I know, I know, this was a horribly long wait. It just took me so darn long to write! Summer has been crazy since I'm going away next year, but I won't bore you with the details. Here's the chapter: enjoy!
Arya was fifteen when the accident happened. There were so many places she could lay her finger on and say "Yes, this was where it all began to end," but the day of the accident she would remember, was the only real day that everything fell to pieces, not all at once but slowly. That was the day Bran fell from the window at the Red Keep.
Bran had initially intended come with them to King's Landing. He had fallen ill on the first trip down, and so stayed at Winterfell for a year or two, but Robert had thought Bran would be a good companion for the Princes, and so Bran made the trip down to King's Landing. He wasn't chained there, as Arya and Sansa had been. He got to make frequent trips home to Winterfell, at Cat's request, while Arya was forced to watch him ride away, chained like a stupid princess in her stupid castle.
But she loved it when Bran came back. He always had stories and wonderful memories of home. He had presents from her mother and brothers, and he smelled of home too. He made crude sketches of the heart tree for her, and Rickon wrote her letters. She hated when he left, but she also loved when he stayed. King's Landing was better with Bran. Until the horrible thing happened. Until Jaime Lannister pushed Bran out of a window.
It had been an awfully hot afternoon and an utterly boring day. Septa Mordane had given her morning lessons on tea drinking, but then there was only so many ways Arya could sip a cup, and so finally she had been set free. But to do what? For a huge and vast capitol, there was nothing to do in Kings Landing. Not like Winterfell.
"Do you want to go look for sandcrabs?"
Arya felt her cheeks go slightly flushed and it had nothing to do with the heat that was sweltering and swarming around the room. Bran bounced a ball against the wall while Arya polished Needle. Sansa had vacated their company for that of Myrcella's, and it had been an utterly dull afternoon. That was, until Gendry came in, tall and handsome and grinning with the promise of something interesting.
"I don't think that's allowed," Bran said in a bored tone, smacking the ball against the wall.
"Well you could come," Gendry offered. "Be our chaperone."
Bran made a face of disgust.
"I'd rather not," he said dispassionately.
"Come on stupid," Arya begged, shaking at his arm. "Father won't let me go if you don't."
"Then don't ask him," Bran said, leaning his head back and giving her a purposeful look. Arya chewed her lip, and then winced slightly, hearing Sansa's chiding at how that bad habit was 'unladylike.' She shot Gendry a look. She felt like such a maid when he was like this, confident and grinning with a towel extended towards her. He looked like sweet summer, and staying inside looked like stuffy, wet, uncomfortable summer.
"I won't tell," Bran pressed.
"Why are you so eager for me to leave?" Arya asked, whipping around with narrowed eyes. "You're not going to go climbing again, are you?"
"No!" Bran said, a little too fast.
"You sound like Sansa."
"I do not sound like Sansa!"
"I could ask your Septa," Gendry offered, cutting across their bickering. Arya tensed. She did not want Speta Mordane there. If Speta Mordane was there, then this would be a courting outing, and she did not want it to be a courting outing.
"No," she said, glaring at Bran. "If you see father-"
"I'll tell him you're off making babies," Bran said, waving her off.
"I'll tell him you went to find Sansa," Bran rolled his eyes at the color of Arya's face, not threatened in the least.
Face flushed with utter embarrassment-making babies-she got to her feet and took Gendry's outstretched towel. It would have been fine, but now that Bran had said making babies that was all she could think about. Did Gendry think about her in that way? He must. He wanted her. She remembered his gazes.
"You're awfully quiet all of a sudden," Gendry commented as they walked down the steps. There was a secret way to sneak out, through the servants corridors, to go to a beach tucked under the Red Keep. No common folk were there, and Arya was beginning to realize they were to be totally and utterly alone. Maybe she should have brought Septa Mordane along after all.
She just blushed. Stupid blushing girl, just like Sansa. Arya hated that. She hated feeling flustered and stupid. She just wanted to feel like Arya. She just wanted him to feel like Gendry. It was so much easier that way.
"Well?" He shoved her with his elbow and she shoved him back. She was glad he shoved her. It was easier that way.
"Maybe it's because I don't want to hear you talk," she said, shoving him again. Then she grinned and ran.
"Oh is that it?" Gendry called after her, and she could hear his feet picking up as he chased after her. She raced down the corridor and twisted down the stairs on the side of the castle, her heart pounding in her chest as she ran as fast as she could, plummeting towards the beach. The sand was slippery and hot, and as she looked back, Gendry tripped. Guffawing with laughter, Arya ran back to help him to his feet. They stood there a moment, gasping for breath.
"It's beautiful isn't it? Despite the weather," Gendry said softly, staring out at the landscape. He was right. Despite the heat that seemed to melt everything to rust and ruin, there was something about the water that was lovely. Even the South could be beautiful sometimes.
"Maybe it's the weather that makes it so beautiful. Sometimes, I think that we feel something is only beautiful when it's sunny, or perfect, but that's not necessarily the case," Arya said, and for some reason she felt like she wasn't talking about the South anymore. Gendry said nothing, but she could feel his gaze. Arya could not meet it, no matter how angry she was with herself.
"I'm sorry Bran didn't want to come with us," Gendry commented instead. "I've been getting to enjoy his company. So has Myrcella, I think. She used to blush at Robb, but all I hear about these days is your younger brother."
"I'm glad. I'm so glad Bran has a friend. We are quite alone here you know," Arya admitted.
"And you, do you have a friend?" Gendry asked.
"Well, I have you don't I? Aren't you my friend?" Arya asked, suddenly worried. Her hair had come out of its tight braid and was waving in her face.
And, just like that, he reached out and pulled back one of the strands with his thumb. His skin grazed her face softly, causing her heart to lurch. Arya gazed straight into his eyes as he tucked the strand of hair behind her ear gracefully. Her breath caught in her throat and he smiled.
"Yes. Of course you've got me," he said, looking back out at the waves. She watched as his eyes got a mischievous glint to them.
"Come on, I'll race you," he said, and with that he rushed off, kicking sand behind him.
"What? To the water? Are you mad?" Arya called after him.
"Of course I'm mad! The best people are! Now come on! Don't let me win!" He roared back, turning in the sand to face her. Hands on his hips. A complete mystery.
"Oh I don't know..." Arya sighed. He walked back to her.
"Oh come on Arya," Gendry pleaded.
"I just... What's that?"
"NOTHING! HA!" Arya shrieked with laughter, and with that she took off running towards the water.
"You little cheat!"
"I thought you didn't want me to let you win?" She called after him as he chased her. She was almost there. The water was so close...
"Aha!" Gendry snatched her arm, jerked her back and then grabbed Arya around the middle and tried to pull her behind him.
"STOP!" She screeched, kicking her legs. "STOP! THAT'S CHEATING!"
"So? You cheated first!" He laughed as she broke free and pulled him back.
"Did not!" Arya cried, as they both pushed each other out of the way, trying to make it to the waves first. Gendry grabbed her around the middle again, and this time she leapt forward, his arm still around her. They came crashing down, straight into the water.
"You ass!" Arya shrieked as sea water spurted past her and up the beach. She was completely soaked. He took one look at her hair plastered against her face, and then burst into hysterical laughter. Arya couldn't help it, she started laughing too.
"Wait!" Gendry called, picking himself up. "Arya wait, your dress-"
She hadn't thought of that. As if bitten by fire, she leapt away and Gendry chuckled as she stumbled from the weight of the wet skirts.
"Septa Mordane will have my head," she moaned.
"Not if we lay it across the rocks," Gendry told her reasonably. "It's hot out. It will dry."
This was a good plan. Quickly she began to undo the laces of her gown. Gendry's face went bright red and he made a little choking noise, quickly turning around. She felt such a fool. How was it so easy to forget, yet at the same time so hard to forget? She felt like a baby colt with ugly wet legs wobbling around without a clue of what to do. Whatever she did, it was wrong.
She set the dress on the rocks, but she couldn't help but feel like the mood was dampened. How was she supposed to swim in just a shift? Surely Gendry would feel uncomfortable. Maybe she should just wrap herself in a towel and they could sit on the beach and wait for her dress to dry. She was beginning to think that swimming was one of the worst ideas possible.
"Well come on then."
Before she could even react Gendry snuck up and grabbed her around the middle, sweeping her up, kicking and shrieking, and then stumbled and crashed into the water, spraying them both with waves of water. She was shouting at him, but all that got her was a mouthful of water because he threw her into the bay. She came up spitting water and sputtering.
"You idiot!" She shrieked, soaked to the skin, her hair plastered to her face. Gendry had removed his vests and belts. All he wore was a thin tunic and pants. And he was laughing at her.
