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be still, my tongue

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As it stands

I've found myself in that doorway again

With both feet in and your heart on my sleeve

But I can't bring myself to walk through this time

Not yet at least

Not until I take one last look and see that it was you

That it was always you

 

Our hearts strewn across those old fragile floorboards

The silhouettes of each and every one of our memories

Playing out like a story that we both know we've seen before

I remember now

This was where I first found you

And beyond those closed doors

I will find you again

My love

I will find you again

 

- Find Me, Forest Blakk

 

 

Arya finds her soulmate in the midst of screaming and chaos, as she’s running down the street in a crammed human mass of people trying to escape the fire that rages through the downtown. She’s suffocating from the heat and all the bodies around her; desperately fighting for every breath and with blind panic coursing through her veins, despite her best intentions to stay calm and cool-headed.

And then someone’s hand brushes her side, and she swears her heart stops beating for a second or two when she feels electric shock running down her spine, so hard, that her very bones seem to tremble. She stops abruptly, leaning down to rest her hands on her knees and trying not to vomit on the pavement. Pain blooms somewhere on the right side of her chest, deep and sharp.

Not now, gods, please.

But, no matter how much she wishes to just deny and ignore everything, her head shoots up anyway, against her wishes and pleas, and their eyes meet.

In the midst of screaming and chaos, with smoke filling her lungs, Arya sees a man collapsing on his knees in front of her, grabbing her hands in his and laughing hysterically, his cheeks wet with tears and dirty from soot.

His eyes are like the clearest of rivers on the summer day, like small cut-outs of the summer. She stares at him, mouth agape like a fish; for, what can she said to him? What – how can she-

The building on the left side of the street collapses with a rumble and flames shoot up higher; the human mass screams simultaneously, like one cornered creature. She snaps out of the moment first and soon she is pulling him up on his feet, desperately tugging him along through the crowd, as people bump into them. He holds onto her tightly; she can feel bruises forming on her bony knuckles from the force of his fingers. She is quick on her feet and small, but he is tall and solid, which proves to be an advantage when they soon switch places and he threats his way easier, making space for her.  She keeps his eyes glued to his back, fixed on the muscles moving under his t-shirt and feeling how her skin tingles violently in all places where it touches his.

Gendry. His name is Gendry.

She just - knows it, like she knows her siblings’ names and the taste of chocolate ice cream, this knowledge rooted somehow in the deep, dark parts of her brain. His name is Gendry and he is her soulmate, and she knows him oh so well.

He stops abruptly and she falls gracelessly against him, her nose bumping against his back. His hand gently twitches around hers at her small hiss of pain, although she’s pretty sure he couldn’t have possibly heard that through all the amiss. When he turns around, he’s rubbing the bridge of his own nose, glancing at her sheepishly; there is a slight coat of blush on his face and she stares at it bashfully. Weird to see such a huge guy blushing.

“Sorry, Arya.” He says softly, lowering his head down nearer hers. Someone’s elbow strikes her middle and before she can even notice, he has his arms around her, shielding her from the crowd. They turn left like that, escaping from the stream of people into a back alley, in-between buildings.

She can still feel the heatwave of the fire, but all that’s on her mind is how right, how familiar her name sounds when he is the one saying it.

 

*

 

Life used to be different, used to be normal. When Arya was a child, she believed she would live until she’s old and grey, the way her grandfather Hoster or her grandmothers did.

When she was a child, her parents believed they would see her and her siblings grow up, find their soulmates, get married. They expected to lead their quiet lives in Winter Town, pampering their grandkids and enjoying each other’s company in relative comfort until the end of their days.

When she was a child, she did not think much about death at all, let alone her own death.

And then suddenly, the war and riots came, bringing bombs and this godsdamned virus with it, and death became the only thing on her mind. This time running out- how much she had left, how much Sansa or Robb or Jon? How much her little niece has, born onto the world on fire?

Not much, it turned out. Not much at all.

So meeting Gendry does not feel like a miracle. It just seems like finding another person who she will be forced to say goodbye to.

 

*

 

They find refuge in the half-collapsed, underground parking lot; empty except for the few abandoned cars left to rust.

