AN: This story takes place post-series with the Others defeated and the kingdoms split into seven kingdoms again.
But for the Hole in My Heart
Gendry asked for Arya's hand in marriage as they sat before a campfire eating a dinner of sausages.
"You won't be getting any children on me," Arya said by way of response.
With that festering hole in her heart and the blood drenching her soul, Arya knew she could only be a terrible mother. Her hands were crafted for bestowing the gift of death and grasping for vengeance. They weren't made for cradling babes who would need more devotion than she could risk. She was barely brave enough to allow herself to care for Gendry and the broken pieces of family that remained to her.
Of the six children of Lord Eddard Stark, only Jon, Arya, and Rickon remained. But none of them were the same children they had been when they first broke away from each other.
Jon was a man now. He was lord commander of the Night's Watch and a seasoned warrior now, besides. He would never return to that boy of four and ten who ruffled her hair and called her "little sister."
Baby Rickon was no longer a baby. A lad of ten, he looked at Arya with little recognition in his Tully blue eyes.
Seeing them and remembering what they would never be again hurt almost as violently as the complete loss of all the others.
But Gendry was still Gendry, so she clung to him fiercely as they traveled here and there around Westeros together with Nymeria.
"I'll marry you." Arya finished off the last bite of sausage. "But don't go thinking I'll change my mind."
Gendry just shrugged as he stood up with her to take the pan and dishes to clean in the stream.
"I don't know how to be no father anyhow," Gendry said. "Never had one of my own, so I wouldn't know how it was done."
Their first babe died in the womb.
"We wouldn't have kept it anyway," Arya said as Gendry sat at her bedside, his eyes creased with exhaustion. It was a struggle to push back the I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry that threatened to burst from her.
She hadn't meant to. It was all his fault, really.
The babe must have taken root before they last left Winterfell. Arya didn't suspect until nearly a month later when the rabbit stew they cooked over the campfire made her nauseous. The suspicions were confirmed when she wretched up her entire meal at the scent of the onions they bought in a nearby town.
The wonder that filled her husband's blue eyes when he learned the news pricked at her heart.
But Arya had turned her voice to steel as she said, "We need to find a maester who can give me moon tea. I can fix it like I did all the times before."
They found a wise woman just outside of Darry and bought a few bottles off of her.
Arya didn't tell Gendry she never drank any. She always planned to drink it. She had the times before. She knew she should. It was only fair to the babe. Why should it be cursed with her for a mother?
Gendry, he'd be a right fine father if the way he played with Uncle Edmure's sons meant anything. That wouldn't make her any good though.
But every time Arya mustered the will to drink the moon tea, she saw that look on Gendry's stupid face, the one he got when she told him she was with child. She never told him about any of the others. There were two before. But they were gone so quick, they didn't count. Telling Gendry made that one more real somehow. It made Arya too craven to take the tea like she should.
But her own body saw fit to set the situation to rights.
They road toward Maidenpool where they knew they could find work. The fishing boats always needed an extra pair of hands and skilled blacksmiths were rarely turned away.
As the city came into sight, the world seemed to shift, coming in and out of focus before Arya's eyes. As she shook her head, trying to regain control, her mare seemed to slip from beneath her and Arya found the ground hurtling toward her.
The next few days saw Arya shifting in and out of consciousness. Sometimes Gendry's face looked down on her with concern. Other times, a woman in her middling years whispered calming reassurances.
The hardest part was when she awoke completely to find the problem solved and all but cleaned away.
"The babe didn't make it, sweetling," the innkeeper's wife told Arya as Gendry watched her from the opposite side of the small room. "One of the wise women came and saw to you. She says you should be able to carry another child once you heal up."
She left to give them privacy and to send up some warm broth.
"Why'd you go and keep it for so long?" Gendry asked as he sat beside her bed. "The healer said it was too old by now for the moon tea not to hurt you if you had drunk it. You almost died as it was."
"Don't scold me." Arya's voice rasped and her throat burned from lack of use. "You're not my bloody father."
He stood abruptly and stormed away from the bed. "No. I'm just the bloody idiot who's worrying over you."
Arya watched him lean against the window frame, his large body tense with silent fury. She found herself aching to explain why she had hesitated so long. She wanted to tell him of the little boy she imagined with hair as black as pitch and dark blue eyes. Or the little girl who had rich auburn hair just like her grandmother. Or even the lad with the solemn grey eyes and long face. Those little people she was terrified of wanting and losing. She wished to tell him all of that.
Instead, Arya gave him her back and prayed for sleep.
Mayhaps she would tell him one day soon when her body was stronger and she felt less afraid.
Gendry ran his mouth over Arya's bare stomach, tracing the gnarled lines that were growing along the skin as her belly expanded. She thought she had never looked uglier, but he didn't seem to mind.
"Are you worried?" she asked, threading her fingers through his thick black hair as she lay back on their bed.
He looked up at her. "About what? We aren't the first to have a baby. Not nearly."
Arya kicked him playfully. "Don't be stupid. You know what I mean. We won't be able to move about very often even after the babe comes."
