerted Sandor and she was lost in the low timbre of his voice. “Yeah, fine.”

 

Gendry smiled too. “We don’t have to do this. We can—”

 

“I want to,” she assured. “Unless, I mean, if  you’re uncomfortable then—”

 

“No, I want to.”

 

“I…” Arya let out a nervous laugh. “You’re not going to be Gendry Waters here, you know.”

 

“No? What ridiculous name did you give me?”

 

“I was thinking John? Or Jeff? Something that sounds even vaguely similar to your actual name?”

 

“Jeff?” Gendry chuckled. “Why does anyone need to know my name?”

 

“On the off chance we are forced to mingle, you’ll need to introduce yourself.”

 

Gendry’s face fell. “Shit...doesn’t this thing have dinner?”

 

“Yeah, but we’re not staying that long, unless…”

 

“Fuck no,” Gendry dismissed. He looked out the window then back to Arya. “You clearly have a plan. I’ll just follow your lead.”

 

“I do have a plan. In and out, being the most important one.”

 

Gendry nodded. “What about Alexander?”

 

Arya cocked her head. “Huh?”

 

“My name. Alexander...or Alex. It’s my middle name.” 

 

A smile spread across her face. “Oh. Sure. I didn’t know.”

 

“Why would you?”

 

“My middle name’s Grace,” she whispered back, her voice shy. “Just in case you cared. I mean, not that you would but…”

 

“Is that a joke? I’ve seen you attempt the simple task of walking and I’m not impressed.”

 

Arya nudged him with her elbow, practically inviting the belly laugh that followed. “Shut up.” 

 

They made it to the clearance gate and there was an instant change in Sandor’s demeanor while he began to chat with the male attendant. Gendry could barely hear their discourse but he heard the fake laugh the Hound dispelled and he watched as the boom barrier was raised. 

 

“They don’t need our IDs?” Gendry whispered to Arya.

 

With her eyes trained on the estate before them, she shook her head. “That’s the reason I let this fucker drive us. He still has pull around here. I wouldn’t have been able to get us in on my own.”

 

Gendry looked ahead, suddenly realizing just how serious all of this was. The grip Arya had upon his thigh shifted, sending shivers up his spine while they both leaned forward to get a look at the Keep’s carpeted entrance. A large fountain shot up into the air and fell back down to a serene pool, mimicking heavy rain in a way that was oddly soothing. Gendry had only ever seen this view of the Keep on television but security procedures kept most news coverage from doing the mansion any justice. Arya was less moved by the events around them. It was yet another reminder that she’d been here before — in a way this home used to be her home.

 

“Ready?” she whispered. Gendry merely nodded. 

 

Sandor unlocked the door and Arya nudged Gendry, prompting him to step out. Again he offered his hand and again she fell into the space before him. This time her focus was lost, already seeking out their next action. When this caused her to nearly stumble, Gendry had his hands to her waist, keeping her upright.

 

“Shit,” she hushed. Arya fixed the strap on her dress. She pressed a hand to his chest in a further search for balance. “Thanks.” 

 

As soon as Gendry shut the door behind them, Sandor drove off, falling back into line with the other black vehicles. A velvet carpet extended out before them, inviting them toward the Keep. The belabored game of stop and go they’d already experienced during the drive over merely continued. With each step, Arya explained the process to Gendry, how parties worked like politics, all of them highly funded and meticulously organized with a single outcome in mind. They’d take photographs, then there’d be hors d'oeuvres and a cocktail hour before various speeches and a lavish dinner. All of Arya’s relay was coated in humor and the occasional anecdote about how her mother or father or brother once made these nights bearable. But Arya wasn’t sad. She wore a smile, one Gendry couldn’t help but to believe in. 

 

It was a different smile than the one Arya wore in the picture they took together. She knew how to stand and where to place her hand to Gendry’s back so his own would fall into place upon hers. Arya was as close to Gendry as she could be and then suddenly she wasn’t. Just as the camera’s flash died she fell out of character, like an actress bowing as she floated off the stage.

 

“You okay?” she asked, leaning into them as they made their way up the castle’s steps toward where a receiving line was forming. All the while Arya clutched Gendry’s arm, answering her own question.

 

“Uh, yeah. Fine. Are you—”

 

“Yeah,” she swore. “Fine.” 

 

“What is…” They took another step forward. “Are we...” Arya looked around now, standing on her toes in clear search of something. “If you tell me what you’re looking for, I can—”

 

“No, you can’t. I don’t even know what I’m looking for. There’s—ooh! Amelia!” she rasped, stepping them out of line just as a cocktail waitress coasted by. 

 

“Arya!” the girl released, careful not to drop her platter of champagne flutes. “What are you…” Her eyes took in Gendry. “Oh, hello.”

 

Gendry looked to Arya who already had her eyes rolled heavenward. “How have you been?” she continued, paying neither her old friend or the boy she was now ogling, any mind. 

 

While Arya caught up with this girl she clearly knew, Gendry looked back to the guests on the carpet and noticed that the line had progressed considerably, easily filling in the space their absence had created. He heard a loud laugh he had only heard on television and realized then who they were meant to be greeting. Somehow he was more thankful for Arya than he’d been before and as he felt her tugging on his wrist to get him to follow, he realized that all of this was also part of her plan. It was clear she hadn’t seen Amelia in many months but it was also clear, at least to Gendry, that talking with her old friend was merely a ruse. It took them out of line and allowed the deliberate meander around the back side of the grand staircase to feel natural. When it was time for Amelia to disappear into the grand ballroom to serve the party, Arya finally exhaled, and fisted Gendry’s suit jacket so he would follow her into a nearby alcove. They were shadowed there, but a bust and the plinth it rested upon kept them from getting too comfortable. 

 

Arya pressed both hands to Gendry’s chest and breathed in. “I am very out of practice,” she admitted as she continued to catch her breath. 

 

Gendry looked to her, the smirk he cast downward inevitable. “With what?”

 

“The lying.”

 

“I think you’re doing great. No one batted an eye when we stepped out of line. That was brilliant.”

 

Arya softened at the sound of the compliment. “Thanks. I once had a talent for skipping these parties. I don’t think I’ve completely lost it but I’m certainly not as good as I used to be.” 

 

Just then she stuck her head out into the hallway, reminding Gendry that while she was by his side tonight her mind was clearly elsewhere. The more honest reminder was that she was terrified, a fact that Gendry only met with stony indifference. He was never tasked with escaping this world, he just pretended it didn’t exist. It seemed this night had them falling back into old roles. What Arya could not get them out of, Gendry would act unaffected by, hopefully convincing her to do the same thing. 

 

With a newfound courage, Arya stepped out into the empty corridor and coaxed Gendry to follow with her hand curled around his arm. “I might be able to get us out of the socializing altogether...what do you think?”

 

Gendry raised a brow. “You’re asking me if I’d like to skip the actual party? Do you really need an answer to that?”

 

Arya smirked. “Good point. Just follow my lead, okay?”

 

He did, his body moving willingly, while his mind attempted to slow down. “I will but can you tell me what we’re doing? You know I’ve let you drag me to this thing without even asking why we’re here.”

 

Arya beamed. “I know. And I’ll tell you...once we’re away from everyone else and out of the sight line of cameras.”

 

Gendry looked around, nearly spinning in the hall. “There’s cameras here?”

 

“Fuck yes, there’s cameras. Too many of them. But the security office is too busy to monitor everything tonight so they focus mostly on where the Ball is being held.” Again Arya looked around, not for cameras like Gendry had done, but to assess their position in the hallway. Suddenly her feet stilled and her voice trailed off, a look of concentration furrowing her brow. “It’s here, I think,” she finally exclaimed, causing Gendry to jolt forward. Her petite body had pushed into a section of the paneled wall, causing the mahogany to shift and grant them entry. Gendry’s eyes widened as the wall detached from itself. He was so stunned by Arya’s maneuver that he barely had time to witness the seamless magic she’d performed. At once the party and the world it existed in was cut off, taking the noise of chatter and big-band music with it. Together they stood in a bright white hallway with white walls and shiny white floors. Arya held Gendry’s hand and waited. He looked to her, unsure who the gesture was meant to benefit. 

 

“What the fuck…”

 

“Shh,” she urged, before beginning her trek again.

 

“Where…” A sound from down the hallway had both of them pausing. When things went silent again, they continued.

 

“There’s tunnels all throughout this place. They’re meant to remove the President or his family if there’s even a threat but Sansa and I used them to sneak into the kitchens.”

 

“You stayed here? Overnight?”

 

“A few times. After Robert was first elected. They let you…you know what? We can save the stories for another time. When we’re home and I’m not worried about our imminent death.”

 

Gendry couldn’t argue her. “Right. Good idea.” If her statement weren’t so true, he might have even laughed.  

 

They continued: left turns followed right turns down long hallways and short hallways until they reached a single door. Before Gendry could speak, Arya stepped forward and looked down, using her leg to balance the clutch she was rummaging through. When she looked back up she tucked her clutch under her arm and advanced, holding a black card to the door. The red light flashed to green and Gendry heard the door’s lock unlatch. 

 

“Bloody idiots didn’t bother to deactivate my clearance badge...morons,” she muttered as she opened the door and stepped inside. “Are you coming?”

 

Gendry closed his mouth and joined her. Arya scanned her badge again and the door slid shut behind them. What originally looked like a supply closet was instead a well concealed elevator with paneling and velvet walls, tufted like the loveseat that flanked the lift’s back wall. Unlike the first floor with red accents, the elevator was darker, appearing in black and grey and gold. 

 

“Why is there a fucking sofa in here?”

 

Arya looked back to it, clearly unfazed. “Oh. I don’t know.” She turned around. “Jon had sex on that once, I think.” 

 

Gendry snickered. “Alright then.”

 

Before them the elevator opened and for a moment Gendry was brought back to earlier in the night when they were still safe inside the lobby of their flat. They could have turned around then but he had followed her so willingly. Now he was so enamored by Arya’s bravery he didn’t think to doubt her here either. 

 

“Family quarters,” Arya explained, continuing the trend of only sharing information she deemed absolutely necessary for their task. She imagined she’d give him all the details later, perhaps when they’d made it home and were safely tucked in bed. 

 

“Are there cameras up here too?”

 

“Funny story. There used to be. Cersei insisted it was too invasive so they removed most of them. I think she just wanted to fuck her brother.”

 

“Is that rumor really true?”

 

“I don’t like to think about it, to be honest.”

 

Arya’s pace increased, causing the footsteps she took in her heels to seem heavy. Soon though she was on her toes, nearly running to the end of the hallway. Her dress blew behind her as she moved and Gendry had no other option but to watch. For a moment he saw the girl he had chased amongst the waves in Volantis. Arya was carefree and almost giddy, and she seemed just as relieved when Gendry caught up and fell into her side. 

 

Another swipe of her card and they were granted entrance to a room. This one was behind a simple tall door, just like all the others in the hallway. Gendry was impressed with Arya’s ability to remember every detail of this place. For a girl that swore she hated it, she seemed to keep bits of it in her mind for safe keeping, all toxic memories that didn’t earn the home they were given, untouched by the vitriol Gendry believed they deserved. 

 

Beyond the door there were no white hallways or tunnels or secret elevators. There were no more secret passageways or parties to avoid. It looked like a library and stepping into the space, Gendry reasoned that it smelled like a library too. 

 

“Is this going to be like James Bond? Like you move a book and the desk drops into the floor?”

 

Arya arched a brow. “I don’t know. Go have a seat and let’s try it.”

 

Gendry shook his head. With his hands in his pockets he watched Arya. She had tossed her clutch on the couch and was now rummaging through every set of wooden doors beneath every bookshelf upon the curved wall. 

 

“What are you looking for?”

 

“Tax documents.”

 

Gendry drew closer. “What?”

 

“Not his. Hers.”

 

Gendry was practically standing over her shoulder now. “Whose? Cersei’s?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Can I—”

 

“No,” Arya groaned. “I’m looking for a…” She stood up and moved to the next bookshelf, shoving her hand as far back into the cabinet as she could. “There’s filing cabinets behind these bookshelves. There’s a…” Again she stood up, only to kneel down again and disappear. “Wait...I think I found it!” she announced. Her words tripped over a click! then one by one the shelves disengaged from the wall revealing the file cabinets Arya had mentioned. With them were plastic tote bins and banker’s boxes. The scene before them was a much less personal version of Robb’s closet in Volantis. The boxes belonged to all the Baratheons; the lives contained inside were merely put on hold when Robert took office — like their things, the Baratheons were protected. 

 

Immediately Arya was rummaging again, snapping open metal drawers and sliding them shut again when she didn’t find what she was looking for. Her manicured fingers moved so quickly atop the file folders, Gendry wondered how she could even decipher what she was looking at. He would have asked her if she wanted help if he didn’t know the question would annoy her. 

 

So he asked another from his position observing. “The president releases his tax information during the elections, doesn’t he? And they’re married so isn’t all of that public record?”

 

“I thought the same thing but when I looked those up I saw that Robert and Cersei don’t file taxes together. They had a pre-nup and that was part of it, I guess...I don’t really know. What I do know is that there’s records in here...birth certificates and passports and other sensitive information. I figured the tax records might be here too.”

 

“You…” Gendry’s forehead creased. “How do you know this stuff is here?”

 

Arya stood up, nearly breathless. She placed her hands to her hips. “Sandor told me. He used to work for them, you know. I didn’t use my access card to get in here, I used his...apparently those assholes didn’t think to deactivate his access either...absolute idiots.” 

 

Gendry chuckled. He took another step forward. “So you think...money? This is all about money?”

 

“Absolutely. I don’t know what else it could be. I don’t know what else people care about.”

 

“So, what, you’re assuming Cersei was involved in some sort of...transaction?”

 

“Yeah, I think so. In Robb’s notes...I think some of those numbers are bank accounts. Or routing numbers. Something like that.”

 

“Okay, but you’re also assuming that whatever this transaction is, was reported on her taxes? Don’t the Lannisters have offshore accounts? Would she be stupid enough to include any of this where it could be found?” 

 

“I don’t know! Maybe!” Arya expelled. “Look, I didn’t say this was fool proof, alright? I just said it was a viable option! So either sit down and shut up or help me, would you?”

 

“Yes, your grace,” Gendry teased. He slid past her, staying as close to the sofa as he could to avoid her hands and the way they looked ready to attack. A laugh escaped her lips instead before she returned to her task, flipping through papers. “Here, you look through the cabinets and I’ll tackle these boxes.”

 

“That’s the spirit!” Arya encouraged, her eyes aflame. Gendry chuckled and the two continued their work, mostly in silence and at a dizzying pace. 

 

“Holy shit. Campaign documents.”

 

Arya paused. “Documents?” 

 

“Like expense reports…” He continued to flip through the packets. “An entire year’s worth.”

 

“Grab those!” Arya instructed quickly.

 

Gendry paused. “Uh, what? How am I supposed to—”

 

“Take pictures on your phone!”

 

He complied and soon a rhythm had been created where a flash of his phone’s camera syncopated each page turn. “I’m just going to…”

 

“Yes,” Arya agreed. “Take pictures of anything. I’m never going to be able to look at any of this again and I’m honestly grasping at straws with this—” Her body stilled but her lips remained parted as the door behind them shifted in its frame, signaling the possibility of visitors. 

 

“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” 

 

Gendry’s eyes went wide too. Like Arya he worked to close the box he was hunched over so he could toss it back into its place behind the bookshelves. He soon joined Arya, bounding from section to section to close each secret panel. Only then did he see the papers she had tucked underneath her arm.

 

“Arya! The—”

 

“I know! I’m kind of busy, Gendry!”

 

“Give them to…” It sounded like someone had reached out for the door’s handle, a sense that was soon confirmed when they heard the sound of voices through the thick wood. “Fuck!” He grabbed for the papers and put them in the pocket of his suit jacket. The murmurs beyond the door grew louder and were now accompanied by laughter. They were moments away from having company and if the sounds were any indication, it would be more than one person joining them.

 

“You trust me, right?” Arya pleaded, her voice eerily soft amongst the chaos. 

 

“Of course!”

 

There was no pause, no apology, only the taste of Arya’s lips upon his own. It was effortless for them to meet like this, just as natural as Gendry’s grip upon Arya’s hips, not only keeping her close but demanding that she stay. His fingers even bunched the fabric upon the curve of her backside, revealing his hunger; it was an appetite that was only satiated when Arya dropped her mouth open, first to smile, then to moan. The mere sound of her wanting him had Gendry growling. He angled his face to taste more of her, inhaling all Arya had to offer, his fear not the visitors they’d soon have but the simple thought of Arya pretending. Her touch, however, existed similarly, with petite fists balled around his lapels as her lips continued their assault. Even her hips had begun to play along, rolling against his body in a way neither could ignore. 

 

Together they continued like this, undulating through bated breath, as hands roamed upon what somehow felt like very familiar territory. Arya had forgotten about their possible interruption. Perhaps she’d kissed him through it, their touches so personally distracting they’d managed to dismiss anyone who happened upon them. It was a lovely thought, to finally be alone together in a way that seemed foreign if not nearly impossible. It was exciting, their lips and fingertips giving the wordless answer to the question: What would you do if you thought the world was going to end?

 

The world didn’t end. Instead, they were pulled apart by the sound of a cough. Boldly, Arya dropped her head to Gendry’s chest and he did the same. What was meant to conceal their faces had them both smiling instead. They waited to be reprimanded but instead a man apologized and excused himself. Behind him, the tapping of heels could be heard. If Arya weren’t so dizzy from way Gendry’s mouth adored her, she would have given the moment further pause; if she weren’t so maddened by the feel of Gendry’s hands upon her waist she would have gone over the list of people who had access to this room. 

 

“C’mon!” she insisted, reaching beyond Gendry to grab for her clutch and head for the door.

 

He blinked then soon followed, his hand pressed to her back as they came to a sputtering stop just before the exit. Carefully Arya turned the brass knob and opened the door, careful not to make any noise. Her doe-eyes peered out but the door hid the rest of her: her green dress and mussed hair and the impossibly swollen lips she wore. 

 

A sigh of relief was the permission Gendry needed to nudge her outside. From his position towering above her, he could tell they were alone again and now all he wanted was to get them far away from this place. For a moment he was guaranteed her safety and he craved that again. He knew they’d only have it once they left the party.

 

The pictures on Gendry’s phone and the documents he had hidden close to his chest were the fuel they needed to escape. Holding hands they ran out into the hallway, bringing laughter with them. They stopped only when they reached the end of the corridor, not where the elevator was but instead by an indiscrete staircase just beyond a large oil painting of Robert and Cersei and all of their children. 

 

Arya could barely breathe, but she pressed her hand to Gendry’s chest while she fought another round of giggles. “That was so close…”

 

“Yeah,” Gendry agreed, wiping at his brow, “too fucking close. Can we go now?”

 

“Absolutely! I just…” She expelled a cackle. “A little handsy there, Waters.”

 

He smirked, his features a sudden mixture of sly and proud and a million other things conveyed to Arya, all of them existing without a hint of apology. “You started it.” 

 

Calmly, the pair walked back down the hall, hands still clasped and walking impossibly close. Their body language asked the disconnected cameras above to keep their secrets. They were almost delirious in their giddiness, both nearly tripping over themselves as their hushed laughter filtered down the hall. No alcohol could have had them looking so drunk. 

 

“Arya Stark?” 

 

No man’s voice could have either feeling so sober.

 

Gendry felt the way Arya’s hand tightened upon him and saw how her shoulders heaved, fixed in an inhale while she waited, almost willing herself to disappear. Gendry saw it though, that inevitable switch. The actress he’d witnessed when they had their picture taken had returned and she was now spinning to greet the President with a wide smile and convincing eyes. 

 

“President Baratheon, hi!”

 

“ Miss Arya Stark, in the flesh,” Robert chuckled. “I never thought I’d see you here but I am so pleased.”

 

“I appreciate the invitation, sir.” As soon as her lips finished their dance they retired, resting before the next act. 

 

“Nonsense! You know better than that. Robert,” he insisted. “And this is…” His voice trailed off as his gaze shifted. Bright blue eyes rested on bright blue eyes, the same vision passed back and forth between men with wildly different hearts. Arya often wondered what traits Gendry had inherited from his mother. It seemed there were none. Gendry  shared so many characteristics with his father it was almost laughable for the President not to recognize his own son. 

 

“Uh, Alex, sir. My boyfriend Alex.”

 

“Alex?”

 

He was asking for a last name but Arya knew better than to give one. She and Gendry hadn’t planned for a last name and even if they had, Robert didn’t deserve to learn it. It wasn’t information a father should have to ask. Arya couldn’t imagine what Gendry was feeling but she was too deep in her own rage to care. All previous thoughts of her father’s best friend were gone, dead when a bullet was lodged in her father’s heart, rendering him lifeless. She could finally see him for what she always believed him to be: vile, loathsome, rude, arrogant, and loud. 

 

The fire Robert’s smile stoked within Arya was calmed only by Gendry’s touch. It was clear then, when she wished to flee but found herself rooted to the spot, that Gendry was the cause. His hand was laced behind her back, resting in a perfect curve upon her hip. When he felt Arya tense up, or hold her breath, he’d shift his fingers upon the satin of her dress, bringing her back to the moment. It was his attempt at comforting her but for Arya it was a reminder of her own aims. This was not a moment she needed strength in, and she was ready to correct Gendry, to lean into him in support. Somehow though, in an instant, it all clicked. Allowing him to touch her, to comfort her, was giving him strength. 

 

“Uh, our ride is here,” Arya muttered quickly. 

 

Robert almost winced. “Not staying for dinner?”

 

“I haven’t been feeling too well. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, you know I was so looking forward to seeing old friends so I was hoping I’d make it through the night but I really don’t think I can do it. Please extend my appreciation and apology to the First Lady, would you?”

 

It was to be assumed that Arya’s request was well received but neither her nor Gendry remained long enough to witness it. They felt the way Robert’s eyes bore into them as they headed out the door leading into the staircase. Gendry led this time, steering Arya down several floors of steps until finally they were at the bottom, with only one option for egress. 

 

“Where…”

 

“Here,” Arya nodded, now holding her phone to her ear. She looked away when the call connected, her voice short. “Come get us, please?” Apparently it was that simple; the conversation ended just as easily as it began, no questions asked, no explanations given. Pleased with the outcome, Arya wrapped her hand around Gendry’s upper arm and brought them out the door. She ordered him to keep his head down and he obliged, the two looking like children sharing secrets while they made their way past many Special Agents and the all of the cameras that lined the halls, taking snapshots of their attempted smooth exit. 

 

Even once they were outside, Arya didn’t ask questions. In a way, Gendry wanted her to; her silence was unnerving. Instead though she wrapped her arms around his neck and placed her head to his chest. Together they began to sway slightly, a silent dance of regret and apology. It wasn’t the only dance they’d performed that night, but somehow it was the only dance that mattered. 

 

They stayed like that, neither saying anything until their ride arrived. Gendry detached from Arya and she looked up, a gentle agitation tugging at her cheeks as she realized they were no longer alone. Once they were back in the car, Arya’s head fell to Gendry’s shoulder while he looked away, staring out the window.

 

“What is…”

 

His voice was a whisper, barely causing Arya to stir. “Back entrance,” she explained lightly, her body only managing a blink, her head falling as he breathed out. Slowly she reached out for Gendry’s hands and moved them to her own lap. She manipulated each digit, dissecting each line and bump until finally his fingers were laced with her own. The pair remained like this until they pulled up to the flat. Even when they stepped out of the car, Sandor didn’t ask questions. Arya tossed a simple thanks over her shoulder and it was as if the man knew. He didn’t say anything but before he drove off, Gendry saw the nod Sandor tossed his way. It was everything he couldn’t say, and wouldn’t say for fear of upsetting Arya. The man who had originally threatened Gendry had somehow accepted him just as fast; it was a nod in acknowledgement and appreciation. It was the thank you Gendry didn’t need. 

 

“Gendry?” Arya finally said once they were cloaked behind the ascending elevator doors.

 

“Hmm?”

 

“Are you...I’m sorry,” she whispered.

 

Gendry shook his head. He even laughed. “For what?”

 

“I didn’t...I had no idea he’d be there.”

 

“No? It’s his house so I kind of figured...”

 

Arya had to smirk too. “You’re right. But...I didn’t plan that. I never wanted...god, that must have been awful. He’s such a fucking—”

 

“Hey, hey…” Gendry hushed. “He’s who I’ve always known him to be. I wasn’t that surprised. Robert...he’s not my father, you know? It was like meeting a stranger.”

 

“I know but—”

 

“I don’t and won’t have the relationship with my father like you did with your dad, Arya. And that’s okay.”

 

“It’s not though!”

 

“But it is, alright? Because that’s all I’ve ever known and my mum was the best mum. Please don’t hate yourself, alright? Tonight was oddly a lot of fun?” he confirmed, almost in question. 

 

Arya giggled. “It kind of was. You have those papers?”

 

“What papers?”

 

Arya’s eyes went round but soon her lips were puckering, and she was pushing at Gendry’s shoulders as he too grinned, revealing to her the expense reports he had pocketed. “Arse!” she emphasized with a hit to his chest. Gendry only laughed and just as easily the two settled back into one another until they reached their floor and were forced to separate if only to allow them to exit the elevator and make their way into the flat.

 

Once inside, Arya immediately kicked off her shoes. Everything around them was dark and a chill existed, painting goosebumps on Arya’s arms and back for Gendry to admire as they made their way up the stairs. They paused at the landing, standing at an impasse that felt too familiar considering all of the lines they’d spent their night crossing together. 

 

“I…”

 

“Yeah, of course,” Arya nodded. Already she was heading for her room, mere steps distancing her from Gendry who disappeared behind his bedroom door much more quickly than he had planned. 

 

Once inside Gendry immediately curled his finger between the knotted fabric of his bow-tie and began to pull, loosening it. It unraveled and Gendry tossed it away, almost angry with the satin, and thoroughly pleased only when his top button was undone and he could breathe again — or attempt to. He made careful work of taking off his jacket. It was equally constricting but he thought only of the care Arya had taken to help him pick it out and how before the party they’d spent most of their day laughing together. He hung it on a wooden hanger with care and when he stepped out of his shoes, he placed them away just as neatly. His white shirt was also hung, and on another hanger, his cummerbund. 

 

It was almost as if he were waiting for Arya, because when he heard a knock at the door, he exhaled as if Arya’s tiny fist rapping against the wood was permission to breathe. Slowly Gendry padded toward the door, his mind much quicker, a sprint between thoughts, deciding ultimately that he was unsure of what he’d find on the other side. 

 

It was better that way because what he happened upon was Arya, almost exactly as he’d left her. The last snapshot Gendry had of her in his mind was similar to what he saw now. She was still in her dress but her hair was out of its clips and  he was forced to look down to see her. She had removed her heels and was back to her usual height, the sight of which had Gendry smirking.

 

The hand Arya had placed to her neck fell away as she turned to look to him. “Hi,” she whispered. 

 

“Hey,” he returned, a chuckle brushing past his lips. He licked them then, waiting for Arya to continue.

 

“I just wanted to say thank you. For everything. For tonight but for—”

 

With a furrowed brow Gendry was already shaking his head. He didn’t want the compliment but he also didn’t want its implication. She could have told him this before bed. It would have meant more if she let him hold her as he had the previous night. Gendry had watched her fingertips itch to touch his cheek then. Surely these words would have made her bold enough. Already tonight they’d gone further: been braver, somehow more sincere and more honest than they’d ever been.

 

“Uh, yeah, right...of course,” Gendry managed with a shake of his head. His eyes were closed. When he opened them Arya was closer, her hands slow and deliberate as they reached for his neck. Slightly stunned, his mouth fell open. Soon his eyes fluttered shut too as Arya angled her face ever so slightly so she could press her mouth to his. There was no one at the door, no fumbling of hands or movement of lips for the mere purpose of keeping the other silent. In fact, there was very little concentration involved. The kiss was effortless, and breaking apart from it felt akin to sinning. Together their eyes opened and the look they shared was electric. 

 

The fear they felt kept them both frozen until, in a single heartbeat, Arya lunged at Gendry, wrapping her arms around his neck so she could taste him once more. All at once they were moving, stumbling backward with no regard for the light in the hallway or the half-open door they left in their wake. Hunger drove them, making limbs pliable as both sought purchase against the other. If either were to pull away or even sigh the other would surely fall.

 

As Arya’s tiny hands began to undo the buttons on Gendry’s pants his own applied pressure to the straps upon her back, seeking out a solution for the trapped freckles that dotted her spine. He was too breathless to give up but also too turned on to keep searching. He’d need a minute and Arya seemed averse to giving him one. Her own hands were soft, almost tentative as they separated the the waist of his trousers, her nails scraping against the taut skin there. A shiver made its way up Gendry’s back, and he nearly bucked into her, his mouth opening instead when he tasted the way her own coy actions had her grinning. 

 

Fingers traveled upward, pads of fingertips slick against dewy skin as Gendry’s cotton undershirt clung to his chest. Teasingly the tips of her forefingers swirled around his nipples, keeping that surge of electricity constant. Gendry’s mouth had fallen to Arya’s neck, nipping and biting at the exposed skin he’d been adoring all night. He savored her there, inhaling the florals of her perfume, rubbing his nose against her pulse point when the delicious way Arya dug her nails into his chest had his mind clouding.

 

Mouths were reacquainted and with them, Arya’s nails dragged down Gendry’s chest only to rest upon the waistband of his briefs. They curled upon the elastic, pulling, before giving up just as easily. When they returned her touch had quickened, become more urgent, and the two were rolling against one another in a fight for dominance. Gendry would have won if Arya’s hands weren’t so persistent, pushing his shirt upward. 

 

The action had them forced to separate. For a moment, Arya even disappeared as she pulled Gendry’s shirt upward and off. Neither knew where it landed; neither cared. And when Gendry leaned in again, ready to seize Arya’s lips she was already gone, on to her next task as if crossing off a list in her mind of all the things she’d clearly been wishing to do to Gendry but had not yet had the courage for. 

