Arya is upstairs, knee-deep in math homework the first time the doorbell rings. She doesn't bother to see who it is; most likely it's one of Sansa's girlfriends, here to gossip about the latest hot actor. Maybe they'll do their nails. They'll probably watch some reality TV, most likely that show about the Tyrells.
Arya could not care less about what the Tyrells do in their free time, and, unlike Sansa, she knows it's not reality at all. The whole thing is scripted. She's met Margaery Tyrell. She's not nearly as sassy in person.
Silently, she curses herself for becoming distracted from her math so easily. It would be a whole lot easier to get this done, Arya thinks, if it actually had an impact on her life, but math is useless. Math can't help her in a fight, nor can it change the fact that she has no influence over her own future. Math has no hold over the fact that Arya is going to grow up and get married and pop out a couple of kids. That's what's expected - no, demanded - of her, and that's what she'll do.
That's not what Arya wants, of course. Arya wants to go to the Olympics and lay a couple of Free Cities women flat with the point of her rapier. Arya wants to see the world, maybe ride all over Westeros on a motorcycle, or in a beat-up old pickup truck with Nymeria in the bed, panting and smiling in the sunshine. The last thing Arya wants is to get hitched to some guy and spend the rest of her life stuck in one place.
The second-to-last thing Arya wants is to do her math homework. But she can't go downstairs and practice her fencing until she's defeated the most nefarious of enemies, trigonometry. So she sits and grits her teeth and stares down at the impossible graphs and triangles on the desk in front of her, tapping her pencil irritably against the desk with increasing frequency until it flies out of her hand and into the wall.
Booming laughter sounds from downstairs, and Arya groans, because there is no way she can focus with loud, drunk Robert Baratheon anywhere in the vicinity. He has been visiting a lot lately, and though Arya understands very little of Robert's business, she isn't stupid. No one makes an hour-long drive this often for no reason. She knows he wants something from her father.
This is the third time Robert's shown up this week, and Arya intends to find out why. "Bran," she hisses down the hallway, but there is no response, and when she slips across the hall and into his room, her little brother is not there. The window is open, though, so it's clear where he has gone. Arya pokes her head out and squints up at him through the glaring autumn sunshine. "Mum'll kill you if she sees you," she informs him. Bran grins down at her, shrugs, and easily swings his way back down into his room.
"Mum doesn't have to know," he snickers, and Arya simply smiles and ruffles his shaggy auburn hair. "Robert's car is here again," Bran says, nudging his head toward the window.
"Robert is here again," groans Arya. "I'd like to know why, wouldn't you?"
"Business stuff," Bran says noncommittally. "And not any of ours."
"It is if it involves Dad," Arya tries.
"That's Dad's business, not ours," Bran reiterates with stubborn calmness
Arya glares at him with solemn grey eyes and folds her arms. "We're a family, right? We deserve to know what's going on." When Bran says nothing, just sits at his desk and turns toward a half-finished essay on his open laptop, Arya insists, "We're a pack, remember? We watch out for each other." Bran sighs, shuts the laptop, and fixes her with a calm blue gaze.
"You just want to get out of doing your trig, don't you?"
She smiles sheepishly back at him. "And I want to know what's going on," she says, pointedly ignoring the finished trig sheet on Bran's desk. Although he's two years younger than she is, they're in the same math class, and loathe though Arya is to admit it, Bran already understands much more of trigonometry than she does. He's a talented kid: he's good at just about everything, from math to writing to economics to history to photography. What he's best at, however, is climbing, which is what he's up to now.
He's out the window and halfway down the side of the old house's stone walls before Arya can even blink. She peers down after him as he skitters down the side of the house, a lanky fourteen-year-old spider, the master of his stony web. He knows every foothold, every questionable brick, and most importantly every blind spot in which he can lurk unnoticed by their mother. Arya gives him a mocking salute as he reaches the ground and rolls away into the dirt, darting away to hide amongst the bushes under their father Ned's study window.
Arya can see Robert from here, blowing cigar smoke out the open window and yammering away about something or other. Her father is a few feet behind him, but she can't see well enough to know how he's reacting. That's what Bran's there for, though. He'll have all the information back to her a minute after the conversation's ended, and no one will even know he's been there.
