The next day, Arya takes leave of Lady Brienne's party.
"Won't you allow me to come with you?" Brienne asks her, "I will protect you, I swear it on my sword. I swore to serve your lady mother, and now I will make the same promise to you."
"And what about Ser Jaime and your promise to him?" Arya asks, "Shouldn't he know that you've fulfilled your quest?"
Brienne shakes her head sadly. "In the end I didn't do anything, it was you that saved me."
Arya shakes her head then, and smiles at the woman, the first time that she has really smiled in years. "You did more than you think," she tells Lady Brienne. "I plan to take a ship North to Eastwatch by the Sea to see my brother, Jon, and find out if he can help me. Then I'm going to go and take Winterfell back. If you truly wish to join me then meet me at Saltpans and we'll go together."
The swordswoman nods, and they part ways. Watching as the others gallop away, Arya is certain that when she arrives to Saltpans they will be there and waiting for her.
She heads towards the Inn at the Crossroads, stopping for the night when she's only a few miles away. Arya is excited to see Gendry, to finally be able to tell him that she's free, that they both are, but there is something that she needs to do first.
She settles herself down in a clearing and lights a small file, her horse tethered to a tree. Arya waits, as the fire crackles, and the moon rises, and an owl hoots softly overhead. The stars come out, the wind rustles through the trees, and Arya waits.
She is not surprised at all when she finally hears what she has been waiting for, the soft pad of paws upon the forest floor, the slight crunch of snow beneath them.
Nymeria steps into the light, walks towards Arya and sniffs her, the direwolf's soft muzzle nudging Arya's shoulder. Satisfied, she lies down, her head in Arya's lap.
Arya bends forward, winding her arms around Nymeria's massive shoulders, and kissing her head.
"It's time now," she tells Nymeria, "It's time for us wolves to go home."
When Arya rides into the yard of the Inn at the Crossroads the next day, Nymeria following a little way behind, the children scream and run into the house. They've never seen a wolf this size before, and all Arya can hope is that when Gendry sees Nymeria he won't react the same way.
The screams bring him running from the forge, a sword in hand, only to stop abruptly when he sees her. He stares at both her and the direwolf, but it is Arya that his eyes fix on at last, a fragile hope settling within them.
"You're here," Gendry says a little dumbly. "You're… you've left her. Is anyone coming after you?"
"I've left her." Arya confirms, dismounting and leading her horse forward, as Nymeria remains by the gate. "It's a long story, but I'm finally free. We're free. It's time to head North, to go home. I thought we could catch a ship from Saltpans up to Eastwatch by the Sea, to see my brother Jon. That's if… if you still want to come with me."
She is suddenly uncertain and awkward. Gendry was willing to go with her when she needed escape and protection, but now that she's once again in control of her destiny will he still agree, will he still want to remain with her?
He looks at her then, reaching towards her, as if to take her hand, before he abruptly drops it. "Of course," he says, and his voice chokes just a little. "Of course I'll come with you, Arya."
Hesitating, he finally reaches out for her, taking her hand in his lightly.
That he'd follow her anywhere remains unsaid.
She throws her arms around him then, allowing herself to feel relief at an anxiety she hadn't wanted to admit. The last remaining member of her pack, and Arya knows now that he'll be with her until the end, that they'll survive the long winter together. It feels good to know that she'll never have to be alone again, that there's someone who is hers.
She doesn't know if that's love, but it feels an awful lot like she thinks it should.
They ride fast for the coast, Nymeria running alongside.
They had not left the Inn at the Crossroads until almost the afternoon, as Gendry packed his things and they gathered provisions, discussing plans for the protection of the children. The refuge has been left in Jeyne Heddle's capable hands, though Arya hopes that the Brotherhood will send someone else to guard it in Gendry's place soon.
Every step their horses take sees them further away from the Brotherhood and Lady Stoneheart, and with every step the shadow upon her falls further away.
At night they take it in turns to guard the campsite, though Arya isn't sure why they bother now that Nymeria is with them. The direwolf has taken well to Gendry, though he remains slightly wary of the large beast. Arya had known that Nymeria would like him, direwolves can always tell when a person is trustworthy.