 

Gendry’s own amazement had him caring less, if only briefly. He was too astonished by the way Arya waved off any inhibitions. She was perfect like this, chaotic and more beautiful than she’d been earlier that night. His hands in her hair had each waved tress voluminous and her eyes, usually the most gorgeous shade of steel were darker. As Arya’s mouth licked and sucked an uneven trail down Gendry’s chest, his heartbeat quickened. He thought only of her mouth upon his, knowing now how wonderful it’d feel to have those lips elsewhere. He had a list of his own and as Arya nearly kneeled before him, giving several syncopated kisses to the skin beneath his navel, his cock twitched. Instantly Gendry grabbed Arya’s elbows and brought her to her feet. Her gaze widened but she wasn’t offended. If anything she was excited, her skin glistening as the moonlight continued to spill in upon them, interrupting the moving shadows their haste created. 

 

With a gentle force Gendry’s hands fell to her hips and as if Arya knew she turned around, accepting the way he manipulated her up against the wall. The same hands that had made quick work of his shirt were pressed flat to the wall, her body radiating trust as Gendry’s mouth sucked on her neck. From his position there he saw only half of the proud grin she wore, keeping her hair in a fist up off her neck. Even as Gendry placed a strong hand to her belly and pulled her back against him, Arya spread her legs. It was then, just as she attempted to catch her breath, that she felt the clear sign of arousal, warm and wet at the apex of her thighs. Gendry would have felt it too if he weren’t so careful in his movements, rubbing his erection along the curve of her backside with his forehead pressed to her shoulder, clearly in focus.

 

An inhale cooled Arya’s complexion and she looked over her shoulder to him. Gendry’s hands had ghosted up her sides and she didn’t dare move, even as his cock pressed into the cleave of her bottom, tightening the fabric there.

 

“Rip it,” she growled.

 

Gendry shook his head. Languidly he pulled one strap from her shoulder, kissing the path it left in its wake. Somehow the tiny cords did not mark Arya’s skin. His own lips did, and in a breath of clarity he wondered what Arya would look like come morning, her body nothing but proof of his want. More than anything, he hoped she’d be beside him in bed as the sun came up, at least long enough for him to witness it.

 

“Rip it,” Arya tried once more, her teeth still gritting. She wiggled her ass back in his direction, the movement like a warning. 

 

Gendry chuckled and continued to take his time. He stilled her hips, then performed the same torturous dance, his own calloused fingertips pulling upon Arya’s skin as the other strap conceded. The fabric covering the rest of Arya’s lithe form loosened, but it was too tight on her hips to fall away completely. As Arya rested upon the wall, accepting his teasing, Gendry managed to reach up and cup her chest. His thumb pebbled her nipple, the other vulnerable to the heat that enveloped them.

 

“I knew you didn’t have anything…” Gendry managed through ragged breathing. His words were caught in his throat only when Arya rocked against his prick, spurring him on. “Minx,” he gave, before biting the curve of her neck, causing her to cry out.

 

Gendry smiled into her neck. He stopped only when Arya countered, not with another roll of her hips but with words that had him pausing. “If you’d hurry up, you’d see everything else that’s not under this dress...”

 

This time Gendry wasn’t gentle, and his lack of tenderness had Arya giggling as his hands suddenly slowed long enough to find the zipper hiding at her back. He tugged it down, doing all but following her orders. The fabric didn’t rip but it nearly snagged and when it was finally unzipped enough to fall away from Arya’s body, the satin dropped like a curtain, revealing Arya’s naked backside.

 

“Bloody hell,” Gendry growled, before pulling her back into his arms.

 

Arya continued to laugh, her kisses wet and sloppy as she allowed him to adore her. His touch upon her skin had her almost proud, igniting the fire within her belly again, wondering if proof of what he was doing to her had already made its way down her thigh. She didn’t have time to think though. Gendry slammed her back against the wall. She winced but the discomfort subsided as he attempted to apologize into her skin. Her hands were all the acceptance he needed as he fumbled awkwardly between them, all of her weight up against the wall as she leaned back to push down his trousers. Their proximity had them pushed to his knees and soon his briefs followed. Arya couldn’t help but to lick her lips when the sight of Gendry’s cock somehow outdid all fantasies she’d previously conjured. She no longer cared about his half-dressed state or, as she had so many times before with her ex, what he thought of her body. All of that was clear now, not only as Gendry leaned down to take a breast in his mouth but as he held her so carefully. Arya almost felt weightless in his arms, every vein and ripple of his chest slick as they moved against one another. 

 

“Now! Please, Gendry, I…” A moan spilled out and Arya dropped her head back, knocking it against the wall. 

 

“Fuck, you’re beautiful…”

 

Arya beamed. Then her hands fell lazy around his shoulders as if giving him the permission to continue. It was one slow thrust and Gendry was inside of her, the angle filling her completely, causing their lips to fall away as they both got acquainted. Eventually Arya clenched around him, her body weak as she relaxed around him, his heat pulsing deep within, almost making the way he pulled out seem painful. 

 

Of course he was teasing too, sliding his cock nearly to the head before slamming back into her. The way Arya’s nails dug into his back only encouraged his lust and soon the pair was meeting each other, sweaty and needing, months of attraction building up in their bellies.

 

“Gendry, I…” She couldn’t say it. Whatever her mind had imagined was lost as his cockhead hit a particularly sensitive spot inside her. “Yessss,” she hissed instead. “Right there…”

 

Gendry repositioned Arya in his arms, pushing her further up the wall, the action causing her body to drag upon his before ultimately settling again, both too breathless to move. It was only a moment like this though, before Arya tightened the grip she had around Gendry’s neck and casually kissed his lips. He could have held her like this and she would have been content but Arya knew it was so much less than they deserved. Again she clenched and Gendry bucked, the motion bringing his ear close to her mouth for a whisper.

 

“Do you know how long I’ve waited for this?” she purred, her words teasing and somehow soft upon his lobe. He slammed into her again, a smile spread across his face. “I’m not going anywhere,” she promised, fixing the grip she had upon his back just as he began to rock them again. “I know you’ve wanted this too…” Arya rolled her lips inward then, just a hint of hesitation on her tongue. 

 

In all of his oblivion, Gendry was levelheaded enough to kiss away those doubts. He’d never needed to talk during sex before but now he had too many things he wanted to say and was almost angry it was an art he had yet to master. If Arya’s promise was any indication, they’d have time. The simple thought had his hips pistoning, encouraging the way Arya’s breath quickened, and a low moan began to build in her throat. 

 

He groaned too, his forehead slick in concentration as the two ventured through a hot open-mouthed kiss. Gendry pulled away only to ask a simple question, but Arya quickly shook her head, mumbling something about an IUD. Her eyes were just as sharp as her words, wanting anything but for them to finish apart. 

 

“Fill me,” she pleaded with plump lips that then slid down his cheek. All at once their eyes were locked. Gendry shook, his orgasm hitting him in an instant. It was then that Arya placed a hand to his cheek, catching the way his bliss had his head lolling. It made kisses difficult and further impossible when the fire in her own belly crackled and spit, causing her to cry out through the last of Gendry’s thrusts. Arya felt all of her pulsating around Gendry’s cock, milking him, as his hands clutched her sides as if vowing to never let go. 

 

Breathlessness and heaving lungs marked their letdown but when Arya’s legs loosened around Gendry’s waist, neither moved to detach. She was relieved he didn’t put her down. Arya wasn’t ready to lose him yet; she also wasn’t sure she’d be able to stand on her own. Gendry’s footsteps echoed that sentiment, and they laughed and kissed as he brought them toward his bed. Both sighed out when they finally separated, cool air settling upon where the other had previously been. Soon though it was banished, as Arya slipped beneath Gendry’s covers and he soon joined her, his still-slick body flush against her own. Arya moved her knee so he was nestled perfectly between her legs again. If Gendry leaned forward he could have slipped back inside her . She was ready, and if the reemerging hardness pressed to her hip was any indication, so was he. But she flipped them over and just kissed him instead. Gendry seemed content with this, his hands, previously lust-driven, now sweet against her waist. 

 

With the sight of Arya straddling him, her hands pressed to his chest, Gendry smirked. “I am so, so fucked…”

 

Arya made a face, her nose scrunching upward. “Not really what a girl wants to hear after sex.”

 

“I’m...fuck, I’ve wanted you for so long—” He cut himself off, seizing her lips at once, causing them both to inhale sharply as their eyes fluttered shut. 

 

Arya rolled off of him, pressing one last kiss to Gendry’s cheek and then nestled into his side. A single beat of silence swept over them, both letting it pass by while at the same time waiting for the next opportunity to speak. 

 

“I meant what I said...thank you,” Arya whispered.

 

Gendry looked over to her, tightening the grip he had, keeping her close. “You know I’d…” The light in his eyes dimmed.

 

Arya sat up, needing it back. “Gendry?” She pressed her hand to his cheek, the simple touch causing his breath to hitch.

 

“I’d do anything for you. I mean that.”

 

Arya nodded. She was overwhelmed by her feelings and she flopped back down beside him, blinking up at the ceiling. “I’d...same. Always.”

 

Gendry exhaled. “You’ll be here in the morning? This isn’t all a dream?”

 

Arya beamed, her happiness nearly willing those hidden tears to fall.  “God, I hope not.” 

Chapter Text

“That’s what you want? All the times I wanted you?”

 

Arya bit her lip and nodded, looking much like an innocent child save for the bare skin she wore so proudly. 

 

Already that morning Gendry and she had connected twice. In the early morning hours, when the sleep they’d managed to get was still insufficient, Arya pulled Gendry’s arm across her midsection and settled back into him. He kissed her shoulder and she nearly wept at his tenderness, wondering so many times now how they ever made it this far without ending up here: him sliding into her so effortlessly, sleepy thrusts causing them both to moan and eventually sigh through an almost shared orgasm. Gendry had been so comfortable he nearly fell asleep inside of her then. There was a guaranteed safety with Arya by his side and she must have felt the same way because she quickly submitted to slumber too. Arya even whined when he pulled out as evidence of him marked her thigh. 

 

They fell asleep again, tempting fate as the sun continued its ascension. After taking a few silent moments to admire Gendry’s bedroom, Arya slid out of bed and tip-toed to the loo. Gendry had done the same thing in the night, but he’d gently placed a fallen piece of fringe behind Arya’s ear first, as if promising he’d be back. Arya pretended to be asleep and by the time he returned, she nearly was. It seemed both were taking turns, watching the other, waiting for the moment to disappear — waiting to wake up. But each time they did they were just as they’d been: tangled up in one another, soft breathing mixing with the scent of sex in the air. 

 

When Arya had returned from the loo she placed a hand to Gendry’s chest, causing him to stir. He wrapped a strong arm around her, breathing her in, but his eyes did not open. The contented grin he wore only widened when he felt Arya climb atop him, fingertips crawling up his sides in hopes of waking different parts of him. Arya wasn’t subtle and soon it was clear that Gendry didn’t wish for her to be. She rang her naked cunt along the length of him until he was ready and the two shared a passionate kiss while Arya fumbled before eventually sinking down atop Gendry’s cock. The bed rocked beneath them. When the pressure in her belly began to crest Arya leaned back then, her hands curling around Gendry’s thighs as he continued to raise his hips to meet hers. Arya’s back was arched, her hair a wavy mess, and her breasts pushed upward in offering. Gendry couldn’t touch her when she was so far away but his thumb found a solid alternative, consistent pressure rolling circles upon her clit until she came rather violently. Only then did Arya collapse into him and her body vibrated as Gendry found his own release, the two eventually detaching if only so they could catch their breath. They remained apart only as long as it took for their chests to still. Then it was an unapologetic embrace, slick skin upon slick skin as their lips made temporary homes out of one another. 

 

This was different. The sun was up now and though Gendry’s curtains were pulled, light filtered in, painting their naked complexions as they made out like teenagers atop Gendry’s messy bed. Arya giggled more than she thought was possible, and found that for as reserved as she felt, Gendry could be shy too. Each kiss banished that more and more but in a way this was new to the both of them: fun sex where focusing on the pleasure of the other was paramount because with it came the guarantee of your own satisfaction. 

 

“You’re going to think I’m a creep,” Gendry returned, clearly still hesitant. Even so, his fingers drew lazy circles around Arya’s hipbones. 

 

“No way. I’ll return the favor. I promise.”

 

Gendry accepted the challenge, but demanded another kiss all the same. Arya reached up, cupping his cheeks to deepen it. Her tongue brushed against his bottom lip but soon pressed against his own. She felt him grow hard the longer their mouths were engaged but somehow Gendry had enough control to pull Arya’s hands away and press her wrists down into the pillow her head rested upon. Her eyes widened, her teeth showing as she practically encouraged his force with a single look. 

 

Gently, Gendry pressed a kiss to Arya’s neck. “That day,” he murmured into her skin, “when we ordered takeaway and watched movies...” Another kiss was donated to her shoulder. 

 

Arya was suddenly smug. “That night you carried me up to my room?”

 

Gendry paused. “You knew?”

 

“Yeah. Thought it was a dream, to be honest. I wanted to tell you but...it was cute.”

 

Gendry’s cheeks flushed. He returned to his task, this time nipping at the utmost swell of Arya’s breast. “You told me secrets like we’d known each other forever. And I just knew that wasn’t normal for you. And I wanted to tell you about Robert and about the money but I knew I’d lose you so I didn’t.”

 

She looked down to him. “Are all of these going to be sappy? Because if that’s the case...if anyone is the creep here, it’s me. There were plenty of times I just wanted to jump your bones because you wouldn’t put a damn shirt on...or you smiled and I was a fucking mess. So—” 

 

A forceful kiss was pressed to her mouth, rendering her silent. “Be patient, will you?”

 

Arya looked to the ceiling again, more coy than she’d initially been. “Right...” An exhale was pushed out of her puckered lips, as if she were preparing for the very things she’d requested. 

 

Gendry shifted down in the bed. He kissed a path upon Arya’s clavicle before sucking at the hollow of her neck again. “You’re probably not going to remember any of these days...”

 

“Try me,” Arya urged.

 

“There was one day...you needed a bowl or something from the cabinet above the stove and you were being stubborn and wouldn’t just grab the stool from the pantry or even a fucking chair and you tried climbing up on the counter but almost fell because you’re a total fuckin’ midget—”

 

“I totally remember that day.”

 

“My ego convinced me you did it on purpose.”

 

Arya grinned. “I might have.”

 

“Those fucking shorts you were wearing were so god damn tight. Finally you asked for help but you didn’t move. You stayed there and just let me...”

 

Arya giggled. “What?”

 

“Well now I know you know what you did.”

 

“Of course I did,” Arya snickered. “This is good, you know. That day was totally on my list.”

 

“Oh yeah?”

 

Arya shook her head. “Patience, remember? I’ll tell you all about it when it’s your turn.”

 

Gendry sighed, that same frustration from all those weeks ago still buried within him. With newfound resolve his lips continued their assault, a trickle of feather-light kisses pressed to all of Arya’s chest before he took her nipple in his mouth and began to suck. With an open mouth Arya placed a hand to the back of Gendry’s neck, asking that he continue. Eventually though he pulled away, her tit glistening. “The first time we went to the market. You insisted on pushing the cart and then almost took out several displays.”

 

“You still let me push it.”

 

“It was adorable. Infuriating,” he added in a different pitch, “but adorable.”

 

“What else?”

 

Gendry cupped her other breast and this time ran his tongue flat upon her nipple there, bringing it to a peak. He teased her with a bite, a sharp pain encouraging the rush of arousal straight to her core. As if he knew, Gendry moved his hands upon Arya, letting both cup each milky globe of her backside. It was leverage for the kisses he applied to the valley of her breasts all the way down to her navel. 

 

Lifting his head, Gendry smiled. “You making fun of my taste in music in the car. Your cheesy dancing in the car. Anything you did in the car that day on the way to Volantis.”

 

“How is any of that even remotely sexy?”

 

Gendry shrugged. His tongue darted out, dipping into Arya’s belly button, causing her stomach to concave. “You asked. You can’t judge my choices.”

 

“No judgement here,” Arya surrendered, even raising her hands up for effect. 

 

They only remained there for a moment before they moved down her own belly, seeking the top of Gendry’s head. He’d given no warning, no buildup of kisses, before tickling her clit with the tip of his tongue. Arya grabbed a fistful of hair, demanding that he stay. She could have sworn she felt him laugh as he lapped at her folds, first pressing his tongue flat then curling it inside of her, causing Arya’s eyes to snap shut as she pressed her head back flat against her pillow. Gendry was confident, no longer caring about the list he’d promised Arya or the way his cock was painfully erect, pressed down into the mattress for reprieve. He only cared about the blissful look on Arya’s face and how she gave in to the pleasure he was giving her, surrendering control and accepting her vulnerability just as she’d once told him secrets only a week after they’d met. 

 

When she came, she came hard. Gendry was thoroughly satisfied with the wet spot beneath her and Arya was too lost in her own ecstasy to realize Gendry had kissed her swollen nub and made his way back up her body. Almost overwhelmed by her own pleasure, Arya curled into him and hid her face. All of her was still buzzing and when Gendry placed a hand to her back she nearly jolted. She was incredibly sensitive and her body felt foreign. A kiss pressed to the crown of her head had Arya finally floating back to reality. She continued to cover her face while she recovered. 

 

“Tell me more.”

 

Gendry chuckled. “Volantis. On the beach. In bed...fuck, that was hard.”

 

Arya’s eyes fluttered open. “I’m sorry I kissed you.”

 

“It’s in the past.”

 

“It’s why I pushed you away—“

 

“Because you were drunk?”

 

“Yeah. And because I just wanted you and I thought you’d push me away. Because I was sad and no one likes to fuck the sad girl.”

 

Again Gendry’s laugh shook the bed. “If you’re the sad girl I will gladly fuck the sad girl.”

 

Smiling, Arya burrowed further into him. “Go on then. When else?”

 

“Last night. In that dress. Gods, Arya...”

 

“Yeah, you made that pretty clear. Still should have ripped it.”

 

“I’d waited four months. And I saw the price tag on that thing. My cock could wait a minute.”

 

“How charming,” Arya teased.

 

“There’s more. There really wasn’t a time I didn’t want you…”

 

“Good. We’re even then.”

 

With a newfound energy Arya pushed Gendry away and rolled over so she could toss off the duvet and step out of bed. Unabashedly she stretched, raising her locked fingers in the air to elongate her petite form. Sunlight caught the hidden curve of her breasts as she took one then two more steps away from him. Gendry noticed her tapered waist and then the perfect curve of her ass. He also noticed the damage he’d done, how in his attempt to adore her he’d left traces of himself across her complexion. Galaxies of pink and purple spanned her neck, chest, and the inside of her thighs. Arya wore them all proudly but Gendry went to her at once, wrapping his arms around her waist. 

 

“You’d tell me if I hurt you, right?”

 

Arya smirked. “Of course. Why?”

 

“I...” His hand traveled south, curving over Arya’s hip to rest on her ass. “Your skin is a mess.”

 

“Good,” Arya beamed. 

 

Gendry’s breath hitched. He refused to let go. “When I say how much I wanted you, Arya, I mean I wanted you . Only you.”

 

Her smile faded. Not because she was sad, but because she wasn’t. She was overwhelmed by how happy she was, as if for the first time in her life she felt truly seen. 

 

“Are you ready for my list now?”

 

Gendry let a small smile tug at his cheeks. “Sure.”

 

As she’d done the previous night, Arya grabbed for Gendry’s hand and dragged him toward the bathroom. He watched then as that same body he’d fallen in love with moved, first to open the shower’s glass door then to turn on the water. He’d erased images of Arya so many times in this very shower. Those memories he had mentioned had been tamed here, cheaply, he once thought. He wondered then if Arya had ever done the same. 

 

“Gendry?”

 

He looked up only to see Arya standing beneath the stream of water. One faucet trickled down her back but she had not yet turned the nozzle to allow the rain stream to fall from overhead. She did once Gendry was in front of her, somehow wrapping an arm around her waist while he shut the door. Arya looked down, water from above keeping their nakedness company. She also saw what Gendry saw: proof of their coupling in the most beautiful specks of magenta and indigo. Gendry had them too, one most notably on his pulse point. Arya reached up to kiss it and when she pulled away she found his lips nearly brushing her own. Both paused, as if they’d never kissed before — as if they hadn’t spent all night making love. In a rush Arya nipped at Gendry’s lips and the pair laughed, breaking contact. It was as easy to fall out of as it was to fall into, forcing them both to question again how they’d ever made it this long without being intimate. 

 

Delicately, the same hands Arya had used to flip through confident files in the Red Keep, were snaking down Gendry’s chest. He had no option but to watch, her digits walking their way southward — slowly, deliberately. Arya ran her thumb over Gendry’s peck and the skin tingled. She was nearly giggling into him, loving the way he held his breath as he watched her have her fun. Somewhere around his abdomen, Arya applied pressure to the lines on his chest with a single finger and began to pull, the skin turning white to red as the steam in the room increased. Then her fingers were dancing again, running lines upon the taut curved muscle at his hips, then just dusting the trail of pubic hair below. It seemed her hands were everywhere, both pressureful and feather light, except upon his cock. 

 

“Do you want my list now?” Arya teased. 

 

Gendry nodded. “You can give me your fuckin’ list. I might be dead before you’re through but—” He laughed into her mouth as Arya seized his lips. In apology, her hand softly curled around his length and began to pump. It was up and down, up and down, her steel colored eyes never leaving his stony blue ones. Even as water ran down his forehead, past his nose and over his lip, Gendry seemed unaffected. He was far more moved by the beautiful woman touching his cock, maintaining eye contact as if that were the ultimate goal. 

 

“If you don’t…” He grunted, nearly bucking out of Arya’s hand. 

 

She smiled. Then she let go, her hands going to his shoulders instead. “The day you took me on base...to the range,” Arya whispered, her mouth soft and hot near his ear. “God,” she breathed out, “I wanted to fuck you so badly.”

 

Gendry grinned. “Why didn’t you?”

 

“I’m chickenshit,” she admitted honestly, earning herself a laugh she ultimately shared with Gendry. 

 

“Should have.”

 

Arya smirked. She kissed his pulse point, her tongue smooth against the curve of his neck. Arya bit his ear too, and when her mouth pulled away she continued her assault in the form of kisses down the center plane of Gendry’s chest. 

 

Again he watched her, watching the care she took to taste his wet skin as if her mouth were memorizing parts of him for later. With eyes filled with wonder, Gendry watched even still as Arya manipulated his body, her lips and hands pushing him back to sit on the marble ledge. He was too mesmerized by her to think about regaining control. He actually quite liked this version of her, trusting her the way she trusted him. It had him hard, almost painfully so, and she’d barely even touched him. 

 

Arya dropped one knee, then the other, placing herself in the space between Gendry’s spread legs. Only then did she reach out for him, taking his prick in her hands and bringing the head to her mouth to suck. Gendry was forced to press a hand down to the seat below to keep himself steady. Her lips puckered upon him only encouraged the beads of pre-cum that were already spilling out. If she continued like this, agonizingly slow, he was sure he wouldn’t last long. Already he felt the coil in his belly tightening. 

 

“In Volantis,” Arya said strongly when she finally detached. Her hands continued their slow dance, wrists twisting as her fingers worked upon his cock while she looked up to him with heavy eyes. Droplets dotted her eyelashes, and Gendry had to blink to catch his breath. Her glance was too intense, the pressure her hands applied to his member too perfect. 

 

“You were so good with everyone,” Arya continued. She kissed his cockhead. Then she gripped his shaft and leaned down before dragging her wanting tongue from base to tip. “Pretending was nice. I liked that you were mine...it was the best lie I’ve ever told,” she admitted before giving him another lick, her hands doing quick work in her mouth’s wake. “When we go back….promise me you’ll fuck me in that bed?”

 

Gendry’s cock twitched. As if agreeing with his reaction she leaned in and wrapped her lips around him. Slowly, teasingly, she took more and more of him in her mouth. Gendry shifted immediately to move her hair off her face. It was a tender act but Arya knew he wanted to see her. She’d thought about him too many times in this shower; she too wondered what she looked like now, on her knees hungry before him. If she weren’t so determined she would have taken his hands and forced them between her legs. The shower behind them was still doing a decent job of keeping them wet but it hid the way Arya’s cunt ached, still craving him. Each splash of water that fell down her spine and disappeared thereafter was tantalizing. In all her lust, she’d never worked herself up like this. If Gendry suddenly decided to be brave and touch any other part of her, she was almost sure she’d collapse. 

 

“I don’t know if you remember,” Arya somehow managed as she pulled away, her lips releasing him quite loudly. “We stopped to get coffee on the way back and that barista was flirting with you.”

 

“She…” His attention dwindled as Arya twirled her tongue around his cockhead. 

 

“She was totally flirting with you and you were oblivious. I wanted you then—”

 

“Jealous?”

 

Arya only smiled. Gendry laughed and looked away, slightly shocked. “I wanted you to want me the way she wanted you.”

 

“I did. I dooo…” He moaned, now with his head dropped back against the tile. Arya’s head was bobbing again, her cheeks concave as she managed most of his length. He caressed her cheek when the tip of his cock hit the back of her throat and when Arya pulled away again to breathe, Gendry sighed out. “Can you please just…” She was gone again, her attention completely devoted to his pleasure. As the pressure in his stomach built, Gendry resisted the urge he had to curl his hand around Arya’s neck, essentially asking for more. Knowing he was so close to losing control, he restrained himself. He knew now how difficult it was for him to speak when Arya gave herself to him like this. He wouldn’t be able to warn her he was close and he didn’t want this morning to end the way so many others had, his seed spilling down the drain, taking the feeling of her with it. 

 

“Last night,” Arya tried, breathlessly. “I have a thing for suits. And you looked so good. Every time you touched me I thought…” Her eyes lit up and she smiled but no words came out. Gendry allowed it, his mind wondering what she’d thought of. He almost agreed with her silence; he was still searching for the perfect words to tell her how he felt. Three simple ones presented themselves instead and continued like a mantra in his mind as Arya’s hands began to move upon his cock once more. 

 

“Should have let you fuck me on that sofa in the lift. Kept up the Stark tradition,” she added, causing them both to laugh. Instantly though, things were silent. Parted lips defined Gendry’s features as Arya took his prick in her mouth, following her own lips with her hands: rolling, pulling, applying a pressure that had Gendry keening, his hips raising up off the marble seat. 

 

His hand reached out then, but Arya swatted it away. She continued her ministrations and encouraged the very thing that had Gendry hesitating, the speed of her hand, the pressure of her mouth somehow more of what he needed until Arya saw his eyes shut and felt his legs tense. He spilled himself into her mouth in spurts, his seed warm and metallic. Arya swallowed, and even took special care of wiping at her mouth with the back of her hand. Gendry didn’t see either action. His eyes were still closed, his head thrown back as the aftershocks of his orgasm rippled through his veins. 

 

“Fuck, Arya…” he finally managed. Somehow he was on his feet then, picking her up to bring them both under the stream of the shower. It pricked hot on their skin and Arya dropped her head back to laugh as Gendry pressed her into the wall and began to attack her neck with his mouth. It was a reminder of the night before; the longer he continued, adding to his gallery of bruises and love bites, another thought from the night before crept in. Arya didn’t say it though. She kissed him instead. 

 

~!~

 

When they got out of the shower their playful energy had them nearly falling back into bed together but just as quickly they were forced apart.

 

“I hear something,” Arya mumbled as her lips detached from Gendry’s. “Jon’s home.” 

 

He looked to the door, his pink cheeks turned pale by the thought — it was clear this was the first time he’d even considered the possibility that they weren’t alone. “Oh. Fuck. Yeah, right,” he chuckled. Unceremoniously he pulled on a clean pair of boxer-briefs, his attention still lost over Arya’s shoulder. The distraction allowed Arya to grab for the t-shirt he’d pulled from his closet. Just as seamlessly, she pulled it over her head, her petite form drowning in the cotton in official dismissal of their night together.

 

Arya cocked her head and pressed a hand to Gendry’s cheek. “Pity. I wanted to make you breakfast,” she almost whined. 

 

Gendry laughed again, this time the sound bringing Arya just an ounce of relief. “Oh yeah?”

 

“Yeah. Those banana and chocolate chip pancakes you told me your mum used to make for you.”

 

Gendry shook his head. He grabbed Arya, angling her face toward his one last time before letting her slip away. Something so brief but so sweet was interrupted with further proof of their company: voices filtering out into the shared hallway and then the telltale patter of feet on the staircase. This time the pair looked to the door together, finding it was the same white wood that greeted them, casting them in shadow, essentially keeping them protected. 

 

Without warning, Gendry slapped Arya’s ass. At once her eyes widened in challenge. She’d given him the same look the previous night when he roughly slammed them against the wall and then again when he had her wrists pinned down to her pillow. Somehow Arya’s warnings always looked like invitations. 

 

“Right, well this was fun, yeah?” Gendry breathed out. “Maybe we can do it again sometime?” 

 

Before Arya could react, Gendry was laughing, pulling her in for an embrace she couldn’t help but to soften into. For just a moment her breath had hitched, contemplating that what Gendry said could have been a possibility. Maybe not with Gendry, but with any other boy. It was one of the many reasons she feared leaving the room. Threats much different than those the couple usually faced were suddenly all too real now. One of those threats grew more and more dangerous the longer she remained.

 

“Right,” Arya breathed out, pushing Gendry away. She couldn’t spin away from him completely; already he was bringing her back, smiling against her mouth just one more time before finally watching her go. Her green satin dress and all other remnants of the night before still laid in a heap at the foot of the bed.

 

Arya tip-toed to her own room, careful to avoid the creak in the floor just outside the bathroom. She craved a cup of tea or even her usual burnt toast with butter and tart blackberry jam. More than that she craved the morning she’d concocted in her head, one like those she’d seen in the movies — one she’d never allowed herself to envision before now. She didn’t think of the photographs on her phone or of the documents they’d stolen. She only thought of being normal — of Gendry and banana pancakes.

 

When Arya made her way down to the kitchen just a moment later, she saw Jon standing at the counter. It was more than difficult to pretend she wanted his company but the smile she forced his way dwindled when he turned around to greet her, revealing a petite redhead in the very slight space between him and the countertop. 

 

Both smiled, but when the woman saw Arya’s shock she sipped at the coffee mug she clutched and looked down. Jon was made to move then, taking a step toward Arya. “Hey,” he breathed out a laugh.

 

Arya’s brow was furrowed but she stepped forward to. “Uh, hey...sorry,” she added as she now made her way past Jon toward the stove to put on the kettle. She gripped the range, sensing even with her back to them, the looks Jon and his guest were sharing.

