A/N: For all of you very worried about Gendry: No worries! He's in this chapter! And uh...to the person who comment awhile back saying they hate Gendry x Arya. Sorry 'bout this.
Chapter 21: The Inevitable
When she was only twelve years old, Arya listened to her father die. Yoren had hidden the execution from view, holding her tight to his chest. But she had heard it. Heard the fall of the blade and the shouts of the crowd, calling for blood. Even though she had not seen the moment, she dreamed about it, as if she was actually there. She played that moment over and over again in her mind.
When she was thirteen, just outside the Twins, she saw the Freys march her brother's body out on a horse, with his wolf's head sewn to his body. She watched the chaos knowing she would never see her brother or mother again. And though she did not see them die, she played their deaths over and over again in her mind.
When she was fifteen and all the way across the sea, Rickon had taken an arrow to the back on the battlefield. She had not even known he had died, but after hearing the story from Sansa, she played the moment over and over again in her mind.
Then, days ago, while she ran impulsively after a white walker, the Night King had struck Bran down, and by the time she returned to him, he was already gone. She had not seen him die. But now, in her dreams, she once again played the moment over and over again in her mind.
Five members of her family had died in these past few years and she was not there for them. She was as helpless now as she had been when she was twelve. What good was learning to fight when she could not protect the people who mattered?
It did not help that she was back at Harrenhal. Here, she had seen men tortured with the most awful tactics imaginable. Here she had seen them hung from the walls. Here she had served as cupbearer to the patriarch of the Lannister household, Lord Tywin, fearing every day that he might discover her true name.
This place was not suited to good dreams, and it made nightmares infinitely worse. Every night she spent in those ruined halls, she woke with a start, crying out into the darkness.
The list of dead family was too long. Would she have to add Sansa's name to that list by the end? Jon's name? She couldn't bare it. She couldn't bare anymore loss.
In the absence of sleep, she wandered Harrenhal, feeling rather like one of the ghosts that haunted the ruins. She walked the battlements a night. She paced back and forth across the courtyard. She practiced turning Dark sister in her hand. How she had always wanted a sword like this. How she had admired its wielder. She wondered if Visenya Targaryen had ever felt this weak and helpless.
One late night, when the wind cut like a knife through the stones, howling with every gust, she heard the clang of metal on metal. She wandered past the forge and found Gendry pounding away at a sword. The sparks lit up the darkness.
She wondered if she should speak to him or if she should pretend she wasn't here. She was not in the mood to speak to anyone. But before she could back into the shadows, Gendry looked up. "M'lady."
Arya did not even have the heart to correct him. "Why are you working so late? It's the middle of the night."
"You ask while also up in the middle of the night," Gendry dipped the hot metal into the water beside him. Steam billowed from the barrel, warming the air around them. "It's hard to sleep in this place. I still have nightmares about Harrenhal. About the things they did here."
Arya nodded once. She had nightmares too, but usually not of Harrenhal. Perhaps because Harrenhal was not even in the top five of her worst experiences. At least none of her family had died here.
"And you, m'lady?" Gendry asked.
Arya didn't reply. She stared straight ahead into space, not trusting herself to speak.
Gendry set his latest sword down on the table and took a step toward her. "Arya?"
She shook her head. "I'm...I'm fine. I just wanted a walk."
"A brisk walk around Harrenhal? Of course you did. Is it as scenic as you remember?" Gendry asked. "You don't have to pretend to be fine. I heard about...about your end of the battle. I know that you're in pain."
"Then why did you ask?" Arya muttered.
"To hear you say it, I suppose. They say it's better to talk about how you're feeling than ignore it," Gendry said.
Arya didn't want to talk though. It only made it more real and more painful. She wished she could bury her every emotion deep down inside of herself so that she never had to feel again.
"Arya." Gendry reached out to rest a hand on her shoulder. "Is there something I can do?"
She jerked away from him, taking a few steps back. "No. There's nothing."
"Please. Let me help you."
"You can't. No one can."
"I can try," he murmured. "I know you're strong, Arya. You're stronger than anyone I've ever met. But you can't be that way all the time."
Yes I can, Arya thought. If I work hard enough, I can become unfeeling stone. I can become a sword. I can become no one.
She had left Bravos to avoid becoming no one. To keep her name. But now, with this grief biting at her soul, becoming no one sounded rather inviting again.
"I don't need your help," Arya muttered. "What makes you think you can do anything for me?" She felt a wave of cruelty rising up in her, the kind of cruelty that only surfaced when she was wounded. "You were right about us. We could never be family or friends because we're too different. I'm a Stark. You're a blacksmith. I was naïve when I thought differently, but you knew. Well I understand now. So you... you can call me m'lady if you want. That's what I am to you. That's all I'll ever be."
She turned to go, sure that her words had struck a deadly blow that would keep Gendry away from her. That was for the best. Everything she loved had a tendency to die.
Instead he caught her arm.
Arya fought him as he pulled her back. She squirmed and struck at his arm. But he pulled her in close to his chest, holding her in a vice like grip. Years of smithing had made him shockingly strong.
