|Cat of El Cajon
Author: bump-in-the-night1990 PM
"I want you to show off." His voice is low and steady. "Show me that you're confident. Show me speed. Agility." Arya finds herself watching Gendry's full lips as he speaks, mesmerized by every word. "Show me that you know exactly what you're doing. Instinct. Precision."Rated: Fiction M - English - Drama/Romance - Arya S. & Gendry - Chapters: 29 - Words: 88,455 - Reviews: 542 - Favs: 246 - Follows: 487 - Updated: 04-01-13 - Published: 05-06-12 - id: 8092071
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N – This is an Arya / Gendry AU Modern fic with some San / San interludes.
Summary: Arya grew up watching her older brother Jon race cars, but when she was only twelve, a horrible accident that shook the entire family forced Jon to leave home and never look back. Six years later, Arya, a racer herself, runs away to San Diego. She wants to track down her estranged brother and start racing in a bigger circuit. Things are hard, but then she meets Gendry Waters, a mechanic that's been working on race cars for years, and things begin to get a lot more interesting.
Characters: Arya, Gendry, Jon, Sansa, Sandor, Joffrey, Cersei, Jaime, Robert, Eddard, Catelyn, Robb, Bran.
Rating: T for now. Might be M-rated later on.
Warning: This is a slow burn people. If you stick with me, I promise you'll be satisfied, but if you're looking for a quick read- this isn't your story.
Cat of El Cajon
Arya speeds down the highway, shifting the gears of her Nissan 300zx, and swerving between cars going too slow her taste. The California sun beats hot and steady through her windows as she races down the long roads. It's an eighteen-hour trip from Bozeman, Montana to San Diego, California. She did the first leg yesterday, ten hours straight, hands loosely clutching the leather wheel, wind whipping at her face, music blasting from the stereo. And now, on her second day, she's only an hour away from her destination.
Her parents think she's attending the University of San Diego. When the acceptance letter came in the mail last spring, her father smiled and ruffled her messy brown hair. Her mother wasn't as happy. "Jon lives in San Diego," she said, her tone sharp and cutting.
Arya chewed her lip before responding. "I know, but-"
"I don't want you involving yourself with what he does down there. It's not safe. You remember what happened. I won't allow you to-"
"Mom. They have a great Animal Sciences major, and they're giving me a full scholarship. Besides- Sansa lives there too."
"Cat, she's right," her father said, taking his wife's hand gently in his own. "Arya is an adult now, and she's making a smart decision. She'll be fine."
"You say that now, but this little weasel always manages to sniff her way into trouble."
Arya didn't like lying to her parents, but it had to be done. She had to get to San Diego one way or another. And if it meant going behind her parents' backs, than so be it.
She takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. Everything will be fine. It's something she has to keep telling herself. Up ahead, she sees the exit sign, and a small smile tugs at her lips. She glances at Nymeria who is sleeping softly in the passenger seat. "We've made it," she says, half to Nymeria and half to herself. "And everything will be fine."
The sun is setting by the time Arya pulls into Jon's apartment complex. She glances at the scrap of paper, even though she already has the scrawled address memorized. Robb gave her the address after days of begging and pleading. "Don't tell, mom," he had warned her. She had refused to tell him why she wanted the address, but Robb was smart. He probably figured it out.
"Come on, Nymeria," Arya says, opening the car door. The warm, dry air feels good on her skin, a sharp contrast to the cold nights she grew up with. The apartment complex is dark, quiet. Most of the windows are shaded, but Arya can sees shadows of people walking back and forth and the occasional flicker of a television. Nymeria trots at Arya heels, following her as she makes her way to Jon's door.
Arya takes a slow, calming breath before knocking. This is the moment. If Jon refuses to help her, the entire plan will go to hell.
She knocks three times.
At first, she thinks Jon isn't home, and she bites her lip, wondering what to do next. She's about to head back to her car when she hears footsteps sounding down the hallway. Without so much as a "who is it," Jon opens the door.
He's a lot older than she remembered. She hasn't seen Jon for six years, and although he was already tall when he left, he's filled out a lot more since then, and there's a scruffy beard on his pale face. His dark eyes flash in surprise when they land on her.
