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perches in the soul

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xxx

Gendry kisses her for the first time six days after they’ve reunited and a few hours before the undead descend upon Winterfell.

It’s a quick brush of his lips against hers, barely perceptible amidst the chaos of battle preparation, but time might as well stand still.

He mutters something about regrets and not treating a lady proper, and then he’s gone, swallowed by the commotion outside.

For long minutes after, Arya stands rooted to the ground, body numb save for the tingle on her lips. She feels impervious to the motion around her, detached from these pivotal moments that she thought she would relish.

Gendry’s kiss seems to have created a bubble around her, a layer of protection against the fear and anticipation that has swarmed her childhood home ever since Bran announced that by sun down, Winterfell would be under siege.

She isn’t sure how long she stands there like a dumb useless mute but eventually someone bumps into her and suddenly, she’s moving again. Any warmth she’s felt is no match for the bitter cold snaking its way through every crevice of the walls protecting them against the dead.

The last few hours have been nothing but movement. Checking the weapons' supply. Evacuating all women, children, old, sick and crippled to the crypts. Securing the livestock. Setting up the plan of attack.

At some point, Jon pulled her aside and placed his hands on her shoulders in a way that only he could and still escape with his neck intact.

“I need you to stay back.”

Her first instinct was to push back, to tell him that she didn’t have Gendry create this magnificent weapon for her so she can stay back and defend those who cannot defend themselves.

But one look at her brother, and Arya knew there would be no defying his orders. It’s the moment that she understood why the wildings have chosen to follow him, why he has inspired confidence in everyone from an exiled Lannister to the Targaryen Queen.

When he explained further – I need to know our family is protected at all costs – the trust he placed in her was implicit.

Arya did not know what to say, how to express her gratitude, so she hugged him tighter than she ever has before.

A part of her knew even then that Jon would not be coming back.

xxx

The second time Gendry kisses her, they are both covered in mud, melted snow and ash. Her ribs are screaming and he’s favoring his left arm, but all that ceases to matter as Gendry crushes his body against hers.

It feels like she can finally breathe.

She snakes her arms around him without shame, without fear. There’s no place for that amidst the death and ruin that permeates what’s left of her childhood home.

She doesn’t know how long they stand there in the courtyard, wrapped up in each other, but she doesn’t much care. Time is of no consequence to her anymore. There is no urgency or concern about the next step, now that they’ve won.

But have they? Arya does not open her eyes, for fear that looking at the devastation around her will be her ultimate undoing.

It turns out that all it takes to unravel her is Gendry pressing his mouth against her temple and exhaling so sharply, his entire body shudders against hers. That’s when she lets a tear – a single tear – slip past her eyelid.

“Jon is dead.”

Saying the words out loud hurts more than any injuries she may have suffered at the hands of the Faceless Man.

“I know.” Gendry whispers into her hair, tightening his grip around her, “I know.”

He doesn’t lie or placate, but he also doesn’t let her go.

That might be the moment Arya realizes that Gendry is it for her. There's no one else.

xxx

The third time Gendry kisses her, he doesn’t stop.

He kisses her cheeks, her nose, her jaw, before finding her lips and not letting go. He kisses her like he’s making up for lost time, like he can’t seem to care about anything other than binding himself to her, making them as one.

Arya wants that too; she knows that now. She wants him in her heart, in her life, in her bed…

It’s that last thought that prompts her to place a palm against his chest. His entire body goes still and then he steps back just enough to meet her eyes.

His cheeks are flushed and they are both breathing hard, but it’s his cerulean gaze that leaves her throat dry. His adoration for her is plain to see, as is his concern.

She knows then – as she’s known for many years – that he will go to the ends of the earth for her. He will follow her anywhere.

The realization alone overwhelms her, words she wanted to say now stuck in her throat.

“I-“

“It’s alright. I understand.”

He wraps his hand around her wrist and presses a kiss to each of her knuckles as she watches with her mouth agape, wondering when their relationship went from loud, impassioned discord to quiet, tender moments like this.

