A/N: I haven't yet read the books, but I've tried to research as much as possible from what is available online. I've also left details vague enough that their past could be read as book or show.
A/N: I struggled with the wording in this one in a way that I haven't in a long time. In part, I think, because of the present tense of the story, but also, I'm sure, because of the formal nature of the narrative. Again, I haven't read the books, but it seemed to fit.
Gendry had not been this far north in years. Not since word had first reached the Riverlands that Arya Stark had married the Bolton Bastard.
When he had learned of her return then, he had found a horse and been on the road to Winterfell before he had thought better of it. The journey had not been a short one, but even as he had passed through the empty remains of the winter town he had not been able to explain to himself what it was that he had been doing there. There was a list of reasons, to be sure; to apologize to the lady for not having been able to protect her, to offer condolences for the family that she had lost, to make sure that she was happy to be home. All true, but they had not been what had put him in the saddle.
In the end his reasons had not mattered. The so-called lady of Winterfell had not been Arya Stark and Gendry had not stayed long past that disappointing discovery.
He could have settled down after that, taken a wife, raised a family. He could have joined one of the many armies and died in any number of battles. He could have finished his march to the Wall and taken the black. Instead, he had chosen to return to his forge, avoid what violence he could, and help tend to the many orphans that had made their way to the Crossroads Inn. He had failed little Arry, all of those years ago, and could only try to make amends by saving as many other children as was possible.
When rumor once more had brought news of Arya Stark returned to Winterfell, at first, Gendry had not had the heart to think on it. He had long ago resolved himself to the fact that she had died. If not at the Twins, then by hand of the Hound, or worse.
But the rumors had grown and held weight; not just the youngest daughter, but three Stark children had been found and taken home, and once more Gendry had found within him the urge to ride north.
The snows are higher and the winds more fierce than his first time, but eventually he is able to find himself back before the gates of Winterfell. The ruined castle is less ravaged than it had been on his last visit, though true winter has brought the repairs to a halt. The men that hold the gate this time look more hardened but less viscous than those of his previous stay and he takes that as a good sign.
It is not until he finds himself once more within the great hall that Gendry dares to let himself hope. The last time that he had stood there, a false Stark had been beside of the Warden of the North.
He looks up now to see a boy half his age residing on the great seat of the North, but his attention is drawn to the women who flank the lord; one tall and kissed by fire, the other no less awe-inspiring for her smaller stature.
Gray eyes met blue for the first time in years and Gendry finds himself at a loss.
"Speak, ser." Calls the boy from up high. "What is your grievance?"
He had not thought beyond this moment, beyond finding the friend that he had lost so long ago. In the light of the hall he can see that it would be impossible for Arry to return. Instead, now lives the lady Arya, a woman grown and more beautiful than he could have ever imagined. His mind plays back her words to him in perfect clarity, 'I could be your family,' and his mouth speaks without the consent of his brain.
"I have come to pledge myself to your house, milord." He bends the knee and does not dare to look up.
There is silence for a long moment before he is asked to rise.
"And what should we call you?" The young man's voice betrays nothing.
"Gendry, milord. Formerly of the Hollow Hill."
Once again his eyes stray to the girl that he had once known, but he can read nothing in her gaze. She is closed off to him in a way that Arry never had been. Too full of fire and passion, the child that she had been would never have been able to stay quiet for so long and he wonders at where she had been to have been changed so greatly.
With his business concluded, Gendry is escorted from the hall to find quarters. He had not meant to stay on, but when he pauses at the doorway to spy Arya one last time and finds that her silvery eyes are still pinned to him, he cannot find it within himself to regret his impetuous decision.
The chamber that they show him to is small, but he does not have to share and for that he is grateful. Gendry has grown solitary in his years after the Brotherhood and he had not been looking forward to sharing a space with another. When his skills as a smith are made known he is sent to the forge to work alongside the young man that is all ready there. Even half trained as he is, Gendry is still the better craftsmen of the two and it is not long before he has moved into the smithy as it's master.
It is longer still before he is able to speak with Arya.
He had hoped that she would seek him out, as he is be unable to do so for her. As much as she has always denied being a lady, she can argue against it no more and it would be beyond improper for a lowly bastard smith to call upon her.
