It's a Friday afternoon when Gendry Waters, part-time Barista and full-time daydreamer (he's had enough thwacks to the head from his boss to prove it) first spots Sansa Stark. The light shining through the grimy, grease-speckled coffee shop is dim and golden, trapping her hair in its rays and threading itself, rich and copper-coloured through the strands of her hair. She's wearing a demure little skirt-and-blazer combo, her hair pulled back with a headband and a string of pearls around her neck. Gods, everything about her screams daddy bought it, from the jewels to the pastel-toned notebooks tucked under her arm.
But damn, is she the prettiest sight he's ever seen. He blinks a few times, rapidly and harshly, to check he's not dreaming. Nope, there actually is a walking, red-headed personification of a barbie doll in Tobbo Mott's Coffee Stop, which is incidentally the dodgiest "cafe" in all of Westeros. And that's including Jayne's Inn, dubbed "the Orphanage" by many due to its habit of taking on 10-year-old street urchins and letting them serve alcohol.
"Excuse me," the girl says, in a clipped voice that reminds him of when he used to tap on his mum's champagne glasses (not that they ever had any champagne, mind) with a fork. High, clear as a bell. "Can I please have a caramel latte, to go?" She sets her notebooks down on the countertop, and he sees that they're all labelled neatly in slanting scripts; English, Mathematics, Human Biology.
It's as he's nodding and trying to give his traitor mouth the order to tug up welcomingly at the corners, he notices that she's been crying and there's a red mark across one of her cheeks.
"Y'alright, miss?" he asks, and Gods, does his voice sound rough.
She purses her lips and answers honestly, "not really, no. How much will it be?"
"Two pounds for a large, which I think you'll be needin'. D'you wanna- ahem, would you like a tissue?"
She blinks quickly and states the affirmative, handing him a two pound coin. Another indicator of her wealth- she doesn't stop to count the change, or even grimace at the thought of paying two pounds for a caramel latte in a dingy shop. Also, her purse is Prada.
Some quality shit, too. And he knows fake from real.
Gendry takes the coin and deposits it in the greasy till, fumbling for a moment to find the right compartment. He grabs the tissue box he keeps close at hand, not for comforting crying beauties, he's sad to say, but mostly for mopping up spills before using the cloth.
She takes it and nods in thanks. "What's your name?" she asks.
Normally, he'd grunt it out quickly and usher her to a seat, but it's Friday and the only other customers are two guys, one in his twenties and clearly writing pretentious poetry about how the bitterness of coffee curls up tight behind his teeth or whatever, and the other is old and scraggy, and appears to be talking to a fly. So he smiles at her, entertaining the fleeting thought that she might give him her number if she's in the mood for disappointing her parents.
He'd like to see that, him turning up to her house in all his scruffy glory, would like to see her parents give him shocked smiles and glare at their daughter behind his back.
"Gendry. Gendry Waters," he mutters quietly as he makes her (overly-sweet, barely counting as coffee) latte. "You?"
"Sansa Stark," she replies and he nearly spills hot milk all over his hands.
Stark. She was a Stark of Winterfell. A Stark of Winterfell, not living in Winterfell but a motherfucking, lookie-here-I-have-a-title, of Winterfell. "Shit," he says, then berates himself as she flinches at the swear, "You're far from home."
He hands her the caramel latte and she smiles kindly at him, but not flirtatiously. He tries not to feel disappointed, tries to tell himself he never had a chance anyway, and it works easier than he'd have expected.
"Yes, I suppose so. You've been reading the papers, then?" Gods, but she's posh. Damned posh, with pursed lips and a chin tilted upwards and so much poise. He feels like he should bow, or something.
"Yeah. Why're you cryin'?"
At his question, she seems a little shocked, but only dabs at her eyes with the tissue she's procured delicately from the box, takes a sip from her drink just as lady-like, and continues. "My dog died." she answers simply, hurt flickering in her light blue eyes. Tully blue, he remembers reading in the gossip columns (he gets bored sometimes and they're just there, alongside all the grimy newspapers from fifteen years ago).
"That sucks. Never had a pet."
"No? Well," she says, her voice full of false light and sounding even more fragile than those champagne glasses, "sometimes that's for the best, it doesn't hurt as much when they have to go."
"That just seems like a shitty way to live, if you don't mind me sayin'."
Her laugh tinkles a little bit, but sounds more broken than anything, as if someone's thrown down the glass and it's shattered. She takes a larger gulp of her drink this time, and Gendry realises that she's drinking deliberately slowly. Not to stay in, but rather to avoid going back out.
