“Well, don’t just stand there. Kiss her already!”
Heat rushed to Gendry’s face. Arya managed to keep her expression neutral, but he swore he saw the corners of her mouth lift in an imperceptible smirk.
He wasn’t sure how he ended up here, in an inn with frilly lace trimmings and dead animals mounted on the walls in the middle of nowhere, peering down at his supposed wife. A woman he’d known all of three days.
“We take Christmas tradition very seriously around here,” Mrs. Smallwood tutted, reminding him of the mistletoe they were currently standing under.
Gendry glared at the small bunch of plants dangling above them.
Damn Christmas tradition.
Gate A43 was crowded and impatience lingered in the air. Small children ran around screaming, their parents slumped against the wall and too tired to care. Every seat in the waiting area was occupied, elbows fighting over armrest space. All the available charging stations were taken and some people were pacing the aisles nervously, stepping over people’s luggage and discarded winter coats.
After six hours of delays, everyone was rapidly losing hope that the flight would ever take off. Stuck in the limbo of the airport, everyone was slowly beginning to lose their minds.
Sansa’s text flashed across Arya’s phone screen.
it’s not looking good
fingers crossed. hope you can make it home in time.
Arya sighed, rubbing her temples. She hadn’t been back to Winterfell since the funeral. Under the guise of work, she’d been able to stay in King’s Landing the previous Christmas. In reality, she just wasn’t ready to go back, to relive the accident.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a middle-aged man in a wrinkled suit, who suddenly stalked towards the gate agents, threw down his briefcase, and started yelling.
“What kind of airline is this? An update every hour that’s just filled with lies?” he seethed. “This is unacceptable.”
The woman at the counter apologized, “Sir, we’re very sorry for the delays. Due to inclement weather, the aircraft we’re waiting on hasn’t been able to take off yet.“
He jabbed a finger in the woman’s face to enunciate every word in his next sentence, “Shame on you. This is not how you treat paying customers.”
“Again, I apologize for the delay. If you’d like, we can offer you a complimentary food and beverage voucher you can use anywhere in the terminal—“
“I don’t want a stupid voucher. I want to know why it is you people can’t do your goddamn jobs! How hard can it be?”
Arya saw a fleck of spit land on the woman’s lapel. She removed one earphone to hear better and rooted around in her backpack for her pepper spray. Just in case. Heads had turned towards the scene, but everyone seemed rooted in place.
Suddenly, a tall man grabbed the guy’s shoulder and spun him around.
“Oi, watch yourself,” the man glowered. “Didn’t you hear the lady? There’s a fucking snowstorm. She can’t control the weather. We’re all stuck here, same as you, but you’re the only one being a prick about it. I think you owe her an apology.”
The gate agent mouthed a thank you to the man, who simply nodded in return like it was nothing. The other man was fuming, his hands curled into fists. Arya tensed, wondering if he was going to throw a punch. After a moment, he relaxed slightly and muttered an apology towards the woman, then retreated to a neighboring gate. At least he knew better than to start a fight with someone so much larger than him.
Arya tracked the man as he wandered around looking for a seat. He had dark hair, intense blue eyes, and the slightest hint of a beard. A duffel bag was slung across one of his shoulders. His very muscular shoulders. It was hard not to stare.
He finally found a seat sandwiched between a selfie-taking teenager and a screaming little boy. He picked up the boy’s toy which had fallen on the ground and handed it back to him. The boy’s crying slowed to sniffles. The parents thanked him and he just gave another small nod. He didn’t seem to smile much.
Once he pulled out a worn paperback from his bag, Arya put her own headphones back on. Then, they waited.
Gendry sat through two more updates before the flight was officially canceled in the late afternoon. He’d gotten halfway through A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and eaten the sandwich he packed. When the announcement was made, people rushed the ticket counter in a tidal wave. He scrambled to his feet amidst the chaos, not quite sure what he should do.
Getting rescheduled on another flight seemed like a long shot, especially with the hordes of people all scrambling for the same thing. Plus, the snowstorm wasn’t going to let up anytime soon.
But still, he needed to get to Winterfell.
He pulled out his phone to see if there were other airlines he could book, but the tickets were all way out of his price range. Running a hand through his hair, he heaved his bag over his shoulder and made his way back towards baggage claim, wondering how he would break the news to his sisters.
“Ticket counter’s that way,” a voice interrupted his thoughts.
It belonged to a petite woman leaning against a nearby column. Her hair was tied up in a messy bun and her eyes matched the grey of her loose-fitting sweater. Gendry tried not to linger on the way her legs looked in those black jeans.
“I know,” he blinked, looking around to confirm that she was indeed talking to him.
“Then where are you going?”
“Home, I guess. Don’t think I’m going to have much luck here. Storm’s still raging.”
“I was thinking about renting a car and driving to Winterfell instead, if you’re interested. We could split the rental and gas.“
“You want to drive? From King’s Landing to Winterfell?”
She nodded, “As long as I can get to Winterfell by Christmas. Shouldn’t take more than a few days.”
Gendry considered her offer, “How do you know I’m not a murderer or something?”
“I highly doubt a murderer would defend a stressed out ticket agent from some asshole.”
She’d seen that?
“It was nothing,” he shrugged. “I’m sure if I hadn’t said something, someone else would have.”
“It wasn’t nothing,” she corrected. She gave him a small smile.
Gendry tried not to linger on her lips.
“You don’t even know me.”
She pushed herself off the column and took a few steps forward so they were standing closer together, “What’s your name?”
“Arya. There, now we know each other.”
“Just like that?” he laughed, rubbing his jaw. This woman was unbelievable. He’d never met someone so direct, and though he typically regarded strangers with wary caution at best, there was something about her that seemed genuine. Trustworthy.
“Yeah, just like that.”