When he spies her in the distance she is always in a dress, and though her hair is not the elaborate styles he had heard tales about of the ladies of the Red Keep, it is long and clean and brushed. She is so different from the shorn-haired scrap of a boy he had first met that sometimes Gendry cannot reconcile the two.
When her horse throws a shoe they finally have reason come face-to-face. He knows she could have let the stable boy handle the replacement, she could have waited until Willem, who has become his apprentice, is back from his meal so that they would not be alone. The fact that she has done neither of those things warms him in a way that he has not felt since he last stood beneath the sun of King's Landing.
When he calls her milady she does not argue and he cannot help the sadness her indifference creates within him. When she turns to leave the forge without a word spoken out of place he can no longer hold his tongue.
"Is that it, Arya?" It is a gamble to use her given name so freely. A test of her good will towards him.
She stops and turns to face him, her ever-present mask not quite so perfect anymore. "What else is there to say?"
"A word of explanation, perhaps? Why did you run from the Brotherhood? Where have you been all these years?" Why have you not come to see me sooner? Was it a lie when you said that I was one of your pack?
"You left me." Her voice is flat and toneless; an accusation; a statement of fact.
"Begging your pardon, milady, but it was you who did the leaving."
He watches as her hands ball into fists at her sides and he is glad to be able pull a reaction from her still. It would be good to see her temper flare, he has been too long without it's heat. But as sharp as her glare remains, her hands relax again and she turns once more for the exit.
His heart sinks as he watches her go. They have broken her; someone, somewhere, somehow. Just as he has been broken as well. His shoulders hunch as he returns to his work.
Hammering steel; the only thing in the world that he is any good for.
He begins to see her more and more after their meeting in the forge and Gendry is left to wonder if Arya had been avoiding him before that day. It is nearly a week more before they are alone together again.
Winterfell still has a long way to go before it can be held to its former glory and the number of staff could not have been more than one-third of what the castle would boast when fully restored. Gendry has grown accustomed to the empty halls whenever he finds himself in need of using them, so it is a surprise for him to see Arya walking towards him from the other direction.
She does not look at all shocked to see him.
They do not trade words as they near one another but he cannot keep the corners of his mouth from curling up into a smile. The green of her dress reminds him of the one that she had worn at Acorn Hall, though she fills this one out in a way that is entirely different than the other.
Her clever eyes are quick to find his amusement and her voice calls to him as they pass.
"Do you laugh at me, ser?"
He turns to address her and lets his eyes trail over her from boot to braid. "It's a strange thing, to see you in a dress again."
She lifts her skirts up around her waist to his surprise and horror; surprise at not having anticipated her bold response, and horror at the disappointment he feels at what lays beneath.
She gestures with her free hand at the breeches that cover her legs. "A compromise. Lucky me that my lord brother has spent near half his life on Skagos, where even the women are wild and all people are free."
"Is that where you've been, then? Among the Wildlings?"
She lets her skirts drop again and sends him a smile that holds an edge to it. "If I had been, I would not be here now."
They are close enough for her to touch his face and he freezes as her fingers run through his beard. "I imagine seeing me in a dress is as strange to you as you with a beard is to me."
He had let the hairs grow out in full to help with the bite of the air outside. Now he wishes for a razor. Perhaps if he looked more like the boy that she had known she would treat him as such. The thought of wrestling with her on the floor of the forge brings more heat to his face than his beard could ever hope to accomplish.
She leaves him standing there in the hall, unsure of what has taken place or where they are to go from there.
That night Gendry wakes to find Arya sitting in naught but her shift at his bedside. There is a flinch from him when he first notices that he is not alone, but he is able to catch himself before he lashes out and swings at her. She stares at him, has been watching him sleep, and he cannot help but wonder at how long she has been there.
Neither of them have moved an inch when she speaks.
"I dreamt of Harrenhal for the first time in years."
He does not answer her, does not need to, only moves to make room for her on his cot. It had been common enough after their escape for one or both of them to wake up in a fit and seek out the other. She curls into herself, faced away from him, and he lies on his back and stares at the ceiling.