Gendry keeps her hand firmly in his, not loosening his grip even when they are finally alone and relatively safe. He leads her in-between piles of rubble, their steps echoing eerily; silence jarring with all the screams they have just escaped from.

When he finally stops and turns around to face her, she wonders if that’s how hearts get ruined; by the soft touch of someone’s hands on your face, by the sharp inhale of breath when someone drinks you in, eyes fixed on your face and wide with awe.

‘’Hello.’’ He whispers as if they were in a cathedral.

‘’Hi.’’ She whispers right back.

Her soulmark is still burning, pulsating with pain like a second heart.

‘’I- I don’t know what to say.’’ He admits sheepishly, this lovely blush back on his cheekbones and she feels a bubble of laughter forming deep in her belly, escaping from her lips before she can stop it.

‘’Me neither.’’

And despite the end of the world, despite the flames and destruction and the fact they are doomed, doomed with no escape, Arya beams at Gendry, as happily as she can.

‘’I remember you.’’ Her fingers tremble, when she raises her hands to his chest, feeling his heartbeat underneath her palms. ‘’I remember you in –‘’

‘’Harrenhall.’’ He lowers her head so that their foreheads meet. ‘’Harrenhall and Volantis, and the Vale.’’

‘’And King’s Landing and Stormlands.’’  Maidenpool, Skargos, a nameless village in the Lands of Always Winter; Yi Ti, White Harbor, Pentos, Summer Isles, Sothoryos. All those times they met each other and chose each other, time and time again. The magic of soulmates; two souls finding one another in the dark, two halves of the same whole calling to one another through time and space. Never-ending cycle of remembering and forgetting.

‘’Your hair’s longer.’’ He sighs, his breath warm on her skin.

‘’You haven’t changed, not in a single thing.’’ Her fingertips dance along the column of his neck, along his jawline, his cheekbones.

The last time she saw him, he was in his soldier’s uniform, deploying for war. He left her angry and broken-hearted, stubbornly refusing to kiss him goodbye. Oh gods, how she missed him, how could‘ve she ever forgotten that?

‘’I missed you.’’ They say simultaneously, sharing their breaths and their longing and their sadness. When a stray ray of dying sunlight falls inside through the hole in the ceiling, basking him in a soft, pink glow, Arya bites on her lip hard enough to draw blood.

This is exactly how he looked when they got married once, back in Maidenpool. The sun was setting and the air smelled like cinnamon, and everything felt endless. He was looking at her as if she was everything he has ever wanted, everything he could ever want.

How could’ve I forgotten you, my love?

‘’Can I see?’’ he asks her almost shyly, and she does not need to question him for clarification. Her fingers fly to the collar of her shirt, undoing a button after button until the swell of her right breast is exposed – and on it, a brand stark red against her pale skin; a brand that she has been born with each and every time.

The bull and the wolf, chasing each other in a circle, nipping at each other’s tails.

‘’Hello, darling.’’ She wipes tears from his face, the tip of her nose brushing his as she takes his hand and presses it flat against her soulmark. ‘’You found me again, Gendry.’

She rests her forehead on his sternum and basks in this warmth of his presence coursing through her veins, her own hand touching his mark the way he’s touching hers.

Swimming in the river of memories that pulls them under, they stay still and recall for a long, long time.

 

*

 

Their world is dying and there are no guarantees they will be given another one.

That’s the truth, at the end of the day - that is the last time they meet each other, the last lives that they can share. And then nothingness and blankness probably.

Can one be reborn if there are no more bodies to be reborn in?

Word was on fire, no one could save me but you. – she’s sure she heard this song somewhere, maybe even used to have it on her phone. Pretty lyrics.

Shame they’re fake, for not even Gendry’s beautiful blue eyes and insistent lips can make those flames die down.

 

*

 

They wander through the deserted city for the remaining part of the day, holding hands and trading facts from those lives – where they grew up, how many siblings they have.

‘’Did you go to university this time?’’

‘’Yeah. Did masters in electrical engineering.’’

‘’I’m so happy you got to do that.’’

‘’And you?’’

‘’Skipped studies. Backpacked a lot-‘’

‘’-course you did.’’

‘’What was that supposed to mean? So, I backpacked a lot, but had a career in figure skating. Gods, I’m gonna miss it. I was starting to get really good.’’