She lumbered forward and attacked him, beating him with water and her fists, but he only laughed harder. She jumped on him and they went crashing down, and still Gendry laughed. Half submerged in water, utterly sopping and covered with sand, and he still laughed under her as she splashed him in the face.
"Stubborn mule," she snapped at him, yanking herself to her feet and standing over him, catching her breath. He stopped laughing.
Her shift was plastered up her leg, white flesh exposed. It was plastered to all of her skin. Her budding breasts were white under the pale linen, but the dark patches at each center were visible. Everything was visible. I am naked, Arya thought with horror, I am worse than naked.
But then, something even worse happened. She wondered, unbidden, what it would be like to peel the shift from her body and let her wet skin breathe. What it would be like for him to see her, all of her, as she naturally was. Rough hands hot like glowing metal against her cold flesh.
She dashed towards the shore.
"Arya!" Gendry cried, and there were splashing sounds as he must have clambered to his feet behind her. "Arya wait!"
He grabbed her arm and spun her around. He was so close. She didn't know what to do. Her mind whirled in confusion.
"I didn't mean to-that was so ungentlemanly-" He was stuttering out and his hand felt hot on her arm. There were beads of water on the skin of his chest. He had dark black hair there. He was a man and she was just a girl. A stupid little girl. How could she have thought of letting him see her?
"Let go of my arm!" She demanded, wrenching away as tears began to sting in her eyes. She wrapped the thin limbs around her chest, shaking slightly.
"Arya, I'm so sorry this was a bad idea," Gendry stumbled over his words hastily. "Take my vest-"
"I don't want it," she snapped haughtily.
"Arya please, don't be difficult," Gendry sighed in a tiresome tone, offering her his vest. All at once, for no reason at all, tears began to flow from her eyes.
Maybe it was because being with him like this made her feel like such a disappointment, or maybe it was because she felt so vulnerable and almost violated that he had seen her, but she couldn't stop the stupid, stupid tears that rolled from her eyes so utterly unwanted. Whatever it was, it didn't matter, because Gendry seemed to know exactly what was wrong and exactly what to do. He drew her close and hugged her like he always had. Like a brother. Like her best friend.
That was when Bran fell.
"It was Jaime. It was Jaime Lannister."
When they carried her brothers mangled, unconscious body, his legs all bent out of shape and bleeding, she had looked up, just for a moment. And she had seen Jaime's face. Through all the chaos and her tears, there was no need for a closer look. It was him.
She had never seen Gendry so enraged. She had never been so enraged.
"Do you even know what you are saying?" Gendry had shouted at her. "Have you lost your mind? My uncle is a member of the Kingsguard!"
"It was him!" Arya cried, tears, red hot and angry, streaming from her eyes. "It was him! I saw him!"
"Oh, you saw him?" Gendry demanded. "You saw him push Bran from the window?"
"No!" Arya shouted. "But I saw-"
"I don't care what you thought you saw," Gendry cut across her violently. "Your prejudice against the South has been childish in the past, but now it is just unacceptable. I want you to apologize to my uncle-"
"I will not!" Arya shrieked. "I will not and you cannot make me!"
"You are such a child!" Gendry roared.
"You don't look at me like one!" She screamed. "I saw you today! I saw the way you looked at me! You're always looking at me like that! Like you want to fuck me! Well you won't! You won't ever!"
Gendry was completely taken aback, but Arya's rage was too much and she could not stop the words spewing from her mouth. She hated him for not believing her. She hated him for defending his uncle and calling her a child.
"Get away from me!" She screamed. "Don't touch me! I never want you to touch me again!"
"What's going on in here?" Ned's voice was cold and sharp, but it somehow brought Arya back to earth and all she could do was burst into angry, grief-stricken sobs that choked her entire body.
"I didn't," Gendry was sputtering, and for some reason he almost sounded near tears as well. "I didn't!"
Before Ned could even say anything, Gendry stormed from the room and there was only silence in his wake.
Now, there was only silence. Only the sound of the candle crackling softly, burning down the wax that pooled over the metal that held what once was a candle in place. Cold, hard and raw silence.
"You should go to bed, Arya."
Sansa hadn't even made a sound. The pale morning light washed her face grey and white. The red and gold shawl wrapped around her shoulders seemed to almost trap her, squeezing tight around her thin shoulders.
"He is grieving-"
"He is not grieving," Arya snapped, her voice hoarse. "He would not... Not without me..."
But how could she be sure? No. She turned away from Sansa sharply. It had been three days, and every day creeping doubt and suspicion had gnawed at her resolve and determination in him. The King was dying. As the wound festered, Robert cried and begged for his son. But Gendry did not come.
"The Prince has ordered, no visitors," the knight growled firmly when she had come to see him the day they had carried the King in, broken and bleeding.
"What?" The very idea was so ludicrous she was sure it was some sort of joke.
"No visitors," he snapped. "Now go."
"No I will not 'go'!" Arya exclaimed in outrage. "He is my betrothed, or need I remind you? He will see me!"
"He ordered me," the knight said. "I follow his commands."
"His commands or the Queen's?" Arya snarled, smelling something foul. "What has she done to him?"
"The Prince has ordered me to keep any unwanted persons out. You are an unwanted person."
"What is your name, Ser?" Arya demanded. "I would like to report you to my father."
"Janos Slynt," the knight said with a chuckle. "You go right on ahead and report me, but there's nothing your Lord father can do. Not even the Hand of the King."
There was something so poisonous about his glare.
"Let me past," she ordered through gritted teeth. "I would like to see my husband."
"Oh it's husband now, is it?" Janos Slynt sneered. "I thought it had been betrothed."
Arya paused, and then she barreled at him, clawing at the door and screaming for Gendry. Screaming and screaming his name as Janos grabbed her violently and threw her to the ground. Furious, she leapt her feet.
"Northern bitch," she heard him mutter under his breath.
"You'll be sorry," she snarled. "You'll be sorry for this. You've done something horrible to him, and you're mad if you think I will just sit here like some helpless maiden and let you hurt him!"
"He doesn't want you," Janos Slynt said, coming forward. Arya took a step backwards. "He doesn't want you, stupid little girl. So just leave well alone."
There was nothing to be done, so she left. When she returned, there were three more.
"You know Gendry," Arya said to Sansa. "He would not be so cruel."
"He hated his father," Sansa said softly.
"He does not!" Arya snapped sharply. "You just don't understand. You're like all the rest of them."
"That's not fair Arya," Sansa said, greatly wounded. "I would never speak ill of Gendry, you know that."
"They think I can't hear them," Arya muttered darkly, fingers clenched around her arms. "Talking about him. They say he did it. They say he's a Kinslayer."
"Robert is not yet dead," Sansa tried to console her, reaching out a tentative hand.
"No," Arya sighed solemnly. "But he will be."
And then where would they be? Her entire body felt twisted and wrong and she was afraid. She was trembling and terrified. Not for herself... But for Gendry. She suddenly realized with a horrible rush of dread and anxiety that this would make him King. The day she had dreaded for years and years had finally come.
"I will pray to the gods," Sansa vowed.
"Keep your gods," Arya told her. They held no weight anywhere. Just smoke and mirrors. There is only one true god.
Sansa opened her mouth to say something, probably a rebuff at Arya's harsh words, but there came a knock at the door, and both girls jumped. Arya's heart went cold, blood drained from her face and for the first time Sansa too looked afraid. Who could be wanting their company at this hour of the night?
"I will answer it."
Arya hadn't even heard Ned, but there he was, fully dressed and looking like he hadn't even bothered to go to bed. He stood for a moment, and Arya could almost hear the family words in his eyes, in the tense way he held himself; Winter is coming.
Slowly, he went to the door, while both Arya and Sansa remained motionless. With a deep breath, he opened it.
Arya blinked in surprise.
"Lord Varys?" Sansa sputtered softly. "But what are you doing here at such an hour?" Varys held up a hand.
"There is no time," he said quietly, stepping into the room. "I must ask Lady Arya to come with me in the utmost haste."
Both Ned and Sansa looked at Arya, who stared hard at Lord Varys, trying to figure him out. Her eyes flicked to the table, where Needle sat, having been polished the evening before. There was a low chuckle.
"No need to worry Lady Arya, there is no need for that," Varys said. "But please, I hate to beg but time is of the essence."
I do not trust him, Arya decided. But I do believe him. Varys never does something without a reason, and he would not harm me when both my father and sister know who I will be with.
Wordlessly, she nodded, and strode towards the door, feeling Sansa stiffen with concern and suspicion as she did. Ned just looked solemn, and Arya felt a strange sensation creeping in the back of her mind that he had some sort of knowledge as to what was going on. She was left with only questions as he closed the door behind her.