After his initial relief, Gendry is now strangely awkward with her as they make the journey towards the coast, sometimes reaching out to touch her only to seemingly change his mind. They don't talk much after Arya has explained how she came to leave Lady Stoneheart; their pace doesn't allow them to. There isn't time and it isn't the place, to ask him why he looks at her so longingly during the day but doesn't try to kiss her at night.
They arrive at Saltpans and Arya asks Nymeria to wait at the edge of the town until they have found Lady Brienne and secured a ship.
The first task does not take long, Lady Brienne and her squire have arrived the day before them though Ser Hyle is no longer part of their company, the swordwoman's distinctive figure ensuring that she is easily found.
Arya is surprised at the look that Brienne gives Gendry, a haunted expression in her eyes, but she welcomes him anyway, and orders another room at the Inn. Arya is to share with her, while Gendry and Pod will take the other.
The matter of a ship is more difficult, first to find one that is departing to Eastwatch by the Sea, and then to ensure that it will agree to carry a Direwolf. Eventually they secure passage on a ship headed to White Harbour, the Captain agreeing after Brienne has handed over a number of gold Dragons.
It is not Eastwatch by the Sea, and it is not all the way to Jon, but it is a start to the journey home.
"Wait until you see the North, Gendry," Arya tells him excitedly, "You've never seen snow like it, and the land, stretching on and on as far as you can see. We'll get to see the Wall too, where my brother Jon is the Lord Commander."
"I'd never seen snow at all until recently." Gendry replies. "There certainly wasn't any snow when I was growing up in Flea Bottom. Are we going to freeze to death up there?"
"Of course not, would my brother let us freeze?" Arya laughs her reply, "We'll both need warmer clothes though. Once we're back in Winterfell you'll be warm all year round, there's water piped through the walls from the hot springs."
"Of course," Gendry murmurs, staring stubbornly out at the ocean. "What would I know about the North anyway?"
He leaves abruptly, and Arya stares after him, wondering why he's behaving so stupidly.
Lady Brienne watches him go, before she comes to join Arya where she stands over the rail. "Does Gendry know who his father was?" Brienne asks, and Arya shakes her head.
"His mother worked in a tavern, and died when he was young. He never knew his father."
The swordswoman nods, takes a deep breath, and begins to speak.
When they arrive at White Harbour they are greeted warmly by the Manderly sisters, on behalf of their Lord Grandfather. Brienne is the one to perform the introductions, but once Nymeria has been revealed there is no doubt as to Arya's identity.
They send them on their way the same day, in the fastest ship that their fleet controls, promising to send a Raven to the Lord Commander on the Wall ahead of their arrival. It will only be a matter of days now before Arya finally sees her brother again, she can barely stay still at the thought of it, constantly fidgeting as she thinks about what she will say. All those years of waiting and longing without any hope at all, and soon almost everything that she had wished for will be granted. She thinks of Lady Stoneheart in the Riverlands then, and hopes that her vengeance will soon be fulfilled, that she may go to rest with her beloved husband. Perhaps when Arya has helped to win back the north she could raise an army to take South, to defeat the Freys once and for all.
Gendry has become more sullen and silent as the journey has progressed; even finally finding out who his father was has failed to improve his mood. Arya thinks she's figured out what's wrong, and it's time to make it right. He's always been a bit of an idiot about certain things, and she's just going to have to talk some sense into him.
She makes her move the night before they're due to land, sneaking out of the cabin that she shares with Lady Brienne, who is tossing fitfully in her sleep, once again murmuring the name that she says most often while dreaming. Arya knocks on the door opposite theirs only to have it opened by a sleepy Pod, who stares at her wide eyed when he sees who it is.
"Go and watch over Lady Brienne," Arya tells him, "I need to speak with Gendry."
"I don't think…" Pod starts to say, his eyes darting around, but one glare from Arya and he's quickly on his way.
She bars the door behind her and makes her way over to Gendry's bunk, where he's turned towards the wall, having slumbered through her appearance.
There is one lantern lit in the cabin, and the light it throws shudders as the ship rocks with the waves, shadows moving in patterns across his face. Seeing the set of his brow, Arya almost laughs, Gendry is stubborn even when he sleeps.
She lifts the covers and crawls into bed with him, hugging his back and slipping her small feet in between his to warm them.
