There’s a game of cat and mouse they play, where they see which one of them will break first.
It might be the quick nod of the head or a prolonged glance. Or once just the flick of Gendry’s wrist, his cufflink catching the light as it reflected off the crystal chandelier.
And they fall right back to where they were before – heated touches and bruising kisses exchanged under the guise of one more.
“We said last time would be the last time.”
“No you said it. I made no such promise.”
“Gendry – ”
“Fine, do you want to stop? Is that it?”
The prospect of him walking away has her shaking her head.
“Okay then. Can I fuck you now until you can’t see straight?”
About 30 minutes later, Arya confirms that her vision is just fine.
Walking, on high heels no less, is definitely a problem though.
She met Gendry when she was 9.
He was the lonely, angry kid on the playground, tossing a ball at the wall and being largely ignored by everyone else.
She was in pigtails and overalls, carrying a know-it-all attitude that got her into trouble.
He saved her once from a bloody nose and somehow became the one who bailed her out before things got real.
Arya doesn’t really know how those kids went from watching each other’s backs to whatever this is.
“You’re not going to get me off like this but you’ll come close.”
“Hmm, found the two spots, did I.”
The rest of the bar is loud, a heavy metal band blaring through the speakers, but Arya can hear every sound Gendry makes as he toys with her nipple through her bra and sucks at her neck.
“Maybe you can find the third one with your mouth too.”
“Fuck, Arya. You can’t just say -...”
He doesn’t even finish his sentence, but he doesn’t need to; not when he leans into her like that, jaw clenched in restraint.
“I think I just did,” she says, grinding her hips into his a little more, “are you going to do something about it or?”
They don’t make it past his car, and there’s not nearly enough room for him to follow through on his promise.
But it’s exquisite anyway. Even with the tight fit of him inside her, and the layers of clothing separating them from skin that suddenly itches to be touched, connected.
And she doesn’t think about what will happen after.
it’s hard to think at all really with Gendry’s large hands drawing patterns on her body, and his mouth on her tits and the noises he makes each time she rocks into him.
Arya can’t contain the cry spilling from her throat when his thumb slips right there, right where the ache is building, building, and building.
She doesn’t know which one of them comes first but it doesn’t matter because then her thighs are shaking and Gendry’s not easing off her clit until she bites his bottom lip in warning and pries his hand off.
Even then, he doesn’t let her go, doesn’t stop kissing her, and her tongue finds his easily, without second thought, like this is exactly what she should be doing now.
He finally pulls away from her, hand sliding from her hip to cup the back of her neck, and the look he gives her, vivid even in the shadows of his fogged up car, tightens some imaginary noose around her heart.
Because what they’ve just done, it doesn’t feel like a first time at all. It feels like they’ve been doing it for years.
And that should be Arya’s first clue that none of this is going to be so simple.
That’s not how it starts though.
It starts with a job offer – perhaps out of some misplaced guilt Ned Stark feels on behalf of his shitty best friend.
And one day, Arya’s one-time best friend is suddenly in Winterfell, looking like a snack and smiling at her like no time has gone by at all.
Arya can’t resist smiling back or walking up to Gendry and pulling him into a hug. The second she smells him, she knows she’s done for.
What is it about scent being the most primitive out of the five senses?
Well, whomever came up with that had it right, because it feels intoxicating to be this close to him. When Gendry grins down at her, an expression she knows he’s only ever saved for her, some part of her spasms with recognition.
And they’re right back to how they started – nearly inseparable despite the decade and a half that lives between them.
Her mother doesn’t really like Gendry. He’s too quiet and stone-faced for her to read him well and she knows he has a record – never mind where he grew up and his shitty circumstances.
That only makes him more appealing to Arya.
It’s not exactly fair, she knows that, but the mechanism in her brain that would tell her she’s getting in over her head seems to be missing.
It’s why she kisses him in the quiet corner of that smoky bar, and why she watches him now from the corner of the living room, reminiscing about how they were as children.
The quiet watchful eye Gendry used to cast on her even when he was angry with everything and everyone else.
He does it now too. Except this look is more weighed, tinged with some secret knowledge or awareness of her that leaves Arya feeling exposed.
Never one to back down from a challenge, she stares him down right back, chin purposefully jutting out.
Not ten minutes later, her chin is shoved into the wall as Gendry drops to his knees behind her.
