Sorry it's a bit shorter than the other chapters, I didn't see the point in dragging things out. Again, thanks to everyone who stayed with me for this little AU story, I'm really glad you guys seemed to enjoy it!
He couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten, slept, or bathed. He'd been in this room for what felt like forever, his hand holding Arya's like it was the only thing keeping her here with him. He hadn't left her side for a single moment, not even to pay his respects to his father. Lady Sansa had been with him every day, reading, sewing, praying, and telling him a few stories about their childhood in Winterfell, and though he occasionally wished that she would just let him be miserable on his own, most of the time, he was grateful for the company.
There was a knock on the door. He knew who was on the other side, and he didn't bother answering, knowing that Lord Stark would come in anyway. Sansa however whispered the invitation, and her father entered the room. Gendry gave him a silent nod and turned his attention back to Arya, hoping that the Hand of the King, his Hand, would give him another few seconds before he told him whatever it was he had come to say. He did, but Gendry still sighed at the words he had expected.
"You need to attend your father's funeral, Your Grace."
"Not until she wakes up."
"You know we can't wait any longer. The realm needs this. They need to say goodbye to Robert, and more importantly, they need to see you. They're beginning to think you're dead too."
Varys had told him about the whispers. Some people were spreading the rumor that the attempted murder had been successful and that this was why no one had seen him since the tragic events that had unfolded at the castle. It seemed things were getting out of control out there, but he didn't care. All that mattered was the irrational certainty that if he left this room, he would never see Arya again.
It had been a week since she had almost given her life to save his, and she had yet to wake up from her unnatural sleep. The Grand Maester had told them that it was her body's way of dealing with the pain and of repairing itself, and Gendry had to believe him. Sometimes, he could even allow himself a fleeting moment of hope since this was what Maester Luwin had said about Bran after his fall, and the boy had eventually woken up, though he would never be able to walk again. Arya's head and back hadn't been injured, so there was little risk of the same thing happening to her. According to the healer, all they had to do was wait, and she would wake up whenever her body was ready to face the world again.
Though no one had said the words out loud, the question had been written all over their faces. When would that be?
Pycelle was rather optimistic and thought that a few more days would probably be enough.
Still, Gendry would have given anything to see those silver eyes looking at him, if only for a moment. She could sleep all she wanted after that, he just needed some proof that she was still in there somewhere.
"Give me a few more days."
Lord Stark looked like he was about to say something, but then he closed his mouth, slowly shook his head and left without another word.
"You do realize how selfish you're being, don't you?"
It was the harsh tone rather than the words themselves that made him tear his gaze away from the woman he loved to look at her sister. He had never heard Lady Sansa speak like that to anyone. In the months he'd known her, he'd seen her happy, angry, sweet, sad, fearful, brave, but never cold. When he didn't answer, both because he was too shocked and because he had no idea what she was talking about, she explained, "She's his daughter. You're not the only one who almost lost her. You're not the only one who still might. You're making him rule in your place when he's just as devastated as you are. He deserves better. He deserves to be here by her side just as much as you do. But he can't, because you're too engrossed in your own pain to notice his, or to do what needs to be done."
She focused on her needlework after that, and there was nothing he could do but watch Arya while he tried to come to terms with the fact that Sansa was right. He'd done absolutely nothing in the last few days, he didn't even really know what was going on in his kingdom. Lord Stark had told him everything he knew about his birth and about Cersei, he had told him he'd arrested her and her children in order to make sure the Lannisters wouldn't be able to take the throne from him, but that was about all he knew. He had no idea what the people knew of the situation, he didn't know if the threat was definitely over or if he should expect an attack led by Jaime, and to be completely honest, he wasn't sure he'd make such a great king. Not when, as Sansa as pointed out, he was so selfish. What kind of king spent his days feeling sorry for himself when his people needed him?
"You can do better than that, you know. You can be better than that." Sansa said after a while, her voice soft again.
He smiled at her attempt at encouragement, but there was no real emotion behind it. While he was thankful, they had never exchanged more than pleasantries, she didn't really know him. Therefore, her positive opinion of him did nothing to reassure him.
"How would you know?"
"She believes in you," she whispered with a small wave towards Arya, her faith in her sister obvious in spite of their many differences.
"Maybe she misjudged me."
She gave him a sweet, knowing smile.
"She never does. One more day, Your Grace. I'm giving you another day to grieve and pray, and then I'm throwing you out of here myself."
He was so surprise to see the king take his seat at the council meeting that he instantly asked him what was wrong, his heart stopping at the thought that something might have happened to Arya. But Gendry gave him a small smile, assured him that everything was all right, and asked him to tell him everything that had happened during his absence. Ned sat back down, still slightly stunned. When he'd gone to see the king the day before, he'd been sure he would need to try again a few times before he managed to make him leave the room. Something must have happened to shake him out of his depression. Ned shook his head, pushing these thoughts away. All that mattered was that he was here now. He went over the decisions he'd taken over the past week, the king approving every single one of them and thanking him for what he'd done.