Gendry snorts at the longing in her voice, his fingers twitching lightly around hers. There are pieces of debris scattered everywhere, bigger and smaller, and, time and again, he locks her waist in his grip to hoist her up above holes in the ground that she could potentially fall into.

He cannot seem to stop touching her and she would be lying if she said she doesn’t understand the sentiment.

Under the evening sky, yellow and pinkish from the smoke and the glow of the raging fires, he pulls her closer and closer, until they stop on their way and lock eyes in silence. Gendry’s keeping her arms around her, tighter than he probably realizes, and she tucks herself neatly in his embrace like she did thousands of times. She used to be taller, he used to be shorter. They used to be younger and older, but she always fit perfectly against him just like that.

‘’What would you do, if we had more time?’’ she asks him quietly, watching, as emotions flicker on his face, in his eyes.

‘’I would be more patient.’’ He lets out desperately with a deep sigh, mere seconds before he lowers his head and brushes his lips against hers; gentle at first, his kisses turn hungry, turn violent and bruising as soon as she opens her mouth for him. Raising on her tip-toes, she tugs on his shirt to pull him towards her, trembling and oversensitive. It’s painful, the lack of distance between them, the pace they're setting; her mind high on euphoria, her body not able to adjust quickly enough to unfamiliar lines of his. But as much as she’s dying to re-learn him patiently, once again, she knows he’s right. No time for patience, no time for temperance.

There’s a rose halo on the sky above them, softening the shapes of the fallen skyscrapers to the point when, if she tries hard enough, she can almost convince herself that she’s looking at the lush rolling hills of the Reach, where they used to bathe in the warm waters of Mander, six and without a care in the world. Or maybe some of the taller ones resemble the castle towers a bit. Storm’s End, Winterfell. It’s been so long ago that she can barely remember the names – only feelings remain, strong and unchanging.

‘’Touch me, Gendry. Please.’’ She mouths against his lips, swallowing his groan and swaying on her feet when his hands grip her hips. ‘’Make me forget.’’

Make me forget everything that’s not us.

 

*

 

Sansa died without ever meeting her soulmate, delirious and feverish, rambling nonsense until the very end. When the stream of hushed words stopped pouring out of her lips, Arya did not realize what happened immediately – instead, she exhaled deeply for a moment, convinced that  Sansa had finally fallen asleep.

Mother was still alive then, napping in the armchair by the window, but already sick herself and without any strength left. When she opened her eyes and saw Sansa’s unmoving chest and unseeing eyes, she did not even manage to weep.

She cried silently, soundlessly. She cried and cried and cried, and then she died, and Arya was left alone with Rickon in a too-big house, shovel once again opening blisters in her hands as she was digging in the rose garden.

Sansa, her ginger ponytail and flowery blouses; the sweet smell of her perfume. Gone.

Robb, his kind smile and gallant manners; his deep laughter whenever he beat her at chess. Gone.

Bran, his intelligent eyes and quick mind; his steps echoing on the rooftop. Gone.

Jon,  his gentle words and unruly hair; his warm hand on her shoulder. Gone.

Her father and her mother, Robb’s soulmate, Bran’s soulmate, Jon’s soulmate.

All gone, and soon enough, Rickon's gone too, with his wild grin and round cheeks.

She was so sure she would get sick too, like all of them. Waited whole weeks for the coughing and blisters to appear, for weakness in her bones and in her mind. And somehow, they never came.

No more Starks but Arya, leaving her childhood home and closing the door behind her, so no ghosts would follow.

 

*

 

He ends up taking her to his flat in the last untouched part of the city, making his way through the empty pavements and crumbling buildings with ridiculous ease. They see some other people, all strolling mindlessly with a blank expression on their faces as if they did not know what they’re supposed to do with themselves anymore.

Once in a while, they stumble upon bodies, half-buried under the fallen rubble or passed out from sickness in the alleyways, abandoned by their close ones,  but Arya pays them no mind. Dead are dead and gone, and soon they will be too. But first, they live.

They climb the emergency stairs to the fifth floor, making the stop every time when the metal starts to shake underneath their feet. From up high, they can see the fire ring around King’s Landing perfectly, closing the city in its warm embrace.