And then everything ceases to matter besides his warm tongue and bruising hands making her fly high and anchoring her at the same time.
On more than one occasion, when their clothes are back on and the scent of sex has faded into the backdrop of hushed voices and quiet laughs, Arya swears he’s about to do something stupid like tell her he likes her. Or worse, ask her out.
She never probes him on it; mostly because she’s scared she’ll say yes.
It might be why it works so well between them. At least for the interim.
At some point though, Gendry gets tired of waiting for her.
The Maiden’s Men are playing a surprise reunion show and Rickon scores them tickets.
Arya’s not the biggest fan but she’s also never seen her brother this excited, so she sucks it up and goes.
She tells herself that her reticence has absolutely nothing to with the fact that this is Gendry’s favorite band or that she found out through Theon of all people that “hunky boy Waters” asked pretty Alys Kastark on a date.
Her denial lasts as long as it takes for them to get inside – upon which she immediately spots Gendry by the bar and her bad mood sours even further.
Not picking up on the tension, or perhaps more accurately not caring, Rickon walks straight to him.
“Gendry! Didn’t know you’d be here, shots?” Her brother doesn’t wait for an answer, signaling the tattooed bartender over and requesting three tequilas.
It gives Gendry the opportunity to divert his intense blue gaze to Arya, and she feels just as exposed as ever.
“Thought you didn’t like this band?” He asks rather conversationally, and she doesn’t know why she scowls in response, except she does. Gendry apparently finds it amusing.
He doesn’t take the shot when Rickon offers, so Arya takes it for him, making sure to keep her eyes trained on him as she wipes the excess liquor from her chin.
The way Gendry’s expression goes instantly dark, hand clenching tightly around the neck of his beer bottle as he watches her lick the salt off her finger tells Arya everything she needs to know.
She’s barely drained the second shot when she grabbing him by the bicep and marching them through the crowd.
Rickon shouts something after them but Arya doesn’t bother responding to him, the thrum of arousal propelling her forward until she pulls Gendry into a blessedly empty bathroom.
It’s one of those single stall situations, and as soon as the door clicks behind them, Arya shoves him against it, finding his mouth and settling there.
Gendry’s arms go around her willingly, almost too willingly. It feels very much like a hit of the hardest drug or a shot of the strongest booze when he parts her lips with his tongue and his hand weaves into the hair at the nape of her neck.
Fuck the man can kiss, she thinks, before walking them back towards the sink.
Gendry tears his mouth away from hers, the beginnings of a dangerous smirk stretching his stubbled jaw as Arya lifts herself onto the chipped porcelain.
There’s graffiti on the walls, and it smells like piss and alcohol, but all she can focus on is the heat building in all the places Gendry’s touching her.
The thorough way he kisses her neck, without any regard for anyone or anything else, just makes her hold onto that much tighter.
It also makes her irrationally possessive. She has no claim on him, never staked it, even if he might have wanted her to, and yet the words tumble out of her mouth.
“Heard you were seeing someone.”
Gendry doesn’t falter, scraping his teeth against her skin as he answers.
“Nothing serious. Been on a few dates.”
Arya shouldn’t feel this much relief but she does, and it makes her want to win the upper-hand back.
“Yeah, I know.” She moans into his ear, hands slipping down his front and prompting him to grind his hardness into her.
“That’s why I’m letting you fuck me in here.”
Her triumph doesn’t last very long. Gendry leans back, an eyebrow quirked both in challenge and amusement.
She’s about to say something, something she’s sure will land her in more trouble, but he doesn’t seem interested in her words, yanking her off the sink and turning her around.
And Arya would try to protest, but it’s hard to do that when his hand finds itself underneath her skirt and inside her tights.
Then he’s got two fingers inside her and the flesh of his palm perfectly against her clit, and all she can do is grab onto the sink, wind her leg around his, and let him unravel her like she knows he will.
The opener is off the stage by the time Arya finds Rickon again.
“Shot?” he offers as soon as he spots her.
She takes it, ignoring the smirk on her brother’s face as she takes down the burning liquid in one fell swoop. It does nothing to quell the thrum of residual energy inside her, or the soreness between her thighs.
“You must be thirsty.”
Arya rolls her eyes, following Rickon’s line of sight to where Gendry is standing in the crowd.