Gendry weighed his options. He thought about how excited Barra had sounded on the phone when he told her he was coming for the holidays. She’d squealed so loudly that he had to hold the phone away from his ear as she processed the news, talking about all the things she was going to show him around town.
He could thank Arya for the offer, go back to his flat, and spend Christmas alone. Or, he could take a chance on a stranger and keep his promise to his family. The only family he still had.
Gendry liked how simple Arya had made it all sound. After the year he’d had, with all of its legal proceedings and ultimatums, maybe simple was exactly what he needed.
“Lead the way then.”
By the time they got to the car rental, their options were limited. They managed to snag a simple dark blue sedan from the lot, but to Arya’s dismay, the car didn’t come with an aux cord.
Gendry offered to drive first, leaving her to fiddle with the dials on the radio. She switched between stations, catching snippets of pop songs and advertisements.
“Oh wait, leave it,” Gendry said as they pulled onto the highway.
Arya paused and let the song fill the car.
I never did believe in miracles
But I've a feeling it's time to try
Gendry was mouthing along the words, tapping his long fingers against the steering wheel.
“I wouldn’t have pegged you for a Fleetwood Mac fan,” she said.
“I’ve got two ears and a heart, don’t I?” he flashed her a smile.
When Arya had been watching him in the airport earlier, he looked a little reserved, if not outright grumpy. But then she’d made him laugh and his smile sent a jolt of warmth right through her. He had a nice laugh. A nice smile.
Arya chuckled and lifted her hands in surrender, “Fair point.”
You, you make loving fun
It's all I want to do
They stayed on the 80s station for a few more hours, riding in silence as the sun began to set in hues of cotton candy pink. Once they’d been riding in complete darkness for a bit, Arya’s stomach rumbled. The last time she’d eaten was in the late morning in the airport.
“Do you want to stop somewhere for dinner?” she asked.
“I thought you’d never ask. Also, how do you feel about night driving? It might be too late to get back on the road. Maybe we should also look out for a motel or something.”
“Good call. I think we’re fine on time anyways.”
Gendry pulled into a diner that boasted 32 kinds of pie, the neon lights in the window flickering. The restaurant wasn’t that crowded and the waitress motioned for them to take any open seat. They slid into a booth and surveyed the menu.
Gendry ordered a burger and a soda while Arya ordered a full English breakfast.
“What? You’ve never had breakfast for dinner?” she asked when she caught him staring.
“No, I was just wondering if I should change my order. That sounds really good.”
“You can have some of my baked beans.”
They chatted a bit more until their food arrived. They were both pancake people. Gendry preferred scrambled eggs while she preferred eggs over easy. He told her how his mom used to make them chocolate chip pancakes whenever she worked double shifts at the hospital, arranging some of the chocolate chips to look like smiley faces.
When the waitress came by, Gendry asked for a small plate, which he filled up with some fries and pushed towards her. Arya scooped a hearty spoonful of baked beans and put them on his plate.
They were both too hungry to continue chatting, pausing only to ask the other to pass the ketchup or comment on the food. It was hard to believe that she’d only known Gendry for all of a few hours. Arya never felt that comfortable sitting in silence with strangers, but with Gendry, it just felt right.
Gendry finished his meal first. He sat back against the vinyl seat and took a sip of his soda.
“Do you do this often?” he asked.
“Eat a full English? Sure.”
Gendry rolled his eyes, “Go on road trips with people you just met.”
Arya shook her head, “Unique circumstances. Why?”
“It’s just strange, I guess. Like you haven’t even asked me for my full name or what I do.”
“Do you want me to ask you those things?”
“I-I don’t know. It’s the usual stuff most people ask.”
“I like getting to know you this way,” Arya said. “If that’s alright with you.”
“The real question now,” Arya folded her hands on the table and leaned in conspiratorially towards Gendry. “Is which of the 32 pies we try.”
Gendry was flipping through the pie binder (yes, a full binder filled with pies) when he heard Arya’s camera on her phone click.
“What was that for?” he asked, looking up to see her casually texting.
“I’m sending a picture of you to my sister just in case you turn out to really be a murderer.”
Gendry was quickly learning that Arya was not like most people. She was self-assured in a very unassuming way. She’d been curled up in the front seat in the car, but here in the diner, she sat up straight. The poise with which she carried herself made him wonder if she was a dancer.
He had surprised himself with how much he was talking. He’d even talked to Arya about his mom. He had barely talked about her to anyone since her death, including his friend Hot Pie who had been at the funeral with him. Hot Pie, who had practically given up on setting him up on dates after realizing that Gendry frequently communicated in monosyllabic answers.
But this wasn’t a date. It was just a convenient arrangement. He had to remember that.
They spent a good ten minutes discussing the merits of custard vs. fruit pies and finally settled on getting one of each type. Gendry wrinkled his nose when Arya asked for a slice of cheese with the apple pie.
“Trust me,” she said.
The hot buttery crust and the sweetness of the apple went surprisingly well with the cheddar. Arya watched him as he took his first bite, and only when she saw that he was convinced did she dig in. They finished the apple pie, but gave up halfway through the banana cream pie.
When Arya went to the restroom, the waitress came by their table with the check.
“Does your girlfriend want the rest of this wrapped up?” she asked, gesturing to the pie.
“She’s not my —“
Arya sauntered back before he could get the rest of the sentence out.
The next morning, Gendry greeted Arya with coffee and bagels.
They’d found a motel close to the diner and Arya was so tired that she washed up and fell straight into bed without replying to Sansa’s last text.
excuse me?? you just FOUND him in the airport?? are you bringing him home with you?
The picture she’d taken of Gendry last night was slightly blurry, but his handsomeness was unmistakable. His broad shoulders were slightly hunched, the strong planes of his cheekbones enough to make any person swoon. She hadn’t even captured her favorite part about Gendry: his eyes.