"You sound like my sister, Arya." Gendry had read about her in the gossip columns, too. She was said to be lovely in a different way from her sister, but "too tomboy-ish", in the words of the journalists who wrote the articles. She looked like a Stark should, different to Sansa. Dark hair, grey eyes that pierced through him even in the newspaper pictures. "I think you two would get along, after a while." Sansa's gaze darkens at the mention of her sister's name, as if there's something like bad blood between them.
"After a while?"
"She's a little... hard to get used to, my sister."
Sansa smiles at him and hands him the empty cup, but the smile is a little sad. "Well, I guess I should be going. Thank you for the latte. And the tissues." She pauses as she's about to go, as if she wants to say something more but with a minute shake of her head, partly to him but more to herself, she returns his little wave and heads out the door, pastel skirt swaying behind her.
It's not until hours later, when he's cleaning up after the pretentious poet and snorting at some of the half-arsed scribblings that he notices Sansa Stark left her notebooks on the countertop. Shit.
He can't keep them at his tiny flat, but he has no idea where she lives and even if he did he's not about to turn up to her sprawling estate, atop his motorcycle with his greasy leathers and bull's helmet.
So he puts them on the shelves of the cafe, with a note telling Mott that if a pretty red-headed girl should come to the counter enquiring about some books that he should a) not hit on her and b) give her the damn books.
It's been a week, and she does not return. He stares at the books, and finds himself wondering more about the mysterious, smoky-eyed Arya Stark who seems to be getting herself into more and more trouble as the days go by than her sister. Reports in the newspapers state that she's wild, unpredictable, the head-lines spouting false concerns about how her parents are dealing with Arya's new-found rebellion! From what he's read, she set her dog on one of the snotty Baratheon heirs, and dared (here, Gendry rolls his eyes at the blatant sexism) to turn down some blue-haired rich kid's gracious offer to take her out, despite her short-comings.
There are more pictures of her, dressed primarily in jeans and leather, an eyebrow quirked at the paps as if daring them to come closer. She's the opposite of her sister; Arya is black where Sansa is pastel, bite instead of smile, sex instead of heart.
It's a Saturday morning the first time Arya Stark, whirlwind with bite and sass-master extraordinaire storms into the cafe.
She's wearing black jeans, an over-sized military-style green coat with matching aviator sunglasses and has tucked her short, dark hair into a grey beanie.
She strides up to the counter, doesn't float ethereally like her sister had and her voice is anything but fragile. "I'm here for my sister's notebooks," she demands, drumming her bitten nails on the countertop. "I'm Arya."
"I gathered," he says flatly, inhaling the smell of smoke, ink and (pure, strong) coffee this tiny little thing seems to emanate. "They're just up on those shelves."
"Thanks," she says, opening one of them and ripping out a blank page. She snatches a pen from his apron pocket and scribbles down a row of numbers.
She smacks it down on the countertop along with the pen, and bares her teeth in a savage, but strangely appealing, grin. "My number. Sansa says we should chat. Call me," she adds with a wink that's a little bit cheeky but mostly laced with sex, and saunters out of there, leaving in her wake a dumbfounded, twenty-year-old Barista who is trying not to stare at a seventeen-year-old girl's (admittedly pretty good) arse.
She's funny, as he finds out later when he's trying to stop himself from snorting his coffee down himself. And she likes all the same shit he does.
"This isn't a date," he reminds her when she waves away his offer to buy her drink, "I'm just doing this as a friend."
She doesn't even attempt to deny it, just quirks an eyebrow and bites her lip at him.
Their second encounter not counting the first first encounter, Arya drives him down to a beach and they spend the better part of four hours freezing their arses off, splashing water at each other.
He learns that her favourite book is, hilariously, the Communist Manifesto.
"Syntax is everything," she says haughtily and kicks sand at him when he snorts.
"Sure it is," he amends and gets more sand kicked at him for his trouble.
They trade stories that day, tidbits of information like currency. I like green, my favourite song is Paint it Black, I hate cashews.
"Not a date," he reminds her when she hugs him goodbye at the end of the day.
The first time Arya Stark kisses him is on their fifth encounter. Not date, he says to himself as he tries to flatten his hair. Just two mates meeting for coffee, in the shop where one of the mates works.
It's not slow or romantic, it's harsh and he almost faints with shock, but she nibbles at his lip in the way that he has to spend weeks teaching most girls, and he decides right then and there that yeah, it could be a date.