Varys did not speak to her, or even look at her as they hurried down the darkened corridors. Only servants stirred at these hours, and it was eerie for the castle to be so quiet. It felt, in a strange way, that even the stone knew of Robert's waning life. Could a rock morn? Arya thought of the heart tree back at Winterfell, with it's weeping face and wondered if it had a soul. She wrapped her arms tighter around herself to keep out the warmth.
It was only when they stopped that she spoke.
"Where are the guards?"
"Gone," Varys replied simply as he pulled out a key. "But only for the present."
The lock clicked, and then gently he opened the doors and motioned for her to slip past them and into Gendry's chambers.
There was a pause, and then she saw him. He was laying across the bed, drenched in sweat and delirious. When she raced to him and grabbed him, his eyes were clouded and he barely saw her. His lips were muttering things that were too soft for words and his head lolled from side to side.
"What's wrong with him?" She almost shouted at Varys, who stood off to the side, looking grim.
"Milk of the poppy I'd gather," he said, coming forwards slowly. "And something else. We'd have to ask Maester Pycelle to be sure."
"Will he always be like this?" Arya wondered aloud in horror.
"No," Varys sighed reassuringly. "The effects are not long lasting. It appears they have been sedating him, for reasons unclear."
"Don't lie," Arya snarled, whipping around to face him. "You know why. So he can be a Kinslayer and a Kingslayer!"
"Yes," Varys relented solemnly. "I have worried for some time that this would happen."
"And yet you did nothing!" Arya accused him harshly as Gendry lay limp, his eyes rolling back into and about his head. His skin was hot and feverish.
"What was to be done?" Varys asked. "Should I have alerted the Queen? You are a valiant young woman, Lady Stark, but you are far too honest to play the game. Do not be so quick to judge what you do not understand."
"All I understand," Arya growled violently, "is that Gendry has been rotting away in this room for three days, and you have done nothing!"
"We are here now, are we not?" Varys said calmly. "Perhaps I should have left him here, but I do not serve the Queen."
"Then who do you serve?" Arya snarled.
"The realm, Lady Stark," he replied. "And the realm needs him."
Arya looked back over at Gendry, whose hand she clasped tightly in her own. How could they save him now? When the guards would only stay away so long? And how would they get him to his feet? Surely Varys didn't think that the both of them could carry Gendry...
"Time is running out Lady Stark," Varys said, "but I want to be absolutely sure: how far are you willing to go for him?"
It was no light question. Arya could sense that what was about to happen was bigger than anything she could even imagine. How far would mean that she would ultimately have to choose, and the weight and value of what she would have to sacrifice seemed to consume her and drown her with claws and fangs.
"You know what's going to happen, don't you Lady Stark?" Varys said softly, coming towards her. "When Robert Baratheon dies, and he will, the city will fall, and chaos will be absolute. And do you know what will happen to him?"
Arya did. She looked over at Gendry and she knew.
"They'll kill him," she whispered.
"Our time runs short Lady Arya," Varys told her. "We must leave him."
"No," Arya hissed fiercely. "I cannot. I will not. We have to get him out of here!"
"And we will," Varys whispered. "But not now. Let go my lady, we must take our leave of here."
She felt wretched, but Varys was right. She didn't know how to play the game. How was she supposed to save his life when she couldn't even keep him safe a couple of corridors away? Sickness grabbed at her whole body, as well as a violent, horrible hate. This was all Cersei's doing. Cersei, who Gendry insisted was trustworthy. Cersei, who Gendry would defend to his grave. She had betrayed him.
"Why?" Arya demanded when Ned opened the door for them and locked it. "Why would she do this? Is it not enough that Robert's dead?"
"No," Varys sighed. "It is not."
"Her son will be King," Arya felt, for some reason, tears of panic and confusion beginning to well within her. "Gendry will rule. He will marry me, and Sansa will marry Willas and Myrcella to Dorne and everything will be perfect."
"No, my Lady," Varys corrected her softly. "It won't be. Not for Tywin Lannister."
"Gendry is Robert's true born son," Ned said, looking grave.
"Yes I know!" Arya snapped in extreme frustration.
"His only true born son."
Her mouth swung open, but no words came out. Confusion whirled into her mind. What were they talking about? Ned was looking at her pointedly but it all didn't make any sense.
"I don't understand," she whispered, though she knew not why she whispered. She could not understand any of it. "How can that be...? Joffrey and Myrcella and Tommen are all... They are all as well..."
But Varys was shaking his head.
"All fair of hair, perhaps," he said. "All have the looks of lions, but none of them are stags."
Arya looked to her father, questions bubbling up in her throat. He took her hand.
"What I am about to tell you must never leave your lips, you understand?" He said to her softly. Arya nodded numbly.
"There is a reason Tywin Lannister has not arrived for your wedding," Ned explained. "And that is because he is building an army-"
"An army?" Arya gasped in disbelief. "But why?"
"To take back the city from the Kingslayer," Varys said with a relish, "to save the people from the Northern barbarians that defend him."
"But Gendry isn't!" Arya protested. "He didn't do anything-"
"Arya," Ned said gently, placing both hands upon her shoulders. "It is not about what Gendry has done, but what Cersei Lannister is about to do. Robert's death was no accident, and when he dies, she and Tywin Lannister will do everything they can to make sure Gendry does not succeed to the throne."
"Why?" Arya demanded. "He is Cersei's son! Who does she have in mind for the throne instead?"
"Joffrey," Varys said. "With herself as Queen regent."
"But Gendry is of her blood," Arya protested. "He is her son, how could she-?"
"Not her true son," Varys sighed. "Not in Cersei's eyes. Only Joffrey, Myrcella and Tommen are true Lannisters."
"What are you saying?" Arya shouted. "Will everyone please stop talking in riddles and tell me the truth!"
"Arya, Cersei has committed an act of treason and adultery," Sansa spoke up softly from the table. She had been so quiet that Arya hadn't even known she was there. "When father said Gendry was Robert's only true born son, he spoke the truth. Joffrey, as well as Myrcella and Tommen, are Jaime's children."
"Jaime's?" Arya recoiled sharply. "Jaime Lannister, her brother?"
"Yes," Ned said, looking exhausted. Arya felt disgust and bile bubble in her throat.
"When Robert dies," Varys said, coming forward, "it is very important to Tywin Lannister that Gendry not take the throne. He is not a foolish man, he knows that as soon as your husband-to-be is anointed King, it will mean the end of the Lannister Dynasty. The name Baratheon will rise strong, and the power will go to the Starks, and their family name, so close to power, will fade into dust and ashes."
"Can you honestly see Gendry appointing Tywin Hand of the King?" Sansa asked dully before Arya could even open her mouth. "Or giving his mother any power?"
"With Joffrey on the throne, Tywin can control him," Varys said. "He will be the most powerful man in all of Westeros with the most powerful family, and the Starks and Baratheons will fall in ruin and blood."
"That is why we must get Gendry out of the capital," Ned said softly, hands still on Arya's shoulders. "And you must go with him."
"No!" Arya said at once. "Not without you!"
"I cannot leave now," Ned told her. "Robert is still alive, even if his last breath is about to be drawn, and I cannot fail him. It is my duty, as Hand of the King-"
"But you will die!" Arya cried. "You will all die if you stay!"
"No," Sansa said, standing. "Joffrey will not harm us, it would mean certain war and pain if he did. He is not such a fool. And I am already packing my things. I will leave first thing at morning light and go to Winterfell where we will meet."
"Arya," Ned said, firmly taking her hands. "Gendry cannot travel alone, and I cannot send you with more men to protect you. Varys has promised me that he will ensure your safe passage and I trust him. You must do as he says."
Arya looked over at Varys, the Spider. A man she had never trusted, and never would... But he had taken her to Gendry, and her father believed in him. She did not want to leave her family, but the image of Gendry swarmed in her mind, and she knew that she had no choice. How far are you willing to go for him? Varys had asked her, and she now realized that it meant to the ends of the earth and back again. This was bigger than them now. It wasn't even about loving Gendry anymore. It was about keeping him and her family alive.
"What do I have to do?" She asked Varys. The Spider smiled.
"Follow me," he said. "Time is of the essence Lady Stark."
Arya never thought she would wish for Cersei's ghastly wedding dress, but as she sat rigid on the strange bed with scarlet blankets and flickering candles, she did wish for the dress most ardently. It was strange, she contemplated as her stomach rolled in turns, that she should miss something she had so feverishly wanted to go away. The wedding, the dress, all the fussing and pampering. There would be no wedding now, and no dress. No slippers made of silk or obnoxious wedding ceremony. No wedding night.
She felt oddly sad about it. Perhaps I was looking forward to it as much as dreading it, she thought quietly, but she angrily brushed it off. How could she have been looking forward to it? How could she have wanted anything Cersei had put her hands on? Of course, now she knew that Cersei had disliked the idea of her marrying Gendry more than Arya had.
