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Everybody Talks

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“Arya Stark!”

Her mother’s voice violently shook her from her sleep. Before she’d even had time to open her eyes, Arya was wondering what she was supposed to have done this time. She knew the tone of voice currently screeching at her - it was the same one Catelyn Stark would use whenever Arya had dared to have fun, or done something so very unladylike or something equally as end-of-the-world worthy.

“Morning, Mum, what can I do for you?” Arya asked mockingly, eyes still closed, sarcasm seeping through her groggy voice.

“You can start by telling me what in the world you were thinking!” Catelyn raised an eyebrow expectedly, before Arya was hit in the face with a newspaper.

Arya huffed, sitting up and pulling the paper away from her face and lowering it to her lap so she could read it. Splashed across the page was a photo of her, stood on top of a bar in very little clothing, chugging an entire jug of beer. There were smaller images on the side, one of her on a man’s lap and another of her stumbling out of the bar with a juul in her mouth.

‘WOLF GONE WILD!’

“What a shit headline,” Arya scoffed.

“Arya!”

“Sorry,” she shrugged.

What the big deal here was, she didn’t know. She was twenty years old, two years past the legal drinking age in Westeros, and all these photos showed her doing was playing a drinking game in a bar and then... leaving that bar. The overdramatic, arguably misogynistic, tabloid headlines were just that. Tabloid headlines. Nobody took this shit seriously anymore - well, apart from her Mother.

“We’ve spoken about this before,” Catelyn sighed, almost hopelessly. She wasn’t wrong - Arya had received at least a dozen newspapers in her face this year alone and it was only May. “You’re not some silly teenager anymore, Arya, you have to grow up. Take some responsibility.”

“Responsibility for what?” Arya climbed out of bed, resisting the urge to roll her eyes.

“For drinking so much that you don’t notice the paparazzi shoving their cameras in your face,” Catelyn fired back. “For acting so utterly shamefully that I’m spending my day making sure there are no more photos of whatever else you got up to whilst so stupidly drunk.”

She was also very stupidly high in those photos, to be fair, but Arya figured it was best not to mention that.

“I’m sorry, Mum,” Arya smacked her lips together.

She wasn’t sorry, they both knew that, but if she had to listen to this lecture for much longer she’d need to go get drunk again to recover. Catelyn would definitely not approve of that.

“Please, Arya,” Catelyn sighed, reaching out to gently put a hand on her youngest daughter’s forearm. “The press will do whatever they can to ruin us. I know it doesn’t feel fair, but your antics aren’t exactly helping. You don’t care about your reputation, that’s fine, but what of the family’s reputation? If you can’t behave with a bit of class and decorum for your own benefit, then at least do it for your Father.”

With that, Catelyn turned and walked out of Arya’s bedroom, closing the door firmly behind her.

Arya fell back onto her bed, laid on her back and let out a frustrated sigh. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t her fault if the soggy old dinosaurs at Westeros Daily didn’t know how to have a good time. It wasn’t even her fault that they were interested in her anyway; she didn’t ask to be born into a well-known family and she certainly never sought out the attention herself. All she ever did was live her god-damned life. If someone recognised her and called the paps, then they called the paps - and she gave the aforementioned soggy dinosaurs their headline for the day. They never thanked her for filling their pathetic column inches, funnily enough.

She rolled over onto her stomach and scanned over the newspaper again. Letting out a loud laugh as she read the overly-dramatic piece, which read like it was lifted straight out of the 1800s ----

Wanton woman wears crop top, exposing her scandalous belly button piercing to the world! Grown woman of legal drinking age consumes alcohol! Consenting adult sits on consenting adult’s la-

---- Shit.

Her laughter quickly stopped, eyes widening as she realised who her mystery man (gag) was. The editor of the paper obviously knew too; despite the fact that half of his face was covered in the photo, there was a caption underneath telling readers to go to their website to find out who Arya Stark’s hidden hottie (Seven Hells, gag) was.

If she wasn’t so mortified, she might give the soggy dinosaurs points for turning their traditional readers into digital clickbait. She quickly grabbed her phone, ignoring the dozens and dozens of messages from the group chat, the social media notifications as well as the missed calls from her siblings.

Clearly, everyone already knew. Her Mother hadn’t seemed to notice this fairly important detail, or perhaps she just didn’t want to acknowledge it, but everyone else had. Gods, sometimes she hated the stupid fucking internet.

She went straight to the newspaper’s website, where her face immediately popped up as the main story. Pre-mystery man, she’d have thought it proved how boring this country had become if her drinking was the juiciest piece of gossip. But the 60+ photos that accompanied the online article proved that it was the man she was draped all over as if he was her personal chair in half of them - that was the real clickbait. The two of them together like that would get tongues wagging, even she knew that.

What in the world were you thinking?! Her mother’s question was now the exact one she was asking herself. Memories from last night came flooding back and she slowly started to remember the drinking game that started out fairly innocently, yet ended up with her sat on top of Gendry Baratheon.

Of all people. Gendry bloody Baratheon.

He was Robb's friend and Jon’s best friend. They would both be less than pleased when they saw these photos, and Arya actually now felt bad for the guy. She was hungover, but she could still remember the night’s events clearly enough. Nothing had happened - they’d been playing some stupid drinking game that Theon had come up with, which was how she ended up on top of the bar, chugging 2 litres of disgusting cheep beer. When she’d climbed down, she’d almost stumbled and Gendry had playfully laughed at her as he caught hold of her so she’d playfully climbed onto his lap. The photos showed no more of 5 minutes of their night, which was fairly tame.

It probably served her right for going along with one of Theon's drinking games. Damn it.

Arya let out another groan in frustration. Just as she thought at least it couldn’t get any worse from here, her mother was back at her door. Arya didn’t even bother to lift her head, half expecting to get some cringey celebrity gossip magazines thrown at her head.

“Get dressed, now,” Catelyn commanded. “Your father wants you at Robert’s house. One hour. No arguments.”

Oh, so it could get worse.

_________________________________

The steaming hot water ran over his face and down his body, washing away the remainder of last night. He’d woken up next to a pretty blonde in his bed. Gendry had promised to text her, though he hadn’t decided if he actually would yet. He very rarely did random one night stands because it made him feel like an arsehole - he was the product of a one night stand, afterall, and his father was definitely an arsehole. All he knew was that he stunk of alcohol and Gods knows what else, so he quickly put his dead phone on charge and hopped in the shower.

Once he smelled like an acceptable member of human society again, he climbed out of the hot shower and quickly threw on some old jeans and a white t-shirt. His phone - now at 47% - buzzed on his nightstand and Gendry picked it up to see a worrying amount of notifications. His brow raised, he started making his way through them and he felt sicker and sicker as he realised almost all the messages were linking him to the same web page.

Westeros fucking Daily. What were those blood sucking leeches saying about him now?

Only, to his surprise, the article he was being sent over and over again wasn’t even about him. They didn’t call him a wolf, afterall, everyone knew that was Arya Stark. Why was he being sent tabloid gossip about Arya Sta-

Oh. That was why.

He scrolled through the paparazzi photos, watching them document as Arya slowly but surely end up sat comfortably on his lap. In the first few pictures - once she’d climbed down from the bar, top covered in beer - she’d sat with her legs thrown over him as if she’d literally jumped him, one arm by her side holding her drink and the other on his shoulders. By the end, she was sitting in between his legs, he had his arms around her waist, and her head was thrown back on his shoulders. It looked almost intimate, even though he was pretty sure it hadn’t been at all. They were both drunk and got a bit too handsy, but he almost choked on his own saliva when he realised the photo they’d used on the website’s homepage made it look like he was kissing her neck.

Gendry wondered if Robb would be the one to murder him or if Jon would beat him to it. If he was placing his bets, it was on Jon. Robb at least had Maegaery and the children to think of, there was nothing to convince Jon that the prison sentence wasn't worth it.

But he absolutely wasn’t kissing her neck, he was 100% - well, maybe 90% - sure of that. The problem was that the unfortunate angle and dark lighting made it very much look like he was all over her. After she’d downed the entire jug of beer, she’d climbed off the bar and stumbled, so he’d grabbed hold of her and she’d climbed onto his lap. That was it. His memory was hazy, but he knew the entire night had been harmless fun. Far more harmless than these photos made it look anyway.

He took a deep breath, before typing both their names into the search bar. As he expected, a dozen articles popped up from newspapers, magazines and blogs; talking about their wild night together, speculating about their relationship, the full works. All from a few misleading photos. Most of Westeros would have seen these photos already and he knew if he took one glance at social media, their names would be on plenty of tongues there too.

“Shit,” he breathed, running a hand over his face. “Shit.”

As he stared blankly at his screen, his father’s name popped up. In that moment, Gendry knew it was bad. It was rare that Gendry spoke to his father - usually only saw him on holidays and public events where Robert tried to pretend to play happy families.

Robert Baratheon was a simple man, bad tempered and ill mannered. He could usually be reigned in by his best friend, Ned Stark. But this time, Gendry wasn’t sure that would be happening considering Ned’s youngest daughter was… fairly involved in this fiasco herself.

His PR team would have informed him of his eldest son’s latest so-called scandal hours ago, most likely, so Gendry was surprised it was only now he (or his publicist, more likely) was getting in touch. The text message was plain and simple - a clear instruction to stop whatever he was doing and get to his father’s house immediately.  

Gendry groaned, choosing to ignore all of the messages he’d received as the photos spread. He wasn’t even brave enough to open the one from Robb. He’d deal with his father and his overdramatic PR team first. Just as he replied to his father, casually informing him he was on his way over, a text came through from Shireen. He’d almost immediately swiped it away, but realising it was his little cousin, he opened it.

Shireen: first of all pls don’t basically get publicly topped by my friends ever again

Shireen: oh and i’m at your dad’s, he’s not even mad he’s finding this hilarious but ned’s here lol

Gendry: seven fucking hells

Gendry: ned as in ned stark?

Shireen: yes, genius, obviously as in ned stark

Shireen: i’ll give you 3 guesses what they’re talking about

Shireen: hint: it’s the same thing as everyone else is talking about lol

Gendry rolled his eyes and slid his phone in his pocket as he left his apartment. Ignoring the several paparazzi he could see not-so-discreetly hidden in the bushes on the other side of the street, he climbed into his car and sighed. If Shireen was at his father’s house, that more than likely meant Stannis was too and there was no way in hell he was going to explain himself to his dick of an uncle. Nevermind the fact that Ned Stark was also waiting for his head by the sounds of things.

If it had really come down to Renly and Loras being his last hope of anyone defending him, he didn’t know what he would do.

As he drove, Gendry couldn’t help but think about Arya. His memory from last night was still foggy, to say the least, but he wondered how she was dealing with this. She was caught up in apparent scandals more often than he was, though he’d always assumed she did it on purpose to piss off her mother. He wondered if that was what had happened last night and he was just collateral damage, who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

It hadn’t seemed that way, that much he could remember. Gendry had gone out for a few drinks with Theon and Podrick - in hindsight, he should have known that was a bad idea. But where Arya had come into it, he didn’t know. They all ran in the same circles though, and considering Theon was dating Arya's sister Sansa, it wasn’t really that much of a push that the Stark sisters had joined them.

Twenty five minutes of traffic later, he pulled up at his father’s house, the expensive gates opening in front of his car after a few seconds. He hadn’t grown up with this shit - he’d grown up with his mother, which was a far more humble and laidback existence for a kid. His multi-millionaire father had a shiny, new family with his new wife and Gendry never felt like he fit. As if he was the part of the puzzle that just wouldn’t slot in. Even now Robert and Cersei were divorced, Gendry sometimes still felt out of place. His father had very little interest in anything other than drinking, eating and sleeping around. He only did any work when he absolutely had to, other than that it was the people around him keeping his cash in the bank.

Gendry parked the car and made his way to the front door. He took a deep breath, bracing himself for the half-arsed lecture about the press or whatever bullshit he was about to be put through.

As he reached the door, Shireen opened it. His younger cousin shot him a sympathetic look as she stepped outside.

“Good luck,” Shireen smiled as she passed him.

“Yeah, thanks a lot,” Gendry huffed, stepping inside the mansion.

________________

Arya was now confused more than anything. She was confused as to why she’d been summoned to Robert Baratheon’s house of all places. Sure, those photos with his son didn’t look fantastic but there was no need to be so overdramatic. Nobody who believed the stories about her in those shitty socialite magazines or trashy tabloids was going to expect her to be some sort of teetotal virgin anyway. And if they believed what they read about her, they probably believed what they read about him, so there would be no surprises on his front either. So what was the big deal? They were both single, consenting adults.

But, her mother’s words rang out in her head as she sat on the leather sofa. She would just play along, apologise for bringing shame on both their families or whatever pretentious, medieval crap they were going to fire at her. She wondered what Gendry had to say about it, if he even knew yet, considering he was nowhere to be found and nobody had mentioned him.

“This is ridiculous,” Arya huffed, crossing her arms across her chest.

“Please, Arya,” her father ran a hand over his face. “Robert just wants to talk - well, his publicist wants him to talk to us.”

“About what?” Arya rolled her eyes. “I got drunk at a bar where his son also got drunk. Pictures were taken. What else is there to talk about?”

Ned didn’t answer her and that simply worried Arya. Ned was always honest and straightforward with her, never tried to shame or guilt trip her the way Catelyn did. Arya had already started to suspect there was something else going on and Ned’s silence only confirmed that for her. Either he was worried about it or he was just as in the dark as his daughter was.

She was just about to question her father once more when she heard footsteps approaching. Robert walked into the room, Gendry trailing awkwardly behind him.

“Ah, Gendry,” Ned cleared his throat as the eldest of the Baratheon kids entered the room. “Nice to see you.”

She suddenly felt a blush creep upon her cheeks, and she silently cursed her own body. She wasn’t embarrassed about last night, because she had nothing to be embarrassed about as far as she was concerned. If it had been any other man, if it had been a total stranger ---- she’d have just laughed it off. But it wasn’t a total stranger, it was Gendry.

They weren’t close, by any means. He was five years older than her, their families were friends, he was a close friend to Robb and Jon. But she’d harboured a crush on him for a couple of years as a teenager and even now… well, there was no reason for him to look so good on a random Monday. It was rude, if anything, and she wanted to punch him in the face.

“You too,” Gendry gave the older man a respectful nod as he sat in the armchair, putting Arya between him and Ned. His deep blue eyes drifted to Arya and he offered her a barely there smile before he lowered his eyes to his lap. They hadn’t even spoken about last night and they were here, sat with their bloody fathers, as if they were school kids getting dragged in front of the headmaster for skipping class to kiss behind the gym.

She might have been slightly less annoyed if they’d actually kissed. But apart from those couple of shots where it sort of looked like he was kissing her neck but she was fairly sure he wasn’t -- all this fuss was apparently because she’d sat on his bloody lap. Fallen on his lap. Whatever.

“So does anyone want to tell me what I’m doing here?” Arya asked, already growing annoyed with this entire scenario.

“I’ve had an entire morning of my PR team going mental because of you two,” Robert grumbled.

“Seriously?” Arya raised an eyebrow. “We played a drinking game. Is drinking a crime now?”

“No, thank the fucking Gods,” Robert chuckled loudly and Arya didn’t need to look at her father to know Ned was glaring at him. “Should be thanking you both really, this is the best publicity we’ve had since my bitch of an ex wife fucked off.”

“Wait, what?” Gendry cut across, his brows furrowed together. “You’re thanking us? That’s what this is about?”

Arya noted that she could practically see the wheels turning in his head as he thought and it was quite cute really. Annoying, obviously, sure, but.. Cute.

“I will be thanking you once you both agree to the plan,” Robert responded.

“Plan?” Ned spoke up suddenly and Arya glanced over at him. It looked like he had no idea what was happening. Things suddenly started to fall into place for Arya, as she realised this wasn’t some overreaction to an innocent night out. Robert seemed...weirdly happy about it.

“These two lovebirds are going to date,” Robert laughed loudly once more, as if this was all one big fun game to him. Arya immediately realised that it was. “Pretend to date, anyway.”

“No we’re not,” Gendry spat.

“Absolutely no we’re not,” Arya added in agreement, standing from her space on her sofa. “That’s completely ridiculous.”

“Why would we even consider agreeing to that?” Gendry asked, joining in Arya in standing.

“Because I’m telling you to,” Robert spat at his son, before softening and turning to Arya and Ned. “Ned, this is the best publicity we could ask for. The papers, gossip sites, social media - they’re all talking about the Baratheon bull and the Stark wolf. Going mad for it, apparently.”

“We’ve been here before, Robert, it didn’t end well,” Ned sighed.

Ned was, of course, referring to the brief period where Sansa and Joffrey had dated. Arya physically grimaced at the thought of what that demon put her sister through. He’d made their relationship as public as possible, treated her awfully the entire time and humiliated her as publicly as possible when they’d split a few months later. He’d even gone crying to the papers about how devastated he was when she’d broken his heart, but Sansa was too smart to play his silly little games any longer. That was two years ago now and Arya thanked the Gods everyday that Sansa was happy now. Even if it was with Theon - he was an idiot, but a good idiot.

“This isn’t the same as Joffrey and Sansa,” Robert scoffed. “They’re not actually together. They’ll just be seen together in public, go to a few events together, spend a few months playing it up for the cameras until they decide they’re better as friends. Nobody gets hurt and we get months of free publicity.”

“You want them to fake a romantic relationship?” Ned questioned. Ned Stark was an honorable man through and through and Arya knew he wouldn’t approve of such a thing. “You want to use my daughter for a publicity stunt?”

Arya and Gendry looked at each other hopelessly, both silently pushing the other to argue. But neither of them did. Arya couldn’t work out why Gendry wasn’t furiously protesting and it distracted her so much that she herself forgot to protest.

This was a terrible idea. Genuinely the worst thing she’d ever heard. Why was it up to her to give their families good publicity? The press was awful to both of them - her considerably more than Gendry, but she’d read the articles about him before now. A dirty mouth, a bad temper and the inability to hold down a relationship. She seemed to remember him on a few of those shallow lists in women’s magazines - HELLO!’s Hottest Hunks of 2018, Most Eligible Westerosi Bachelors, Stormlands’ Sexiest Singles - where he almost always made the top five, to be fair to him, but that wasn’t exactly a glowing review on his personality or his morals. Those lists were just saying he was just pretty and, well… yeah. Duh.

Still, it was a damned sight better than the constant misogynistic bullshit Arya had thrown at her. She was constantly called trouble, referred to as a ‘problem child’, and they’d taken her innocent childhood nickname - Little Wolf - and turned it into a way to claim she was unruly and out of control. The press thought they knew everything about her and everyone who read their crap thought they knew her too.

It suddenly hit her. Not necessarily the appeal of the publicity, but the effects it could have. 

Maybe it could be fun to mess with the intrusive paparazzi and prove that the journalists didn’t know shit. Maybe it would be hilarious; all those shallow girls choking at the thought of Arya ‘horseface’ Stark bagging the third hottest bloody hunk of 2018. Not bad going considering the top two were related to her.

“I’ll do it,” Arya said confidently.

“I’m sorry, you’ll what?!” Gendry questioned hastily.

“I’ll pretend to date you, stupid,” Arya rolled her eyes, smirking at the older boy. “If you’re up for the challenge, of course.”

They may not have been close, but she knew him well enough that he was as stubborn and bullheaded as they came. She knew he wouldn’t turn down any sort of challenge, especially if she had already agreed to it. Though she wondered if he would question her on why she was up for it, the look of confusion and shock written all over his face almost made this worth it already.

“Alright, yeah,” Gendry stuttered suddenly, clearly unsure what he was agreeing to but too stubborn to admit defeat. “Lets do it.”

“Seven hells,” Ned sighed, putting his head in his hands.

Arya knew this was a bad idea. But if all of Westeros was talking about her business anyway..

It was about time the wolf gave the sheep something they could really talk about.

Chapter Text

It was pretty funny to Gendry, how easy it was to make complete strangers believe you were in a relationship. Of course, there were already rumours about the two of them because of those photos. All it took after that was a few likes here, a few comments there. Suddenly the entire internet, and by extension the press, seemed to be watching their every move. It was almost too easy.

After nearly two weeks of not so subtle social media flirting, Gendry and Arya had been told to get photographed together again. Nothing overly romantic, nothing that screamed they were in a relationship, they just needed to be seen together. There were paparazzi outside his apartment basically all the time now, so it came as no surprise to him when Arya text to tell him she was coming round. That was just over an hour ago and he was beginning to wonder if she was still coming, when her name popped up on his phone.

Arya: just pulled up outside, come let me in

Gendry didn’t respond, his phone vibrating again just seconds later as he was about to buzz her into the building.

Arya: do not just buzz me in stupid  

Arya: our stalkers sell a photo of you pressing a fucking button come to the front door

Fair point.

When he opened the front door a few minutes later, she was already stood there, a dozen photographers at the bottom of the steps, fighting for the best snap. Gendry didn’t have a chance to react before Arya had thrown her arms around his neck. Out of pure instinct, his own arms slid around her waist as he held her petite frame against his body. Weirdly, it felt quite nice; she fit into his arms as if she was supposed to be there, but he pushed that thought away as quickly as it had come to him. She was dressed casually, wearing a pair of black denim shorts, a white print tee and doc martens. Her dark hair fell loosely around her shoulders, which was fairly unusual for her as it was usually tied back or clipped to the side one way or another.

“Hi,” he greeted her, a grin spread across his face.

“Hi,” she repeated, a hint of a smirk pulling at her lips as she drew back from him. Her arms flirtatiously rested on his biceps as her eyes met his; he had to give it to her, she seemed to know exactly how to put on a performance. The way she was gazing up at him, even he almost started to believe the attraction in her eyes was real.

“Come in, please,” he said after a few moments, stepping backwards so she could move past him. He avoided looking directly at the flashing cameras as he closed the door, a sweep of relief washing over him. Deliberately seeking attention from the media was going to take some serious getting used to, as he had tried to avoid it as much as he could for so many years now.

“Think that should do the trick?” Arya laughed, glancing over her shoulder as she walked in front of him.

As she spoke, his eyes involuntarily fell over her toned legs. He’d never really paid that much attention to Arya - she was just his friend’s little sister. He wasn’t really sure when it had happened, but there was no denying now that she was attractive; from those big eyes that felt like they held more secrets than he could imagine, to the way that she carried herself as if the world belonged to her.

She was attractive. He’d noticed. That was all.

“Yeah,” he laughed awkwardly as they stepped into the elevator, taking them to his apartment on the top floor. “Should give them something to talk about for a day or two at least.”

“Oh, did your Dad tell you about that event?” Arya asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Event?”

“Saturday night,” Arya answered. “Some launch party thing. Usual, you know - anyone who’s anyone will be there just to say they were there.”

Gendry couldn’t help but laugh at that. He’d been wondering what her motives were for agreeing to this and just assumed that she simply enjoyed the attention. No such thing as bad publicity, after all. She was the only Stark child that the press were really negative about though - Robb was a perfect heir to the Stark fortune, a perfect husband to one time ‘it girl’ Margaery Tyrell, and a perfect father to their two young children. Sansa meanwhile was considered one of the most beautiful and clever women in all of Westeros, a model and businesswoman in her own right. Bran had just started studying at the prestigious University of King’s Landing.

He wouldn’t blame her for lashing out against the perfect public image the Starks had painted of themselves.

He wouldn’t judge her for breaking out of the cage society had tried to lock her in. You can’t cage a wolf, Gendry thought, and he wouldn’t like to be the one to try.

“Are you going?” Gendry asked.

“Yes,” Arya rolled her eyes, as if that had been obvious and Gendry supposed it had been. “So are you.”

“I am? News to me.”

“They want us to go together, idiot,” Arya scoffed as they stepped out of the elevator and reached his apartment, Gendry pulling his key out of his jacket pocket. “There’ll be plenty of paparazzi hanging about and plenty of guests who’d happily sell us down the river for a few retweets.”

“Sounds like a plan then,” he stated as he opened the door.

“It is,” Arya agreed, putting down her bag and kicking off her shoes as if she'd been to his apartment hundreds of times. “But first of all, I think we need to get to know each other properly. If we’re going to pull this off, we need to make sure nobody can trip us up. Plus ground rules.”

“Ground rules?” Gendry questioned, raising an eyebrow. She was definitely putting way more thought into this than he was, but he was glad that she seemed to know what she was doing.