"What are your plans for my father's wife and her children? Surely you don't intend to leave them rotting in the cells?"
Ned glanced at the other members of the council, and the king nodded, understanding that he didn't want to talk about it in front of everyone else.
"That's all for today, my lords. Lord Stark, walk with me," Gendry suggested.
They left, and Ned noted that the king's steps were automatically leading them to the room where his daughter was. He bit back a smile and went down to business.
"Your Grace, a man came to see me two days ago. Yoren, of the Night's Watch. He wanted to know if we had men for the Wall."
"I assume you gave him some of our prisoners? Did…"
Ned watched as his friend's son stopped talking and walking and turned to him when he understood why he'd started this particular conversation with this bit of information. At his questioning look, Ned explained, "I asked him to stay in King's Landing for a few days, because I wanted to talk to you about it first. I obviously can't take such a decision, but I would strongly recommend…"
"Sending Joffrey to the Wall," Gendry cut in with a smile. "I wonder how long my dear 'brother' can survive up there."
It was a good solution. Actually, it was the only solution Ned could think of. They couldn't kill Joffrey or keep him in prison without risking a war. Given his cowardice and lack of skills with a sword, sending him to the Wall was almost a death sentence, yet since taking the Black was supposed to be an honor, his father and grandfather couldn't do anything about it without looking like they were purposefully endangering the realm when the Night's Watch was in dire need of volunteers.
"What do you think, Your Grace?"
"It's perfect. Now what about the others? I know Tommen and Myrcella could technically be considered a threat, but…"
He didn't finish his sentence, but he didn't have to. Ned knew what he was thinking. They could send Tommen to the Wall as well, but while Joffrey had always been vicious and violent, his brother was an innocent child, and Gendry loved him even though he now knew that he didn't really share his blood.
"I'm sure the Tullys would be willing to welcome Tommen… as a ward."
The king nodded wordlessly, showing no apparent surprise. It seemed he'd thought about it and reached the same conclusion. Being a ward was better than being a prisoner and the Lannisters couldn't deny that the position was rather enviable since the Tullys were one of the most powerful families of the realm and would take care of little Tommen as if he was their own.
"That leaves the matter of Myrcella," Gendry said. "You know what I'm about to ask of you, don't you?" Ned nodded, and the king clarified, "I will not make it a command. You and your family have done enough for me. I know I should not even be considering it given how much I owe you already, but…"
"You're the king, Your Grace," Ned reminded him with a soft smile. "And we both know it's the only way anyway. A wedding is the only viable option for her."
"And the Starks are the only ones I can trust with this. But I will give your sons the same courtesy I was given. We'll send Myrcella to Winterfell as soon as possible. Let her get to know your sons, let them get to know her, and a match will be made. I don't think they will be as lucky as Arya and I were, but some form of affection is better than nothing."
"As you wish, Your Grace."
Gendry started walking again now that these matters were settled. They soon reached the room where Arya was still sleeping, and the king sighed as they entered.
"You have no idea how much I wish we could just kill Cersei."
"I do, believe me," Ned answered, his voice so harsh that it surprised even him. "But we can't, not unless you want to start your reign with a war."
"You know I don't. But I will not have her released." Ned nodded his agreement and watched as Gendry bent down to kiss Arya's forehead, and then turned back to him with a small smile. "I've been told you deserve to be here with her. I will leave you alone if you wish."
Lord Stark sat down on the bed next to his daughter. The king had made a point of staying in this room for the past few days, he knew what a sacrifice it was for him to have made that offer. He shook his head and motioned for Gendry to take his usual seat by Arya's bedside. Obviously relieved, the younger man sat down and took his betrothed's hand in his. Witnessing the tender gesture, Ned suddenly felt the need to point out what no one else would ever tell him.
"You're going to be a great king."
Gendry gave him a small, tired smile.
"The only thing I'm sure of is that I can't do anything wrong as long as I keep listening to my wisest advisor. And yet… Lord Stark, I know you only came here on my father's order, and I know how much you hate King's Landing. Know that while I'm aware of how desperately you are needed here, I will relieve you of your duties if you want me to."
Taken aback, Ned didn't answer right away. He had never thought that Gendry would give him the opportunity to leave. He hadn't dared to hope. He was tempted, to be honest. He longed to be back North with Catelyn and his boys. Winterfell might be cold and harsh, but it was home, and he had never felt more out of place than he did here in the capital. Yet as he looked at the young man who looked so much like his dearest friend, he realized that he couldn't leave. Not when he was more needed here than he'd ever be again in Winterfell.
"I will stay for as long as I am needed here."
