Characters: Arya, Gendry, Lady Stoneheart
Summary: Sandor Clegane is never captured by the Brotherhood without Banners, and Arya's journey takes a divergent path
Arya had once known what it was to love, and to be loved in return. Love was Jon Snow mussing her hair and calling her little sister, love was teasing Sansa and laughing as they threw snowballs at each other, it was games with her little brothers, mock swordplay and archery with Robb, a proud look from her father, or a warm embrace from her mother.
All of that is gone now, the emotion taken from her piece by piece until she can no longer entirely remember how it feels. There is a hole where her heart used to be, a dark pit that can't be filled.
Sometimes when Gendry looks at her, it reminds Arya a little of that feeling. There is a warmth inside her then. For a few moments at least, the hole inside her becomes a little less.
Arya thinks that she must be wrong, she can't think of any reason why he would want to love her. She's not quite certain what there is that anybody could love in her anymore, after everything she's done.
Even Lady Stoneheart...
Whatever affection Lady Stoneheart may have once shown for Arya has slowly faded, as she becomes more and more fixated upon the vengeance that she hungers for. There are times when Arya sees a spark, a hint of the woman her mother was, but as time passes this in turn also fades away. Just as Lady Stoneheart is a shadow of Lady Catelyn, so is any love she might have had for her only remaining child now only a shadow too.
But Arya finds that Gendry looks at her a certain way and tries to look after her too, staying by her side whenever he can – always there, always waiting for when her mother might release her for the day.
Arya does not think that that is love, but it does remind her a little of the feeling.
It is a year since her mother's resurrection, and Lady Stoneheart is on one of her periodic journeys, to visit the Brotherhood members whose base is located near Saltpans. It is the middle of the night when Gendry crawls quietly over to her, tapping her on the shoulder and gesturing for her to be silent when she opens her eyes.
Arya has made her bed a little away from the others, she prefers it that way and the Brotherhood members seem to as well - it makes them uneasy to have her too close by. The nearest men are all sleeping and the sentry's attention is elsewhere.
"We could leave," Gendry whispers to her, his hand still clamped on her shoulder, heavy upon her. "Right now. She's not here, we could take some horses and run and maybe get far enough away that they won't be able to find us."
Arya knows it's a risk, knows that Lady Stoneheart doesn't take betrayal easily, and in her eyes this would be a betrayal. In Arya's eyes it is also a betrayal and she struggles with it; she had promised her mother that she would stay and help her to carry out her justice. Yet it is only rarely now that the Brotherhood without Banners carries out anything that could be counted as real justice, and Arya wonders sometimes if Lady Stoneheart will ever be able to achieve what she really desires, if they will ever be able to kill all the people on her list.
It might be a betrayal on Arya's part, but she has come to realize that she will never willingly be allowed to leave. She feels guilty to want to, to try and run from her mother, but Arya sees no other way to save herself from the fate that she most fears, that she will one day become exactly like Lady Stoneheart, with nothing else left inside her except hate, a girl entirely made of stone. She feels it happening already, a numbness inside her, an emptiness that continues to grow. It scares her, that she is losing herself, that she is becoming nothing more than Death's daughter.
Arya wants revenge for her family, for the Northmen who were slaughtered, but she also, so very desperately, wants to go home.
She would not be abandoning her family's cause, not really. Should they reach the North then there would be enemies enough to fight with the Boltons there; Roose Bolton also had a hand in the Red Wedding, he is as great a traitor as the rest of them. Arya thinks of the pale leeches that sucked his blood and thinks that they must have sucked out all the loyalty too.
With Jon's help maybe she could even raise an army to drive their enemies out of the North. Arya is the last Stark known to be alive, and she remembers her father's words, that there should always be a Stark in Winterfell. Winter is coming, and there is nobody left now but her.
Arya has tried to speak to Lady Stoneheart about it, to ask if she might go North to find her brother and reclaim their home, but the Hangwoman will not listen. She tells Arya to speak of it no more, that until their vengeance is done here, she may not go anywhere.
It has been a year since Lady Stoneheart was resurrected, and they are no closer to justice or vengeance now than they were when they began.
But death… oh they are all a lot closer to death. Arya thinks of Jaqen sometimes, and wonders if his Red God is pleased with all the souls she's given, more than enough to make up for those she may have saved.