There will be no sleep for him now, not with her so close. She is no longer a little girl and he lets his eyes drift down to trace the evidence of that in the curve of her hip. Would she hate him for noticing the changes in her body? The Arya from his memory would have flayed him with her tongue the moment that she suspected.
He flushes at the thought as his mind conjures a different image then the one that had been intended.
His eyes go back to the rafters and he shoves his hands beneath his back, lest they should be tempted to wander. A better man would feel shame for letting his sinful bastard nature get the best of him. She had come to him as his friend, seeking a comfort and understanding that only he could give.
But he is not a better man and he could not deny that having a woman in his bed has had an affect on him. It has been too long since he has let anyone come this close to his person.
With a sigh, Arya shifts in her sleep, rolling over and curling into his side. The cot is not so big that he can scoot away, and so he lays there, stiff as a corpse, and wondering at what to do next.
"I won't kill you in your sleep, you know." The words are spoken softly but have no trace of sleep in them.
He is not sure what to do with the knowledge that she has pressed herself against him by choice. Her fingers begin to draw patterns on his chest and for a moment he forgets to breath.
"You're right," her voice is tiny and so like the sound from his memory, "you didn't leave me first. But you would have, given the chance."
"How do you figure that?" He has wondered for so long what it was that had made her run. She would have been safe with the Brotherhood, they would have delivered her home to her family.
"It doesn't matter." Her fingers still and she makes to pull away from him.
Gendry is quicker and he wraps both of his arms around her to pull her back to him again.
She is quiet a moment more and he begins to think that she might fight him to get away. Her voice when she answers is hurt and angry. "What did you think would happen when I was finally ransomed to my family and you were still pledged to the Brotherhood?"
Truth be told, he had tried not to think on it back then.
"About the same as would've happened if I had chosen to serve your brother." He does not try to hold back the bitter note is his voice. Even with Arya beside him, wrapped in his arms, he cannot forget who they would be come the morning.
She props herself up on the arm that she has across his chest to look down at him. "That makes no sense."
Maybe it is the lateness of the hour, or the dreamlike quality of the night, but Gendry lets his hand move to her face to trace the softness of her cheek. "A lady has no need to cross paths with a smith, milady. I doubt your family would have allowed it."
Her eyes soften a measure and he wonders at the fact that she had believed that nothing would have changed between them had he pledged himself to her brother. She had been so very young back then.
As she leans down to brush her lips against his he is reminded that she is not so young anymore.
It is a chaste kiss and she has laid her head back onto his shoulder after only a moment.
He lays awake for long hours after that, holding Arya to him and staring into the darkness. Sometime before morning he must have fallen asleep for when he wakes she has gone from the forge.
No trace of her remains to prove that she had been there; and yet, for the first time in years, Gendry is able to start his day with a smile.
Winterfell stands against the blizzard that rages around it, the people within go about their duty, and the world passes them by in a blanket of white. The battle at the Wall still rages and Gendry has felt the pull to join that fight more than once. The only thing that stops his marching is the knowledge that he would not be able to do so alone. Arya has indeed claimed him back into her pack and on the occasion that he has mentioned his thoughts on the Wall, she has made it clear that she would be joining him if he should chose to go.
He has little reason to doubt that she would follow through.
Her visits to the forge have become a regular occurrence, though only the first has taken place after dark. No one comes to speak to him about the impropriety of it all; no warnings to leave the lady be, no threats to takes his head; and yet Gendry can see the stares that they both receive. It is not right for a noblewoman to spend so much time with a commoner, he knows that; though whenever he brings up the subject she bats it away as though it means nothing.
Time passes and the walls seem to close in around him a little more each day. Gendry was born in the south, in the sun of the long summer and he has never known what it is to be trapped by the very elements around them. Cabin fever they call it, and he feels that it is true. He thinks for sure that he will die if he cannot escape the confines of the castle and only ever finds a measure of peace when he ventures to the Godswood. He has never followed the Old Gods and has learned to have little care for the New, but the walls are farther apart in the little grove and the tranquil nature of the place brings with it a peace that he is lacking.