He wakes suddenly, turning towards her quickly, their foreheads almost colliding before he sits up with a start, his head hitting the wall.
Gendry curses and Arya winces, this has certainly not started off the way she wanted it to.
"What are you doing here?" he hisses at her, rubbing the back of his head with his hand. "What if somebody sees you?"
"So what?" Arya replies nonchalantly, "Worried that someone will tell my brother?"
He glares at her then, shaking his head. "And if someone finds out that I've been found in bed with m'lady, then what? They'll string me up or force me to join the Night's Watch."
"Is that why you've been behaving like such an idiot?" Arya asks him, though she has suspected it for some time now. "You haven't talked to me properly since I came to find you at the Inn, you won't touch me unless you have to. You've been acting even more strangely ever since we reached Saltpans."
"You don't get it, do you?" Gendry shakes his head again, his hair falling into his eyes. He looks at her then and she sees the longing there, longing that he's tried hard to hide over the last few weeks. "Everything has changed. You're free and you're going back to your family, to your brother. You'll win back Winterfell and you'll be the Lady there and lords will be competing for your hand. Me? I'm still just the same bastard blacksmith that's not fit for anything more than forging your steel."
He looks away angrily then, his hurt apparent before he does, and Arya reaches out to touch him, her hand on his shoulder. He tries to shrug her off so she grabs him instead, her hand on his jaw to force him to turn to look at her.
"You stupid." Arya tells him, and leans forward to kiss him hard upon the lips. He tries to pull away but she keeps her hand to the back of his head to stop him, and tightens her grip upon his arm. It doesn't take Gendry long to forget his objections; he kisses her back frantically once he has started, his arms around her back, his kisses hot upon her skin once he leaves her lips. Arya has missed this, she's missed the closeness, she's missed being held and feeling that she is cared for.
"And what if you change your mind?" Gendry asks her, panting slightly as he breaks away from her. "What if they won't let you stay with me?"
"I'd like to see anyone stop me." Arya snorts, "Jon wouldn't dare, he knows what I'm like once I've decided something. If anyone else tries, then I'll simply tell them that we've shared a bed, then they'll have no choice except to marry us."
Gendry's face softens then as he looks at her, and he leans forward to kiss her once more upon the lips. "And would you like that?" he asks her, "To be my wife? Would you… would you want that?"
"Maybe," Arya admits, biting her lip. It's something that she hasn't thought about until now - marriage and maybe a family. They're still young, she's still young, but it doesn't seem like such a terrible thing if it should happen with Gendry. He would never try to rule over her or tell her what to do, they could get married and still be themselves. They could spend their lives together and he would always be hers. Maybe, Arya thinks, maybe someday soon.
"And what about our children?" Gendry asks then, a bitterness seeping into his voice. "Will their House name be Snow or Waters?"
"Maybe it can be Stark." Arya replies with a shrug, "Maybe we'll make that your name too. Maybe we'll call them Baratheon after your stupid drunk father."
"Just because Robert Baratheon was my father, doesn't give me a right to his name. Doesn't make me a prince or a lord. I'm still just a bastard, like I always was. Think about it Arya, think about it properly before you make a choice."
"I've made my choice," Arya tells him sincerely, "and it's you, you big stupid bull. You're my family, don't you see? You're my pack. You stood by me through everything that happened, and now we'll stand together always."
She doesn't know how to be any more romantic than that. Sansa would know the right words if she was here, but Arya doesn't. All she can hope is that Gendry understands what she means, that he'll know what she's trying to tell him.
"I love you, you know that?" he reaches his hands out to cup her face, then settles them on her shoulders. "I never had anyone of my own before, not since my mother died, and I barely remember her. I don't really know what it is that I should do to make you happy or how to be a husband, but I promise that I won't let you down."
Arya has known it, known it for many months now without ever putting a name to it. She finds that now that Gendry has finally said it, it is not so very difficult to call it by its proper name.
"And I love you, you idiot." she tells him, and her voice trembles only a little to say it. It is right, at this moment, and Arya has made her choice.
She made it a long time ago, though she never knew it until this moment.
When their boat arrives at Eastwatch by the Sea, Arya has to stop herself from jumping onto the dock before the plank has been put in place.