There came a squeal and a groan from the room next to her, and she shifted uncomfortably. Looking around the room, she wondered, rather suddenly, if Gendry had ever been to a place like this. But he hadn't, surely not? She had even asked him once, she remembered, that day on the cliffs, and he had said no. The realization brought her little comfort. Whether Gendry had been here or not, this was a whorehouse, and she did not belong in a place of pleasure when there was so much horror to be found.
She shifted slightly, and the wedding dress again sprung to mind. She would have much preferred it. The garment Varys had stuck her in was hardly a garment at all. She wore no corset, and rather than feeling liberated, she felt ill at ease. Her shift hardly covered her breasts, and the laces were low and loose no matter how she fiddled. I am to look like a whore, she had to remind herself. I cannot do up the laces, that would be stupid.
She folder her hands over each other and waited. Waited... Waited.
When the knock came at her door she nearly jumped ten feet. She gripped Needle hard under her cloak and cleared her throat, which was dry and pasty like chalk.
"C-Come in," she said.
The door creaked open, and there was Varys, hidden under a thick brown cloak, and then another figure who followed behind him. They quickly shut and bolted the door as Arya stood, teetering on her feet, wondering if she should go to him, but feeling a strange pull away, as if begging her to run.
"How much does he know?" She asked Varys instead. The Spider looked over at Gendry, whose face was hidden by the hood of his cloak, a scarf pulled over his mouth. When he looked up, all Arya could see were his eyes, dull and empty in the dim light. "Everything."
That was good. She wouldn't have to explain. Again, Arya hesitated, unsure of what to do, of where to go from here.
Varys seemed to understand. He swept to the tapestry at the other side of the small room and paused.
"Go to the end," he whispered softly. "It will bring you just outside the gates. I have arranged for a distraction of the guards. Go through the gates and do not stop. Do not stop until it is absolutely of the essence that you do."
"I understand," Arya said, taking Gendry's hand.
"I sincerely hope that you do, lady Stark," Varys sighed, and with that as a goodbye, he placed his hand against the tapestry, pulled it aside, and pushed at a panel of wood. There was a creek, and a snap, and then silently a hidden door swung open, and a dark gaping hole loomed in front of them.
Swallowing the panicked buzzing in her throat, Arya tightened her hold on Gendry's hand, and ploughed forward into the darkness. At once she stopped short, blinking like an owl and blind.
"Need this?" There was a fizzing sound, and then the crackling of flames, and she turned to see Gendry hold a torch for her as the door swung shut behind them. She blushed, feeling stupid, and took it from him.
They did not speak. The tunnel was long, and winding, and more than once they had to stoop and crouch, Gendry's shoulders almost too wide to fit through, as they crept along the darkness. Rats skirted about her feet, but Arya gritted her teeth and tried not the think about all the moving shapes in the darkness. It felt like hours. Perhaps it was only minutes, but it felt so long, and more than once she thought she heard the sounds of Hounds behind them.
When the door appeared in front of them, she thought she would collapse in relief.
They left the torch to burn low in the tunnel, and made their way through the streets. No one gave them so much of a look. Arya's cloak was thin, her face was painted. There were a dozen other women exactly like her pulling men along. They were nothing out of the ordinary, and as Arya saw the gates, she marveled at how easy it had all been.
"And just where do you think you might be going?"
Arya froze, and her hand slid to Gendry's cold wrist, fingers pressing softly against his pulse. Stealing her breath, she turned slowly to see the two gate guards walking up to them, snickering, one of them doing up his breeches as he went. She swallowed hard and flexed her fingers against the hilt of Needle hidden beneath her bare garments.
"Pretty little thing like you shouldn't be out wandering alone at such an hour," one of them chuckled. His eyes glinted under his gilded helmet.
"She's not alone," Gendry's voice growled from behind her, and Arya felt icy sweat trickle down her spine as she winced visibly. Stupid, stupid, stupid!
"And who might you be?" the other guard asked, hand now upon the hilt of his sword.
"Just a man seeking his pleasure," Gendry snapped, grabbing Arya's wrist roughly. "Is that a crime?"
"Do you only find pleasure outside the city gates?" the first guard inquired suspiciously, and Arya felt Gendry's frozen pause of panic. Her mind raced for a good lie, heart beating wildly, but she was too nervous and strung tight to think of anything to say.
"You remind me of someone," the other guard said, leaning down and trying to make out Gendry's face. "Why is that? Have I met you before?"
"I doubt it," Gendry said hoarsely. "I'm not from here."
"Something about this just isn't right..."
"Fine then," Gendry snapped, tightening his grip on Arya's arm. "We'll just go back where we came from and I'll take my money's worth there."
There was a pause, and for a moment Arya was sure they would let them go-
BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. The bells rang throughout the entire city, and all of a sudden what was dead and dark and hollow was suddenly alive and screaming. It was all over, Arya realized. They were supposed to have breached the city's walls by now, and it was all too late.
"What's going on?" The guard shouted, drawing his sword and pointing it at them. "What's going on here ehh?"
"Wait a second," the second guard said, looking at Gendry's face, eyes wide in revelation. "You're the Pri-"
Arya barely thought. When she looked back on it, she could scarcely remember one move from the next, but all she knew was that she panicked. She panicked, and one minute the guard was coming towards Gendry, and the next she had ripped Needle from her belt and thrashed the blade into his neck, driving the steel through flesh and bone. Blood spurted across her hands, face and neck as she wrenched Needle free, but before she could even process what she had done, there was the sickening crack of broken bone and Gendry roared in pain.
"Stop or he dies!"
The guard had Gendry by what looked like a freshly broken arm, the blade of his sword against his throat. Blood coated the sword. It dripped down Gendry's neck. Arya's eyes flicked over his body and she saw a stain of flowering red blossoming across Gendry's tunic at his side.
"Kingslayer," the guard giggled in Gendry's ear as Gendry strained with gritted teeth. "Kinslayer. Two in one, that is. I wonder how much they'll pay me for bringing you in?"
"Not much," Gendry snarled, and then he bashed his head against the guard's skull.
The blow wasn't much, but it was enough to render the guard distracted for a split second, enough for Gendry to stomp of his foot, and Arya to rush forward. The guard swung around and their swords clashed, Needle shaking under the strain-the blade snapped from her hands and fell to the ground, the guards sword striking down and slashing her just above the eye. Arya screamed in pain.
But suddenly, the guard was gasping, and blood was coughing out of his mouth, hot onto Arya's face, and as he fell, Gendry slid his sword from his back, his face drained of blood, eyes hollow. Arya rushed and caught him just in time.
"Hurry," she gasped, throwing his arm around her. "Before more come."
With shaking hands, she pushed the gates open and they ran blindly forth into the unknown, darkness opening it's great mouth and swallowing them whole as the bells tolled loudly and the city set itself to flame with shouts and chaos. The King is dead! The Prince has killed him! The Kingslayer has escaped!
But Arya heard none of it. All she did was run, and pull Gendry with her, until her breath was raw and her legs chafed and shook. But still they ran. They ran until finally Gendry could run no more and nearly collapsed on top of her, and then they stopped, gasping and choking, unable to go any further.
The clouds parted and the moon shone, brightly and innocently against the dark.
There was a moment of stunned silence. They both stood there, shell shocked, gazing open mouthed into the sky. Suddenly a wave of exhaustion hit Arya, nearly bringing her to her knees. It was as if it had been held back by some invisible force, only unleashed on her at that moment.
"Oh Gendry," she moaned, sinking to her knees. Putting her head in her hands, Arya realized for the first time that they were shaking.
"It's all right Arya. We are all right, we are safe," Gendry said softly, kneeling down and putting his arms around her, but he didn't sound so convinced himself. His hands were strong, but she felt the shadow of his body and it seeped of his grief.
"I was so sure that you... That we..." she shuttered, leaning into him.
"I know," Gendry whispered back, giving her shoulder a squeeze. "You were absolutely amazing Arya. Do you know that? Absolutely amazing."
"I was so scared," she admitted quietly, embarrassed.
"So was I. I can't believe I lead you into that! If we... If you hadn't...I would have never been able to forgive myself. I still can't forgive myself. This is all my fault. You should have stayed in King's Landing... With your family..." Gendry said, clenching his fists in fury.
"Don't. How were you to know about this? If I had stayed my head might be on a spike right now, and I know my father can take care of himself. This isn't your fault at all. This was all Cersei's doing... I should have known," Arya whispered, taking his fists and smoothing them out. They were wet, and red with blood.
"You're bleeding," she gasped, her fingers reaching out and lingering on his blood soaked tunic. He looked down at it as if remembering for the first time he had been stabbed.
"Oh, it's nothing. Just a nick," Gendry said. She shook her head.