"Hi Jon," she says tentatively. She's anxious, her hands restless and fiddling with her car keys. She glances at Nymeria. The faithful dog at her side has a calming effect.
"Arya?" Jon looks around, as if checking to see if anyone else is with her.
"It's just me," Arya says. She clutches her bag, adjusting its weight on her shoulder. "Could I come in?"
Jon stands there, shocked and silent for a moment longer before saying, "Yeah. Of course. Come in."
She follows Jon inside of the apartment. It's small and plain, but surprisingly neat. He leads her down a narrow hallway into the kitchen. He sits down at the small Formica table, and Arya does the same. For a while, they just stare at each other. Jon was never very talkative. Sansa was always the one who could meet a stranger and engage them in an hour-long conversation about the political situation in Burundi or some other topic that was equally uninteresting to Arya.
But not Jon.
Jon was quiet. He always preferred to stare people down until they either left him alone or provoked him into a fight.
"It's been a long time," Arya finally says. "Six years, I think."
"You were just a little girl when I left." Jon leans forward in his chair, staring Arya straight in the eyes. "Look at you now. God." He rubs his face and takes a deep breath. "I'm sorry. I'm happy to see you. I really am. But this is all so surreal. How did you find me?"
"Robb," Arya says.
"Right." Jon looks down at his hands as he draws them together. "He visits sometimes."
"Look, if you don't want to talk about everything, it's all right. That's not what I came here for. You know I never blamed you for what happened to Bran, and Robb didn't either, or dad, or-"
"But mom did. And she always will." His voice is hard, bitter. Six years ago, Arya would have gone over to Jon and hugged him tightly around the stomach, her little head barely reaching his chest. But it's been so long. Too many years of silence. She doesn't know how to react around her brother- doesn't know how to help. Jon takes a deep breath before standing up. "Do you want something to drink?" He asks, abruptly changing the conversation. "I think I have some tea bags somewhere..." He starts rummaging through drawers and cabinets.
"It's all right, Jon. I'm fine. Really I just-" a yawn breaks through as Arya speaks, and she begins to realize just how tired she is. "Sorry. It's been a long drive. Do you think I could maybe sleep here for the night?" And for the next few months, she amends silently.
"Of course. Let me just grab a blanket, and I'll sleep on the couch. You can have the bed-"
"No, the couch is fine for me. Really. I don't want to put you out or anything."
"Well, if you're sure." Arya stands up and walks towards Jon. He's still much taller than her, but he doesn't seem like the giant that she trailed behind as a little kid. "I've missed you, Jon. I hope you know that," she says before stepping forward and hugging him tightly.
He's hesitant at first, but eventually his arms wrap around her skinny frame. "I've missed you too, Arya." He breaks the hug and smiles softly. "Honestly. It's great to see you- even if I'm still not sure why you're here."
"Yeah, I guess I should explain that. Is it all right if we talk in the morning? I've had a long drive."
"Sure." Jon glances at Nymeria who's been sitting quietly on the kitchen floor, eyes trained on Arya. "I let Snow wander around at night. He gets too cooped up in this apartment sometimes." Jon smiles. "I get too cooped up in this apartment sometimes. Maybe Nymeria wants to join him."
"That's a good idea. I feel bad. She's had to sit in the car for the past two days."
"Come on then," Jon says. "I'll grab you a blanket so you can get some sleep."
Arya wakes up with light streaming in through the living room window. She can hear Jon rustling around in the kitchen. For a moment, she considers going back to sleep. Her eyelids are heavy, and the blanket is soft and warm. She could just curl up and...no. Anxious thoughts are already creeping back into her mind. She needs to talk to Jon and tell him why she's really here. She needs to find out if he'll help her or send her back home with her tail between her legs.
Yawning, she pulls herself off the couch and heads towards the kitchen. Jon is at the table, biting into a piece of toast as she enters. "Morning," she says.
He smiles, crumbs falling onto his plate. "Morning." He gestures towards the table. "There's some toast and butter. Milk in the fridge. Sorry I don't have much else. I'm not much of a cook."