"It's alright, Arya."
"Stop it," she snapped. "I'm fine. I told you I'm fine."
"Let me...let me go..." Arya was trembling in his arms. All of her emotions were threatening to consume her. "I'm fine. I don't need you. I don't need anyone."
"Yes you do. And that's alright."
"Stop it," Arya mumbled. Tears stung her eyes. "You idiot. Stop..." Then she couldn't speak anymore past the tears.
She folded to his arms, weeping openly as he held her. All the while, he whispered soft words in her ear.
"It's alright. You can cry. It's alright."
Nothing about Arya's life was alright. The battles of the past had taken a heavy toll and she had no doubt that the battles of the future would take more from her. And yet, something about Gendry's voice made her believe him. His arms made her feel safe in a way she rarely did.
"I was wrong, back then," Gendry murmured. "To leave you when you needed a friend. To say that we couldn't be family. I take that all back, Arya. We can be whatever you want."
Slowly, Arya pulled back and Gendry let her. Her shoulders still trembled with the weight of her tears, but now there was something else rising up beneath all of the grief and uncertainty. "Whatever I want?" she murmured.
"Yes." Gendry got a cheeky little smile on his face. "M'lady."
"Shut up," Arya muttered. Then, to make sure he couldn't talk anymore, she grabbed his collar and pulled his lips down to hers.
She had never kissed anyone before, and rarely had she thought of it. She had always hated the kissing stories when she was a child, and scoffed at Sansa for enjoying them. But in this moment, with all of her walls destroyed, she wanted to try.
In the first second, he didn't move. He was too shocked by it all. But then he dropped easily into the kiss, cradling her face in his hands. His palms were rough upon her skin, worn from years of hard labor. But she found she liked it.
Slowly, she pulled back to look up at him, checking to make sure that this was okay. He smiled at her and shook his head. "I hope you shut me up like that all of the time."
Arya choked out a laugh. "You're an idiot."
"I hate you."
She pulled him back in for another kiss. And for just a moment, the briefest of moments, she let this new emotion chase away all of the bad, and things were alright.
Cersei was consumed by nightmares of her enemies. Of the Dragon Queen and the King in the North. Of Euron Greyjoy and the Golden Company who followed him instead of her. Of Tyrion. Of Jaime.
Of Maggie the Frog who first spoke the awful words that had ruled Cersei's life for decades.
Queen you shall be, until there comes another, younger and more beautiful to replace you.
So many young queens had come to challenge Cersei. Sansa. Margaery. Daenerys. Each time she dealt with one queen, another seemed to arrive in their place, all so beautiful and loved. How many beautiful queens would she have to kill?
Ten and six for him. Three for you. Gold will be their crowns and gold their shrouds.
All of her children had died before her. Three of them, just like the prophesy said. Each time she saw one of their little bodies, she felt her fate closing in tighter around her, like a noose.
And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.
The valonqar. The little brother. From the moment Tyrion was born, he was her doom and she knew it. Now, with all of her children dead, he seemed to creep closer and closer. She dreamed of him sneaking through the window of her room and squeezing the life out of her with his bare hands. She grasped helplessly at his hands.
"It's over sweet sister. You always knew this was how it had to end," he whispered.
"Jaime," she called out for help. For the one person who could help her. "Jaime where are you?"
"I'm here," Jaime's voice replied. And when she looked up again, it was him looming over her, a golden hand at her neck.
He did not stop squeezing.
Cersei woke with a gasp. Pain like she had not felt in years ripped through her abdomen, drawing a scream from her. If felt as if her baby was trying to claw through her stomach.
My baby, she thought. My baby is coming.
And even in the midst of her agony she laughed. Yes. This was her chance to break the prophesy. If she had a four child then that meant Maggie the Frog's words were all nonsense. She needn't die at all.
"Qyburn!" she cried out. "Find Qyburn!"
She gripped the sheets of her bed and parted her legs, preparing to deliver. Oh how sweet this pain could be.
Oh how sweet the victory.
Qyburn found her quickly. Cersei's last remaining handmaid ran to fetch him and brought him at once. He helped Cersei as she labored for twelve hours, whispering soft instructions to her. As if she needed them. She had done this three times before. She knew exactly what to do.
But by the end of the process, Cersei was so exhausted she could barely able to keep her eyes open. One last push and the baby came free of her. She felt it and she let out a weak laugh, listening for the child's cry.
She waited for the cry.
Where was the cry?
Trembling she cracked her eyes open to see Qyburn holding her baby, his face grim. A boy, she could tell. But he was not moving.
"My baby," she whispered.
"I'm sorry, your grace," Qyburn said.
Gold shall be their crowns and gold their shrouds.
Cersei let out a shuddering breath. Darkness pressed around edges of her vision. She could not keep her eyes open.
Three. Only three.
It was all inevitable. The valonqar is coming for me.
A/N: So, obviously two very different scenes in this chapter. Though there's a lot of pain and angst in both. I assume that's why you guys came to this fic anyway. For that sweet, sweet angst. Review, subscribe etc. and I'll see you next time!