"I'd better attend to it before it gets worse," she said, peering at his flesh through his shirt.
"No, it's fine, really. You're bleeding too," Gendry said, touching the gash on her face. She winced. "Besides, you'd probably make it worse. I should have brought Sansa."
"I can attend to both," Arya rebuffed him. "There's a creek over nearby. We can wash your wounds there."
"As my lady commands," Gendry relented and Arya fought off the urge to punch him. They both got up and set out towards the creek, which was only a few feet away.
"You'll have to take your tunic off," Arya said, trying to sound casual. Gendry didn't bat an eyelash but pulled it over his head. She gave a little gasp. There was a gash cutting into his left side that stretched deep.
"A nick? Are you mad?" She demanded, furious. He winced.
"It doesn't hurt that much, not compared to my arm," he admitted. She had forgotten about his broken arm. Poor Gendry, he had really gotten a beating.
"Sit," she commanded, reaching down and tearing a bit of her dress and then dipping it into the water.
"Nice dress," Gendry said with a roughish grin that echoed the old days when he used to flirt with her almost as shamelessly as the boys on the street. Arya scowled as she dabbed the dried blood off his side.
"I'm burning it as soon as I can find something else to wear," she said darkly. He chuckled.
"Why? I think it suits you," he said, his eyes lingering on the low cut of the night gown. She gave him a cuff on the head.
"Ow! You would hit a cripple?" Gendry laughed, his blue eyes dancing.
"Prince Gendry of the Seven Kingdoms, I had no idea you were such an obnoxious rake. Well, actually I did. But really, of all the moments..." Arya snapped, trying to pull the dress up. Gendry's smile slid off his face at once, his eyes sad a weary.
"Sorry," he sighed, "I shouldn't have said that. Not after tonight. I thought perhaps some humor..."
"I would say it's all right, but it's not," Arya smiled, now attending to his bruised face. Gendry shook his head, looking off into the trees. She wet the cloth again and then dabbed a particularly nasty looking cut above his eye. He winced.
"You'll live," Arya laughed, cleaning it some more.
"Yes, but at what cost? Tell me, are my looks much altered?" Gendry asked seriously. She snorted.
"Trust me, anything is an improvement from before," she replied. He rolled his eyes.
"Do you really find me that repulsive? I mean, you have expressed your opinion about my looks before but I cannot tell if you are jesting or not," he asked, giving Arya a penetrating look. She leaned back on her feet and stared back at him, pretending to appraise him.
"No, you are not so very repulsive perhaps. But it is very fun to tease you about it," Arya admitted with an encouraging look. Gendry couldn't help but smile. Maybe he was right. Humor, even flirting, seemed like a breath of wonderful fresh air after the hell they had just been through, like they could forget the horror... Arya took the strips from her dress and wrapped them around Gendry's wound. They used part of his cloak as a sling. She moved to wash her face.
"Here, let me," Gendry said hastily, stopping her hand, his fingers warm over hers.
There was a moment, one where they paused and gazed at their hands. He looked up at her questioningly, and for once she gazed back. For a second, the briefest of seconds, Arya thought he might kiss her. It was crazy and entirely irrational, but there it was. What was even stranger was she fancied she wouldn't mind if he did.
Then he gave an odd little cough, dipped his hand in the cold water and then ran his thumb over the cut. It stung but she tried to look indifferent. When he had dabbed the cut dry, his hand still lingered there, just barely touching her face.
"Thank you," she said, truly meaning it. Gendry gave her a small smile.
"It's nothing," he sighed and looked away, chewing his lip, "Nothing compared to what you've done for me."
Arya was dumbstruck for the very first time. Her mind and all its wit, had failed her. What had she done for him, other than cause him a world of misery? Nothing. But she didn't have to say anything because Gendry turned, gave her one last long look and let out another great sigh.
"We should find a place to sleep before the sun comes up," he said, getting to his feet. "Somewhere safe, where no one will find us."
"Yes," Arya replied stupidly, also getting to her feet and watching him stride away.
She washed her hands in the creek slowly, letting the water drip from her fingers, numbing them. The weight of what they had been through still made her hands shake. She dried them on her dress and stood up.
Gendry had collapsed under a heap of bushes, scooting slightly so he was completely hidden from view. The ground was dark and muddy, but she pushed herself through it and wriggled down under the bush and next to Gendry.
He hugged her close, for warmth or comfort Arya did not know. Whether it was one or the other, she did not mind. It felt almost necessary to cling to him as well, as they lay huddled under bushes, the air sharp and cold, the ground damp and chilled as well. Even with his hulk around her, she shivered.
"Did I ever tell you about the present my father gave me for my sixteenth nameday?" Gendry asked softly in the silence. He stared up at the sky, his eyes wondering, going from star to star as if tracing a memory.
"No," Arya replied, playing along. "What did he get you?"
"A whore," Gendry said with a sad sort of chuckle. "Two of them, actually."
"Really?" Arya said, sitting up and looking at him. This time he did laugh, tears streaming at his eyes. The laugh was tampered with a wheeze of pain.
"Yes," he said.
"What did you do?" She asked, narrowing her eyes. "You didn't bed them, did you?"
"Arya Stark, are you calling me a liar?" He teased, his arm wrapped around her shoulders. Her neck felt icy cold, like frozen fingers dipping down over her skin. She raised an eyebrow as she waited for an answer. "I panicked, of course. I sent them straight back to the brothel. God I was so red in the face I almost contracted a fever."
Arya snorted with laughter.
"I can only imagine it," she said, adopting a husky voice, "'You're as strong as an ox, my prince. Let me have a go at those great big arms.'"
"Shut up," Gendry snapped, his face turning red, and she laughed, lying back down next to him. They relapsed into silence, watching the stars.
"But he did try though," Gendry said softly, and there was a thickness in his voice. "He did do that, in his way. Maybe if I hadn't... Maybe if I tried to be more like him... I should not have lost my temper with him. I should not have let my last words to my father be angry ones." His words became choked and he closed his eyes. Silent tears of grief slid from the cracks in his eyes, but he would not seek comfort from Arya. She didn't know if it was because he did not want to impose her, or because he could not face his feelings by exposing them in the open. He had learned so well to harden himself to the world, as she had.
So, she stayed silent, curled against him, until morning came and creeped into the sky. When the darkness was all gone, they rose silently, and, without a word, followed the creek North. They walked until the sun rose high in the blue expanse of sky and beat down against them through the trees. Beads of sweat were running down Gendry's face, and he looked near fainting, so Arya let him sit, and thought of what to do next.
She was filthy, covered with muck and grime, and her skin itched with a fiery persistence so much so that she knew she wouldn't be able to sit without screaming until she bathed. The creek had widened out and was deeper now, so she dragged Gendry to sit under a tree, and then, very carefully, listening constantly for anything out of the ordinary, she edged towards the creek.
"Don't look," Arya command sternly, glaring at Gendry with everything she could muster. He chuckled and shook his head.
"I'll try," he teased.
"Gendry, if I see your eyes wander a fraction in my direction I'll-"
"-Chop up my innards and eat them for breakfast. I get it," Gendry cut off her furious rant with a wave of his hand. "I was only joking."
"Yeah, well you had better be," Arya snapped.
"I have a little self control, you know," Gendry said grumpily, playing with the blades of grass scattered on the ground.
Arya let out a loud sigh.
"I'm just protecting my modesty, all right?" She explained, trying not to sound exasperated. Gendry rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, I got that," he said sarcastically. "Just go take your bath. I'll be fine here, with my tree."
He pointed to the bark he was leaning against and it was Arya's turn to roll her eyes.
"Are you sure you'll be okay?" She asked, worried again. It was just that Gendry looked so fragile, pale against the golden sunlight and sweat across his brow. She worried to let him out of her sight.
"You'll be less then five yards away," Gendry snorted. "If it makes you feel any better, I'll talk to you throughout the whole ordeal."
"All right," she relented, retreating backwards until she was at the river bank, the mud and water lapping at her feet.
She pulled her boots off, and then worked her fingers through the knot that held her cloak together, recoiling slightly at the sight her feet and body presented. Her nightdress was plastered to her skin, stained with sweat, and when she peeled it off, Arya scrunched her nose at the smell. Yes, this would definitely need to be washed as well.
She striped off her stockings, caked with dirt, and remain in her shift. She shivered, despite the fact that it was absolutely boiling outside, and chanced a look at Gendry. All Arya could see was the back of his head. He was keeping his word. No peeking.
Swallowing the nervous feeling in her stomach, Arya pulled her shift over her head, and threw it on the ground, completely naked.
"If you look now I'll kill you," she shouted at Gendry, wrapping her arms around herself.
"What?" Gendry piped up. "Is there something to see?"