 

As the water boiled, she quickly turned around. “Ygritte, right?” she pointed.

 

It was Jon’s turn to pause, his mouth falling open. Before he could intervene, the redhead brushed past him to stand closer to Arya. “Uh, yeah, good memory. Nice to see you.”

 

Arya smirked. “Yeah, you too.” She turned back to the stove, the kettle already humming upon the burner as it drew closer to a boil. 

 

“Uh, I’m going to…” 

 

Arya shifted to grab a cup from a nearby cabinet and with it a fresh tea bag. A breeze tickled the back of her knees, signaling Ygritte’s exit. Only then did Arya turn around, suddenly forgetting about the almost-hissing kettle.

 

“Didn’t know you had company,” she deadpanned.

 

“Didn’t know you were home,” Jon returned. 

 

The kettle whistled and Arya turned to click the burner off and move it off the heat. Steam rose from the cup as she poured the water inside and suddenly her and Jon weren’t alone anymore. This time, however, it was Gendry. And this time Arya did smile, a grin hidden by her hair as she heard Gendry approach the coffee pot near Jon and pour himself a cup.

 

Gendry looked between the cousins and waited. “Uh, morning,” he managed casually before disappearing into the pantry. 

 

Arya tossed a similar greeting over her shoulder while Jon just grumbled. “Where were you last night?” he persisted instead.

 

“Out,” Arya shrugged. She was leaning back against the counter now, looking just as relaxed as Ygritte had been. Arya had far less freckles but her skinny legs peeked out from beneath the shirt her limbs swam in and suddenly she was very thankful that she’d slipped into underwear before coming downstairs. 

 

“Did you go to the Gala?” 

 

Arya looked to the newspaper on the counter, then back to him. “I did. Wanted to see some old friends.”

 

Jon let out a laugh of disbelief. “You’re full of shit, but okay.” 

 

“I’m not, actually.”

 

“Did you bring your gun?”

 

Arya scoffed. “No, I didn’t. Though that’s none of your—”

 

“Didn’t know you were seeing anyone, either.”

 

She quirked a brow. “I didn’t know I needed to get that approved by you.” She sipped at her tea and moved closer, leaning so her elbows were on the marble island separating them. “I didn’t know you were dating again. She worked on Dad’s case, you know.”

 

“Yeah, well, she’s a friend.”

 

“She’s in our kitchen without pants on, Jon. I think she’s more than a friend.” 

 

Jon sighed. “Alright, yeah, okay? We’re...hanging out. Often. Is that okay?”

 

“Yeah, sure,” Arya shrugged, now looking so indifferent it was difficult to believe she was the one who posed the question. Just then Gendry returned from the pantry. He fell into his typically serious nature rather easily, managing to stand only a step away from Arya and ignore the way his body was itching to reach out and touch her. He poured himself a bowl of cereal instead, then made slow work of padding toward the refrigerator, seemingly to retrieve milk. 

 

Arya was amused. Jon was oblivious. 

 

“So are you going to tell me then?”

 

Another loud sip from her tea had Arya feigning ignorance. “Hmm?”


“Was it Ned?”

 

“Ned Dayne?” Arya repeated, her pitch high. “Ha!”

 

“Are you not going to tell me or—”

 

“No, I wasn’t going to. But I can confirm it was not Ned. He’s back in Dorne, I’m sure. I wouldn’t know. Haven’t spoken to him in months,” she added. This had Gendry glancing to her, before returning to his now milk-filled bowl. He moved to the table and carefully pulled out the chair, enjoying the way Jon was ignoring him, and wishing for it to stay that way. He kept his eyes trained on his cereal as he pushed each piece around, pretending to eat.

 

“Are you at least being careful?” Jon exasperated. 

 

Arya grinned. “Yeah. I have the gun, remember?”

 

The laugh Gendry had sputtered on now bubbled, causing him to nearly choke on the single spoonful he’d ingested. Arya noticed and almost broke character. Jon’s newfound rage had him still oblivious. 

 

“Listen,” Arya sighed. “How about you have your company and I’ll have my company and—”

 

“No. I’m not doing this anymore, Arya. I’ve decided—”

 

“Decided what?” she snapped back. She almost looked to Gendry too. If she had she would have seen the way he hung his head low. Much harder to observe was the way his idle hand curled around the edge of the table in an attempt to restrain himself. 

 

Jon was before Arya now, his voice gruff but quiet. “I’m home for two more days. Tell me which day you’re free and we’ll get dinner. I have things I want to discuss with you. Important things.”

 

This time Arya did look to Gendry. “I’ll...what’s going on?” Her voice was panicked. “Is everything—”

 

“Everything’s fine. I’m sorry for snapping, alright? I just...dinner, okay?”

 

Arya nodded. She rolled her lips inward and clutched her mug tight, keeping the porcelain tight to her chin. It concealed the grimace she wore, her eyes still donated over Jon’s shoulder to where Gendry existed in a blur. “Uh, yeah. Sure.” 

 

“Great,” Jon exhaled. “So, uh, we were going to go grab brunch. Did you want to come?”

 

Her eyes fluttered upward. “With you and Ygritte?” Jon nodded. “Uh, no. Thank you though.”

 

“We’re going to that new place over on Second Ave...with those scones. I could pick you up something?” 

 

It was a clear effort to lighten the mood and Arya feigned contentment, flashing a small smile from out behind her cup. Jon was trying so she tried too. “No, really. I’ll probably make a shake and then just head to the gym.”

 

Jon nodded, accepting defeat. “Okay. Let me know if you change your mind, okay? And, uh, let me know which night—”

 

“Tomorrow,” Arya mumbled quickly. 

 

“Great,” Jon grinned. “Tomorrow then.” Unlike Arya his smile was genuine, and she assumed it had far more to do with the girl up in his bedroom than it did with her. Jon grabbed Arya’s elbow and brought her closer, pressing a kiss to the crown of her head. Relieved, he headed for the stairs. 

 

The sound of Jon’s bedroom door opening and closing had Arya blinking herself back to reality. Gendry was already standing, advancing toward her in swift paces. 

 

“You—”

 

“I’m fine,” she assured. “Really.”

 

Gendry set his bowl on the counter and turned toward her. “Did you want to…”

 

Arya’s demeanor shifted almost instantly. The smile she wore was bright and the energy lifted her up on her toes as she tossed her arms around Gendry’s neck. “I want you to show me how to make your mum’s pancakes.”

 

Gendry smiled too. He couldn’t help it. His hands fell to Arya’s waist, then slid down further, cupping her backside through the t-shirt she wore. “Only if you tell me all about your night with this mystery bloke…” 


Arya giggled before pressing a kiss to his lips, one both sought to deepen. Soft moans escaped their lips in protest as they finally pulled away but continued to embrace. Anyone could have walked in then and interrupted what was clearly meant to be a private moment. It was a risk they were taking— like the Army shirt Arya wore or Gendry’s untouched bowl of soggy cereal.

Chapter Text

The stove was a war zone of spattered pancake mix and melted chocolate chips. Gendry took his time wiping it down before moving to the sink to do the dishes. He could have just as easily put the bowl and whisk and measuring cups they’d used into the dishwasher but somehow this made more sense. Gendry needed something to distract himself now that Arya was gone. He didn’t want to think about the journey she was currently taking to get herself to the gym in his car. He also didn’t want to think about the way Jon had spoken to her and more importantly how he couldn’t do anything about it. The latter pondering rang true when Gendry heard the apartment’s alarm system disengage, granting Jon and Ygritte entry. Gendry watched as Ygritte pressed a kiss to Jon’s cheek and whispered something before disappearing up the stairs. Jon advanced toward Gendry in her absence, moving much like he had only hours earlier to make another pot of coffee. 

 

“Want some?” Jon pointed.

 

Gendry looked up from his task. “Uh, sure. I was going to make another pot, actually. Thanks.” Jon nodded and leaned back. He crossed his arms over his chest and the old friends existed together in the silence. As the coffee began to drip, Gendry placed both plates in the drying rack and moved on to the large stainless steel bowl. “Late night?” he attempted. 

 

A grin quickly spread across Jon’s face. “Were we loud?”

 

Gendry coughed out a laugh. “Uh, no? I don’t think so? I didn’t...”

 

“Because you were.”

 

The bowl nearly slipped out of Gendry’s hand. He caught it at the last minute, causing water to slosh in the deep sink as the sponge Gendry held fell flat against the surface. “I...fuck, mate, I’m—”

 

Jon laughed and waved his friend off. “Sounded like fun. Ygritte didn’t even notice. I was just worried it was Arya, y’know?”

 

Gendry swallowed. “I don’t...whad'ya mean?”

 

“I thought she was the one with company. Thankfully, I was wrong.”

 

“Uh...” Gendry nearly choked on the laugh he forced. “Sorry. I didn’t...we weren’t, uh...” He laughed and rubbed at the back of his neck, almost in apology. He was just as speechless last night when Arya rode him, rocking them both to a climax he remembered had her head tossed back and her lips parted in loud prayer. She’d practically chanted his name as he filled her, the sound of which drowned out his own incessant moans. It was careless but Gendry couldn’t have stopped them even if he wanted to. And he certainly didn’t, especially then. A naked and orgasming Arya was his new favorite sight and the sound of her mouth worshipping him only added to the visual. Gendry just hoped Arya’s pleasure masked her usual tone. 

 

“I’m sorry,” he managed finally. 

 

“Really, mate, it’s fine. It was funny once I realized it wasn’t Arya. Then I felt less bad about being loud.”

 

“Yeah, well, like I said...didn’t hear you so—”

 

“Good. Do you know what time Arya got in?”

 

“Uh, no...no, of course not.”

 

“I want to make sure—”

 

“I think it was early,” Gendry mumbled. “Uh, this morning. She was getting into the shower when I woke up.” 

 

“Does she have company much?”

 

Gendry sighed and this time when the bowl left his hands it was deliberate. “I told you I wasn’t going to watch her, Jon. I said that in the beginning. I was always shit at surveillance and—”

 

“And she’s an adult, I know. I just...I worry about her.”

 

“Why? She’s fine.”

 

“Says who?”

 

“Me? We live together. She comes and goes. Nothing out of the ordinary.”

 

“And no guests?”

 

“No, not really. Sansa was here. But you knew that because...”

 

Jon looked up. “Yeah, I did.” He sighed too. “So you have no idea who this guy is? She’s really not had any company?”

 

“None that I’ve noticed, not really.”

 

“You haven’t met Ned then?”

 

“Who?”

 

“Her ex.”

 

“No. Why would I...no, I’ve never met him,” Gendry settled. 

 

“I mean, don’t get me wrong...Ned was great. He adored Arya. Treated her like a queen. They were great together. It’s not him. I think I’d actually be relieved if it were him but—”

 

“But he’s her ex, right? I mean, they couldn’t have been that great together if he’s her ex,” Gendry reminded, just a tinge of bitter coating his words. He wasn’t sure what angered him more: the truth he was so well acquainted with or Jon’s ignorance to it. He shifted. “I’m just saying...why would her ex be visiting?”

 

Jon shrugged. “You know how that goes.”

 

Gendry paused. “Uh, no, not really.”

 

“Ahhh right. You never were one for relationships.”

 

“Wasn’t really one for anything, to be honest.”

 

Jon paused. Just then the coffee machine clicked off, signaling the pot was fresh. He reached for it and another mug from the cabinet and proceeded to pour himself a cup. He poured Gendry one too and passed the cup across the counter. “Who’s your girl?”

 

“Oh that’s your question? Really? I get the inquisition when you were the one with Ygritte fucking Anderson in our kitchen?”

 

“Fuck yeah. Someone was screaming your name last night. You should at least keep her around for the ego boost.”

 

“Oh, she’s not...”

 

“I’m not saying you have to marry her.”

 

“I just...we’ll keep it down. I’m sorry. I really didn’t think...to be honest I just didn’t realize you were home.”

 

“Yeah. Mission ended early. Something about lost intelligence. I don’t know.”

 

“Did the mission end early or did you just want to see Ygritte?”

 

“Yeah...that too.”

 

“I didn’t know that was still going on,” Gendry lied. He did know and he was surprised he was one of the only ones. Jon didn’t get nearly the attention Arya did but Gendry would hardly say Jon was doing much to conceal his relationship. When Gendry thought of all the ways he’d done his best to be private with Arya, he thought of how foolish Jon had been. It was as if he wanted to be found out. 

 

Now, after last night, Gendry understood that too. 

 

“Uh, yeah, things are getting serious. Or they have been...” His reveal was met with indifference. If Gendry did have an opinion he kept it to himself. The army had taught them to conceal their emotions. For Gendry it was a repeat lesson on a skill he’d honed since he was a boy. He once believed the world beat all feeling out of him. He swore now that he’d only begun to feel the day he walked into this very kitchen and saw Arya lighting a match, the life he’d been ignoring sparked like the flame that quickly burned the printed lies it caught upon. 

 

“I, uh, that’s great.”

 

“Yeah. I guess,” Jon added quickly, somehow sounding doubtful. “It just complicates things.”

 

“Because Arya clearly didn’t know?”

 

Jon paused. “Yeah. Well, that’s part of it.”

 

“You know...” Gendry sighed out. He stopped himself, aware of the wall he was letting down and how he was already revealing too much by even daring to speak. Jon was not Arya. No one was Arya. And though Jon had once been a friend — an unbelievably close friend — it was undeniable that the pair had drifted apart. Love played a part, clearly, even if his own feelings were hidden. It had Gendry wondering then just what he and Arya were. Panic gripped his chest and kept him stuck. 

 

“Gendry?”

 

He looked up with wide eyes, swallowing to dismiss the negative thoughts. He returned his attention to the bowl in his hand, shaking it off before placing it in the drying rack. He clicked off the sink and the pipes shook in protest. Suddenly the room was silent. “I mean, I don’t have any siblings...I just imagine Arya might share more if you shared more with her, y’know?”

 

Jon played with his mouth, rolling his bottom lip in his hands as if preparing it for the words he was only thinking. Gendry recognized the action; Arya did it often. 

 

“Yeah,” Jon finally shrugged. “You’re right. I just...things have been hard—” morning 

 

“Yeah, of course.”

 

“I’m talking to her tonight. I’m going to try to be home more and—”

 

“For her or for Ygritte?”

 

Jon’s eyes darkened. “For her.”

 

“I’m not judging, mate. At all. I just...Arya seems like a woman that can see through bullshit. Maybe don’t lie to her?”

 

Jon barely had time to blink. Behind them the door to the flat was opening and Arya entered, carrying her signature iced coffee and with it, Gendry’s usual Red Eye. Seeing Jon she paused. He looked to the door a beat after Arya and was currently clueless, unable to see how Arya and Gendry shared a glance, their gazes an intense wordless conversation. Gendry dried off his hands and tossed the dish rag down. He headed for the stairs without another look. 

 

Jon soon followed, leaving Arya confused and slightly irritated in the doorway to the kitchen. She didn’t know what to do with Gendry’s coffee so she set it down, immediately planning her own escape. To go up to her own room would be easy but Arya didn’t want that. At least, she didn’t want it if Gendry wouldn’t be there. It was the reason she hadn’t stayed at the gym for very long. Since waking that morning, all Arya wanted was to be back in bed beside Gendry. It didn’t help that their lovemaking had her embarrassingly sore. Their want had them rough with one another, the need so tangible that skin was bruised and bit and then mollified with hot breath and soft, wet tongues. It was too late then. Arya didn’t mind, or hadn’t until Sandor made a comment about her neck. She was gone from the training ring before he could manage much of a criticism. She didn’t want to hear his judgement almost as much as she wanted to be back home with Gendry. 

 

Bravery surged, forcing her to turn around but just as quickly she was stunted, made to step back at the sight before her. Ygritte stood only steps away, her lips parted, unmoving, while she took Arya in. Her auburn hair was wet and this time she wore pants. Arya had stood in this same kitchen many times before looking very similar.

 

“Arya,” Ygritte breathed out with a smile. “Hi.” 

 

Arya sighed too. “Yeah. Uh, hi.”

 

“How...how are you?” She advanced again, stepping forward so only the large island separated them. 

 

“Well, let’s see. Last time I saw you my parents were dead. Now, my parents are still dead and you’re fucking my brother.”

 

Ygritte’s wide eyes shifted, allowing her mouth to fall open in a defeated frown. “Arya…”

 

“It’s none of my business, really. He’s just on my case about having a life when it’s clear he has one too.”

 

“We—”

 

“Yeah, I know. It’s complicated. I get that. But I don’t work with you lot.”

 

“Arya, I—”

 

“It’s fine. I’m not mad at you. I’m...I’m sorry,” she exhaled. “It’s frustrating. I was just...shocked to see you here, that’s all.”

 

“I told him to tell you.”

 

“Yeah, well he didn’t. It’s not your fault, okay? I’m just...maybe I worry about him too. This could—”

 

“We know,” Ygritte managed, her eyes averted, all of her looking forlorn. “We’ve been careful.”

 

Arya snickered. “Yeah, he asked me if I was being careful too.”

 

“Arya, I’ve told him to be kinder to you. You know how he is…”

 

Arya shook her head. “I used to. It seems you do too...maybe more than me.”

 

“No, that’s not true,” Ygritte insisted. 

 

There was a pause, a single pregnant beat, where Arya decided against leaving the conversation without another word. Instead: “It doesn’t matter. If he’s happy...that’s great, y’know? He deserves it.”

 

“Well—”

 

“Please don’t talk to him about me, alright? You don’t know me. We don’t know one another.” She paced forward, ready to vanish but Ygritte countered her, blocking her path to the stairs. 

 

“Arya, I’d like to change that.”

 

Simply, she nodded. “Maybe.”

 

With shoulders slumped and lazy feet, Arya made her way up the stairs. She heard only footsteps down in the kitchen, then the creak of the pantry door. Ygritte seemed to be comfortable here, as if she and Jon lived in an alternate universe that had them living here with Arya and Gendry, unbeknownst to both couples. That was how Arya felt — betrayed, mostly — but also as if her world had completely shifted on its axis. She had moved to King’s Landing to be with Jon, to feel comfort in a foreign place where she could potentially start anew. She’d managed those things but somehow she managed them without Jon by her side. 

 

With a simple glance to Jon’s closed bedroom door, Arya turned around, changing her trajectory from her bedroom to Gendry’s. Fearing the sound would echo, she didn’t bother to knock. Inside, Gendry stood at his dresser, combing through his hair, using his fingertips to manipulate his fringe. He saw her just beyond his own reflection and was made to smile at the sight. Her own hair was a mess from the gym, piecing around her face which still looked flush from what Gendry could only assume was anger-fueled exertion. Even after they’d made breakfast, Arya was still clearly upset by Jon’s words and the longer she pretended not to be, the more irritated she became. It seemed the pressure she applied to the punching bag did little to relax her bones.

 

There was a different kind of softening then when in an instant Arya was behind Gendry, her arms wrapped around his midsection and her cheek pressed to his back. Gendry’s hands fell to her own, caressing the skin of her wrists as he released a laugh in happy shock. 

 

“What’s—”

 

“I’m a terrible person,” Arya mumbled into his skin, her words and the warmth they carried tickling his spine even through his cotton shirt.

 

Gendry looked over his shoulder but was unable to see her. He sighed and used his own grip to release her hold on him so he could turn around and share in the embrace. It was too easy for Arya to remain attached, an action that felt all the more comfortable when Gendry’s hands fell to the curve of her back, massaging the exposed skin there.

 

“What happened?”

 

“I went off on Ygritte.”

 

“You…” He blinked. “Alright, well—”

 

“I didn’t go off on her,” Arya self-corrected. “But I wasn’t nice either. And it’s not her fault. I mean, she could lose her job if they find out she’s been keeping this a secret. I know there’s paperwork they have to sign off on and—”

 

“Arya, Arya, love,” Gendry soothed. His palms found her cheeks and angled her face upward so she was finally looking to him. The gesture had his touch gone from her back but Arya kept her arms around his waist, tight and locked behind him. “Talk to me…”

 

Arya blinked, essentially revealing to Gendry how her eyes had clouded over with tears. He wondered then how long she’d been holding them back. Had they been there when Jon and her first spoke in the kitchen? Had he ignored them for his own benefit, his body humming when she smeared chocolate on his neck and proceeded to lick it off. There was still cocoa on her tongue when he kissed her immediately after. 

 

“Do you want to go fuck on the kitchen table?”

 

Arya didn’t grin until Gendry did. He chuckled too, causing her smile to widen. “What?” he croaked out.

 

“I want to tell Jon. I can’t be angry at him, if...I’m happy and I want him to know I’m happy and then maybe I can be happy for him too, y’know?”

 

Gendry quirked a brow. “I...no,” he sighed. All at once they detached. Gendry’s hands fell and then he slipped out of Arya’s grasp, his absence like air, pushing her away. 

 

She deflated as she watched him go to sit on the edge of his mattress. He’d made the bed and her satin green dress was laid over one of the bedposts in memoriam. As panic squeezed at Arya’s lungs she found herself incapable of swallowing. No words blocked her throat, just nothingness, as she waited for Gendry to speak. It occurred to her then that this thing she’d avoided for so long may have still lived in her head. What would they be admitting to Jon? Even Arya didn’t know what they were and if Gendry’s position, holding his head in his hands, was any indication, Gendry didn’t have a label for it either.

 

“You’re scaring me,” she muttered quickly. “Why—”

 

Gendry lifted his head. “We can’t tell Jon.”

 

“Wh…” Only breath escaped. Arya swallowed. “What? Why not?”

 

Gendry stood then but he didn’t go to her. “It’s too early. Not now. Not when he’s clearly upset with you.”

 

Arya’s eyes narrowed. “You saw how he treated me this morning, Gendry. He’s going to find out sooner or later!”

 

“Right,” Gendry agreed, finally taking a step forward. “And we’ll tell him. Just not right now. We need to be smart about this.”

 

“Smart? For who? He clearly has no regard for my feelings.”

 

“Yeah well that doesn’t matter, alright?”

 

Arya leaned back. “Excuse me?”

 

Gendry shut his eyes in self-punishment. “He used to be my best mate, Arya. It doesn’t matter what this is, alright? Nothing we say to him is going to lessen the blow. He’s going to think I fucked his little sister and he’s going to hate me. That’s it.”

 

“Fuck you,” she spat. Quickly she spun on her heel and padded for the door, her foosteps heavy and deliberate, carrying all of her rage.

 

“Arya! Don’t do that!”

 

“Don’t do what?” she spun around. “I’m just Jon’s little sister, is that it?”

 

“Fuck no! But that’s how he’ll see it!”

 

“Then who cares if he’s seeing it now or later?”

 

“I do! I just need time—”

 

“Time for what? To decide if you want this? To decide if this is really anything before admitting to something that may not even last?”

 

It was Gendry’s turn to pause. His throat went dry and tight, making breathing difficult. Arya’s accusations only confirmed his fears but he was too frozen to run in the way he wanted to. Then again, she could break his heart as much as she wanted. She owned it now.

 

“Don’t…” With a heavy sigh, Gendry stepped into Arya, and cupped her cheeks once more. He leaned in to kiss her and she allowed it, her mouth whimpering and her hands working to push him away until finally she gave in, kissing him back. Her tiny fists gripped at his shirt, clutching at his skin through the soft cotton. Gendry felt it then, the heat of a tear sliding upon his thumb as they continued to kiss. It was a nudge and he pulled away, his chest heaving as he pressed his forehead to Arya’s. Together their eyes remained closed as they breathed the other in. Finally, he spoke. “Don’t do that. Don’t push me away because you’re scared.”

 

Arya’s eyes fluttered open. She sniffled. “I’m not…”

 

“You are. And it’s okay. I’m fucking terrified. But last night was...I told you what you mean to me, Arya. I showed you, several times. I’ll show you again now if you want. You know how I feel about you and I hope now you know it’s how I’ve felt for a long time. I...don’t doubt it because you’re having doubts.”

 

“I’m...I’m not,” she assured, wiping at her cheeks. The action put distance between them but soon Gendry took over the task, gently rubbing the pads of his thumbs under her eyes to rid them of any lingering sadness. “Unless—”

 

“No,” Gendry breathed out a laugh. “No doubts. I tried for a long time to deny this. I’m done with all of that. I just…” He sighed. “I’m not ready to tell Jon. It has nothing to do with us. I just might lose a friend, okay? He’s the closest thing to a brother I’ve ever had. For awhile he was the only family I had. I need a bit more time.”

 

Arya nodded, suddenly feeling selfish. “I...okay.” Then, in a more energetic tone, as if trying to cling to what little of the moment was left: “I don’t want this to ruin you two.”

 

“It will,” Gendry said, his words like a promise. “It’s okay. Maybe it won’t be forever. I’ll have a better chance if I have a bit more time to think it over. Just…” He kissed her once more, the intensity of it leaving both of them breathless. “Please don’t think this means I don’t want this...because I do. I want this...you...more than anything.”

 

“I know,” Arya nodded quickly as if apologizing for her almost childish outburst. Her fingertips gripped the back of his neck and brought his mouth to angle upon her own. It was slower this time but just as urgent, both needing the assurance that none of this was fleeting. When she finally pulled away, Arya smiled. “Does that mean you don’t want to fuck on the kitchen table?”

 

Gendry dropped his head back to laugh. “You’re a tease, you know that?”

 

Arya giggled. “It’s a legitimate question.”

 

“It’s an unfair question.”

 

“I disagree.” Her smile suddenly faltered. “You’ll still let me spend the night in here, right?”

 

Gendry’s forehead creased, his lips split into a grim line. “I...yeah, we just...uh…” He stepped away then, walking into his closet. Arya felt suddenly lonely, unable to excuse his brisk absence even as he returned and pulled a henley over his head. It messed up the hair he’d carefully set into place and the lopsided smile he gave her had Arya instantly forgiving him. This was how she liked Gendry best: disheveled and imperfect and forever refusing to apologize. 

 

“Jon heard us.”

 

Arya’s lips parted. Then, she laughed, her shoulders shaking until she eventually moved a hand up to cover her mouth. “What?”

 

“He heard us. Told me we were loud. Said he didn’t care once he found out it wasn’t you…”

 

Arya continued to giggle. “You’re kidding.”

 

“I wish I was.”

 

She pushed back at her hairline causing more wavy tresses to fall from her loosened plait. “That’s hilarious.”

 

“It’s mortifying.”

 

Arya slinked toward him, wrapping her arms around his waist again. It was a posture she defaulted into so well, their hips like magnets, constantly drawn to one another — constantly craving. “What else did he tell you?”

 

“That he wouldn’t be mad if you were with Ned, he just wanted to know.”

 

At the sound of this, Arya used the grip she had on Gendry’s hips as leverage to lean back. “Excuse me?”

 

“Oh yeah,” Gendry confirmed rather cockily. “Said you two were good together and Ned adored you and—fuck, Arya!” he let out, his body recoiling from the way her fingernails flicked at the back of his neck.

 

“That shit’s not funny,” she groaned.

 

“I know.” He chuckled anyway. “But it’s the truth.”

 

Arya’s brow furrowed. “Wait...really?”

 

“Yup. Ned treated you like a queen, didn’t you know?”

 

Arya shook her head. “He’s unbelievable.”

 

“Jon or Ned?”

 

“Both. They’re both delusional, stupid boys. It’s like a default setting for you lot.”

 

Gendry arched a brow in question. “Pardon?”

 

Arya’s eyes were like ice. “I said what I said,” she deadpanned. 

 

He had no choice but to laugh it off. “Alright then.”

 

Arya beamed, wanting to kiss him but needing a shower more. “I was going to shower and then I was thinking a nap,” she teased. “What do you think?”

 

“I think if I get in that shower with you again I’m not going to get out.”

 

Arya smirked. “I’m a bit sore, to be honest. So the invite was mostly for the nap.”

 

“Arya, I—”

 

A tender palm was placed to Gendry’s cheek, causing his eyes to involuntarily close, prompted by her soft touch. “That wasn’t a complaint. It’s just been awhile and…” She inhaled deeply. “Last night was many, many weeks overdue. It was perfect,” her voice purred in whisper. “I promise.”

 

“I’ll be gentle next time.”

 

Arya shrugged. “You? Well I make no promises.” It had Gendry smiling. He was half-hard too, suddenly finding the prospect of an innocent shower to be mildly appealing. He heard Arya’s words for what they were: a reminder of their mutual want. They sounded much like his own earlier declaration, the words he shared with her banishing all doubts she had. Arya gave as much as she took and the two set the pace together. There was plenty of time to be gentle and Arya seized Gendry’s lips with this in mind. They could be what they wanted to be; they just had to be careful.

 

~!~

 

Their nap had both missing lunch. Soft kisses made way to hungry mouths that became more acquainted with exposed skin as fingertips trailed along muscle and bone with much more confidence than either had the night prior. It went no further than that though. The moments of teenage-like bliss were enough to keep both satisfied before they finally fell asleep tangled in one another. Outside clouds moved overhead, casting the room in shadow as the day inched closer to night. They were ignorant to the world outside Gendry’s bedroom door and with it, any remaining occupants in the flat. As Arya drifted toward slumber she thought briefly about what Gendry had said about Jon hearing them. With her lips pressed to Gendry’s neck while he embraced her, she heard nothing but his breathing and how it mingled with her own. Things were silent here, and calm — and she liked it that way. 

 

Eventually her alarm went off, vibrating loudly on Gendry’s bedside table. It interrupted the dreams both were lost in and Gendry groaned, keeping a tight grip upon Arya even as she worked to squirm out of his embrace and reach for her phone. Still sleepy, he gave up and allowed her to silence the device. Just when he thought she was perhaps giving in, Arya sighed and sat up. She pressed a kiss to his cheek and rolled over so she could get out of bed. Gendry turned over, his dismissal childish. He attempted to get comfortable again but as soon as he heard Arya shut the door behind her his eyes flashed open and he realized he was very, very awake.

 

Arya was quiet as she left Gendry’s room, carrying in her hand her cell phone. Her green satin dress was slung over her arm and it was smooth against her bare legs as she took a step out into the hall. Her head was cast down as the chill of the common space tickled her skin. Readjusting to time and space without Gendry was almost painful. She would have laughed off such a ridiculous thought if she wasn’t interrupted. Looking up she heard the same latch of a door and was met with Ygritte’s wide eyes, staring at her own. 