“Yeah - you know, PDA, touching, kissing-”

“- kissing?!”

“Yes, kissing,” Arya smirked, as she made herself comfortable on the sofa. “Haven’t you done it before?”

“I’ve done it before,” Gendry narrowed his eyes, before his facial features softened. He glanced down at his feet, almost too embarrassed to meet her eyes. He had literally just realised that she was attractive, talking to her about kissing her was making him feel weird. “I just didn’t think… didn’t think we would be...doing it.”

“Which is why we need ground rules,” Arya stated matter of factly, pulling out a notepad and a pen as Gendry finally sat down next to her. “No kissing can be rule number one.”

Arya and Gendry’s Ground Rules.

  1. No kissing.

“Okay, yeah, I see what you mean,” Gendry nodded, watching her write it down. “So what's rule number two?”

Arya paused for a moment, smacking her lips together but she looked up at him and quirked her left brow.

“No seeing other people,” Arya suggested, though it sounded to Gendry like more of a command than a suggestion. He can’t have hid his surprise very well, because she soon expanded on her rule. “If anyone finds out then it’ll look like cheating, stupid. Cheating is not the way to make people believe we’re in a committed relationship - we can’t risk it.”

“No seeing other people,” Gendry agreed.

“Oh, how will the ladies of King’s Landing ever cope?” Arya mused sarcastically, adding the next rule to her list.

  1. No seeing other people.

“You’ll break their hearts into pieces, you monster,” he teased and Arya laughed - a sound he decided he definitely wanted to hear more. Even if it meant playing along to her quips about his bad boy reputation, the reputation that made him want to throw up.

They both knew what people said about him - he was a player, just like his father, never even had a serious relationship. Any time he was seen with a person of the opposite sex, it was immediately assumed the woman in question was just another hook up. They were only paying so much extra attention now because the woman in question happened to be one Arya Stark.

Aspects of it were true -- he’d never had a serious relationship, it just wasn’t because of the reasons people assumed. They’d say he was a commitment-phobe, or a young bachelor who’d never be content with just one woman in his bed. That was usually the part that brought about the comparisons to his father, unfortunately.

In reality, the truth was much less juicy. He’d just never found the right woman, it was as simple as that. He’d dated a bit, had a few flings that would last a month or two then just fizzle out. He had one night stands, but no more than was healthy for a single twenty five year old. He wasn’t some egoistical prick who used girls for sex and that was it. He’d never done anything to deserve that sort of reputation and it hurt him more than he would admit to even himself.

He was Robert Baratheon's love child, born after a one night stand with a barmaid. Of course the rich, high class snobs he was surrounded by these days would think of him as some sort of neanderthal. 

“Okay, so,” Arya said. “That’s no kissing each other and no seeing other people. Anything else?”

“What about PDA and stuff?” Gendry asked. “You said earlier about PDA.”

“We’ll have to do a bit of PDA, obviously,” Arya replied, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “Like at the front door - that friendly hug that lasted a bit too long to just be friendly. That level of PDA.”

“Right. So hugs, holding hands, that kind of stuff..”

“Exactly. Innocent, disgusting shit like that. So you’ll have to try and resist touching me up in the street,” Arya teased.

“Oh please - that friendly hug of yours? You couldn’t keep your hands off me.”

“Uh, I seem to remember being at the bar with your hands all over me-”

“Was that before or after you decided to literally straddle me?”

“Both, I think.”

Gendry didn’t have a response for that. She was smirking at him and the playful glint in her eye turned smug when she realised he didn’t have anything to throw back at her. He was just… thinking. Yeah, thinking. He didn’t know what he had expected Arya Stark to be but she was already leaving him speechless.

After a few seconds of silence between them, he simply started laughing and so did she. Arya tapped her pen against her notepad - which still only had two of her ground rules written down, and Gendry wondered if they were done.

“So,” Gendry breathed, pointing at the notepad. “I have another one.”

“M’kay, go ahead.”

“We have to communicate with each other,” Gendry said and he didn’t know what to think about Arya’s look of surprise. “We have to be honest with each other and we have to talk - without our fathers or any PR twats around. Don’t just up and leave one day, leaving me to clean up the mess.”

“You’re asking me not to ghost you?”

“No,” Gendry laughed. “Well… yeah, actually, suppose so. Bad habit of yours, isn’t it? Disappearing for days on end without a single word to anyone.”

“Ugh, I totally forgot that you’re friends with my brothers,” Arya groaned. “My family are just overbearing, I’m never gone for that long.”

“But you still temporarily ghost your own bloody family,” Gendry laughed. “If I’ve got cameras pointed in my face constantly and reporters asking me everyday about you, then we need to be on the same page.”

“Fine, fine.”

      3. No ghosting.

“Any more?” Gendry asked.

“...I have one more,” Arya said, pausing for a moment to grin at him. She shifted her body around slightly so she was facing him, crossing one leg over the other. Her face suddenly turned serious.

“Well?” Gendry pushed.

“Don’t fall in love with me.”

“I’ll try my best,” Gendry chuckled.

“I’m serious,” Arya mocked. “I’m awesome, good luck not falling in love with me.”

“Because you’re so irresistible?”

“Hey you said it, not me,” Arya practically sang and Gendry swore he noticed her eyes fall to his lips for a split second.

“Well, I promise not to fall in love with you,” Gendry scoffed, an amused smile on his face. “As long as you can promise not to fall in love with me too, obviously.”

“Hm, yeah, I think I’ll manage somehow,” Arya dismissed him, casually flipping her hair over her shoulder and turning her attention back to her notepad as she wrote down their next rules.

    4. No falling in love with Arya.

“Uh, ‘xcuse me,” Gendry objected. Arya smirked at him, knowing exactly what he was going to say, but gave in before he could say it out loud, and added to the list.

    5. No falling in love with Gendry.

________________________________________________________________________

A few hours later, the two of them were sat in his kitchen, enjoying the Chinese food they’d ordered in. They’d spent most of the afternoon laying around on the sofa, just talking and laughing. Making sure they knew everything they needed to know about each other to be able to pull off the illusion of being in love. Nothing too deep - it started as the most basic of basics, like their favourite colours and their favourite movies, foods they liked and disliked, guilty pleasures and pet peeves.

They were taking a break from all that now, but as they sat at the kitchen table, talk soon drifted to their families.

“You know, from what Robb and Jon have always told me, I thought you were more the type for breaking rules than making them.”

“I like to mix things up,” Arya said, sipping on what was left of her large chocolate milkshake, before furrowing her eyebrows together. “Have either of them said anything to you?”

“Uh,” Gendry mumbled awkwardly. “Robb questioned me about us the day those photos first came out, but I told him it was nothing and he seemed to believe me. Jon just… hasn’t brought it up.”

“Well, your Dad seems pretty adamant that nobody else can know it’s all a lie,” Arya reminded him, almost warily. “I don’t know how my brothers will react when they think we’re...well, you know, when they think we’re fucking.”

Gendry almost choked on his coke and Arya just burst out laughing. It was quite funny to her, how easy it was to wind him up.

“You’re not funny,” Gendry grumbled.

“I know I'm not funny, I’m hilarious,” Arya scoffed and was happy to see he was smiling at her. He had such a nice smile, she noted. As if nobody had ever hurt him, as if there was only good in the world.

“Can’t we just tell them the truth?” Gendry asked.

“The less people that know, the better,” Arya said.

When Arya had agreed to fake date her brothers’ friend, she’d anticipated that their reaction probably wouldn’t be great. Robb and Jon were protective at the best of times, and Arya had never even had a proper boyfriend that they’d been introduced to before. It was completely new territory for her but Arya fully expected that they’d both pull the older brother card, even if just to annoy her.

She had wondered if it was best for her to tell them about the new 'relationship' or if it should come from Gendry, or perhaps they could even convince her Dad to break the news. But Ned knew the truth and Arya didn’t trust him to be able to lie to his sons. Well, Jon was technically Ned’s nephew, who the Starks had taken in when he was just a baby. Ned was his father figure and, as far as Arya was concerned, Jon was just as much her brother as Robb was. She didn’t want to lie to either of them.

But when it came down to Arya and Gendry’s relationship, Arya knew she was right - the less people who knew the truth the better. That had to include all of her siblings and even her Mother for now. She didn’t know what to tell any of them yet, and luckily she’d managed to avoid them all the past two weeks.

Her phone screen lit up on the table, as she received an email titled PR. Curiously, she opened the email and found all the details about the event they were expected to attend on Saturday night.

“Don’t get too excited, but our invitation has just come through for Loras Tyrell’s launch party.”

“Kill me, kill me now.”

“Hey, show a bit of respect for your Uncle.”

“My Uncle’s boyfriend.”

Loras was the new face of some top of the range male hair and skincare brand that Arya had never heard of. But the Tyrells were known for throwing the most lavish parties imaginable; Arya had been a very reluctant bridesmaid at Margaery and Robb’s wedding (she’d practiced driving in his car for months and he still owed her forever). Nearly three years later and she still hadn’t recovered.

The product Loras was advertising didn’t matter, any party thrown by the Tyrells was a party that anyone would want to be at. It was a PR dream - a massive party, with plenty of publicity, and everyone would be there.

“Wait, if this is Loras’ thing, won’t some of your family be there too?”

Gendry stood from the kitchen table, putting their plates in the sink and turning his back to Arya. The grey, short-sleeved shirt he was wearing showed off his strong arms perfectly and she couldn’t help her eyes from admiring him. She couldn’t help her mind from wondering if the muscles beneath his clothes were just appealing.

She had a feeling they were. She didn’t even realise she hadn’t answered him, until he turned round and looked at her expectantly. Her eyes dropped to her lap for a second, before she stood from her seat.

“Knowing Margaery, she’s had my entire family put on the guest list,” Arya laughed, moving to lean against the kitchen counter next to him. Somehow, she thought he was even better looking up close. “You are sure about this entire publicity thing, right?”

“Yeah, I’m sure,” He replied.

“Good, because once we do this event, that’s it,” Arya crossed her arms across her chest. “You can’t back out.”

He turned to face her fully, one arm resting on the counter. It took literally every ounce of self-control Arya had to not let her eyes drift to his stupid arms again. Though focusing on his eyes weren’t much better, considering he had the bluest eyes she’d ever seen.

“I don’t want to back out,” Gendry said, his voice so breathy he practically whispered. “That would be quitting. I don’t quit. We're doing this."

Chapter Text

Arya couldn’t help but feel nervous, as stupid as it was. She’d spent the entire journey from home anxiously looking out of the car window, ignoring pretty much every word that came out of poor Sansa’s mouth. They were on their way to Loras Tyrell’s launch party for his latest brand deal, but that itself was nothing to be nervous about. She was nervous about convincing almost her entire family, and pretty much of all their friends, that her and Gendry were a proper couple.

She was a good liar, always had been, but she didn’t know for sure yet if she could say the same for Gendry. If that idiot screwed up their plan before it had even started, Arya had already informed him of all the ways she could kill him with her bare hands -- and get away with it. 

But he knew the plan as well as she did - they just had to act natural, flirt as much as possible, and the people around them would do the rest. 

Of course, her nerves were also due to the fact that she wasn’t going to be able to hide this from her family anymore. She needed her siblings to believe that her and Gendry were an item as much as anyone else. Jon was stuck working, whilst Bran was still away at university and Rickon was underage, so it was just Sansa and Robb she needed to deal with for now. Gendry’s family - his cousin Shireen, uncle Renly, and his sister Myrcella - were all due to be in attendance as well. 

Their driver pulled up in front of the exclusive nightclub. There were a handful of paparazzi at the entrance, being blocked by the venue’s security. Arya stepped out of the car first, Sansa quickly following behind her, both of them keeping their heads down as they made their way inside.

Sansa wore a sparkly mini dress and high heels, her long auburn hair curled to perfection and flowing down her back. Arya meanwhile was dressed in all black - a low-cut strappy top, leather trousers and ankle boots. 

Once they were inside, Sansa grabbed them two glasses of champagne from the waiter, passing one over to her sister. Arya took the glass absentmindedly, her eyes focused on the figure across the room. 

Gendry.

He hadn’t seemed to notice her staring at him. He was leaning against a table in the corner of the dark room, beer in hand, chatting to Pod and Theon. The navy shirt and jeans he was wearing hugged him perfectly. 

He looked good. Really good. The more time she spent with him recently, the more she was starting to remember why she’d had such a crush on him as a teenager. Having a silly crush on your older brother’s hot friend is a fairly harmless concept; until you’re pretending to be in love with said older brother’s hot friend five years later.

She was over all of that now, of course, but she could still appreciate that he scrubbed up well when he wanted to. 

“So, how long has this been going on?”

Arya glanced over to see her sister smirking down at her. By the way Sansa’s eyes quickly flitted across the room towards Gendry and then back to her, Arya didn’t need to ask what she was talking about. 

And so it began.

“A few weeks,” Arya shrugged, her face void of any sort of emotion. 

Arya and Gendry had their stories straight. They’d gone through every little detail possible, perfecting their fabricated romance. As long as they both stuck to the story, tried not to give away too much, then this would work. Sansa, however, wasn’t stupid. Arya knew she’d have to be extra careful not to stir up any suspicion in her distrusting older sister.

“Why didn’t you tell me before?” 

“Didn’t want to put you in an awkward position - you know, with Robb and Jon,” Arya stated. “Not until we were sure that we were serious about each other.”

“Are you serious about each other?” Sansa questioned curiously, taking a sip of her champagne. 

“Yes.”

“Really?”

“I’m sorry, is that so hard to believe?” Arya asked defensively. 

“You’ve never been serious about boys before, that’s all,” Sansa shrugged, before her lips quirked up into a genuine smile. “Can’t say I was expecting it to be Gendry Baratheon who changed that, but if you’re happy then I’m happy.”

“Thank you,” Arya smiled, taking a sip of her drink. 

“So, come on then. What’s he like?” 

“You know Gendry,” Arya scoffed.

“Not as well as you do, apparently.”

“Well, no, I should hope not.”

Sansa merely rolled her eyes at her then, taking another long sip of her champagne. Arya glanced back over to Gendry, and motioned for Sansa to follow her as she walked towards the booth he was sitting at, in the VIP area.

He was now sitting down at the end of the booth, Podrick sat next to him and Theon sat next to Pod. Myrcella and Shireen were sat at the opposite end of the table.

As they approached, Gendry was first to notice them, and quickly grinned at Arya. 

Sansa moved to sit by Theon, both Myrcella and Shireen shifting down so Sansa could squeeze in by her boyfriend. Both girls looked at Arya expecting her to also sit by them, as evidenced by the surprise on their faces when their friend instead chose to sit down next to Gendry.

“When did you get here?” Gendry asked quietly. “I was worried you weren’t coming.”

“Only five minutes ago,” Arya replied, before quieting her voice so her sister wouldn’t hear the next part of her sentence. “Sansa had a high heel related emergency, don’t ask.”

“Are you at all helpful in a high heel related emergency?” Gendry teased amusedly, making a point of looking down at her flat ankle boots.

“She has high heels on her feet now, doesn't she? So yes, obviously."

“Well, I’m glad you eventually made it,” Gendry smiled. “You look really nice, by the way.”

“Thanks,” Arya replied, flirtatiously playing with her hair. “You don’t look so bad yourself.”

She turned to talk to Shireen after that, making idle chit chat across the table.

It was about ten minutes later when Arya’s hand was suddenly resting on his knee. She leaned into his side, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to her, whilst she continued talking to Shireen. It took Gendry a few seconds to realise that people were looking at them, obviously taking note of her tiny gesture of intimacy. In realising this, he moved his arm around her frame, his hand on her shoulder. Arya turned her head towards him ever so slightly, giving him the softest hint of a smile for a couple of seconds as she settled into his side.

It was working, that was for sure. Gendry could feel several sets of eyes on them - no doubt phones too, though he tried not to pay too much attention. Act natural, he reminded himself.

They both wondered at that moment if anyone would dare say something about the small interaction, or just flat out question the rumours about their relationship. Eventually, it was Myrcella who spoke.

“So, when did this happen?” Myrcella asked with a soft smile, gesturing to the two of them. Arya had only ever really been friends with Gendry’s model half-sister through Shireen, but the girl was nice enough. From what Gendry had told her, he got on well with Myrcella and Tommen, it was just Joffrey he refused to be in the same room as. He was hardly the only person with that principal.

“Do Robb and Jon know?” Theon asked, before either Arya or Gendry could even answer Myrcella’s question. “ Because I swear, you better get the same ‘if you hurt her’ bullshit I got.”

“Theon, shut up,” Sansa berated her boyfriend.

“What? I got with their little sister, now he’s getting with their little sister. There’s no difference.”

“Difference is they both actually like me,” Gendry smirked.

“Piss off.”

“To answer your question, Myrcella,” Arya spoke, shooting a glare at Theon, who rolled his eyes. “We’ve been seeing each other for a while, but we’ve only recently made it.. official, if you will.”

“Well, I for one think you make a beautiful couple,” Myrcella responded.

They both simply laughed at that, though there were a few murmurs of agreement from around the table. 

_______________

It was thirty minutes later, once they were done posing for photos (their first official public engagement as a couple, she’d pointed out to him), when Arya said possibly the last thing he’d ever expected her to say. 

“Want to dance?” 

He looked at her wordlessly for a moment, his eyebrows furrowed and his mouth slightly agape, trying to spot any trace of mockery or sarcasm on her face. But there was none. She seriously wanted to dance?

“Uh, no, I don’t dance,” He stuttered, his argument clearly falling on deaf ears, as Arya linked her hand through his.

“Come on, stupid,” she said, quickly pulling him towards the dance floor. “If we’re going to do this, we might as well have some fun with it.”

They were on the dimly lit dance floor, crammed full of people, for mere seconds before she started laughing at him.

“Oh wow, you have no rhythm,” Arya playfully mocked, false pity all over her face. 

“You wound me, Stark,” he scoffed sarcastically. It was true, but he had just told her that he didn’t dance and he meant it, so she didn’t get to mock him over his lack of ability.

“You’re too bulky.”

Excuse me?”

“You’re too bulky,” Arya repeated adamantly. “You need to loosen up, be lighter on your feet.”  

Arya smirked up at him, and it was only then that his eyes really fell to her. The way she moved was mesmerising, so light and effortless. She was so elegant and sensual, as if she was walking on water. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from her for a second. 

He hadn’t even realised he’d stopped moving altogether, far too distracted by her to think about what his own body was doing. He couldn’t think about awkwardly stomping about to some overrated dance track when she was in front of him moving her body the way that she was.

So distracted by her he was, that he barely even noticed how dangerously close she had moved to him. Without thinking, he slid his arms around her waist, his hands resting on the small of her back. Arya’s arms moved to his chest, a wicked grin on her face as she moved alluringly against him.

Maybe it was just the alcohol talking but his heart was pounding against his chest. Their bodies were pressed together and their height difference would have put them in the perfect position to kiss if she looked up.

Getting this close was not part of the plan. She was drunk, she must have been. He felt drunk and he hadn’t even had that much to drink.

The plan was to flirt a little, put on a bit of innocent PDA and tell people that, yes, they were indeed an item now. Get their faces in the papers and their names trending on social media, that was the goal, she’d said. She had not said that the goal was to make him wonder if she moved her body that well in other activities.

He’d completely lost his train of thought - they could have been like that for a few seconds or a couple of hours, he wouldn't have been able to say. He would have happily stayed like that though, at least until she took it upon herself to turn around so that her back was pressed to his front. She moved her hands to rest on top of his own hands, which were still around her waist. 

“You didn’t tell me about this,” Gendry leaned down slightly to whisper against her ear, his hot breath against her skin making her breath hitch.

“I’m full of surprises, what can I say?” Arya craned her neck slightly to look up at him, meeting his eyes with a grin.

Considering they were doing this solely to get the attention of the people in the room, he’d completely forgotten that there was actually anyone else in the room. All he could see was Arya.

Until he looked up for a split second and saw Robb glaring at them from across the club. 

Shit.

“Think you might have just given your brother one hell of a surprise, to be fair,” Gendry pulled his arms away from her, taking a step back, which caused her to glance up and spot Robb. 

Her eldest brother was stood with Margaery, his wife lovingly stroking his arm as she spoke to him. From where Arya was standing, it appeared that whatever Margaery was saying to him was an effort to keep him calm, which he needed from the look on his face. Margaery had a way of talking people around and her husband was certainly no exception to that rule - Arya only hoped it would be in her favour tonight. For Gendry’s sake, at least; Arya didn’t mind pissing off her brother but she knew Gendry had worried about Robb’s reaction to their new ‘relationship’ status.

Arya rolled her eyes before she turned back to face Gendry. 

“Try to remember what we talked about,” Arya sighed, reaching for his hand. “Come on.”

Gendry hesitantly followed her lead as they walked towards Robb and Margaery. As soon as they were close enough, Robb’s eyes were locked on their intertwined hands and Gendry suddenly felt very awkward. 

“You two…?” Robb frowned, as if he was still trying to put two and two together in his head. His voice was calm, but his eyes were practically begging one of them to step in and tell him he’d got it all wrong. Arya had to bite the inside of her cheek to stop from laughing. Part of her felt bad about stressing her brother out like this over something that wasn’t even true, but the other part of her thought it was pretty bloody funny. 

“Yep,” Arya replied, childishly popping the ‘p’ as she made a point of raising their hands.

Gendry offered Robb a friendly smile, hoping that would soften the blow at least a little. Robb knew the rumours about the two of them already because he had asked Gendry about it and Gendry was now regretting telling him that it was all a misunderstanding. 

“How long?” 

“Only a few weeks,” Arya answered.

“Right,” Robb answered, before visibly biting down on his tongue. He plastered a very fake smile on his face. “Well, I’m very happy for you both. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need another drink.”

Arya frowned, watching in confusion as her brother walked away. She was expecting a lot more than that - actually, she was a bit offended at how unbothered he was.

He was happy for them? As if.

Gendry looked just as confused as she did. He opened his mouth as if he was about to say something, but instead followed Robb, calling after him. Arya watched for a second, before turning back to Margaery. 

“I take it I have you to thank for that non reaction.”

“I can be very persuasive, sweet girl,” Margaery smirked. “You are very welcome.”

“Is he really okay with it?” Arya asked.

“Oh, absolutely not. But if he can be okay with Theon, he can definitely be okay with Gendry.”

____________________

“Robb, mate, wait.”

Gendry quickly caught up with Robb, whose face had gone very red. Worryingly red, actually.

“You told me there was nothing going on with you and my sister.”

“I know I did.”

“Why?”

“Arya didn’t want you all to know until we were sure we were serious about each other,” Gendry said, trying his best to stick to the story Arya had made him rehearse several times. “We are. We are serious about each other.”

Robb eyed him suspiciously, not saying a word. He would have preferred a punch in the face, a threat to his life, anything other than this weird silence.

“Jon’s going to kill you.”

Robb walked away from him and Gendry didn’t follow, too stuck in the sudden realisation that he still had to tell Jon.

___________________

It was almost 2am when Arya and Gendry eventually made their way out of the club. She had his jacket over her shoulders and he walked just behind her, his hand on her back as they walked towards the car waiting for the two of them right outside the exit.

There were at least a dozen paparazzi, forced by security to keep their distance, but still able to photograph the young socialites exiting the fancy party.

Arya and Gendry made a low key exit, knowing they’d done enough for people to be talking about them in the morning, and hurried into the back of the car.

“So,” Arya breathed. “Think that was a successful evening?”

“Yeah,” Gendry nodded with a laugh. “Robb took it better than I thought he would.”

“Think Margaery had something to do with that.”

"Doesn't surprise me," Gendry asked. He paused for a few seconds, Robb’s words playing on his mind. “Hey, I thought Jon was supposed to be here?”

“Oh, he’s still at that work thing up at Castle Black. He was due back yesterday but his flight was cancelled because of the weather,” Arya explained. “Sorry, I was meant to tell you.”

“He would have told me himself, usually,” Gendry sighed. “I told you he was mad at me and right now he’s mad about a rumour, God knows how he’ll react when we tell him it’s true.”

“You’re his best friend, just let him pout for a bit,” Arya smiled comfortingly. “He’ll get over it.”

“Yeah, well, I’m glad he wasn’t here for your little show.”

“Didn’t hear you complaining at the time,” Arya smirked.

“I was a bit distracted,” Gendry murmured, letting his eyes flicker over her body.  