Arya whipped her head around, but he wasn't looking. Just relishing the situation.
Scowling, even though he couldn't see her, she dipped her toes in the water and waded in. It felt so refreshing, so cleansing, that she sighed.
When she was waist deep, she felt something skirt around her. Arya jerked her eyes downwards, saw a fish, just before it's tail gave her a good thwack on the calf, and before she could stop herself, she let out a yell.
"Arya!" Gendry shouted, whipping his head around.
"GENDRY!" She screamed, slapping her arms around her body to cover up and tripping backwards, falling into the water with an all mighty crash.
Arya surfaced, spitting water out of her mouth and furious. Gendry looked frantic.
"I didn't see anything!" He shouted guiltily, but his face was bright red and Arya was pretty sure it was not from the excessive amount of sunlight.
"I'm going to kill you," she mumbled darkly, sinking deep into the water so that only her head was visible.
"I thought that something bad had happened! You screamed-"
"I did not scream," Arya snapped.
"Yes well, that is one man's opinion," Gendry shot back.
She glared at him, and he turned his head back around so that all Arya could see was his hair shinning black in the bright sunlight.
"So what was it then?" Gendry called, still facing away from her. "Did you slip?"
"No," Arya muttered, slightly embarrassed. "It was a fish."
"A fish? You screamed like that because of a fish?" Gendry barked with indignant laughter. "The mighty wolf indeed!"
"Would you stop that? I did not scream!" Arya shouted, rubbing the grime and sweat off her arms.
"Yes, well... Next time you see a fish, can you try to remain remotely calm? You really scared me there," Gendry said and Arya could see him playing with the grass again. His voice had dropped its teasing tone.
"Oh," Arya said, taken aback. Anger washed away, she found herself blushing slightly. "Sorry."
"It's all right," Gendry reassured her. "I am... just a little jumpy, I suppose. You know, after all that has happened."
Arya could understand completely.
She dunked her head again, weaving her fingers through her water soaked hair. She washed her face, hands, and legs as best she could without soap. It felt like she was shedding her skin, just like snakes did, as though with every piece of dirt, every bad thing is being removed from her.
"It is hot out," Gendry commented. "It feels as though this summer will never end."
"Yes," Arya agreed, "but the water will cool you down."
There was a long pause.
"Maybe I don't need a bath," Gendry said so quietly Arya almost don't hear him.
"Trust me," she laughed, "you definitely do."
She could hear Gendry sigh, and she turned to look at the back of his head. He was picking the grass again.
"It's just... I don't think I can," he mumbled, and all at once Arya can tell he was humiliated. "I mean... I mean physically. It's hard enough walking."
"Oh," she said, her voice faltering slightly. "Oh that's all right. I can help you."
"No," Gendry snapped at once. "No, you don't have to do that."
"Yes I do," Arya said. "You smell worse than a sewer rat. It's for my own sanity really, I don't think I can take it any longer."
Gendry tentatively looked over at her, his expression so cautious that she found herself smiling. Arya laughed, and he did too, the corners of his mouth pulling in a lopsided grin.
"Well, thanks then," he chuckled. "I suppose."
"Yes," Arya said. "I'm coming out now, so turn around. AND NO PEEKING!"
"Really?" Gendry said in such deep sarcasm that she rolled her eyes. He turned around and she could see him cross his arms over his chest.
Arya rushed out of the water as fast as she could and snatched up her cloths. She had her shift on, and just as she was about to pull her nightdress over her head, she realized that she'll have to wash it along with her pants. There's no point in being clean when your clothes are dirty.
"Gendry?" Arya shouted out tentatively.
"Yeah?" His head jerked to turn around, but he stopped himself.
"Don't get too excited," Arya said venomously.
This time he couldn't help himself, his head whipped around, the stupidest smile smacked across his face. Arya yelped and clasped her arms around herself, but then realize how stupid she was being. After all, she was all covered up in the right places. There was nothing to be afraid of. Besides, she reminded herself bitterly, whether he wanted to admit it or not, Gendry definitely saw more of her then he was seeing now.
"You've finally succumbed to your deep passion for me? I knew it!" He said gleefully, winking at her.
"Oh shut up," Arya snapped. "I'm going to wash my cloths, all right? But it will take them a while to dry, so I'm going to do that first, and then help you take a bath."
Gendry nodded enthusiastically.
"And wipe that stupid smile off your face," she growled.
He didn't even try.
She scrubbed out the sweat and dirt and fear out of her clothes, her eyes constantly darting to Gendry, to make sure he was not peeking. Despite looking like he had been given the greatest gift known to man kind, Gendry apparently would not be taking advantage of it. The thought made her slightly more at ease.
When Arya had finished, she took her soaking wet garments and hung them over the branches of the tree, behind Gendry so he couldn't see her. It was silly, because she was going to have to help him in about two minutes, but she ignored that thought.
Pausing, Arya let out all the air in her lungs.
"You okay over there?" Gendry's voice drifted from around the tree.
"Yes," Arya sighed, coming around, trying not to wrap her arms around her body. It was funny that she should be this way, when he was, after all, her betrothed. But was he even anymore? They weren't in King's Landing anymore, he wasn't even a Prince anymore. So what were they to each other now?
"You don't have to do this, you know," Gendry said, picking up on her discomfort almost immediately. "I don't want you to feel unsafe-"
"Stop," Arya said, swallowing the lump in her throat. "It's fine."
Gendry raised his eyebrows, but didn't say anything.
Arya gingerly knelt down and wrapped her arm around his torso, feeling him put his arm around her shoulders for support. Arya could sense Gendry's anxiety, his eyes determined to look anywhere but her, and felt another pang of guilt for an unknown reason. Perhaps it was because she had entertained the idea of leaving him, when it was all over. Of not being his wife.
Once they lumbered to the edge of the water, Gendry sat on a rock and then took off his tunic and handed it to her. She could see Gendry's eyes flick to hers uneasily as he peeled his shirt from his skin, but she was determined not to be uncomfortable and took the balled up shirt from him briskly, going over to the water to wash it while he finished undressing.
Besides, Arya reminded herself as she watched Gendry out of the corner of her eye as he stood to take off his breeches, it was not like there was anything romantic between them. Nothing except Gendry's feelings for her, of course, which bitterly reminded her of how wrong she was in that assumption. She should feel sympathy for Gendry, because this must be much more awkward for him then it was for her, but she didn't. Arya felt put out about it, because if he didn't have those feelings for her, she wouldn't be in this situation in the first place. It was unfair, and Arya felt wretched about it, but it was true.
"Umm... I'm ready," Gendry coughed, and she could see him shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot. Arya closed her eyes for a moment and put all the thoughts she had just been thinking out of her head.
"Good," she chirped, standing up and laying his cloths across a wide rock to dry. "Let's just-"
Her voice caught in her throat when she turned around, and she felt her heart drop.
Gendry's skin was hot and angry, festering under the bandage that stuck to the wound like death, stained dark with blood. Against the red he was flushed pale and shaking, but more than that, now that there was light... She could see his skin was covered with fresh and yellowing bruises, and it almost looked... In places, like the flesh was raw and blistering, and she realized with horror that drugging him wasn't the only thing that they had done.
"Don't," Gendry said at once, shuddering slightly and blinking rapidly. "Don't say anything."
Arya couldn't if she wanted to. For once, she was absolutely speechless.
She brought her fingers to her eyes, and found that they had welled with tears. Hurriedly, she blinked them back, forcing the water to remain beneath her lids.
"I..." she stammered out, "I-I wasn't going to."
There was a terribly awkward silence, and for the second time she saw Gendry near tears. Never had she seen him so broken. So sad, and so alone. She felt ashamed to have ever thought of not loving him.
"Can we just get this over with?" He snapped, but his voice was slightly thick and he was blinking again. Arya nodded numbly, walking over to take his hand and help him into the water.
"Do you think I could just sit?" Gendry asked when they were up to their calves, and Arya nodded again, helping to lower him gently into a sitting position. Once he was securely settled, she knelt next to him.
"You don't have to help me," Gendry protested at once when she started rubbing the dirt off his hands. "I'm fine."
Arya ignored him and continued by cupping water onto his arms and helping to wash that dirt away too. For some reason, she just couldn't leave him right then. Not after what she'd seen. Not when he was so broken.
He stopped his protests, probably because they were fruitless, and she could sense him watching as she continued to scoop water onto him. Slowly, he began to join her, letting Arya drip water onto his arms and body while he rubbed the dirt away.
Gingerly, Arya reached out and brushed his hair back, her fingers twisting with the dark threads. When wet, it almost looked like the color of a bottomless pit.
Gendry looked over at her when she did this, straight into her eyes. Arya froze, struck with the thought of what a deep color his eyes were, almost like storm clouds, and wondering how she hadn't noticed before.