She wonders if in the wake of all this tragedy, all this death, this is their new normal. She is not sure how she feels about it.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers against his chest, because she is. She is sorry she has witnessed and partaken in some of the most atrocious acts of humanity, and yet cannot follow through with something that should come so naturally to her.

Is she too broken? Is there a part of her that will never right itself enough to give into what Gendry is so eagerly offering her?

“Don’t be, don’t be sorry.” His voice cuts through the doubts beginning to take root in her mind, “we have nothing but time.”

That’s what worries Arya the most, because she knows as well as any other, that time does not always heal. Sometimes it makes the wound deeper.

He finds her in the Godswood sometime after dawn breaks the following morning.

She has not slept much and that makes her less sharp than she would like to be, but she still senses him approach.

Gendry silently perches himself at the foot of the tree besides her, keeping a respectable distance. Arya wants so badly to close the space and lean on him, but she does nothing. Words are still hard to come by and it doesn’t seem fair to taunt him like this.

“The Red Woman did not murder me, but she did other things. If Davos had not taken me, I am certain she would have ended me eventually.”

Arya says nothing, but something inside her snaps into sharp focus as she remembers her list.

There are rumors Melisandre is in King’s Landing – having swapped allegiances once more. Arya knows they will cross paths one day. Perhaps she might make it an immediate goal to do so.

“I reckon I would not have fought so hard for my freedom. I would have suffered through her torment because I knew it was my penance for breaking your trust and abandoning you.”

Arya still says nothing but she chances a glance in Gendry’s direction. What she sees there unties her tongue just a bit, not enough to speak but enough to know what she will say when she gains the courage to do so.

“What I mean to say, milady,” he clears his throat, fighting his best not to appear nervous, “is I shall wait for you for as long as you need. It is the kind of torment I do not mind enduring.”

She looks at him for a long time, trying to see beyond the sincerity in his eyes. When she finds nothing there, it only confirms what she's known since the moment he fell into her arms after battle. She never wants to be apart from this man again.

She means to tell him all of this, she really does, but she does not want to sully the moment with her ineloquence.

So instead, she kisses him and this time, neither of them stops.

xxx

The first time Gendry properly bed her, Arya doesn’t take her eyes off him the entire time. They lie facing each other afterwards and she watches the moonlight bounce off his bare shoulder.

His body is not smooth like it once was. It’s littered with scars and blemishes, signs of a life that has not been simple or kind. He is not perfect but neither is she. That’s why they fit together so well, two jagged shards of glass lined up perfectly, completing the full image and providing clarity.

For once, Arya can see so clearly beyond the next fight, beyond simply survival. She reaches out and brushes her fingers along his cheek. Gendry leans into her touch, albeit somewhat hesitantly, reminding her that this isn’t easy for him either.

He has not always trusted people, seldom come across those with kind intentions. He trusts Ser Davos, she hopes he trusts her, and she knows he trusted Jo-

She doesn’t let her thoughts go there. This is not the time. She runs her fingers across Gendry’s jawline instead, then his brows, and finally along the column of his neck.

This is the most relaxed she’s ever seen him, and the most vulnerable. While she might have been the one writhing beneath him just a few moments ago, his lips, teeth, and tongue reducing her to a shivering mess, Gendry is the one now lying patiently and motionlessly letting her explore at her leisure.

It makes Arya want to give him the world.

“Sansa could legitimize you. Then Storm’s End would be yours.”

His eyes grow wide for a moment, then he falls contemplative. Arya stops her exploration, hand dropping to rest on his bicep, eclipsing the sliver of moonlight illuminating his skin there.

“Winterfell has barely begun to rebuild. The Queen of the North has much to reckon with, without a bastard asking for a title.”

Arya opens her mouth to protest but it’s Gendry’s turn to distract her. He rolls onto his back and takes her with him, until she’s pressed firmly to his chest. Arya wonders if it’s intentional, if he thinks it’ll be easier to say what he wants to say without having to look her in the eye.