 

Arya paused, realizing only then how her hand hadn’t yet slid from Gendry’s doorknob. She thought she had made it much further but the look on Ygritte’s face and the way the redhead’s mouth was unmoving, confirmed otherwise.

 

“Oh, hey,” Arya let out with a breathy laugh. The smile she attempted to flash thereafter was just as lackluster. 

 

“Hi,” Ygritte returned.

 

“Is Jon here?” Arya mumbled.

 

Ygritte shook her head. “Uh, no. I left something. I—”

 

“No need to explain,” Arya waved off. She took one, then two more steps toward her door. Then she stopped, just as Ygritte was brave enough to cross behind her, executing what was clearly meant to be a careful escape. “Wait,” Arya called out softly. “You have a key?”

 

“Uh, yeah.”

 

“And you know the code to the door?”

 

She nodded again. “Yes.”

 

This time when Arya laughed it seemed more genuine. She didn’t look to Ygritte or even deliver her thoughts over her shoulder in the older woman’s direction. She just opened her bedroom door and left them in the hallway just as carelessly as she held her own dress, the hem of which now dragged on the floor. “Fucking unbelievable…”

 

~!~

 

“So where are you going?”

 

“The Inn? At Little Citadel?” Arya said casually as she secured her necklace at her nape. 

 

Gendry had seen her do this before, the last time being before they left for the gala. She was dressed differently, in a maroon cotton dress that hit her high on the thigh. Gendry had to restrain himself from caring and therefore commenting on its length, and his mouth was made silent anyway when she slipped into a pair of boots that went over her knee, leaving mere inches between the hem of her dress and the black suede. His mind was immediately elsewhere, no longer caring about what another man would think of Arya and only focusing on what he thought and how there was comfort in knowing that she was finally his. 

 

Pulling his eyes away from Arya’s legs, his eyes scanned upward, coming to rest upon her chest. They shifted again, this time meeting Arya and the mischievous smile she wore. “See something you like?”

 

Gendry stood and walked to her. She fell into him so easily, allowing him to wrap her in his arms and drop his lips to her neck, breathing her in. “A little jealous Jon gets to go out with you tonight.”

 

Arya arched a brow. “Feeling suddenly social?”

 

“When you’re looking like this, sure,” Gendry conceded before finally pressing a kiss to the curve of her neck and beginning to suck.

 

Arya cooed before finally shying out from beneath the heat of his mouth. “Don’t mark me,” she warned. “Unless of course you’ve changed your mind about telling Jon in which case—”

 

He cut her off with a kiss. It was searing, both inhaling sharply in an attempt to keep it going for as long as their lungs could manage. Gendry’s hands had wandered to the back of Arya’s thighs and under the cotton of the dress that hugged her hips. He gave her arse a firm squeeze and she laughed out of the kiss they shared, continuing to giggle when she felt him urge her up into his arms. She obliged, easily wrapping her legs around his waist. It was appreciated, and Arya continued to beam as Gendry pressed more kisses to her exposed skin, causing her to drop her head back as her legs grew weak. 

 

Soon she felt the edge of her bed hitting the back of her knees. She didn’t bother to open her eyes or even reach behind herself to steady her body as Gendry laid her upon the mattress. Already she could feel his hardness pressed into his thigh and she rolled her hips upward, teasing him, causing his mouth to fall out of the passionate kiss they were lost in as his heart continued to race.

 

Together they were made to pause when they heard a knock at the door. Their eyes snapped open and Gendry lifted his head, allowing Arya to raise up off the mattress and look to the locked door. 

 

“Arya?” Jon’s voice called through the wood. “You almost ready? We can’t be late for our reservation—”

 

“One minute!” she shouted. Immediately after she flopped back on the mattress. Gendry pressed his head to her chest, still trying to catch his breath, before rolling over and joining Arya on his back. Arya turned to look to him, her hair a mess of curls around her and her lips thoroughly swollen. “Last chance, Waters. You sure you don’t want to tell him?”

 

Gendry sighed. He reached over and cupped Arya’s cheek, causing her eyes to flutter shut under such a gentle caress. “Soon,” he vowed. He kissed her temple and sat up. Soon he was on his feet, extending a hand to help Arya stand. She nearly bumped into him as she was brought back onto her feet. Arya stole one last kiss, doing so with a tight grip on Gendry’s chin, perhaps in punishment. He knew she was angry, that her teasing was a thinly veiled request. Gendry wanted to tell everyone how he felt about Arya, everyone except for Jon. 

 

He watched her go, disappearing out the door in the small gap she’d created to hide him. Gendry waited, listening to the muffled voices, the sarcastic comments made indecipherable through the thick wooden door. The creak of a single step on the stairs was soon followed by the security alarm disengaging, then reengaging. The front door was next and then Arya was gone. Gendry could finally exhale, leaving Arya’s room only when he was sure he was alone. Out in the hallway things were silent. His heart was no longer beating, the sound deafening, like the first second after the pull of a trigger when the release of a bullet still echoed in the air. He hadn’t even made it to his room when his phone buzzed in his pocket. Retrieving it, he was made to smile at the words on the screen.

 

Miss you already .

 

~!~

 

The restaurant had a valet and when one of the attendants opened her door Arya saw the suit he wore and the way he extended his hand toward her, offering to help her step out of Jon’s car. Arya shook her head and moved without his help, noticing how the valet attendant’s suit was almost as sharp as Jon’s. Below her, a cobble stone pathway lead to what looked to be a large home, the front adorned with flowers and twinkling lights overhead. 

 

The car disappeared behind them before Arya noticed Jon joining her. He placed his hand to her back and steered them inside, giving a nod in appreciation to the man who held the door. Just as casually Jon gave his name to the hostess, her dress fancier than Arya’s, and her eyes judgemental as she saw Arya’s boots and gawked at her hair. Arya caught her reflection in a mirror on the wall and quickly worked to tame her tresses. Gendry’s enthusiasm had her curls frizzy and despite her urging, his lips seemed to have made a small constellation-like bruise in the hollow of her clavicle. Arya was suddenly thankful for her hair and hoped it would distract from the less than presentable parts of her. Through her discomfort she smiled as a waiter came to stand at their table, introducing himself then handing them menus. He explained the specials and suggested the most expensive bottle of wine on the menu. Jon accepted, and when it was presented to them and then poured, Arya pursed her lips and looked back to the waiter. 

 

“What do you have on tap?”

 

Jon looked up from his menu, watching as Arya smiled sweetly at the waiter. He looked up too, watching now as the man’s mouth turned sour. “Is the wine not to your liking, miss?”

 

“Oh, it’s fine. Just not what I’m in the mood for. I was thinking...a stout, perhaps?” she suggested. “Whatever’s cheapest.”

 

The waiter looked to Jon as if needing his permission. Jon sighed and looked away, pretending to be interested in his menu. The waiter had no option but to nod, walking away with a perplexed look on his face, heading toward the bar to fulfill Arya’s request. His absence had Arya sipping at her water, a sly smile still tugging at her thin lips. 

 

“What’s with the restaurant? A bit posh, no?”

 

Jon set his menu down and leaned back in his chair. “I wanted to take you somewhere nice.”

 

“This is too nice,” she bit. Seeing Jon sigh, she tried again. “I mean...I didn’t need this.”

 

“When’s the last time you were out?”

 

Arya didn’t need to think. The obvious answer was the gala the previous night, but she didn’t want to get into that conversation again. More easily, her mind thought of other times: all the coffee runs her and Gendry made together, the dinner they shared with Talisa’s family in Volantis, and the takeaway they ate together on movie nights. Even the pancakes they’d shared that morning seemed to mean more than the expensive bottle of wine chilling in the space separating Arya and Jon. 

 

The waiter came then and set a goblet of dark beer down before Arya. He said nothing and Arya’s smile widened at the lack of sound. Instantly she sipped at the stout, tasting Gendry on her tongue. She meant what she’d said; she missed him, and her fingers itched to take her cell phone out of her bag and text him again. 

 

“You know,” Arya began, as she set the drink back down. “You’re cheesed off that I went out last night and yet you’re acting like I’m someone that needs to be pitied for not having a social life that lives up to your standards. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you being gone all the time meant you were out doing... this ,” her voice settled, as her eyes scanned the room before resting back upon Jon’s — slate on slate. 

 

“I’m not angry you went out, Arya. Am I happy that you went to the gala? Hell no. I don’t trust anyone there, even the people you still consider friends. But I want you to have a social life. That’s what you don’t get. I’m concerned because last time I checked you don’t leave the house much and when you do, you’re getting assaulted in carparks or spending the night only god knows where—”

 

“Why are you concerned? Am I to think that everytime you’re gone you’re actually out of town? Or are you at Ygritte’s? You know, you mentioned me visiting King’s Landing after everything. You invited Sansa and me to stay and I did. You said it would make you feel more comfortable and I believed you. But I haven’t really been staying with you, have I? You’ve been home...what? A month in the past year?”

 

“Arya, I—”

 

“I’m not a child. And you can’t have it both ways! I’m glad you’re comfortable with me being here but it really sucked for awhile, alright? You left me alone and I—”

 

“I left you alone because I couldn’t stand to see you grieve, Arya! It killed me to see you sad. I thought a change of scenery would be nice—”

 

“You thought me coming to live in the city where my parents and brother were killed would be a nice change of scenery?” she snapped, no longer caring about her volume.

 

Jon looked around, noticing only a few people, mostly women, looking their way. Just as quickly they glanced away, returning to their meals. On the other side of the restaurant, their waiter stared too, too afraid to approach and interrupt what was clearly an intense disagreement. “I don’t know, alright? I thought that maybe being back in Winterfell would be sad too! I don’t like being back there. I just think of my parents and how they’re gone. So I get it, alright? I just thought—”

 

“It doesn’t matter what you thought, Jon! You didn’t follow through! So excuse me for not telling you what I do or who I do it with. You’ve done nothing to even show me you care, so why would I?”

 

“Arya, that’s...you’re wrong. I do care. I care about you so much that I don’t know what to do. Your parents aren’t here. I’m responsible—”

 

“You most certainly are not! I’m an adult, Jon! I’m not a child anymore. I can’t be babied or belittled or punished. If you’re going to act like this then I’ll move out.”

 

“Good.”

 

With wide eyes, Arya looked up. “What?”

 

“I said good,” he sustained. “That’s why I asked you out to dinner. I want you to move out.”

 

Arya’s nostrils flared, her eyes turning near black, her chest puffed out, stuck in an inhale she couldn’t seem to let go of. “Excuse me?”

 

“Ygritte’s moving in and—”

 

“Are you fucking kidding me? You’re kicking me out? For her? This girl who you probably shouldn’t even be dating? You know, maybe I’m worried too, Jon! I know you two are keeping this a secret. Who knows how long its been going on. They can put you on probation for something like this. It’s a major violation of protocol. So I hope the sex is good because—”

 

“We’re getting married.” 

 

The air Arya had been holding sputtered out, causing her to swallow, as if suddenly needing it back now. “What? You’re...no,” she said, shaking her head. “You’re not. You’re nuts. You’re—”

 

“We are. I asked her months ago. We…” He chuckled. “We’re actually thinking of getting married here. Outside,” his voice softened as he continued. “Actually, in the inn they have—”

 

Arya scoffed out a laugh. “This is a joke.”

 

Jon gave a lopsided smile. “Arya, it’s not. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you but I needed to make sure things were stable. And we did finally go to HRC. It was uncomfortable but we’re not in trouble. There was a bit of paperwork but...Arya,” Jon sighed. “Why aren’t you happy for me? You know your opinion means the most.”

 

“Oh, does it? Now? You want my opinion now ? Because you didn’t want it before. This has been going on for months and suddenly what I think matters? Fuck you, Jon!”

 

“Arya!”

 

“And you tell me you want my opinion and I matter and you care about me...and you’re kicking me out? You’re out of your mind!”

 

“Arya, please!”

 

“I—”

 

“Arya, enough!” he gritted, the words pushed forcefully through a tight jaw. “Let me finish, alright?”

 

Resigned, Arya sat back and began taking big sips of her stout. It was nearly gone by the time Jon had exhaled, ready to speak.

 

“When I say I want you to move out it has nothing to do with Ygritte. I think it’s time you go back to Winterfell. You can’t do...whatever it is you’re doing forever. You need to start thinking about your future. You can’t let what happened to your mum and dad dictate the rest of your life. They wouldn’t want that. All of these stupid decisions you’re making...the gun and the boys and—”

 

“Boys?” Arya bit. “You’re not my father so piss off.”

 

Jon shook his head. “I’m just saying that you’re wasting your life here. This isn’t where you’re meant to be. Sansa misses you. If you’re not sure about uni or any of that I’m sure she’d love you to help out with all of her charities. Either way, I just think you being home will help things.”

 

Arya chugged the rest of her stout and placed the foam covered glass back on the table. She then reached forward to grab for the glass of wine the waiter had poured her earlier. As she’d done with the beer, she began giving the deep red liquid large sips. Her face felt hot and all of her wanted to run. Instead she seethed, blinking rapidly, as if willing Jon and everyone else in the restaurant to disappear. 

 

“If I don’t go?” she finally asked. “What if I move out and stay?”

 

“What? No...absolutely not.”

 

“Again, Jon, you can’t have it both ways.”

 

“This isn’t up for debate, Arya! I’m not paying for you to have your own flat.”

 

“Ha!” she let out. “My parents are dead, Jon. I’ve got plenty of money to pay for rent without your help.”

 

“This isn’t a suggestion, Arya. You’re going and that’s final.”

 

“I’m not! And I won’t! I’m staying here! There are things I need to do. There are—”

 

“No! You’ve been foolish enough!” At once his voice got loud — much more boisterous and demanding than it had been. It was he who everyone gawked at, and for the first time Arya noticed their stares. “I’m not losing you too!”

 

The thunder in his voice had Arya’s heart skipping a beat. Her mouth fell open but no words spilled out. She blinked then, the rest of her incapable of much other than breathing. In an instant she was brought to her feet. “Too fucking late,” she spat.

 

It was as if her body was not her own; she snatched up her leather jacket and bag and made her way quickly for the door. Arya no longer cared about who was gawking, or why. She didn’t even care about the pseudo-brother she’d left behind at the table. Jon was practically a stranger now, and if it weren’t for Gendry, the flat she shared with him wouldn’t feel like home. 

 

Outside, Arya slipped into her jacket and began walking. Once she was away from the restaurant she dialed her phone and waited for it to ring. It did, one then four times, ending in a final pause before Gendry’s generic voicemail greeting played. She sighed, the anger coursing through her veins nearly convincing her that throwing the device was a good option. Arya had no sense of her location and as she looked around she realized it had begun to rain. As she gazed up to the sky she noticed her hair, hanging around her face in wet waves. Perhaps it had been raining all along and she wasn’t aware. Either way it was too loud now. She didn’t bother making another phone call or ordering a taxi. She just walked, assuming she’d find her way eventually. 

 

~!~

 

The rain continued, pounding down hard into puddles that splashed up and stained Arya’s suede boots. When Arya ran, through crosswalks and past parks and Georgian rowhouses, the downpour pricked at her skin; little knives of moisture that soon turned cold when she found reprieve under a storefront awning or large tree.  She ran until she couldn’t anymore, until her feet and lungs were so exhausted she was sure she’d collapse. Oddly enough she was somehow right where she needed to be, in a place she’d only been once before, and refused to visit thereafter because even then it felt foreign. 

 

In memory of Vice President Eddard Stark, his wife Catelyn Stark, and their eldest son Robb Stark. May their service to Westeros never be forgotten. 

 

It wasn’t home. Not the flat she shared with Gendry or even the castle she grew up in back in Winterfell. It was merely a commissioned statue in the middle of an understated memorial garden. The marble pillar was taller than Arya and the brass plate on its face was still as clean as it had been when it was erected, just a month after her mother and Robb’s passing. They weren’t here, of course, and now rain painted the memorial, causing the flowers to droop and the space between the pavers to flood. Around her all Arya could hear was rain, focusing now on how it sprinkled heavily atop her leather jacket. Her arms were the only part of her that was still dry. The rest of her was soaked through and when Arya was done reading the plaque, she looked up to the sky as if to ask for more.

 

From her bag, Arya felt her phone buzz. She rummaged, then grabbed for it quickly, placing the device to her ear without even reading the caller ID.

 

“Oh, thank god,” she breathed out. “Where are you?”

 

“What? Where are you?” The voice on the other line returned. Arya was tense again. It was not Gendry but Sansa, her sister’s voice sounding just as concerned as Arya wished Gendry had been. Through the line all Sansa could decipher was the loud raindrops that continued to pour down around Arya. “Arya? Are you there?”

 

“Uh, yeah, I…”

 

“Who did you think it was? I was calling to check in but—”

 

“Jon’s kicking me out.”

 

“What?” she guffawed. “Why?”

 

“He thinks I’m acting stupid. He’s marrying Ygritte, you know.”

 

Sansa paused. “Who the fuck is Ygritte?”

 

Arya shrugged. “Exactly.”

 

“I...Arya, I’ll...I can get a plane out tomorrow morning if you want? Or maybe we can fly you up here? Why don’t—”

 

“No! No, I...I just want to see Gendry. That’s it.”

 

Sansa nodded, rolling her lips inward. “Oh.” Then, just as apprehensively: “Right.” 

 

“We slept together. I can’t tell Jon but I’m telling you because I need to tell someone and usually Gendry’s who I tell things to but...yeah,” Arya sighed. “We fucked and it was wonderful and I luh—” She was verklempt, too overwhelmed to continue talking. Arya attempted to cough to rid herself of the lump in her throat. The pressure only increased, and she was patient while it passed. Sansa was too, knowing her sister would hang up if she pushed too hard. “I just...I’m happy, you know? And in typical me fashion it’s like that’s not allowed. I can’t have one nice thing without everything else going to shit. He’s all I wanted, Sans, and I have him and now Jon is fucking it all up! He wants me to go back to Winterfell and...I’m not leaving Gendry. I won’t do it.”

 

“Arya…”

 

It was all Sansa could manage. She was rendered speechless by all Arya had just revealed. The sisters had certainly grown closer since their parents’ death, but Arya’s honesty was unlike anything they’d ever shared before. Sansa worried that her own words would dismiss Arya’s truths. She also wondered how it was possible to be happy and yet so incredibly sad for someone at the same time.

 

“I’m sorry to unload like this, I just...everything feels fucked up, you know? And I don’t know what to do and I’ve tried calling Gendry and he hasn’t responded and—” The vision before her had Arya silent. Through the persistent sheets of rain Arya saw headlights and heard the slam of metal on metal as a car door was shut. “Sans, I gotta go…”

 

“Wait! Arya! Wait—”

 

Arya disconnected the call and tossed her phone in her purse. She ran toward Gendry now, drowning in herself, her tears concealed by the storm she’d been lost in. 

 

“Are you mad?” he yelled, over a loud crack of thunder.

 

“Where have you been?”

 

“We can talk about this when we get in the car! Let’s go!” He advanced but Arya took a step back. “Arya, please! You’re going to get sick if—”

 

“I called you!”

 

“I know! I went to visit a friend and my phone died. When I got back in the car I plugged it in to charge and saw you’d called. I’m sorry, alright? I—” Arya stomped toward him and with a forceful blow she pushed him back using the weight of her handbag. Gendry stumbled but then began to run, catching up to Arya as she neared his car. It was on and she let herself in, finding that her anger was hotter, more palpable, when Gendry settled into the driver’s seat beside her and also slammed his door, shutting all of the rain and thunder out.

 

Arya looked away from him, her hair clinging to her face while her eyes narrowed, still taking in the memorial garden. She hadn’t stayed long enough or even said a prayer. She’d been too wrapped up in her own emotions to process why she’d come in the first place. Now with Gendry by her side she was just as distracted.

 

Around her she felt heat begin to blow out of the vents then she heard Gendry rustling in the backseat, retrieving a crumpled up army jacket that he unfolded and draped around her. “You’re going to get sick,” he said again, sounding genuinely concerned. “God, Arya, I...what happened?”

 

“How did you find me?” she whispered when she finally looked to him.

 

“You shared your location with me, remember? I can...well, I can see where you are all the time. Not that I’d check but…”

 

“Oh,” Arya nodded. “I’m glad you did.”

 

Gendry sighed. He looked to the rain-covered statue, to the face of the wolf carved into the stone and how the flash of lightning only outlined its beauty. Arya had looked so frail sitting on the bench and now she was shaking, her body attempting to reach an equilibrium. Gendry saw now that she was crying but instead of leaning toward her to offer his hands to his cheeks or his chest to rest upon, he sighed out.

 

“We can...I’ll stay here if you want. As long as you want, y’know? If you just wanted to—”

 

“They’re not here,” Arya said, shaking her head. “I wish they were but they’re not. It’s...it’s fine. We can go,” she urged.

 

“Well—”

 

“Gendry, please,” she begged, only pushing more tears down her cheeks. “I want to go home.”

 

With a heavy sigh, Gendry shifted the car into Drive. He pulled away from the curb, moving slowly at first until suddenly the entire city of King’s Landing was passing them by. Everything became more familiar the closer they drew to the apartment and when they finally pulled into the carpark, Arya felt numb. She was warmer now, and her body shook only when she was overcome with another round of sobs. Her wet handbag rested on her lap as she clutched the sleeves of Gendry’s jacket, keeping it close to her body. There was no longer any rain to coat the windshield or to drown out the way each breath felt more and more constricting, the oxygen her lungs craved tasting like fire, giving her no reprieve. 

 

When Gendry appeared at her door, Arya slowly looked to him, almost surprised to see him standing so close.

 

“Want me to...I can carry you in?” he suggested.

 

Even through her sorrow, Arya had to smirk. “No, I’m fine. I can walk,” she assured.

 

He allowed her; Gendry would have been stupid to insist on anything other than what Arya requested. It didn’t mean, however, that he was going to let her walk alone. He wrapped a strong arm around her shoulders and pulled her in. It kept his dry jacket to her wet skin but also encouraged Arya to lean into him as she soon did. She bit anxiously at her lip as she rested her cheek to Gendry’s chest. His heart wasn’t nearly as loud as it had been before their nap, but she heard its gentle thud all the same. She was still shaking, still freezing, and certainly still sad — but it sounded like home. 

 

When they made their way inside and another layer separated them from the roaring thunder, Arya slipped off Gendry’s jacket and her own, putting both on the back of a chair in the kitchen. Only then did Gendry see the damage the storm had done to her. Her cotton dress was an entire shade darker, wet and heavy with the moisture it had absorbed. Arya’s usually rosy lips were cooler in tone and she released a steady exhale as she slowly made her way toward the stairs, ready to ascend. She stopped at the last minute, collapsing into a seated position, causing Gendry confusion and concern. He waited though, watching how she slowly undid the zippers on the inside of her boots. The wet suede did not move, and Arya looked so exhausted she had to lean back, concentrating on her breathing to keep from letting her impatience push her further toward anger.

 

It wasn’t necessary. Gendry kneeled before her and allowed his fingers to curl around the top of one boot, then the other. Slowly, he pulled the wet fabric down, revealing Arya’s legs and the goosebumps she wore. He paid no attention to where he threw the boots. Instead he scooped Arya up and tossed her over his shoulder. When he felt her laugh into his back, causing her to shake in his grasp, he felt comforted by his choice. He was at a loss for how to fix this, but he’d try. He’d get Arya dry and warm and he’d stay with her for as long as it took for this particular sadness to pass.

 

Upstairs he gently placed her down on her bed but just as swiftly Arya was standing. She kissed him then, gripping his neck as if she were afraid of losing him, as if everything he’d done so far wasn’t enough to prove to her that he’d stay. Arya’s fingertips ghosted down off Gendry’s face, tucking themselves into the collar of his shirt, causing the damp cotton to stretch. She pulled until finally he displaced her hands, pushing them down his stomach to where the hem of his t-shirt hit his hips. Arya obliged, wearing a small smile while she pulled Gendry’s shirt up and off. It landed with a dull smack, somewhere between the throw rug beneath her bed and the hardwood floor covering the rest of the room. Soon Arya found her own arms raised in surrender as Gendry’s knuckles ghosted upon her sides, dragging her wet dress up over her curves. Her wet hair fell down in the dress’ wake, leaving Arya breathless as she stood before Gendry in nothing but her bra and underwear.

 

Gendry couldn’t help it. He kissed her again, nipping at her lips hungrily. It was a chance to taste her, to test the temperature of her skin as if his mouth and fingertips were wordlessly asking if she was okay. Arya nodded, as if she heard. She kissed him back, allowing the soothing circles his large palms drew across her belly and down her back. Her own arms were tossed around his neck and he even tasted laughter on her tongue when, just as he had earlier in the night, Gendry picked Arya up and brought her over to the bed to gently lay her down. 

 

“Tell me what to do, Arya,” Gendry whispered into her skin before placing several soft kisses to the valley between her breasts. 

 

With hands curled around Gendry’s naked shoulders, Arya breathed out. She was warm with him on top of her, and her body no longer shook. All of her felt whole again, like she could finally breathe without having to apologize for it.

 

Arya gripped his face in her hands, demanding his attention. Together their chests heaved, each waiting for the other to speak. Arya leaned in, speaking in a way that was so deliberate her lips nearly brushed on Gendry’s with each passing word. “Just stay with me? Hold me,” she then suggested, somehow more softly. 

 

Gendry nodded and Arya slipped away, scooting up the bed so she could slip beneath the covers. When Gendry was out of his damp jeans he joined her. Instantly Arya’s warm skin acted as a blanket to the parts of him that were still wet. She only turned over when she knew Gendry was sufficiently warm. Arya nestled back into him, kissing the palms of the hands that embraced her while he pressed kisses to her shoulder and the nape of her neck. Outside the storm continued, still pounding on the windows with thunder that shook the flat and lightning that occasionally lit up Arya’s bedroom.

 

The more Arya relaxed, the more comfortable Gendry became until finally she was no longer a distraction from all that plagued his mind. Despite his best efforts, Gendry thought to Jon, and where his friend could be. He didn’t know what had caused Arya to leave her brother at the restaurant but he could only imagine. They’d talk about that in the morning, he was sure, and he’d provoke the conversation because he had things to tell her too. He needed to tell Arya about how her phone call had actually interrupted him, how he spent his night studying the campaign expense reports they’d taken from the Red Keep - the same ones both had nearly forgotten about the moment they finally gave in to their desire. But he wouldn’t do it now, not when Arya’s breathing had finally slowed, and she seemed so peaceful in his arms.

Chapter Text

Before Arya, Gendry never liked to share his bed. It was possible it was his military training and the years he spent in dorms on too-small bunks and cots. Even as a young boy he outgrew his bed rather quickly and he remembered how his mother gave him her mattress leading to several months where she slept on the couch until she could save up enough money to purchase a new one for herself. Sleep was also not something that came easily to Gendry. After he got over the initial shock of constantly fearing he’d be woken by horn or whistle, he found he still had too much to think about. Sometimes it was missing his mother. Other times it was dreams of the father he never knew. He’d created a different life for himself in his head, one where he imagined what things would have been like had he not been born a bastard. They were the closest things to dreams his younger mind could manage. He was never asleep long enough to have actual dreams. But this was all before Arya. 

 

In Volantis, even as he did his best to sleep on the edge of the mattress, his hands clutching his pillow so his touch couldn’t wander, Gendry found himself suddenly calmed by Arya’s presence. What he assumed would add to the burden of thoughts he already carried actually worked as the opposite. Gendry did not lay awake thinking of how he’d help Arya to protect herself but instead slept soundly. He didn’t worry about where she was or who she was with; Arya was in his bed by his side. 

 

For the first time in his life, Gendry began to appreciate the very things he’d always rejected. He enjoyed the warmth Arya’s skin radiated because it meant she was close. Her breathing, sometimes uneven in sleep, especially when her anxiety caused nightmares she swore she never remembered, was similar to the hum of the ceiling fan above. It was proof that she was okay, that she was real and safe. Every so often Arya would sigh in her sleep and Gendry enjoyed that too. It was almost always followed up by her rolling over, her hand seeking him out even in slumber. 

 

Waking up now became pleasurable. Gendry was able to sleep because Arya was beside him and he woke up easily for the same reason. No longer did Gendry find himself groaning, slapping at alarms before the sun was even up, only for his feet to immediately fall to a cold floor. He didn’t know how long it would last but he prayed it wasn’t temporary. He wanted to always want to wake up beside Arya. Slowly, then all at once, it was one of his favorite things. And Gendry had never admitted to have a favorite thing before; favorite things could be taken away so quickly and he’d already lost so much. He wouldn’t lose Arya. He couldn’t. He’d keep her in this bed forever if he had to. 

 

When Gendry did wake he found the sun had returned and was hanging high in the sky, shining in through the open slats in the blinds. Arya was pressed tightly against his chest, her fist curled as if she were trying to grip his skin. It seemed she didn’t want to let go either and when Gendry craned his neck to look down to her she blew out a steady breath and then promptly turned over. Her body seemed to be in protest but Gendry kissed the naked skin she presented to him. Some time in the middle of the night Arya had disrobed and she now lay beside him completely bare. Every blemish, every freckle was displayed for his eyes only. Gendry couldn’t help himself. He pressed another soft kiss to the curve of her neck and found this time that his lips were hesitant to part from her skin. Then came another to her nape before Arya finally stirred. Like Gendry she quickly wore a smile as she turned over her shoulder to look to him. 

 

“Did I wake you?” 

 

“No,” he swore, with a kiss to her earlobe. “I was enjoying just laying here. With you.”

 

Gendry settled against Arya, embracing her from behind. He breathed her in, grinning into her skin until he felt her reach behind herself, seeking out his cock. Gendry bucked into her, wondering now if she had felt him growing hard for her. His cock had found its home in the cleft of Arya’s arse for most of the night and he knew her wiggling was completely deliberate. Now her fingers moved upon his velvety skin as if she were apologizing. 

 

“Don’t start what you can’t finish,” he groaned, his voice gruff with morning and lust. 