Then she caught Gendry's expression. For one moment, he let his guard down, and she could see, really see, what was in his heart instead of what was on his face. And she saw it, in his eyes, in his lips, in everything about him, how heartbroken he was. How desperately he wanted her to love him in return, and how he knew she never would.
Arya pulled back, as a reflex, the place where her hand was leaving drops of water. They slid down Gendry's face like tears.
"I can take it from here," he said, avoiding her gaze, and Arya knew at once that he knew she had seen it. Straight into his soul, and that it frightened her.
They were both surprised by her declaration. Arya was more then ready to get up and scramble away from Gendry and all his feelings that were far too real, but suddenly she realized that what she said is how she felt. She was tired of running. From King's Landing. From the Lannisters. From Gendry.
"No," she said more softly. "I want to help."
Gendry raised his eyebrows as she scooped up more water and poured it on his head. Arya watched for a moment as it wove its way through his hair, running down his face and body in little waterfalls.
"You don't have to take care of me," he told her, looking down, his cheeks flushing slightly with humiliation. "Not now... Not at all."
His words struck Arya and she blanched slightly. What he was suggesting... What he was suggesting is outrageous. Ludicrous. To leave him to fend for himself in the woods? While Arya did what? Run away free, knowing that he would eventually die?
"What kind of person do you think I am?" Arya all but yelled, stung and angry.
"I just don't want you to feel burdened-"
"I risked my life getting you out of the city!" She shrieked, pointing madly into the wilderness, as if King's Landing was in that direction, though she hadn't a clue that it was. "Do you honestly think I would just leave you here because it might slow me down a bit?"
"Slow you down a bit?" Gendry snorted darkly. "I can't even bathe myself."
"Yeah, well I'd be shocked if you could," Arya snapped angrily. "After-"
Her voice faltered slightly and Gendryy tensed, waiting for her to mention the torture.
"-After you got stabbed!" She finished, still thunderous. "The suggestion of me leaving you anywhere, even for a second, is ridiculous!"
Gendry blinked, having the good grace to look slightly guilty. Her expression must have looked murderous, because he paled, his heat-flushed cheeks turning white.
"Don't ever mention that again!" Arya snapped, glaring at him. "All right?"
He didn't reply.
"Don't!" She demanded angrily, leaping to her feet. "I'm not leaving you behind ever! Got that? Not ever!"
His stunned expression said it all. She made him speechless, and she doubted it was the first time either. Good, then maybe he learned his lesson.
"We're in this together," Arya said again, firmly. "Remember?"
Gendry looked out over the thin strip of water.
"Now lets get you out of there, or do you want me to help you wash your hair?" She demanded, crossing her arms.
"I don't want you to help me," he said at once, so naturally Arya marched back into the water and started scooping handfuls of it into his hair, weaving her fingers through the wet mass of dark threads.
"You'll never do as you're told, will you?" Gendry scoffed softly, letting her wash his hair. Arya didn't answer. "Or is it because you saw the scars?"
The question hit her out of no where. She didn't even see it coming, but it struck deep and she realized it was true. And now he would hate her for pitying him.
"I knew it. I knew that's why you were being so nice to me," he sighed.
"I don't want to talk about them."
Arya nearly clapped a hand over her mouth when she said this, because she was utterly shocked that the words left her mouth, but she stopped herself at once. Clapping her hand over her mouth would probably add insult to injury, and that was just something she couldn't afford at this point.
"Don't look so ashamed," Gendry said darkly. "It's the only truly honest thing you've ever said to me."
"That's not fair," Arya protested at once, tears starting to prick her eyes. "You know that's not fair."
"Maybe it's not," he sighed "but it's true."
There was a moment of silence, and then suddenly, before she could help herself, she burst out angrily-
"Fine! You're right! But did you ever consider for a second that I did all this because I actually care about you?"
Gendry's surprise was evident, but Arya was glaring at him so fiercely she didn't even care. He shouldn't be surprised. Hadn't all her actions proved this? Risking her neck? Saving his life? Did that count for nothing?
"Honestly I just thought you were doing your duty to your family," he says frankly. "That you needed to get me out alive because I'm the crown prince, and your father wanted to make sure you were out of the city safely."
"If he had wanted that, he would have sent me with a dozen of our bannermen!" Arya retorted at once. "Besides, I operate better when I'm alone!"
"Is that so? Without me last night that guard would have cut your guts out and strung them up for decoration," he chuckled.
"Well then isn't it lucky that we're a team? Hmmm?" Arya snapped, still glaring at him.
"I thought you just said you operate better-"
"I KNOW WHAT I SAID!" She roared, frustrated. "And I know what you said too! We're in this together!"
"I suppose," he finally relented, tracing patterns in the water with the tips of his fingers. Arya leaned back with a satisfied victory smile.
"Now let's see about getting you out of here," she said curtly.
She helped him to his feet, though this time it was harder seeing as he was drenched from head to toe. He slipped a few times, but once Gendry was out of the water, the hot air seemed to suck away the droplets, causing his skin to slowly dry.
"I need to lie down," he said faintly.
"All right," Arya agreed, and they walked over to the edge of the woods, to where the tall grasses were, swaying in the warm air. Gently, she lowered him down, and then, when his arm slid off her shoulder, she laid down next to him.
There was a sigh, as if all of nature, in that moment, was content. It was so nice, just laying there. Not worrying about anything, letting the warm sun suck away at Arya's anxiety, fear and impending sense of doom. She closed her eyes.
"You know it's strange," Gendry piped up next to her. "I would have thought we'd see at least one horde of gold cloaks riding about."
"What do you mean?" Arya asked, opening her eyes to survey him through the blades of grass.
"It's just, aren't they looking for us?" He wondered, frowning. Even with the frown, there was something different about him here. Serene.
"I'm sure they are," Arya sighed, staring up at the clouds drifting lazily across the heavens.
"Then why haven't we seen a them? Shouldn't there be hundreds swarming the woods?" Gendry demanded.
Arya sighed. All this worrying was making her head hurt.
"Go to sleep Gendry," she snapped, closing her eyes again.
"I would," he said, and there was no hiding the mischievous note in his voice, "but you're lying here, barely clothed, and I'm not sure I can trust my dreams to behave."
Arya rolled her eyes and tried to bite the smile that was trying its very best to wiggle its way onto her lips. Normally, Gendry was very guarded with this sort of teasing, but things just felt different here. It didn't feel real, like he meant it, and she didn't think he did. It was a way to sort of distance themselves from themselves. To tease and poke fun and be smallfolk lovers in the woods rather than two very scared, very vulnerable people with no idea what to do next. She was glad of it, him acknowledging the awkwardness, taking her mind off the tension. Behind the joke there was a frown of worry in his brow, and she could sense that he knew he was causing her anxiety with all his talk.
"You're doing it again," she said.
"Doing what?" He asked far too innocently.
"Making me uncomfortable on purpose."
"What? Me?" Gendry gasped in mock indignation. "I would never!"
"Just go to sleep."
She didn't have to tell him twice. The next time she looked over at him he was sound asleep, his head turned towards her, breathing softly. His expression was completely clear, almost dopey, and she couldn't help but smile at how, well, almost childish he looked.
At the same time, now that she told Gendry to go to sleep to stop worrying her, the only thing she could seem to do is worry. He was right. Shouldn't there be a swarm of guards scanning the woods with their hounds and horses? Shouldn't they have been found by now, separated, and then brutally put to death? Why was everything so quiet?
If there was one thing Arya could always rely on with Cersei, it was that she was ruthless when it came to things like rule breaking. Arya didn't think she was mistaken when she assumed they had broken more then a few rules back there, right under her very nose. Something like that shouldn't have just caused Cersei Lannister to sit around, twiddling her thumbs, wondering what to do next. No, she should be out hunting them. She should have been done hunting them. They should be dead. They probably should have died at the gate, if Arya was going to be totally honest. So why were they still alive?
The fact that the Lannisters suddenly chose to ignore their very obvious escape caused Arya to shiver, despite the fact that it was boiling outside. She sat up, wrapping her arms around herself and decided that no matter how hard she tried, she was not going to get any rest for a very long time. Her brain simply wouldn't shut up.
Her eyes fell on Gendry, sleeping peacefully, and a sudden wave of anxiety hit Arya, crushing her stomach. He might be asleep then, but he would wake up later, and by then any traces of strength would be gone. By Arya's estimations he had broken a few ribs, and not only that he had been tortured severely. Her fingers clenched around her shoulders as Arya remember the scars, fresh and angry. They probably hurt a world more then he would ever let on. He was in pretty bad shape, considering. How on earth was she going to keep him alive?