Eyes which seemed to track her every move as she accepted the coffee and bagel. Arya found she quite liked it when Gendry watched her.
She took over driving while Gendry navigated. Emboldened by the previous night’s dinner, they talked more about their first cars and favorite road trips, falling into the same easy banter. Arya told him about getting Jon’s old hunter green Camry, how it had moved both her and Jon in and out of college.
“So it’s just you and Jon?”
“God, no. There’s Robb, Jon, Sansa, Bran, and Rickon.”
“How was it growing up in such a big family?” Gendry asked.
“Hectic. I was always closer with Jon, but I’ve gotten closer to Sansa since college.”
“It was always just me and my mom,” Gendry said. “She got me this beaten up truck that hardly worked, but I spent two months practically rebuilding it from the inside out. I was covered in grease half the time.”
“Must’ve been quite a sight,” Arya blurted out, envisioning Gendry sweating over a car engine, muscles flexing as he used a wrench. Way to sound creepy, Stark.
Thankfully, Gendry didn’t seem to notice.
“What about you? Who taught you to drive?” he asked.
Arya gripped the steering wheel harder and swallowed thickly, “My dad.”
She tried to search for the right words, but they all caught in her throat. It was like pressing on a bruise.
“Did I say something wrong?” Gendry’s concerned voice drew her back.
“No, no. It’s just…my dad died last year.”
“I’m sorry,” he sighed. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw he’d angled his body towards hers. “My mom passed away when I was high school.”
“Oh, Gendry. I’m sorry, I know you two were close.”
“Were you close with your dad?”
Arya nodded, “Jon and I were always closer to our dad. My mom loves me, but I just don’t think she understands me like my dad did. He always indulged my wild tendencies.”
“I liked playing with swords a lot as a kid. And sometimes used those swords to beat up the neighborhood bullies,” she admitted. “My dad would make me apologize, but he wasn’t ever angry. If anything, he’d always buy me ice cream after. He told me to never stop sticking up for people.”
“Good advice. He sounds like a good man.”
Arya’s hand was resting on the gearshift in between their seats. Gendry thought that patting her hand would be a comforting gesture given the circumstances, but to his surprise, she took his hand in hers. Her small hand fit so perfectly in his.
“He was,” Arya said softly, the past tense unfamiliar on her tongue. “It’s weird. I’ve barely talked about him to anyone. Not even to my own siblings.”
“Me too,” Gendry observed. “It’s been years, but it’s not something I bring up much. Not even with my best mates.”
“The Dead Parents Club isn’t exactly the most accessible,” Arya joked.
Gendry laughed and shook his head, “No, I don’t suppose it is. But it’s nice to be able to talk with you about it.”
Arya turned her head briefly to meet Gendry’s eyes. His hair stuck up a bit in places and he was looking at her with such warmth that it made her blush. She bit her lip and turned back to focus on the road. It was easier to stare at the expanse of highway ahead rather than look into his eyes.
She gripped his hand a little tighter.
“Yeah, this is nice.”
They pulled over at a rest stop to get lunch and to stretch their legs. After scarfing down some Taco Bell, the only food court option that had any hint of vegetables on their menu, Arya went to the restroom while Gendry looked at the convenience store.
She got back to the car first. There was a little girl standing near the car next to theirs, sucking a lollipop and staring at Arya.
“Your boyfriend’s still inside,” the girl said after a moment.
Arya straightened up, “Who?”
“Your boyfriend. Him!” the girl pointed at Gendry, who was now walking towards them with an armful of snacks and drinks.
“He’s not my—“
“Hey! Who’s this?” Gendry asked.
“Mia,” the girl introduced herself eagerly.
“That’s a pretty name,” he said. “One of my sisters is named Mya.”
So he had sisters.
“I’m Gendry, and this is Arya. Do you want us to wait with you until your parents come back?”
Mia shook her head.
“Well it was nice to meet you,” he said.
As they drove off, Mia waved at them. When Gendry asked Arya what they’d been talking about when he came outside, she stuffed her mouth with cheese curls and lied.
Gendry drove until night fell. The only motel they came across had just one room left.
“It’s got two beds,” the bald clerk yawned, typing aimlessly at the ancient computer mounted on the front desk. “You can also pay by the hour if you want.”
Gendry glowered at the insinuation but Arya just cheerfully said, “We’ll take it!”
They were further north now and the air was bitter cold. Arya dropped her bags on the bed closest to the window while Gendry rubbed his hands together and looked around for the thermostat.
“Winterfell’s going to be colder than this,” Arya teased. He didn’t know how she wasn’t freezing in just a sweater and a black leather jacket.
“I’ve never been,” he chattered, finally switching on the heat and adjusting the temperature. “King’s Landing, born and raised. Never even seen snow that wasn’t on TV.”
“I grew up in Winterfell,” Arya offered. “Winter runs in my veins.”
“You’ll have to teach me how to adapt.”
“The trick is to embrace it. The short days, the snow, the wind.”
Gendry sensed a wistfulness in her voice. She was lying back on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. He wanted to ask her more about Winterfell, but she seemed tired. After the day they’d had, they both deserved a rest.
They ordered pizza since they were too lazy to drive out again in the cold. While Arya showered, Gendry flicked on the old television but found it difficult to concentrate. Only a creaky door with chipped paint separated him from a wet, naked Arya.
He was 99% sure she’d been blatantly flirting with him earlier. Must’ve been quite a sight. Was he crazy for thinking there was something between them?
When the pizza arrived, they sat side by side on his bed, talking over the low TV volume. Arya had emerged from the bathroom with her hair wrapped in a white towel and wearing an oversized t-shirt that came down to her mid-thigh. Gendry almost swallowed his tongue when he saw her and blamed his coughing on a banana pepper. He couldn’t help but stare at her smooth legs, wondering what they’d look like parted for him or wrapped around his own waist.