Gendry's expression is so sincere that Arya almost believes that they could make it. He is more at risk than she is if they try - Lady Stoneheart will never kill the last of her children - but despite that risk he's willing to do it. For her.
Arya thinks that maybe that is something like love. It warms her, in a way that she has not felt in months, a warmth that she had believed lost to her forever. She seizes upon that feeling and finds that she cannot let it go. The call of duty and death is strong, but life… life is what Arya has come to long for.
So she nods, and as quick as a cat she is crouched beside him, one hand on Needle's hilt as they stand and move towards the horses.
They do not get far in the end, the others finding them only two days later. They had ridden through the night, only snatching a little sleep here and there, eager to be as far away as possible as they made their way towards the coast. Arya had been convinced that if they could just find a ship willing to carry them, then they would be able to escape. They could have gone across the Narrow Sea first if they needed to, before finding a ship that would take them to Jon at the Wall.
Arya should have known better, she should have known that Lady Stoneheart would never let her go.
Their hands are both bound, though they are allowed to ride their own horses.
"Please don't do this, Harwin," Arya begs him, "You can pretend that you didn't find us, just send us on our way."
"Sorry milady, but Lady Stoneheart commands that you're to be brought back. I can't refuse her. You should've known better than to try to leave your mother."
"But you know, Harwin, you know…" Arya starts to say, despairing. "She's not really my mother, not anymore. Would my father have wanted you to do this? Would he have wanted me to be here?"
Harwin has no reply to give her. He is silent for the rest of the journey home, staying as far from her as possible so that there is no opportunity to speak. Arya hopes that he's at least a little ashamed.
"It'll be alright," Gendry tries to reassure her, "She won't hurt you, you're her daughter."
Arya doesn't bother to correct him, especially now when she hopes he's right. She is more scared for him than she is for herself, if Lady Stoneheart kills him then Arya will never forgive herself for agreeing to go with him. Her last friend in this world and he might lose his life for helping her.
When they are finally brought beneath the Hollow Hill, Thoros is with Lady Stoneheart, whispering to her, a tension on his face.
Arya looks at Lady Stoneheart and wishes that she could read her expression, that she could know what she was thinking. She holds herself ready to run, to try to protect Gendry, perhaps even to charge…
And then Lady Stoneheart speaks.
"You will not run again." she wheezes out, "You will be watched. My daughter, how could you have left when our revenge is unfinished?"
"I want to go North, I want to go home," Arya pleads, her voice breaking. "I was always trying to get there, ever since Father died. I can't…"
She can't say the rest. Can't admit to the Hangwoman that the life is being slowly choked out of her, turning her to stone. Perhaps alone Arya could've found the courage to say it, but not in front of all these people.
"You will stay by my side. You will stay and you will obey me until our work is done."
Arya nods mutely, all her strength for defiance leaving her, any courage that she might have had suddenly gone at the hopelessness of it all. There is no use in arguing with a dead woman, especially not with one as stubborn as Lady Stoneheart.
"And now for the bastard," Lady Stoneheart gasps, the sound whistling through the hole in her neck like a death rattle. "Send him to the Inn at the Crossroads. Despite his betrayal we will not waste him, he will forge our steel and mind the orphans."
"Yes milady." Harwin assents, bending the knee. He does not look at Arya.
Gendry turns towards her then, and there is a thought clear in his eye, an emotion, a fear of leaving her here alone, and Arya's breath catches in her throat.
"Please," she whispers, "Please don't."
Her only friend, the only one she has left. Arya will have nobody now, nobody except her mother's corpse, without any love left within her. She should have known, should have known that Lady Stoneheart would send away anyone who hampered her quest for revenge.
Her pleas go unheard.
There is no time for goodbyes. Gendry is taken away as quickly as possible by Tom, and Arya finds herself brought forward, to sit by her mother's side. She will sleep in their midst now, rather than on the edge, there will be a guard to watch her at all times.
Arya thinks that it's for the best that Gendry goes away from here. Eventually everybody that she loves ends up dying, and even if she doesn't love him, maybe one day she would and then that would be the end of him.