His words about her deserting him echo in my mind, but she dig her nails into her skin angrily, furious at myself for even letting the thought enter her head. Like it or not, Gendry and Arya were joined together, and despite the fact that he had driven her mad half the time, he was special to her. A friend, a real, true friend. Arya could never leave him behind.
He was the only one she had left.
But that brought her back to keeping him alive. They had a knife, and Needle, though the steel looked near to shattering despite it's quality. Arya could try to hunt with that, but she never had proper shooting practice and she had no idea how handy she would be with a knife. Besides, rabbits were fast and they were probably the only game around there. Maybe they would come across a wild deer, but Arya couldn't bet on the off chance of that. She needed a plan.
And suddenly she remembered the fish. If she could catch anything, that would keep them alive for a few days at least. And what about cooking it? Even if there weren't any gold cloaks that was out of the question. They could be lying in wait, just sitting around until they sent them a perfect signal as to where they were.
No, if they caught anything, they would have to eat it raw. Her stomach curled at the thought, but opposed to starving to death what other alternative did they have? Arya may not have liked the idea of gulping down raw fish meat but she didn't have a choice. It was not about comfort anymore, it was about survival.
With that in mind, how were they supposed to survive? She needed a plan, but what? She wracked her brains. Think Arya, think!
But there were so many drifters on the Kingsroad and in the woods... Perhaps no one would notice? That was stupid. How could they not notice? Gendry stank of Baratheon. One glance at him and it was so glaringly obvious as to who he was someone might as well stick a sign around his neck. Clean shaven face, fine clothes, what else could he be but the crown prince? And she, Lady Arya... Well she was dressed in whores clothes, but she still looked like a wolf. They could not continue on this way or they would be caught and gutted before they could even scream.
Again her skin itched, and she scratched her hand, annoyed and utterly perturbed at her crucial lack of innovation. She fiddled with Needle, twirling it about with nimble fingers, pushing her hair out of her eyes...
Her hair! All at once it seemed so abundantly obvious. She leapt to her feet, with little idea was to why, and grabbed it all in one hand. Pausing, she felt it one last time as it slid, soft, through her fingers, and then she began to saw. She wrenched Needle' blade through her lady's hair until it was only chunks that hung by her ears in uneven wisps. When she bent down to look at her reflection in the water, she hardly looked like a woman at all.
But what to do about Gendry? Arya dug her nails into her angry red hand, and then she paused, cursing slightly. Poison ivy. She could see it, growing in the lush shade of the creek bed, and wanted to kick herself for being so stupid and careless. If they were going to be traveling in the woods, she needed to start being more aware of her surroundings. The skin on her hand was grotesque now, bubbling and distorted.
Gendry slept peacefully. Innocently.
Can I? She thought, chewing her lip and shivering slightly, though there wasn't a breeze or a chill. She was wasting time. He would awaken soon, and by then it would be too late. He was already in so much pain...
Shivering off the quaking feeling in her stomach, Arya marched over to the gnarled ivy and then, taking a deep breath, she wrenched it in her hand and yanked a chunk away. Sharp pain issued from the irritated place on her hands, but she ignored it, creeping towards Gendry, heart in her mouth. Leaning down, she closed her eyes and said a silent prayer.
"Forgive me," she muttered. "It's for your own good."
Gritting her teeth, she took the leaves and rubbed them all over his face. Gendry awoke at once, coughing and sneezing, batting her hands away as she tried to make sure the leaves touched every part of his skin.
"What are you doing?" He yelled, but it was too late. He had come in contact with the plant, and sooner or later, his skin would erupt with blisters and boils, hopefully enough to alter his appearance until she could think of something better. "What have you done to your hair?"
"Necessary precautions," Arya snapped, throwing away the ivy before he could get a good look at it. "It was time for you to get up. We need to get moving."
Getting Gendry fully clothed and to his feet was a laborious process, and the more he moved, the sicker he looked. She fashioned him a walking stick, but that did little good. His bandage was soaked, and as the sun went down in the heavens, his skin began to blister. They walked very slow, and the slower they went, the more Arya heard hooves in the distance, pounding at their heels.
By the time the sun had set, Gendry could no longer walk on his own. Arm slung around him, Arya took every step at his side. His face began to burn, and he groaned and cried in pain, clawing and scratching and swearing at her, his skin beginning to swell. They stopped by the creek again and he dipped his hands in water, rubbing the coolness on his face, but it did little to no good. She had doubled his pain, and guilt like hot iron ore stabbed at Arya's heart, but even in the dark he began to look less and less like himself, and that was the only thing that kept her going.
"Come on Gendry," Arya groaned, her heart hammering in her chest from over exertion and her muscles beginning to quiver, as if telling her they would soon give way. She gasped for breath, trying to pull herself together. They must be close. They must be.
"I can't," Gendry gasped out, surging forwards and tripping over his own feet. "Arya I can't."
She know he couldn't. Arya knew that if she was exhausted, if she was hungry, if she was near collapsing, it was nothing, nothing compared to how Gendry must be feeling. She couldn't even look at him, because she knew if she did she would let him give up. Arya would let him fall to the ground and she'd stay there with him. And then they'd both be done for.
"Come on," Arya grunted furiously, her fingers clamped on his wrist with such fierceness Gendry knew a struggle to free himself would be fruitless. She was practically dragging him, but she didn't care. Arya would drag him across the entire damn world until she found a place for them to stay.
"Arya," his voice hissed out feebly between ragged puffs of breath, "Arya please. Please."
"NO!" She shouted angrily, tears beginning to prick at her eyes as she stumbled blindly in the blackness, throughly lost and now coming to the horror that she had no idea where she was going. Arya was totally and utterly lost.
The thought propelled her forward, but she could feel she was starting to lose her vigor. Tears of panic began to well in her eyes as Arya dragged Gendry through the darkened forest and into the ever increasing unknown. She couldn't let Gendry see the tears that were threatening to run down her face, because that will be the end, but dry sobs were wrenching themselves into her throat and mingled with her gasps for breath.
"We're almost there," Arya panted out desperately, though she know it was a lie. "We're almost there."
But they were not almost there. They were no where. Arya was just pulling Gendry's body with her, dragging out his death in the most painful way possible. Why couldn't she just let him die peacefully? It would be so much easier, for both of them.
But she couldn't. Arya couldn't let him go. Not now, and not ever.
It was at that thought that the tears started to pour from her eyes, creating tracks in her sweat soaked face. Gendry's breathing became more shallow next to her, and she could feel him struggling to speak.
"It's..." He struggled out. "It's... Okay... Arya... It's all right..."
He was asking her to let him die. To give up. To let go.
"No!" Arya cried, her throat thick from exertion and sobbing. "No! It is not all right!"
She sniffed, snot running from her nose. She probably never looked worse, but it didn't matter in the darkness.
"I'm going to get you there!" Arya shouted madly. "We're going to make it!"
Gendry sagged slightly over her, and she could feel that he was slipping. He was struggling with all his might though, Arya could see it in his eyes as they slid in and out of focus, fluttering. He would hold on. For her. His last act for her.
She took another step forward, and then she saw it. A flash, a flash of darkness in the black. Something that doesn't shine against the feeble light of the moon. Something that doesn't belong to the forest.
Arya only had a second before she knew they were in trouble. And then it was too late.
There was a whistling noise, and then Gendry cried out and slumped to the ground, his weight striking her down with him.
"Gendry!" She screamed. "Gendry!"
Arya could hear the scuffles of whatever had attacked them closing in, but she didn't care. Gendry's breathing was slowing, his eyes closing. He was slipping away from her.
Her scream echoed in the chaos as she clutched him, sobbing in earnest now. He wetted his lips, trying to speak as she choked and heaved. Please no! Please!
"No, no, no, no, no," she cried, her tears raining from her face falling on his chest.
"It's okay," he whispered. "Arya, it's all right."
And then his eyes slid closed and his entire body stilled.
"NO!" Arya shrieked, grabbing at him madly. "GENDRY!"
And then, suddenly, she felt a shot of pain in her back. Blindly, Arya thought it must be the arrow, like the one that killed Gendry. As she knelt over, her mind numbly told her that arrows should hurt much, much more.
There was the sound of voices then, and dark figures were looming over her as her eyes began to blur.
"This one's still conscious," a voice grunted. "I'll have to give her another knock about the head."
"Be careful when you do," a familiar voice warned softly, and Arya froze, her entire body screaming in panic just before the blow rendered her unconscious. Because she knew that voice. She knew who it was that attacked them in the woods. It was Hot Pie.
Yes, yes, many things were left unsaid, but i promise all answers will soon be found. All next chapter (or I mean most I have no clue I haven't written it yet). Anyway, hope you enjoyed this chapter! Sorry about the atrocious wait. I'm going away for two weeks and won't have any writing time, but I'll try to squeeze some time in when I get back!