 

“I don’t plan to,” she vowed, her thumb rolling softly over his head, causing a spurt of pre-cum to coat the back of her hand. Arya scooted then, lifting her body further up on the pillow. Knowing what she wanted, Gendry placed a hand to her hip before replacing her grip, his own fingers taking control of his now solid member. Arya arched her back and moaned when the hand Gendry had upon her hip danced up her body, over the tight planes of her abdomen and then northward until he was fully cupping her pert chest. Arya no longer wondered what he thought of her tits. He loved them and the smattering of constellation-like kisses on her otherwise milky complexion was proof. His mouth has enjoyed every part of her but seemed to linger in her most sensitive spots - those that had her keening, calling out his name, and those that once made her hate herself. 

 

Her mind was currently blank as he tweaked one nipple and proceeded to bite down on the curve of her neck. Arya buried a guttural moan in the pillow beneath her head, the same one she clutched for reprieve, as if Gendry entering her from behind wasn’t everything she currently wanted. Together they rocked against one another, the angle energizing Arya, her lips lazy and loud as she whimpered and writhed, already coating Gendry’s cock with the beginning proof of her arousal. Each time he filled her fully he grunted before mollifying her skin with a hot opened mouth kiss to her nape. At one point Arya attempted to turn her face, to grab for Gendry and kiss him through at least a few thrusts. She barely managed to lift her head from the pillow. Gendry’s cockhead was hitting her most sensitive parts and Arya whined, craving more. 

 

“Faster,” she moaned. “Har...” He slammed into her, keeping her close with a palm that now curled around her ribcage. “Harder,” she finally muttered. 

 

Gendry obliged and when Arya began to breathe much more deeply, his hand moved upward, first to curl around her neck then to press his palm to her mouth, silencing her building orgasm. Gendry felt Arya smile into his hand, then she was gripping his fingers, using his touch for support while he continued to rock against her. 

 

“I’m...I...” Gendry was speechless, though that wasn’t what he meant to disclose. He bit on Arya’s earlobe and dragged his mouth away, causing her to coo out. Gently his hand ghosted down to her core, teasing the bundle of nerves at the apex of her thighs, his delicious fingers almost too much for Arya to bear. When she cried out, Gendry gave up on silencing her. In fact her moans only had him encouraged and Gendry knew he was close as his belly tightened, ready to release any moment. 

 

When it happened, it was the first time they’d truly come together. It was loud and their skin was

glistening and beneath them Arya’s inner walls continued to contract, milking Gendry until he was sufficiently empty. He collapsed atop her, his cock still throbbing inside her, both spent and incapable of words. 

 

Arya allowed his seed to spill out of her. She felt it on her thigh and felt the way he saw it too, his face now pressed into his pillow as he watched a very naked her retreating from the bed. 

 

“You were loud on purpose.”

 

Arya smirked. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” 

 

In an almost ironically unceremonious way, she jutted her hip and pressed her finger to the soft skin just above her knee. Then she dragged it, marking the skin of her inner thigh white in the wake of the pressure given by her finger. Her fingertip was sticky, pearly streaks of cum clouding her red nailpolish before it disappeared, gone with Gendry’s words, as Arya licked her skin. She smiled then, content with the taste of him. She was enjoying it almost as much as she enjoyed him, his hips involuntarily thrusting into the mattress as if she were still beneath him. Gendry groaned then and turned over, continuing to bury his face in the feather pillow, now to dispel his frustration. 

 

“Arya?”

 

“Yeah?” she called back. Already she was to the door to the bathroom, still naked and ready to turn on the tap. She would have moved much more quickly if Gendry joined her but he was still in bed. Without him, her skin was starting to grow cold. 

 

“I have to...can we talk?”

 

Arya revealed herself, her neck craning in his direction so only her head was exposed. “Hmm? Talk? You fuck my brains out and now you—”

 

Gendry was on his feet and to her before she could register his silence. He kissed her lips, his own forceful upon her, and when he grabbed her waist he gripped the skin, before tenderly moving a hand up to cup her cheek. Arya sighed when they pulled away, her eyes like saucers, so incredibly enamored by the man she’d spent so much time rejecting. It was unbelievable to think that she’d been successful for so many weeks. Even with him standing before her, Arya’s heart ached for him. 

 

“What is it?” 

 

“I...do you want company?”

 

Arya’s grin grew. “That’s what you wanted to talk about?”

 

“No. Of course not. I...let’s shower first.”

 

“I actually need to shower,” Arya swore. “So if—”

 

He kissed her again. “Right. Let’s shower then.”

 

~!~

 

The angry girl, drowned in storm and sorrow, the same one Gendry had found sobbing at her family’s memorial garden, was born anew when a different type of rain hit her skin. Seeing her smiling was enough for Gendry to forget all he’d wanted to say. He just held her and tasted her lips, the pair grinning into each touch as if it wasn’t how they’d spent their morning, and much of the day prior. 

 

When it was time for them to actually wash, things were seemingly innocent. They shared in the task of creating lather in their hands to donate to each other's skin. Arya helped Gendry shave and when she bent over to use his razor on her legs, he slapped her ass, causing her to yelp in surprise. Arya lunged at him but Gendry’s size had him winning. He picked her up and brought them both under the shower stream, the direct spray of water making it hard to do much other than laugh. 

 

Like bed, they seamlessly fell out of that too, returning to the more practical act of washing their hair. Arya’s lavender and mint mingled well with Gendry’s eucalyptus and though it took him much less time to get his hair thoroughly soapy, Gendry continued to rub at his scalp, watching as Arya did the same. At one point, his staring was an invitation, and she took a step toward him, his hands still in her hair, scrubbing while a smile played its way across her face.

 

“What?” she breathed out, her lips hesitant to move from their grin. 

 

“Nothing, I just…” Gendry’s indifference had Arya cocking a brow, her face tilted to the side in confusion. “Nothing.”

 

Arya backed up so the water began to cascade over her hair then down her shoulder, back, and into all of the places Gendry had come to adore. He watched as she dropped her head back and ran through her hairline with those same pressured fingertips. Suds crept down each strand until they fell with the rest of the water, to the tips of her wet hair and beyond. Arya’s body looked different like this, curved backward in a way that caused the muscles in her back to fold and bend as if meant for wings. When Arya straightened her posture again, Gendry found himself almost missing the sight. He would have cared more if she hadn’t grabbed for him and demanded his presence beside her beneath the stream. There the two were made lazy acquaintances, their bodies flush as Arya tenderly and almost sensually rubbed out the shampoo from Gendry’s scalp. It must have felt good because at one point Gendry had to break away from their kiss to moan. Arya wasn’t offended; she merely continued to touch him, soothing the suds down toward the drain below. The movement they performed beneath the shower’s stream was the dance in the storm they’d been too tired to enjoy on the previous night, weight shifting from foot to foot as they lazily spun beneath the downpour. 

 

Finally, Arya removed her fingers from Gendry’s hair and took a step back. “All set,” she announced. 

 

Gendry’s eyes fluttered open, his eyelashes collecting droplets more intensely than the rest of him. The sight of him, broad and wet and beautiful, had Arya’s smile growing. Gendry smiled too and when he went to step into her once more, Arya stepped back.

 

“Jon wants me to go back to Winterfell.”

 

Gendry was made to freeze. Thoughts he’d been keeping since last night seemed too easy to speak now. “I think I know why someone...with your parents—”

 

Arya’s brow furrowed. “Gendry?” They parried again, together — Arya shifting forward, causing Gendry to step back.

 

“Wait, Jon wants you to...I don’t understand.”

 

“No,” Arya managed, shaking her head. “I don’t understand—”

 

“It’s me.”

 

“You think he knows about us? You think that’s why he wants me to go away?”

 

“Nuh...no,” Gendry tried. He shook the water from his face and rubbed back at his hairline, pushing his wet hair out of his face. “I think I’m the reason your parents are dead.”

 

It only occurred to Arya then that they were having different conversations and suddenly only Gendry’s seemed to matter. She felt as if the wind had been knocked from lungs, the force of it like a bullet to the heart. When she stood up she only saw Gendry’s finger on the trigger, his own mouth open and waiting, either needing more words or wishing for the initial ones to disappear. 

 

Arya was just as speechless and now wore narrowed eyes and pursed lips. Her shoulders slumped. “Oh,” she sighed out, expelling oxygen she was surprised to find still keeping her company. The water behind her continued to steam up around them but all of her body felt cold. 

 

Gendry’s hands were still at his side and he advanced only for Arya to stake a step back. “Say something,” he urged, just as Arya turned off the spout, causing the water from above to almost fall in reverse. The room around them went silent, the steam immediately seeking refuge elsewhere. 

 

Arya shook her head. “I don’t...how long have you known?”

 

Gendry sighed. “We should talk about this. I wanted to…” Another exhale had him closer until finally the pair was nearly pressed into the corner of the tub. 

 

“Wanted to what, Gendry?”

 

“I was going to tell you last night when you got home,” he promised. “Then you called and I knew it wasn’t the right time and I was hoping we could enjoy the morning before things got heavy but then you said that Jon wants you to go back to Winterfell and I just…” He shook his head. “I don’t know what else to say right now, I just…”

 

She looked away, but soon her eyes found him again, drawn to the way his lip trembled in time with the heavy beating of his heart. Arya was sure that if she put her palm to his chest she’d be able to feel its rhythm. “How…” Heavy eyes had her blinking, avoiding his gaze as much as she craved it. “How long have you known?”

 

“I don’t...I don’t know all of it,” he swore. “I just...I put some pieces together last night and I think…” Sharply, he inhaled, as if there was no more time to waste before the truth was needed. “God, Arya, please say something.”

 

“I…” She didn’t. She couldn’t. All of her was blue and stuck and sad, only capable of breathing. Arya couldn’t take her eyes off of Gendry and she was having trouble diagnosing the hot tears welling up in her eyes as love or hate. 

 

In the time it took for her to give just a single breath, Arya slipped out from beneath Gendry. Just as easily she was reaching for a fluffy white towel and wrapping it around her small frame. Water continued to cascade down her legs onto the plush grey rug below. Her hair was a tangled mess around her head and she only clutched the towel tighter, wearing it like she did as a child, like a cape that would billow out behind her when she walked. She felt less brave than she once did as a little girl and it had more to do with the boy she’d left behind in the shower than she cared to admit. 

 

Only when she heard the shower turn back on did Arya drop her towel. It was like a queen taking off her crown after a long day, only the sun outside had just begun its ascension and Arya felt she was cheating herself out of what she hoped would be a wonderful day. 

 

When she went to her armoire to retrieve something to wear, she settled on one of Gendry’s old shirts anyway. It was from Westpoint’s rugby team and his last name was embroidered on the back. On any other day Arya’s choice would have been a deliberate one. She knew he loved her in his clothing just as much as he loved her out of his clothing. Even if she swore she tasted the bitterness of his kiss upon her tongue, there were parts of her that were clearly planning for the afternoon she still assumed they’d spend together. The pain in her chest was fleeting, Arya told herself, as she left her room and headed for the stairs. 

 

The kitchen was cold, a sign that they were alone and had been for awhile. Arya thought to Jon and the dinner she’d run away from. Then she thought to the stout she’d left on the table and how amid Jon’s tirade Arya could only think about bringing Gendry to the same restaurant. She dreamed about simple things like that a lot: dates and traveling and parties, all without the lies and undue attention. Perhaps if she were someone else and he were someone else they could have those things. 

 

She wondered then if she were being unfair to Gendry. She thought back to all of the hard truths he’d told her: that night on the beach when she’d learned about his father, the note he found in Robb’s pocket, and now this — whatever it was — the first thing off his lips. Gendry was constantly eager to spill his secrets, even those he’d held his whole life. But not just to Arya. If he cared about the information he could have told anyone; he could have even told Jon, Arya surmised. 

 

“Gendry?” Arya called out, her voice increasing in volume as she neared the end of his name. 

 

“Yeah?” he returned just as loudly, the simple word sound much more hesitant.

 

“Coffee?”

 

She didn’t hear his sigh but she felt it, felt how it existed in the vacuum between them, deflating her lungs too. “Yeah, please.”

 

Arya smiled and turned back to the counter. Already the pot in front of her was heating up, invisible steam mixing in the air with the scent of freshly ground beans. She didn’t hear the creak on the stairs and if she had, it wouldn’t have mattered. She was already ready to give in, to let Gendry insist that she put her crown back on so they could face whatever this was, together. If he came down and wrapped his arms around her and nuzzled her neck as he did so often lately, she’d let him. She planned on giving in so easily she hoped she wouldn’t need to apologize. This wasn’t about her anyway and she knew it now. This was just another thing Gendry needed to forgive himself for, a thing like all the others. A secret he couldn’t let go of until he’d given it to her — a secret, just like all the others, she was ready to help him carry. 

 

“Arya?”

 

Wearing nothing but a smile and his old t-shirt, Arya presented herself, ready to extend the cup of hot coffee like a peace offering. Instead she dropped it, and thankfully jumped back as the ceramic shattered, causing the piping hot liquid it contained to splash all over the floor. The force of it, and her overall shock had her nearly thrown to the other side of the kitchen. Pressing a hand to her chest she realized she had screamed and now more footsteps could be heard on the staircase, the same ones she originally expected now circling the bannister to find her.

 

“Jon…” Arya let out, swallowing in an odd attempt to catch her breath. “I…”

 

Gendry entered then, his feet sputtering the way Arya’s mouth did, wordlessly, all of him nearly crashing into Arya when he saw what she saw: Jon, dressed in his gym clothes, betrayal gripping his neck as he too sought air. 

 

“Arya.”

 

As Arya looked over her shoulder to Gendry she saw his bare chest and the black cotton boxer-briefs he wore. One of his hands was to the curve of her waist, ready to pull her away from the danger he suspected when he first heard her scream. Instead it looked like an embrace and Arya couldn’t help but to fall back into it. It was defeat. She wouldn’t lie to Jon and insult his intelligence. This was exactly what it looked like.

 

His face red and his fists clenched, Jon grabbed for his keys and pounded toward the door. Arya’s eyes clasped shut and she trembled again, a single jolt pushing her further back into Gendry’s arms as the force of Jon’s exit seemed to shake the entire flat. 

Chapter Text

“I...”

 

“Don’t do it, Arya. Please don’t do it...”

 

“I’m going to the gym.”

 

“No, we—“ Gendry grabbed for Arya, thoroughly surprised by how quickly she’d already drifted away from him. In the time it took for Jon to slam the door and for the echo to settle, Arya had detached — from him, from the moment. She was gone. Perhaps already mentally at the gym. Or, Gendry ventured, somewhere else completely. 

 

If the way Arya tossed Gendry’s hand away was any indication, he didn’t know when she’d be back. Her body spun away from him, a violent revolt of deliberate limbs. “I told you I wanted to tell him, Gendry! I told you—”

 

“I know!”

 

“That is not how I wanted him...no!” she dismissed, pushing nothing but air away from her body with the gesture of dramatic hands. Gendry couldn’t have touched her from where he stood even if he wanted to.

 

“Arya...”

 

“I’ll see you later.”

 

“Arya!”

 

“What?” she screamed. All at once she turned on her heel, presenting her body to him as if asking what else he could possibly take. Or, showing how little she had to give. 

 

“I...” Gendry sighed. “Take my car, alright?”

 

Arya huffed and paced away, her anger pounding upon the staircase and then on the floor above Gendry’s head as she made her way toward her bedroom. In her wake, Gendry was left alone with the silence. At his feet was the coffee that had already begun to chill and around it the fragments of the mug Arya had prepared for him. Slowly, Gendry bent down, carefully picking up each jagged piece and placing it in his cupped palm. There was a substantial section that remained in tact near the handle but the rest of the mug was unidentifiable. It was so destroyed, Gendry wondered if he would have recognized it as a mug had he not heard it shatter and seen and smelled the contents that splashed out of it. 

 

He’d been here before, picking up Arya’s mess. There was heat then too, the ash from the newspaper clippings Arya had once burnt still warm even after she doused it in water from the tap. Gendry remembered how the steam and smoke had coated his face and how he blinked, somehow caring about the article she had needed to erase. Gendry had looked it up later, long after the kitchen was clean and all remnants of her arson were concealed. Jon never knew about that night and now Gendry was almost certain he’d never tell him. 

 

~!~

 

When Arya returned to the kitchen to collect Gendry’s keys, he was nowhere to be found and she was far too tired to make her way back up the stairs and tell him she was leaving. It was already taking everything in her not to cry or scream or collapse again. She’d choked back one too many sobs in her bedroom while she slipped into her gym gear and angrily tied her hair back. By the time she made it to the door she was barely cognizant of anything other than her current plan, that being to get to the gym. It wasn’t even her original plan; her original plan had just been to run, just like Jon did, and she’d somewhat managed that already.

 

Arya made her way to Gendry’s car without showing tears. As soon as the door was shut, just as the lights above began to dim, she broke down, clutching the steering wheel as sadness coated her cheeks. Her sorrow was stuck somewhere between a wail and a scream, her mouth open, revealing no sound. Her knuckles were white upon the leather and her forehead was nearly pressed to the wheel’s upper curve. She continued crying, hunched over, her face hot and her mind a mess of emotions. A hiccup insisted on the end of her tears and just like an old faucet abruptly shutting off, she wiped at her nose and turned the car on. When it was time to leave the carpark the only remaining evidence of her self-destruction was the pink cheeks she wore and a single wave of slightly damp hair that she’d pushed back off her face when she ultimately decided she was done crying.

 

~!~

 

Gendry hadn’t had a home since his mother died, just places he fled to, seeking refuge for just a little while — at least until he could manage a succeeding, usually consequential destination. It was probably why he didn’t have too many belongings: books on mechanics, mostly, and all of his army manuals and blueprints of his patents. He had a picture on his desk of his mother and another unframed photo of he and Jon at their graduation from West Point. The pictures of him and Arya found their home on his phone, now stuck in his back pocket. He wanted it to ring just as much as he wished for it to remain silent. He had no words to give Arya, at least none that would matter enough to make all of this suddenly okay, but he wanted to know she was safe. Gendry also needed to know that she didn’t hate him. He didn’t know what had pushed her out the door, if it was him or Jon. All he knew was his presence, his voice and body pleading, wasn’t enough to make her stay.

 

Gendry looked to his bed, still unmade from the first night spent with Arya. They’d spent all following nights in her bed, but Gendry was sure if he were to lay down he’d smell her there amongst the sheets. 

 

His phone rang, pulling him out of his reverie. Gendry grabbed for it and answered quickly, his eyes shut tight almost in prayer. “Hello?”

 

“Gendry?”

 

He sighed out. “Hey. D. What’s up?”

 

A gruff scoff created static across the line. “I’m calling to check in. By the sound of your voice...I don’t know if this is a good time or a bad time.”

 

Gendry sighed and moved to sit on the edge of his bed. He rubbed at his temples as if to agree. “Yeah...shit timing.”

 

“It doesn’t possibly have anything to do with Arya Stark, does it?”

 

Gendry stiffened. “Uh, yeah, actually. Why?”

 

“There was a picture of you and her—”

 

“We haven’t been out lately so if any of those trash magazines reported anything, it’s old.”

 

“No? You didn’t go to the gala at the Keep?” Before Gendry could interject, Davos continued his interrogation, his voice still laced with sarcasm. “If not, I really have to commend their photoshop skills. They’ve certainly gotten better…”

 

“Alright, you know what? Things are shit right now and I don’t need a lecture on how stupid I’m being. I know how stupid I’m being...have been.”

 

“Son,” Davos sighed, “I told you not to get mixed up with all of that. I told you—”

 

“And I couldn’t help it, alright? It’s...it’s complicated.”

 

There was a beat of silence, then another exhale. “Jon knows, doesn’t he?”

 

“Fuck...yes.” His posture straightened. “Wait...how do you know? What are you…”

 

“You think I couldn’t tell how you feel about that girl?” Davos shook his head and let out another breathy laugh. “How bad?”

 

“He, uh...we were...it’s not good. Just trust me when I say he knows.”

 

“You’re right. I don’t want to know.”

 

“I might...I just think...maybe if—”

 

“Gendry, you know you’re welcome here whenever.”

 

“Yeah...yeah, right.”

 

“And if you need help getting out of here again, I can help with that too.”

 

“I…” Gendry rubbed at his face again. “Yeah, maybe.” 

 

~!~

 

Arya swung open the glass entrance to the gym, causing the bell overhead to chime in an unpleasant way, the sound of which was soon overshadowed by the door slamming back into its frame. Instantly, Sandor walked to her, his hands on his hips and his mouth clearly ready to scold. Arya pushed at his chest, keeping him at a distance.

 

“Don’t fuck with me,” she warned as she tossed her bag down.

 

“Don’t enter my fucking gym like that.”

 

Arya removed her gloves from her bag and began to put them on. “I’ve had a shit morning and I just want to hit something, alright?”

 

The Hound stepped back and watched as Arya approached the nearby speed bag. She positioned her feet, all of her weight carefully placed on her toes, causing all of her anger to radiate through her as she shifted from one leg to the other then back again. 

 

Before she could get in a single punch, Sandor stepped forward again, appearing to her on the other side of the speed bag. He reached out for the leather, somehow able to cradle the entire bag in his hand. “You want to talk about it?”

 

Arya looked to the bag now with deflated shoulders. “No. Just...stuff. You wouldn’t care.”

 

“Stuff with that twat Waters?”

 

“He’s certainly part of it.”

 

“Did you finally learn who his piece of shit father is?”

 

Arya had to laugh. “Yeah, I did. Over a month ago.”

 

Sandor let out the breath he’d been holding. “Fuck, really?”

 

“Yeah. We’re past that.”

 

“Well—”

 

Arya hit the speed bag with the outside of her fist, causing it to bounce out of Sandor’s hand. When it swung back, she caught it in her own. “Jon knows we’re fucking, alright? Happy?”

 

Effortlessly, Arya began to hit the bag, rolling her wrists to establish a rhythm: forward, backward, forward, pause — over and over again until her speed increased to the point that the sound of her gloves on the bag drowned everything else out. Sandor almost failed to exist completely and for just a single second, Arya forgot about all she’d left behind at the flat.

 

This was the version of herself that Arya feared, the girl turned cold by a world that had been much too unkind. Ultimately, she couldn’t pinpoint the exact cause of her heartbreak — Jon or Gendry. Though, she figured, Gendry was mostly to blame for both things. She spun now, her foot making easy contact with the leather ball only so she could do it again. Each passing kick to the speed bag had Arya breathless as she remembered his words: 

 

I think I’m the reason your parents are dead.

 

And before that:

 

I’m sorry...I’m not ready to tell Jon. I need more time.

 

I’m sorry...They think I killed your father.

 

I’m sorry...I lied to you...I’m his son.

 

She’d never met a man who apologized so much. She’d never thought she’d be the woman to constantly forgive him, always without much thought. All at once she was sad again. It was only when she bent over, her hands to her knees and her lungs tight as her chest heaved, did she realize she was crying again. 

 

~!~

 

Gendry heard the alarm disengage and instantly headed downstairs. Arya hadn’t returned any of his calls and at this point he just wanted to see her. Davos had made a passing comment about his car being identifiable. In hoping to give Arya transport that wouldn’t attract attention, Gendry had seemingly put her in more danger.

 

At the bottom of the steps he circled quick, making the same journey he’d made only that morning, just before their world stopped. It was mostly silent, just the sound of keys being tossed to the counter and a bag dropping to the floor. 

 

Arya was still gone, and Jon stood in her place, now dressed for the day and looking like he was ready to leave on another trip. As Gendry’s mouth fell open, searching for words, he managed to consider how convenient it was for Jon to have another place to go. It forced Gendry to contemplate the depth of Jon’s lies about Ygritte. Was Jon working, or was he just elsewhere in the city, likely at the redhead’s flat?

 

Gendry blinked, ready to speak, but Jon raised a hand. “I have nothing to say to you.” 

 

Instantly, Gendry’s shoulders deflated. He took a step forward, ready to state his case. “Jon. You know me, alright? Be a man about this—”

 

“Me? How about you, Gendry? I told you Arya was off limits! Though I shouldn’t need to. She’s my sister. My baby sister.”

 

“Don’t patronize. She’s a woman whether you want to admit it or not.”

 

“She’s not,” Jon snapped, shaking his head. “Not to me. She never will be. I told you to leave her alone. I told you what she’s going through.”

 

“No, you discredited her pain because you didn’t want her getting hurt anymore than she already has. I get it, okay?”

 

“Yeah, and what now? On top of all her other shit she has you? You want to get your kicks in—”

 

Gendry stepped in again. “Fuck you.”

 

“Fuck you!” Jon tossed back with even more volume. “What makes you think this was okay?”

 

“It just happened.”

 

“Yeah, well it shouldn’t have. Get some fucking self control.” He almost turned to walk away but he stopped himself. “And start looking for another place. We’re done.”

 

“No,” Gendry breathed out as he ran a hand through his hair. “You don’t get it...I can’t help it.”

 

Jon turned slowly. “Excuse me?”

 

“I love her. I’m in love with her.”

 

“Oh, for fucks sake, mate…”

 

“I’m serious, alright? I mean it. I am.”

 

Jon scoffed. “You’re out of fucking your mind.”

 

Gendry laughed too. Then he shrugged. “Probably.”

 

Jon advanced, his fingers curled to his thumb so he could point. “Arya doesn’t know what she wants so let’s forget for a moment that she’s my sister. Let’s just pretend you and me are still friends. She doesn’t know what love is. This is all just part of her game right now. She’s confused and—”

 

“I can speak for myself.”

 

Both men looked to the archway where a post-workout Arya stood, her skin still glistening with sweat. 

 

Jon shook his head. “I’m not talking to you right now, Arya.”

 

“No,” she breathed out, “you’re just talking about me.”

 

Gendry’s lips parted again while his eyes danced back and forth between the pseudo-siblings. 

 

“We can have this conversation later,” Jon insisted.

 

“No,” Arya laughed in disbelief, “we’re going to have it now. I know you think I’m crazy. Maybe I am. But I know my own mind. I know what I want. I’m not a child anymore!”

 

Jon chuckled too. “With the way you’ve been acting you absolutely are.”

 

Gendry hadn’t realized how close Arya had become, but he certainly heard the way her flat palm came into contact with Jon’s cheek. There was rage in her eyes and her other hand was curled into a fist, trying to contain it all. Jon turned away from the force, and when he looked back he held his face, feeling the heat of the contact beneath his fingers. As soon as the numbness subsided, a prickling buzz settled in, rattling his eardrums and convincing Jon that Arya’s anger possibly broke blood vessels beneath his skin. 

 

“In case it wasn’t clear,” Arya spat, “the girl you heard screaming the other night? Because she was getting fucked good and hard? That was me.” 

 

Jon went to speak, his body moving toward Arya as she worked to walk away. Arya was quicker, her hands outstretched to keep him at length, the pressure of her fingers to Jon’s chest, causing him to stumble backward. “And you gave Ygritte, this woman I don’t know because, uh, you didn’t think it was important to tell me about her...you gave her access to my home? And you thought that was okay? This is the only place I feel safe anymore, Jon, and you fucked that up too! How dare you!” 

 

“Arya!”

 

“Don’t fucking touch me!” she screamed — seething. Her voice echoed throughout the foyer, even as she made her way up the stairs. 

 

Jon’s face was still on fire and he was in so much pain he could barely manage to look to Gendry. “I want you gone in the morning,” he thundered anyway. He paced toward the sink and braced himself against the counter, bending so he could spit. Blood landed in the basin and then a diluted version washed it away when he took a sip of water and spit that out too. When Jon turned around, Gendry was gone. 

 

~!~

 

Arya waited, counting the moments until she’d heard Gendry’s weight on the stairs. She didn’t pick up her phone; her eyes were too clouded with tears for her to be able to make sense of anything on her screen anyway. She contemplated calling Sansa while she waited, but instead she focused on the spin of the ceiling fan, blinking away her sorrow until it finally had her drifting off to sleep. 

 

Moments passed, or maybe hours, and when Arya opened her eyes she was gutted to find herself still alone. The afternoon cloaked her room in shadow and her door was still shut, all of the things around her, including her phone, were still untouched. She sat up and the room spun around her. Arya grabbed blindly for her phone and as her feet touched down to the floor she looked to her screen. A single text from Sansa covered the picture of her and Gendry.

 

She dialed her sister’s number without much thought, her body zombie-like as she padded toward her bedroom door. Instantly, Sansa’s voice carried over the line.

 

“Hey! I—”

 

“Sans?” Even miles away, Arya could sense the way her cracking voice had her sister’s smile faltering. 

 

“Arya...what is it?”

 

“I slapped Jon.”

 

Sansa clapped her hand over her mouth while her eyes grew wide. “Uh...shit...wow. What happened?”

 

Arya shook her head. “I just...it was bad.” She reached out for the brass knob and slowly opened the door, almost afraid to upset the mood in the hall. But it seemed to be just as empty, just as dark and quiet as her own room had been. 

 

“Well he deserves it. He was a right ass to you yesterday. And he hasn’t taken any of my calls…” Sansa’s voice trailed off as she continued to ramble. Arya was just happy for the sound. She felt less alone with Sansa on the phone, even if her sister was a thousand miles away in a place she used to call home. 

 

Arya crossed the hall to where Gendry’s bedroom was, the door shut just like hers had been. As Sansa continued to rant, she nodded, pretending to listen. Arya didn’t bother knocking. They were past all of that. She just needed Gendry now, in whatever state he was willing to give himself.

 

But when she opened the door Gendry was not there. He was missing, as were all of his belongings. The bed was stripped and the hangers in the closet were empty, each separated by several inches as if to show the way Gendry had likely removed each item in haste. 

 

“Sansa?” Arya’s voice whispered, cutting her sister off.

 

Sansa swallowed. “Uh, yeah. Did I get carried away? Sorry, you know he irritates me to no end. He—”

 

“Sans, shut up, okay? Gendry’s...I think he’s gone.”

 

“What? What do you mean he’s—”

 

Arya nodded. “He’s gone.” 

 

This time she didn’t cry.

Chapter Text

Arya was disoriented, hearing her phone before she realized it was waking her up from another grief-induced slumber. It was as if she’d collapsed where she stood, rendered speechless and immobile by Gendry’s absence. Ironically she felt none of that now, only confusion and a bit of discomfort as she reached out for the device, fingertips stretching awkwardly upon — carpet? She couldn’t immediately identify where she was and she didn’t remember hanging up on Sansa. Arya only thought of Gendry and how if her exhaustion had her falling asleep again he’d already wasted too much time in trying to contact her. 