Arya most definitely noticed and she couldn’t say she minded the way that he’d been looking at her for most of the night. Still, she was sure he’d just had too much to drink, and she sucked in a breath as she pulled her phone out of her clutch bag.

“Yeah, well, we’ll take a different approach with Jon anyway. Just sit him down and tell him.”

“Sit him down and lie to him, you mean,” Gendry corrected. “This is so fucked up.”

“It is fucked up, yes,” Arya agreed, a smirk spreading across her face. “But it’s working.”

He looked over at her in confusion as she held out her phone for him to take, which he did. A bunch of words jumped at him all at once from Westeros Daily’s main page.

Their breaking news story had the official photos they’d posed for hours before, as well as low - obviously phone camera - quality images of her pressed up against him on the dance floor. In his tipsy state, he scrolled down the screen, reading how a source 'close to the couple' said they were completely in love and had made sure everyone knew it, as they’d been all over each other for the entire night.

“A source close to the couple?” Gendry snorted. “And who’s that then?”

“Who cares?”

It was definitely safe to say news travelled fast in Westeros. For the first time ever, that felt like a blessing.

Chapter Text

Gendry had stood at the Stark family’s front door many times over the years and it never ceased to amaze him how much homelier their house felt. His father’s house in comparison had always felt empty, cold and heartless. The Starks were a family, a pack, and it showed. Yes, the house was by far larger than average - a grand, sprawling mansion with at least 15 acres of land, Gendry would guess. They had a housekeeper and a gardener and all of that. But any passerby would be able to see it was a home -- a family home. There were a couple of bikes laid out on the front lawn, and next to the front door, the fancy marble was covered in hundreds of colour-coded chalk marks where the Stark kids had tracked their heights growing up. 

He’d never looked at it and wondered which one was Arya’s before, but looking at it with her in mind, the orange markings that stopped so much sooner than the rest made it fairly obvious, considering even sixteen year old Rickon now stood taller than her.  If it hadn’t already been clear, their names were all written on the other side of the door, in their colours. 

“I was orange, if you’re wondering.”

He turned his head to see Arya approaching him, watching him with an amused smile. He laughed, before turning back around.

“Yeah, I got that,” Gendry said, hearing her climb the steps behind him. 

“Robb wrote their names there when he was four, just before Christmas, so that Santa would know that Jon lived here with us now,” Arya explained affectionately.  

 “Oh, please, keep giving me this blackmail material."

“My mum would have usually gone crazy, but I guess she thought it was sweet,” Arya smiled. “I think the height chart was my Dad’s idea. Just a fun family bonding activity that soon turned into years of mockery about my lack of growing.”

 “That’s cute,” Gendry said genuinely. “I can’t imagine growing up with a big family like that. Must be nice.” 

“Yeah, it is,” Arya nodded, pausing for a moment before she turned to her side slightly to face him. “Anyway, what are you doing lurking on my doorstep in the middle of the day?”

“Thought I’d come visit my girlfriend,” Gendry shrugged. “We’re head over heels in love, remember? It would be a bit weird if we never saw each other.”

She didn’t say anything at first and he couldn’t quite read the expression on her face, so he hastily continued.

“It was a stupid idea, I’m sorry, I should have at least text you or something firs-” 

“It wasn’t a stupid idea,” Arya interrupted softly, moving to unlock the front door. “It’s pretty clever for you, actually, and that’s something I never thought I’d say.”

“I have my moments.”

They’d both fallen into the routine of harmless teasing over the past few weeks, though it was nothing but friendly banter. She threw a smile at him over her shoulder as she stepped into the house, him following behind her. 

“Everyone’s out, but don’t worry, this place is never empty for long.”

“Okay, cool.”

They walked through to the kitchen, Arya pouring herself a glass of water before jumping up on the counter to sit next to the sink, Gendry taking a seat at the island opposite her. She had those distractingly short shorts on again, sat with one leg over the other. He could only hope she hadn’t noticed the reaction they got out of him as he made every effort to ignore his attraction to her.

It was an attraction he found himself needing to ignore more and more every day.

“Remind me, who still lives here altogether?” Gendry asked, forcing his brain to focus on something other than her legs.

“Just my parents, me, Bran, and Rickon now,” Arya shrugged.  

“Oh yeah?”

“Do you like living here or do you want to move out at some point?”

“Yeah, I mean I do like it, but I got used to living alone in Braavos,” Arya sighed. “To be honest, a big family in a house that’s never empty can sometimes feel...claustrophobic.” 

He wanted to say that he envied the life she had with her family, but chose not to. He didn’t want to be that person and he didn’t particularly like talking about his family life anyway, so he’d much rather talk about hers.  

“So, why did you come back?” Gendry asked curiously. “From Braavos, I mean.”

Arya didn’t answer him immediately, lowering her gaze to her lap. She sucked in a breath, a thoughtful smile almost - but not quite - pulling at her lips.

“I missed feeling claustrophobic.”

Arya had spent a year and a half out in Braavos, leaving less than two weeks after she finished school. She worked in bars, restaurants, hotels, all over the place to be able to support herself instead of relying on her parents’ money. Over there, she wasn’t Arya Stark. Nobody knew, nobody gave a shit. She was just another faceless girl in the crowd. No paparazzi, PR teams, or overbearing mother to care what she was getting up to.

Her ambition had never been super career focused, but it had never been some fantasy of a big wedding and a load of babies either. Her ambition had been to travel. She wanted to see every inch of the world, wanted to meet every kind of person, experience life from every angle. And she loved just being normal, being able to do whatever she wanted. 

Maybe that was where her nickname truly suited her best - the little wolf, roaming the streets, strong and fearless and resilient. Maybe, working normal jobs with normal people, she’d finally earned her claws. 

Every wolf needs a pack. Arya missed hers. More than she’d probably ever admit.  

But still, even now, she never stuck around for too long. Arya could up and go at the drop of a hat, no word to anyone until she was on a plane or a ship somewhere. It wasn’t a kind thing to do to her family, she was well aware it was probably a pretty selfish thing to do actually, but sometimes she needed it. Needed to get out and see the world, needed to switch off, needed to carve out her own identity - an identity away from her last name. Or, at least, be around people who didn’t care about her last name. But she always came back, always came home.

She was half expecting Gendry to press further about her time abroad - or her vanishing acts, as her family described them, seeing as he’d brought that up before - but he didn’t. He hadn’t said anything, and Arya suddenly wondered if what she’d said had been insensitive. Gendry always seemed like he had it so together, he seemed so strong and good, that it was easy to forget he hadn’t always had it easy. She didn't want to seem like she was moaning about having the family he may have longed for, for all she knew.

She wanted to ask, to check she hadn’t upset him with all her complaining about how awful having a big, happy, alive family was. But he never spoke about his mum - she didn’t think she’d ever heard him mention her, in fact Arya wasn't even sure what had happened - and she didn’t want to be the one who tried to push him into a personal conversation he didn’t want to have. 

“Jon’s home, by the way,” Arya said quickly, pushing away the awkwardness she wasn’t sure she was imagining. “I haven’t seen him yet, but he got home last night.”

“Oh.” 

“You’re not still worried about him, are you?” Arya scoffed, resisting the urge to roll her eyes.

After Robb’s maturely low key reaction, Arya was feeling confident about Jon’s. Yes, Jon was closer to both of them than Robb was and he arguably was worse at controlling his feelings, but he loved Arya. He wanted her to be happy and if he thought she was happy with Gendry, then he would be fine with it.

Gendry was less convinced. 

Ever since that night at the club, he had Robb’s words ringing in his mind on repeat.

It actually all felt a bit ridiculous to him really, how he was risking so much for this stupid publicity stunt or whatever. His father wanted people to remember the Baratheon name again, maybe even in a positive light for the first time in years, and so Gendry had to put his friendships on the line? Part of him wanted to put a stop to all of the craziness right now. 

But that meant having no reason to see Arya anymore. As she sat there - perched up on the kitchen counter in those ridiculous shorts, that exasperated look on her face that was half adorable and half terrifying - he wasn’t ready to admit it even to himself, but he actually quite liked seeing Arya. Not just seeing her as Jon and Robb's sister, but seeing her as Arya.

“Seven Hells, will you chill?” 

Arya jumped down off the counter and walked over to him. He really didn’t think she understood what he was so stressed out about and he was right, because she definitely didn’t.

“I am... chill.”

He was absolutely not chill. 

His arms were crossed across his chest, he suddenly couldn’t stop anxiously bouncing his leg and the frown on his face said more than enough. It was obvious that he was not chill.

“Try telling your face that,” Arya remarked as she slid onto the chair next to him. “Jon’s not going to care.”

“Then what’s with the silent treatment? He hasn’t answered my messages since this all started.”

“I don’t know,” Arya shrugged. “Maybe he just needs time to adjust to the idea, maybe he thinks we’ve kept this from him for ages, I don’t know. I’m sure he’ll be fine once we explain.”

“Once we lie to him, you mean,” Gendry sighed, feeling like there was a big difference between explaining and lying.

“We’re lying to everyone, Gendry,” Arya said, reaching her hand over to place on top of his crossed arms in a subconscious attempt to comfort him. “Lying is sort of a requirement when you’re pretending to be in love with someone.”

“Exactly, I’m going to lose my best mate over a lie.”

“A lie nobody forced you to tell,” Arya reminded him, forehead creasing into a frown as she started to grow irritated. 

“Didn’t say they did." 

Arya bit down on her tongue, trying to read his face, but it was difficult when he wasn’t even looking at her. He was just looking down at the table, no real expression on his face. She hadn’t realised Jon was flat out blanking him, he was acting perfectly fine with her. She’d spoken to him almost every day and he hadn’t even asked about Gendry once. They were both as stupid as each other. She didn’t have the patience to deal with it any longer. 

“Look, we only need to do this for a few months,” Arya pulled her hand away from him, both of them pretending not to notice how much the sudden loss of contact stung. “Once it’s all over, we can tell Jon the truth about us and everything will go back to normal. I can just go back to being nothing more to you than Jon’s little sister. Until then, can you please just quit being weird about it?”

She obviously wasn’t waiting for an answer from him as she stood up, not giving him a second glance as she stormed out of the kitchen. 

He sighed, putting his head in his hands. He knew this was a stupid idea.

After a few minutes of sitting alone overthinking what had just happened, he decided he might as well just leave. He didn’t know where they stood now, he didn’t know what to do about Jon, and he was beginning to regret going along with his father’s idiotic idea. 

Just as he headed into the living room, he heard the front door opening.

“Jon!” Arya shouted excitedly, jumping into her brother’s arms.

He’d been up at Castle Black for two months this time. He may not have been Arya’s sibling by blood, but she told him all the time that he was her favourite and she meant it.

Gendry hung back at the other side of the room, letting them have their moment together. 

“Missed you,” Jon said as Arya jumped up into his arms.

“Missed you too,” Arya said. After a few moments, she pulled back from their hug, and Jon put her back down on her feet. “How was Castle Black?” 

“Nothing ever really changes there,” Jon laughed, before he looked over at Gendry and his face dropped slightly. “Can’t say the same about here, apparently.”

Arya awkwardly glanced at him over her shoulder and he met her eyes, both of them making a silent agreement to just go with their normal faking it routine.

“Good to see you, mate,” Gendry said, trying to keep his voice as steady and confident as possible. He hadn’t done anything wrong - even if he and Arya were an item for real, as Jon thought, they were both consenting adults who could make their own choices. 

“Yeah, you too.”

“Robb told me,” Jon spat out, suddenly. “About...you... you two...this.”

Gendry wanted to point out that he’d gotten the hint considering his best mate had been ignoring him for weeks, but decided annoying one Stark was enough for one day. 

“Just for the record, I’d have preferred finding out from one of you,” Jon continued and Gendry took the opportunity to walk over towards them. To his minor surprise - and massive relief - Arya met him halfway, wrapping her arms around his waist as she tucked herself into his side.

“It’s still pretty new, we wanted to tell you in person,” Arya said, as Gendry pushed away his previous anxieties about this exact situation, gently putting his arm around her shoulders.

Jon didn’t say anything then - Arya could usually read him like a book, usually because he just went back and forth between confusion and more confusion most of the time, but she couldn’t tell what he was thinking and that worried her. Despite what she’d said to Gendry, she did understand that he didn’t want to ruin his friendship with Jon over a lie, and she didn’t particularly enjoy lying to him. But she knew it was for the best for now that her family stayed in the dark. They could all laugh about it one day. 

“Fair enough,” Jon eventually said, though Gendry and Arya could both tell it pained him to do so. “I’m not happy about it, but--”

“-- But you’re going to acknowledge that we live in the 21st century, and we’re both single, consenting adults who can make our own decisions, so therefore you’re choosing not to act like a total neanderthal?” 

“I was going to say..” Jon sighed, smacking his lips together before letting out a breath.” I’m not happy about it, actually I don’t even really understand how or when or why; but if you’re serious about each other and you make each other happy, then yes, Arya, I’m choosing not to act like a total neanderthal.”

Gendry couldn’t see her face from where she was tucked under his arm, but he knew she would be trying not to smirk. He could practically feel the smug 'told you so' energy radiating off of her.

Great.

Gendry had pissed her off by acting like a total prick, and now she was right, so he’d acted like a total prick for no reason. He knew he would never hear the end of this one.

But, he supposed Jon’s lack of neanderthal-ness could only be a good thing.

Arya excused herself to the bathroom a few minutes later, leaving Gendry and Jon sat alone on the sofa, and that was when Jon took the opportunity to give Gendry the neanderthal-ness reaction he’d expected.

“Arya means more to me than life itself, you know that,” Jon said. “But I want her to be happy and I want you to be happy.”

“Jon.." 

“Plus I’ve had a few weeks of brooding in the snow to come to terms with this,” Jon admitted and it took every ounce of self-control Gendry had to not laugh at the image of Jon brooding in the snow. “As well as numerous threats of bodily harm from Sansa and Margaery if I dared ruin this.”

Gendry couldn’t help but laugh at that, not sure whether to be happy that the Starks would so readily accept him as Arya’s boyfriend, or to feel guilty as fuck about the tiny fact he wasn’t actually her boyfriend. 

“You’re my best mate, Gendry, but she’s my sister and she’ll always come first.”

“I know.”

“If you break her heart,” Jon grabbed him by the arm, pausing for a moment before lowering his breath. “She’ll kill you and I won’t try to stop her."

Can’t break something that’s not yours to break, Gendry thought. 

“I know.”

_____________________________________

Two hours later, Gendry was still at the Stark home, which was now full of people. Ned and Catelyn had arrived home with Rickon, and Robb had also popped over with his children. Sansa and Theon had just arrived and the Stark living room suddenly felt like a circus, though Gendry thought it was quite sweet how they all seemed used to it. It had just been him and his mum growing up, and she worked all hours to keep them going. Then she passed, and well… Gendry was used to just being by himself. The claustrophobia Arya had spoken about earlier seemed quite appealing to him.

Sansa was telling them all about her latest business venture - something to do with events, he managed to pick up on, not really understanding -  when Catelyn summoned Arya to the kitchen. Ned quietly followed, but nobody else took much notice, so Gendry figured it was a regular occurrence and didn’t give it much thought. It wasn’t like he knew what normal happy families looked like - after all, he had to fake an entire relationship to get the most positive attention from his father that he’d ever received in his life. Not that he ever wanted it, but still.

After a while longer, the conversation had moved on several times - they were now debating the absent Bran’s love life, Sansa and Robb both being completely convinced that something was going on between him and Meera Reed. Gendry hadn’t been paying much attention until Rickon pointed at him.

“At least he doesn’t have a thing for your sister anymore,” the teen laughed. “What with you dating our sister now, that would be awkward as fu-”

“Rickon!” Robb interrupted through gritted teeth, gesturing to the little girl on his lap and the smaller boy by his feet.

“Bran and Myrcella?” Gendry questioned, wondering how that was the first he’d heard of it. 

Rickon simply nodded, and the chatter started up again, Gendry deciding that was a good time to excuse himself to seeing where Arya had got to. 

__________________

“Why don’t you ask Gendry to join us, Arya?” Catelyn asked, mindlessly stirring her cup of tea.

Every year the Stark family took a two-week long holiday in Highgarden. When Arya had been a child, it was an annual trip up to the Vale, but Margaery had invited them all to the Reach when she and Robb had started seeing each other, and they’d gone there ever since. There was no complaints; Sansa preferred the weather, Rickon preferred the girls (or at least the girls’ lack of clothing), Arya preferred not having to see her annoying cousin Robin, and Robb preferred keeping his wife happy. 

She just hadn’t been expecting her mother to extend an invitation to Gendry. She assumed that was why her father had followed them into the kitchen so quickly, fully aware of what his wife was planning to do.

It had thrown her a bit, actually, and she hadn’t at all prepared a reason for why Gendry wouldn’t be able to come with them. Catelyn had been surprisingly approving of the ‘relationship’ and Arya couldn’t work out why. She knew Catelyn liked Gendry enough, but she wasn’t exactly Robert’s biggest fan, and she had a bad habit of wanting nothing but the best for her children.

“Oh, I’m sure he’s too busy.”

“Has he told you he’s busy?”

“Well, no.”

“Cat, my love, they’ve only been together a few weeks,” Ned jumped in softly, obviously aware of Arya’s discomfort for reasons only he was aware of.

Catelyn completely ignored her husband, keeping her eyes focused on Arya. She was actually beginning to wonder if her mother was suspicious of the relationship - that made far more sense to Arya than inviting him on their family trip when they’d been together for about a month.

“You don’t want him to come?” Catelyn quirked her eyebrow, almost baiting her daughter, and that was then Arya decided she was right.

Her mother was suspicious already. She racked her brain as quickly as she could, desperately trying to come up with an excuse even as words started coming out of her mouth.

“I didn’t say tha-”

As if on cue, Gendry appeared in the kitchen doorway.

“Ah, Gendry!” Cat exclaimed, Ned and Arya both whipping their heads round to face him. “Are you busy at the start of next month?”

Gendry didn’t think much of the seemingly innocent question, clearly missing Arya’s panicked, wide eyed, glare. “Uh...no, ma’am.”

“Fantastic, you can join us on our holiday in Highgarden.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to intrude.”

“Nonsense, it will be lovely to have you there,” Catelyn grinned warmly. “Won’t it, Arya?”

“Yep,” Arya breathed. “Lovely.”

“Then it’s sorted,” Catelyn practically sang as she left the kitchen, Ned immediately following behind.

If looks could kill, Arya was practically digging Gendry’s grave for him. She wished he’d made up an excuse, but he wasn’t exactly known for his quick thinking, so she wasn’t surprised. Now she was just worried. They wouldn’t be able to keep up their ruse for an entire two weeks non stop, surely, around her entire family. It was too risky, someone was bound to notice that something wasn’t right. They would never get away with it. Would they?

“Well,” Arya smacked her lips together, trying to keep her voice down, aware that any of her family could walk back in at any moment. “Looks like we’re going on holiday.”

Chapter Text

The next few weeks passed fairly quickly, almost without a hitch. Arya was now convinced that her mother was suspicious of her relationship with Gendry, despite Ned insisting otherwise when she’d gently confronted him about it. But other than that, everything was going exactly to plan for Gendry and Arya. 

Now that the Jon issue was out of the way, Gendry was far more relaxed. He was getting better at being her pretend boyfriend too, Arya had noted the improvement several times. He was more natural; reaching for her hand when they walked down the street, knowing her favourite drink to order for her at the bar, even sending her cute messages when he knew she was out with her friends. He’d basically become the perfect boyfriend overnight and Arya certainly wasn’t complaining. 

She played her part too, of course - she’d perfected her soppy heart eyes, spoke about him to her friends as if he was some sort of bloody God, and her social media posts had the entire country thinking they were the pinnacle of couple goals

The concept of couple goals made her want to throw up in her own mouth, but it was working so she dealt with it.

As for the press, they were still eating it up. Almost every day - a new rumour, a new photo, a new article. It never seemed to end and Arya was actually concerned people would get sick of reading about them - or worse, people would see through it and figure out it was all a set up - but that didn’t seem to be happening yet. Maybe the idiots of Westeros were even bigger idiots than she’d always thought.

So things were good. For now, at least. Robert’s PR team had told them that all they had to do was keep doing what they were doing. Go to events, get papped on the street, gush over each other on social media. Robert was extremely pleased with the positive publicity and, actually, it was working out well for Gendry and Arya too.

Gendry’s unearned reputation for being a disloyal womanizer was slowly fading the more he put on the act of the perfect boyfriend. Arya, on the other hand, was just grateful that they were reporting on her love life instead of her alcohol consumption. It was just a bit less annoying. 

Even if the implication that a man had finally tamed the little wolf was absolutely very annoying. And very gross. And very sexist. But she’d grown to expect that by now and it gave her a weird sort of smug satisfaction to know these stupid reporters were falling for total lies. 

So for now at least, the only issue they had to deal with was Catelyn. Well, Catelyn and the annual family holiday that she’d so kindly invited Arya’s new boyfriend to. Arya was still a bit mad at Gendry (unfairly, she’d admit) for accepting said invitation and she worried that they wouldn’t be able to fool her entire family for two weeks. 

Gendry had offered numerous times to find a way to get out of it, but the more Arya grew wary of Catelyn’s suspicions, the more she had realised they couldn’t back out. It felt like her mother was testing her, trying to bait her into admitting the truth, and Arya was far too stubborn for that. 

She’d expected this immediate suspicion from her sister, if anyone, but she’d made the mistake of forgetting just whose daughter Sansa was in the first place. She’d actually assumed Catelyn would just be relieved that Arya finally had a boyfriend, but apparently that was too hard for her to believe. 

It didn’t matter anyway, they were leaving for Highgarden this afternoon and Gendry was coming with them. 

Gendry had offered to drive to the airport, like the perfect boyfriend he was pretending to be. They were picking up Sansa and Theon from their apartment on the way, whilst the rest of the family were meeting them at the airport.

“Seven Hells, Sansa,” Arya let out a laugh as she watched Theon loading his girlfriend’s many, many cases into Gendry’s car. “Is there even anything left in your wardrobe?” 

“Yes,” Sansa shrugged. “Plenty.” 

“How many of these are yours?” Gendry asked Theon amusedly as he helped him with the bags.

“The black one,” Theon grumbled and Gendry couldn’t help but chuckle as he eyed the one tiny black holdall amongst the much larger, brighter suitcases. 

_____________________________________

It wasn’t an overly long journey to Highgarden. Their flight was just over two hours long, and from there, the Tyrells’ villa was less than a twenty minute drive from the airport. 

When they arrived, everyone slowly split off to their rooms, after being given strict instructions from Catelyn to meet at a nearby restaurant at exactly eight o’clock. Bran and Rickon were to share a room on the ground floor. Robb, Margaery and their kids were on the floor above, as well as Jon. Which left Gendry and Arya sharing a room on the third floor, next to Sansa and Theon, whilst Ned and Catelyn were given the penthouse suite as usual.

“Damn, this place is nice,” Gendry almost gasped as he entered the room, dumping his bags next to where Arya’s had just put hers.

Their room was perhaps better described as a suite. The walls were a light shade of brown, with pieces of costly golden artwork hung up. There was a huge TV on the wall opposite the bed, though the best view came from the small terrace, overlooking the villa’s private swimming pool below and Highgarden’s stunning green fields. Their room had a wardrobe bigger than Arya would ever desire, a dressing table, a sofa and a fully stocked mini fridge. 

Gendry headed for the lavish bathroom, which Arya recalled had a jacuzzi bathtub and a seperate jet shower. It was safe to say that it was a nice room - even if Arya thought it was all a bit over the top for a holiday home, she wouldn’t be the one to say so. Not where Margaery could hear her, anyway. 

She kicked off her shoes, letting out a content sigh before collapsing back onto the luxurious bed. 

Arya froze for a second, before pushing herself up onto her elbows, wide-eyed and confused.

Gods, how hadn’t she thought about this? They stayed in this villa every year and this was always her room. 

Her room... with only one bed. 

A large king size bed, but one bed all the same. 

Gendry hadn’t appeared to have noticed their sleeping arrangements before he’d vanished into the en suite, and she could hear him obviously trying to figure out how the jacuzzi worked. She couldn’t even think of a snarky comment to make fun of him as different noises came from the empty tub, because her mind was too busy going into bloody overdrive. 