‘’It’s kinda beautiful, isn’t it?’’ Gendry murmurs under his breath, his eyes locked at the sight and unmoving until Arya pulls on his sleeve.

‘’Yes, it is.’’ She agrees gently, putting her hand on his cheek to turn his face towards her. ‘’But the fire’s getting closer. We should get inside.’’

‘’We should be running away.’’ He protests, but there is no true conviction in his voice. He lets her lace her fingers with his and pull him up the stairs, higher and higher.

‘’The only way out would be through the river. To make it there, we would have to somehow get through downtown. And even if did, what’s the point? We’re all done for anyway.’’

If not the fire, then earthquakes. If not earthquakes, then sickness. If not the sickness, then bombs. Honestly, the possibilities are endless, and they all seem equally grim to her.

‘’I’m so tired of this.’’ Her voice sounds small, smaller than she ever thought she’s capable of sounding. On the last stairwell, she leans against the concrete wall of the building and looks at Gendry helplessly, when he cups her face with both his hands. ‘’I just want it all to end.’’

‘’I know.’’ softly, oh so softly, he caresses her cheeks with his thumbs, before pressing a tender kiss between her brows, much like her dad used to. He used to do that to our kids. – she recalls suddenly, and the sadness that comes with this realization almost brings her to her knees. – He used to kiss their foreheads when they had bad dreams, their scrapped elbows and small burns on their hands. To make it better.

‘’I know you’re tired, love. We’ll rest soon.’’

The door to his flat open with a soft click and before entering, Arya steals one last glance at the glowing sky, the burning halo. 

‘’I wish we could see stars. We used to watch stars in Yi Ti, you remember? That’s how we met.’’

‘’ ‘Course I do. ’’ Gendry’s standing in the doorway now, his arms loosely draped around her waist and chin resting on the top of her head. ‘’And the stars are still there, even if we cannot see them. Stars are forever, Arya.’’

‘’We used to be forever too.’’ She whispers, her lips stiff, her voice hollow.

His grip on her tightens when he pulls her inside. The second the door closes, she spins on the balls of her feet, planting her hands on his shoulders to brace herself, as he hoists her up, the touch of his palms on the back of her thighs so deliciously familiar.

His nose brushes her cheek when he lowers his head, peppering her jaw and the corner of her mouth with little pecks. He carries her through the flat and she wants to laugh at how completely uninterested she is in how it looks like; normally, one’s home is a pretty good indicator of the person’s character, but she does not need any of those clues now. She knows Gendry better than she knows herself. How does it matter what kind of pictures hang on the wall?

Even if they show him with some other girl, he’s Arya’s. Completely hers. Soulmate bonds, in competition with any other relationships, always win by a landslide. And so, she closes her eyes and throws her head back so as to allow him to nip on her neck the way she likes it; rocks her hips against his to make him growl lowly and bruise her hipbones with the pressure of his fingers.

He deposits her on the mattress, lays her down spread and kneels on the foot of the bed for a moment, chest heaving, eyes burning blue. He’s staring at her as if she was artwork on canvas, depicted by some artists’ skilled brush but, as much as she drinks his adoration in, he’s way too far away like that.

‘’Come here.’’ She raises her hands up and reaches towards him like a child wanting to be picked up. ‘’Come to me, Gendry.’’

When he obliges, sliding on top of her, her fingers fly to the buttons of her blouse once more, about to pop them open, before Gendry catches her wrists half motion.

‘’Let me.’’ He kisses her neck once more, then her collarbones, the dip between them, as he unbuttons the garment and slips it from her shoulders. ‘’Gods, you’re so beautiful.’’

The last time she recalls him telling her that was when they were sitting on the porch of her house on a spring afternoon. She was wearing a red dress, light and pretty. Her sister had braided her hair in a coronet around her head, and he tucked a stray lock behind her ears as if they were in a cheap romance novel.  They were so young then, she can hardly believe it.

Arya pulls his white shirt off him, messing up his hair, as he busies himself with their pants and soon enough, they’re both naked and trembling, and desperate, pawing at each other almost awkwardly in their eagerness. No finesse, no grace, no fine technique; just pure need to touch and be touched, to feel as much as they can, as fast as they can.