It no surprise when Arya is able to find him, even there. She has learned, somewhere in their time apart, the art of finding anyone in any place, and though her footsteps warn him of her approach, he knows too that she has chosen to allow them to be heard. She is as much a stranger to him as she is familiar.
She sits at his side beneath the weirwood tree, their shoulders pressed together in a way that is verging on improper. He should pull away, put distance between them, but they are alone and secluded and if he were to be honest with himself, he has not the desire to be away from her.
"Did you know the Free Folk steal their mates?" Her voice is conversational, but he is not fooled for a moment. "If a woman wants a man she takes him and that is the end of it."
"I hadn't heard that." He feigns ignorance of her meaning, has been avoiding the subject whenever she would begin to steer them towards it. "It must be very different up there, north of the wall."
"And south of it too, now. What with the Wildlings crossing over to safety." She loops her arm under his, pulling his hand into her lap to play with his fingers. "I bet there's loads that we could learn from them."
The thought had come to Gendry in his time since arriving in Winterfell to run away with the girl beside him and live among the Free Folk. She had talked about it often enough when they had been children on the run and had started again when he had come back to her. The temptation of a life without titles is a strong one.
He looks down at her upturned face and knows that he could never be the reason that she should lose what is left of her family.
His fingers intertwine with her own to give her hand a squeeze, "I'm sure there is, milady," before he is pulling away to stand and leave.
The sound of Arya rising and the crunch of her feet in the snow are loud in the silence around them. "My lord brother is as much Wildling now as Stark, do you think he cares anymore than I about titles? Why does it mean so much to you?"
Gendry closes his eyes and breathes in the frigid air before turning to look at her. "The only thing that I have ever owned, the only value to my name, has been my talent with a hammer and steel. But next to you, that means nothing. I mean nothing and would only drag you down beside me."
The look in her eyes is a peculiar one and his is not certain if she will throw her arms around him to embrace him or push him to the ground to pummel him. After a moment, it is a little of both.
"You stupid, stupid man. You are what you make of yourself, no more and no less." She pushes against him, both hands planted against his chest, and he lets himself be moved back in the hopes that it will sooth her ire. "I'll drag you up beside me if that is what it'll take for you to see reason."
She does not continue with force or raise her hands against him. Instead he finds her lips are pressed against his and her hands have wrapped themselves in an unyielding grip around the fabric of his cloak. His own hands flutter at her sides for a moment before settling at her waist and then they are moving together, mouths opening, tongues sliding, and he knows that he is lost.
This slip of a girl, this mystery of a woman, has been the only person in his life to claim him as family from the moment that he had lost his mother; not Tobho Mott, nor the Brotherhood, and certainly not his father. Not even Jeyne or Willow at the Inn had fought to stop his leaving. But Arya would fight, fang and claw, to keep him with her. He knows this beyond all doubt.
Her hands have traveled beneath his cloak and around to clutch the fabric at his back, and the heat that is growing between will have them shedding layers soon. With that thought, Gendry pulls away, though he has to physically restrain the woman before him to keep her from starting again. What Arya wants, Arya will have and he chuckles at the frustrated look on her face.
"I yield, milady." She pauses in her struggles at his statement. "I have been, and ever will be, yours."
Her smile, when it comes, is triumphant and smug and he leans down to kiss it away from her. His own lips turn up at the corners at the sound of surprise that issues from her, but only for a moment as the kiss deepens.
It is when she reaches to unfasten his cloak that Gendry begins to process thought once more. When he calls for her to stop a second time he receives a black look for his troubles.
"I want no bastards between us." His voice is unsteady, but on this he will not waver.
Her hands are caught within his grip once more and he is more than a bit suspicious when all that she does is huff in annoyance.
"Fine, fine." There is a twinkle in her eye that he has come to learn will cause him nothing but trouble. "Sansa has nearly finished my maiden cloak anyway. I suppose I can wait another day."
His bark of laughter echoes around them and he pulls her into a tight embrace, her head against his chest. He is certain that she can hear the racing of his heart, even through the layers of clothe. It is, after all, her name that is pounded out with every beat. He holds her to him and knows that he is home for the first time in longer than he can remember.