He’d split from her the second they stepped out of the bathroom, and she tries not to let it bother her.
This is the arrangement they have anyway, and she should be fine with it.
She is fine with it.
At least that’s what she tells herself on nights she misses him. Misses not just the feel of him inside her but his smile and his strong arms that make her feel more secure than anything else,
And his eyes, the kindest she’s ever seen.
“I’m not even gonna ask.” Rickon breaks through her thoughts, and Arya realizes that he’s looking down at a spot on her neck that’s noticeably darker than the rest.
“We’re all damaged anyway.” He explains with some weird sort of weight in his tone that catches her more off guard than she anticipates.
That’s the crux of it all, really. The last thing Gendry ever makes her feel is damaged.
Arya doesn’t know how long Gendry and sweet blond Alys Kastark actually date but before long, he’s single again.
There’s another party, and Gendry is there. Even though she’s not the one who invited him, the result is all the same.
He sidles up to her, alone, sometimes between her second and third margarita.
All it takes is for his stupid blue eyes to crinkle at the sides with mirth at something she says and she’s pulling him into the nearest room.
It happens to be the coat closet, but neither of them really cares, exchanging easy laughs between kisses as she presses him into a row of furs.
It’s not like it was before. They see each other more frequently now, hang out at each other’s apartments that Gendry’s permanently relocated to Winterfell.
The only reason Arya hadn’t thought he’d be here is because she’s been out of town for work for a few weeks, a freelance gig as a favor to Jaqen. But other than that, this is the closest she and Gendry have been since they were children.
And so, she shouldn’t be so surprised but she doesn’t anticipate it at all.
Even though he lets her undo his belt without much protest and whispers her name a bit too tenderly as she drops to her knees, letting out a growl when she wraps her hand around his quickly swelling cock.
Her mouth is full of him when he actually says it.
A confession so faint, she barely hears it over the rush of blood in her ears.
The way he freezes is unmistakable though, fistful of her hair tensing at first, then going slack.
Arya ventures a glance up but shadows obscure his face from view and all she knows by his stillness is that he’s giving her the choice.
He won’t hold it against her if she gets up and walks away right now, but she doesn’t want to stop.
Judging by how hard he still is, Gendry doesn’t really want to either.
Her hand glides under his untucked shirt, nails dragging along his naked side and the way he bucks into her mouth leaves little room for consequences.
She wraps her fist around him and starts to suck harder, a sick sort of thrill shooting through her at how quickly he comes.
As soon as she gets up though, Gendry steps away from her, hastily zipping up his fly and tucking his shirt back in.
When he slips out of the room without so much as a glance in her direction, Arya really wishes they’d stop hurting each other.
They don’t talk – at least in any meaningful way – for so long, Arya loses track of the time.
Instead, she parties more – despite feeling all the wearer for it.
She also takes on more assignments from Jaqen. It’s interesting work at least and allows her to travel. To spend less time away from Winterfell and the memory of Gendry’s stupidly expressive eyes filled to the brim with things not meant to be uttered out loud between them.
On one such work trip, a different pair of eyes – an emerald green rather than sapphire – catches Arya’s attention.
She first wonders what perfect, prim and proper Myrcella Baratheon is doing at a ramshackle Tiki hut on a half-deserted Dornish beach. But then Myrcella smiles at her, part in shyness and part in curiosity, and Arya doesn’t wonder anymore.
She walks over and makes conversation instead. Hours pass before she even notices anyone else aside from the green-eyed beauty in the bright red sundress with stupidly long lashes and a way too dazzling smile.
Arya knows that she shouldn’t, but apparently when it comes to Baratheons – bastard or otherwise – she just can’t help herself.
Myrcella doesn’t stop her when Arya kisses her; she lets her lick the rum off cherry-stained lips and tangle her fingers in soft, flaxen ringlets that feel like silk.
It’s all the encouragement Arya needs to bring Myrcella to her hotel room that night; to push her onto the bed, untie the neck of her halter and suck the sea salt from her skin.
She’s much softer than what Arya is used to but the little gasps and moans still hit Arya in the same place.
One night is all it takes for Arya to lose herself not only between Myrcella’s thighs but also in her whimsical nature and soothing voice and the way she can be content just lying at Arya’s side and playing with her hair.