Her mother knew this room only had one bed. This year was the third time Theon had joined them on holiday and the first time he’d been allowed to stay in Sansa’s room. She had assumed it was because they lived together now, so there wasn’t much point in her parents arguing against them sharing a bed on holiday. But Arya and Gendry didn’t live together, they’d barely been ‘together’ for six weeks.

If Theon was now in with Sansa, that meant there was a perfectly good spare room down the hall, currently going empty. A spare room Catelyn could have quite easily insisted Gendry stayed in, with very little argument from either of them.

Arya had just assumed that would be the case. She hadn’t even stopped to think otherwise. But Catelyn had made it perfectly clear where everyone was staying.

She was still sat on the bed, dumbfounded, when Gendry reappeared from the bathroom.

“Alright, that’s the coolest bath I’ve ever seen in my life,” He said with a grin. He must have immediately sensed her panic though, because his smile quickly dropped. “Everything okay?”

“The bed.”

“What about it?” 

She turned her head to glare at him, her ‘seriously?’ expression eventually helping him put two and two together in his head.

“Oh. Oh.”

Arya rolled her eyes. “Great, really helpful analysis, thank you.”

“You didn’t know there was only one bed?” He asked, shaking his head.

“I mean, obviously, I knew that,” she sat up properly then, letting her arms fall to her lap. “I just didn’t think about it, I thought they’d put you in the spare room.”

“Well, maybe they just forgot,” Gendry suggested with a shrug. “And that’s where I’m supposed to be.”  

“No, she’s testing us,” Arya practically hissed, fingers tapping against the bed sheets as she quickly tried to figure out Catelyn’s motives.

“Testing us?” Gendry echoed her words in confusion, as he moved to sit down next to her on the bed. “Who is?" 

“My mother. She’s suspicious,” Arya cocked her head to the side, folding her arms across her lap. “My Dad must have said something that’s made her doubt our relationship, even if he hasn’t realised it. She’s testing how far she can push before I admit it’s all a lie and we’re not together.”

“You can’t know that for sure,” Gendry shrugged. When she didn’t answer him, he couldn’t help but laugh at the determination written over her features. He’d once thought he was stubborn, but nobody seemed to compare to Arya. “I’ll just go the spare room.”

“You can’t, if you’re allowed to sleep in here and then you don’t, everyone will think it’s weird.”

“Then I’ll sleep on the sofa, or the floor, or..” He paused. “..or in the cool bathtub. Your Mum will never know.”

“Don’t be so stupid,” Arya scoffed, twisting her body around so she was facing him properly. She sucked in a breath, making a split second decision to just roll with it. “You know what? It’s a big bed, it’ll be fine." 

“Seriously?” Gendry raised his eyebrows, glancing over his shoulder at the bed. Yes, it was a big bed, but that didn’t mean sharing it was a good idea. But Arya just nodded her head, seemingly unbothered, and he didn’t want to seem like he had a reason to be bothered if she didn’t. “Okay, yeah, if you’re sure you’re alright with it.”

“I wouldn’t have said it if I wasn’t alright with it, would I?” Arya huffed, standing from the bed and crossing the room to where she’d put her suitcase, kneeling down to begin unpacking. 

A pointless activity, she’d always thought, but it was easier to just do it and save her mother’s lecture. Plus she was sharing a room with Gendry, and it was hardly fair to expect him to live amongst her mess for two weeks.  

“So, uh, how many paps are we going to deal with these next two weeks?” He asked, changing the subject with an uncertainty in his voice that Arya couldn’t quite place.

“You’d know if you read the emails,” Arya replied, as she unpacked. She still had her back to him as she sorted through her stuff.

“I did read the emails,” He stated half-defensively, his forehead creasing into a frown. “Well, the first one. Well, most of it.” 

The truth was that he’d seen several emails just minutes after he woke up that morning; he’d read the title line (HIGHGARDEN PR PLAN), thrown his phone onto his duvet and gone back to sleep. He knew from the notifications he’d swiped away that he’d received several more since then, which he correctly assumed Arya had read.

“Course you did,” Arya laughed in total disbelief, smiling at him over her shoulder. “It’s no different to back home. Just follow my lead as usual and it’ll be easy enough.”

“What about your family?” Gendry asked. “If your Mum is suspicious, what’s to say nobody else is?”

“I can deal with Mum. As far as everyone else is concerned - well, they all think you’re the perfect boyfriend and we’re the perfect couple,” Arya said, zipping her now empty suitcase back up. 

He didn’t respond, so she turned to look at him. His lips pursed, biting back a smile.

“They think I’m the perfect boyfriend?” 

“Yes, they do,” she gave in, smiling as she watched his face broke out into a grin. “So, just keep doing what you’ve been doing these last few weeks and we’ll be fine, I’m sure of it.”

After how badly he’d worried about her brothers’ reactions, it was a relief to her that he was able to be more comfortable now. Even more so - it was quite attractive to her how much he cared about her family. It often led her mind to dangerous places, wondering if he would care even more if they were actually dating, but she never allowed herself to linger on that for too long.

“Don’t get too cocky, Baratheon,” Arya smirked, standing up from her spot on the floor and beginning to put her clothes into the wardrobe. “Your ego gets too big, I’ll have to start insulting you more often to bring you back down to earth and I don’t want to have to do that.”

“Oh, you are just too kind to me, Stark.”

________________________________

Later that evening, Gendry and Arya made their way down to the nearby restaurant at eight o’clock, exactly as instructed. They walked together along the quiet street, towards the small eatery at the end of the road that overlooked a beautiful lake. 

“Perfect boyfriend,” Gendry mused to himself as they walked, basically humming, a smug smirk across his face prompting Arya to throw her eyes. 

He was obviously very satisfied with himself and she was already regretting telling him. 

“Will you shut up about that?” Arya went to cross her arms across her chest, until he reached for her hand and linked his fingers through hers. Arya actually quite liked the feel of her hand in his, but she was yet to admit that to even herself, so she just scoffed. “Give me strength.”

“What? Perfect boyfriends hold their lady’s hands,” he explained as if it was obvious, or as if she had even asked for an explanation. “And aren’t I a perfect boyfriend, after all, m’lady?”

She didn’t answer him, didn’t even look at him because if she did, she might have burst out laughing and she refused to give him the satisfaction. So, instead, she bit her tongue, but he obviously could see she was trying not to give in as he chuckled to himself.

“You are according to every girl on my bloody Instagram comments,” she said, knowing it would only spur him on in his teasing, but deciding to play along anyway.

“See, even your followers have good taste.”

They reached the restaurant and found their way to Stark’s family’s table, hands still interlinked. It was a subtle gesture, one that nobody would have paid much mind to, but it was noticeable enough that nobody would ever be able to say they never showed affection. Besides, it was probably more affection that anyone ever expected Arya to show in public. So it worked.

Everyone was already seated at the table, apart from Sansa and Theon, which Arya immediately clocked. It was unlike her sister to be late - even with her slightly more laidback boyfriend in tow - for anything, never mind a family dinner, and it was bang on eight o’clock. 

“Where’s Sansa?” she asked as she took her seat at the end of the table next to Jon, with Gendry sitting directly opposite her next to Robb. 

“I asked the same question and was told she was otherwise occupied,” Robb answered, with a raise of his eyebrows.

“And what does that mean?” she asked. 

“Sansa and Theon will be joining us after dinner, Arya,” her mother spoke from the other end of the table, not giving away any reason as to why.  

Odd, she thought, but she decided not to question it. 

The next hour or so was spent enjoying their meals and just chatting as they did so. It was Robb and Gendry’s conversation about Robb’s promotion within the Stark family business that intrigued Arya, as she realised how little she knew about what Gendry did. She knew he was involved in his father’s businesses somewhere along the line, she just didn’t know what. She was sure she’d brought it up when they’d been getting to know each other, but he hadn’t gone into detail. 

More importantly than his job description though, she noticed how easily he fit in with the Starks. For someone who didn’t grow up with a big family, he slotted in as if he’d been there for years just as Margaery had with Robb. Arya didn’t know why that felt important, but for some reason, it did.

Perhaps it was because of his friendship with her brothers, or the friendship between their fathers, but it was different now. He wasn’t there as Jon’s friend or Robert’s son, he was there as Arya’s boyfriend. It worked and she couldn’t help the smile that pulled at her lips as he laughed at some stupid joke Rickon made - a joke she barely heard, too distracted by the way Gendry’s blue eyes crinkled when he laughed so freely. 

He must have noticed her looking at him, because his features softened as he turned to her, something in his eyes changing as he did so. The wicked grin that had been across his face just seconds before had fallen into a gentle smile, one that felt like it would be just for her in another world. 

With that thought, Arya managed to bring herself back to the real world. The real world where Gendry wasn’t actually her bloody boyfriend and it therefore didn’t matter how well he got on with her family. Or how his eyes crinkled. Or how his smile for her felt so different to the one he had for everyone else.

Maybe he was really getting good at this perfect fake boyfriend stuff.

Gendry pulled his seat out and stood, shuffling around the table until he was sliding past the back of her and sitting down in the empty seat next to her that Jon had now moved from.

“Hi,” he said, pulling the chair closer to her so he could put his arm around the back of her seat. 

“Hello,” she replied, her voice a mixture of amusement and curiosity. She lifted her glass of wine from the table to her lips and took a drawn out sip before she spoke again. “Can I help you?” 

“Think you’ll find you were the one staring at me,” he smirked and her heart stopped for a second, despite knowing he was just teasing as usual. 

“Was I?” she asked, feigning total innocence, her eyebrows furrowing together as she tapped her fingers against her wine glass.

“Mhm,” he mumbled, moving his arm forward off the chair to rest around her shoulders. “You were staring at me.”

“Sorry,” she whispered, though it may have been the least sincere sorry she had ever spoken.  

Her eyes flicked over Gendry’s shoulder when she caught her mother watching them. Arya couldn’t figure out the look on Catelyn’s face; it was completely neutral, yet somehow, Arya felt as if she were being cross examined.  

She’d almost forgot that she had to deal with this. She couldn’t put on too much of a show in front of her family, but she refused to let Catelyn in on the secret just yet. 

Never one to give in, she moved her free hand up to her shoulder, where Gendry’s hand currently laid, and interlinked their fingers. 

“Don’t mind me staring at you, do you?” Arya smirked, shifting her legs over to get as close as possible to him.  

His face was just inches from hers now and it took every ounce of self control that she had to not let her eyes fall to his lips. 

“Not at all,” he let out a deep laugh. 

Gods, get a bloody room.” 

They both whipped their heads up, as did the rest of the table, at Theon’s voice. To everyone’s surprise, Catelyn immediately stood up from her seat, an expectant look on her face.

“Where have you two been?” Jon asked. 

“Yes, come on, what’s with all the secrecy?” Margaery followed up, raising her immaculately-groomed eyebrows.

Sansa and Theon gave each other a look, yet neither of them said a word. Mere seconds had passed before Ned spoke up. “Well?” he said, though Arya got the feeling he already knew exactly what was going on while the rest of them were being kept in the dark. 

In the dark for much longer, they were not.

“We’re engaged!” Sansa almost squealed, grinning as she excitedly lifted her hand from behind her back to show off the sparkling diamond ring that now sat comfortably on her finger.  

The table instantly erupted into a chorus of cheers and cries of congratulations. Hugs were given, hand shakes offered, and extremely expensive champagne ordered in copious amounts. 

“Congratulations,” Arya grinned, as she walked over to her sister. “I’m so happy for you.”

“Thank you,” Sansa pulled her into a tight hug, and just for once, Arya let her have it.

Once things had calmed down slightly, and everyone was sitting down back at the table, Sansa and Theon started relaying every detail of the proposal. A story Arya figured Sansa would be telling several times over the coming months - if not, for the rest of her life - and she would enjoy it too. As she should, Arya thought, smiling to herself as she watched her sister sip on her champagne whilst Margaery examined her ring.

“Why didn’t you just tell us that’s where they were? That Theon was proposing?” Arya asked her parents, after Theon started telling everyone how he’d asked for their blessing weeks beforehand.

Ned looked at Catelyn, almost as if for permission for whatever the answer was, before he was interrupted by Robb’s laughter.

“You didn’t tell us in case she said no,” Robb said matter of factly, as Arya, Jon and Rickon all joined in with his laughter.

“Robb! Don’t be ridiculous,” Catelyn reprimanded her eldest son.

“We wouldn’t have given Theon our blessing to ask Sansa if we thought the answer would be no,” Ned explained adamantly, shaking his head before he softened his gaze towards Sansa. “We just knew it was their story to share.”

___________________________

“The walls in this place are thick, luckily for you two,” Theon smirked, pressing a kiss to the side of his new fiancee’s head, as they walked down the hallway. “Because our room is getting very loud tonight.”

Arya knew Sansa was happy - or drunk, or both, most likely, - since Theon’s comment only inspired a giddy laugh instead of the familiar shove to the chest it usually would have received. 

“Okay, gross,” Arya winced, but her softened expression clearly gave away her playfulness. “Try to make it downstairs tomorrow, at least.”

She thought she heard some sort of ‘we’ll try’ response from Sansa, followed by a snort or laugh or something from Theon, before the two of them stumbled into their room.

Arya laughed as the door slammed, looking up at Gendry who joined her in laughing. It was nice to see Sansa so happy, and even a cynic like Arya knew what love looked like, even if she’d never been in it herself.

“Reckon she’ll ask you to be maid of honour?” Gendry asked as they walked into their own room, and Arya just knew he was about to try and wind her up, by the way he childishly laughed under his breath. “I can just see you in a pretty little pink bridesmaid’s dress.”

“I love my sister,” she replied. “But I don’t love anyone enough to put on a pink dress and she knows it.”

“You think she’ll ask you though?” He asked, taking off his jacket and placing it on the chair as Arya sat down on the bed.

She took a moment to think the question over. “I don’t know,” she shrugged lightly, wondering if her sister would prefer one of her taller, blonder friends to stand beside her in the wedding photos. 

They were closer now than they’d ever been, their personalities clashing constantly as bickering children. But after everything Sansa had been through - well, Arya would be damned if she let anything almost ruin her sister the way Joffrey had. They had a far better understanding of each other now, and were genuinely quite close. She might have hated the idea of wearing a pink bloody bridesmaid’s dress, but she didn’t hate the idea of being there for her sister as she married a genuinely good man.

Perhaps she could convince Sansa to go for an all black colour scheme. Somehow, she didn’t think that was very likely.

“I’ll, uh, go change,” Gendry said suddenly, pulling Arya out of her thoughts. He was pointing towards the bathroom, and she gave him a quick nod in response. As he turned away from her, she let her lips curl into the faintest of smiles. 

He closed the bathroom door behind him, and she decided it was probably a good time for her to get changed for bed too. 

She quickly took off her clothes, changing into her old pyjamas - a short sleeved, black and white striped top and matching shorts. Once she was changed, she made her way back over to the bed and pulled back the duvet. Just as she did so, the bathroom door opened and she looked up to see Gendry stood before her. 

Her eyes accidentally froze on him for a second, but she could hardly be blamed for staring (again)  when he was stood in her bedroom in nothing but grey sweatpants.

Shirtless.

“You know, I really don’t mind sleeping on the sofa,” Gendry said quickly, perhaps mistaking her embarrassingly awestruck reaction for nerves. “Honestly, it’s no problem. Or I can take the spare room and we can just say you were pissed at me or something and we had a fight-”

“Gendry,” Arya interrupted, lowering her eyes and climbing into bed. “Don’t be ridiculous. We’re both adults, we can be mature about this. Right?”

“Right,” he said softly, with a sweet smile.

Seven Hells, he was good looking. Not just his body (though that was definitely good), but his stupid blue eyes were so blue that they were damn near mesmerising, and that dumb smile of his genuinely made her heart flutter for a brief moment. The faintest blush against his cheekbones - presumably from the champagne, she thought - gave him almost a boyish look.  

Those abs, though? Definitely not boyish.

She watched him as he walked past the bed, quietly admiring the muscles and curves of his back before he sent the room into darkness.

“Wait, would you prefer the lights on?” He asked, hand still raised to the light switch.  

He was definitely asking to try and be gentlemanly or whatever. He was not asking if she’d prefer to keep the lights on so she could admire his six pack all night. Because she was pretty sure she wouldn’t be able to look away for as long as she could see him. So, she figured the safest answer to that was a no. 

“No, it’s fine.”

There was light coming in from outside, so she could still just about make out his figure as he came over to the bed.

“We can put pillows or something between us, if you’d-”

“Gendry, get into bed,” she cut across, voice barely above a whisper but still adamant. 

He climbed into bed next to her, though as far away as he could have been, and she felt something in her stomach that felt a lot like butterflies.

“Of course you sleep shirtless,” she teased a few minutes later, deciding that the best way to distract herself from how stupidly attractive he was, was to make fun of him for clearly knowing it.

“I sleep naked, usually, actually,” he chuckled, though it sounded almost nervous to Arya. If the room had been any lighter, she’d have seen the blush against his cheeks deepen. “Didn’t think that would be very appropriate now.”

She wouldn’t have complained, she thought. A thought that sent a blush straight to her own cheeks and a heat throughout her body.

“Yeah, no, please try to keep your clothes on,” she said, trying to keep her composure, as if she didn’t have the image in her head of him with his clothes very much off.

“Why? Not on the list, is it?” he asked, his voice in a sing-song tone, and she sucked in a breath. His teasing felt far more flirtatious when he’d had a few drinks, she noted. Or maybe when she’d had a few drinks. Maybe both. She couldn’t be sure.

“No, suppose it’s not.”

“No kissing, no seeing other people, no ghosting, no-” A snort. “-no falling in love. See, nothing about keeping my clothes on.”

“You know, you're going to regret this conversation in the morning,” she couldn’t resist the laugh that fell from her lips.

“Why?” he huffed and she didn’t need to be able to see him properly to imagine that cute little frown spreading across his forehead, like he always did when he was thinking too hard. 

“Uh, because you’re drunk,” she stated matter of factly, before pressing her lips into a line. 

“Am not.”

“Who knew the Gendry Baratheon gets tipsy off a few glasses of champagne?” she mocked. “You’re a lightweight.”

Am not.”

She didn’t know whether or not she believed him. For now though, she was so close to him that she could hear him breathing, the dim natural light of the moon peeking in from outside softly outlining his exposed chest, rising and falling as he lay next to her. 

“Mm, if you say so,” she whispered, rolling back over so she was facing away from him again. “Good night then.”

“Goodnight, Stark.” 

Chapter Text

One of Arya’s favourite things about Highgarden was how calm everything felt. It felt like somewhere that must have been in a permanent spring. The weather was warmer than Winterfell, yet breezier than King’s Landing. She woke to the sound of birds chirping outside her window, the faint sunlight just peeking through the curtains onto her face. 

She took her time to slowly come around, until she realised there was an arm around her waist. 

Her eyes jolted open, her heart stopping for a second, before she quickly remembered her surroundings - she was in bed with Gendry.

Gods above. 

That innocent teenage crush now seemed hysterical and she couldn’t decide if it was hysterical in a funny kind of way or hysterical in completely tragic kind of way. She used to watch him playing football in the garden with Jon and Robb, eyeing his abs every time his shirt raised slightly, and wondering how it would feel to have those strong arms wrapped around her.

Well. Now she had her answer to that little fantasy.

His hand grazing her stomach where her thin pyjama shirt had ridden up was enough to have her heart pounding, and his bare arms felt oddly right around her body.

Suddenly, she felt him stirring behind her. For a second she considered moving away from him in order to minimise the potential for awkwardness, but she could tell from his breathing that he was already alert enough that any movement from her now would only jolt him awake. 

Part of her wanted to know what he would do, waking up in the position they were currently in.

He didn’t move at all at first; she felt his breath hitch against her shoulder and expected him to pull away from her, but he didn’t.  

It took all the will that she had to stay still, steady her breathing, pretend she was still asleep. 

Eventually, she felt him shift behind her again. He slowly slid his arm back from her waist, letting her own hand fall gently onto her stomach. The loss of contact inspired a tinge of disappointment within her, and it only worsened as he moved away from her and took all his warmth with him.

She decided that was a good time to pretend he’d woken her up, so she groaned quietly and slowly turned around. She let out a sigh, before slowly opening her eyes to see him sitting on the edge of the bed, looking at her over his shoulder.

“Sorry, did I wake you?” he asked, voice deep and groggy. His black hair was a mess, falling down over his forehead as he rubbed his eyes.

“Yeah, you did,” a lie, obviously, but she was not about to tell him she’d basically played dead like a needy puppy to see how he’d react to having her arse pressed up against him. “Did you sleep ok?”

“Mhm,” he mumbled, his mouth edging out into a lazy smile. “You?”

“Yeah,” she pushed herself to sit up, pulling her hair back from her face as she did so. “I know you had a few drinks last night, do you remember agreeing to brunch this morning?”

Gendry groaned, rubbing his hands over his face. “Yeah, I remember.”

She laughed, wondering to herself what else he remembered saying last night. He didn’t seem hungover, so maybe he hadn’t been as drunk as she thought he was when he was suggesting he could take his clothes off because it wasn’t one of their rules.

“I’m gonna shower then,” Gendry mumbled, standing up from the bed. “Unless you want to go in first, that is?”

She barely even noted his question, as her eyes fell down over his back when he stood. She didn’t think she’d ever found somebody’s back attractive before, but he was just... well built. He was strong and it showed. 

“No, no, go on,” she managed to reply, mentally scolding herself for practically ogling him. 

It didn’t stop her from noticing how his grey sweatpants hung loosely around his waist, as she watched him disappear into the bathroom. Letting out a sigh, she reached for her phone from the nightstand and flinched at the light from the screen. 

Texts from Sansa, and Margaery, and her mother. All reminding her that they’d both agreed to brunch and were both expected to show up. Fantastic

After sending them all the same reply, she headed to her Instagram. She’d posted a photo of the her and Gendry at the restaurant last night and it had received plenty of attention, much like most of their posts about each other did. She didn’t know why she felt the need to click on the comment section, but she did anyway.

Most of the comments, as usual, were positive. But as she scrolled through, it was one comment that incidentally caught her eye.

feel sorry for him, he's a fool, she doesn't love him

She frowned at the comment - sent from a private account, with no profile picture and a username made up of random letters and numbers, of course. She was tough enough to handle social media trolls by now, but something about the comment stung.

Maybe it was the fact that she did like him, actually, much more than she’d ever planned on.

She went to her internet browser, typing her name into the search bar. As expected, several articles came up with paparazzi photos from the previous evening, of her and Gendry heading to the restaurant. 

It never failed to creep her out, how a complete stranger could manage to get semi-decent photos of her without her even noticing. Robert’s PR team usually told them beforehand about set-up shots, so she assumed this was just some random photographer at the right place at the right time. 

She just about registered the sound of the shower turning on, but she wasn’t paying much attention as she lost herself in the dreaded tabloid comment section.

Pretty boy can’t see she’s using him. 

Baratheon’s an idiot who thinks he can change her.

He’s even stupider than I thought if he thinks she’ll ever love anyone but herself.

Arya never let what people said bother her. Sure, she quite liked proving people wrong and she definitely liked pissing off certain people. But she had never cared what some random on the internet thought of her appearance, or her behaviour, or anything really.

Something about this felt different. Because this wasn’t about her, this was about Gendry. 

They were all wrong, she knew that. In her head, she didn’t give a shit about any of this and she knew he wouldn’t either. It was just the implication that she couldn’t love him, that he would be stupid to think she could, that hurt. 

________________________

Even after an hour of waffles and cocktails with her family, Arya couldn’t shake the nagging feeling in her gut. 

She shouldn’t have read those stupid comments. They didn’t know what they were talking about and she’d never let herself care before but she just couldn’t shake the uneasiness she felt (and she had scrolled through hundreds, in the end). 

She hadn’t mentioned it to Gendry, or her family. They were all used to negative comments, they would just tell her not to pay any attention to it and usually she would agree. She was actually getting annoyed with herself for being so agitated about it.

The conversation around the breakfast table had faded into the background of her thoughts, until she felt a hand on her knee.

“Hey, you alright?”

Gendry was looking at her with such gentle concern in his eyes, that it only served to make her feel worse. He’d probably think she was ridiculous for overthinking this so much.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she cleared her throat, before forcing a half-hearted smile. She squeezed the hand on her knee, in an attempt to reassure him, but he didn’t seem all that convinced. “Fine.”