“Not sure if you heard,” she says softly, dropping a kiss against his ribs, “but I happen to have the Lady of Winterfell’s confidence and am sure it would be of no trouble- “

“I know, but there is still work to be done here, weapons to be made, and I would prefer to stay here to see that through.” He tries to pacify her by burying his fingers in her hair and massaging her skull, but his words are too important to ignore.

There’s a need for weapons, because there is more war ahead. They won the fight against the dead without The Lannister army. The North has lost so much already but it also bent the knee to Daenerys Targaryen. With the strongest claim to the throne now buried with Jon, the Dragon Queen plans to march her army South and take back what is rightfully hers.

The North remembers…

But so does Arya.

Cersei Lannister

Melisandre

The Mountain

Ilyn Payne

“I have to go to King’s Landing.”

She waits for a response, a sharp movement, an inhale of breath. She gets nothing save for gentle fingers settling on her back, and a soft “I know” whispered against the crown of her head.

He will not go with her; Arya knows as much. He cannot join a war he does not believe in, and while he may go to the ends of the earth for her, he will not set foot in King’s Landing ever again. But she has to, as much for herself as for him.

The fact that he does not try to dissuade her from going, does not ask her to stay makes her the bravest she’s ever been.

“I love you.”

She doesn’t mutter it against his chest, she says it to his face, rising on her elbows and looking right into his eyes.

Gendry smiles at her, some of his weariness disappearing and giving him a boyish demeanor that sets her heart ablaze. Arya doesn’t even mind when he tugs on her ear affectionately and says, “I know,” in a tone that suggests that he truly has known all along. Long before she did.

The moment is gone as quickly as it came and then he’s looking at her with the seriousness of a thousand gods.

“Would you do something for me then?”

She nods without hesitation, ready to give him anything as long as he let’s do this – complete her list.

“Come back to me, will ye? I don’t much want to travel to that retched place to find you.”

She snickers at his disgusted expression at the mention of King’s Landing but her mirth is short-lived, because Gendry is still looking at her, expecting an answer.

“Where else would I go?” Arya asks pointedly.

He doesn’t answer her, instead pulls her into a kiss that’s neither gentle nor tender. It’s raw and bruising and life affirming.

A painful reminder of what she’s giving up to accomplish her mission, but a delicious promise of what awaits her when she’s done.

xxx

The first time Arya kisses Gendry upon her return, his face is covered in soot and his bare chest glistens with sweat.

His fingers no doubt leave black smudges on her cheeks and neck, and the proximity of the forge fire makes her heavy cloak nearly intolerable to be in, but Arya doesn’t care.

Gendry is here, and he’s kissing her and that’s all that matters.

“You’re back,” he exhales into her hair when they pull apart, “for good.”

“Yes,” is all she can reply with before she buries her face in his neck, tasting salt and sweat beneath her tongue.

“Will you do something for me then?”

“Anything.” She whispers against his throat.

Gendry separates from her just enough to look her in the eye. There’s a glint there that Arya missed so much; her breath catches in her throat.

Seven hells, he’s ruined her.

“Will you be my Lady?”

“Lady?” She asks, confusion seeping in.

“Yes, my Lady.” Gendry nods, but says nothing else – the intonation makes it clear.

“I’m not quite certain, kind sir. My dowry may be too high a price for a bastard to pay.”

She can’t help but tease then, as the first flutter of nerves and excitement settle low in her belly.

“Oh, you have not heard. This bastard got himself a castle and a title, but now he needs a Lady.”

If possible, her smile grows wider as she considers her response.

“What say you, hmm?” His face turns serious again, and the careful way he reaches out to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear alights her soul in a way that no fight, no kill ever could.

“Will you be my Lady?” He asks again, nerves coloring his words, but he has no cause for concern.

The answer is yes, for him, it’s always yes.

This time, Arya doesn’t much care who kisses whom first.

xxx