In all the centuries she knew him, she has never had Gendry taking her quite the way he does this last time and she’s also quite he has never had her as his does now too. They take each other apart with kisses, tear each other to pieces with swirls of their tongues, breathy moans, and low growls.

He does exactly what she asked him for. Even as inferno rages outside, she does not spare it a single thought – instead, she lets him gather her in his arms and bury his face in the hollow of her throat as he pounds into her. Instead, she keeps her eyes wide open to observe muscles of his back dancing underneath his skin and she inhales the smell of his hair. Instead, she caresses the smooth swell of his soulmark with her fingertips, making him shiver violently and curse under his breath, making him snap his hips against her to the point when it starts to hurt.

She sinks her teeth in his shoulder as she comes; fat, hot tears streaming down her face, dripping against their skins.

He kisses them off and she cannot help but think that, if any kisses could make it better, they would be his and his only.

 

*

 

Over one thousand years ago, Arya Stark was laying on her belly on the sack of grain in Winterfell’s overheated forge and Gendry Waters was tracing the line of her spine with his kisses.

They thought that they were on the brink of the end of the world, then. They thought they would not see the light of the dawn again.

And yet, they did.

Five hundred years ago, Arya sunk on a ship on the Shivering See before their paths crossed and Gendry woke up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason, covered in cold sweat and choking on sobs. He was afraid that it has broken the cycle somehow and he would never meet her again.

And yet, he did.

Sixty years ago he has left her and their children to fight in a pointless war and got killed for no reason, never having a chance to say goodbye. And she thought that this pain would never stop, that she would never forget him after that.

And yet, she did.

 

So she cannot help but hope, against all reason, that it’s not the end.

 

*

 

‘’I wish we had more time.’’ She lets out, her voice choked with emotion as their foreheads meet. It’s useless, saying that. But she wants him to hear it anyway.

‘’I know. Me too.’’ He sounds angry, bitter, desperate. His arms around her waist tighten to the point when she can barely breathe, be she does not care for that. They don’t have enough heartbeats left for gentleness, for making each other’s hearts flutter. Violent delights and violent ends, these are the only things in store for them.  

‘’Could you sing for me?’’

She imagines the winter snow falling down, covering both of them in an icy embrace. Keeping them safe from the merciless heat burning around them, preserving them forever the way ancient animals used to survive centuries in never-melting Northern ice.

She wants to grow old in Gendry’s arms. She wants to forget that death exists.

‘’What would you like to hear?’’ he asks. His hand is stroking the nape of her neck, her back; she can feel his fingers trembling on her skin.

‘’Anything’’ she hides her face in the crook of his neck, closing her eyes and watching stars exploding on the inside of her lids. Her hands sneak in-between his arms and his sides, fingers fisting the material of his shirt. She does not see anything else but him, does not feel anything else than him. Maybe she can melt into his body completely, so that they would never be separated.

‘’ Harsh times that we’ve been through, have turned you hard-’’

Arya remembers Gendry singing to her at other times, in other places. She remembers his low, soft voice, smooth like the pebbles in the river. How he sang her lullabies and happy birthdays and hummed to the songs on the radio.

It may be very well the last time she gets to listen.

She intends to make it count.

Gendry props his chin on top of her head and digs his fingers into her skin. Somewhere, far too close, a loud rumble pierces the air. Someone screams.

‘’Unfreeze your heart, let down your guard-’’

He smells of winter evenings, long and warm. He smells of summer afternoons and spring mornings. He smells of autumns.

We had centuries and it was still not enough, my love. – she thinks sadly, tears burning her eyes when he sighs into her hair.

‘’Oh, Arya,’’

The first time she saw him, she was just a scrap of a girl – confused and heartbroken, and unaware of how monumental this meeting was.

Maybe the universe did bring them for a reason; if for nothing else, then at least for this very moment. So that none of them would be alone in the fire and smoke, so that they would be less afraid of what comes next.

‘’Cause nothing’s set in stone.’’

Gendry’s voice breaks.

That’s how the world ends; with the sound of the roof collapsing, with the heat of flames licking her skin; with her soul screaming in agony, pierced into two.

And then there are only stars; endless and infinite, and forever.