Gendry showered after dinner. Against his better judgment, he worked out his frustration, fisting his cock while he imagined Arya straddling him in the front seat of their car. Or laid out on the threadbare sheets in this crappy motel. Anyway he could have her, he wanted her. Arya had turned the TV back up and Gendry was thankful to have it muffle the sounds.
As he toweled off and drew in deep breaths, the thought struck him. He wanted her. And he didn’t want this trip to end.
The next day, he got his wish.
Things had started off smoothly, but had then taken a turn for the worse. Literally.
Gendry had woken up first, sensitive to the light streaming in through the curtains. Arya was facing him, curled up in a small ball. He watched her for a little bit, the flutter of her eyes beneath her eyelids, the way her brown hair caught the sun against the pillow.
Then, she started to whimper and thrash away the covers. She was muttering something, like she was pleading.
He rushed to her bed and gently shook her awake so she was sitting up, “You just had a nightmare. You’re safe.”
It took him a second to realize that she was crying. He brushed away her tears with his thumb, cradling her cheek in his palm. He brought his other hand to rub her back. Arya relaxed into his touch, letting out a shaky sigh.
“You’re safe,” he repeated.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “I still have nightmares about my dad’s accident. He was in the front seat and I was in the backseat. Sometimes the images come back to me but it's been so long. I thought they’d be gone by now.”
“Grief doesn’t have a schedule,” Gendry said, stroking her cheek.
“Sometimes I wish it did. I’ve felt so numb.”
“I know,” he pulled her into a hug. He thought about his mom, how the holidays had been his favorite time of year when she was alive but were now something to just suffer through. He felt tears prickling his own eyes and as Arya’s arms encircled him, he let them fall.
They held each other tightly.
When they got on the road, it had just started snowing. Since Arya had experience driving through snow, she took over. They rode in silence. Arya still felt the phantom warmth of Gendry’s body pressed against hers.
The snow only intensified the further they drove, the car’s windshield wipers working overtime. All the other cars were crawling cautiously on the road.
“Maybe we should stop somewhere and wait this out,” Gendry suggested, his body tense every time Arya stepped on the brakes.
“Please, this is nothing.”
As if jinxing it, a swerving car without a turn signal drifted into their lane and forced Arya to jerk the wheel sharply. She pumped the brakes, but the icy roads made them skid off into a snowbank.
Thankfully, they were alright aside from a few bruises from their seatbelts. The same could not be said about the car, which was steaming ominously from the hood. The towing company Gendry called, Tobho Mott’s, arrived within the hour and gave them a lift into the nearest town.
Tobho and Gendry exchanged contact information.
“We’ll call you when it’s ready,” Tobho said. “But it’ll probably be at least a day or two before we can get some of the parts in because of the snow. You might want to get a room at the inn.”
The inn in question was called Acorn Hall. It was the only lodging in the small town and when they stepped inside, Gendry felt as though he’d stepped inside a snow globe. There was a roaring fire in the hearth, garlands strewn above every doorway and along the bannister, and red poinsettias adorned every available surface. Arya spotted a dozing cat by the fire and immediately crouched down to pet it. Gendry continued to the front desk with their bags.
“Welcome to Acorn Hall,” the woman at the counter greeted him. “I’m Mrs. Smallwood, how can I help you folks today?”
“We’re looking for a room.”
“Are you and your wife having a nice day?”
Gendry looked up at her, “Car troubles unfortunately. And actually, she’s not my uh—“
“Young man, we’re a family-run establishment,” Mrs. Smallwood gave him a pointed look over her half-moon glasses.
Gendry chewed his lip and glanced back at Arya, who had interrupted the cat’s nap. There wasn’t another place for them to stay while their car was fixed. They were only another day’s drive away from Winterfell. What other choice did they have?
“Arya, sweetheart, come meet Mr. and Mrs. Smallwood,” Gendry called.
Arya whirled around. Had Gendry just called her ‘sweetheart’? She joined him at reception and shook hands with the inn owners, a very straight-laced old couple in matching cable-knit sweaters that they had no doubt knitted themselves.
“Your husband was just telling us about how that awful snowstorm derailed your honeymoon plans,” Mrs. Smallwood lamented.
Gendry caught her eye and angled his head slightly, as if to say, “go along with it.”
Arya plastered a frown onto her face, “Yes, very terrible. Hopefully the delay isn’t too bad.“
“The Gods are already putting your marriage to the test!” Mr. Smallwood joked.
Gendry gave a pained chuckle and wrapped his arm around Arya’s shoulder, “Well if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to go get settled in our room.”
“Yes,” Arya chimed in. “My…husband is very tired.”
“Don’t forget! Dinner is served promptly at five thirty in the dining room,” Mrs. Smallwood gestured to an adjoining room.
She handed them additional pamphlets that outlined the inn’s history and house rules, which included things like: “Don’t show up late for meals. Refrain from moving any furniture. Talk softly. Dress in appropriate attire for all activities. Enjoy our homemade scones and blackberry jam.“
They trudged up the stairs and found their room. The theme of the room seemed to be lace. Lace covers, lace doilies, lace everything. There was only one queen-sized bed.
Once Gendry had locked the door behind them, he sighed and began to explain.
“The lady asked me if you were my wife and I was about to correct her when she went all, ‘we’re about family values’ on me. So I joked that we were newly married and I wasn’t used to calling you my wife, and she bought it.”
“So now we’re married,” she said.
“As long as we’re here, we’re married,” he affirmed.
“And there’s nowhere else we can go?”
“Tobho said this was the only place in the whole town.”
“Then I guess we should prepare.”