Arya is very grateful for Bran's many talents, she thinks as she nicks his completed trig homework and carries it back into her room. She only feels a light twinge of guilt for copying her brother's work. She wouldn't dream of plagiarizing anything important or unique, but this isn't an original idea. This is math. This is a series of numbers and formulas that Arya is never going to use, ever, no matter what Ms. Mordane says about the importance of triangles to everyday life. If Arya wanted to learn about triangles, she would have joined the orchestra and spent all day hitting a tiny metal one. She's good at hitting metal things.
She has managed to transfer half of Bran's homework to her own when the doorbell goes off again. This time it must be one of Sansa's friends. Robert's here already, and no one else ever shows up. Ever. Except, on one occasion, one of Bran's honor roll friends. Something Reed? Arya doesn't know. She's bad with names.
But then the doorbell rings again, and clearly no one's going to answer it, and Arya knows that Sansa is downstairs and thus much closer to the door than she is, so it can't be one of Sansa's friends. She would have gotten the door already.
Again the door sounds. "Arya!" Sansa screams.
"You get it!" Arya shouts back down.
"I got the last one," Sansa calls.
"That's hardly my fault," Arya points out. "You're a lot closer. Just get the damn door."
"Language," their mother chastises her from downstairs, somewhere very near Sansa. Arya groans and drags a hand through her shoulder-length brown hair. The both of them are down there refusing to get the door, then. "Arya," Catelyn says with a mixture of sweetness and matriarchal iron, "come down and get the door. Your sister and I are busy."
Arya has enough experience with 'your sister and I are busy' to know that this means spa time with pasty facial masks and unexplainable slices of cucumber, so she yells, "Coming," slides down the banister, and pulls open the door, fully expecting Something Reed or Jeyne Poole or any of Sansa's vapid cheerleading friends.
The last thing Arya expects to find is a pizza boy, practically invisible behind an impossibly high stack of greasy cardboard boxes. "I didn't order any pizza," she says, raising one quizzical eyebrow.
"Of course you didn't," the boy snorts, "I just drove an hour out of our normal delivery zone for fun." He peers around the pizza boxes and takes her in with piercing blue eyes. "You're absolutely not who I talked to on the phone, though, so yeah. You didn't order any pizza. Someone here did, though."
"You drove an hour out of your normal delivery zone?" Arya scoffs. "Why?"
"Because I was promised a very nice tip, Nosy," the boy says, "but I do have other deliveries to make, so if you could help me get these inside and find me a man with a loud laugh and a large wallet I'd be a very happy man."
A loud laugh and a large wallet. Arya grimaces. "I know just the guy," she tells the boy as she takes four boxes off his hands and leads him inside. First he shows up repeatedly, then he's having secret conversations with her father in the kitchen, and now he's placating them all with pizza. Robert is one hundred percent, absolutely up to something. Arya wishes she had some way to summon Bran immediately there to tell her what he's already found out, but her brother's not a dog, despite how frequently he does manage to come when called. Instead she chews her lip and makes her way into the kitchen, where she sets the pizza boxes down on the table.
The boy sets his five boxes down next to hers, and only then does she get a good look at him: he's much taller than she is, though that's not saying much, with spiky black hair and eyes so blue they rival the crisp autumn sky. A rough black stubble dots his cheeks, but she can still clearly make out his strong jawline. Arya thanks any and all gods she can think of that Sansa's eyes are currently obscured by cucumbers; this is exactly the kind of boy over which Sansa tends to swoon.
His eyes wander over toward Arya, flicker down to the nine pizzas on the table, and then back up toward her. "So are you hiding an army in here or...?" Arya stares at him, completely befuddled for a moment before she realizes he's joking about the mass amounts of food for what seems, to him at least, a very sparsely populated household. As she searches for something suitably witty to quip back at him, her phone buzzes against her thigh, and she automatically pulls it out to look.
It's from Bran. Dad's taking a job with Robert, it says. Arya has barely finished reading the first message when the phone vibrates again in her hand. We're all moving to King's Landing. Arya isn't sure which appalls her more: the fact that Bran capitalizes proper nouns in text messages or the idea that she's moving south into a busy, overpopulated city.
"I'm assuming you're rallying the troops, then," the pizza boy says, and when Arya glances up at him, he's smirking bemusedly down at her.
"Attending to business, yeah," Arya says lamely. "The troops rally themselves to the smell of pepperoni."