It’s probably the closest Arya ever comes to falling in love with someone else, to actually trying to make a relationship work, but it doesn’t last very long.
It never does for her, because unlike Myrcella, it doesn’t seem like Arya can be content with anything.
They break up on a rainy Sunday.
“You’re just checked out.” Myrcella tells her through teary green eyes as she neatly folds Arya’s clothes into her tattered duffle.
Arya decides right then and there to stop fucking around and get back to Winterfell. To attempt a semblance of a normal life - none of this living out of her suitcase anymore - especially not when she no longer has a place to stay in Kings Landing.
Of course, she should know having a normal life is out of the question for someone like her.
She’s at the bus station when her father calls her.
As soon as she hangs up, she switches her bus ticket from Harrenhal to Cape Wrath.
She sees him through the crack in the door.
Not his face.
Just the back of him, but it’s enough.
Enough to notice how Gendry sits slumped over on the tiny couch, anguish and defeat stretching his shoulders in the suit he wears.
It’s been months since they last spoke, even longer since they saw each other. She heard through the grapevine – Theon, again – that Gendry was dating a very nice brown-haired dark-eyed woman named Jeyne.
Arya hadn’t seen anyone with her description at the funeral, so there’s not an ounce of hesitation as she steps into the room, door shutting behind her with a soft click.
Gendry doesn’t look up from where he’s staring at the floor, head balanced between two large hands that have clearly been run through his hair one too many times.
The urge to smooth it out for him has her fists curling at her sides, nails digging into her palms to quell the longing.
It doesn’t work.
When he does look up at her, mumbling a quiet “hey” – eyes so devastatingly brilliant and exposing so much of the raw pain he’s going through – Arya doesn’t stop herself from sliding right into his lap and pulling him into a hug.
He accepts her readily, just like he always does, and that might be what drives her to tug on his messy hair to get him to look at her.
And there are a million things she wants to say right now, what she should say, not the least of which is how absolutely fucking sorry she is for his loss. But words are suddenly the last thing on her mind when Gendry reaches up and kisses her.
It’s been so long without him, but the taste of him is all the same.
Same comfort, same thrill, same place that feels like home and Arya’s so weary of traveling, so exhausted from running, she grabs hold of it without question.
She shoves his blazer off first, then undoes the first few buttons of his shirt. That’s as far as Gendry lets her get before his hand slides under the cheap, polyester dress she’d bought for the occasion and her eyes nearly roll to the back of head at the slow drag of his fingers along her slit.
Her lips drop to his neck, biting into the muscle there as she chases his touch; and the way Gendry tenses beneath her when he feels exactly how wet she is for him already has Arya pulling back from him – a reminder of where they are once again hitting her hard.
“How’d you find out?” he asks with a surprisingly steady voice, and the sadness in his eyes makes it easy to shelve aside the rattling of desire where his fingers haven’t stopped moving.
“My dad called me,” her voice isn’t as well controlled, which would normally make the hunk of a man underneath her smirk with self-satisfaction.
When Arya doesn’t see it, her heart clenches painfully in her chest, making her want to replace it with anything other the grief flashing across the cerulean orbs staring at her.
She kisses him much slower this time, and not just his mouth, but his forehead and his cheeks, and his jaw, trying to pour as much comfort and care into each press of her lips.
At some point, the control tips in her favor, thick, calloused fingers losing their rhythm on her clit as she grabs a hold of him and guides him inside her.
They slip out of her dress entirely as she starts moving slowly on top of him, taking him in and out of her in a soft practiced glide that feels like an old dance you don’t need to relearn the steps to.
Arya doesn’t lose herself this time in the sensation, pushing her hazy mind to for once be present in the moment and let the intensity of it wash over her.
She memorizes everything.
From the way Gendry’s strong arms hold her to the way his eyes stay rooted on hers even though she can feel how hard and thick he is, how close he is. When he tries to find her again, to push her over with him, she kisses him instead, mouth tracing his temple before whispering, “later” in his ear.
It tips him over the edge, body tensing perfectly as he empties inside her, and Arya would be concerned that this is the moment she wishes she could stay in – right here, having fucked Gendry in his dead foster dad’s study on the day of his funeral – but she can’t bring herself to care.
Can’t really be bothered when she has him right here, every breath of his still ricocheting through her body.