Gendry gave her the most adorable confused look, “Prepare? For what?”
“For dinner, duh. I bet those two are going to grill us about our ‘marriage’ and it’ll be awkward if we give two different answers to how we met. And I’d very much like to sleep in a warm bed tonight, even if all this lace is giving me a headache.”
“Right,” Gendry raked a hand through his hair. “We should also set some ground rules. Like we should probably hold hands. I’ve never been in a relationship, what else do couples do?”
“You called me ‘sweetheart’ so I’d say that’s a good start,” Arya laughed. “I think I’ll call you ‘honey.’ And I guess a kiss on the cheek wouldn’t be totally out of the question. That’s probably enough to satisfy those two prudes.”
“You could put your hand on my leg,” Gendry offered.
Gendry sat down on the bed and patted the spot next to him. He took Arya’s hand and placed it on his thigh.
“Like that. Don’t couples do that?”
Gendry’s leg, like the rest of him, was sturdy.
“That’s good,” she cleared her throat and removed her hand. “And you could do the same to me.”
She cringed as the words left her mouth. They hadn’t sounded this dirty in her head.
Gendry placed his hand just above her knee and began tracing patterns with his thumb, “Like this?”
His voice had dropped an octave. It suddenly occurred to Arya how close they were sitting. She’d never noticed how long his eyelashes were. It wouldn’t take much to lean forward and close the distance between them. She loved Gendry’s smile, but lately, she’d been wondering what it’d be like to kiss him. Would he taste like the spearmint gum he’d gotten at the rest stop that he couldn't stop chewing?
Arya felt her heart race as he continued drawing invisible lines on her leg. What if he trailed his hands up further?
She’d had trouble falling asleep the previous night because each time she closed her eyes, she imagined her and Gendry in various compromising positions. Gendry gripping Arya’s hair as she tasted him. The ripple of his back as he moved over her. His arms holding her legs open as he licked into her until she chanted his name. Gendry Gendry Gendry.
When he finally stopped his movements, Arya gave a small nod, “Just like that.”
Their preparation proved useful. Dinner was with two other couples, plus the Smallwoods. Each couple was asked to share how they met and Arya and Gendry were glad they had already agreed upon a shared answer. An answer which was technically the truth.
“We met each other at the airport,” Gendry recounted in between bites of turkey pot pie. “The plane kept getting delayed and eventually ended up getting canceled. Arya here, approached me, and asked if I wanted to drive with her to our destination instead.”
“Awfully bold of you,” Mr. Smallwood said to Arya. “But I guess when you know, you know.”
“Something like that,” Arya smiled.
“Tell us about your wedding,” Mrs. Smallwood gushed. “Was she absolutely beautiful?”
“We kept it small. It was just friends and family.”
“Arya did look gorgeous though,” Gendry winked at her. She gave him a sarcastic eye roll. To others, it was cute banter, but he knew better.
“Thanks, honey,” she put her hand on his thigh and turned to face him. “You looked very dashing.”
“But enough about us,” Gendry waved his fork, half hoping Arya wouldn’t move her hand quite yet. “Tell us more about the town.”
That was enough to get the Smallwoods talking. They launched into discussions about old Acorn Hall, an abandoned castle on the outskirts of town, which was what they decided to name the inn after. The other couples, who were clearly there of their own free will, asked more questions about winter activities and local sights.
The whole dinner, Gendry found it hard to keep the grin off of his face. Every time he said, “Arya, sweetheart, can you pass the carrots?” it elicited the most wonderful blush. Even though she was saying it as part of their charade, he loved it when she called him “honey” in return.
The home-cooked meal was a balm after so much fast food. The moment Mrs. Smallwood brought out slices of apple pie for dessert, Arya and Gendry threw each other conspiratorial glances. Gendry leaned over and whispered in her ear, “Should I ask for slices of cheese?”
“I knew I made you a convert,” she whispered back.
When the meal drew to a close, they thanked the Smallwoods. As they exited the dining room, Mr. Smallwood stopped them.
Fuck, they knew. Were they not convincing?
“You two lovebirds are standing under the mistletoe,” he guffawed. “Go on then!”
Sure enough, there was a neatly tied cluster of plants nailed to the doorway they were standing under.
“Well, don’t just stand there. Kiss her already!”
Gendry felt heat rise to his cheeks. He and Arya had agreed to cheek kisses, but not real kisses.
“We take Christmas tradition very seriously around here,” Mrs. Smallwood reminded them.
Arya gave him a little shrug. Permission. This wasn’t how he had imagined their first kiss. How had he imagined it? Long, slow, preferably alone.
Gendry gave Arya a clumsy peck. He was so embarrassed that he didn’t pause to see either of the innkeepers’ reactions — or Arya’s. He muttered his thanks and guided Arya out of the room with his hand at the small of her back.
When they were in the foyer, they could still hear Mr. Smallwood’s loud whisper, “Makes you wonder why she married him.”
Mrs. Smallwood shushed him, “He’s probably just shy.”
Gendry was in a grumpy mood the rest of the evening, scowling into his tankard of beer.
Since dinner had ended so early, the two decided to walk around the town. The only pub was pleasantly crowded and Arya suggested they have a drink.
“That wasn’t a real kiss back there,” Gendry scoffed. “I mean, I can kiss better than that.”
Arya almost choked on her mulled wine, “I’m sure you can.”
“Besides that fucking mistletoe, I think we pulled it off.”
“Yes honey, you were very convincing.”
“Could say the same thing about you, sweetheart.”
Something about the way he said it that time made her stomach tighten.
“Are you excited to see your family?” Gendry asked.
Arya looked into her mug, reminded that despite their temporary setback, they would be parting ways soon.
“Yeah, I think I’m just nervous. I haven’t been back home since my dad died. My mom was a wreck and I wasn’t here. Now all the dynamics are different and I worry that I stayed away too long.”