She restrains herself and waits until everything is in place, giving Gendry a significant look before they depart to ensure that he stays by her side, Lady Brienne and Pod following them.
As she steps onto the dock, Arya scans it desperately, looking for the one face that she has longed to see. There, striding towards her with Ghost by his side is Jon, such a look of joy on his face that she cannot help herself. Laughing, Arya begins to run, launching herself at him as he staggers back, catching her and hugging her tightly.
"I couldn't believe it when I read the message from White Harbour," Jon tells her when he has finally taken a step back to look at her. "All these years I feared you dead, and then that they had wed you to Ramsey Bolton, though we found out later that that was a lie. All these years and finally you're back with me again, my little sister." He reaches down, and ruffles her hair, just as he used to, just as she'd longed for him to, and Arya cannot control herself any longer as she breaks down in tears.
"There is so much to tell you," Arya says at last, "I wanted so badly to make my way back to you, but it was so very hard and it took me such a long time."
"And I have a great deal to tell you," Jon answers, a serious look upon his face. "But first there is something that you need to know, they would not have known yet at White Harbour when you left there. A week ago…"
"Arya!" The shout pulls Arya away from Jon, and she knows she must be dreaming, because it could not possibly be the voice that she thinks she's heard. She steps back, looking up the length of the dock, and almost falls over in shock.
Running towards her, her skirts gathered up in her hands to keep from tripping on them, is Sansa. Arya barely has time to process it before her sister barrels into her, throwing her arms around Arya, crying and babbling incoherently. Arya hugs her back, still in shock and wondering how this could ever be. Her sister, who had been taken from King's Landing by the Hound, missing for years now, and whom Arya had feared dead.
It is almost too much for Arya to cope with when another smaller figure throws themselves at her, wrapping his arms around her waist.
"Sansa? Rickon?" Arya exclaims, "But how? When? Sansa, I thought that the Hound had you, and Rickon, you were dead, Theon killed you!"
"I imagine that there will be many long stories to be told today." Jon remarks then, "But you're home now and we're all together and that's all that matters. That's all that matters."
Standing there on the dock, holding on tightly to the siblings whom she had feared forever lost to her, Arya finds that even after everything that has happened, that is truly all that does matter.
It takes hours for all the stories to be told, and it is late in the night before they all retire to sleep.
Gendry had stood tall beside her as he was introduced to her family, and Arya knows that he won't back down now, that when the right time comes he will press his claim for her. She feels a strange sort of pride in it, that one day soon they'll be each other's in the sight of all. Let any lords or kings try to stop her, Arya won't allow them to.
She had not known quite what to think when she was introduced to her new goodbrother, Sandor Clegane - The Hound, but no, he isn't that anymore. She had hated him once, hoped to kill him, and she still cannot quite believe that he is her sister's husband, the father of little Robb. Yet as Arya had listened to Sansa's story, she found that she could understand a little about how it had happened, that maybe Sandor Clegane is not the man that she used to think he was.
She has learned, after all, that people do not always get to choose for themselves whether they become killers.
Her own story had been difficult to tell, and Arya had faltered at times, particularly when she had to speak about Lady Stoneheart. In the end with only a few omissions the story was told, Gendry and Lady Brienne added to it when they were able, though Pod remained quiet, still uncomfortable to speak in a crowd.
Gendry sits by Arya's side, close enough to prompt questions, though nobody actually asks. It feels right, to sit here like this with her family around her and Gendry by her side. When Arya had begun her journey North she had never imagined that it could happen, that she could have not only Jon back, but Sansa and Rickon too. Bran is out there somewhere as well, the only one missing now, and Arya hopes that soon he will make his own journey home. It is more than she hoped for, more than she could ever have dreamt of.
When it comes time to sleep, Sansa speaks softly with her husband before handing baby Robb to him, standing on tiptoe to place a gentle kiss upon his cheek. Arya watches them and sees the unscarred side of Sandor Clegane's face soften, the way that he looks at her elder sister. Arya knows then, that while they may never be friends, she can accept him as her goodbrother, that in some strange way he makes Sansa happy.
"Arya and I will share a chamber tonight," Sansa announces, "Just as we used to."