 

She swiped her thumb along the screen to connect the phone call. Instantly the indescribable feeling from earlier, the one that somehow teetered perfectly between anger and numbness, pulsed in her veins again. “Is this the start of your apology tour? I really hope this is the start of your apology tour,” her mouth managed lazily. 

 

“Arya?”

 

She was propelled upward, recognizing the voice and realizing instead that it was her turn to apologize. It was jarring how even in her rage she still thought of Gendry. Even amidst all of the anger and chaos, he was all that seemed to matter. 

 

“Lisa! Hey!”

 

“Hi...you okay?”

 

“What? Uh...yeah, of course. Just...stuff.”

 

“Boy stuff?”

 

“Kind of...not really. I don’t know.”

 

“Gendry’s a good one, Arya. I meant that. Cut him some slack. You Starks are difficult.”

 

Arya smirked. “Yeah. So I’ve been told.”

 

“Actually, I saw the picture of you and Gendry at the gala—”

 

Arya’s eyes widened. “What?”

 

“Yeah, I…did you not know?”

 

“I...no.”

 

“Is everything okay?”

 

Arya swallowed and nodded firmly. “Yeah, of course. I just didn’t know. There’s so many other people they could put in the papers, y’know? Why me?”

 

Across the line, Lisa breathed out a laugh that tickled Arya’s ear. If Arya had to guess, her comment also earned her an eye-roll. “I used to get photographed going to the grocery store...doctor’s appointments…”

 

“Right.” 

 

“Anyway, it got me thinking...do you remember a couple years ago when Jon screwed that intern on the sofa in the elevator?”

 

“Gross. Yes. How could I forget when he insisted on telling anyone who would listen?”

 

“I’ve been sitting on this for awhile because...well, we’ll get there. But Robb helped him erase that footage. I don’t know if that part was public knowledge.”

 

“No, Jon conveniently left that part of the story out.”

 

“Yeah. I forget how they did it but that’s why they keep the security cameras off now. And, I mean, you know how paranoid Robert is and he was convinced someone hacked into the system when there was just this length of time on all of the cameras where the footage was cut...”

 

“I do remember that! That was them? They caused that?”

 

“Yes. Idiots,” she dismissed, the memory of the antics shared between Robb and Jon both comforting and painful. “But anyway...I was going to mention it to you when you were here but I thought it was silly. I shouldn’t even be encouraging any of this, I just...Robb kept the flash drive and that was always so weird to me. He joked that he was trying to blackmail Jon and knowing them...well, I ignored it. Eventually I forgot about it. But today I found the flash drive with some of his other things and...I watched it.”

 

“You watched Jon fuck an intern? Is that really what this call is?”

 

“No,” Talisa laughed, “I skipped right through that, trust me.” Then her tone changed: “I did watch Cersei Lannister go down on her brother though.”

 

Arya nearly choked. “Wait. What?”

 

There was a brief pause, then a sigh. Arya held her breath for the length of both. “Please don’t make me say it again,” Talisa disdained, causing Arya to finally drop her mouth open and manage just the smallest amount of oxygen, still buying time as she searched for the correct words.

 

“You’re kidding,” Arya finally said, her voice just as deadpan. 

 

“I’m not. I wish I was. I genuinely wish I was.”

 

“I’m...that’s fucking disgusting.”

 

“Yeah. I know.”

 

“You have the flash drive?”

 

“Of course. After you left I finally went through some of Robb’s stuff. It wasn’t even the old stuff, you know? It was all the stuff for the future...his campaign and the plans for the house we were going to build—“

 

“What campaign?”

 

“What?”

 

“What...what campaign?”

 

“Arya, I’m sorry, I thought you knew. Robb was going to run for President.”

 

“Oh...oh,” Arya settled. 

 

“I really thought you knew. I’m sorry, I—” 

 

“I was away at school. I was...younger, I guess. He would have told me when the time was right, I’m sure.”

 

“Arya, I’m really sorry, love, I didn’t mean to upset you.”

 

“You didn’t. Just one of those nights.”

 

“Yeah. Right.” Talisa paused. “Do you need me to remind you of what I found on the security footage? Would that make you feel better?”

 

“God no!” Arya bemoaned. Her vision was donated to nothingness, all of her still feeling numb but now for different reasons. 

 

“When are you and Gendry coming back to visit? Jackson misses his friend.”

 

In an attempt to return to the present, Arya shook her head, dismissing the fog. “I’m going to pretend to not be offended but I know you’re totally talking about Gendry.”

 

“He loves his auntie too. But you know how boys are.”

 

Arya smirked. “Yeah, I do.” 

 

Arya’s smile faltered as she thought of how wonderful Gendry had been with Jackson. The very thing that once made her giddy came with it a weight she couldn’t explain. She spent the weeks following Volantis feeling ridiculous as she imagined Gendry with other children — their children — as if that were something they’d somehow discussed. She thought of it before they slept together and she certainly thought of it after. Even now, fury in her heart, she imagined him in her future.

 

Arya exhaled but continued with a throat that was still inexplicably tight. “Things are just a bit crazy right now. Maybe...I don’t know what I’m doing for the holidays. Gendry doesn’t really have family so maybe I could have Sansa come down and we could—“

 

“Oh my god, I’d love that!”

 

“Yeah so...something to think about.”

 

The conversation continued, meandering naturally — casually — as if Talisa hadn’t just revealed information strong enough to shake the world. Arya somehow managed to remain a participant in their chat, even when her mind was elsewhere, most notably on the news she’d received, all of it relating to sisters and brothers and the secrets they keep — together and from one another. 

 

~!~

 

Time passed, enough of it disappearing for Arya to decide that it was in her best interest to eat. She forfeited a protein shake and grabbed for a box of cereal from the pantry, deciding that regardless of the time it was an appropriate meal. Arya padded slowly around the kitchen, first getting the bowl then pouring the milk. It sloshed, nearly overflowing as she made her way into the living room. The last time she’d been here, her head had fallen to Gendry’s shoulder and when she awoke she was pressed firmly to him, his strong arms keeping her safe and warm. Now the room felt cold, a fact that was confirmed as she settled into the couch and found the suede unforgiving. 

 

Slowly she was hating this apartment, each minute making it feel less like home. Gendry’s absence only underlined this, propelling her toward reckless thoughts of joining him in running away. She ate her bowl of cereal instead until finally she sat back, unreasonably exhausted. A sigh she hadn’t realized she’d been holding was released, causing her to blink herself back into the moment. 

 

There was a new resolve guiding her actions now, a certain blind faith that a very self-aware Arya knew wouldn’t last long. She followed it anyway with her sock-covered feet now propped up on the coffee table. Beside them was the half-eaten bowl of now soggy cereal. Her laptop — previously on the coffee table where it’d been stored, untouched, for many months — was warm in her lap and it hummed quietly while she scrolled quickly through airline offers, searching for a flight back to Winterfell. 

 

Or, at least, that’s what she had told Sansa she planned to do. Arya at least remembered that much from their exchange. In calling her sister Arya hadn’t realized just how concerned the redhead would become. She was just as thankful for the distraction as she was annoyed by it. Sansa’s insistence that Arya not be alone was endearing, but the overbearing nature had a rather sobering effect on Arya. She still hadn’t cried and the longer Sansa ranted, the less she wanted to. She was mostly angry now, and her distaste for all layover options and prices had far more to do with the things her mind and heart really wanted. She was powerless against them lately, useless against their control. All of her wanted Gendry. Even the parts of her that wanted to murder him or forget about him completely, still craved him at their core. 

 

When her phone finally rang and Gendry’s name and picture appeared, Arya sighed and answered the phone, rolling her eyes. “Yeah?” she asked as she turned the phone on speaker and tossed it to the couch beside her. 

 

The sound of him exhaling echoed throughout the room. In an instant Arya’s anger softened to a more rational level. Still she gritted her teeth, her jaw tight, as she braced for his inevitable apology. Gendry was stupid enough to leave; he wouldn’t be stupid enough to call her without one.

 

“Oh, thank god...”

 

Arya closed her laptop and sat up. “Excuse me?”

 

“I...God, Arya, you had me so worried.”

 

Arya looked to her phone. 17 missed calls . She shrugged, then rolled her eyes, almost impressed by her own restraint. “ Me ? I had you worried? Because your stuff isn’t here and you are gone and you left without saying anything. But you’re right, Gendry, you should be worried about me .”

 

“Arya, don’t...”

 

She picked up the phone and placed it to her ear. “Where the fuck are you?”

 

Gendry sighed again. “With a friend.”

 

“It’s always a friend! The boy that doesn’t have friends is always—”

 

“Arya, please calm down, alright?”

 

“Excuse me? Calm down? You want me to—”

 

“Please don’t do this. You know me leaving had nothing to do with you. Please tell me you know that.”

 

“Right now I don’t know shit, Gendry.”

 

“I wanted to say goodbye but I know you wouldn’t have let me leave and I needed to. I couldn’t be there anymore. You know that. And Davos said...we got rid of my car...” Again, he exhaled, his shoulders and features deflating in a symbolic wave of a white flag. “Can we please meet somewhere? I need to see you and this would all be a hell of a lot easier if we were together.”

 

Arya paused. The bitter disappointment and seething anger left her body over an hour ago. It was displaced when Jon attempted to call her after she’d gotten off the phone with Talisa, causing her to put her phone on silent. She raged quietly, all the while leaving Gendry to call her seventeen times. 

 

“You’ll come here?”

 

“No,” Gendry gave firmly. “I really don’t think that’s a good idea. You can come here.”

 

“Where is here?”

 

 ~!~

 

An hour outside of King’s Landing sat the town of Kingswood. It was nothing more than an old glorified commuter neighborhood, where those sick of the Kings Landing politics took advantage of the one-road village in the valley and built their lives on the rolling hills surrounding it. They placed large homes there, up winding, steep driveways where thousand year-old trees and carefully crafted rock walls concealed the mansions they chose to raise their children in. 

 

Every missing street light or narrow road built around a cliff was deliberate. They didn’t like visitors here, and that was painfully obvious to Arya who cringed every time another car would pass her on the road, pushing her close to the guardrail. It didn’t help when her journey had her GPS losing its network connection, and with it, the directions needed to get her to her destination. She attempted to call Gendry but that failed too so instead she just drove aimlessly until eventually the signal returned. 

 

It was Arya’s memory of the map and not her phone’s directions that finally had her pulling up to a thick black bi-fold gate, blocking Arya’s access and concealing her view of what she assumed was a home just as beautiful as the rest. Unfortunately the angle also had her vehicle partly in the road. There was no call-box, and in scrambling for her phone to call Gendry, she found she was once again without service. In a huff, just as she tossed her phone back to the passenger seat, the gate began to open. Arya gave a sigh of relief. She was already planning the verbal attack she’d bestow on Gendry for making her come so far to see him. 

 

The incline leading up to the home was so steep Arya decided to kick on her emergency brake. She didn’t know how she’d make it back down toward the road but she figured that didn’t matter now. Her hands itched to touch Gendry and it was suddenly all she could concentrate on. Arya wanted all of him, to be able to breathe Gendry in and feel his energy beneath her fingertips. 

 

Arya grabbed the backpack she’d packed, wondering now if it was a presumptuous choice. Gendry said he was with a friend, but she didn’t know if that friend was here now. She also didn’t know how long she’d want to stay and if the bag was even necessary. 

 

Sending one last text to Gendry, Arya paced toward the door, giving up on the faulty signal when she finally stood beneath the porch’s recessed light. She reached out, allowing for a final pause before pressing the doorbell. She heard it echo inside and then she waited. The brief moment that passed had Arya looking around and when the door opened she inhaled sharply as the mindsets that had been battling all day continued their fight. 

 

It was not Gendry but an older man, one just as tall and almost as broad. His receding hair was grey and the beard he wore, neatly trimmed and almost as light. He looked stoic from behind his black-framed glasses but soon he was smiling, even letting out a slight chuckle. 

 

Arya’s vision narrowed and this time when she turned around it was as if to ask the moment to replay itself. “Who are you?” she dictated slowly. 

 

“You’re Arya.”

 

Arya took a step forward, one hand clutching the strap of her bag while the other kept a tight grip on her phone. “You’re...Davos?”

 

“I am,” he continued, much more jovially. “Come in.” He stepped back and opened the door further.

 

Arya craned her neck but did not advance. “Is Gendry—“ Behind Davos, Gendry came down the stairs, moving just as slowly. Upon seeing him, Arya sighed, and her heartbeat quickened. For a moment she thought she might cry but if her eyes welled up with tears it was only so she could see Gendry more clearly. The way she stepped forward and ignored Davos was merely wishful thinking. The older man hadn’t walked away yet, and when Arya finally caught her breath she realized she was being watched; she just didn’t care. 

 

Gendry reached the last step and let his weight bring him down into the foyer. “Hey.”

 

“Hey,” Arya whispered back.

 

“Right,” Davos stated succinctly, accenting his interruption with the sound of the door being shut and locked. “Uh. I’m ordering pizza, so...” 

 

This time Davos did leave and suddenly the space separating Arya and Gendry disappeared too. Arya slid her bag off her shoulder and before it landed at her feet she had her hands to Gendry’s hips, the material of his henley fisted as his mouth fell upon hers. The kisses they shared were deep, passionate, and slow. Gendry’s hands cupped Arya’s cheeks, keeping her lips to his own as he continued to steal kisses. 

 

When both could no longer deny the way their lungs craved air they separated, their lips hesitant to detach as they eyes fluttered open. Wide smiles spread across their flushed cheeks. 

 

Just as Gendry lowered his hands away from Arya’s face, he felt himself stumbling back. The hands that had previously kept him close were immediately placed to his chest, pushing at him with a force Gendry clearly hadn’t expected. Arya’s eyes widened and her mouth puckered, all of her incensed.

 

“Don’t you ever do that to me again!” she yelled, her little voice echoing up to the light fixture above.

 

“Arya, I said I was sorry!”

 

“Well say it again! God, I want to smack you,” Arya growled.

 

Gendry’s look of concern faded to amusement. “Go ahead.”

 

Arya’s nostrils flared and her fingers curled into her palms. “It’s not funny, Gendry!”

 

“I know,” he sighed, “and it killed me, alright? But...”

 

“That’s my home, Gendry! That’s our home!”

 

“Not if Ygritte has a key. Not if Jon plans to be around more. C’mon,” he urged, offering her his hand. 

 

Arya looked to his outstretched palm, her eyes darting back and forth between the suggestion and the grin he wore. “Where are we going?”

 

“My room,” Gendry stated simply. “I have things to tell you.”

 

She took his hand, her palm feeling small upon his, her softness contrasting with his callouses as they began to ascend the staircase. It felt intimate in a way it hadn’t before and Arya swore she could hear her heart hammering in her chest. Soon, she figured, she’d be able to see the imprint of all the anxiety she was feeling, thundering from beneath her shirt. 

 

Her bones were hesitant as she continued to look around. “Your room?”

 

Gendry turned over his shoulder but continued his ascent. “I used to stay here when I was younger. When my mom worked a lot.”

 

Slowly they made their way up the steps. No photographs or decorations of any kind existed to mark their journey, but everything was neat and somehow comforting. When Gendry brought Arya into what she assumed was his room she noticed it was outfitted similarly. The gentle slate colored walls were exchanged for ones of a smoky blue. A television was mounted on the wall across from a modestly sized bed, where beneath it stood a dresser that already held Gendry’s wallet and cell phone. It was perfectly lovely, Arya thought, and somehow less sparse than his room back in their flat had been. 

 

When Gendry shut the door behind them their hands fell apart and Arya stepped further into the room. She kicked off her shoes and continued to look around. Arya wondered how many nights Gendry had stayed here as a young boy. The contemplation brought a small smile to her face. This all felt far too normal, as if they were teenagers and the only thing they had to worry about was awkward first kisses and the weight of a slowly advancing relationship. This room and the house it was contained in was new territory. Arya was made to be nervous by the lack of familiarity and she turned around quickly, hoping to fill the silence with her usual chatter to show that she wasn’t as bothered as she felt.

 

“Where’s your stuff?”

 

“In the garage.”

 

“Oh.” She paused as she nodded. "You're staying here? You're not coming back?"

 

"I..." Gendry sighed. "Do you honestly think that's a good idea? Me coming back? I mean, do you even want to go back?"

 

Arya shrugged. "I don't have much of a choice."

 

"We could get a hotel..." 

 

"I'm trying to save money, so—” 

 

"I could pay for it,” he stammered. 

 

"Absolutely not." Arya looked away and Gendry waited, his eyes willing her to continue. 

 

"I was thinking...I mean, you're going to think I'm nuts but—”

 

"We should get a place?" Arya suggested bravely.

 

This time when Gendry sighed it came with a laugh. "Yeah, actually."

 

Arya smirked, highlighting her rosy cheeks. "I thought of that too."

 

"That's insane right? Too soon. I mean, we could get a two-bedroom so—” 

 

"Let's just...one day at a time, alright?"

 

"Yeah. Right.” 

 

Gendry took a step toward her but Arya paced back, her denim covered legs bumping into the mattress. "You're still mad at me,” he deduced.

 

"I'm not mad at you. I'm just...mad. In general."

 

"Do you want to talk about it?"

 

Arya rolled her lips inward. "Not really."

 

“Alright." There was a pronounced nod of his head while Gendry sought out more courage. "I was thinking—“

 

“I want to know what you know about my parents.”

 

Gendry didn’t move. He was frozen by her words and yet thankful for them, knowing that despite the conversations he’d planned in his head he wasn’t ready to bring up topics he knew would only further upset her. Already he thought Arya looked broken and the mere sight of her had him attempting to burden some of that emotional load. He wanted to believe that his presence was helping but he also knew how long Arya had survived without him. Too many years, he deduced. 

 

Arya sat upon the bed and leaned back, leveraging her body so she was finally resting back against the pillows propped up against the headboard. Gendry joined her, their thighs touching but the rest of them detached until finally she reached for his hands, holding them in her lap and demanding his presence. 

 

“I don’t know where to start,” Gendry mumbled.

 

“With the truth,” her voice encouraged gently. “Any of it.”

 

Gendry’s shoulders deflated. A heavy exhale brushed past his lips and the tightness in his chest twisted, increasing to an almost painful level. “The expense reports...there was payroll in there.”

 

“Payroll?”

 

“For employees. Campaign staff...me," he added. 

 

“What?”

 

“I recognized one of the account numbers on the transactions sheet. It’s mine. It’s like...I’m just part of the team. Like I wanted to help my asshole absentee father become president.”

 

“I don’t...”

 

“They’re using campaign funds to pay my monthly deposit, Arya. My hush money is just donor money. Most of it publicly funded.”

 

“How—“

 

“It happens.”

 

“I don’t...who do you think set it up? Robert?”

 

“No. I don’t think the fat piece of shit has any idea. I think it’s Cersei. She was the one signing the checks. She’s the head of his campaign. She deals with all of the finances. He’s just the face of everything. He’s probably fucking clueless.”

 

“So you think...my dad knew? And they killed him? That doesn’t make sense. Robert was his best friend. They served in Essos together. If Robert didn’t know and my dad went to him like a man, it was clearly to protect Robert. Why kill my father?

 

"Well...I don’t think your dad knew anything until Robb told him.”

 

“How did you—“

 

“Robb’s emails. I went back through them. That’s what he wanted to tell your dad. It has to be. Then when they killed your dad...it all confirmed what he already knew about Cersei. How corrupt she was. How she hated your father. But Robb needed something more concrete. He couldn’t prove it. And I think that’s why my name was in his jacket pocket. Tracing the murder weapon back to me..finding out who I am. It all confirms Cersei ordered the attack on your father. It was the perfect crime for her. It got rid of your father, the only person she thought had knowledge of the funds, and then if she framed me it would get rid of me too...she wouldn’t have to pay me if I was in jail for murder.”

 

“Gendry, no…”

 

“I don’t have specifics, Arya. These are guesses. But it all makes sense."

 

"Robb was going to run for President," Arya whispered, the cogs in her mind, previously lazy, now greased and falling into place. 

 

Gendry nodded, his mind attempting a similar scheme. "Okay, that’s important...so hypothetically...Robb's team does their due diligence...tries to dig up dirt on Robert.”

 

“No.”

 

“What?”

 

“Robb was brilliant. He figured this out on his own.”

 

“How do you know?”

 

“I just do. And if he told anyone, this wouldn’t be a secret. You wouldn’t be a secret.”

 

“How can you be sure?”

 

“Really, Gendry? Does anything in this shit city stay a secret for long?”

 

“Alright. Fair point. So Robb finds out on his own. He goes to your dad. What do you think your dad would do?”

 

“Are you playing devil’s advocate?”

 

“No. I’m asking. I didn’t know him. I told you...I don't have all the story, Arya. I'm just trying to put these pieces together...just trying to do what we've been trying to do all along." 

 

“My dad would...he’d tell Robb to be quiet and patient. He’d probably go to Robert and give him a chance to explain himself. My dad never wanted to see Robert for who he was.”

 

“I looked at some of the numbers from Robb’s notebook...they correspond with dates your dad and Robert had meetings. So maybe your father told Robert about what Robb found at a meeting. A few of the meetings were marked as private...they didn’t submit any transmission or quotes to the press. It probably came up. Staff wants to know what the President and Vice President are talking about. Cersei or someone finds out...you know she'd pitch a fit if she wasn't included."

 

“You think she pulled the trigger?”

 

“No. She couldn’t have. All of the newspaper articles reported that she was still inside that night. I think it was that fuck...what do they call him? The Mountain. You can see him in some of the crime scene photos. Why was he outside if Cersei was inside?”

 

“Wow.” She paused. “But...no. The man in the car park...it wasn’t the Mountain. This guy was smaller. Like...short. Almost embarrassingly short.” 

 

“I think that was Littlefinger.”

 

“Wait...no way. He...he used to be in love with my mother when they were kids.”

 

“And you don’t think he’d kill you?”

 

“I don’t...I don’t know.”

 

“There’s so many people protecting Cersei, Arya. I don’t know how deep this goes but it’s bad. And for all of them to remain loyal? To her? I can only imagine the money she has given them. She’s lucky she’s a Lannister. No other person could afford all of this.”

 

“So...Alright, Robb is running for President. He wants to find dirt on Robert and he does. Robb tells my dad. Instead of my dad confirming or denying it, he goes to Robert...it’s like my dad didn’t want to believe it. Like he wanted to protect Robert instead of support Robb’s campaign...”

 

“I don’t know if that’s...maybe.” Gendry sighed out. “Would you want your kids getting involved in any of this?”

 

Arya looked away. “You’re right. So allegedly my dad meets with Robert. Robert confronts Cersei because he probably didn’t know. Or maybe she confronted him because she was excluded on the meetings, like you said. He—“

 

“Your dad was dead a week later. I can’t fill in the gaps. I don’t know how Cersei set it up I just know...it has to be her.”

 

“And my mum? And Robb?”

 

“If I had to guess...based on emails your mother was endlessly supportive of Robb. Cautious and concerned for him, but she trusted him to do whatever he was doing. Cersei wanted Robb gone...I guess she must have found out that he knew about the funds. I don’t know. And your mother just happened to be in the car that night. Innocent bystander...though I’m sure Cersei didn’t mind. She has no regard for human life beyond her family’s.”

 

"Maybe Robb confronted Cersei," a dazed Arya proposed.

 

"You think?" 

 

"Robb had dirt on Cersei. I mean, if we’re following this idea that he knew about the funds...he probably figured the rest of it out too...her framing you so she wouldn’t have to pay you.”

 

“And she wouldn’t go to jail for murder,” Gendry reminded.

 

“Yeah. Right. But, Robb was thorough...calculated, y’know? I actually talked to Talisa today and I think there’s more.”

 

“More?”

 

Arya nodded, releasing her lip from between her teeth. “She told me that Cersei is definitely fucking her brother." 

 

"Wait. What? Cersei Lannister? Fucking...Jaime Lannister? Are you serious?"

 

"I wish I wasn’t...but I am. And she has it on tape.” Gendry’s eyes widened, the rest of him stuck. “I’m starting to wonder if the man and woman that came into the library at the gala...if that was them.”

 

"How does she...where’d she get the tape?”

 

“Robb had it.” Arya smiled, almost sensing her brother and how in death she was still so unbelievably proud of the man he was. "I told you he was brilliant. If he..." Her grin faded. "If he'd been given the chance to actually campaign, he'd win the presidency hands down. Between the information about the funds...Cersei trying to frame you...the affair? And with her brother, nonetheless? You’re wrong, Gendry. I don't think even a Lannister could survive all of that scandal."

 

It was a wish, or maybe even a promise, but the truth had Arya less energized than Gendry expected. She looked just as tired as she’d seemed at the door, only now she was sad too. 

 

“Where’s your head at, Stark?”

 

“I don’t know but...my chest hurts.” Arya blinked and a single tear fell. “My heart hurts too.” She was nearly crying, the lump in her throat increasing the more she tried to fight it. “How did you put all of this together? How...”

 

“Everyday. When you went to the gym. Or if I couldn’t sleep. I’d just go through everything. Davos helped with some of it. Not connecting dots just knowing how the scene has been. How it was before your parents...how it’s been after.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“Can you look at me please?” Arya looked up, almost afraid of what she’d find. The sight of her had Gendry’s voice cracking. “I don’t know the way for all of this to be true and for us to still be us.”

 

“What?” Arya’s voice quaked.

 

“Do you still want to be with me? Could anyone be with someone who caused the...” Gendry hiccuped back a sob that threatened to tear at his throat. “Do you hate me? Because I kind of hate me right now.”

 

“What? Gendry, no,” her voice soothed. “I mean, you had no idea...you had no idea, right?”

 

He laughed, using the opportunity to dismiss his fears too. “Yeah, none. When Davos suggested I leave town for awhile I just thought he was being paranoid. He’d asked me to lay low before. Many times. But with your dad...things were scary for a bit. He didn’t want me leaving the house. I couldn’t take my car out. I was always here anyway so I jumped at the chance to leave. I needed a break away from this shit city. I didn’t know I was a target for different reasons. I didn’t know—“

 

Arya shook her head, almost convincing herself too. “I know. Of course not.”

 

As Arya’s gaze fell, Gendry reached out to push a stray tress behind her ear. She smiled at the action but still refused to look up. He gripped her neck, his thumb running circles upon her earlobe. Still, she didn’t stir, even as her body leaned into him, appreciating the gesture. 

 

“I can’t have you resent me, Arya, so if—“

 

Her head snapped up then. “No. Absolutely not.” Terror disguised Arya’s beauty, making Gendry breathless in the worst way.

 

“I don’t want to lose you.”

 

Just then Arya reached out to touch Gendry’s face too. Her much smaller hands found their home upon the stubble of his jaw, all of her agreeing even if the words were stuck in her throat, like air she didn’t deserve, hindering speech she wasn’t ready to deliver. She’d heard it so many times in her head and she’d heard something similar the day before in the kitchen, when Gendry had attempted to show Jon what Arya meant to him. 

 

Instead: “You won’t. I’m right here.”

Chapter Text

“I’m right here.”

 

Gendry needed reassurance so Arya gave it in the form of her body straddling his, with her knees bent around his waist to keep him close. She donated all of her weight in his lap while her hands soothed his skin, gentle upon his neck before moving upward so her fingertips, delicate and almost teasing on his stubble, could manipulate his mouth toward hers. With eyes closed, Gendry seemed hesitant, all too happy to keep his forehead pressed to Arya’s even if his gaze was averted. He meant what he said and Arya wished there was more than one way to dispel all his fears. She wondered then if she’d be doing this for the rest of her life — proving he was worth it, that they were safe, and that he meant the world to her. She didn’t wonder if it would be worth it. 

 

“Gendry?” He looked up, a grumpy pout on his face that almost made Arya laugh. The breathy giggle had Gendry cracking a smile, one that Arya ultimately kissed away. 

 

When she pulled away, wearing the smile she’d stolen, Gendry nipped back in. Everything about them was so tender, the mere touch of skin on skin enough to placate any worry. Hands didn’t wander, they clutched; only lips moved, steady and deliberate as if they hadn’t spent the last few days figuring one another out. 

 

A knock on the already opened door jostled them out of the reverie they were lost in, the sound and the creak of the wood pushing them apart. Arya couldn’t scramble fast enough. To move would have been almost comical so she buried her flushed face in the crook of Gendry’s neck, her cheeks warm upon his pulse point as a wave of embarrassment washed over her. Her position had her missing the way she felt all of Gendry beneath her. For a moment she felt invisible, at least wanting to feel this way as the glares she was undoubtedly receiving from Davos burned into her arched back. 

 

Gendry didn’t seem to be phased but Arya could guarantee that he wore pink cheeks and she certainly felt the way his heart hammered heavy in his chest, even as he forced a laugh and carried on a brief conversation — dinner was here, Davos announced, and Arya sensed the way Gendry chuckled awkwardly, his shoulders still tense as he feigned a smile. 

 

Arya’s mind was a mess of anger and relief, this still and silent moment the first of the day where she actually had time to stop and think about all that had happened and to even entertain all that would happen once they finally emerged from Gendry’s temporary room and chose to face the world. It was nice to get lost for a bit, to find solace in one another, but she swore she still felt the rough scratch of carpet on her cheek from when she’d collapsed in an emotional fit of devastation on the floor of Gendry’s old bedroom. She still felt the lump in her throat from when Gendry finally called, as the self-hatred that comes with admitting how blindly you need someone gnawed at her skin, just as Gendry’s lips had done moments earlier. 

 

Eventually Arya sensed Gendry softening, his previously detached hands now finding her hips again in an attempt to bring her back to him. She raised her head, all of her shy in a way Gendry had never witnessed. He smiled and she smiled and soon they were laughing.

 

“I...not a great first impression,” Arya managed through a giggle, her words coming out similar to a question.

 

Gendry glanced away briefly. His hand had dipped beneath Arya’s shirt and was now tickling at her spine, causing her to fold into him further. “This is going to sound weird but, I, uh...I’ve never had a you before,” he said, his words just as hesitant. “Is this what it feels like to be a teenager and have your parents walk in on you?”

 

Immediately Arya dropped her head back to laugh. The sound caused Gendry’s mouth to open as if her reaction gave him permission to relax. “Wouldn’t know,” she dismissed with a shrug. “Could have been worse, I guess.” 