"Pepperoni?" Bran asks as he hops in through the kitchen window. Arya silently wonders why so many windows in the house are open. "I came for the olives and mushrooms. And to get my trig homework back." Arya blushes, puts a finger to her lips, and motions toward the door, where Sansa and Catelyn are sitting and most likely eavesdropping.
Bran, in a rare display of youthfulness, sticks his tongue out at her and studies the pizza boy. "King's Landing," he says, crossing the kitchen to face the boy from the front. "Long way to come to deliver some pizza."
"You're telling me," the boy says, somewhat impatiently. He's driven an hour further than he should have had to in order to deliver nine pizzas, and now he's been forced to stay much longer than usual because Robert, who ordered the pizzas, is nowhere to be found.
Sansa wanders into the kitchen then, cucumber-less but still covered in a bluish cream. She squeals like a threatened pig when she sees the boy and scurries out as quickly as she came in, and Arya stifles a snicker behind one hand. The pizza boy raises one eyebrow, but this clearly isn't the weirdest thing he's witnessed on a delivery.
Only when Summer and Nymeria trot in, tongues lolling out of their massive lupine mouths between wild, grinning fangs, does he begin to look even remotely fazed. "Look, I really need to get back or my boss is going to skin me..." he says uncomfortably, his eyes flitting back and forth from the pair of wolf-dogs to their respective human owners.
"Of course," Bran says politely, squinting at the tiny black name-tag on the boy's chest. "Jen...dree?"
"Gendry," the boy corrects. "Hard G."
"Gendry," Bran echoes, and then whistles shrilly into two fingers. Arya wonders when exactly he developed that talent. He's certainly never whistled to call their family members before, though it works like a charm now: Sansa returns, fresh-faced but without any makeup, much to her dismay, shortly followed by their mother, father, and Robert. Rickon is the last to trail in, with the dazed, bleary look he always gets in his eyes when he's been playing war video games for too long.
"Ah! Pizza!" Robert booms, and claps Gendry on the back. Rickon brightens up and scampers over to the table, pulling a slice from the topmost box with no regard for its flavor nor the fact that the pizza has yet to be paid for. Gendry doesn't even protest, just sighs and gazes resignedly at Robert, who is drawing a crisp one-hundred dragon note from his expensive leather wallet. "Best place in King's Landing," Robert tells Ned with an over-exaggerated wink that is clearly for the children's benefit. Arya might have found it funny ten or even five years ago, but she's sixteen now, and Robert's melodrama is now just a sad cliche that accompanies his loud voice. Robert pulls another note of a similarly significant amount and thrusts it into Gendry's chest. "And there is your tip," he says, as if he's just bestowed a grand gift upon the pizza guy. "For all your hard work, and for driving all the way out here."
Gendry gives him a look but accepts the money, tucking it into the pocket of his black pants, and Arya senses a strange, almost familiar sort of animosity between them. "Thank you, ser," Gendry says tersely, and then turns to go.
"Arya, show him to the door," Catelyn suggests. Arya blinks in disbelief. She let the guy in and showed him the way into the kitchen. She's sure he can find his way back to the front door. But her mother is fixing her with the kind of stern, icy glare that she usually reserves for when Arya flings food at Sansa during dinner, so she grudgingly pushes past Gendry and heads out toward the front walkway. She can hear him following behind her, his footsteps heavy against the ground. She gestures toward the front door as mockingly graciously as she can, and he cracks a smile for the first time since Robert came in.
There's a stiff sort of silence between the pair, punctuated by the lack of conversation in the nearby kitchen. Someone - most likely Catelyn - clears her throat, and Arya sighs and holds out her hand. "It's been a pleasure doing business with you, Gendry," she drawls, despising the pleasantries even as they spew from your mouth. "Thank you for coming all this way."
"Right," he says, and shakes her hand with one eyebrow still cocked quizzically. "You're welcome. It was nice meeting you, Arya...?"
"Stark," she finishes for him, and his hand freezes in hers. Not for the first time, Arya hates how her family name gets around.
"Well, Arya Stark," Gendry says, hastily withdrawing his hand and shoving it deep into his pocket. He bows his head slightly and steps out the door. "I hope you enjoy your pizza."
"Hope it was worth your long-ass drive," Arya calls cheerily.
Catelyn's voice rings clearly down the hallway. "Language!"
Despite herself, Arya grins.