“It’s just that you seem pretty distracted,” he said, so softly it was as if he was worried he was going to push too far. 

“Really, it’s nothing.”

She used her free hand to reach for her cocktail, bringing the glass up to her lips, and Gendry seemed to take the hint that she didn’t want to talk about it.

Mainly because she didn’t understand it. She didn’t understand why she felt the need to defend herself - to defend him, to defend both of them - against what was being said. The sudden influx of feelings she’d felt over the past couple of days was nauseating. 

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Gendry asked again, even more hesitantly this time, with a raise of his eyebrows.

“I need some air,” she huffed, quickly standing from her seat and banging her knees against the table in the process. “Air. I need.. air.”

“Arya, we’re outside.”

“Yes thank you, genius, I can see that,” she gritted her teeth as she pushed past him.

She could hear Gendry faintly calling her out her name, but she chose to ignore him, forcing her chin up as she walked away. 

She didn’t even know where she was supposedly storming off to - she’d just realised she was walking in the opposite direction to the villa and she was not about to turn back around to re-storm out the other way. Not whilst her whole family were sat eating their eggs, anyway.

“Arya, please wait.” 

It probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise to her that he managed to catch up with her fairly quickly. Still, she ignored him and quickened her pace, realising she was heading towards the beach.

“Arya!”

The desperation in his voice, laced with a concern she knew was genuine, made her give in. She turned rapidly, hair flying across her shoulder in her typically messy way as she faced him. She didn’t say anything, just raised her eyebrows expectantly as a cue for him to speak.

“What was all that about?”

“Nothing,” Arya smacked her lips together, folding her arms across her chest.

Nothing?” His repeated, almost as if he was accusing her of something. Accusing her of lying, she’d guess. “Something’s obviously upset you.”

“What makes you think that?”

“The over-dramatic grand exit, for one,” he paused, scanning her up and down as if that was going to give him the answer he was after. “You’re just acting weird.”

“Well, everything is weird,” She argued. Noting his look of confusion, she resisted the urge to roll her eyes and instead gestured between them with her hands. “This. Us. Or… not us.”

Well yeah, ‘course it’s weird. Pretending to date someone is fuckin’ weird,” he paused, looking her up and down for a moment. “You’re only realising this now?”

She shrugged, looking away from him adamantly. 

“Look, if you want to stop this, then all you have to do is say so,” he quickly reached for her hand, stepping forward to slightly close the gap between them. “I mean it, if you’re not comfortable with this anymore, just say the word and we’ll end it.”

“We agreed to do this for at least a few months,” she softened, her eyes fell to where his hand was holding hers; despite the confrontation in his voice, the worry in his eyes, the way he held her was still so gentle. “I mean, your Dad-”

“Fuck my Dad,” He cut across, a look of defiance in his eyes she wasn’t sure she’d seen before. She liked it. “He’s a twat. Fuck him, fuck all of them.”

She couldn’t help but laugh at that, and she swore his eyes lit up when she did. 

“You’re so stupid.”

“Yeah, so you keep saying,” he smirked. 

So do other people, she suddenly thought guiltily. Her smile faltered, wondering if he’d read those things about himself before she came along. If he’d read them now.

“I don’t want to stop.”

“Then what do you want?”

You.

“I don’t know,” She said quietly, eyes flicking down to her feet to avoid his eyes. She was confused, she didn’t want to say something she’d regret but looking into his deep blue eyes made her feel like she wanted to word vomit her feelings all over him.

The desire to word vomit her feelings was not something Arya was used to. 

She walked down a few of the steps leading to the beach, and he followed, as if he were expecting to find all of the answers to her heart written in the sand. They both sat down, quietly in tune with one another, as the peaceful sound of the mid-morning ocean filled their silence for them.

“Have I done something?” He asked after a couple of minutes, with that frown he only wore when he was thinking far too hard or worrying about whatever he was thinking about. “To upset you, I mean, because it feels like you’ve been off with me all morning.”

She smiled, shifting closer to him. “Of course not. I’d have told you if you had.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” he laughed, sounding half teasing and half relieved. “If you don’t want to tell me what’s wrong, fine, but I just want you to know that you can talk to me. If you want to, that is.”

“It’s not a big deal,” she sighed, tucking her hair behind her ear. “I just read some stupid shit online and it’s getting to me more than it should, that’s all.”

“What about?” He asked, but he seemed to immediately realise the answer to his own question as the words fell from his mouth. “Oh. About us?”

“Yeah,” she said, stifling back a laugh. “People seem to think you’re an idiot for being anywhere near me.”

“Well that is stupid,” he scoffed, his thinking-too-hard frown making a re appearance. “Didn’t think you’d pay attention.”

“I don’t usually, which is why it’s stupid,” she rolled her eyes, her fingers nervously fiddling with the edge of her sleeve. “It’s just that everyone said this would be good publicity for both of us.”

He didn’t seem to know what to say to that, as he looked away from her and stared out over the ocean. Arya was about to speak again, figuring he wasn’t going to, when she realised from the quirk of his mouth that he was about to speak. “I don’t really care about publicity, to be fair.”

“Then why’d you agree to do this?” She asked, slightly taken aback by his answer.

“Because you did, mainly,” He shrugged, the tiniest hint of a smirk now pulling at his lips.

“That’s it?”

“My father willingly acknowledging that I exist was a bit of a shock to the system, I suppose,” he joked, though Arya got the impression that it was more than a joke. “I don’t care about the publicity, it’s just... people think I’m just like him and I hate it.”

She nodded in understanding, wrapping her arms around her knees. “I just wanted to prove a point.”

“Pretends to date her brother’s best mate just to prove a point,” he shook his head in mock disappointment, pursing his lips. Arya realised in that moment that she spent far too much time looking at his lips. “Talk about stubborn, Stark.”

“Oh, because you’re not stubborn?” 

“I’m not, no, thanks for noticing.”

“Shut up.”

They both smiled to themselves, looking out over the beach and letting their comfortable silence wash over them again. 

“Prove a point about what, anyway?” He asked, voice barely above a whisper.

She shrugged, eyeing him for a few seconds. That frown was gone, but it had been replaced with a curious glint in his eyes. Arya wasn’t sure if it was hopeful or anxious, but she didn’t know why that question would make him either of those things.

“That none of them actually know me. Everyone thinks they know me,” she sighed. “Which just sounds self absorbed now I’ve said it out loud.”

“Not at all. I get it.”

Their eyes met and the tide could have come all the way in, washed them out to sea, and she may not have even noticed. Her breath caught somewhere in her throat, realising it would take half a second for her to lean up and kiss him. She wanted to, in that moment she so desperately wanted to. For a second, she thought he was going to do it, as his eyes left hers and flickered down to her lips.

But he didn’t. He suddenly tore his eyes away, clearing his throat as if he’d caught himself, and averted his gaze to his lap.

“You’re nothing like him, you know?” She said quietly, knowing he’d know she meant Robert.

He smiled down at his lap, before sucking in a breath and raising his head. Instantly, she somehow knew what was coming.

“No, I’m the perfect boyfriend now, ain’t that right?” He leaned over and nudged her shoulder with his own, his words causing her to let out a mocking groan.

“Gods, don’t start,” she couldn’t help but laugh, giving his chest a shove with her forearm. “I’m never telling you anything ever again.”

________________________

The rest of the day went by in a blur - they didn’t really speak properly, not alone at least, instead they were spending time at the beach with the rest of the family. Gendry had caught himself looking for her more than once, and surprised himself with how much he just wanted to be alone with her. Whatever Jon had spent the afternoon talking to him about, Gendry was none the wiser.

When they found themselves back in their room that night, the atmosphere between them felt different somehow. As if they’d found a new understanding of each other, perhaps, Gendry didn’t know. 

He’d never been the best with words, but he’d hoped he’d been able to comfort her somewhat. She always seemed so strong, as if nothing could break her. Everyone said Arya Stark didn’t give a shit about what anyone thought of her, didn’t care about the consequences of her actions, didn’t care about anyone but herself.

If there had been any doubt before, he knew for sure now that none of that was true. The image that people painted of him was completely wrong, and the same could be said of Arya. 

But it wasn’t even just that now - he was starting to feel like he was seeing a whole other side of her, one that not very many people were allowed to see. He didn’t know what he had done to deserve that, but Gods, was he glad he’d done it.

They got into bed, neither of them saying very much at all. But it wasn’t an awkward silence, Gendry didn’t feel the need to say something just to find words to fill the air. It was comfortable, content, trusting. There was nothing that needed to be said because they both knew.

When he’d woken earlier that morning to her pressed up against him, fitting against him so perfectly, her skin soft beneath his fingertips, he’d thought he was about to have a heart attack. It had taken him minutes to actually move - one, because he was worried he’d wake her, and two because he just didn’t want to move. 

When they’d sat on the beach, just talking, and all he could think about was kissing her, he thought his heart was fully just going to burst from his chest. She’d looked so beautiful, all windswept and relaxed. He'd been so close to just doing it, just leaning down and taking her lips between his, until he caught himself. Until he remembered her bloody rules, and the fact she wasn't his actual bloody girlfriend.

They didn’t lay back to back now, with a whole lot of mattress between them like they did the previous night. Gendry was on his back, Arya right next to him on her side, facing him.

Something had changed. Gendry didn’t know what, or when, or even how or why - he just knew that something felt different now. Everything was starting to feel less and less like an act. It was starting to feel.. it was starting to feel almost real. Like maybe there was a chance this could be something more than they’d originally anticipated when they’d agreed to his father’s idiotic plan for publicity. He didn’t care about any of that anymore, in fact he didn’t give a shit about much else outside of that room.  

It took all of ten minutes before Arya fell asleep on his shoulder and he didn’t dare move an inch in case he woke her. She looked peaceful, and that was one thing Gendry had never expected her to be.

Peaceful.

For a girl who was always running on espresso and always seemed ready to fight someone, peaceful seemed to suit her.

Chapter Text

The first thing he noticed when he woke up was how damn close she was to him.

Literally zero personal space going on. None. Zilch. Na da.

He was laying on his side, facing her, whilst she had her back to him and was completely pressed up against him - in all the right places.

Wrong. Wrong places. Places she should not have been pressed up against.

Just to add to that, as if she was somehow torturing him, she kept sighing and whimpering in her sleep - these faint, barely there, breathy little noises that felt like definitely pissed off a God or two and this was his punishment.

It was giving him thoughts - bad thoughts that he wouldn’t let himself have. Not about her, not like this. It was wrong when she was trusting him to share her bed as her friend.

Well. Friend, fake boyfriend, whatever.

He didn’t even bother to check the time before climbing out of bed. It was light out, but the kind of light he very rarely saw so he assumed it was the crack of the dawn. He quickly headed to the bathroom, brushing his teeth. The plan had been to immediately jump into a sub-zero shower, but he decided instead to go for a run. He needed to clear his head and he didn’t want to risk waking her up by putting the shower on, knowing now that she was such a light sleeper. She would only want to know why he was awake so early - at least an early morning run was less embarrassing to explain away than an early morning cold shower.

As quietly as he could, he threw on a pair of shorts and a tight-fitted white tee, along with his sneakers. He found his earphones in his bag and grabbed his phone off the bedside table.

Arya hadn’t stirred at all - apart from those noises she kept making, which made him wonder what the hell was happening in her dream that was so satisfying.

He headed out the door and silently prayed to himself that nobody else in the house had risen yet. Managing to sneak out of the villa with no problems, he popped his earphones in and turned up his music as loud as he could and headed off on his run.

He just needed to clear his head. He needed to think - he’d been told more than once that he wasn’t very good at thinking, but needs must.

Only problem was that trying not to think about Arya turned out to be harder than he’d hoped for, considering it felt like she was all he thought about these days.

They had a good thing going. The plan, stupid as it was, was going well. Despite never having had a serious relationship before, he thought he’d been doing pretty well at pretending he was in one. Despite never being in love with anyone before, he was pretty good at pretending he was in love with Arya Stark.

Something had changed in the nine days they’d been at Highgarden though. He was finding himself more and more attracted to her with every passing day, for a start. But it was more than attraction.

No, no, no, it was a bit of a crush. That was all. They were in a confusing situation and he was just getting his feelings muddled up. At least that’s what he was telling himself every time she laughed and his heart skipped a beat.

There was just something so endearing about her. He liked being around her, and as much as he didn’t want to admit it, he liked waking up next to her - her skin was soft, her hair smelled like coconut, she made those cute little noises in her sleep, and last night he’d accidentally discovered her belly button piercing when she’d rolled over.

“What is that?”

“My piercing,” she’d shrugged, lifting her top up to show him the black belly ring piercing her skin. “You’ve shared a bed with me for over a week and only now you’ve noticed?”

“I mean, I haven’t been looking at your stomach.”

"Oh, I'm sorry, where have you been looking?" She'd quipped back immediately, with that teasing glint in her eye that made him so bloody attracted to her.

He ran down the street, through the fields, all the way back around to the beach. He slowed his pace, admiring the tide for a few moments. His mind took him back to the two of them sat on the rocks, seeing Arya more vulnerable than he’d ever imagined she could be. There was so much he didn’t know about Arya Stark and he found himself wanting to know everything.

In the end, he couldn’t find the distraction he’d been searching for. Because every single thought that he had just led back to her.

_______________

It didn’t feel like any time had passed at all really, but by the time he got back to the villa, he’d been gone for just over an hour. He could hear some chatter coming from the kitchen as he came in the front door, and combined with the sound of cartoons coming from the lounge, he assumed it was Robb and Margaery up with the children. He kept as quiet as he could as he snuck back upstairs, as to not disturb anyone else who was still asleep - Arya included.

But as he entered their bedroom, the bed was empty. He frowned, his first instinct to call out for her, but ultimately deciding against it. She must have been downstairs already. He just hoped he hadn’t woken her up when he’d left - he’d tried so hard to be quiet.

Shaking the train of thought from his head, he decided he definitely needed that shower now, his t-shirt drenched in sweat that was sticking to his body. Absentmindedly, he kicked off his sneakers and headed for the en suite.

He pulled his shirt over his head, before taking off his shorts, leaving him in just his boxers as he opened the bathroom door.

Just to see Arya, a towel wrapped around her body, leaning over the edge of the bathtub.

Gendry completely froze on the spot. Arya looked at him over her shoulder, her eyes wide, though she was as speechless as he was. It took a second, but Gendry’s brain suddenly caught up with what was happening.

“Fuck, Arya, sorry,” he stuttered, squeezing his eyes shut. “Shit, I’m sorry, shit-”

He quickly stepped backwards, slamming the door closed and letting out a string of panicked profanities under his breath.

Gods, he was so stupid. Why didn’t he knock before going into the en suite?! Why didn’t he call out for her the second he saw she wasn’t in bed?

Nine days sharing a room and they’d been fine, absolutely zero accidental half-naked incidents and he goes and walks in on her in the bath. Of course. Oh, she was going to be so mad.

He felt awful, running his hands over his face and mentally asking every God that there was to undo the last sixty seconds of his life. That wasn’t too much to ask for, was it? Actually, maybe he was still asleep and dreaming and this was all just in his head. That would be ideal. Even better if he could wake up before Arya came out of the bathroom -

And just like that, the door opened and she was standing in front of him.

“I am so sorry, I didn’t realise you were in there.”

And she laughed. She actually had the nerve to laugh.

What was it he said about Arya Stark never failing to surprise him?

“Yeah, I guessed as much from the look on your face,” She bit her lip. “It’s fine, Gendry.”

“I-”

“- You saw me wearing a towel, like you have plenty of times down at the pool,” She rolled her eyes, before gesturing to the towel still wrapped around her. “No big deal.”

“Are you sure?”

“I wouldn’t be standing here like this if I wasn’t, would I?” she smiled, though there was something in her eyes that he couldn’t quite place, especially when her eyesight lowered slightly.

“Gendry.”

His forehead immediately creased into a frown. “What?”

“You’re still in your pants.”

“...Oh!” he stammered, his face turning bright red again as he looked around for his clothes and realised he must have dropped them somewhere in the bathroom. He sucked in a breath, awkwardly rubbing the back of his neck as his eyes fell to the floor.

She didn’t say anything at all, so after a few seconds, he had to force himself to look back up at her. When he did, that look in her eye had almost intensified. She was leaning against the bathroom door, one hand holding the top of the towel, wet hair dripping down her back.

He didn’t even realise how heavy his own breathing had become until his eyes flickered downwards for a second and noticed the rise and fall of her chest.

Blue eyes met grey eyes once more as they both stayed silent. Somehow, they’d managed to get even closer to being naked around each other than when they literally shared a bed at night. Gendry was very aware of how close to nakedness they both were.

If he hadn’t known any better, he may have thought that look in her eye was lust.

After a few seconds, he stepped forward. As he got closer to her, his eyes fell down to her slightly parted lips, and the only thing he wanted to do was to kiss her. She was so close and it would have been so easy - just another step, just a tilt of his head.

Arya broke their eye contact as she lowered her gaze to his mouth. For the briefest moment, he thought she was about to kiss him.

The moment was broken by a loud knocking on the door.

Gendry and Arya both jumped, him immediately stepping backwards as she averted her eyes and walked around him.

“I’m, uh, gonna get in the shower,” he said awkwardly, clearing his throat.

He heard her murmur something in response as he quickly closed the bathroom door. As soon as he did, he could hear Sansa’s voice on the other side.

Gendry sighed, no idea what had just happened. Maybe he was just imagining it. She didn’t want him, not like that, not the way he wanted her.

His hour-long run was rendered completely pointless. He’d never be able to stop thinking about her - and he now needed that damn cold shower more than ever.
_________________________________

A couple of hours later, Gendry came into the living room to find Arya alone on the sofa.

“There you are,” Arya smiled. “Where have you been?”

“Outside, where literally everyone else is,” He shrugged, sitting next to her on the sofa, just for her to immediately throw her legs over his lap.

“Awh, so you came looking for me?” She smirked. “My hero.”

“Shut up,” he scoffed, quietly glad they were already back to the playfulness despite whatever had happened earlier on. “Why are you inside anyway?”

“I needed some peace to read my book.”

“What are you reading?”

“Oh, it’s about the history of water dancing,” Her eyes lit up as she held up the book to show him the front cover. “I know a lot of it already from my training but it’s still a pretty good read.”

Gendry frowned. “Your training?”

“My martial arts training,” Arya stated, matter of factly.

“I thought you did boxing.”

“Well I do, but I’m trained in martial arts,” Arya shrugged, a hint of a smile pulling at her lips. “Did you think I was a trained boxer?”

“...No,” Gendry said quietly under his breath, and Arya laughed.

“Are we alright now?” she whispered after a moment.

Gendry frowned, suddenly panicked. "When weren't we alright?" 

The laugh that fell from her lips told him he was panicking for no reason. "Never. It's just. Well, this morning - you just seemed a bit embarrassed."

"Embarrassed?" Gendry scoffed. He absolutely had been a bit mortified at first, but he wasn't about to tell her that. "Please. I don't get embarrassed." 

"Not even when I saw you almost completely naked?" 

"Lucky devil, ain't you."

She wistfully sighed in mockery, bringing the back of her hand to her forehead. "Count my lucky stars everyday."

Without really thinking about it, he reached over and gently grabbed hold on her wrist, pulling her arm towards him and making her look up. 

"You mocking me, Stark?"

"Always, Baratheon," she smirked, clicking her tongue against her front teeth.

“Ugh, get a room!” Rickon’s voice echoed as he came into the room, his shaggy hair wet from where he’d obviously just got out of the pool.

“We will, don’t worry,” Arya shouted back, in a sing song voice, causing her youngest brother to audibly groan in disgust.

“I’m so telling Mum you said that,” Rickon chuckled to himself.

Arya shrugged. “Go ahead.”

The two siblings seemed to be in some sort of staring (though it was more glaring in Arya’s case) match for a few seconds, before Rickon gave in and walked back out of the room with a huff.

“If he actually tells her you said that-”

“There’s no way she’d let you stay in my room if she thought we were having sex,” Arya interrupted, raising her eyebrows as if she expected him to know what she was trying to explain to him. He didn’t. “So if she doesn’t care, I’ll know for sure that she thinks we’re not having sex.”

“Right.”

Arya rolled her eyes. “Which would mean she doesn’t think we’re a real couple.”

“Oh, right,” he repeated, finally understanding what she meant.

In his defence, he had a lot going on his head. 

“I want ice cream,” she said, out of nowhere.

He chuckled and raised his eyebrows in surprise at the sudden change in conversation. “Bit too early for ice cream, isn’t it?”

“That is without a doubt the stupidest thing you’ve ever said,” Arya said, bringing her hand to her chest in mock horror. “There’s no such thing as too early for ice cream.”

“If you say so.”

“I do say so, now come on.”

Once they were out of the house, at least far enough away from her family’s prying ears, she grabbed hold of his hand.

“Side note, we have to entertain the paparazzi,” she smiled, almost apologetically for some reason.

“Of course we do,” he groaned, giving her hand a comforting squeeze.
_______________________________

“This better be bloody good ice cream,” Gendry huffed, catching sight of the few stray photographers at the bottom of the street.

“It’s the best, I promise,” She said, stroking her thumb over his hand. “Your mind is going to be blown.”

He laughed, shaking his head at her. She seemed genuinely passionate about this ice cream, so he at least trusted her on that front.

After this morning’s… weirdness, it felt nice to just be normal with her again. Even if normal for them was walking down the street just so paparazzi could sell photos of them to the press.

Despite all of that, he couldn’t stop himself from thinking how her hand linked with his felt so right. Like it belonged there. Every now and again, she rested her head against his shoulder or smiled up at him and it damn near almost took his breath away.

It’s not real, he reminded himself. That smile wasn’t for him, it was for the cameras.

The problem was that he was realising that he wanted it to be for him - he wanted this to be real.

He wanted her.

That much was for sure - it didn’t matter if they were both barely dressed in the bedroom, or if they were going to get ice cream, or anything in between, he wanted Arya. He wanted her all of the time.

But he was certain the feeling wasn’t mutual, and the last thing he wanted was for her to be uncomfortable with him, so he’d just have to keep pushing it to the back of his mind. It was a few more months, if that even, then everything could go back to normal and they could get on with their lives.

He looked down at her and he swore her entire posture had changed all of a sudden. She seemed almost as if she wanted to say something but was holding back, from the nervous way she chewed her bottom lip. It wasn’t like Arya to hold back, he thought.

Gendry didn’t want to question her as they neared the photographers, who had already began taking their photos, so he made a mental note to check she was alright once they had a bit of privacy.

He almost tripped over his own feet, as Arya moved quickly from his side to stand in front of him. Nearly immediately, she stepped closer to him and her hands bunched up his t-shirt. Instinctively, his own hands went around her waist.

“Do you trust me?” she whispered against his chest.

“Wha-”

Then she was kissing him.

She was on her tiptoes, hands now on each side of his face and pulling him to her, with her lips on his lips.

She was kissing him. Arya was kissing him.

It was soft, quick, barely there even. Her mouth can’t have been on his for more than two, maybe three seconds, yet it felt like the entire planet just froze. He barely even had a chance to react before she’d already pulled away.

The cameras going off like crazy down the street didn’t even register with him. At all. He was completely oblivious to all of it. In his mind, there were no complete strangers about to make a very large amount of money off their very public kiss. All he could see, all he could hear, all he could feel was her.

She was still on her tiptoes, as she’d barely pulled away a couple of inches. He could still feel her warm breath on his lips - all he’d have to do to feel her lips on his again was lean forward just the tiniest bit.

And then she stepped back.

“So,” Arya breathed, eyes on her feet, a smile on her face as if she hadn’t just turned his world upside down. “Ice cream?”

She looked up at him and he could recognise the quiet nerves in her eyes that she was trying to hide, as she reached down and squeezed his hand. He couldn’t even fathom a response, following in awe as she gently pulled him towards the ice cream parlour.

He didn’t say a word, completely dumbstruck by what she had just done.

Did she know that she had just changed everything?

No kissing was her first rule, he thought.

Her very first rule when they’d decided to go ahead with this ridiculous publicity stunt was no kissing - and she had just... kissed him. Just like that. In the street, in broad daylight. Out of absolutely nowhere.

Was it because of those comments she’d read online? Had someone on his father’s team instructed her to do this? He flat out just ignored the emails most of the time, it was perfectly likely that they’d been told to kiss and he had just missed it.