"That's all right," Arya says. "I'm not either."
She pulls up a chair and sits down at the table. She picks up a piece of toast, but realizes she's too nervous to eat it.
"So," Jon says.
"I guess you should tell me why you're here. I'm so happy to see you- but-"
"I know." Arya looks down at her hands. There's grease under her short, bitten fingernails. "I don't really know where to start-" she looks at Jon and his dark eyes are trained on hers. "I never blamed you, Jon, really, I never did. What happened with Bran-"
"I thought you said we don't need to talk about that."
"We don't. But I want to. I need you to know-" Jon's jaw is clenched tightly, but he lets her continue. "The accident was horrible, but it wasn't your fault. You weren't racing when Bran was with you. It was just a freak accident. And it's awful what happened to him," her voice softens, "awful that he lost the use of his legs, but it wasn't your fault. Mom can't blame you because a drunk driver hit you. It had nothing to do with your racing. I know you'd never do anything unsafe with Bran in the car."
"But she did blame me." Arya can hear the hurt in Jon's words.
"I know. But Bran didn't. He doesn't. And he's doing well, really well. I think he's going to be valedictorian. Did you know that? He's really smart. Way smarter than the rest of us. But anyways, that's not the point. My point is that I never blamed you for what happened to Bran. I never got to tell you that, because everything happened so quickly after the accident, and then I woke up one morning and you were gone." Arya is surprised by how thick her throat feels, and when she looks to Jon, she sees that his eyes are glossy with held back tears. "And for awhile, I was really mad at you. Not because of Bran, but because you left. I was too young to realize that you didn't abandon me. Mom abandoned you. Sometimes I look at her and-"
"It's all right, Arya." Jon takes her hand, gripping it tightly for just a moment before releasing it. "It's all right."
"You were always my favorite, Jon. I looked up to you, followed you around-"
"Like a little dog always nipping at my heels." He smiles weakly.
"I remember all the time we spent together. The best days were when you'd take me in your car, and we'd race down the streets, fast and easy. You were always so sure with your hands on a wheel. I wanted to be just like you. Just as precise. Just as steady." Arya pauses for a moment, gathering her thoughts. Here goes nothing. "So when I got my license a couple years ago, I started working your old car, and then one day-" she looks up and meets Jon's hard, black eyes "One day I started racing."
The response is immediate.
Jon stands up, pushing his chair back from the table. His voice is harsh, forceful. "Arya. No." He crosses his arms. "Absolutely not. I will not let-"
Shit. She didn't expect him to react like this. She wasn't prepared to hit a brick wall. "Please. Let me finish," she says quickly. "Sit back down. Just let me finish." For a moment, Jon doesn't respond, but he finally grabs his chair and sits back down, body rigid.
"I was careful. I am always careful. I trained on empty roads, watched races from the sidelines, practiced every single day for a year before every racing anybody. And mom never found out. I never got hurt. And Jon-" a smile manages to break through her worried face "I love it. I've never loved anything more in my entire life." Her voice rises, "And I'm really good at it. You should see me out on the streets. It's like I can fly Jon. Nothing makes as much sense as sitting behind that wheel does." She might be imagining it, but it looks like Jon's face is slowly softening. So she goes for it. It's time to lay all the cards on the table. "I know you still race out here in San Diego. When Robb visits, he tells me stories. Tells me you get better and better every year. So, well, I'm eighteen now, and I was hoping that maybe you could take me under your wing for a little bit, show me around and introduce me to the scene. I don't need money or anything like that. Just your help. Your advice."
"I can't do that, Arya." His voice is calm, but Arya realizes his fists are clenched tightly. "I already paralyzed one of my siblings. I'm not going to do it to another. And what does mom and dad think you're doing? Don't tell me you convinced them to let you come out here and stay with me because that'd be a fucking laugh, wouldn't it?"
"They think I'm attending the University of San Diego. And I already told you- what happened to Bran was not your fault." Arya says. "Jon, you can't make my decisions for me. I'm going to race whether you like it or not. You know that, and so do I. The question is whether or not you're going to help me."
Jon sighs, and runs a hand through his full, dark hair. "I can't have you getting hurt, Arya."