Ned nodded. The king smiled gratefully and turned his attention back to Arya, the smile leaving his lips as he took in her weakened state once again. Ned sighed at his returning sadness, trying to think of something to say to relieve the pain.
"She loves you, you know."
"And I, her. Thank you, Lord Stark."
There were a dozen things Gendry could be thanking him for, from ruling in his place for the last few days to agreeing to stay, from reacting as fast as he had after Robert's death to taking care of the Lannister problem, yet somehow, Ned sensed that his gratitude ran deeper than that.
"For what, Your Grace?"
She rolled to her side, not bothering to cover her naked body. It was at times like these that she missed Winterfell. King's Landing was too hot. Even at night, with the window open, she was overly warm and sweaty, though some of it could be blamed on her husband, who was currently kissing his way up and down her body after their lovemaking. She laughed when he tickled the sole of her foot and blew cool air on her ankle.
"I'm a terrible queen," she said as the motion reminded her of how shocked the ladies of the court had been to see her walking barefoot earlier in the day. "And I'm going to be an even worse mother. Thank the Gods our children will have you for a father."
She meant every word. Though stubborn as a bull and sometimes quite obtuse when he wanted to be, her husband was caring and patient, he would love their progeny more than she ever could, she was sure of it. In some ways, he made her think of her own father. She might not always agree with his decisions, but she had never once doubted that everything Ned Stark did, he did for his family.
"You're a great queen, and you're going to be an amazing mother." When she scoffed at that, he added, "You threw yourself between me and certain death without a moment's thought for your own safety. You would die for those you love. And you would kill to protect them. It almost makes me pity those who will try to harm our children."
"I… I just don't know if I'll be able to love them enough."
He smiled and placed a soft kiss on her stomach, which seemed to be getting bigger and bigger with each passing hour.
"I know you're secretly wishing for a girl. If you didn't already love this little thing, you wouldn't care one way or the other."
While she knew that a boy would probably be better since Gendry needed an heir and the Gods knew no one would accept a girl as their future ruler, she was wishing for a girl. She wanted to teach her how to fight, she wanted to help her change the world, she wanted her to shock the ladies of the court with her unladylike behavior, and most of all, she wanted to see her wrap her father around her finger. For all his stubbornness and unwavering ways, King Gendry would be powerless faced with pleading blue eyes and a cute pout. She couldn't wait to see that. If she didn't want their daughter to wreak havoc on the whole city before she even turned five, she was going to have to be the voice of reason. She chuckled at the mere thought. King's Landing was in so much trouble.
"At this point, I don't care," she lied. "I just want this to be over."
This last part was not a lie. Ever since they'd found out she was pregnant, Gendry had taken it upon himself to ensure her safety. While she understood his behavior, especially after her brush with death almost a year ago, not being able to practice with Syrio, ride a horse, or go out without an escort was getting tiresome.
"It will be over before you know it."
"Right. You're not the one who can't even see his feet anymore. And you're not the one who has to take four guards with him every time he leaves this room because someone is being unjustifiably cautious." His lingering smile disappeared and instead of answering, he made a point of placing another kiss on her stomach, this time directly above the scar left by the assassin's blade. She sighed. "You're going to have to get over it eventually."
"Not in this lifetime."
"I'm here," she reminded him.
"I still have trouble believing it."
"I would do it again, you know. I will do it again if I ever have to."
"No, listen to me. I need you to understand this. If I ever get killed trying to protect you, it will be my choice, and you will have to accept it. The last time you broke down, it was only the kingdom that needed you. That's not how it works anymore. Our child will need you."
"You're never going to let me live that down, are you?"
"You know me so well."
"I have a suggestion for you. The next time someone tries to kill me, don't knock me out, that way I'll be able to protect myself."
"Are you ever going to let me live that down?"
"What do you think?"
"Fine," she growled.
He smiled and made his way up her body to wrap his arms around her, her back resting against his chest while his hands caressed her stomach.
"Have you thought about names?"
"If it's a girl, I know my father would like us to call her Lyanna."
"I asked if you had thought about names."
She tensed and only relaxed when she felt him press a light kiss against the nape of her neck. It was a while before she finally whispered "Nymeria."
She wasn't sure what to expect. While she had obeyed him and he had liked her, her direwolf hadn't meant half as much to him as she'd meant to her. Sure, she'd saved his life when she'd growled and alerted them of the assassin's presence, but it didn't mean he wanted his daughter to be named after her. Not to mention it would be an eternal reminder of events they would both rather forget. She was about to tell him to forget about it when he spoke.
Her surprise seemed to annoy him.
"Of course. Without her, we wouldn't be here today."
She turned in his embrace so that she could face him and let him see her smile.
"I love you."
His eyebrows shot up.
"I didn't think I'd ever hear you say it."
"Don't get used to it."
He smiled, and since she could see him brace up for a punch, she knew exactly what he was about to say. She punched him before the words fell from his lips.
"As my lady commands."