But, no, she knew that he never read them. She would have said something. Why didn’t she say anything? There’d been plenty of opportunity.

Trust me, she’d said. Trust me. What the fuck did trust me mean?

He was still dreaming. That was it. Just as he’d expected when she’d come out of that bathroom in that towel - this was all just some weird dream. There was no way in all Seven Hells, by all the Old Gods and the New… there was no way that this day was real.

Only it was real.

Arya Stark had just kissed him. He desperately wanted her to kiss him again.

How he was ever going to stop thinking about her now, Gendry had no idea.

Chapter Text

She didn’t know what she was thinking. 

Well, that wasn’t strictly true - she did know what she was thinking. She’d thought about it a lot actually. Kissing him.

Ever since she’d read those comments online about the two of them, there’d been a voice in the back of her head telling her they weren’t doing enough. Or, well, she wasn’t doing enough.

Because everyone had spent weeks telling her that it was obvious how much he liked her, gushing over the way he looked at her when she wasn’t looking back. Apparently.  

So it was obvious that he was doing his job properly. It was her that people were having a hard time believing. As if it was such a horrendous shock that Arya Stark had a heart. 

And, yes, sure, maybe she’d let that affect her more than it should have. She hated herself for it.

But she didn’t want people to think he was an idiot - that made her angry more than anything they said about her. People calling him stupid for wanting anything to do with her wound her up. She’d wound herself up even more in her head.

Then there was… whatever that was between them this morning. She had no idea what that was. 

When he’d walked into the bathroom, for a second she’d wondered if she’d drifted back to sleep. But no, the dream she’d actually had of him in the night had a much more satisfying ending. When she’d woken up in an empty bed, she was half relieved and half disappointed. 

She couldn’t help but wonder what he would have done if he’d walked in on her whilst she was still in the bath. Despite how much she enjoyed the idea in her head - joining her in the tub, kissing her all over, finally easing the ache between her thighs - he’d have freaked out exactly the same.

He’d stood there in his damn underwear, all messy and sweaty, more exposed than she was. He was so soft and stupid that it made her heart swell.  He’d gotten all flustered and blushing, whilst looking like he’d been sculpted by bloody the Gods. She’d wanted to kiss him there and then.

Now, he couldn’t even talk to her.

“Mind blowing, right?” She smiled innocently.

“Mind blowing?”

“The ice cream,” she said, nodding down at his dessert. 

“Oh, right, yeah.” He swallowed, not meeting her gaze. “It’s good.”

Shit. Had she broken him? 

“Didn’t have you down as a cookies and cream kind of guy,” Arya laughed, trying to coax a conversation out of him.  “You’re full of surprises.”

“Sure. I’m full of surprises.”

He finally lifted his eyes to meet hers and for a few moments, they both just looked at each other. Arya opened her mouth to speak, but no words seemed to be able to come out. She knew what she wanted to say to him, she just didn’t know where to even begin. The situation was complicated enough as it was without her stupid feelings making things worse for them both.

She wasn’t even sure what those feelings were yet. If they even were feelings feelings. 

Maybe it was just a crush. A stupid, stupid crush. 

But she knew how it felt to have a stupid crush on Gendry. She’d had a stupid crush on Gendry when she was bloody sixteen. She wasn’t sixteen anymore and this felt like more than a stupid crush.

“Look, about that-”

“Everything okay with your desserts?” Their waitress appeared from nowhere, with a grin far too wide and a voice far too chirpy for Arya’s liking at that moment.

“Perfect as always, thank you,” Arya smiled politely and Gendry half-heartedly mumbled an agreement.  

The waitress disappeared again, leaving them alone.

They didn’t speak for the rest of the time they were at the ice cream parlour and not a single word was uttered between them as they walked back to the villa. Arya wanted to kick herself for being so stupid.

____________

Gendry was completely off with her for the rest of the day; he was quiet, and distracted, and he seemed to avoid being alone with her. It hurt her a little to know he was so put off by a peck on the lips.

That night he headed up to bed straight after dinner, stating he didn’t feel very well.

“I can come with you,” Arya had said, already about to stand from her chair. 

He’d reached for her hand on the table and given it a squeeze, though she knew somehow that it was solely for her family’s eyes. “It’s alright, you stay.”

He felt perfectly fine, she knew that, and he just didn’t want to be around her. 

When she’d gone up to the room just an hour later, sick of how much she couldn’t stop thinking about him, he was already fast asleep.

__________

The next day, most of the family took a trip to the same farmer’s market they went to every year. Whilst Arya actually quite enjoyed the market, it was smack bang in the middle of the town with all the designer shops and high end boutiques, which meant they’d all get talked into shopping. Shopping with Margaery, Sansa and Catelyn? Definitely not top of her to-do list. 

Luckily for her, Gendry’s fake illness bullshit the night before gave her the perfect excuse to stay behind and play the doting girlfriend.

Which he was none the wiser about until he came out of the bathroom, half-dressed. 

“Why are you still in your pyjamas?” He frowned. “I thought we were leaving at 10?”

“Everyone else is leaving at 10,” she answered. “We’re not going anywhere.”

“What?”

“You’re ill,” she shrugged, playing dumb. “Can hardly leave my beloved boyfriend alone when he’s spent half the night throwing up, can I?”

She flicked her eyes up, silently challenging him to argue with her. From the sheepish look on his face, he was aware of that. “Why are you being so weird, Gendry?”

“Why am I being weird?” Gendry asked, pulling a t-shirt over his head. “You kissed me, Arya!”

“Yes.”

“That’s - that’s…” He stumbled over his own words, shaking his head aimlessly.

She didn’t mean to laugh, but she did anyway. “Are you trying to say something right now?”

“It’s against the rules! Your rules!”

“I know,” she said, trying to keep casual as she stood up off the bed. 

“You can’t make rules and then just break them!” He said, as if it was he was overthinking so hard that it was physically hurting him. Arya always thought that was cute. “It - it defeats the purpose.”

“There are at least two pictures on your Instagram of you smoking weed in front of no smoking sign. And didn't you almost get suspended in high school, what - twice?”

“Well those are stupid rules,” He said, running his hands through his thick black hair. Arya let herself have a moment of wishing she’d ran her hands through his hair that when she’d kissed him. 

“I’m sorry, alright,” Arya sighed, suddenly feeling a weird sense of guilt creep up on her at how completely perplexed he seemed. “I shouldn’t have kissed you like that - not without talking to you first. But people will take notice.”

“That’s what it was about?” That frown that aligned his forehead smoothed out, and his entire face dropped. Arya nodded, telling herself she was just imagining the look of disappointment. “People are already taking notice of us, Arya." 

His voice was notably quieter all of a sudden. She was certain that it was disappointment across his face, in his voice. The thought of him being disappointed that the kiss was just another part of the plan had her heart racing slightly. 

But Arya didn’t leave the thought linger for too long in her head. Of course that wasn’t the only reason she’d kissed him, but she wasn’t about to tell him that and make matters worse. “And what’s the point if they think I’m some cold hearted bitch who’s ruining your life? What’s the point in people taking notice of that? That defeats the purpose, Gendry.”

“Those people don’t matter,” Gendry said, stepping closer to her and reaching for her hand. The gesture was genuine, and gentle, and it felt different to the exact same gesture he’d made at dinner in front of her family. She didn’t fully understand why, she just knew it was, the way that he rubbed his thumb over her skin and let his eyes linger on her. “They don’t know you.”

“They think they do,” she said, trying to ignore how close he was to her now. She really didn’t know how they ended up like this so much. 

Only now, it was even harder to ignore him. She knew how his lips felt - even for the brief few seconds she’d had them on hers, she knew how badly she hadn’t wanted to pull away. How she wanted him to just forget their stupid stunt, pull her closer to him and never let her go.

“They don’t know you,” Gendry said again, slower this time 

“Look, at the time, it felt like a good idea,” Arya said, biting on her bottom lip. He was definitely staring. “I didn’t think you would mind, but obviously you do, so it won’t happen again.”

“I don’t - I don’t mind you kissing me,” Gendry said, every word against her skin making her body feel like it was on fire.

For once, it was Arya’s turn to look confused. “You don’t?” 

He shook his head. He was about to kiss her, she was certain of it. She would let him and this time, she’d be sure to feel his hair between the tips of her fingers. 

“It’s for the best that we kiss in front of people,” he said. He stepped back from her suddenly, turned around as if it was nothing, and Arya let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding. “If nobody ever sees us touching, someone’s bound to get suspicious. Right?”

At this point, she was convinced she was losing her mind. 

“Right..” she cleared her throat, straightening out her posture and trying to regain some sense of control of the situation. “Exactly. That was - that was my point exactly.”

He turned back around to face her again. “Good. Then we’re agreed that we can forget about rules.”

“Wait, no,” Arya screwed her face up, folding her arms across her chest. “We’re not breaking any more rules.” Gendry raised his eyebrows. “Gendry, we’re sticking to the rest of the rules.”

“Okay,” he shrugged.  

She was about to adamantly protest that no more rules were to be broken, for the sake of her own sanity if nothing else, when there was a knock at the door. 

“Arya?” It was Jon. 

“Shit, get into bed,” Arya whispered, grabbing his arm and pulling him towards the bed. When he opened his mouth to obviously protest, she quickly jumped in. “He thinks you’re sick, get in bed.”

What she didn’t expect him to do was take his shirt back off. Which was probably made obvious by the way her eyes widened.

“He knows I sleep naked,” Gendry said as he climbed under the covers.

How does he know that?” Arya asked, quickly shaking her head. Gendry just shrugged. “Whatever, just keep quiet.”

Jon called out her name again and Arya rushed to the door, opening it just slightly. Doing her best to seem casual, she smiled. “Hey.” 

“Hey, I just wanted to check on you before we left,” Jon said quietly. “Is Gendry still sick?”

“Yeah, he’s not great but he’s sleeping now,” Arya said, hoping he’d just buy it and leave. Of course Jon couldn’t take the hint. 

“I can stay if you want, you know? Keep you company if he’s going to be laid up in bed all day,” he said with a sympathetic smile that almost made her feel bad. 

Arya shook her head. “Don’t be stupid, it’s fine. I could use a break from Mum anyway.”

Jon laughed at that. “Alright, if you’re sure. Give me a call if either of you need anything, yeah?” 

“Thanks,” Arya said. “Have fun.”

“Chance would be a fine thing,” He said over his shoulder as he walked away, and once he was gone, Arya firmly shut the door. 

She turned around to see Gendry sitting up behind her, his eyebrows bunched together and his lips pursed. 

“You just don’t want to go to the market. You’re using what I said last night to get out of it,” She threw him a look suggesting he shut up, but he didn’t heed the warning. “If I was actually ill and they were going scuba diving or some shit-”

“- Then you’d be here and I’d be in the middle of the ocean,” she smirked as she sat on the edge of the bed, eyeing his exposed biceps. She wondered for a moment if he’d manage to still look good in a scuba costume. She assumed the answer was yes. 

“I’m starting to feel very used, you know.”

______________________

As it turned out, having the entire villa to themselves wasn’t the worst thing in the world.

She still didn’t really know where they stood. She didn’t know why he’d spent so much of the day before avoiding her over that kiss, or why he’d sulked off to bed with a fake illness like a toddler.

But it was still nice to be alone, just the two of them, completely away from prying eyes for once. 

Plus it meant she could watch him walk around shirtless without anyone noticing.

Sometimes, it slipped her mind that people noticing them was meant to be the entire point. That had been her excuse for kissing him, afterall, hadn’t it? People noticing.

Her mind was a mess. 

Gendry was sat on the edge of the pool, legs in the water, with his back to her. It was as if he was trying to tempt her.

Of course, she had to give in to temptation.

Climbing up off her sun lounger, she quietly crept forward, knowing he wouldn’t feel her presence until she was too close. All it would take was one hard shove to his shoulders, and he’d be in the water.

It went exactly according to plan. Almost. When he’d pulled his arms back and grabbed her legs instead - taking her straight into the pool with him. He was so lucky that she’d taken off her favourite Brotherhood Without Banners t-shirt. 

She’d fallen straight forward and lunged her arms around his bare shoulders when they’d gone under the water. She hadn’t realised he’d been sat at the bit of the pool where it suddenly got deep, so it took a few seconds for them to emerge from the water, both gasping for air and trying to shake the water from their eyes. 

Arya could feel his grip on her legs had tightened, as if he was afraid of accidentally letting her go. Once she regained her breath, she started laughing hysterically, one hand pushing the hair from her eyes while her other arm stayed firmly around Gendry’s neck.

“Arya!” Gendry spluttered between coughs and what Arya thought were laughs, that sounded like they were getting stuck in his throat. “What the fuck was that?!”

“Hilarious, that’s what that was,” she said, adjusting the strap on her bikini top before snaking her other arm back around his shoulders. “Did you not think so?

“Oh you are so dead, Stark,” Gendry said, starting to laugh properly.

She had the feeling he was about to pull her back under, but she was quicker than him. She pulled her leg from his grasp, pushing her foot into her back with all the strength that she had, and dug her elbows into his shoulders. It didn’t do much to stop him, but as he went back under the water, she flipped her leg over his shoulder and threw herself over.

She landed on her back in front of him with a thump against the water, just dipping under the surface. She couldn’t help but laugh as turned onto her back to see him gasping for breath again and shaking his hair, water spraying everywhere like a dog who’d been left out in the pouring rain. 

“Are you trying to drown me?” He asked, eyes widening in mock offence. Still, she could tell that he was dying to laugh.

“I would never do such a thing,” Arya teasingly gasped, kicking her legs and swaying her arms beneath the water to keep herself a float. 

Gendry scoffed, swimming closer to her. “See, I think you would.”

“Only if you deserved it.”

They stayed in the pool for a while, by some miracle avoiding drowning each other (even if it was a close call when he dared to suggest the Watchers on the Wall’s new album was better than the Brotherhood’s latest release).    

Arya climbed out of the pool first, Gendry soon following behind her. She threw him his towel, then picked her up her own, giving her hair a quick dry and tying it up in a bun out of the way. As she did so, Gendry went into the kitchen to fetch them some drinks.  

Arya picked up her phone and opened her emails - the latest message was a very happy one from the PR team. Trending on all social media and splashed across dozens of news sites. Job done, Arya thought.

“Anything interesting?” Gendry said, holding out her bottle of beer and taking a sip from his own.

She shook her head, smiling at him in thanks as she took her drink.  “PR have sent us some of the press from yesterday.”

Don’t read the comments,” Gendry said, sitting down on the edge of his lounger to face her. 

She laughed. “I won’t.” 

“So?”

She looked up at him as he sat down on the sun lounger opposite her, his towel thrown carelessly over his shoulder as beads of water dripped down his chest. In the sunlight, his eyes looked even bluer than usual.  

“There are photos of us kissing everywhere.  I told you it would work,” He didn’t say anything, just lowered his eyesight to the ground. “Why did you react the way you did?”

His entire body appeared to stiffen as he looked up at her. “I’m, uh, sorry about that.” 

“You’re forgiven. If you answer the actual question." 

Gendry sighed, pulling at his towel. “I don’t know. You just… freaked me out.”

“Oh.” 

What he said didn’t feel like the complete truth, but he obviously didn’t want to discuss it, so she chose to leave it alone. 

At least, she was planning on leaving it alone until he spoke again a minute later. “Did they tell you to do it?” 

“What?”

“PR. Did they tell you to kiss me?” He asked, and not even she could figure out what he wanted the answer to be. He laughed then though it was humourless. “Did my father know you were going to kiss me before I did?”

“No,” Arya replied truthfully, not missing the way he practically spat the word father. “No, that was my stupid idea.”

He didn’t say anything, but he seemed relieved more than anything. She hadn’t even considered that he would be thinking someone else told her to do it. If they had, she would have told them where to go, and she assumed he would have known that already.

Yet again, she agreed to date him because Robert Baratheon told her to. She supposed that might have been how it looked to him, no matter had happened since.

Maybe communication wasn’t their strong point. 

Gendry let out a sigh as he moved to lay back on the chair and she smiled. Never in a million years did she think it would be this complicated. Being with Gendry was so easy - she hated how difficult they’d made things. She couldn’t just tell him how she felt, because that would only make the next few months awkward as hell. 

That’s all it was, she thought. A few more months. Then this would all be over and she could go back to thinking of Gendry Baratheon as her brother’s hot friend she had a minor crush on once upon a time, who meant nothing to her.

But the thought of that was more upsetting than she’d care to admit. They spent so much time together now and she didn’t want that to change.

“Gendry,” she said, before she’d even meant to. Immediately, he looked over at her. 

“Yeah?” 

She sucked in a breath, before pressing her lips together. She didn’t even know what she wanted to say to him, didn’t know where to start. Thinking on her feet, she picked her phone up from her lap and turned on the camera, aiming it at him. “Smile.”

He just laughed - which, in fairness to him, was technically a smile. Certainly looked that way in the photo anyways. “Something to remember me by?”

“Shut up, stupid,” Arya knew that was probably just the first quip that had come to mind, but it only added to her anxieties about going back to barely knowing each other once this was over. Still, she gave him her best smirk. “I haven’t posted about you in a couple of days, that’s all.” 

“Well - best to give your followers what they want, Stark,” he said, reaching for his sunglasses and sliding them onto his face.

He wasn’t completely wrong, in fairness. Her last post with him in - a photo of the two of them at the beach a few nights ago - reached half a million likes within hours. Which was the point of all her posts about Gendry, as far as their PR team were concerned - even if the subsequent hundreds of thirsty comments about her gorgeous not-boyfriend, gave her an odd, completely unfounded, sense of jealousy. 

Still, even in another world where she was his actual girlfriend, she would never admit that. His ego didn’t need to know.

“Yeah you wish, Baratheon.”

Chapter Text

“Robb, are you even listening?” Jon said, as he sat next to Gendry at the dining table.

“Sorry, I barely slept a wink with the kids last night,” Robb sighed, picking up his mug of coffee from the dining table. 

“Me neither,” Gendry said. “Arya does this thing where she-” 

“Do not finish that sentence,” Jon interrupted sternly.

“I was going to say, she does this thing in her sleep which usually ends with her elbows in my face. Sometimes I think she does it on purpose.” 

“That so counts!” Rickon screamed, mouth still full of toast. He grabbed his phone and before Gendry could question what he meant, he laughed. “Three minutes, I win!”

“You win?” Gendry said with a frown.  

Robb sighed. “You weren’t supposed to tell him that.”

Rickon shrugged and Gendry turned to Jon, who was hiding a laugh behind his hand.

“They bet on you,” Bran suddenly said. “Well, on how long you could go without talking about Arya.”

“Do I need to explain to you both what don’t tell him means?” Robb shook his head in exasperation.

 “Yeah, yeah, pay up,” Rickon smirked, making money grabbing gestures with his hands as the rest of the boys begrudgingly reached into their pockets.  

“Your obsession with your girlfriend just cost me a fiver, Baratheon,” Theon grunted, pulling a five pound note out of his wallet.

Gendry scoffed. “Sansa is literally your entire personality, Greyjoy.” 

He watched in annoyance as they all handed Rickon his winnings. 

“Hang on, you all bet on me?” They all nodded. “Well, how long did you all say?”

“Jon said two minutes,” Rickon answered. “Robb said five, Theon said four. I said three so I win.”

“None of you think I can go five minutes without talking about Arya?” Gendry frowned, turning to Jon again. “You’re supposed to be my best mate.”

“I am your best mate, which is how I know Arya is all you talk about,” Jon laughed. “Come on, it’s not a bad thing." 

He scoffed. “Bran, you didn’t bet?” 

“Jon had already said two and Rickon three,” Bran said. “Putting actual money on you going more than three minutes without mentioning Arya would just be reckless spending.”

“Fine, whatever,” Gendry grumbled, standing up and heading inside.  

He couldn’t believe they would bet on him like that. He wasn’t mad, there was no reason to be, but it was just unnecessary. And untrue. He could go ages without talking about Arya. She wasn’t even his girlfriend, for crying out loud - they’d all look like idiots when they found that out, Gendry thought.  

But they did think that. He’d more or less gotten over his guilt about lying to some of his closest friends - if Arya was okay with it, then he could be too. Jon and Robb had both handled their getting together much better than he’d expected, so he was sure they’d understand why they had to keep the truth from them. He’d worry about the repercussions if they came - he knew Arya could deal with it, anyway.

Right now, he had bigger problems. His feelings for her were only getting stronger everyday. Arya, on the other hand, could kiss him without feeling anything apparently.

The kiss that Gendry still didn’t know how to feel about. If it was even enough to be called a kiss, really - her lips hadn’t even been on his long enough for him to respond properly. Enough for it to be all he’d thought about since the second it happened though.

But they’d agreed now that everything was fine and they were back to normal. Whatever normal was now. 

Somehow, he was just going to have to get used to kissing the girl he was pretty sure he was falling in love with. Whilst pretending he wasn’t. Whilst pretending… he was. Or something like that.

It was safe to say his mind was all over the damn place. No matter where his mind was though, it was always Arya. Everything these days was Arya.  

The way she laughed at the stupidest of things - usually things that had come out of his mouth. The way she woke up looking so messy and beautiful and wild and soft. How deeply she cared about the people closest to her, how she’d defend them no matter the cost to her, how she loved so passionately and how few people even knew that about her.

Alright - maybe the boys had a point. He talked about Arya a lot, but he thought about her even more. All the time, actually. He couldn’t help it. 

He didn’t want to deny the way he felt about her. But things were so complicated. How do you even tell the woman you’re pretending to date that you, actually, would very much like to date her for real? Gendry was no relationship expert but it seemed like it would be a pretty niche problem. 

“What have I told you about thinking so hard? You’ll hurt yourself.”

Gendry snapped his head up, his eyes meeting Jon’s. He’d been too lost in his thoughts to hear him follow him into the living room.

“Rich coming from you,” he snorted as he sat on the sofa, Jon immediately sitting down next to him.

 “What are you thinking about?”  

“Nothing,” Gendry shrugged, though Jon immediately looked unconvinced. He sighed, giving in. “Arya.” 

Jon laughed and Gendry shoved him on the shoulder. “Come on, mate, we were only teasing.”

“I know.”

“Everything is alright with you and Arya?” Jon asked, apparently taking Gendry’s attitude as a response to their bet.  

Part of him wanted to tell Jon the truth, but even if he thought it was a good idea, he knew it wasn’t his place. He may have been his friend, but he was Arya’s brother. Her favourite brother. 

When he didn’t answer, Jon continued. “You two haven’t had a row, have you?”

“No, no, of course not.” 

“Good, I don’t want to have to beat you up already,” Jon quipped. 

Gendry snorted. “Was expecting you to do that as soon as you found out we were dating.”

“Never been the brightest, have you?” Jon laughed. “I can see how happy you make her. Everyone can see it." 

It was like a bad joke, how easily everyone who apparently knew them so well believed that. 

“I was genuinely worried you’d hate me, you know.” 

“You love her, Gendry. Why would I hate you for that?”

Bad joke. Really, really, bad joke.

“Good point.” 

Jon laughed. “You two are perfect for each other. Hence why you talk about her all the bloody time.”

Maybe they definitely had a point. He wasn’t sorry.

__________________

“This is the venue I told you about,”  

Sansa was sat on the floor, her back pressed to the sofa that Arya was laying on. The coffee table in front of Sansa looked like someone had vomited Pinterest all over it - was covered in bridal magazines, notes and Sansa’s laptop;  on the screen, an old castle that was now a popular wedding venue. 

Arya sat up on the sofa, looking over her sister’s shoulder. “Where is that?”

“Acorn Hall.”

“Looks nice,” Arya shrugged, laying back down.

“Except for the fact there’s a two year waiting list, minimum,” Sansa sighed, before she glanced back at Arya and smirked. “Maybe we should reserve a spot for you and Gendry instead.”

“Oh yeah, because that’s a normal thing to do,” Arya rolled her eyes. “Date a guy for three months, book a wedding venue.” 

Sansa laughed. “Please yourself then. Point is I don’t want to wait another two years to marry Theon.” 

“So, what are you looking at? Next summer?” 

“January.” 

“January?” Arya’s eyes widened. “That’s six months from now, Sansa. Can you even plan a wedding in six months?” 

“Arya, please, of course I can.” 

Benefits of being a multi-millionaire socialite with a high profile and degree in event management.