Arya remembers the words that the old dwarf woman from High Heart had called her, spoken months ago now, more than a year now – wolf child, blood child, dark heart. She had thought that the woman was mad at the time, but now Arya knows that she really did see the future.
There is no escape from here now, and no going back. Arya's fate has been decided and she can feel death creeping up upon her, slowly taking over everything that she is.
As lonely as Arya has been over the past two years, as many secrets as she has kept and as many people as she has left behind, she has never felt more alone than she does now.
She has no friends now, and the rest of the Brotherhood try their best not to speak to her unless they need to, all except Thoros and he can hardly be counted as a friend.
Thoros at least seems to understand, and Arya thinks that sometimes she sees a sort of shame on his face, at what the Brotherhood has turned into.
On the rest of the faces she sees only mistrust and a reluctance to be near her. She betrayed their leader, her own mother (not her mother, not any more) and fled from their cause. In all of their eyes she is now doubly cursed.
In the past months, Arya has seen Gendry only once and only briefly, when they had stopped at the Inn while on one of their expeditions. There had been no time to talk, the men with her had not allowed it. She is not allowed to do anything except what Lady Stoneheart commands these days. They had looked at each other, and he had given her one short nod, and for a moment she had felt a little better.
Most days are spent either in the dark, hiding; or in the forest, carrying water or firewood to their campsite or hunting and foraging for food. Arya prefers the days in the forest. At least for a little while she can allow herself to pretend that she's still with Yoren on the road to Winterfell, the rest of the recruits for the Night's Watch just out of sight.
She has heard that her brother Jon has become Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, and the news had given her some hope, for just a moment. If she could just get to him then he would protect her, he wouldn't let anything happen to her again. He would muss her hair and call her little sister, and they would finish each other's sentences just like they used to, and Arya would feel alive once more. He would help her to raise the armies of their bannermen and she would give the North its justice, a true justice. It is just a dream though after all, and one that will never come true.
Jon is so very far away after all and there is no way now that Arya can see to reach him.
It has been some time since they have killed any Freys, when Lem brings them a boy that he found upon the road to the Twins.
He is a boy, though he might think of himself as a man, Arya can see that. He's probably a little older than Robb – than Robb would be, if he was still alive.
Arya can see the fear in his eyes as he's brought forward, but the boy (perhaps a man after all) holds himself tall without blubbering or pleading. He has more strength of will than some of the men that they've killed who were older than him by decades.
Lady Stoneheart steps forward, Arya at her side, and lowers her hood. Arya watches as the captive reacts, first starting in terror and then in powerful, painful recognition.
"Lady Stark, I heard you were dead." The young man exclaims, clearly shocked by the sight in front of him.
Lady Stoneheart opens her mouth to speak, but Arya beats her to it.
"She is dead." Arya tells him matter-of-factly.
"Dead," Lady Stonheart speaks, a hissing wheeze. "Killed by your family, along with my son, whom you swore to serve."
The young man has turned pale, all blood drained from his face as he realizes the truth of her words. "Believe me, Lady Stark, I never knew. They didn't tell me, they found an excuse and sent me away because they knew I was loyal to him. I never knew until after, I didn't have any part in it."
"But my son died anyway, his friends as well. And now so will you."
"Please!" The young man cries out, "I served him truly, you know that I loved him, that I never wanted to leave him even after our families became estranged!"
It is obvious that he means it, obvious by the earnestness in his face, the fervor in his eyes.
It won't save him though.
Lady Stoneheart seems to consider it for a moment, her gaze heavy upon the young man, and then she lifts one bony finger, pointing towards the nearest tree. "You served him. You should have died for him."
She lowers her hand, stands and watches while the Brotherhood move towards him, ready with the rope.
"No!" Arya is unable to help herself this time, she steps forward and grabs Lem's arm as he drags the boy away. "He's telling the truth, I know he is. Don't do this, Robb wouldn't have wanted us to kill him. Please, you know he wouldn't have!"
There is a moment, when Arya thinks that Lady Stoneheart might listen. Then the Hangwoman nods her head once at Lem before turning and walking away, knowing that her commands will be carried out without needing to watch.
Arya won't let herself turn away though, she won't turn away so easily anymore.
She watches until there is nothing left to see, until the body hangs limply from the tree.
That same night, while the rest of them sleep, she cuts him down and buries him.