“Did you at least lock the door?” Gendry breaks the silence, and his voice, hoarse and satiated, reminds Arya how unsatiated she is.
No sooner than she mouths a quiet “nope” against his lips, she feels herself lifted and Gendry rising to his feet.
He’s still inside her as he walks her to the desk on the opposite side of the room, and she’s barely missed the feel of him when he replaces his cock with his mouth and licks right into her.
Then Arya has no choice but to lose herself, to surrender to the insistent swipe of his tongue and his even more insistent thumb as he rubs at her with a familiarity that has her thighs clenching around his head in no time.
She’s well aware of the noises slipping through her mouth, and the way she grips a fistful of his hair to keep him in place, to keep him licking her that much closer to the inevitable cliff, but she can’t keep herself quiet.
Gendry, as always, anticipates exactly what she needs, and when his wet thumb swipes at her bottom lip, seeking entry, she sucks it in and bites down on it to help drown out the moans bubbling out of her as she shakes through the sweet, sweet tension tearing through her body.
“I’m here for a few days to help Marya clean things out. Stay with me.”
She’s barely stopped trembling when he asks, easing her leg off his shoulder and not too subtly wiping the side of his mouth.
And there are a dozen reasons why this is a fucking bad idea, but the look in his eye is no longer muted, and there’s that flush to his cheeks that Arya knows so well.
Before she can talk herself out of it, she nods.
They leave the room together, hand in hand, not bothering to hide very much of anything.
Arya knows she should feel relieved, but all she feels is a lingering guilt.
It makes her squeeze Gendry’s hand a little tighter.
Even with seven sons and their families milling about, Marya still manages to find a spare room for Arya.
She still wakes up in Gendry’s bed though.
They haven’t shared a bed in years, not since an impromptu meet-up in the Riverlands one summer after college.
They weren’t fucking then but Arya still remembers how it felt to wake up in his arms.
To feel a bit of security and warmth and something distinctly right about Gendry being the one with his large body practically suffocating her.
It’s nothing like this now. He’s still pressed against her back but he doesn’t shuffle away when he feels her stir. Instead, he brushes the hair off the side of her face and sinks his lips into her neck with little preamble.
His hand slides under her shirt at the same time, circling her navel and tracing up and up until he finds her nipple. Then Arya can’t keep still any longer, reaching behind to push him closer.
He stays exactly in place, aside from his fingers rolling and pinching, and making her press her thighs together to relieve the ache.
“Tease,” she mutters half into the pillow, fist bunching up the fabric.
“Morning,” he mutters lazily in her ear, and she could swear there’s a trace of mirth in his reply – the first she’s heard in days.
It makes her heart race in an entirely different way, not wanting to dive into the implications of it all; into what this is starting to turn into. What she’s allowed to happen.
“Just fuck me already,” she lifts her leg over his, making it entirely too easy for him.
But Gendry merely lets out a low laugh, rubbing his cheek along her temple and retracing the path his hand took earlier.
“When I’m ready,” he tells her in a surprisingly clear, firm tone, and Arya feels it right where she knows she’s wet and very ready for him.
She almost, almost considers begging, but then he hooks her leg over his and traps her clit between two long fingers, and the only thing she can do is lean back and draw his mouth from her neck to hers.
By the time Gendry is ready, her leg won’t stop shaking and there’s sweat pooling in the dip in her spine, and she’s lost count of how many times he’s gotten her off.
When he finally eases into her, Arya bites into his lip to keep from waking up the entire bloody house.
It doesn’t really work, spurring Gendry to keep fucking into her until they’re both shaking and the scent of sex and sweat overrides the ocean mist drifting in through the open windows.
When they’ve both stopped breathing so hard and the sweat has cooled on their bodies, she turns to study his face – even though she knows it’ll unravel her completely – and her fingers are stroking the soft hairs on his chin as she puts an offer out.
“Want to show me around today? After we help Marya?”
“Yeah.” Gendry nods without hesitation, and she grabs a hold of the expression on his face, letting it drown out the cold fear steadily encroaching on her.
Cape Wrath is small but there’s plenty to see.
Gendry spent only a little bit of time there before moving back to King’s Landing for university, but from the way he talks about it, Arya instinctively knows it was a time of great comfort to him.