Arya didn’t particularly like weddings. She’d been dragged to more than one against her will over the years and had never enjoyed a single one. Of course she’d been over the moon for Robb and Margaery when they’d got married, as she would be for Sansa and Theon, but weddings made her want to vomit most of the time. She had no interest and never saw the appeal in spending so much money on one single day, on things that didn’t even matter.

“Well, if that’s what you want.”

“Look, I know you’re not a big fan of all this lovey dovey stuff,” Sansa sighed, tapping her pen against her magazine. “So I do appreciate you humouring me.”

“I don’t mind,” She shrugged. “Just don’t try and make me wear pink.”

They both laughed, going back to flicking through the magazines. Arya was just about to ask what kind of idiot would think personalised napkins was something worth spending money on, when Sansa spoke again.

“You know Rickon’s already asked me if he’ll be able to bring a date?”

Arya laughed. “Seriously? Who’s he planning on bringing?”

“I don’t know. Not sure I want to know,” Sansa sighed, bringing her cup of coffee to her lips. “At least I don’t have to worry about who your date will be.”

Oh. Not a hurdle Arya was expecting to have to jump over.

“Well, you know…”Arya trailed off, quickly scrambling to find words that weren’t please don't invite my boyfriend to your wedding, we're scheduled to break up before the rehearsal dinner.

Sansa frowned in suspicion. “No, I don’t know.”

“It’s just still early, that’s all.” 

“You’ve been together for three months, Arya,” Sansa said, standing up off the floor. She motioned for Arya to lift her legs up off the sofa, and Arya begrudgingly did just that, so she sat down.  

“Exactly.”

Sansa furrowed her eyebrows together, tilting her head slightly in that way Arya knew she’d try and psychoanalyse her. “You don’t think you and Gendry will last, is that what you’re saying?”

“That’s not what I’m saying, no.”

“I see the way he looks at you, you know. It’s like you’re the only woman he’s ever laid eyes on.”

“Yeah?” She let out a laugh. It was quite sweet, really, how Sansa was telling her what she thought she wanted to hear. Actually, a lot of people seemed to think she wanted to hear how Gendry looked at her.

Sansa smiled. “Yeah.”

“Look, all I said was that it’s still fresh. We’ve only been together-” Arya prayed Sansa wouldn’t notice how she paused to remember how long she’d apparently been in a relationship. “- three months.” 

“Yeah, well, you two are really good together,” Sansa shrugged. “He’s on our family holiday for one, sharing your bed. How did you convince Mum to let that happen, anyway?” 

“I didn’t convince her to let it happen. She just.. let it,” Arya said. “Trust me, I was surprised as you are.”

“She just let him share your room? Already?” Sansa huffed. “That’s weird.” 

Thankfully for Arya, Margaery and Catelyn entered with even more bridal magazines and supplier catalogues. Which just left Arya grateful that she didn’t have to discuss her sleeping arrangements any further - and wondering how many bridal magazines there actually were in existence.

________________

The last few days of their holiday went by in the blink of an eye and Arya could barely believe how easy it had been to keep her family at arm’s length. Nobody suspected that there was a single thing out of place with her and Gendry’s relationship. It was quite amusing to her, actually, how easy it was. But then again, she found it so easy to pretend to have feelings for Gendry that she’d almost started to believe it herself.  

It was their last evening, and Ned and Catelyn had gone out for a night to meet some friends, so the villa was left to the Stark siblings and their respective other halves. 

Plus a lot of alcohol. 

The alcohol was certainly to blame for Arya climbing onto Gendry’s lap and throwing her arms around his neck. Apparently, Gendry’s lap was something that drunk Arya enjoyed quite a bit. But he was comfy, and from the way his cheeks were red and his arms were tight around her waist, he had no complaints.

“I forgot to tell you, those new flats across the street from my place are available to rent now,” Jon said to Gendry. 

“Why would he care about that? He already has a flat,” Arya scoffed, not bothering to lift her head from Gendry’s shoulder to look at her brother.

“I was thinking about moving, that’s all,” Gendry answered her question with a shrug. 

Arya frowned. He hadn’t told her that. Why hadn’t he told her that and why did it bother her that he hadn’t told her that?  

“Weren’t you thinking of moving out of Mum and Dad’s, Arya?” Sansa asked, twirling her straw around between her perfectly manicured fingers.

“Oh Gods, you’re not moving in with each other, are you?” Jon said, voice suddenly far higher than it was a few moments ago.

“Neither of them are that stupid, Jon,” Robb butted in.

Arya was about to argue that when Sansa did it for her - a perfectly manicured finger now pointing at Robb. “Uh, no, why would that make them stupid?”

“It’s too fast,” Robb said, Margaery immediately shoving him in the arm. “They’ve only been together for three months!”

“You proposed to me after three months,” Margaery said.

“Guys, we’re not-” Gendry tried to butt in, to very little success.

Robb rolled his eyes. “You’re not helping, my love.”

“Good, I’m not trying to help,” Margaery laughed, before gesturing to Gendry and Arya. “I’m on their side here. If you two need anyone to decorate, I’m available.” 

“Oh, me too!” Sansa practically sang. What the hell had she put in those cocktails? “That’ll be so fun, Arya!”

“Yeah, yeah, that would be lovely, but-” Arya tried and failed to cut across.

 Jon looked like Gendry had just kicked his puppy. “I can’t believe you asked me to keep an eye out for a place for you to move in with my sister.”

“I didn’t-”

“How come they’re allowed to move in together after two months but I was barely allowed to talk to my future wife in public for two years?” 

“Don’t make this worse, Theon,” Jon said, burying his head in his hands.

“Hey! Don’t take it out on him,” yelled Sansa. 

Arya’s eyes fluttered closed, the alcohol well and truly having gone to her head. She sighed in content against his neck, and she guessed she breathed over a ticklish spot as she felt him shiver despite the warm temperature.  

“Have I ever told you that you smell really nice?” Arya whispered against his neck, eyes still closed, ignoring the familiar yelling and laughing going on around her. She wasn’t listening but she were pretty sure they’d moved on from the scandal that was her and Gendry’s alleged moving in together anyway.

Gendry laughed. She loved his laugh. “I don’t think you have, actually.”

“Hmm. Well, you do,” She sighed, lifting her head. She looked at him for a second, eyebrows knitting together in thought. “When we move in together, can we get a dog?”

Gendry tilted his head up, an amused grin across his features, and pressed a kiss to her cheek. She couldn’t even help the smile that spread across her face when he did so, couldn’t help but feel her stomach jump at his touch. She knew that wasn’t just the alcohol talking.

“Anything you want,” he whispered. 

“Promise?”

Gendry snorted. “I promise.”

She hummed quietly. She didn't hate the idea. Either she was drunk or she was losing her mind. Perhaps both.

“Ugh, we need more wine!” Margaery said, pointing her empty glass in Robb’s direction.

“I’ll go.”

Arya shifted in Gendry’s lap, letting her arms fall down his chest as she pushed herself up. He held onto her arm as she stood up, as if he was frightened she was about to fall flat on her face, and she could still feel his eyes burning into her as she walked away. She wasn’t sure when she’d kicked her shoes off, but she was already halfway to the kitchen when she realised she was barefoot. It made her laugh quite a bit more than it might have had she been sober.

She soon found her way to the kitchen, where she found Catelyn. Her mother was sitting at the marble island in the centre of the kitchen, clutching a half-full glass of red wine in her hand. “Mum? When did you get back?”

Catelyn didn’t answer her, just took a long swig from her glass. Arya frowned - Catelyn Stark was hardly known for being short of words. Especially not at her youngest daughter’s expense. Arya didn’t get a good feeling, and she suddenly felt very sober. “Where’s Dad?” 

“He’s still in the car, taking a phone call,” Catelyn said, looking up to meet Arya’s eyes. The closer Arya got, the more she recognised the look on Catelyn’s face as one she never enjoyed. 

“Oh, right, well I just came in to get some more drinks so-” 

“Whatever silly little game you’re playing here, it needs to stop.” 

Arya froze. “I’m not playing any game.”

Catelyn laughed, though it was completely void of any humour. “Why are you doing this, Arya?”

“Doing what?” 

“You and Gendry,” Catelyn said. “Why?”

Oh. Arya tried her best to keep her face neutral, to stay as casual as she had ever been. She’d been suspicious for weeks now that Catelyn knew the truth, so it didn’t come as that much of a surprise to Arya that she’d been right. She had just assumed Rickon hadn’t mentioned her quip about having her own room with Gendry. 

In truth, she hadn’t given it much thought, what with most of thoughts taken up by a distractingly handsome, nice smelling man she was getting into bed with every night. 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Arya said, moving to walk past by her mother, who quickly blocked her. If Catelyn wanted answers, Arya decided she’d have to ask her questions out loud first. 

“Arya..” 

“I want to be with him and he wants to be with me,” Arya cut across, spinning back to face her. “I’m sorry if that’s too hard for you to believe, Mum.”

“Stop lying to me,” Catelyn gritted her teeth, before she suck in a breath and smoothed down her skirt. Arya hated it when she did that, as if all their problems could be smoothed away as if they didn’t exist - so long as they kept up appearances.

Ironic, really, she thought. 

“I’m not lying to you,” Arya shrugged.

“Yes you are. You and Gendry aren’t a real couple, are you?”

Of course. Of course. “I knew that you knew.” 

“Gods, what were you thinking? And to think your Father let you do this.”

“He told you then?” Arya asked, crossing her arms over her chest defensively.  “Why are you so bothered? You wanted me to think of our reputation.”

“How does this help our reputation?” Catelyn asked, raising an eyebrow in what Arya knew was judgement.  

“You’ve been begging me for years to clean up my act, meet a nice man, behave myself. That’s exactly what I’ve done and it’s still not good enough for you.” 

“Because it’s all a lie. I thought maybe you were finally growing up, but this is just another one of your stunts.”

Arya tried to keep her cool, but she could feel herself getting more and more annoyed by the minute, the vast amount of alcohol in her system not at all helping. 

“All I’ve done is give us good publicity, which is all you care about anyway.”

Catelyn pinched the bridge of her nose. “At some point, this... this relationship has to end. Then what?”

“Then it ends.” 

Saying the words out loud made her chest hurt. 

The thought of not seeing him every day, not even being able to speak to him, made her sick. But there would be no way around it; they agreed a few months, then they’d go back to half-knowing each other through other people. She’d have to see him at events and parties, probably with other girls. How long would it take before she logged onto social media and saw him with someone else? Would it hurt as much as even the thought of it did right now?

Stupid, she thought. Gendry probably couldn’t wait to get away from her and back to his normal, bachelor life.

“How does it end, Arya?” Catelyn asked and Arya didn’t want to answer. So, she didn’t.

Instead, she picked up two bottles of wine off the table and silently turned to walk back outside. 

“When I asked you to do this, you refused,” Catelyn sighed. Arya froze, and slowly turned back around to look at her mother. “I could have set up a public relationship for you and you wouldn’t let me - you wouldn’t even consider it. Instead, you chose to run off to Braavos for months on end and further humiliate this family with your antics.”

Arya quickly realised what Catelyn's actual problem was. She didn't care that it was a lie - it wasn't a good enough lie. She shouldn't be surprised - nothing Arya did was ever good enough.

“This was my choice,” Arya said. “That’s the difference. That and the fact I can actually stand Gendry.”

Understatement of the year, really. 

“Ned Dayne was a far more respectable option for you than Robert’s love child.”

It never took long for Catelyn’s inner snob to come out, but even Arya was impressed with her this time. Cat had no problem with Gendry, yet she still couldn’t resist making some comment that made her sound as if she belonged in medieval times. Love child.

“I’m going to pretend you didn’t just say that,” Arya said.

“It’ll end in disaster, Arya.”

She didn’t give her mother a chance to say another word before she walked out of the kitchen.

She plastered on her best false smile as she rejoined her siblings out in the garden, passing both bottles of wine to Margaery for her sister in law to spread out.

“I was worried you’d got lost,” Gendry smirked, holding out his hand towards her. Her smile quickly fell into a genuine one as she took his hand, sitting back down on his lap and making herself comfortable.

“I really like you, you know,” she whispered, raising her hand to his cheek. 

He laughed and she realised he probably thought she was just putting on a show again. She wished he wasn’t so stupid, or blind, or if he just liked her the way she liked him. 

“Yeah, I really like you too,” He said, rubbing his hand gently against her leg.  

She wanted to kiss him - properly this time. She wanted to drag him away to where nobody could see them, and kiss him until he got the damn hint that she wanted him more than she’d ever wanted anyone. 

Instead, she rested her head against his chest, focusing on the sound of his heart beating that she hoped would drown out her mother’s words.

It’ll end in disaster.  

Chapter Text

A week had passed since their return from Highgarden. Arya was on her way home from a magazine interview - her first since publicly getting together with Gendry. More than one of the Westerosi press outlets had been hounding both of them for interviews since the day rumours started, but apparently keeping their relationship ‘low key’ for the first few months was a good strategic move. To appear mysterious and intriguing, if nothing else. If people didn’t know the truth, there was plenty of room to speculate beyond their wildest dreams. The truth was usually pretty boring in comparison.

But, their relationship was all but confirmed now so Arya had her arm twisted into doing a photoshoot and interview spread for one of the best selling magazines in Westeros. 

It was the first time either of them had officially spoken to the press about their so called relationship. She’d been briefed several times beforehand by their PR team - what to say, what not to say, how to say it. As if she didn’t know what she was doing. 

Still, she stuck to their instructions and kept things simple. Spoke about how lucky she was to have him, how lovely and kind and gentle he was, how he made her feel like the only girl in the world. The reporter asked her all kinds of sappy questions - the most romantic thing he’d done for her, the most romantic thing she’d done for him. For every single question she was asked, Arya had a perfect answer prepared and rehearsed. 

Yet, with every word that came out of her mouth, her mother’s words echoed in her ears. It’ll end in disaster, she’d said, and Arya hadn’t been able to stop thinking about the possibility that she may be right.

It scared her - she knew Catelyn wouldn’t say anything, she’d never risk the public humiliation she presumed it would bring on the family if people found out the truth. Gods forbid anyone thought the Starks were anything but modest and clean - Catelyn would have a fit if she even caught a whiff of the word desperate being thrown around in regards to her daughter. 

No, what frightened Arya the most about her mother’s words was the chance of them being true. She hadn’t had to face up to what would happen after this was all over, and Catelyn’s assured insistence that it would be a disaster was like a slap in the face to Arya. 

The consequences of bad press or a worsening reputation was the least of her worries. But she worried about her friendship with Gendry - if the entire world thought they were exes, it would be odd for them to be anywhere near each other. Sure, there was definitely a way to spin it to the public that they remained close friends post-break up, but it would still be a lie. The lie would follow them forever.

As soon as she got home, Arya headed straight upstairs, ignoring Catelyn’s calls from the kitchen - she had the silent treatment down to a tee by now and Arya could be as stubborn as anything. Locking her bedroom door behind her, she fell on the bed.

She spent the rest of the evening trying to distract herself with any little thing. Anything that would make her think about anything but Gendry.

Binge watched a new show on Netflix that Gendry would have found hilariously dumb, tidied her room and found the newspaper clipping of her and Gendry from the night that started it all, ran herself a bubble bath and laughed remembering him walking in on her in Highgarden. 

Nothing could get him out of her head. 

Eventually she decided to just try and get an early night, but even that ended up being difficult. She tossed and turned in bed for what felt like hours on end. Even after a whole week of being back in her own bed at home, she still couldn’t get used to sleeping without Gendry. She missed having his arms around her as she slept, missed feeling him breathing against her as she woke up, missed knowing he was right there next to her. Her bed felt cold and empty, and she longed to be next to him again. 

Right now though, she just really wanted to hear his voice. A part of her wondered if he was thinking about her the way that she was thinking about him. She wondered if he was finding it as strange as she was to be falling asleep and waking up alone. There had been more than one occasion over the past week where she’d considered asking him, but she chickened out each and every time. If he’d said no, if he’d laughed her off, she didn’t know how she’d be able handle it.  

It would feel like much more of a rejection that it had any right to be, as far as Arya was concerned. 

She picked up her phone from her bedside table, before rolling onto her back. It was nearly midnight now - maybe he would still be awake. But would he think it was weird if she phoned him at this time of night? He might panic and think there was something wrong. It wasn’t as if she had a habit of ringing him - or anyone, for that matter - but she wanted to hear his voice. She couldn’t explain it any other way other than wanting to hear his voice. 

But he would probably be sleeping and she didn’t want to wake him up. She thought of how his voice sounded when he woke up - throaty, and tired, and rough. She thought of that lazy lopsided grin he’d give her as he came around, and how messily his hair would fall to his face as he sat up. She wished she could be there with him when he woke up.

She typed out a message, deleted it, typed it out again, deleted it. Typed out a different message, deleted it. That went on for far longer than Arya was proud of, until she threw her phone down on the bed with a loud huff, covering her face with her hands.

Suddenly, her phone lit up. She smiled, her breath catching in her throat as she saw his name pop up on her screen. 

Gendry: Hey. You still awake?

For a second she just stared at the text message in disbelief, blinked harshly a few times to make sure she hadn’t fallen asleep, before sending the most casual sounding message she could.

Arya: hey, yeah i am

Gendry: Oh good, I was worried I’d wake you. 

Arya: well i’d have to kill you if you did that so luckily for you here i am

Arya: you alright? 

Gendry: I’m good, how’d the interview go today? 

Arya: it was good - you are the perfect boyfriend, now publicly confirmed by me 

Gendry: Glad you were able to speak your truth

Gendry: Sorry I didn’t text earlier. Day’s been crazy

Arya: oh yeah? anything exciting? 

Gendry: I got everything sorted with my new apartment. I can move in from next week.

Arya: that’s amazing!! let me know when and i’ll come help you  

Gendry: Thanks Stark. Don’t know what I’d do without you ;) 

Arya smiled, grey eyes scanning over his last message one too many times. She didn’t want to look too far into his words, didn’t want to think about it too much. Although, convincing herself not to overthink things that Gendry had done or said was becoming a bit of a bad habit for her these days. She wondered if he knew what he was doing and just saw it as harmless flirting, or if he really was just completely clueless - or if his flirting was just her seeing what she wanted to see.

They text back and forth for a little while longer, before wishing each other good night. When Arya turned over, it still wasn’t the same - she still longed to have his arms around her - but her heart felt lighter knowing he was thinking about her too.

________________________

It didn’t take long for Gendry to move in. His new apartment was about a ten minute drive and he didn’t have that much stuff to be loaded in and out of the removals van. Once all of Gendry’s belongings were in the new place, he had help from Arya, Jon, and Shireen to get everything sorted. Which might have happened a lot quicker if Arya hadn’t spent most of the day poking fun at every little thing that she found. 

“Is this you?” She’d asked, holding up an old photo of Gendry as a very messy, badly dressed child. When he’d nodded, she’d laughed so loud he thought the new neighbours might put in the first noise complaint. “Oh, look at how cute you were! What happened?” 

She’d sat there for a good twenty minutes, looking through the small collection of photos that he had - with running commentary entirely for his benefit, of course. When she’d picked up one of his mother as a young woman - taken a few years before she had him, he’d guess - he expected her to ask who it was, but she didn’t. She eyed it carefully for a few moments, before placing it down gently on the table.

When she noticed him watching her, she stood up and gave him a warm smile. “You look like her.” 

Gendry knew that must have been a lie - everyone always told him how he was the image of Robert, with the sparkling blue eyes and heavy mop of black hair. He’d always hated it, knowing it only made it easier for people to believe he was like his father in other ways. He wasn’t.

Nobody had ever said he had anything of his mother’s. But there was something so kind in Arya’s eyes, something so loving in her voice. As if she knew what he was thinking - perhaps his face gave it away, or perhaps she really did just know him that well now - she closed the gap between them and raised her arm to gently graze the tips of her fingers along his jaw.

“You have her smile.” 

Jon had come into the room at that very moment, uttering something about waiting until he was gone, though Gendry barely heard a word of it, too lost in her eyes to care. 

She went back to mocking the rest of his belongings after that - she’d found one of his old university hoodies and immediately shoved it over her head, just for it to completely engulf her. 

“It’s comfy. You might have to fight me to get it off me,” she’d shrugged, and it had taken every inch of self restraint that he had to not tell her how he’d prefer to take it off her.  

He already knew the image of her in his clothes would be stuck on his mind for a very, very long time - no doubt it was going to get him through many a lonely night from now on.

“We’re still on for dinner tonight, yeah?” Gendry asked as he cleared the last of the boxes. Arya nodded, leaning up to give him a kiss on the cheek that lingered ever so slightly, her hand softly caressing the barely there stubble on his other cheek.

“See you then,” Arya whispered with a smile, letting her hand fall from her face as she stepped backwards towards the front door. 

He wasn’t sure how long he was stood there, eyes drilling into the front door long after it closed, as if staring would make her reappear. His brain was flooded with the soft coconut scent of her hair and the lingering feel of her lips against his skin. 

“Gendry?”  

He whipped his head round to see Shireen sat on the sofa, watching him in amusement. He’d forgotten she was still here - it wasn’t surprising to him, he’d more than grown used to Arya distracting him without even trying. 

Feeling a bit awkward about what his little cousin had clearly just witnessed, he cleared his throat and headed to the sofa. “Yeah?” 

“You read this?” 

Shireen passed him the magazine with Arya on the cover. The photoshoot was fairly natural, and she still looked like herself.  

She looked beautiful, Gendry thought. But she always looked beautiful, whether she was on the cover of a magazine, fresh out of the shower, or tackling Rickon to the ground in football. Arya was just a beautiful person and it took very little for her to get his heart racing.

Arya describing him as the sweetest guy in the world, describing herself as the luckiest girl in the world, also did the trick on his poor heart.

“It’s a nice interview. She talks very highly of you,” Shireen said. “I’ve been friends with Arya for years and I’ve never heard her talk about anyone like that.”

Gendry pressed his lips together in a straight line, trying not to give in to the grin threatening to break onto his face. 

“I know you’re not actually together,” Shireen said out of nowhere. “I know that you’ve fallen for her anyway.” 

Gendry snapped his head towards her, eyes wide with shock. “What are you-” Gendry paused, immediately recognising the look on Shireen’s face warning him not to bother trying to lie to her. “How did you-”

“Arya’s as smart as she thinks she is,” Shireen shrugged. “You’re not.”

Gendry didn’t know what to say to that. He’d spent two weeks with the Starks and none of them had clocked what was going on  - if any of Arya’s siblings had any suspicions about the nature of his and Arya’s relationship, none of them confronted them about it. He knew that was because none of them were suspicious.

Yet Shireen was sat here, looking at him as if she’d just told him two plus two is four. He was not prepared for this and Gods, couldn’t she have done this whilst Arya was still here? She was a much better liar, she might have been able to talk her way out of it for the both of them. 

Gendry, on the other hand, decided to not even try.

“You can’t tell anyone,” Gendry rushed to point out, thinking of what the consequences would be if this got out. Thinking about how Arya would kill him if he didn’t even try to keep this secret buried. “I mean it, Shireen, nobody can know.”

“Stop worrying, I know how to keep a secret,” she sighed, tucking her feet beneath her legs. “Come on, then. How much does she know about how you actually feel about her?”

Gendry looked down at his feet, sucking in a breath. He felt pretty embarrassed about the fact that he was too much of a coward to tell Arya how he feels. Luckily for him, he didn’t have to admit that out loud, because Shireen - family genius and all that, clearly a nickname she was more than worthy of - quickly picked up on it.

Oh. Oh, she doesn’t know anything?” She raised her eyebrows and Gendry stayed silent. “Huh. Maybe she’s not as smart as I give her credit for.”

“She is smart,” Gendry blurted, snapping his head back up to look at his younger cousin. “She is. I just haven’t had the guts to tell her the truth.” 

“Why not?” 

“Because she doesn’t feel the same way,” Gendry sighed. “And we’ve got to be around each other in a very romantic way for the next few months. I don’t want to make her uncomfortable.” 

“You know you’re my favourite cousin, but you’re an absolute moron,” Shireen rolled her eyes, though her smile proved there was no cruelty in her words. There never was. 

“Why am I a moron?” 

“You really can’t see how she feels about you, can you? I’ll give you a hint, Gendry - it’s the exact same way you feel about her.”

Gendry studied her face, full of truth and hope and a tiny bit of exasperation. She wasn’t lying to make him feel better or trying to give him false hope - no, she was telling the truth. But she must have been wrong, surely?

