The arguments had lasted all afternoon and into the evening, and Gendry was tired. Tired of the stupid differences of opinion, tired of the objections, tired of the anger, tired from the sheer lack of sleep. As the others' tempers rose, so did his, and he was on the verge of opening his mouth to say something he might regret when Thoros broke in.
Many of the men had not known Thoros in the earlier days, had not seen Lord Berric rise from death again and again, but the red priest was still greatly respected, and his authority in this time was undeniable. His voice was reason and a middle way, and once again, it prevailed.
So why doesn't this feel like a victory?
Gendry left the fire and began the trek through the snow to the inn. Despite night having fallen, the wolves were nowhere to be seen and remained blessedly silent. He supposed he had Arya's beast to thank for that.
When he pushed into her room, the last light had long faded from the sky. Arya's candle had burned down low, and she lay in the center of the small bed, motionless but for the steady rise and fall of her chest. He hesitated for a minute and then moved to put out her candle.
"Gendry," she said softly, before he could blow out the flame. Her eyes were red and swollen. She looked exhausted.
"You should sleep," he said. She bit her lip and closed her eyes, her expression pained, and he instantly regretted saying it.
Gendry sat on the edge of the bed and said her name gently. She looked over at him. "I'm so sorry," he said, and reached out a hand hesitantly to touched her hair. He pushed a few dark, damp strands out of her face very carefully.
She didn't answer, but took his hand and tugged. "Stay, please," she asked. "Don't go."
He shook his head. "I'm not going anywhere," he promised. She gave him a look –lost, grief-stricken, unconvinced– that made his chest hurt. "Here," he said, bending to slide a hand under her back and lift part of her weight. "Move over a little." He kicked off his damp boots and climbed into the bed next to her, warring emotions making his movements awkward. As soon as he had settled on the edge of the bed, she pulled herself over to him, rested her head on his arm, and buried her face in his chest.
Almost instinctually, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her tight against him, resting his cheek atop her head. Her shoulders began to shake, and within a few minutes she was sobbing quietly against his chest. His throat was painfully tight and he swallowed hard, rubbing a hand slowly up and down her back. It wasn't fair, he thought, but he didn't say it. None of his words would be right in that moment.
When her tears were spent, she lay quietly for a long time, her breathing slowly growing more even. When he was quite certain she had fallen asleep, he breathed in deep and sighed, running a hand across the wisps of hair that had escaped from her long braid. "What am I supposed to do?" he asked her, very softly. "You were always the strong one."
"Still am," she muttered. "I could beat you with my hands tied."
Gendry coughed back a surprised laugh. "That wasn't what I meant," he said.
She pushed herself up on one elbow and looked at him. "I know."
"What can I do?" he asked again.
"I have to go home," she whispered.
Gendry closed his eyes for just a minute and sighed. "I know," he said, looking up at her again. "We'll get you there. It may take some time, but we'll get you there."
Arya worried her bottom lip between her teeth, looking down at him intently. "You'll come with me?" she asked after a moment, all seriousness.
He didn't have to think about it. "Of course I'll come with you," he said resolutely.
She swallowed and nodded, some of the tension seeming to slip out of her shoulders. She lowered herself gingerly back onto his arm.
"It won't be just me, you know," he told her.
"What do you mean?"
"The men will follow you. There's no way North right now – but when you go, they'll follow you."
"Because – because she was my mother?"
"In part. And because of who you are... and what you can do. That wolf pack obeyed you, Arya. That kind of power puts fear in a man, but respect, too. They might not like it right now, but they won't turn their backs on you. Because they're afraid, aye, more afraid than most'll admit, but more because they need someone to follow. And you have the power they need."
She was silent for a minute. Then, "What do you mean, 'there's no way North'?"
"Just what I said. No living thing can move through the blizzards north of the neck, and the Shivering Sea will break any ship that braves it. But Thoros says that within a year or two, the storms will settle and the kingsroad will be passable."
"I could –"
"No," Gendry interrupted, "You couldn't. Your horse would die, you'd run out of food, and you might even freeze to death before either of those things happened."
"I've waited five years to go home."
"Aye. You can wait one more."
"I'm tired of waiting," she said softly.
They lapsed into silence, and Arya nudged her head back under his chin.
He swallowed hard, and started talking because he didn't know what else to do. "A lot of things changed after you left," he told her. "The armies fell back or went North and disappeared into the snow – haven't seen a real force in the Riverlands in more than a year. There are still groups of bandits, but we rout them out pretty quick. Spend more time moving food and supplies to the people than fighting."
"You miss it? The fighting?"
He thought about it. "Sometimes. I'm a fair hand with a sword. But better with a hammer, both in a fight and in a forge. So long as it's for the right cause, I'll take either. The building or the fighting."
"Is that why you're going with me? Because you know I'll end up where the fighting is? And the rebuilding after?"
"No." Her words had been light, teasing almost, but the certainty in his tone quieted them both and settled into the ensuing silence.
When the candle finally guttered out, Gendry stared over her head into the darkness and struggled to calm his pounding heart. Dead women and dead men and dead brothers all alive. Dragons in the world, darkness all around, and snow to blot out the fires.
He tried not to think of the things he hadn't told her. He didn't know what any of it meant, didn't want to think of the whispered stories of darkness and death and horror that filtered down from the North. And he surely didn't want to go there. But Arya would not stay in the South for long, blizzards be damned, and in his heart he knew she had the right of it.
When she went, the men would follow her, and so would he. Into the wastes of the Cold One, into the depths of the icy hell, he would follow her.
But for now, she was tucked against his chest, sleeping and safe. Wounded, weary, and mourning, yes, but blessedly safe. For now it would have to be enough.