It’s the most content she’s seen him in a far too long, and she tries not to think too deeply on why. On why his smiles are a little lighter or that he seems to hold her just a little more freely than he normally would.
They have lunch with her father before he heads back to Winterfell, and Arya avoids eye contact with him altogether – knowing that any ounce of disappointment she sees there will shatter this reality like glass, and she’ll have to confront her own broken image.
Gendry doesn’t seem to notice, and that should be yet another warning sign.
As should the fact that he slips into her room later that night.
It’s always her drawing him out, dangling his self-control in front of him until it snaps and he melts into her, uninhibited and all consuming.
It never starts like that, never with him closing the distance between her and kissing her deeply with hands warm and cradling her face. It’s never him lifting her and laying her onto the bed – peeling her clothes away while his eyes never leave her face.
It’s never him moving inside her at a far too excruciating a pace as he braces himself with a forearm over her and plays her with the hands of a creator, a molder, someone who shapes things for a living.
And though it does end with him still urging her to come for him, fingers working furiously between them to make it happen, it’s never been this hard to keep the I love you from spilling passed her lips as she listens.
It all comes to a head two evenings later. Arya’s in the corner of the living room again, watching as a family – this time not hers – share pictures and swap memories.
She’s one step removed from it, and prefers it that way, but of course, it can’t last like this.
There’s a protective bubble she has around herself, that no one else is privy to, but it’s been mostly suffocating lately.
When Marya pulls Arya to her side to show her pictures of Gendry as a teenager, the bubble doesn’t so much burst as it constricts around her like a cellophane prison.
Gendry spots it instantly, can read her like a book that’s written in a language only he understands.
It makes her look away, and then slink away too, digging an emergency pack of cigarettes out of her duffle and escape into the chilly evening air.
“You still do that?”
Two drags in, the front door creaks open and Gendry steps onto the backlit porch.
He leans against the doorway, arms large and prominent over his chest and Arya suddenly wishes he wouldn’t look so damn good, so put together, so inviting.
“Only when I’m stressed.”
She knows it’s the wrong thing to say even before his eyes narrow, but her brain has never been the most reliable in these situations, so she just takes another drag and waits for his move.
Waits for his turn and tries not to feel so exhausted by it all.
By this stupid game they play, pushing each other to see which one falls off the cliff first.
“Oh yeah? And what are you stressed about.”
“I have to get home soon. I have work.”
Or maybe it’s just her pushing Gendry repeatedly away until he stays away for good.
“Okay, I am not stopping you. I’ll take you to the airport whenever you book your flight.”
That thought suddenly becomes a reality as he turns his back on her.
“Don’t be like that,” she calls after him, not caring how angry and desperate she sounds.
He doesn’t even bother turning around, and it makes her voice crack.
“Like this,” Arya gestures into the space between them, which feels as expansive as ever.
“Like you don’t care if I go. You asked me to stay here.”
“Yeah? And you said yes.”
She can see that he’s getting worked up finally, but the relief she expects, doesn’t come. If anything, Arya feels worse and it causes her to say things that maybe she otherwise wouldn’t.
“Look it’s been great but I’m not good at this, alright?”
“This, relationships, whatever you call it.”
At this, Gendry finally turns around, just in time to laugh at her without any real humor.
“First of all, how do you know that?”
“With who? Aegon?”
She can’t believe he’d bring up her high school boyfriend of all people, and his subsequent scoff only makes Arya more enraged.
“Yeah and with your own fucking half-sister.”
Can’t he see just how bad she is for him?
“That’s different Arya.”
“Because it is, okay? It’s different with you.”
And it’s the sureness in his tone, the sheer conviction that she sees in his stance too that has her heart jumping into her throat, realizing that she’s nowhere near where he is.
“Like it was different with Arianne? And Alys? And Jeyne?”
And she hates herself just a little more when Gendry’s eyes darken. And not in a good way.
“If you don’t know why it’s different, then I don’t even know what you’re doing here.”
It’s a cold dismissal, but she’d been prepared for it. Her mask slips back on her face even as Gendry stares her down, waiting to see if she’ll say anything to counter him.
He knows better than to engage in a stalemate with her though, so he goes back inside relatively quickly.
Arya doesn’t follow him, choosing to light up another cigarette and then another and another; until the lights all shut off in the house and she can slip back inside without encountering anyone.