 

It had been worse only just that morning when the pair was half-naked and leaning on one another for support, doing so in front of the one person they’d been meaning to keep their secrets from. 

 

Just as quickly as they’d arrived, Arya banished all thoughts of Jon when the same intimacy that terrified her brother swept over her in a comforting way. It was donated by Gendry’s hand skimming out from beneath her shirt so he could rest it upon her jean covered backside. His other hand had ghosted up her side before it found safe harbor cradling her neck, the pad of his thumb soothing Arya’s ear, causing her eyes to flutter shut in the way they did just as his mouth made contact with her forehead. 

 

Breaking away, Arya couldn’t help but to smile at Gendry. She felt just as he’d described, like a teenager happening upon the initial thrilling feelings of what one could only assume to be love. Playing coy she moved so she was no longer pressed into Gendry. Cool air separated them and as if to say that the moment was also becoming too serious for him, Gendry placed a gentle swat to Arya’s ass, causing her to jump. It was this energy, accompanied by breathy laughter and quick feet, that had them moving downstairs toward the dinner Davos had notified them of. 

 

They skidded to a stop in the kitchen, Gendry’s hands upon Arya’s hips as she took in the bright white room before her and how the night existed through all of the windows that surrounded them, cloaking the rest of the world in black. Davos smiled when he saw the pair, and pointed toward the open pizza box with his phone. Then he returned to scrolling through the device, almost granting Arya and Gendry a few more moments of privacy. 

 

Gendry advanced, reaching into a cabinet above to retrieve a plate. He passed it off to Arya who beamed and waited for him to return with another. He stood behind her, his much broader frame acting as a wall, essentially separating her from Davos who had now disappeared out onto the nearby patio with a bottle of wine. He returned just as Arya placed a slice of pizza on her plate, setting the ceramic aside so she could perform a similar action for Gendry. Just as her selection settled on his plate, Gendry’s phone rang, the vibration just as loud as the ringtone. Immediately Arya’s vision narrowed. She couldn’t help but to assume the worst, especially considering the people she knew Gendry trusted were standing in the same room. 

 

Looking to his screen, Gendry’s shoulders deflated and he sighed. His thumb hovered over the button that would accept the call but his mouth was emotionless. “I need to take this,” he huffed, before connecting the call and placing the phone to his ear.

 

Arya spun, her body following her eyes as she watched Gendry leave the kitchen. She heard only mumbling now, just the gruff timbre of his voice. His words were indiscernible from where he stood out in the foyer, a wall and seemingly another secret separating them. 

 

An unsteady breath blew past Arya’s lips. The way she gripped the counter replaced the weight on her shoulders as she blinked, attempting to focus her attention on something else. As the conversation Gendry was wrapped up in continued to fade out, Arya stared at the pizza they were meant to eat, the steam floating up off of it, taking with it the carefree energy that radiated off of them only moments earlier.

 

“Probably that damn school again,” Davos muttered.

 

His voice had Arya looking up before she even registered what it was the man had said. She swallowed and nodded. “Uh, yeah, probably.” She laughed too, a telling giggle that didn’t seem to fit her even in a past life.

 

Davos paused. “I knew it,” he deadpanned. “I knew he wouldn’t tell you.”

 

Arya sighed and turned to him. “I, uh, no...he hasn’t told me whatever...” 

 

Davos shook his head and continued his task of retrieving wine glasses from another cabinet. “For such a smart boy he can be really quite dumb.”

 

Anxiety forced another chuckle to tumble nervously past Arya’s lips. “Yeah. He can.” 

 

Davos set down the wine glasses and took a step forward. “There’s a local firm that specializes in military grade weapons...all of that stuff Gendry really excels at. They get government contracts, usually demilitarizing war zones. They’ve been bothering him for months now because they’d really like him to attend this degree program up north...not too far from Winterfell, actually.”

 

“WHIT?”

 

Davos laughed, all of him, from the crinkles near his eyes to the way his belly shook, much more genuine than any atom of Arya, especially in her current state. “Yeah. How’d you know?”

 

“I...it’s the best,” Arya sputtered, her mouth small and her eyes wide. 

 

White Harbor Institute of Technology was the best university in Westeros; to even be accepted was a thought most wouldn’t dare to entertain. Gendry had somehow turned that thought into a reality, one that he proceeded to keep from Arya, a laughable prospect considering its weight compared to all of his other secrets. 

 

“Just...holy shit...I mean, wow.”

 

Davos chuckled again. “They want him so badly they’re willing to pay for half of the program but he has to come up with the other half. If Gendry went to the military they’d pay for all of it but then they’d make him sign a contract so he’d have to remain enlisted, which you know he doesn’t want. They want him back so badly and...well, I don’t know about you, but I think it’s best if he got out of all of that. For many reasons.”

 

Arya gave a hurried nod. “Yeah. I agree.”

 

“I offered to give him what money I could but he won’t take it.”

 

“What about Robert’s money?”

 

Davos smirked. “He’s spent the better half of his life wasting through it. Paying for the necessities than blowing it on frivolous things. That car of his...birthday gifts for friends...any amount he had saved away dwindled when he went traveling...which is my fault, I guess.”

 

“You’re protective of him,” Arya deduced simply. “I appreciate that. He’s always looking out for me and I need him to have that person too.”

 

The older man shook his head. “He has that person, Arya. He has you.” 

 

Arya smiled, but found the truth unsettling. 

 

“You know the school...the area,” Davos continued. “We can get him loans. We can make it work. I don’t know why he’s fighting it. I assumed you knew but...I guess it makes sense that you don’t. But I think that maybe if you encouraged him—”

 

This time the smile Arya wore was forced. “Yeah, I should,” she swallowed. “I mean...I will. Definitely.”

 

As if on cue, Gendry returned. His phone was already tucked in his pocket and as he reached forward to grab for his plate he bent down to kiss Arya’s cheek. The force of his mouth had her shying away but she smiled all the same, incapable of denying how even drowning in what currently felt like betrayal, she was powerless against his affections. 

 

Gendry picked up their plates and walked toward the patio. Arya followed, seeing now how Davos had flipped a switch, sending zig-zags of string lights aglow above the table that was perfectly centered on the deck . It was just enough warmth to graze the edges of the trees that surrounded the home. The night was quiet around them and above, beyond each globe light, were stars Arya barely recognized. Seeing them made her smile and Gendry couldn’t help but to wear a similar sentiment as he watched her stare in amazement at the night sky. King’s Landing was only a short drive away and on clear summer nights you could see its skyline in the distance if you sat on the roof. Arya was so mesmerized she’d forgotten about the city, if only for a breath. 

 

“I can understand why you live out here,” she nearly whispered. “It’s beautiful...quiet.” Her smile widened, her eyes hesitant to look away for fear of the atmosphere vanishing. 

 

Gendry looked to Davos and grinned. “Weird, innit?” he teased, as he filled Arya’s wine glass and set the bottle aside.

 

With her attention still donated upward, Arya radiated wonderment. “Yeah, actually. Reminds me of Winterfell. Just...warmer.” She hadn’t touched her pizza or reached forward for her wine. Her hands rested upon one another, her feet soft and steady on the deck below as she craned her neck heavenward. 

 

“You’re...you can stay.”

 

Arya’s eyes bulged, fear gripping her neck and demanding that she abandon her daydreaming so she could return to the present. She shook her head, almost irritated by Gendry’s invitation. “Oh, I couldn’t...” 

 

“He asked me,” Davos assured. He served himself some salad and passed the bowl to Gendry. “You’d be welcome to.”

 

“Oh, I…” She breathed out a laugh, still wholly unsure. “I wouldn’t want to impose.”

 

“No imposition.”

 

“D takes in strays,” Gendry stated, almost proudly. “It’s kind of his thing.”

 

“I...maybe,” Arya settled. “I mean, I appreciate that. Thank you.”

 

Davos took a sip of his wine and looked away, essentially dismissing Arya and Gendry and their apparent attempt at decorum. These were adults he sat with, two people more than capable of making their own decisions. In fact it was their very adult choices that had them here, sitting on his deck eating pizza on an otherwise mundane Tuesday night. Davos wondered if the pair was so used to hiding their feelings if it almost came too naturally now. He wondered if it was something that could be undone or if this was how Arya and Gendry would forever be: quiet, unassuming, secretive, and private. Davos didn’t want that life for them, even if he assumed they’d at least be living it together.

 

As their plates cleared and wine glasses emptied, Davos and Arya carried most of the conversation, leaving Gendry to sit idly by and listen. It was a role he was all too happy to play. At one point he leaned back, his arms crossed over his chest, just admiring the way the lights from above glowed upon Arya’s cheeks. Gendry wondered if he was fanciful in wondering if this was how Arya felt when they were back in Volantis. Interacting with Talisa and her family had felt so natural to him then, a welcome reprieve as he and Arya fought to convince the world of their nonexistent relationship while also convincing themselves that the way they got along so well had nothing to do with their intense respect and obvious attraction toward one another. That kind of lying was done and the secrets they had now were shared — most of them, he admitted.

 

Arya didn’t know Davos but she seemed to trust him rather easily, a fact that became all the more apparent the longer their conversation continued. They discussed Arya’s parents and her childhood in Winterfell. They discussed Arya’s schooling and even her training with Sandor. For once Arya didn’t think to add in all of the questions she seemed to have each time she spoke to a government official. Gendry had discovered all she needed to know about the death of her parents and Robb, and now she could finally plan a future. Such a foreign word felt less like a dream the longer they talked. In another life, on any other night, Arya and Gendry could have been normal.

 

When the wine had warmed and nothing but residual grease coated their plates, Davos collected their plates and walked inside. Gendry performed a similar action with each empty wine glass, his too-big hands carrying each stem with ease. Arya stood up in a way that had her chair nearly falling over behind her. Her face was a mixture of shock and determination as she pushed past Gendry into the house. 

 

Gendry nearly laughed, shaking his head as he slowly followed. When he entered and shut the patio door behind him, he saw Arya standing before Davos with her hands on her hips. She looked like a child, ready to state her case toward her father for why she deserved an allowance or shouldn’t be blamed for something she likely did. 

 

“Please,” she begged. “I’d really like to clean the kitchen.”

 

Davos looked past Arya, over her shoulder to where an amused Gendry stood. He put the wine glasses on the counter, the glass clinking upon the granite in a way that showed defeat. He shrugged and Arya looked smug, as if she’d won a fight only she was arguing. Davos sighed and turned off the sink. He shook his hands out then proceeded to wipe them on his jeans so he could join Gendry on the other side of the island. The men’s placement there was a white flag as Arya began to work, collapsing the pizza box before returning to the sink. 

 

“It’s a weird Volantis tradition,” Gendry said lowly as he and Davos moved further away. “Guests clean up.”

 

“It’s takeaway,” Davos reminded, still perplexed. 

 

“Just let her do it.” Then: “She's very good at loading a dishwasher.”

 

At the house’s alarm now, Davos released a belly laugh. “Why does that not surprise me?” He gripped the device, tapping at the digital screen for reassurance. “I’m heading up to bed,” he stated casually, still not looking at Gendry. “Is she staying?”

 

“Can she stay in my room?”

 

This time Davos did look up. His brow furrowed, all of him almost impressed by Gendry’s bravery. “On that bed? You always complain that you barely fit on that bed.”

 

“I know she won’t stay if she’s in the guest room. She doesn’t like places she doesn’t know.”

 

“But she likes you,” Davos concluded.

 

Gendry’s cheeks flushed. “Uh, yeah…”

 

“She feels safe with you,” he continued to deduce. 

 

“Yeah, I guess she does. I hope she does.”

 

“Go ahead. Just...” Davos sighed.. “Be respectful.”

 

Gendry was ready to turn around but he stopped himself, tossing Davos’ same skepticism back. “To her or to you?”

 

“Both.”

 

“We...”

 

“I was young once,” he waved off. “Shut your door and I’ll turn the other way.”

 

“Uh, right,” Gendry mumbled. His body was a mixture of fight or flight, uncomfortable because he was an adult and yet almost warmed by Davos’ parent-like disposition. He fought the urge to be more subtle in how he felt about Arya while also feeling the need to stand his ground, as if this home recognized him as more than just a guest.

 

“And you are being careful, no?”

 

“What?” Gendry balked in a hushed tone. “Yeah, of course.”

 

“The seed is strong.” This time when Davos laughed, Gendry was almost offended. 

 

Cersei Lannister had spent nearly all of her early years of marriage pregnant. Gendry almost shuddered, now wondering who her offspring belonged to. He couldn’t help but to make a face, one Davos clearly saw. But before he allowed the older man to comment, he waved him off. 

 

“That myth has to die.”

 

“Not a myth if it’s proven true. And a child is the last thing either of you need right now,” Davos reminded with a finger pointed in Gendry’s direction. 

 

“Yeah. Agreed.”

 

A series of syncopated beeps were followed by an almost melodic tone. It was a familiar song to Gendry, one that brought him calm and had him turning over his shoulder to look at Arya who was now wiping down the counters. 

 

“Night, son,” Davos chuckled with a clap to Gendry’s shoulders. “Take care of her.”

 

Gendry didn’t say anything. Davos nearly floated away, taking with him any pretense that existed from the moment he first opened the front door. With it, Gendry tossed down his mask. His gaze was donated to the floor as he realized how thankful he was to have a friend like Davos and how beyond that, he was endlessly lucky to have Arya. 

 

“What?”

 

He looked up then, her petite form presented to him in silhouette. The kitchen was cloaked in darkness behind her. Arya took a step forward, joining him at the threshold upon which the house separated into several different wings. Someday Arya hoped she’d have a chance to explore this home she now felt was more like a tree house, hidden away and providing fleeting safety to the little girl she still felt so connected to. 

 

“I’m sorry I made you worry this morning,” Gendry whispered, mumbling, almost so his next sentiment could be louder. “And you’re beautiful.”

 

Arya grinned, causing her cheeks to rouge as they settled up high on her face. She practically collapsed into Gendry, her arms tight around his waist in a way that had him supporting all of her. “Shut up,” she mumbled into his shirt. Then she looked up, the same amazement Gendry had seen when Arya stared at the stars, still written across her face. He didn’t need to be asked and he didn’t need the way her hands soon coaxed his neck down toward her. When they kissed it was effortless, slow and soft and unassuming. 

 

“You’re staying, right?” Gendry’s voice almost insisted. Arya’s mouth fell open, but no words escaped. It caused him to chuckle and tighten the grip he had around her. “In my room,” he explained. “My bed.”

 

“If that’s—”

 

“Yeah. Chaperone approved and everything.”

 

“Yeah?” 

 

Gendry nodded. There was a brief pause before Arya tossed his hands away and manipulated his broad frame so he was facing away from her. It all happened so quickly Gendry was unsure of what she had planned. All he knew was that he trusted her and soon, that she trusted him too, as she tossed her weight upon his back. He stumbled but only barely. Arya’s legs effortlessly wrapped around his waist and he reached back, his hands a promise on her thighs to keep them steady. 

 

“Onward!” Arya instructed with her finger pointed toward the chandelier above. 

 

Gendry could only laugh, all of him seemingly happy as he headed for the stairs and began to ascend. His task was made easier when Arya wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek. He forgot about Davos and the world they’d locked outside. He thought only about the warmth of Arya, the passing feeling almost painful when Arya finally slipped off him as he deposited her onto the bed. The weight had her bouncing and their laughter stilled, mixing with the moon that painted shapes upon Gendry’s floor in an almost muted shade of lavender-blue. 

 

At the door, Gendry let his weight fall back upon the wood, the latch settling into the frame with a click he was certain echoed out in the hall. He attempted to be quieter with the lock but Arya heard it and she went to him, using its dull sound to allow a shy smile to pull at her lips. It was brief, momentary even, because as soon as Arya stood before Gendry her mouth was no longer her own. The first kiss they shared then was different than all the others they had managed and as the moment stilled, their lips demanded another and another, in slow, steady succession. 

 

This wasn’t as it had been so many times before. Their hearts were too thunderous to be playful, their fingertips too gentle for the rest of them to be so hungry. For once there was no worry about sabotage or lies or danger. Safety dismissed urgency, allowing for tender nibbles and bites that elicited squeaks and moans that sent shivers down the lengths of them. 

 

It was minutes before Arya’s hands reached up to rest on Gendry’s shoulders, several more for them to curl carefully around his neck where his pulse hammered upon her palm, politely asking for more. Gendry was just as kind in his touch, his fingers not lost in her hair or firm upon her jaw but gentle upon her back, finding retirement in the back pockets of Arya’s jeans. It kept her close and stilled them, calming the inevitable way their bodies began to roll into and upon one another, always craving.

 

Breathless, Gendry dragged his lips away and with a heaving chest he let his forehead fall to Arya’s. Together they attempted breathing with mouths parted and still wanting. Gendry’s eyes remained closed and he nodded, as if knowing Arya would already agree. 

 

“Slow,” his swollen mouth emitted.

 

Arya nodded too, leaning in to peck at his lips and then languidly — almost agonizingly — detach. “Slow.”

 

It was another deep inhale, a continuation and somehow the beginning of their promise. Their lips found one another and their hands too. Gendry had already acquainted himself with the soft skin of Arya’s waist and yet his touch was tentative as he began to explore beneath the cotton again. Arya arched her back, inviting him closer, but his blunt fingernails merely dragged up and down her sides, rolling her shirt then letting it fall again. 

 

When it was time for the item to be removed, Arya stepped back as if she knew. As Gendry slowly pulled the fabric upward, Arya raised her hands, almost in surrender. It caused her hair to halo until it finally fell back down around her shoulders, bouncy upon the straps of her white-cotton bra. Gendry stared as if this was the first time he’d seen her. He blinked, trying to push her skin into focus — or trying to take snapshots in his mind of the perfect girl and the trust she clearly had for him. 

 

Gendry pressed a hand to Arya’s belly and allowed it to caress her abdomen before curving around the expanse of skin just below her ribcage. He saw Arya’s lungs contract, and felt her warm breath upon his forehead as he leaned down to kiss the swell of her breasts. 

 

“Beautiful,” he mumbled, as his hands them moved up to cup each globe.

 

Arya surrendered, allowing her head to roll back as Gendry continued to adore her. There was a careful deliberation in his touch, his teeth and tongue remaining inside as feather-light kisses graced her willing skin. Arya couldn’t help but to put her hands to his back but she found the usual way in which her fingernails always wanted to scratch his skin, to mark him as hers, disappeared. She simply gripped at his biceps, ensuring he was close and that his mouth would not leave her skin. 

 

Arya even sighed, almost disappointed, when Gendry got on his knees before her. It was his turn to breath upon her skin, the whoosh of an exhale given to her belly button, causing her stomach to concave as the action painted her complexion in goosebumps. It wasn’t what Arya wanted but she was patient all the same. She itched to take off Gendry’s shirt and to feel him pressed against her again but she allowed this detour because she suddenly seemed to want whatever he wanted. 

 

Gendry’s rough hands ran along the top of Arya’s jeans, eventually resting on the metal button and the denim it held together. Without much force he ran his finger down the length of her fly, causing Arya to once again exhale steadily, as if preparing for something she’d never experienced before. Gendry didn’t warn her, but he didn’t have to. His actions were so slow and methodical it was almost painful to wait for his finger to pull down on her zipper, causing the front pockets to fall apart. Another release of air and Arya was counting now, her hands turned to fist as she waited for Gendry to continue. 

 

Once again his calloused hands were smooth upon her thighs as he dipped his palms beneath the yoke of her jeans, giving each asscheek a squeeze even from his angle still kneeling. It was easier for him to move, stroking her skin before steadily pushing the denim down her legs. He felt the muscles there, how they responded with a slight spasm as he brought them each to life. Arya was a mass of hard work, the curves of her both solid and soft. She nearly trembled beneath his palms, the grip her teeth had on her lip sharp enough to draw blood. 

 

Innocently, Gendry helped Arya to step out of her jeans. She continued to be patient, all of her on fire from the way his eyes danced across her exposed skin. Each moment they remained apart had Arya nervous, as if the way Gendry adored her would suddenly disappear. Quickly though he dispelled those fears, standing and immediately kissing her lips turned swollen by anxiety. It was more forceful than it had originally been and Arya stumbled backward from the weight of him. The smile that creeped across her features interrupted their kiss, and Arya even managed a laugh as she pressed her hands to Gendry’s chest, almost keeping him at a distance. His body was pure heat upon her own, his mouth demanding that she return to their earlier setting.

 

She nodded. And swallowed. Then stole another kiss, her mouth tasting of resolve. “Slow,” she whispered, the word like a promise to him and a reminder for her.

 

It was permission, or maybe a vow, but Gendry removed his hands from Arya’s neck and stood back. She beamed, relieved if anything to be able to taste the skin beneath the pads of her fingers. She was more deliberate than he had been when she rolled his shirt up his stomach, moving almost teasingly upon the planes of his chest until the angle at which he stood before her proved problematic. Gendry completed the task, reaching behind his head to fist at his henley and pull it up over his head. When he revealed himself, Arya saw he was laughing, so she laughed too. The sound faded as their lips collided, still tender, but full of more want. 

 

The room around them seemed to spin the longer they remained connected. Already Arya noticed the faintest sheen of sweat on Gendry’s forehead, his skin just as slick as she dragged a fingernail down the center of him. The trail of hair that disappeared into his boxer-briefs was thick and dark, and Arya dipped her finger beneath the waistband of Gendry’s jeans, pulling him toward her. Her hands made conscious work of unbuttoning the denim he wore and pushing it down off his hips, her fingers tight to the material, forcing his cotton briefs down with them. Gendry dropped his hands to assist her, the two attempting to maintain a connection despite their fumbling. There was more laughter, giggles that turned to breathy moans when Gendry finally stood naked before her. 

 

Suddenly her throat felt tight, even overdressed, as her eyes drank him in. He was beautiful . Had she told him that lately? Had she told him that ever? Every line, dip, and mass of him was perfection. Arya even licked her lips, something that caused Gendry to quirk a brow when he witnessed it. She merely taunted him in return, rolling her lips inward as if to challenge the way he assumed she’d look away. Somehow everything felt new, as if their exploration wasn’t familiar — as if they were different people than they had been that morning, before Jon happened upon them. 

 

Stepping into Arya, Gendry wrapped his arms around her waist and used the leverage to hoist her up. She complied, ready for his touch and finding it somehow easier to love him with her hands wrapped lazily around his shoulders, her legs gripping much tighter around his middle. Arya wanted to touch him, to taste him, to feel him upon her and around her. This sufficed, as the angle gave her an opportunity to suck and lap at the freckles upon his neck. She tasted him there, how he was nervous too and how he stilled each time her lips hesitated, wanting to love his skin in just the right way. 

 

It was sweet, the way Gendry settled Arya onto the bed. Even in his nudity there was something innocent and almost heartbreakingly kind about his actions. He’d spent so many nights now marking her, their touch and the grip of lips and hands turning skin purple and blue. Now he enjoyed this, an almost angelic Arya, her hair fanned out around her on his pillow as her hands contemplated covering herself up. It was as if she naked and that was certainly how it felt when he hovered above her, his length pressing into her hip as his hands gripped the bed on each side of her head and he leaned in to kiss her. 

 

“What did I ever do to deserve you?” he whispered, his breath hot on her ear. 

 

Before Arya could respond her mouth was dropped open for a different reason. Gendry’s fingers had trailed beneath the lace of her knickers, exploring tentatively, up and down, collecting arousal that made the way his thumb pressed into her clit all the more exciting. 

 

It was almost painful. Arya felt as if she’d burst and he’d only barely touched her. Every caress felt like needles upon her skin and she struggled to breathe the more his fingers worked circles upon her. She felt selfish, unable to give him the same attention as her eyes snapped shut and she tossed her head back, her hands finding reprieve upon his shoulders. Arya felt her orgasm near, felt the way her belly did somersaults and her toes curled, needing all he was willing to give.

 

Gendry stopped though and when Arya cried out it was for a different reason. Her heart skipped a beat and when she blinked her eyes open she saw only how he licked the fingers that had been inside of her, the digits glistening as he gripped her cheek and stole another slow kiss. 

 

It was Arya’s turn to distract and she was mostly successful because soon Gendry was moving his hips up into her, nearly soaking her underwear when she met him thrust for thrust. It was temporary, the way her wrists rolled, feeling his velvety skin hot beneath her palms. She squeezed his cock and Gendry’s mouth fell open, breaking them apart. Arya only giggled, proud of herself for already knowing the speed and pressure he liked and yet believing she could somehow perfect it. 

 

The newness of this, of them and whoever they’d chosen to be this day, mixed seamlessly with how it felt as if they’d known each other for a lifetime. Arya was demure in the way she allowed Gendry to remove her knickers but then her legs fell open, revealing herself more fully to him. He seemed to want to kiss her mons, and if she knew him (and she swore she did), he craved to kiss up the length of her, paying special attention to her belly and the breasts he had yet to adore. 

 

Arya caught Gendry before he could. She was almost miffed by the way he’d led her toward the precipice of pleasure and failed to push her over the edge. At the same time, she was thankful. She whined when his hands trailed up her sides, even if their pursuit was a shared one. He took his time unclasping her bra and when the material finally fell apart, Arya kept her arms to her sides as if she weren’t ready for him to see her.

 

“What?” Gendry chuckled, already seeing how his earlier assaults rushed blood just beneath the surface of Arya’s skin. Her usually milky complexion was flushed, matching his rouge and the way his blood pumped similarly, his cock ready and erect and already dripping with pre-cum, a bead of which landed on Arya’s hip. 

 

Arya shook her head. “I’m...I’m nervous,” she giggled, the sentiment sounding as embarrassing as it felt.

 

“What?”

 

Arya reached up to bring Gendry toward her. Neither said anything, their gaze jumping from lips to eyes and back again. Arya had her hands running through Gendry’s hair, thankful he’d released the grip on her wrists so she could love him more fully. His own hands were more systematic, dragging the straps of her bra down her arms so he could toss the cotton away. This was how he liked her best, her skin hot and supple, and all of her trusting his mouth and hands. 

 

It made sense when they connected, as if there was no other option but for him to fill her completely, the attachment causing them to break away as Arya moaned. Gendry silenced her with a kiss, one that grew and was eventually dragged out as he settled further into her. It had never taken them this long to move but Arya waited, enjoying the way she could almost hear Gendry’s heartbeat, pounding against her own. 

 

With eyes clasped shut they shared long, passionate kisses, a rhythm that was matched by their hips. Slow, they had promised, but neither could craft speech. Arya had her legs wrapped around Gendry’s waist, her heels pressing into the dimples of his back only when she could manage it. She saw stars, a blinding light that washed over her, causing her chest to heave. Her skin was slick with him now and the air smelled of their coupling, each ragged breath followed by a moan neither could silence. They were being loud, attempting and failing to stifle pleasure in the crooks of necks or in pitiful kisses. Gendry was so lost in his own pleasure he gave up on quieting Arya. If anything, he loved the sound of her keening, loved the way his thrusts had her back arching up off the bed, silently asking for more.

 

The way he pumped into her had his hips applying just the right amount of pressure at the perfect angle. It could have been his hands, and previously it had been, but it took everything in Gendry to grip Arya’s waist and keep her still. 

 

When Arya came she cried out, a single fist twisting at the hair at the nape of Gendry’s neck, spurring him on until she felt the twitch of him inside her, spilling his seed almost violently. The action was made all the more apparent when Gendry nearly collapsed atop Arya and continued to cum. 

 

“Fuck,” he breathed out, all of him still electric and raw as his hips gave one last involuntary jerk.

 

Somehow Gendry managed to pick up his head, ready to kiss Arya and thank her for what he was sure was the best sex of his life. Soon though, his own grin faded, as the blithe smile Arya wore was outshined by the tears cascading down her pink cheeks. 

 

“Arya?” He picked himself up and cradled her face in his palm, trying to bring her back to him. He was still inside of her and as he shifted, she hissed, only causing him to still. “Arya, what—”

 

“I’m fine,” she mumbled from out beneath the fingers she’d moved to cover her eyes. “I’m…” A laugh bubbled out but the tears continued to pour.

 

“Shit, what is...did I hurt you?”

 

Arya shook her head. “No, I...I’m happy, I promise,” she swore as she finally removed her hands and revealed herself to him. Her vision was still crimson and rimmed with tears but the smile she wore was genuine. 

 

She still looked beautiful and upon seeing she was safe, and even beaming, Gendry released a nervous laugh. “Fuck, what…”

 

Arya placed a hand to her forehead. She stared up at the ceiling, and only clasped her eyes shut for a moment when Gendry slipped out of her. “Shit, I…” She rolled her head upon his pillow. “Can sex make you cry?”

 

Gendry laughed again. “I...yeah, I guess? I mean...clearly…” 

 

Arya returned her attention to the skylight above. “Fuck, that was…” A giggle escaped again. “I…” She had no words, or at least none that wouldn’t encourage her tears, so she kissed Gendry instead. Arya curled into him, burying her head into his neck in the same way she had when Davos interrupted them earlier. 

 

She breathed, inhaling sharply if only so she could settle down. With her head pressed to Gendry’s chest she heard and felt the way he was attempting the same. Arya didn’t want this moment to end but already she felt the pull of sleep, an exhaustion she’d been ignoring all day sweeping over her in an almost cruel way. 

 

“Jon told me to leave.”

 

Arya picked up her head. She wore a wide gaze and for a moment she thought she might cry again. “Wait, what?” 

 

“He told me to leave. He didn’t want me staying there anymore.”

 

Arya shook her head. “You fuck me so good I cry and that’s where your mind is at?”

 

“I...I wanted to tell you before. I didn’t know how. It didn’t seem important but I guess...I don’t want secrets.”

 

Arya rolled onto her back, blinking up at the unmoving ceiling fan. “I don’t want to talk about Jon right now.”

 

“Well—”

 

“And besides, he can’t do that.”

 

Gendry chuckled, causing his chest to shake. It barely jostled Arya, shown clearly in the way she was still bothered by the mention of her brother. “He can, actually. It’s his flat. I just pay rent.”

 

“Well…”

 

“Arya, do you honestly think it was a good idea for me to stay there?”

 

“I think…” A sigh pushed her closer to him. This time she was hovering, her hand running lazy patterns upon his chest, an attempt to avoid his stare. “You should have said goodbye. You should have told me that.”

