A/N: Hi everyone! I know I said I was going to finish A flicker of hope first, but I'm just so excited about this story that I couldn't resist posting the first chapter :)
This is my first attempt at modern AU. Let me know if I should continue this. Given what I have planned, it's probably going to be a lot of work and sleepless nights, and I want to do the wise thing and not get too excited if no one's going to read it (although knowing me, I might keep writing it anyway just to keep my muse happy for a while).
Rated T for now, will probably go up to M at some point, I'm not sure yet.
Disclaimer: none of the characters belong to me, I'm just playing with them for a while
C'mon, c'mon, c'mon!
Fingers impatiently tapping the steering wheel, Arya Stark took a sip of her now lukewarm coffee and made a face. The beverage hadn't been that good to begin with, but when it'd been scalding hot, it had at least helped keep her awake.
C'mon, c'mon, c'mon!
Contrary to popular belief, she was a very patient woman. How else would she put up with being stuck in a car for hours on end with nothing to do but stare at closed doors until something interesting happened? But this time was different. She'd been on this case for days, she'd barely gotten any sleep, and she had a very important appointment in the morning. She needed to get some rest.
C'mon you cheating bastard, give me something!
A growl in the passenger seat drew her attention away from the spot she'd been watching and she muttered a soft "Sorry", stilling her fingers, silence filling the car once again as the huge dog sitting next to her rested her head on the dashboard.
Nymeria didn't like it when she was nervous. To be fair, it rarely happened anymore, not much could unsettle her enough that she'd show her emotions this openly. She'd learned very early in life that the more you displayed fear of any kind, the more people would try and take advantage of it.
She glanced at her watch and groaned when she realized that even if the guy showed up right this second, she wouldn't get more than four hours of sleep. Maybe she should call it a night. Her client was paying by the hour, which meant it would be okay if she had to come back tomorrow night. Then again, if she was lucky, she would get more clues on a much more important case in the morning, and if that happened, she wanted the freedom to investigate without having to worry about this damn unfaithful divorcee-to-be.
Sighing, she leaned back in her seat and mentally prepared herself for another sleepless night. Not like she wasn't used to it.
It was another hour before the motel door she'd been staring at for the last few nights cracked open. Grabbing her most prized possession, she positioned the lens so that the door was its main focus, anticipation making her heart beat frantically in her chest. Was she finally going to get...
A man came out of the room, his clothes and hair so disheveled he might as well have a 'just got laid' tattoo on his forehead. She smirked as she took one picture after the other, knowing what would come next. Sure enough, the guy turned back and leaned down to kiss the blonde super-model who had just followed him out. Amateurs.
Their embrace grew more passionate, like they hadn't just spent half the night going at it like rabbits, and Arya rolled her eyes. Honestly, she didn't understand how people could get so carried away. It was like they weren't even trying to control their urges. How they managed to get anything done was a wonder. The two lovebirds finally parted, but it was too late for them. Gotcha, she thought with a predatory smile.
Before starting her car and going home, she checked the pictures she had just taken, silently thanking whoever had invented the first digital camera. Her job would have been that much harder if she'd had to wait before she could see her photos.
She stopped browsing when she found the one she'd been looking for. The gorgeous blonde's hand was clearly sneaking inside her lover's pants to cup his ass, and his hand was down the front of her top while his lips devoured hers.
Arya's smile grew larger.
She slipped the five snapshots she had just printed into a big brown envelop and placed it in her top-left drawer before settling back in front of her computer. She had an invoice to make out. How much she charged her clients depended on how wealthy they were, and the woman who had hired her to find proof of her husband's infidelity was very wealthy, she'd noticed that as soon as she'd set foot in her office. Not that the woman had been trying to be subtle about it. When Arya had told her she'd take the job for a hundred bucks an hour, she'd just nodded wordlessly. She had put a little over 70 hours of work in this case, which meant she should have been set for the month... if she hadn't been late on her rent, and on pretty much every single bill she had received in the last few weeks. As it was, this check would cover her debts and buy her and Nymeria food for the next two weeks, but that was it. She needed to start refusing clients again. When she'd started in the business almost a year ago, that's what she'd done: only take the case if the client was rich enough that she could charge a lot even for an easy job. She'd been able to save up that way, but this money was gone. Over the last couple of months, she'd agreed to a few poorly-paid missions, a bad decision on her part. Plus, there was this one case that she kept working on for free, she was losing a lot of money because of it.