She sleeps in the guest room alone and the next morning she grabs her crappy duffle, thanks Marya for breakfast and leaves all before Gendry gets back from his run.
She does text him from the airport and then when she lands back in Winterfell.
He doesn’t text back, and even though Arya didn’t expect him to, it still stings.
This time they don’t talk at all. No calls, no texts, no nothing.
If phones stored history of unsent text messages and nearly connected calls, Arya’s would run out of storage.
Too bad the only real evidence of how much she’s fucked up and how shitty she feels over it is the gnawing in her chest each and every time she thinks of Gendry.
Which is often.
She does do one thing right. She stops running away from home. Every one’s moved out of the house by now – even Rickon who pretty much lives at his boyfriend’s.
Arya thought she’d find it lonely but it’s actually quite nice; especially getting a chance to spend quality time with her father.
Her favorite thing to do is sit and read in his study while he works. She’s in the middle of a news story about a child trafficking ring in Lys when his phone rings.
Her father doesn’t stop what he’s doing, tapping the speaker button on autopilot and Arya freezes at the voice on the other end.
Suddenly, it’s six months ago and she’s back in Cape Wrath watching Gendry turn his back on her, because she’s successfully pushed him away, and –
Her father takes one look at her and smoothly turns off the speaker, picking up the phone handle as if nothing has happened.
Arya knows he’ll never bring it up again, but for some reason she can’t let it go.
It’s only a few minutes after he hangs up that Arya puts the newspaper aside and addresses him.
“Why did you offer Gendry that internship?”
It’s been years since he did. Gendry has come a long way since then, but her dad doesn’t skip a beat, removing his glasses and leaning back in his chair.
“He was alone in King’s Landing. I thought he might have a better chance at a fresh start here. Maybe even a family.”
Her father’s never been one to mince words but he’s also never looked at her this way before.
Exactly as disappointed as she’d feared. Arya wants nothing more than to not feel the hot wave of shame that accompanies his look.
“I do love him, you know.” The familiar gray eyes staring back at her soften at her words, “I really think I do. I just-“
But she runs out of steam quickly, as she often does, because some things can’t be assigned meaning. Can’t be articulated. At least by her.
“It’s scary, I understand.” Her father fills in the blanks perfectly but she wants more. Since she herself can’t understand it, she needs someone to explain it to her.
“What? Loving someone?”
“No. Not just that.”
His eyes turn kind again but also glaze over in reminiscence.
“Your mother and I, we weren’t love at first sight. We had to work for it, build it together, over time. Just because we never had it though, doesn’t mean I don’t know what it looks like.”
Her voice doesn’t sound like her own, which might be a good thing because Arya doesn’t even realize she’s interrupted him.
“All I was going to say darling is that it’s probably scary to find the person you’re meant to be with at such a young age. You’ve never done things according to anyone else, Arya but in this case, I wonder if you’re just hurting yourself.”
She doesn’t say anything for a long time, but she knows her face betrays every emotion she’s feeling.
Eventually, her father slips his glasses back on and returns to his documents.
It’s only later, when her mother’s puttering in the kitchen and it’s just the two of them sitting by the fire in the living room that Arya brings it back again.
“What you said earlier, I know that. I know that Gendry is it for me.”
It’s the firmest she’s ever been, both in her resolve and her conviction, because it’s never been a denial of feelings for her – just the circumstances surrounding them.
Just life boring down on her and it might be time for her to stop letting it.
“Maybe I didn’t know right away but I know now. I just worry that I messed up one too many times for him to trust me again.”
It’s the most honest she’s ever been about her feelings, but her father proves to be the right person to help her rip that band-aid off as he levels a specific sort of gaze at her. The kind only a father would.
It takes her back to her childhood and Arya can’t help the warmth she feels even though there’s still an unresolved ache in her heart.
“Never know unless you try, right?”
That’s all he says but it’s enough.
And she’s not sure what she’ll actually do but for the first time, she feels actually hopeful.
Honey colored light bounces off the porch railing, illuminating the pleasant white wood. Arya watches it spread slowly until the entire back deck is bathed in the glow of the late afternoon sun.
In the distance, she can see people crowded around the many picnic tables set up for her father’s birthday – but they’re far in the distance, and she feels safe here.
Safe to watch how swiftly the sun retreats, painting the sky in pink and purple hues that leave her briefly mesmerized.