"So we won't move around, is all. What's the matter with that? We could stay here in Winterfell."
They had returned to the old castle of her childhood soon after deciding to keep their latest child, lest she miscarry again on the road. The five months they spent there was the longest stretch of time Arya had spent there since the Stark's retook the North and Rickon was crowned king.
The castle was still in the same spot – though it had changed much. Rickon was still her kin – though he seemed more Osha's than hers. Even his regent, Wyman Manderly, seemed closer to the boy.
But no matter how often she longed to return to Winterfell while she was away, being there always felt like scrubbing salt into that bleeding hole in her heart. Winterfell was where she was last completely happy and unafraid of loss; where her family was last whole.
Now the entire castle just felt like a lie. It wasn't home anymore.
That was why Arya and Gendry moved about, traveling from city to holdfast to city, working for their keep. They willfully planted no roots to bind them in place; no roots that could be torn from under them.
But the babe might change all that. In many ways he had already changed things.
Arya stared up at the ceiling of their chamber. "Do you want to stay here? You know you hate being outside a forge for too long and Wyman doesn't like the idea of the king's sister's husband working with his hands like a commoner."
"Never mind what Wyman thinks my hands ought to be doing." Gendry pressed a kiss against her belly. "If I cared one bit about what he thought, we wouldn't be married now."
"Or, if we were, you would be the storm king by now."
When Wyman saw that Arya would not allow them to set aside her marriage so she might be used to barter an alliance, he changed plans. He proposed legitimizing Gendry and establishing his right to Storm's End and the Stormlands. Surely the storm lords would prefer a Baratheon as their liege to that Seaworth lad who wed Shireen Baratheon. And with the North and the Riverlands at his back, surely-
But Gendry just got that stubborn look on his face and said, "I don't know nothing about being no king. I'm a blacksmith and a knight."
That certainty seemed to be gone now. "Mayhaps he was right," Gendry said.
"Because you know about being a king now?"
He smiled up at her. "Now look who's being stupid."
"Still you," she said. "Talking about being some king…"
"It's just that we don't got nothing for her," he said. "No home, no money to raise her with, no dowry, nothing to leave her. Not even a name."
Arya returned her gaze to the ceiling again. If she had kept that promise not to change her mind, none of this would have gotten so damn complicated. She wouldn't have that dangerous sensation of hope blooming inside of her either. It would just be her and Gendry and nothing more complicated than that.
Gendry moved up the length of her body and pressed a kiss to her lips.
"I'll tell Wyman I changed my mind about Rickon legitimizing me," he said against her belly. "Least we can do is give her a good name, whatever else happens."
By the time ten years of marriage had passed between them, Arya and Gendry had three children and a fourth just beginning to quicken.
"Seven hells!" she cried over the privy one night. "Why did I let you do this to me again?! Gods damn you! You act like all I'm for is plopping out babe after babe."
Gendry knelt behind Arya with one arm supporting her middle and one hand keeping the hair out of her face. "It was you who wanted to keep on going," he reminded her. "Just had to have a boy, didn't you?"
"Oh, shut up! Don't you want a son? Men are supposed to want boys."
"I want to sleep. That's what I want."
Another round of nausea clutched her insides and she filled the privy with another serving of that evening's meal.
In truth, it wasn't Gendry she blamed. It was that bloody Winterfell maester. He was nothing but a liar. While she was with child for the first time, he said she would begin to feel ill in the mornings for a time.
But Eddara grew inside of her with scarcely a complaint, nor a moment of sickness. As she grew older, Dara remained just as sweet and agreeable and gentle. Arya often wondered how such a girl could come from her and Gendry. Only her looks – the black hair, grey eyes, and long face – marked her as theirs.
Shortly after they established a blacksmith shop in White Harbor, the sickness the maester promised finally came with their second girl – that stubborn and wild little red-head, Catelyn. But the nausea did not see fit to restrict itself to just mornings. Two moons passed while Arya was sick and cross and retching at all hours of the day. That left Gendry to seek sanctuary away from her rages in the shop beneath their rooms. She would hear him pounding his frustration out into a sword or helm. She envied him his more easily forged creations.
Carrying Cassana – that lively little creature with golden blond hair and dark blue eyes – was almost a relief compared to Cat. With her, the sickness only came upon Arya in the afternoon and it wasn't nearly so fierce. She was still able to go about her duties in taking orders and managing the books for the shop while Gendry began taking in blacksmith apprentices.
The babe she carried now was of course different than all the others. The nausea often began in the evening and grew worse as she tried to sleep. At least twice a week, she would awaken, already fleeing to the privy or even just the window. Gendry would follow, cross and exhausted, to hold her.
Four babes and not one made her ill only in the mornings.
Four babes and each one a balm on that hole burning in her chest.
Once the nausea ebbed away, Arya washed her mouth out with wine.
"Say this one isn't a boy." Gendry stroked her hair absently as they made their way back to their chambers. "Would you be wanting to try again?"
"This one is a boy," she assured him, secretly wondering how many children might be enough to heal that hole. "Only a Baratheon man could keep me up so late into the night like this."