"I won't get hurt."
"You don't know that."
"You race. Why can't I? And don't you dare say it's because I'm a girl."
"It's not because you're a girl. It's because you're my kid sister, and I can't let you do something that will endanger you."
"Well it's not your decision. I'm doing it, and if you help me, than I'll probably be a lot safer in the process."
"It's not going to happen, Arya. I'm sorry. All I can say is that I love you, and I hope you change your mind."
"Shit," Arya says. She's speeding down El Cajon Boulevard when her car shudders. There's a loud grinding sound that makes Nymeria whimper and cock her head to the side. "Shit, shit."
Arya knows she should have checked out her car before taking an eighteen-hour drive, but she had been so anxious to get out of town. And now she's miles away from home, from her garage, from her tools. She bites her lip. There's a sign ahead, Tobho Mott's Mechanic Shop. Arya prefers to work on her car herself, but she can't chance it breaking down before she has time to get some tools.
Arya pulls into the gravel drive. The shop looks deserted. She checks the time and realizes it's almost seven. The sun is just starting to set. "And they're probably closed," she mutters to herself. If only Jon hadn't thrown her out earlier today. He probably has a whole chest of tools somewhere in his apartment.
She gets out of the car, telling Nymeria to stay. The front door of the shop is open, so Arya walks in, a bell tinkling behind her.
The front room is empty. She rings the bell on the desk, but there's no answer. "Hello?" She calls out cautiously. She rings it again. And again.
Still no answer.
Arya hesitates before heading back behind the desk. Her car cannot break down. With Jon turning her out, she'd have nowhere to go. Her car is the only thing she has in San Diego. Except for Sansa, but Arya pushes the thought quickly away. She hasn't talked to her sister for a year, and she doesn't plan to start now.
She opens the back door that leads into the actual garage. At first the room looks empty, but then Arya spots someone. Only his legs are visible. The rest of him is hidden under the body of a car. She can hear the clinking of metal. She approaches slowly, her footsteps soft and hesitant. The man seems to be hard at work, completely oblivious to her presence. She clears her throat, but he doesn't hear her. So then, rather loudly, she says, "Excuse me."
"Oi!" The man, startled, bumps his head on the car. The thud sounds loud and painful. Slowly he slides out from under the car, rubbing a large, greased hand over his head. When he stands up, Arya has to take a step back. He's tall. Her eyes quickly flick over muscled arms, over his dirty shirt that clings to a strong, broad chest.
The man takes a short breath before speaking. "What the hell do you think you're doing sneaking up on someone like that?" His eyes are angry and dark blue.
Arya immediately bites back with a sharp response. "Maybe you shouldn't leave the doors open if you don't want people just wandering in. Ever thought about that?"
"We closed an hour ago. You're trespassing."
Arya crosses her arms and sticks out her bottom lip. "You're an idiot."
His eyes are on her, dark and intense. "I don't know who you are, but I think you should know it's not polite to break into a shop and insult the manager."
"The manager?" Arya asks. "Aren't you a bit young for that?"
"I'm twenty-four." The man looks her up and down. Slowly. Appraising her with narrowed eyes. "How old are you? Fifteen?"
"Eighteen." Arya has looked young her entire life. It wasn't until last year that she lost some of the baby fat in her cheeks and managed to fill out something larger than a training bra. "Now are you going to help with my car or not?"
And then, the man does something really strange. He laughs at her. The laugh is deep and his blue eyes fill with amusement. "You break into my store, call me an idiot, and now you want me to help you?"
"Well, I'll pay you for it," Arya says shortly. "That is your job, right? How do you expect to stay in business if you throw out customers?"
He shakes his head. "You're impossible"
"It's a good thing you'll be working on my car and not me then, isn't it?"
"That's true." Sighing, he offers her a large, greased hand. "I'm Gendry, by the way."
"It's a pleasure," Arya says, sarcastically. She takes his hand. His rough calluses rubbing against her skin puts her on edge, and her eyes flash to his. "I'm Arya." She takes her hand away, and though unsettled, returns Gendry's stare with fierce, steady eyes. "Arya Stark."