Gendry doesn't mean to tell Arya she's pretty. It just keeps coming out, is all.
The morning after her first battle was when it happened.
They were returning from a raid on a Frey supply train. Lord Beric had relented and allowed her to come along. He was loathe to do it with her being a girl – practically a woman now – and highborn at that. But they were running short on everything. Food, armor, horses, men. The lightning lord couldn't afford to turn away a good archer when they needed these supplies something terrible.
And thanks to Anguy, Arya was a good archer. Fierce and fearless too.
As she rode beside him, Gendry noticed that her cheeks flushed a pretty shade of pink beneath smudges of dirt. Strands of hair fell loose and wild about her face. She practically bounced in the saddle from excitement. Without preamble, she threw back her head and let out a long, "Ahooooo." A lone howl answered back, followed by several more.
Tom laughed. "Quiet, girl! You'll bring wolves down upon us, and not the two legged kind."
When they reached camp, Gendry dismounted and moved to help her down.
"I know how to get off a horse," Arya said, even as she slid into his arms still grinning from all the excitement and danger she seemed to crave. She was warm and soft against him for a few brief seconds. Then she tuned to tend her horse.
"Never thought I'd see a highborn lady feathering Frey's," Lem said.
Anguy hooted. "She look like a highborn lady to you?"
"No." It was Gendry who answered, the words coming out before he could think them through. "She looks pretty."
The words drank the happiness from Arya's face. Hurt and betrayal replaced it in quick order, followed by anger.
Arya punched him in the chest. "Stupid bastard," she said before stalking off.
"What's all that for?" Gendry called after her.
"She's a funny one," Tom said.
"Aye," Harwin agreed. "That she is. Always was. But you'd best not get any ideas, lad. She's a lady whether she acts it or not."
The singer agreed. "Don't go making us hang you. We're hurting enough as it is. We'd hate to lose our only blacksmith too."
It had been a long time since Gendry laughed at the sight of Arya all dressed up like a proper little lady. He couldn't remember exactly when he stopped. Probably around the time she grew teats and members of the Brotherhood vowed to geld him every time he looked too long.
Acorn Hall is the only place in all the world where Arya will consent to wearing a gown. Lady Smallwood can still get her cleaned, primed, and dressed up proper. Gendry wondered if she behaved so tame with her because the old woman reminded her of her own lady mother or if it was because Lord Beric left her at Acorn Hall to heal after what folks were calling the Red Wedding.
Either way, Arya followed Lady Smallwood into the hall where the men were already eating some of the supplies they had brought for the lady. Arya wore a dress of faded yellow and brown that she kept tugging at and readjusting because it didn't fit comfortably.
Gendry took a long swig of wine to keep from staring.
Ned Dayne didn't bother looking away. He never did. The Lord of Starfall hoped to wed her once the world was set to rights again, not that he dared tell her that. Lord Edric called out to "Lady Arya," making room for her beside him.
Arya must have waved his lordship off because Gendry could feel her plopping down beside him.
"Stupid dress," she said under her breath, twisting her shoulders to make the cloth fit properly.
"Looks nice," he said. She scowled at him.
Arya's spirits rose as they share a skin of wine during the meal and heard news about the Lannister queen's fall. It seemed the man claiming to be one of the last remaining dragons finally crushed the united forces of the Lannister and Tyrell armies with the help of the Martell forces. Agreeing to marry his cousin, Arianne, made the difference. Cersei Lannister would be publicly executed after a mummer show trial.
Gendry watched Arya close her eyes, suck in a deep breath, and let it out all slow as the Brotherhood raised a toast to the justice finally served for King Robert and Lord Eddard, Hand of the King. Gendry wanted to say something, but didn't know what. Should he congratulate her for having one less name to whisper to the darkness? Instead, he refilled their cups and raised his own with the others.
But, with the good news came the bad. Now that the Lannisters had fallen, Lady Smallwood anticipated the return of her liege lord. She hoped to present Lord Edmure Tully's niece to him in good order.
"Arya should stay here until we can return her to her kin," the lady said. "She'll be ready for marriage soon. Some would say she already is. Lord Edmure will want to make a good match for her to help strengthen the riverlands."
A block of ice formed around Gendry's chest. A good match. He didn't need to look into Thoros' flames to know that wouldn't be the likes him. He took another drink of wine.
"I don't want to marry," Arya said. "I want to stay with the Brotherhood."
"Soon enough there won't be a Brotherhood," Tom said. "Soon 'twill be time to disband and put an end to this song."
"A maid like you should be thinking about knights and husbands and babes, not outlaws like Tom Sevensons here," Lady Smallwood said.
As the conversation moved on around them, Arya said in a low voice to Gendry, "That's all my sister wanted. Knights, husbands, and babes with beautiful golden hair."
"Maybe she'll get them now that everything's almost sorted," he said.
"If she's alive." They were quiet a moment as she stared into her cup like it held the last bits of hope in the world. "She would have been good at it, leastways, better than me. Nobody would want me for a wife."
Gendry laughed bitterly, casting a glance toward Ned Dayne before taking another drink. Was she mad? "Is m'lady making a joke?"
"You don't see me laughing, do you, ser?"
"Men will want to marry you."
"Why?" she demanded. "Because I'm supposed to be a lady of two exiled Houses?"
Then he did it again. Said something foolish. At least this time he could blame it on the drink.
"No, because as bloody irritating as you are, you're the prettiest thing I know."
Arya dumped the remnants of her wine over his head.
Hooting laughter rose up around them.
"I should've known better than to talk seriously with a stupid, bullheaded bastard," Arya said as she stalked away.
A giggling serving wench gave him a cloth to clean off with as he watched Arya march out of the hall. Without making the decision to do it, Gendry found himself on his feet, striding after her.
"You don't like me telling you how pretty you are?" he called after her down the corridor.
"Figured that out on your own, did you?" she yelled back.
By then, Gendry caught up with her. Just as he brushed her arm with his fingertips, Arya whirled on him. "I won't be made fun of by some stupid… stupid… stupid…"
"That the only word you know?"
Arya would have said more, but Gendry's mouth covered hers. Fool that he was, he didn't think about how a member of the Brotherhood could wander out of the great hall, see what they were about, and put an end to him right there. He would have to blame this stupidity on the drink too. Might as well. The taste of it still flavored both their mouths as he found out when he run his tongue coaxingly along her lips, urging them to open. When they did, Seven help him, Gendry all but crushed her body to him.
Gendry finally pulled away, his head spinning from more than just the wine.
Arya stared him, blinking dumbly. Not know what else to do, he kissed her again. This time, she arched her neck up to meet him. The young woman's fingers tangled with the front of his tunic.
This time when their mouths parted, Arya leaned up again and placed a quick kiss on his lips, as if trying to get the last word in an argument.
They said nothing for a time as they drank each other in. Her grey gaze roved from his eyes to his mouth and back. Arya's hair was mussed where his hands grasped and her lips were swollen. She didn't look near so neat anymore.
"You're so very pretty," he murmured.
This time, she didn't hit him or rage or even spill a drink.
"Gendry." Arya looked at him almost shyly; a blush crept into her cheeks. "I want to do that again."
"You want Harwin and the others to geld me, that's what you want."
But Gendry pulled her close and kissed her again.