“I’m sure you did what you needed to. Besides, I think your family will be happy to see you no matter the circumstances.”
“What about you?” Arya raised an eyebrow. “You mentioned you had sisters. Are they who you’re seeing in Winterfell?”
“It’s kind of complicated. I only learned about my half-siblings after my mom passed. I never knew my dad, but turns out he had a bunch of kids with a bunch of different women. When he died, his lawyers contacted us and brought us all together. Mya and Barra live in Winterfell now.”
“Oh, wow. That must have been some news.”
“Yeah,” Gendry took a swig of beer. “And on top of that, he’d left us all an inheritance, but the money came with all these ridiculous conditions, like taking on his name. It was a whole thing.”
“Who would be such a dick beyond the grave? No offense.”
Gendry looked pleased at her profanity, “None taken. He was a dick. After a lot of back and forth with the lawyers, I ultimately didn’t end up taking his name. Just felt wrong to do to my mom.”
“I bet that was a tough decision,” Arya sighed. “At least you got to meet more family. You must be close enough to spend the holidays together.”
“Yeah, it’ll be my first Christmas with them. Trying to establish new traditions.”
The pub closed at midnight.
They’d spent the rest of the time talking about their siblings and making up stories about the people in the pub around them. When Arya had gone to get them more drinks, a man sidled up to her at the bar and started flirting with her. She was about to politely tell him she wasn’t interested when Gendry conveniently came up to her side and wrapped his arm around her waist.
“Sweetheart, I was looking for you,” he nuzzled her cheek.
It was enough for the man to slink off.
“Well done, husband,” Arya beamed. “I think I shall keep you.”
Arya and Gendry trudged back to the inn in the snow, a bit buzzed and leaning on each other the whole way. Arya shh’ed him as they stumbled inside and went upstairs.
They changed with their backs to each other, though Arya caught a glimpse of Gendry’s muscled torso in the dresser mirror. There was a clanking old radiator, but the room was still cold, even by Arya’s standards.
Arya slid under the covers first. Gendry stood on his side of the bed, hesitant.
“Just get in bed, Gendry.”
He turned off the light and joined her, though he refused to lay down.
“Are you okay?“
Gendry turned around. Even in the darkness, Arya could make out the concentration in his face, how his eyebrows furrowed and his jaw tensed. She propped herself up on her elbows only for Gendry to gently push her back down onto the mattress with a kiss.
A toe-curling, soul-crushing kiss.
The solid weight of him was a warmth she never knew she needed. His lips were chapped from the wind but confident and passionate. Gendry’s hand came up to her cheek to angle her face for a deeper kiss, his tongue begging for entrance.
Arya wound her arms around his neck, tilting her hips ever so slightly into his. Was she dreaming?
He gave her two smaller kisses on her upper lip before drawing back. It took a full minute for Arya’s eyes to flutter open and register Gendry’s parted mouth.
He rolled off of her and hauled her up against him so that her back faced his front. Gendry was vastly preferable to a radiator.
“That’s how I should’ve kissed you the first time,” Gendry murmured.
Arya woke first. It was the most peacefully she’d slept in a long time. No doubt thanks to Gendry’s arms around her.
She glanced over at him, the gentle rise and fall of his chest. She couldn’t resist placing a light kiss to the spot right above his heart.
“Trying to have your way with me?” Gendry growled, opening one eye.
Gendry tugged her so that she was sitting astride him, her legs bracketing his hips. Arya gasped in surprise. She’d so far only seen his shier side, but she was quickly learning to love this aspect of his quiet confidence.
“Then what are you waiting for?” he challenged.
Arya bent down so that their bodies were pressed fully against one another, hovering just above his mouth, “For you to shut up.”
Just as they were about to kiss, there was a loud knock at their door.
“Good morning!” Mrs. Smallwood hollered. “Breakfast will be served promptly in half an hour!”
Gendry leaned his head against Arya’s shoulder and groaned.
Although Gendry wanted nothing more than to lay in bed with Arya all day, Mrs. Smallwood’s scones and blackberry jam were a surprisingly good consolation prize. It had only snowed more through the night and when he caught a glimpse of the snow outside, his jaw dropped. After breakfast, while Arya went to ask Mrs. Smallwood for her blackberry jam recipe, Gendry browsed the bookshelf near the fireplace.
He’d gotten about twenty pages into Pride and Prejudice when Arya tossed his scarf at his face.
“Get your coat, we’re going outside.”
“Of course, stupid. Where else?”
Arya was now officially bundled in a white parka. A floppy knitted hat sat on her head.
“I thought we’d stay inside. You know, where it’s not freezing cold.“
“I am not letting you leaving this town a snowball fight virgin. Someone has to initiate you to life in the North properly.”
Mr. Smallwood kindly dropped them off at the ruins of Acorn Hall to begin their day. The snow-covered columns and walls were majestic against the white landscape. A plaque had been added by the historical society explaining that it had once been a castle with a large oak keep and had played a minor role in the War of the Five Kings. Arya peered at the layout of the castle, trying to compare the rooms to the ruins.
Gendry watched as she took in the rubble. She always seemed to have great interest in getting to know every place they went. He admired her openness. He didn’t realize he’d been so lost in thought until he felt an explosion of snow against his chest.
Arya stood a few feet away, casually making another snowball.
“Better get moving,” she warned.
Gendry followed suit, bending down to pack a snowball to hurl at Arya. They darted through the remnants of the castle, pelting each other in the shoulders and stomach. Arya strategically threw a snowball at a snow-covered branch right above Gendry as he was kneeling to secure more ammunition. The snow fell right down his pants and he jerked up, swearing at the cold.
“Always invest in a jacket that goes past your waist,” Arya shouted.