It has been years since they last did so, back when they were little girls, when every member of their family was still alive. Arya finds that she likes the idea, and with a quick grin at Gendry, she follows her sister to the chamber chosen for her.
They settle under the covers, both silent for a moment as they struggle to decide what to speak of all that lies in their hearts.
"Our mother…" Sansa finally begins, "Is she… is there anything of her in Lady Stoneheart?"
"Very little," Arya whispers, "Though she has her memories, she is not our mother. I hope that the rest of her, all the good parts, are with Father. That's what she would've wanted."
Sansa suddenly grasps Arya's hand tightly with both of hers, a catch in her voice when she speaks.
"I'm so sorry, Arya. I'm so sorry about everything that happened, I'm so sorry that you were alone all these years. I had Sandor, no matter what happened, though it took some time for me to truly know it. You've had to deal with everything alone, had to see and do so many terrible things, and our mother…"
Arya squeezes her sister's hand and shakes her head. "I wasn't alone, there was always Gendry with me. He tried to look after me, always did whatever he could. There were only those last months near the end when I was truly alone."
Sansa is thoughtful then, still holding onto Arya's hand lightly. "Gendry… do you love him, Arya?"
"Yes." Arya admits, and Sansa smiles, a joyful smile. It is a sign of how much they have both changed, once Sansa would never have smiled at the idea of Arya loving a bastard blacksmith except perhaps to mock her, now she has no problem with the notion.
"Good," Sansa replies, "I'll speak to Jon about it. We'll get you married before anyone can object."
Arya finds that she quite likes that idea. She is certain, as certain of this as she has ever been of anything. It is the right decision, it is what she wants.
She nods, and yawns, wanting to keep speaking to her sister but desperately tired after all the excitement of the day. Arya is almost ready to fall asleep when she hears Sansa speak again, her voice quiet now, thoughtful.
"You and I, we have taken such different paths and made such different choices, but in the end they have brought us back here, together again."
"They were the right choices then," Arya says sleepily, "We're family, a pack. Father told me once that while the lone wolf dies in Winter, the pack survives, and now we will survive together. We were always making our way back to each other, even when we didn't know it."
It is not only chance that have brought them back here, arriving within a week of each other. As Sansa had said, it was the choices they each made that brought them together once more, and Arya senses that a time of change is coming, a new era for her family.
She closes her eyes then, shifting closer to her sister as she prepares to sleep, still holding her hand. There is still much to say and many decisions to be made, but they have time now, now that they are together once more.
In her short life she has been given many names, her identity almost lost at times as she struggled to survive, the pull of death and vengeance nearly consuming her. Here, surrounded by the remaining members of her family, Gendry close by and promised as hers, Arya feels the shadows upon her slowly receding as she shakes them off one by one.
Here and now she is only Arya, her true self reclaimed once more, her future in front of her. She is no more simply a daughter of death, a vengeful spirit. She is flesh and blood and love and dreams and strength.
Arya places one hand upon her chest, feeling the steady beat of her heart beneath her fingers, and allows its rhythm to lull her to sleep.
There is much to do, and a long road ahead of her, and she must rest in order to walk it.
There is time for rest now, time to recover herself, to bring back all the scattered pieces and put them into a new order.
Now it is time now to live, and Arya shall not be left behind.
And there it is. I know I promised to post this quickly and I apologise for the delays in between – real life got the best of me at times, as did my tendency to over-edit. I would like to give heartfelt thanks to my beta reader kimberlite8, without whom this story would be a bit of a mess, and to kylathelurker, who believed in this story when I was doubtful if it would ever see the light of day.
This story does take place in the same universe as All The Things She Never Said (and those she did), taking place in parallel and ending roughly a week after the first story. The idea for Carved From Stone was first born while I was writing All the Things, I couldn't help wondering what would happen to Arya in a world where a Blackwater AU takes place and Sandor Clegane is never captured by the Brotherhood? She was heading back to them when the Hound had found her, what then would have been her fate? I don't pretend that this is canon compliant but it was a fascinating idea to explore. That said, they can each be read in isolation.
Thank you to everyone who's been along for the ride or left reviews on the story, it has meant a great deal to me and I hope you enjoyed it!