 

Gendry reached an arm around her shoulders to pull her in. “I already told you, you wouldn’t have let me leave. I didn’t mean to hurt you. It just seemed like the best option at the time.”

 

“Yeah, well it did hurt and it really fucking sucked and—”

 

“I know, I’m sorry.” The hand he ran up her spine coaxed Arya to drop her head to his chest. The angle allowed Gendry to pull her in and place a kiss to her crown. She looked beautiful and he never wanted to leave this bed. He wondered how long they could fake it — how long they could ignore the truth as if it hadn’t been what they’d been searching for all along. “Please don’t be mad at me. Please try to see why I did what I did.”

 

Arya nodded, her cheek pressed to his chest, the rest of her tangled up in him, never wanting to let go. She wasn’t mad. And he didn’t need to ask. That was all she had seemed to do that night: analyze Gendry’s actions and excused them with the best of intentions. She wasn’t thinking about Jon or their flat or the secrets Gendry had uncovered about her family. Arya had forgiven Gendry for all of that so long ago, even before the words left his lips; her heart gave her no other choice. 

 

In the afterglow, Arya thought only of WHIT and how it seemed to mean so little to Gendry he didn’t even consider it a secret.

Chapter Text

Gendry forgot how bright his bedroom in Kingswood was. Blinking himself awake, his eyes fought the morning sun and with it the dizzying way the room around him spun into focus. A drag of drool left the corner of his mouth, choosing to stick to the sheets below instead as he managed to push up off the mattress. Briefly embarrassed, but mostly confused, Gendry wiped at his lips before finally looking up. His vision had adjusted to the light and a very unphased Arya sat cross-legged beside him, so close that her thigh nearly tickled his nose. Gendry’s arm was still slung around her middle, shifting upon her abdomen with each breath she took. 

 

It looked like Arya had barely stirred to sit up in bed, afraid of waking Gendry as if doing so were the same as erasing the night they shared. But that couldn’t have been the truth, because she wore his t-shirt and held in her hands the notebook he’d begun jotting notes in so many weeks ago. With it, copies of the expense reports they’d stolen from the Red Keep. At her feet laid Robb’s iPad and her father’s leather planner. 

 

Continuing to shift and stretch upon the sheets, Gendry realized his bones ached. The too-small bed had been an acceptable place to make love but now felt crowded, weighed down by all the unfortunate truths scattered upon the duvet. Their presence thrusted Gendry back to reality, causing him to sigh as he struggled to sit up.

 

Arya glanced to him briefly before returning her attention to the notebook. She flipped a page, then flipped back, clearly comparing information she likely hadn’t considered. The furrow of her brow told Gendry she was more disappointed in herself than she’d ever let on, but her words whispered differently.

 

“Your handwriting is shit but you’re brilliant.”

 

Gendry smirked, straining so he could sit up and ultimately place a gentle kiss to Arya’s shoulder. “You’re not mad I took everything?”

 

“No,” she rejected with a slow shake of her head. Only then did she look to Gendry, her attention temporarily deserting the document she held, her hands still clutching at its ends with fingertips that looked like they may never leave. “It was probably smart. I don’t trust Jon. Ygritte has a key now. I wouldn’t be surprised if I go back and my shit is on fire. If he knew...”

 

“Let’s not talk about Jon. I mean...not right now.”

 

Arya’s eyelashes fluttered shut. “Right.” 

 

When she glanced back up, Gendry was waiting. He expected an elaboration or maybe even an apology but she gently grabbed the back of his neck and brought his face down toward hers. All of Gendry was trusting in her touch, his eyes jumping from her mouth, then back up again, patient for whatever she’d give him. Arya dropped her forehead to his and her eyes closed before their lips met. It was soft and unassuming, almost innocent, and when they pulled away, both were hesitant to open their eyes. 

 

It was an official farewell to the night they’d shared, how heavy it had been and how they’d made love despite all its weight. Gendry wondered if they’d always be like this; if they’d always exist with an ever present dark cloud looming above them, ready to steal their joy with reminders of their past. He hoped that wasn’t the case. Gendry hoped that someday they’d have different company in bed, not stolen documents or orphaned electronics but children. It’d be their children’s feet kicking at his back and not the too-small mattress that would cause the pain he woke up with. They’d be somewhere else completely; not King’s Landing or Kingswood but somewhere new where their past couldn’t find them — or, if it did, where they’d be brave enough to finally ignore it.

 

Gendry was unaware of what Arya was thinking as she scanned his face, perhaps searching for the right words. She would have kissed him again if he’d gave longer pause, but Gendry tossed off the sheets at his waist and slowly padded toward the nearby dresser. The light coming in from the skylight above painted his broad shoulders in a warm glow. The rest of him was cast in shadow but his movement allowed Arya to admire the parts of him their nighttime affections usually left little time for. Here he was fully fleshed out for her, presented in chiseled beauty, looking like he was more fit for an art gallery than locked away in this lofted bedroom in a town few knew well. Arya preferred him like this, all bare-skin and lazy morning smiles. 

 

When Gendry retrieved a pair of boxer-briefs he stepped into them but was methodical in the way he dragged the cotton up his hips before allowing the elastic to settle into the space well below his navel. Arya forced a smile, one that had her floating out of her reverie. Sometimes she found her life to be almost surreal; as if the days she’d been granted were fleeting, as if she and Gendry were existing on borrowed time — as if they both didn’t deserve every bit of reprieve they granted one another. 

 

“I want to blackmail the President.”

 

“What?”

 

Arya hadn’t even realized she’d spoken. She placed her fingers to her mouth, urging the words to rewind and coat her tongue again. Instead, more spilled out. “I want to go to Robert and tell him what we know and—”

 

Gendry’s face turned sour, his complexion flush and his jaw tight. “Absolutely not,” he dismissed flatly. “They’ll kill you.”

 

“I’ve…” Arya persisted as suddenly the thoughts she’d been having before Gendry awoke and distracted her came flooding back, demanding to be heard. “No, they won’t. They couldn’t. Sandor will come with me.”

 

“Arya, no .” Gendry’s voice was firm again. In a way, it reminded Arya of her father. It was equal parts dismissal and warning. He was done talking about it and his voice and curled fists told Arya that she needed to be too. 

 

She complied, following a different trajectory after a single beat. Somehow, at least to Arya, it was the same conversation — if only Gendry knew. “Why didn’t you tell me about WHIT?”

 

Gendry exhaled. “You know why.” He sat down beside her again, not committing fully to their previous position. His exit had allowed the items Arya was studying to fill the space he’d previously occupied, forcing him to leave one leg hanging off the side of the bed.

 

“No, I really don’t,” Arya continued, adamantly. “That’s an amazing school.”

 

“It’s the most expensive school in Westeros.”

 

“Because it’s the hardest to get into. They only take the best. You have to go, Gendry.”

 

“No.”

 

Arya turned to face him. She was on her knees now, still gripping the expense reports but wearing wide-eyes that would have looked glossed over, had the rays of sun not washed her out. “What if…”

 

“Arya…”

 

“Please just listen to me, Gendry! I’ll tell Robert what we know and I’ll tell him I won’t release any of this if he pays for your schooling. I know that’s why you’re not going!”

 

“No,” he thundered. Gendry stood up, so angry now he wondered why he’d even sat back down on the bed. Looking at it now, his heaving chest causing his vision of it to rise and fall, he saw how small the mattress was and yet how Arya seemed to be equally small atop it, existing amongst the things that had stolen her childhood.

 

“Will you just listen to me? You don’t even have to face him. I’ll go with Sandor. I’ll make Robert sign something or—”

 

“Arya, you’re out of your mind! This isn’t a movie. If you think Robert's going to be intimidated by you...I mean, how will you even get him alone? You’re insane.” 

 

“It’ll work. I know it will! This kind of thing can get him impeached, Gendry! Between Cersei and Jamie and these funds...this is donated money. These people thought they were giving money to his campaign. For some reason they believed in him and he completely broke their trust. This matters!”

 

“Great, so they’ll hate me because their money came to me instead.” He huffed again, using the energy he dispelled to turn toward the dresser once more. In haste he tossed a freshly laundered shirt over his head, messing up his hair, causing more of his nakedness to vanish.

 

Watching this, Arya followed him with her eyes and soon she was crawling toward the edge of the bed, using the mattress as her soapbox, her limbs and voice pleading. “No, Gendry, they’ll realize you’re a victim.”

 

“I don’t like being a victim. I won’t play that game. No .” 

 

“You don’t have to play any games! You don’t even have to come! But why not make this work, Gendry? He’s taken enough!”

 

“No. Fuck no. Absolutely not. I don’t want his money anymore, Arya. I want justice for your family. I want justice for you—”

 

“Gendry, you have to go!”

 

“No!” he roared. The boom of his voice stole all the oxygen from the air in a single instant. 

 

Arya deflated, falling back onto her knees. "Gendry, please.”

 

"No...no,” he settled softly, still trying to catch his breath. “Maybe I want to stay here! Maybe I don't want to leave you!"

 

“I...no. You can't...Gendry, this is an amazing opportunity. You have to take it. Please...”

 

“No. It’s done, alright? Let’s start planning how we’re going to get this information out there. Davos said he has a friend he can share the information with. He can submit a whistleblower complaint—”

 

“And put more people in danger? No! Absolutely not!”

 

“I’m not putting you in danger, Arya! I won’t. Over my dead body will you enter that building. It’s done, alright? That’s final.”

 

Arya leaned back. “Excuse me?”

 

“I’m not apologizing for it, Arya. Promise me.”

 

She crossed her arms over her chest. “No.”

 

“Arya! I said I wouldn’t lose you and I meant it, goddammit! Please!” When she said nothing his voice shook, begging, needing her just as he had the night before, now in so many different ways. “Please, Arya...promise me!”

 

There was silence. Too much of it. For just a breath Gendry thought he’d have to ask again. He’d have asked a million times more until her answer finally came. 

 

“Fine! Alright,” Arya’s voice hushed. 

 

He didn’t ask again. He couldn’t. Gendry jumped into a pair of jeans and walked out of the room. In his wake the slammed door shook in its jamb, reverberating just before the silence began to settle. 

 

~!~

 

Although she stayed, night after night, Ygritte wasn’t completely comfortable sleeping in Jon’s flat. In a way, it echoed their relationship, how the somewhat forbidden feelings they shared seemed to taint everything their love touched. She spent too many nights awake, blinking up at the ceiling, contemplating how different things would be if they’d only met under different circumstances. At one point in her life she swore she never wanted to fall in love and only days later did she find herself doing that very thing with a man who was meant to be off-limits. She was powerless against it, useless against the rationalizations and the doubts she knew she was meant to be feeling. But she loved Jon. Ygritte loved Jon more than she’d ever loved any other person, despite his tragic past — despite the secrets she sometimes swore he was still keeping.

 

There was proof of some of them, indiscernible ramblings and random jumbles of numbers jotted down on a note in his tablet. Ygritte had only intended to create a shopping list when she stumbled upon them, finding their incoherent nature to be unsettling in the same way most girlfriends would when discovering text messages hinting at infidelity. That wasn’t the darkness that plagued Jon, or the cause of his brooding energy and sometimes distant gaze. Ygritte knew that to love Jon was to accept his shortcomings, many of those being all he kept from her. She just wasn’t ready to face them, fearful of seeing the dedication he likely had to keeping something so hidden, the truth he kept from her like a mistress she’d soon grow jealous of. 

 

And to think that he’d hide away this part of himself for anything but his family was to be foolish. And Ygritte would be just as foolish if she thought Jon would choose her over his family — over Arya. Those were bonds she didn’t want to see him break and wouldn’t ask that he sever. He’d choose his family anyway; it was one of the things that had her falling in love with him in the first place.

 

“Alright?”

 

Ygritte jumped then, spinning toward Jon as he entered the kitchen. Her upper body swam in his sweatshirt and the way she had her arms resting on the countertop behind her hid the note she’d discovered — the note she was now trying to blindly tap out of.

 

“You good?” Jon asked. He reached out for her elbow so he could pull her closer. Already Ygritte was offering her cheek, his lips’ usual destination when words seemed unnecessary. For Jon, it was too often lately. He’d already told her he loved her and now there was a diamond ring on her finger to prove it to anyone who didn’t believe him. 

 

“Mhm,” Ygritte mumbled. Behind her she managed to locate the power button and in an instant the tablet’s screen drowned in darkness, taking Jon’s secrets with it. 

 

A healthy exhale brushed past Ygritte’s lips, prompting her to reach out for him and demand a different type of kiss. All innocence was lost as both leaned into one another, donating mouths and hands in a rolling rhythm. Ygritte wondered if she would have been so hungry had her eyes not seen what they’d seen. That thought was fleeting, taking with it all semblance of logic as Jon’s lips continued to move upon her own. The band of diamonds on her finger caught light, reflecting it back onto the wall nearest the window as Ygritte’s hands trailed off Jon’s cheeks to land on his neck. She would have allowed him to pick her up and carry her off to bed had he not pulled away. Somehow the smile he gave her made her just as weak. 

 

“I…” She struggled to find any words so she gave him the same ones he always gave her. “I love you,” she beamed. They fell past her lips with a breath, her whole body almost relieved to be done with them. 

 

~!~

 

Gendry bounded down the stairs with the same energy he once had as a teenage boy, doing his best to avoid being late for school. Only this wasn’t his true home and he’d never attended a traditional school. The army had owned him from a young age, claimed him as their own and then molded him to who they needed him to be. It was almost terrifying to think he could exist without them; Gendry didn’t know how to explain to Arya that leaving the military would be akin to leaving family. The only thing that would hurt more was leaving her. 

 

It was not naivete or testosterone or even the occasional over-tiredness that would sometimes plague him on the mornings he woke up at Davos’ house instead of in the downtown flat he shared with his mother. Gendry was angry, the emotion raw and hot as it pulsed through his blood, causing his jaw to clench and his cheeks to flush. It was a foreign sensation, especially for a boy that once expected the world and everyone in it to disappoint him. Anger came from false expectations, and Gendry had none. But Davos was different and for as long as Gendry could remember, he always had been. To seethe and loathe someone you spent most of your life admiring was akin to breathing fire, leaving you feeling suddenly energized until you found your throat burned and your vocal cords seared, making speech nearly impossible. 

 

That was the lump in Gendry’s throat as he approached the door to Davos’ office. Even in his rage he remembered the manners that his mother had bestowed upon him and that the same man he was now seeking out insisted upon after her untimely death. His fist rapped at the wooden door, its hollow insides mocking Gendry as his propriety momentarily ripped him from his fury. 

 

“Davos! Davos!” he tried, now using the butt of his fist to pound at the wood. 

 

“Come in, Gendry,” he called out, his brogue lilting through the door. 

 

Gendry was not shy in his entrance. He was just as unapologetic when he slammed the door behind him, shutting the world out. 

 

Sitting at his desk, Davos leaned back and removed his glasses. He bit on the frame’s temple as he took Gendry in, the same spectacles working to camouflage his lips and the way he wore a smirk upon seeing Gendry take a seat. At one point in their lives, he’d have to insist that Gendry join him. Davos had done nothing but bring out the best in Gendry since his mother’s passing. Only in moments of confusion, where Gendry felt himself losing control, did he return to his old ways: the stubborn boy who acted out, existing in revolt to the very things he always swore he didn’t care for. Conventional families. Small talk. Love…

 

“Yes?”

 

Gendry leaned forward. He clasped his hands, his elbows resting on each bouncing knee. The erratic energy within him had transferred to his limbs, building up while Gendry breathed, doing his best to calm himself down. 

 

“What is it?”

 

“You...what did you tell Arya?”

 

Davos set his glasses down and sat forward. “I’m going to need you to be more specific—”

 

“What did you tell Arya, D? I’m serious. I’m not fucking around. What did you—”

 

“You mean about WHIT?”

 

“Of course I—”

 

“Why haven’t you told her about WHIT?”

 

“Because there is no WHIT! Why bother—”

 

“I didn’t think I was revealing any secrets, Gendry. And it wasn’t officially off the table until she came along so how was I to know—”

 

“And she doesn’t need to know that!”

 

“No?”

 

“No!” Gendry screamed. The door being closed suddenly seemed comical. 

 

“Gendry, I think the fact that you don’t want to tell her says that it’s more important than you want to admit.”

 

“No, it says I don’t want to start an argument.”

 

“But if it doesn’t matter, why would it start an argument?”

 

“Because she thinks it matters! And it doesn’t! And it has started an argument, so thank you!”

 

“Gendry…”

 

“No. You don’t get to...no. That’s not what this is. I’m not asking for advice here. I’m telling you to please keep your mouth shut—”

 

“So she wants you to go?”

 

The wind escaped Gendry’s lungs, convincing him that for just a moment he’d be deprived of oxygen indefinitely. When his breath finally caught, his voice sounded weak. “Yeah. Of course she does.”

 

Davos sat back once more. His glasses were open and idle on the desk that separated him and Gendry but he could still see the boy clearly. “When I finally got you to tell me how you felt about Arya, do you remember what you said?”

 

Gendry squinted, then blinked. “I said—”

 

“Maybe you need to hear it from someone else...you said that you finally had someone who meant something to you. And that she—”

 

“Knows me better than I know myself. Yeah, I know.”

 

“What’s the worst thing that could happen? You go to WHIT and she visits you on the weekends?”

 

“No. I could lose her, Davos. Alright? I could lose Arya...the one person in this world that knows me better than I know myself.”

 

Davos shook his head. “If you think that girl—”

 

“You don’t get it, D! She is so wrapped up in all of this...she won’t come to WHIT. I don’t want her to come to WHIT. That’s a lot to ask—”

 

“To visit? On the weekends? Or even every other weekend?”

 

“She...it just seems...no,” Gendry gave finally. “It’s just not going to work.”

 

Davos’ vision narrowed, his eyes turning speculation to a full diagnosis. “Ahhh,” he nodded before sitting forward again. “You don’t think you can do it, do you? You don’t want to be away from her. This has nothing to do with her and everything to do with you.”

 

“I never said that.”

 

“You didn’t have to,” he chuckled. “You don’t...Christ, Gendry. You’ve really done it. You’ve really fallen in love. If the old you could see you now…”

 

“Yeah, well he can’t because he was miserable and directionless and just trying to—”

 

“What’s your game plan then?”

 

Gendry blinked. “Huh?”

 

“Let’s just say you don’t go to WHIT. What happens then?”

 

“We…” Gendry leaned back, his eyes a daze as if looking to the out of focus space before him for answers. “We submit that whistleblower complaint. Robert is impeached...”

 

“Then?” Before Gendry could answer, Davos continued, his voice carrying a different tone. “What about the rest of it? Just you and Arya. What’s your game plan?”

 

“I...I don’t know. We’d figure it out.”

 

Davos chuckled and with a shake of his head he stood, moving purposely to the other side of his desk so he was standing before Gendry. “What if this is figuring it out, son? What if this is all part of it? What if you both forget this shit and realize you can have lives beyond what the world has done to you?”

 

~!~

 

Jon and Ygritte returned from the gym over an hour ago. They had showered and already there was a homemade pizza baking, creating warmth in the kitchen in the form of a soft glow from the oven. At the island, Ygritte clutched a metal bowl to her ribs, using her free hand to whip at the batter inside. Around her the house was silent, its lack of sound irritating her.

 

Originally she had hoped Arya would return home and join them for dinner. It was the reason she settled on such a simple menu. Jon had also mentioned to her once how Arya enjoyed baking and Ygritte did too. She figured it was something they could bond over, or at the very least, something Ygritte could impress Arya with. Ygritte’s chocolate cake was legendary at family functions and work parties. She knew Arya’s heart would be hard-won but sweets seemed like a fair enough ice breaker, or an attempt at thawing the Stark girl’s somewhat icy exterior. 

 

When Jon entered he placed a kiss to Ygritte’s cheek. He used the grip he had on her hip to look over her shoulder, down into the batter she continued to stir. Distracting her with his lips, he dipped his finger in the mixture and brought it to his mouth to taste. Then he kissed her nape again, and moved to the oven to remove the pizza. 

 

“Delicious,” Jon commented.

 

Just as he took the pizza out, Ygritte was putting her bowl down. She leaned back, just as she had done that morning when feigning a casual appearance, Jon’s iPad and all of its secrets hidden behind her back. 

 

“Do you think...have you spoken to Arya?” 

 

Jon looked to his fiance, his smile falling only slightly. “Uh...no. She hasn’t responded to any of my texts or my calls. I called Sansa but she told me not to worry...after she lectured me on—”

 

“Your pigheaded tendencies? Good.”

 

Jon chuckled and took a step toward her. “You okay?”

 

Instantly Ygritte turned back toward her cake mix. “Uh, yeah, I just...yeah.” 

 

“Are you—”

 

At once she spun around again. “I’m going to ask you a question and I need you to be honest with me.”

 

“I—”

 

“No!” she dismissed with eyes shut and a voice that was much louder than usual. “Please tell me the truth, Jon.” 

 

“I…” His forehead creased. “Sure. I mean...of course.”

 

“Why are there…” She pivoted and did the very thing she always tried not to do. Her body went cold and rigid and her voice calmed down. Suddenly Jon was not her fiance but someone she was interviewing. Ygritte had detached completely, making her nearly unrecognizable. Jon noticed because he swallowed, waiting for her to continue as his heart beat thunderously in his chest. “Your iPad. I wasn’t snooping but I saw...you have confidential information on there and I need to know where you got it.”

 

“I…” He placed a hand to the counter and leaned back. “I’m going to need you to be more specific because—”

 

“There is information that only I or someone from my team would have, Jon. Documents that have been redacted and sealed. I need to know how you got it.”

 

“I...you,” he sighed. “I got it from you.”

 

Ygritte shut her eyes tightly, willing the situation away. When she opened them, Jon stood before her, looking as broken as she felt. “You...you stole my...how? When?” she beseeched. 

 

“A few months ago. When Arya started disappearing more and more. I needed—”

 

“When?” she gritted.

 

“The first night I stayed at your place.”

 

Her chest was tight and the grin she wore was ironic, dripping with anger, coated ultimately by the humor she was doing her best to find. “The night I took you home? The night I finally gave in and risked my career to be with you because you swore we couldn’t come here...that night? You...you looked through my things?”

 

“You left your computer out!”

 

“Excuse me? That’s your excuse?”

 

“Well isn’t it yours? You saw my iPad because I left it open.”

 

“No, I saw your iPad because your passcode is your mother’s birthday.”

 

“And that’s okay?” he bellowed with an arm outstretched. “How is that any different than—”

 

“Because I could lose my job, Jon! You know what that means to me. We talked about this when we thought that you and me being together could destroy my career. That was terrifying enough but to have me be so careless as to give information away? My reputation would be destroyed!”

 

“I didn’t...you have to know that—”

 

“I don’t know anything, Jon! And why? What are you looking for? What do you think I have that you don’t have access to doing what you do?”

 

“Arya.”

 

Ygritte blinked. “What?”

 

“I wanted the transcripts of Arya’s interviews. I wanted to see what she said. I wanted to know,” he gave with increased intensity, “if there were any clues about where she was going and who she was going with and why...I’m scared for her, Ygritte! And I don’t know what to do—”

 

“And I’ve tried to get you to open up to me! To let me help in other ways! You didn’t need to…” She pressed a hand to her forehead but quickly through it away again, realizing that no amount of pressure applied to her temples, or attempts at calming her breathing could make any of this better. Her next question, or her undeniable itch to ask it, was proof. “Is that why you came home with me that night? We sleep together and you steal my shit?”

 

“Ygritte, it wasn’t like that!”

 

“I can’t believe you! And you’ve been sitting on this for how long?”

 

Jon coughed out. For a moment he contemplated turning around and leaving. It was what his father had done and he’d reacted similarly in the past, running from problems when he felt helpless. Lately, it was all too often. “What about you?” he tried instead, turning quickly on his heel. “What about what you’ve kept from me?”

 

“What? Jon, anything I kept from you was because I had to. Because my job requires confidentiality. You know that.”

 

“What about Gendry?”

 

“Wh...what?” 

 

“I didn’t find any of Arya’s interviews. I did find information on Gendry. And all of the documents on his prototypes and timelines of where he was working on base in the time leading up to my uncle’s murder...did you want to tell me that he was a suspect?”

 

“I...no, Jon, it wasn’t like that—”

 

“No? Because now I’m starting to think it’s exactly like that. And that’s why you were so insistent on me letting him come to stay. You wanted...you wanted to keep him close, didn’t you?”

 

“What? Absolutely not! I wanted you to help a friend, Jon! I wanted you to be the man I know you can be...the man who isn’t so jaded by what has happened to him that he still trusts the people that have always been there for him.” Jon said nothing. For a moment, Ygritte contemplated walking away too. This conversation could break them — perhaps it already had. “And…” She exhaled sharply, her mouth turned to a circle while her shoulders slowly deflated. “I didn’t want him close to me. Or to you. I wanted...I knew you’d be traveling. I already saw you booking missions right after you invited Arya to stay. I didn’t want her alone.”

 

“You’re...you’re kidding right?”

 

“No.”

 

“So I have you to thank? For the fact that my best friend is fucking my sister? That was your doing?”

 

“I never could have guessed that would have happened, Jon! But—”

 

“Don’t defend her! And especially don’t defend him! After what I saw…” He laughed and pushed back at his hairline. “They think he…” Then he shook his head. “They think Gendry killed my uncle, Ygritte. And there’s a lot of evidence saying that might be true. So how is that good for Arya? To let the man you thought—”

 

“I never thought that! I knew it wasn’t true! Sometimes you create hypotheses for the sole purpose of discrediting them, Jon. Sometimes you know the truth going into an investigation but you still have to prove it. I knew Gendry wasn’t guilty. And…” It was her turn to laugh. “How can you think he’d ever do that?”

 

“He fucked my sister. I don’t know what he’s capable of.”

 

“He loves your sister, you idiot!” Ygritte corrected. “And murder? You think Gendry Waters is capable of murder? Who are you ?” she disdained. 

 

“I want answers! That’s all I’ve ever wanted! And I wanted to make sure Arya was safe. You know, I told her to let it go and what I should have told her was that I was handling it. I have the connections. I have the security clearance. I’ve been able to put together so many pieces these past few months. I had, before you came along, but...I’m helpless. I don’t know how to get Arya back! She’s not going to give this up until someone is arrested for this. I’ve told you that!”

 

“Yeah and you think that person is Gendry?”

 

“I don’t...I don’t know. Maybe that’s why—”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Ygritte spat. “Arya’s better than that...clearly better than me and you,” she noted, her eyes raking up the length of Jon. “If you think she’d sleep with Gendry to get information...you’re nuts.”

 

“You don’t know her!”

 

“No, I don’t! Because you insisted on keeping me a secret. But I know all of the things you’ve told me about her. I know that she is smart and brave and strong. And if our research into Gendry showed us anything, he is too. It makes sense that they’d get together. But I shouldn’t have to tell you that. He’s your best friend, Jon. How can you...that’s not you.”

 

“I don’t know who he is anymore.”

 

Ygritte crossed her arms. She snickered too, the scoff coating her lips as she looked away. “You want to know who Gendry Waters is? Gendry Waters is Robert Baratheon’s bastard son.”

 

Wide-eyed and lightheaded, Jon looked up. “What?”

 

Again she chuckled. “I knew you didn’t know. I knew if you did that maybe you’d cut him a bit more slack. You’re not the only one with demons, Jon.”

 

“I...no. How do you...wait, what?”

 

“Really, Jon? I just know. Trust me, okay? We’re not supposed to be having this conversation.”

 

“Well, no, but—”

 

“No. It’s done. I’m done,” she said succinctly before turning back to the counter. Ygritte didn’t see it but she felt Jon take a heavy step in her direction, his body seeking her out, keeping her from floating away fully. She didn’t flinch, just reached for her greased baking pan and began to pour her cake batter inside.

 

“You’re…” His voice finally came, weak. “What do you mean?”

 

She didn’t turn around. “I mean that I need to make dinner.”

 

“Ygritte, please, alright. We need to talk about this. I can’t—”

 

“What? Lose me? Yeah, well I can’t lose you either. And if this conversation continues, I will. You might,” she added softly. “You know,” she said spinning, throwing her words to Jon, carelessly and with an odd amount of hope. “None of this is important. Gendry didn’t kill your uncle. I have my suspicions but we really don’t know who did. Those files were sealed for a reason. And even if we find out who did it, Jon, that doesn’t change it. They’re still...they’re gone. Just like my parents. Just like yours. But you know who’s here? Arya. And Gendry. People that have always been there for you. And you’re being ridiculous. And if anyone has been a child during all of this, it’s you.” A sharp inhale invigorated her lungs. “You know, I can’t help that I fell in love with you. I can’t help that even now, right here when I want to strangle you, that I still am very in love you. I just know how happy you make me. And if Arya and Gendry have found that in each other then they’re lucky. Not everyone does. And you should be happy for them. Just like you want Arya to be happy for us.” Then: “That’s what you should be focusing on.” 

 

~!~

 

Gendry was blind in the way he moved, his feet pounding at the steps he ascended while his lungs struggled to keep up. Davos’ insistence on the truth had knocked the wind out of him, leaving him without solid ground to stand on, and yet giving him a solution at the very same time. It was the answer he was seeking, the same woman who had changed his world in just a few short months. Gendry had meant what he’d said when he told Davos that they’d figure it out. They would; they had before. 

 

They could do it again.

 

At the top of the steps he took one last deep breath before reaching out for the door. It was ajar and with his shoulders tossed back he pushed it open. He had so many things to say to her and only one of them mattered. I love you had pounded in his ears since he saw her at the door last night, again when they made love, and even this morning when her recklessness infuriated him. 

 

It was still there when he set his eyes upon his room only to be replaced by a different deafening sound, that of silence. Arya was gone, her bag disappeared from the floor and the bed made in her absence. It was as if the room hadn’t been touched last night, as if they’d not made any progress at all. But his notebook with facts, dates, and names was gone from his desk, reminding Gendry that this was not a lie his exhaustion had him believing. It was clear to him now the very thing that brought them together was now tearing them apart.

 

Scrambling for his phone to call Arya, Gendry saw that she agreed. You were right , her text read. If you had told me you were leaving yesterday, I wouldn’t have let you go.