“You’re going to pay for that,” Gendry yelled back, opting instead to just chase her.
They collapsed to the ground, wrestling and rolling around while trying to shove snow directly in the other person’s face. Arya’s quickness and deceptively strong legs ultimately gave her the upper hand.
“I surrender!” Gendry garbled, trying to spit out a bunch of snow.
“That’s what I thought,” Arya smirked, perched on his lap and looking very pleased with herself. She gave him a long, lingering kiss, like the one she had intended to give him that morning.
Suddenly, the cold melted away. He didn’t think about his damp boxers and pants or the numbness of his fingers. Everything narrowed to the heat of Arya’s breath against his, the feeling of her soft lips moving reverently over his.
She rolled off of him with a contented sigh and began to move her arms and legs to make a snow angel.
“Where do you think we are in the castle?” Gendry asked, mimicking her movements.
“And yet I’m freezing.”
“Baby,” she laughed. “Let’s get you some hot chocolate.”
Arya hauled herself to her feet first, then offered Gendry her hand. She pulled him up until they were standing side by side, taking in their handiwork.
Arya got them two decked out mugs of hot chocolate from a cozy-looking cafe in town. Each cup came with a gigantic homemade marshmallow, a sprinkling of cinnamon, and swirls of whipped cream. They were festooned with tinsel and a candy cane. Gendry’s cheeks and nose were bright pink from the cold and he downed the hot drink eagerly.
“Is there Bailey’s in this?” he asked, licking the whipped cream from his upper lip in a very distracting fashion.
Arya shivered and it wasn’t from the cold.
They warmed up by the cafe fireplace as much as they could, soft Christmas carols floating through the air. Their clothes were still damp from the snowball fight so they made their way back to the inn. Although it was only mid-afternoon, the sun was already setting.
When they got back to their room, Gendry went into the adjoining bathroom and started running the hot water. There was no shower, only a claw-footed porcelain bathtub. Arya began peeling off her wet layers one by one, hanging them on a chair near the radiator to dry.
She strode past a shellshocked Gendry to test the water, delighting in his sharp intake of breath as she came to stand next to him. Wordlessly, she climbed into the tub. She felt Gendry’s eyes on her the whole time, intense and in awe.
She met his stare and played with the surface of the water, “Aren’t you joining me?”
Gendry used both hands to yank his sweater over his head, flinging the wet articles of clothing onto the floor with a splat. The rippling of his forearms as he undid his belt made Arya bite her lip. Ever the gentleman, he sat on the opposite side of the tub so that they were looking at each other, bashful and excited.
They passed each other the soap and scrubbed themselves. Arya lathered shampoo in her hair and dipped backwards to wash it off, knowing that the arch of her back would thrust out her breasts and hopefully drive Gendry crazy.
When she sat back upright, Gendry placed both hands on the side of the tub and hauled himself up to capture her lips in his. The position was a little awkward and they giggled as they rearranged themselves into a more comfortable position. Eventually, they settled on having Gendry sit behind Arya. He licked and laved at her neck as her fingers were intertwined with his, letting him know exactly which spots made her tighten her grip.
He took his free hand and trailed it her chest until it rested right below her breast.
“Is this okay?”
Arya whispered a soft “yes,” which she drew out the second Gendry palmed her sensitive flesh. She ground back into his growing erection, gasping at the combined sensation of his mouth whispering praises in her ear while his hands — those hands — kindled the heat inside her.
Next, Gendry’s hand slipped under the water. Another pause, another affirmation. He groaned as he found the wetness there, rubbing her bud with two strong fingers.
“Fuck, Arya. You’re perfect.”
“Gendry,” she twisted in his arms so she could look into his eyes. “Can you—can you add a finger?”
Gendry dipped one finger into her, then two because she was wet enough for it. Arya keened in his arms, her chest rising and falling rapidly from the sensations.
“Like that, sweetheart?” he growled.
“Gods, Gendry yes, just like that. I’m s-so close.”
An abrupt knock made them both freeze.
“Dinner will be served shortly!”
Mrs. Smallwood certainly had impeccable timing.
“Hear that? We’ve got to get to dinner,” Gendry licked the shell of her ear. “But first, I want to watch you come. I want to sit at that dinner table knowing I just made you moan like this.”
Arya clenched around his fingers.
“What do you need?” he pleaded.
“Harder,” she whined.
Gendry added a third finger and the stretch made her shriek so loudly that he yanked her head toward his to smother her sounds with his mouth. His thumb came up to stroke her nub, and he swallowed each of her moans. His arm was a blur, the movement sloshing water all over the edge of the tub.
But he didn’t care. All that mattered now was how Arya was bearing down on his hand, how she bit her lip in desperation and convulsed in his arms.
When she came, Gendry did too. Leaning his forehead against hers, they caught their breath, both slightly stunned at the intensity of what they’d just done.
“That was quite a sight,” he murmured.
Arya stood up on shaky legs and Gendry reached out to steady her. A twinge of male pride ran through him.
“Well, we shouldn’t keep the Smallwoods waiting.”
At dinner, they didn’t need to act. They couldn’t keep their hands off of each other. Gendry quite literally insisted on holding her hand throughout the meal, which made cutting the roast exceedingly difficult.
They joined in the discussion with the other couples, exchanging stories about what they’d seen in town and how they’d enjoyed the weather. Arya blushed as Gendry recounted her snowball fight victory, not because he was bragging about her, but because he used his hands so much to tell the story and she could only remember how they’d brought her to the best climax of her life half an hour ago.
Arya was thankful that an early dinner meant that they could retire early to their room. She practically hauled Gendry out of the dining room. He resisted her grip though, pausing under that damned mistletoe in the doorway.