Sighing, she raised her arms over her head in an attempt to stretch her muscles. She'd spent way too much time in her car over the past few days, she hadn't even found the time to go for a run or to practice with Syrio, and the inactivity was making her edgy. Even if she was already drenched in sweat just sitting there, since her air-conditioning was down again. Oh, how she hated California and longed for home. To be fair, in the summer, home was hot as hell, maybe hotter than it got here, but the chill of winter more than made up for it. It was as if during those six months, she stored up on coldness, and that helped get her through the torture that were June, July and August. This year, she'd had to live through her first snowless winter, and that had made her sadder than she'd expected. Being away from her family, she could handle, even if she did miss her brothers. But feeling like she was nowhere near where she belonged was harder.
Her appointment was in another hour. She had decided against sleep when she'd realized that she would only be able to close her eyes for something like two hours. She wouldn't be near rested enough anyway, might as well wait until after her appointment and then crash for eight to ten blissful hours.
Her lazy yawn was interrupted when Nymeria, who was lying at her feet, gave a single bark, and her eyes snapped open. Behind the white glass door that separated her office from the hallway, she could make out the silhouette of a man as he knocked and waited. She sat very still, hoping whoever it was hadn't heard the bark and would assume no one was there. She really didn't feel like dealing with anyone right now.
She didn't recognize the voice, which meant it was probably no one she owed money to. That was good at least.
"Is anyone here?"
Please go away.
"I can see you, you know."
Damn it. She'd hoped that from where he was standing, her small frame would be concealed behind the computer screen. Resigned, she stood up and walked to the door to open it. Who knew, it could be a wealthy... Her thoughts were interrupted when she found herself looking at a broad chest covered in black and she had to raise her head to see the face that went with it. Something she was used to. What she hadn't expected was the clear blue gaze that met hers in obvious amusement. The teasing eyes were the exact same color as a winter sky back home, and she found herself speechlessly drowning in them for a moment as the longing hit her harder than ever.
"Trying to ignore a potential client? That can't be good for business."
Her distraction and homesickness forgotten, she crossed her arms over her chest and scowled.
"Yeah, well, neither is killing one for intruding at 6 a.m."
He chuckled, clearly unrepentant.
He extended his hand, but she just glared at it, unwilling to give this stranger even an inch of ground until he at least gave her an explanation as to why he was here so early. Most people didn't come by unannounced before the sun was fully up, it was just rude.
"I was going to come during my lunch break, but since I only get thirty minutes, I wanted to make sure I knew the way..."
"And when you saw someone was there, you decided to try your luck," she completed.
He pointedly looked down at his hand. She sighed, but shook it.
"I'm Gendry Waters."
The name sounded familiar, yet she was certain she had never met him before. Odd.
Maybe it was obvious to him since the name was on the door, but most people thought she was an assistant or something like that. She looked too young and frail to be a PI, which was often to her advantage.
"How old are you?"
She gave him an exasperated look, annoyed that he'd asked. Why did it matter to people? As long as she was up for the job, they really shouldn't care whether she was 64 or, say, 19.
She narrowed her eyes. He clearly didn't believe her, and she was not in the mood to deal with it.
"If you think I'm too young, find someone else to do whatever it is you wanted me to do. Or do it yourself and get killed or arrested, I don't care."
She motioned towards the hallway, thinking he would be so disconcerted by her hostile attitude that he'd just leave like most people would have. Instead, he pushed past her to enter her office, and she was so surprised that she didn't make a move to stop him. Nymeria was on her feet and in front of him before he could sit down in one of the two seats reserved for clients. Arya smirked at the frightening picture her dog made with her teeth bared, fully expecting the intruder to run away screaming. Instead, he went down on one knee and held out his hand, palm up so she could smell it, in the most non-threatening gesture possible. Arya's jaw dropped open. Nymeria looked as taken aback as she felt. She took a step back and sat down, watching this strange guy with her big head slightly tilted to one side, her look quizzical. There was only silence and stillness for a minute, then the huge dog sniffed the offered hand, snorted disdainfully and went back to her nap. Arya stared at the man in awe as he stood up and turned to look at her.
"She looks like a wolf. Scary beast."
"Yeah, I can tell you're terrified," she spat, her voice dripping with sarcasm as she walked past him to take her seat behind her desk, resigned.
She had no doubt she could throw him out herself, but Nymeria's behavior intrigued her enough that she decided she wanted to know more about this guy and the reason why he wanted to hire her. While her dog hadn't exactly been friendly, she'd clearly been curious enough to decide not to tear his throat open, and that was the most welcoming Arya had seen her in a while.