Arya didn’t have feelings for him. She couldn’t have, she would have said something.

Then again, he hadn’t said anything and he’d recognised his feelings for her ages ago.

She was the one who broke the no kissing rule. Then there was all those other times where he swore she was looking at him funny, or when it genuinely felt like she was going to kiss him, despite the fact there was nobody else around.

Maybe Shireen was right. Maybe he stood a chance with Arya for real. He didn't know what to do with that information.

“You should tell her,” Shireen said. “Please tell her.”

Gendry sighed. “I can’t.”

“Tonight at dinner,” Shireen said sternly as she stood up. “Tell her how you feel about her, Gendry. Now. If you don’t, you’ll regret it.”

______________________________

Gendry wished he’d taken Arya somewhere a bit more romantic. But when he’d suggested they catch up properly with a date night a few days ago, he’d told her she could choose. At the time, he had not been planning to confess his true feelings for her. He hadn't been planning on confessing anything, ever, until Shireen got involved. Damn his cousin for being so bloody smart all the time.

True to form really, Arya had chosen a small diner just outside of the city, known for their burgers and milkshakes. In all fairness to her, she just thought this evening was another subtle (apparently) public appearance. She was not aware that he was about to pour his heart out to her - seven hells, he hadn’t even been aware that he was going to do so until four hours ago.

From what he’d seen in all those cheesy rom coms, big heartfelt gestures usually happened over steak and wine or strawberries and champagne. But Arya always made fun of those movies anyway, so maybe this would be more her style. 

Gendry also knew that Shireen was right and he couldn’t get it out of his head now - he needed to tell Arya how he really felt. He needed to do it now, before he could come up with any excuses not to tell her. 

He knew how he felt about her. He knew that he wanted to tell her. It was important that they were honest with each other, that they could trust each other. It wasn't as if he was going to get down on one knee or anything, he just needed to be honest with her, tell her that his fake feelings for her didn't feel so fake anymore. He would tell her that it was fine that she didn't feel the same way, tell her he completely understood if she needed to take a step back or just stop this altogether. He prayed to every bloody God that there was that she wouldn't say that, but he'd accept it if she did.

He was trying to tell himself that it wasn't a big deal. Trying to tell him that this wasn't life or death, the worst thing that could happen was Arya rejecting him - which was absolutely no comfort at all, but it was what people in those cheesy movies usually said so he was running with it.  

“Are you alright?” Arya asked, popping a french fry in her mouth. 

He was trying to be subtle, but from the half amused and half curious look on her face, he wasn’t doing a particularly good job of it. She obviously knew that something was up with him, but he highly doubted she knew what. 

“Yeah, yeah, fine,” He said, lowering his hands under the table to try and stop fidgeting. 

Arya cocked an eyebrow. “You sure? You seem nervous.”

He laughed - very obviously nervous. “Why would I be nervous?”

“You tell me.”

He opened his mouth to speak, but a couple of seconds of her eyes on his and he flat out bottled it. She was the most beautiful woman he’d ever laid eyes on; everything about her was enthralling to him and in that moment he couldn’t see a single reason why this all consuming, fierce storm of a woman would want him back.  

Luckily for him, she didn’t press him any further about it. Which was unlike her, but he was hardly going to question it when the last thing he wanted was for her to question him back. 

He’d spent hours going over what he was going to say to her and now his brain felt like mush. He didn’t want to screw this up, make her uncomfortable - Gods, he couldn’t think of anything worse than ruining what they had.

It may not have been entirely what he wanted anymore, but the friendship that had blossomed between the two of them over the course of the last few months had been the last thing he’d have ever expected. He didn’t know what he would do without it - or, more specifically, without her. The thought made him sick.

She’d gone back to her meal, seemingly more focused on her cheeseburger than anything he had to say.  

“Actually, there is something,” Gendry spat, and she raised her eyes immediately. “Something that I wanted to talk to you about.”

Arya sat up a bit straighter in her seat then, eyes focused on his face and he suddenly felt as if he was under interrogation. The confusion that was quietly etched onto her features almost made him feel guilty - causing her to worry, even for a matter of seconds, wasn’t the way he wanted to start this. 

“It’s nothing bad, I promise,” he chuckled, though there was very little humour and more anxiety. “At least, I don’t think it’s bad, anyway. I hope it’s not bad.”

He wasn’t good at talking. He wasn’t good at talking about his feelings. Never had been, never will be. Arya Stark was the only person alive who could get him stuttering over his own words to tell her he was falling in love with her, that much was for certain 

“Look, I know what we agreed but- well things change, don’t they?” Gendry fell over his own words, stopping to take a deep breath as he tried to work up the courage to just tell her how he felt about her. “And things have changed for me, Arya-”

“-Arya?”

Arya’s eyes flickered to the voice behind him, and Gendry snapped his head up, mouth still agape. But before he could say another word, the owner of the mysterious voice was stood right in front of him - a young man with long blond hair, grinning down at Arya as if their meeting was a joke nobody else in the room was let in on.  

“Ned..” Arya breathed after a moment and Gendry could immediately tell she was uncomfortable. Whatever it was about this man’s - Ned, apparently - sudden appearance that made her uncomfortable, Gendry didn’t like it. Didn’t like him. 

All that Ned had done was say Arya’s name, but that was enough for an irrational immediate hatred of a complete stranger as far as Gendry was concerned. 

Arya looked shocked, almost horrified even, and that was definitely enough reason for Gendry to hate a man he’d first laid eyes on all of three seconds ago.  

Never mind the fact he’d been so close. So close to telling her he was falling in love with her.

So, so close. 

Chapter Text

Gendry didn’t know what was going on but it was awkward, and uncomfortable, and he really needed this Ned to piss off. As in, immediately.

There was something about the way this arsehole (yes, he’d only said one single word, no Gendry didn’t care - he was an arsehole) was grinning down at Arya as if he could eat her for breakfast if he wanted to. There was something about his eyes, dark and blue and smug.

He didn’t know how eyes could be smug, really, but they were. The bloke’s entire demeanor absolutely stunk of smugness to Gendry.

The fact he’d only said one word was starting to irritate Gendry. Ned and Arya were just looking at each other, Arya’s obvious discomfort and confusion by his presence only adding to Gendry’s irrational dislike of him. 

“What are you doing here?” Arya asked, and Gendry thought for a second that she sounded as if she already knew the answer to that question.

Ned sat down then. Ned sat down next to Arya.

Was it legal to punch someone in the face because they sat down next to your not-girlfriend? If it wasn’t then it should be. 

Gendry just wanted to finish his sentence. That was all he wanted. He wanted to tell Arya that he had feelings for her and he wanted to know if she could ever feel the same way about him. 

But, apparently, good old Ned here had other ideas about that. 

“Just getting a bite to eat,” Ned smiled. Gendry thought the other man had a slimy smile, as if he was in on some big horrible secret that he was keeping to himself just for fun. “Gods, Arya, it’s been forever. How are you?”

Arya’s eyes flicked over to him, just for half a second, but he caught it all the same. “I’m great. On a date. With my boyfriend.”

Her eyes flicked back to him, but this time they stayed on him, and he didn’t even try to stop himself from smirking. But it didn’t last long as he realised how coldly she was looking at him - she didn’t have that mischievous glint in her eye, she wasn’t obviously trying to hold back a laugh, or giving him that look that meant he was the only person in the room who knew the truth behind her words.  

Something was off.

He didn’t have time to think it through, before there was a hand shoved in front of his face.

“It’s Gendry, isn’t it?” Ned grinned, hand still outstretched in mid air.

Begrudgingly, Gendry reached out and shook his hand. “Yeah.”

“I’m Ned,” his voice was too enthusiastic, the same as his hand shake. 

Ned turned his full attention back to Arya then - Arya who now just looked mortified. 

“Look, Ned, we were sort of in the middle of something here,” Gendry said.

“Your date, yeah, sorry,” Ned said, not bothering to turn to look at Gendry despite the fact it was his very polite statement he was responding to. “I just couldn’t believe it when I saw you over here, Arya. It’s been so long. Gods, what has it been? Two years?”

“Yeah, something like that,” Arya said, her lips curling up into a smile.

Ned certainly didn’t seem to catch the hesitance in her body language, but Gendry knew that smile was forced. He also knew that it wasn’t like Arya to force smiles for just anyone. 

So why was she forcing smiles for Ned Dayne?

“Good times.”

“Yeah.”

Gendry looked back and forth between the two of them in utter bewilderment. Arya looked awkward, her eyes staring blankly at the table in front of her and her lips pressed together in a straight line, whilst Ned was still grinning from ear to ear.

“Shame you decided to come back to Westeros,” Ned sighed. “Braavos suited you.”

“My entire family’s here, Ned,” Arya said. “I was always planning on coming back.”

“Right,” Ned nodded. “Have you ever been to Braavos, Gendry?”

Gendry snapped his head up, sitting up straighter in his seat and pulling his shoulders back. “Can’t say I have, no.”

“That’s a shame, it’s beautiful,” Ned said, turning back to Arya and nudging her shoulder. “I still have my penthouse out there, you know.”

“That’s nice,” Arya said, sarcasm dripping from her voice.

Ned paused, sighing way louder than necessary. “So, are you guys coming to that charity gala next weekend?”

“I don’t know,” Arya said. Gendry assumed that was the truth - he didn’t know anything about any charity gala, but then again, he hardly paid attention to what PR told them these days. “Maybe.”

“Well, hopefully I’ll see you there,” Ned said, smiling down at Arya as if Gendry wasn’t glaring into his soul opposite him. “You still have my number, Arya, don’t you? You stopped answering my calls before.”

Arya cleared her throat, before shooting Ned a tight-lipped sneering smile. “I’m sure I do.” 

“Oh, okay, great,” Ned said, moving to stand up from the booth. “Well, I’ll leave the two of you to it. Nice finally meeting you, Gendry.”

“Yeah, pleasure,” Gendry grumbled under his breath. 

“Arya, I hope I don’t have to wait two years to see you again,” Ned’s eyes lingered on her for far longer than Gendry liked. It was a bit weird actually, considering she hadn’t even answered him. Gendry cleared his throat, and Ned finally seemed to take the hint. 

He watched the arrogant prick finally walk away (though it was more of a strut) and mentally patted himself on the back for his self restraint in not smacking him in the mouth.

“Sorry about that,” Arya said, not quite meeting his eye.

“Not your fault.”

Arya looked up at him properly and it was then that Gendry realised her discomfort hadn’t faded even after Ned had left. 

“You were going to say something, before he…” Arya nodded towards the direction Ned had just walked off to. “Before he came over here, you were about to tell me something.”

Gendry’s breath got stuck in his throat. It wasn’t the time, not now.

Right now, his blood was still boiling from watching that idiot practically drool over Arya. He hated the fact that she hadn’t told him to piss off the second he sat down next to her. She wasn’t exactly famous for her manners or her patience, so why didn’t she tell him where to go?

He couldn’t bare thinking about the possible answers to that question. He’d probably drive himself mad if he did - and he had no right to be jealous, but he definitely was.

“Was I?” He frowned, playing dumb. When she nodded expectantly in response, he shrugged. “Can’t even remember what it was now. Do you fancy dessert?”

___________________

The twenty minute drive back to Gendry’s new apartment was just awkward. Their silences hadn’t been uncomfortable in ages, if ever, yet Arya felt as if there was something weird in the air between them. As if there was something they should have been talking about, but neither of them were brave enough to start the conversation.

So, they just sat there. In silence. 

At least he’d turned the radio on as if that was going to make it easier to pretend everything was fine.

“I can take you home, if you want,” Gendry said out of nowhere, as he reached the set of traffic lights. The next junction would either take him to his apartment or the Stark family home.

“Do you mind me coming to yours?” She asked suspiciously, quirking an eyebrow.

He scoffed, letting out a laugh that was so quiet she only just heard it over the sound of the radio. “Of course I don’t mind.”

“There’s your answer then,” she shrugged, before turning back to look out of her window.

Things may have been awkward, she didn’t even want to talk to him really in fear of what he was going to say. In fear that he might finish the sentence he’d started before Ned interrupted him.

She knew what the end of that sentence was going to do. If she was right, the pettiest part of her wanted to know if he could really go through with it without the spectacle of taking her out for dinner in public where he didn’t think she would cause a scene.

If he wanted to end things with her, he could do it where he knew for sure she would tell him where to go as loud as she could.

She would have done exactly that in the diner, not a care in the world about who was listening or what the papers would say in the morning - but still, it was hilarious that he thought otherwise. She took him for a lot of things, but a coward had never been one of them.

By the time they reached his apartment, the air felt a bit lighter. He smiled at her as he let her in, and she knew it was genuine.

He was so frustrating. She wanted to hate him right now - she wanted to scream at him, wanted to tell him she didn’t want to do this anymore just so she could be the one to end it.

But she couldn’t. Deep down, she knew he wasn’t a coward and he definitely wasn’t cruel. She knew he wouldn’t want to hurt her. Could she blame him for being honest with her? Could she fault him for trying to let her down gently? Could she berate him for wanting to meet someone for real? 

Oh Gods, if he’d met someone for real. It shouldn’t have made her blood boil the way that it did, but the very thought of Gendry with some other woman for real made her want to be sick.

“Date night didn’t really go as well as planned, huh?” He said, rubbing his neck awkwardly. 

She shook her head, laughing. “Who’d have thought an ex boyfriend showing up would be such a mood killer?” 

“He’s your ex?” Gendry’s face fell all of a sudden. Arya couldn’t believe he hadn’t worked that one out for himself already.

She shrugged, moving to lean against the sofa. “Sort of.”

Whatever it was that had soured his mood since they’d left the diner, the knowledge that Ned and her had sort of dated seemed to make it even worse very quickly.

For some reason, she felt the need to explain herself. She didn’t want him to think that her and Ned were anything special.

“He was never my boyfriend, we weren’t a couple, but we were together for a bit out in Braavos.”

“Braavos?”

Arya nodded. “His uncle worked with my Dad for years and I’d met him a few times. When I was in Braavos, he messaged me and said he was coming out there for a few weeks on business. Asked me if I’d want to meet up sometime and I said yes. He was a familiar face where I didn’t know anyone else.”

Gendry snorted. “How romantic.”

“We barely dated for a few weeks, two years ago, because I was bored and he was there. It wasn’t anything serious, hardly romantic.”

“Does Ned think the same thing?

She chose to ignore the way he basically spat Ned’s name as if it was painful to roll off his tongue.

“I don’t know. I don’t care what he thinks, what I just told you is the truth,” Arya said. “We dated for a few weeks, it was fun, he’s nice, but there was no spark between the two of us. So, when he came back home, I told him exactly that. I ended it.”

“And he took it well, did he?” 

She was starting to think Gendry wasn’t a big fan of Ned’s. The suspicion in his voice just let her to believe he was distrustful of him for some reason.

“I mean, at first he tried to convince me that we could make it work… and when I came home a few months later, he tried to ask me out again. But other than that, he’s a pretty respectful guy, I suppose.”

“So, what aren’t you telling me?” Gendry raised an eyebrow.

He saw straight through her. She knew it and she didn’t know whether she loved it or hated it.

“My Mum found out.”

“So?”

“So, she somehow heard from somewhere that he’d asked me out and I’d rejected him,” Arya said with a roll of her eyes. “I still don’t know how, I never told her, but someone did. I had to tell her about seeing him in Braavos then and she wanted me to make a go of things with him.”

“Why?” 

“Good publicity.”

Gendry chuckled, though there was a harshness to it that she couldn’t understand. His laugh was usually so carefree and lively that it made her heart flutter. Now, he just sounded deflated and it did nothing to her heart except break it.

“Of course,” he said, covering his face with his hands. “Of course.”

She hadn’t told him about what Catelyn had said to her that final night in Highgarden. Gendry didn’t even know that Catelyn knew the truth, as Arya had convinced both her parents to keep it to themselves so that Robert wouldn’t find out. Catelyn definitely didn’t want to, but she seemed to agree with Arya’s argument that the truth couldn’t get out at least. Her father had done the rest and it apparently had worked.

Why she didn’t want to tell Gendry was something Arya wasn’t even sure of herself. She trusted him completely - or, at least, she had until tonight. But she didn’t know how he would respond and he would only worry if he knew her mother didn’t approve of their plan. 

She definitely couldn’t tell him now, could she? She had just told him that Catelyn wanted her to date Ned Dayne solely for the good publicity it would bring. She could hardly tell him her mother didn’t approve of her doing the exact same thing with him.

“What’s so funny?” She asked, narrowing her eyes.

“It’s just - well, you’ve never mentioned it. That chasing publicity is a regular thing for you.”

She folded her arms across her chest, trying to push down the annoyance he was quickly riling up inside of her. “It’s not.”

“No surprise that you found lying so easy from the word go, really, is it?” 

“I told my Mum no,” Arya rolled her eyes. He could be so over dramatic when he was in a mood. “I didn’t agree to it, I’ve never done this with anyone apart from you.”

“Yeah, alright. Don’t matter anyway,” Gendry snorted, moving past her to sit on the sofa. 

What was his problem?

“You know - if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were jealous right now,” Arya laughed, standing and turning around to look at him. She hadn’t noticed how serious his entire body language had become - his eyes were dropped to the floor, his brows furrowed together and his lips pursed. 

Arya eyed him with caution, and the feel of her piercing gaze on him must have gotten too much as he slowly looked up to meet her eyes. 

“Oh...” Arya bit back a smile. “You are jealous. You’re jealous of Ned bloody Dayne.”

“I am not jealous of that smug little-” Gendry cut himself off, smacking his lips together. “I’m not jealous.”

“Yes you are, look at you,” Arya teased. She could barely believe this - Gendry was handsome, funny, successful. What reason did he have to be jealous of Ned Dayne?

Unless...no, that was silly. She shook the thought from her mind as quickly as it had came to her. He wouldn’t be jealous of Ned because of her - because of the relationship she shared with him.

But he genuinely looked quite angry as he sulked on the sofa, letting himself sink into the fabric as he propped his feet up onto the coffee table in a far more dramatic fashion than necessary.

“I’m not jealous,” he spat all of a sudden. “Just don’t like him.”

“You’ve met him once for all of ten seconds,” Arya frowned, sitting down next to him on the sofa. “He’s not the best at reading the room, sure, but that doesn’t give you any reason to dislike him.”

When he didn’t so much as flinch, she tugged at his arm to force him to look at her. “It definitely doesn’t give you reason to start acting like such a dick.”

She knew what he had been about to say before Ned had interrupted them back at the diner. It was obvious, wasn’t it? She could hear his words spinning around in her head, over and over again. 

At least he had the decency to seem nervous about ending… whatever this was between the two of them. She knew he’d never want to hurt her. Maybe he was such a clueless idiot that he didn’t even realise how much he was going to hurt her not to see him all the time when this was over.  

Maybe she should have been thankful for Ned’s oddly efficient ability to completely misread a room at the most awkward possible timing. Any other time, she would have told him to leave, but she’d been too distracted thinking of what she could have possibly done for Gendry to suddenly not want to see her anymore. 

But still, now Gendry was sat here sulking like a big baby. Arya wasn’t stupid, she knew jealousy when she saw it. She knew Gendry well enough by now to be able to figure out when something was bothering him.

“Gendry,” she breathed harshly, and finally his face seemed to soften almost in an instant. She didn’t know if her hurt feelings were written all over her face - she was trying desperately to make sure they weren’t - but something in the way she said his name seemed to trigger a rush of guilt in him. 

He reached over for her hands on her lap, taking them both in his much larger hands. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

Arya glanced down at their hands, his thumb gliding over her skin so tenderly. 

“You’re right,” Gendry repeated. “I’m jealous.”

“Why?” She asked, her own eyes burning into his, trying to find the answer her heart desired so badly somewhere behind his blue orbs. 

“Because..” He said, stopping himself almost immediately and tearing his eyes from hers. “Because I’m an idiot.”

“Well yeah, tell me something I don’t know,” she snapped, forcibly pulling her hands away from his. The loss of warmth that his touch brought stung her more than anything he could ever say, but she was too frustrated with him not saying anything that she couldn't bring herself to care anymore.

Arya stood from the sofa, pacing back across the living room floor to grab her bag off the table.

“Arya-”

She heard him move behind her, felt his presence approaching her and she spun around to face him.

“You have no right to be jealous. I’m not your girlfriend.”

She could tell that hurt him. Ignoring the pang of guilt in her chest, she let her fury take control of her instead - he had no right to be jealous or hurt or anything of the sort. Not when he had been just seconds away from breaking her heart, even if he was too stupid to know it.

“You’re right,” he said, though it was much quieter than she was used to. Deflated. “You’re not my girlfriend.”

As childish as she knew it was, she so badly wanted him to argue with her. Tell her he wanted her to be his girlfriend, tell her he was jealous because he wanted her. Or any other old, stupid, romantic crap - like in the movies that Sansa used to love and Arya had always hated. 

She just wanted to know that he felt something, anything. That he felt something for her. 

He was jealous. He’d been jealous of Ned. Surely that meant he felt something.

But he couldn’t be jealous that somebody else could want her. Not when he didn’t even want her himself. That was just utter bullshit and she wouldn’t put it up with it. 

“Arya, wait.”

She didn’t wait. She’d already slammed the door behind her.

_________

Her phone was just ringing out, over and over again. His texts were going unread despite the fact he knew she was seeing them and just doing that annoying thing of swiping the notification away that she did to Catelyn a lot.

Last night had been a total disaster and then some. 

The plan to tell her how he really felt went down like a lead balloon thanks to a particular someone and now she was pissed off with him for acting like an absolute twat.

Which was fair, really - he couldn’t blame her for that, because he was well aware that he had been acting like an absolute twat.

If she didn’t respond to his - frankly, humiliatingly desperate - attempts at contacting her soon, he was just going to have to go to the Starks’ and make her speak to him.

No, she wouldn’t appreciate that. He was better off just giving her space. When she was ready to speak to him, she would speak to him.

His mind cast back to her list.

No kissing. No seeing other people. No ghosting.

No falling in love.

But they’d already broken the no kissing rule, and he’d definitely broken the no falling in love with Arya rule too.

Gendry knew that he was in love with Arya. 

He just wished yesterday had gone in his favour. Even if she had rejected him, decided never to speak to him again, he would have respected it because at least she would have known. As things currently stood, everything was still a mess. 

And now she wouldn’t even talk to him.

Just as he was about to give up all hope, his phone buzzed - and up popped a notification onto his screen, showing Arya’s name. 

His heart felt like it stopped for a second, relief flooding over him that she didn’t hate him after the way he had behaved with her the night before. 

Arya: check your emails. i’ll meet you there.

She’d completely ignored the messages he’d sent her since last night, except now it was even worse because he knew that she’d seen them - and she knew that he knew that now, she just didn’t care.

He frowned, unable to stop the sigh of disappointment that fell from his lips. He quickly went to emails his app to find a new email from the Baratheons’ PR team. 

With CHARITY GALA written in the title line.

Gendry groaned, collapsing back onto the bed. Usually, he didn’t mind charity galas - at least someone less fortunate would get something out of their lavish, over the top parties.

He’d always thought they’d raise more money for the charity of choice by donating the cost of the damn party, or even just the evening gowns and designer tuxedos worn by the attending guests. But that was another topic altogether.

This particular invite though, Gendry knew must have been to what Ned Dayne had mentioned the night before. Which meant that little slimeball would get his wish to see Arya again much sooner than two years. Gendry didn’t doubt that he’d be all over her like a bad rash.

He scanned the email in a couple of seconds, noting the usual instructions - what to wear, when to arrive, where to be seen, who to be seen with. 

The answer to that last one, of course, was mostly Arya. There was a side note about mingling with the other very important people (gag) and also about making him look like a part of the family with the rest of the Stark clan. 

Going back to Arya’s text message, he felt his chest tighten at the thought she didn’t want to go with him. It felt like something had changed between them now and he really didn’t like it.

It was his own fault, he thought. There was a reason she’d made that damn list in the first place when they’d started all this - getting too close, not communicating their feelings, it was a dangerous game to play. He’d played it and lost, apparently.

He was in love with her and she hated his guts.

Now, they had to go and pretend to be love’s young dream in front of everyone they knew, including a guy who clearly wanted Arya, - with a hundred cameras pointed at them just waiting for them to fall apart.