This time, there was no cajoling from Mr. Smallwood. Gendry didn’t go beet red and stammer. There was just the sturdiness of Gendry and the easy tilt of his head to slot his mouth on hers.
Gendry tossed what seemed like an endless supply of doilies onto the dresser, clearing the bed.
“I feel like we’re defiling this place,” he mused.
Arya shoved him lightly onto the mattress and came to stand between his legs, “Not yet.”
“How did I end up with such a bossy wife?”
“Shut up and kiss me.”
Gendry’s warm hands cupped her face as he swept his tongue into her mouth. Arya clutched the back of his head and tried to take the kiss deeper, their teeth clacking together from her impatience. She swept her flannel shirt off, leaving herself only in a simple black bra.
Still, it was enough to make Gendry’s jaw tighten.
She tore off Gendry’s shirt, planting soft kisses and love bites down his chest and torso until she was kneeling between his thighs. She sat back and gave him a questioning glance.
“Take your own bloody pants off.”
Gendry scrambled to heed her instructions and she snorted at his eagerness. Her laughter died when she saw his cock. She’d seen it earlier in the bath and had felt it against her skin, but it was different seeing the thick, mouthwatering length of him right in the palm of her hand.
Arya teased him with long, light licks, her small hand not able to even wrap her fingers all the way around him. Gendry had balled up the sheets in one of his fists, the other was buried in her hair, subtly pleading with her to put him out of his misery.
When she finally began sucking him in earnest, he let out a guttural groan, hips bucking up slightly into her mouth. She enjoyed the tensing of his thigh muscles as she swirled her tongue around the head.
Then, she felt Gendry yanking her up and tossing her onto the bed.
“I need to be inside you.”
Need, not want.
He paused when he saw the angry raised scars on her right side, remnants of the accident. When he reverently laid kisses on the markings, Arya felt pricks of moisture at her eyes.
Gendry was the first man to see her like this since the accident. Maybe he was the first man to really see her at all.
With his thumb, he felt how ready she was for him, spreading her slick across her clit until she was whimpering.
“Please,” she squirmed. “I’m clean and I’m on the pill.”
Gendry swore at the implication, “I’m clean too. Are you sure?”
“I’m about five seconds away from finishing myself off, so—“
Gendry slid into her slowly, the stretch of him interrupting her sentence and forcing a breathy exhale out of her lungs.
“As much as I would like to see that,” he smirked. “I’d rather take care of you myself, sweetheart.”
Fuck, that nickname.
She brought Gendry’s face down for a messy kiss that was more tongues and moans than anything, her coordination thrown into a tailspin by each heavy smack of Gendry’s hips against hers. His hands spread her even wider for him, holding her firmly in place. She couldn’t move, pinned by his strength and his ardor.
When he hoisted her calves over his shoulders, she cried out. Each agonizing thrust was so deep she could hardly breathe. Pinning both of her hands with his, Gendry was touching something new in her. He lavished kisses on her skin along with promises.
Gorgeous. So good for me. Want to stay like this forever. Want to wake up to you every morning.
Liquid need pulsed through her, intensified by the raw passion she saw in Gendry’s eyes. She whispered back her own adulations.
I love how you feel inside me. Please, I’ll be so good for you.
His motions grew in desperation, the lewd sound of their slick flesh picking up speed. He drove her higher and higher, her head falling back against the pillow.
“Arya,” his gruff voice picked her up out of the haze. “Look at me.”
She glimpsed at him.
“Look at me when you come.”
It wasn’t a command so much as a plea.
“Is it good?” she asked, trying to keep her eyes on him. She stroked his sweat-slicked hair back from his forehead, a tender gesture compared to the brutal pace he was setting. "Is it good for you?"
“It’s never been like this, Arya,” he admitted.
She wailed in agreement, every point of tension in her body curling inwards like a loaded spring.
“Fuck, Gendry, I’m coming,” she babbled, raking her nails down his back.
Gendry let out an anguished grunt as he followed her over the edge. He kept an iron grip on her hips as he pumped the last of his release into her.
As the sweat cooled on their skin, Arya shivered. She looked around the room, dazed at what they’d just done. How right it had felt.
Gendry went to clean himself up and brought back a warm towel for her. They huddled under the covers for warmth, Arya laying on Gendry’s chest. Just as he was drifting off to sleep, she swore she heard him murmur words that sounded like, I love you.
Arya listened to the steady beat of Gendry’s heart and each relaxed breath he took. Want to wake up to you every morning.
She fell into a fitful slumber, hoping that tomorrow morning wouldn’t be their last together.
Tobho called Gendry the next morning to let them know their car was fixed and they could pick it up that day. When he received the call, he felt Arya watching him the whole time. With every word he said, he noticed her face fall.
“So the car’s ready then?” she flopped back down on the bed.
“Yeah, whenever we are.”
He propped his head up on his elbow and reached out to tilt Arya’s face towards him.
“What are you thinking?” he tucked a lock of dark hair behind her ear. The room was eerily silent except for the hiss of the radiator.
“I wish we could stay here,” she said quietly. Unspoken were the words, I wish this didn’t have to end.
“You’ve got your family to see and I’ve got mine,” he started carefully. “I want to introduce you to my sisters and you’ve got to show me around Winterfell.”
Arya’s eyes flicked up to his, searching for some kind of confirmation, “Really?”
“I meant what I said last night, Arya. I want to be with you. If it’s for one road trip or for the rest of our lives.”
“So…you’re my boyfriend now?” Arya said, testing out the word. Gendry had never seen her smile so widely. She was dazzling.
“Well for a few more hours, I’m technically you’re husband,” he corrected, running his thumb over her lower lip. “But after that, yes.”
“Just like that?”
Gendry tugged her closer so their noses touched. In Arya’s eyes, he saw a depth of trust and love he hadn’t anticipated.
"Just like that."