"So, what can I do for you, M. Waters?"
"I want you to find my father."
Sounds simple. But of course, she knew it probably wasn't. Under normal circumstances, people didn't need a PI to get in touch with their relatives. She needed more information before she decided if she was going to take the case.
"Do you know him?"
"No. He left before I was born."
He shook his head. That's what she had been afraid of. With a name, things would have been ten times easier. But then he probably wouldn't be here.
"Nationality? Age? Picture? Hair? Eyes?" Each one of her questions brought a new shake of his head and she ended with a frustrated, "Anything?"
"What about your mother?"
"She died when I was ten. Never talked about him."
She sighed and finally got a good look at him. Until then, she had been distracted successively by his amazing blue eyes, her annoyance, Nymeria's attitude, and the business-like conversation. But now, she took her time gathering clues, from the plain black t-shirt he was wearing to the good-as-new sneakers, from the worn jeans to the simple sport watch. Not poor, but certainly not rich enough to afford her prices now that she'd decided to be more selective. He was also strikingly handsome in this I-don't-even-know-it sort of way she'd always found appealing, but that wasn't the point of her little observation.
"How much do you think this will cost?"
"The real question is how much can I afford to pay, isn't it?"
She conceded his point with a nod. He ran a hand through his thick black hair, showing uncertainty for the first time, and admitted, "Not much."
She raised an expectant eyebrow and waited.
For that kind of price, she would have tailed another unfaithful husband or wife, she would have helped someone cross the border, she would have gone to Tijuana to bring back another escaped criminal. Hell, for that kind of price, she might have tried to find his father if she'd had even the slightest clue where to begin. But this case? Not a chance.
"I'm sorry. But with so little information..."
"Yeah, I know."
She frowned. He'd suspected she wasn't going to take his case, yet he'd gone through the trouble of coming anyway. Interesting.
If he was surprised that this was her main question, he didn't show it.
"I just turned 25."
"There was a clause in my mum's will. About this letter I wasn't supposed to open until I was 25."
She was intrigued.
"What did it say?"
"Something about siblings."
She kept silent for a while after that, trying to grasp what it meant.
"So, you're not really trying to find your father. You want to find your brothers and sisters. Why didn't you say so? It could be easier."
"I doubt it. See, my mother didn't know anything useful about them, not even how many there are."
"Do you have the letter?"
"Not here, no. But I could show it to you."
She leaned back in her chair, thinking. She really shouldn't be considering this. With the new clues she was hoping to get about this other case, she wouldn't have one second to spare in the next couple of months or so, and he couldn't pay enough anyway. Still, it wouldn't take long to read the letter and see if there was anything useful in it. If there wasn't, she would just send him on his way. She gently pushed Nymeria with her foot. Her dog raised her head and looked her straight in the eye in that unsettling way of hers, like she could read her mind, and she gave her shin a nudge with her nose. Arya smiled and shook her head at her own insanity. Then she wrote her personal address on a piece of paper and handed it to the man.
"Bring me the letter tonight at 8. But I'm not promising anything."
"I didn't think you were."
He was late. Of course. Yoren was never late. Except today, when she would have killed to get this over with so that she could shower and go to bed.
Ok, so it was only four minutes. But still.
She jumped to her feet when she heard the knock on the door and she nearly knocked it down in her haste to talk to him.
"What do you have?"
"And hello to you too."
She pulled him inside and slammed the door behind him. When she noticed the folder he was carrying, she tried to snatch it out of his hands, but he hid it behind his back, his face more serious than ever. She knew he wasn't messing with her just for fun, that wasn't his style. He probably had something to say before he showed her what was in the file.
Yoren was a cop. But not just any cop, as he had proven many times in the past, starting with a year ago, when she had just arrived from Canada and she'd gone to the police station to ask some inconvenient questions. She'd barely set foot in the building when he'd seen her and dragged her out. Startled, she'd followed him without question, and he'd explained. He'd known her father, and he'd seen her picture in his wallet once, along with those of her brothers and sister. So he knew who she was, and since he had been quick to put two and two together, he also knew why she was here. He was more than willing to help her, as long as she followed a few rules.
She'd agreed, and that had been the start of a very weird association. Though they didn't like each other very much since she was too reckless and insolent for his taste, and he was too solemn and angry for hers, they did trust each other... to a certain extent.
"I managed to get more details about your father's comings and goings in the weeks before he died."
Oh yeah, interesting fact about Yoren: he was investigating her father's murder.