The creak of the screen door jolts her back into alertness, and she’s not surprised to find Gendry standing in the threshold.
Like he’s not sure whether he should walk out now that he’s seen her.
It guts Arya more than she’s willing to admit and she doesn’t bother with pleasantries.
“You can come out here, I don’t bite.”
Gendry’s eyes flash instantly and she knows a worse man would make a crass joke. Gendry’s not the type though, so he simply pushes the door open and steps outside.
“Nice night,” he comments after far too many beats of silence and Arya can’t stop staring at him.
All the months they’ve gone without talking, without so much as a text and he’s suddenly here, standing with his huge arms folded over his chest and refusing to look her in the eye.
Before she can stop herself, she says his name.
He instantly throws her a look but his stance is defensive and it doesn’t make her angry like it would before.
It just makes her calm.
What she’d failed to recognize all these years is that Gendry has always been the surest thing in her life.
And everything about him right now suggests that she hadn’t been lying to her dad.
He really is it for her.
“I was scared. Really fucking scared.”
And it’s testament to how well Gendry knows her that he doesn’t even ask what she’s talking about.
He turns to her finally, dropping his hands by his sides but still retaining the mild irritation on his face.
“What’s there to be afraid of, with me?”
Arya swallows down the lump in her throat – how is she supposed to tell him that when she’s around him, it’s like the rest of the world doesn’t exist, and what’s more, she wouldn’t even care if it disappeared altogether.
But she’s made that excuse, told that story to herself, for years now, and where has it gotten her?
She’s no better for having run from this, and maybe she shouldn’t anymore, even if every instinct tells her to.
“When I’m with you, I feel things that –, I’m not good at that.”
“Yeah you’ve said,” he retorts so sharply Arya feels it like a nick on her artery. It doesn’t put her off.
“No, not like that –“ she clarifies first, because he has to know that it’s not about other people.
It never has been.
“I am not good at letting myself be happy.”
Then it’s out there, but it’s not enough.
She blows out a breath of courage and finds his eyes in the dimness of the porch.
“And you make me very happy, Gendry. Like stupidly happy.”
He doesn’t say anything but she can tell he’s searching for it; searching for the will to believe her. Her eyes nearly sting with tears at his indecision.
“And I’m sorry it took me so long but I want to try. I mean, with you. I want to try, Gendry.”
This is as far as she can go. He has to meet her at some point.
The silence drowning on between them – save for the cicadas and the distant rush of the lake – doesn’t leave Arya very optimistic that he will.
Instead, it throws into stark relief Gendry’s uncertainty. Or at least what she thinks is uncertainty up until he takes three measured strides towards the lounge chair she’s in and nudges the side of her calf with his boot.
She does without thought; for once without contemplating anything other than how good it feels when Gendry slots in behind her and engulfs her in his arms.
She leans back, exhaling with a relief that dissolves that lump in her throat and allows her to settle her hands on the large, warm ones anchoring her middle.
Gendry doesn’t say anything else, but he doesn’t have to.
They’ve never needed words to tell each other how they feel. It was just shitty that she kept running from his very presence for so long.
Arya knows that later Gendry won’t object when she takes him by the hand and leads him up to her room.
In return, she’ll let him undress her steady and slow, and let him do unspeakable things to her with his hands, and his mouth, his entire body really, because theirs is a passion that has trouble simmering down even when the rest of them is fractured.
But they’re not anymore; the pieces of them are starting to come back together, and she’ll keep picking up the shards of glass for as long as she needs to.
“Can we sit here, just for a little while?” She asks into his shoulder, inhaling his scent, and shutting her eyes against it.
“Yeah,” Gendry agrees quickly and Arya thinks that’s it.
In the next second though, she feels his quiet laugh against her temple.
“You’re gonna be the death of me, Arya Stark.”
The affection in his tone is obvious and it has her sighing deeply.
“Not if you kill me first,” she nudges him lightly, prompting him to cup her jaw with his large palm, linking their eyes together.
“How about we try not to kill each other?”
The softness in his gaze is what ultimately gets her, and she leans up to press a kiss to the corner of his mouth – innocent, chaste, and perhaps the most important one they’ve shared.
At least it feels that way with how Gendry’s looking down at her, and she smiles widely in agreement.
“I’m game, if you are.”