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Gendry and Arya are nearly to the gates of Tumbleton when the cart in front of them hits a rock embedded in the road, jerks, and settles crookedly, the sound of splintering wood sharp in their ears.

The jolt to the cart must do more damage than they can see, because the noise and upheaval sends the horse bolting.

“Help him with the wheel,” Arya says, shoves her bag at him, and takes off after the horse.

“A— Charlett!” he yells, lauding himself for having the presence of mind to use her fake name.

There’s nothing for it now, he thinks, then hurries over to help the man who is now standing beside the cart and cursing.

“Need a hand?” Gendry asks.  “My sister went after your horse.”

“Good luck to her,” the man says.  “That mare is as skittish as a maiden bride on her wedding night.”

“She’ll get her,” Gendry replies.  “She’s got a way about her.”  As he says the words, the truthfulness of them settles over him.  She really does.

“You look like a strong lad,” the man appraises.  “You any good with your hands?” he asks, gesturing towards the cart.

“I’m pretty good at fixing things,” Gendry says, walking closer to assess the damage.

The supplies in the back have shifted but not spilled.  He sees barrels of something – likely ale – along with some produce and a butchered, cleaned hog.  No tools or weapons.

He sets his bag down and goes to the edge of the road, looking for a sturdy branch they can use to lever under the cart to free the broken wheel.

“They should make sure large stones like that aren’t on the road,” Gendry says, returning with a long, thick branch.

“Who should?  Our liege lord?  The knights that act like they’re guards but mainly drink and whore?  Should our brand new King Tommen take his thumb out of his mouth and order the bloody Kingsguard down?” the man asks, clearly still agitated.

Gendry stops, stunned.  King Tommen?  What happened to Joffrey?  “I… sorry, I’m not from around here.  I’m unfamiliar with how this town functions.  I shouldn’t have made assumptions.”

His sincere tone seems to register with the man.

“Sorry, lad.  I shouldn’t have snapped at you,” he apologizes.  “I’m not angry with you.”

“I know,” Gendry replies.  “Here, let’s try wedging this under here…”

They work on the wheel, taking turns sending dirty looks to people who pass and dare to make comments about their situation.

By the time Arya returns with the horse, they have the wheel repaired and are working on the hitch.

“This is faulty,” Gendry says, looking at a bent and broken piece of metal.  “It should never have broken like this.”

“Oh, are you a smith?” the man skeptically asks.

“I’ve had some training, yes,” Gendry says, trying to sound casual about it.  “Ah, here comes your horse,” he quickly says, redirecting.

“Thank you, girl,” the man says, taking the reins from Arya.  “Did she go far?”

“Not very.  She found a clump of tall grass that was still alive and it rather distracted her,” Arya answers.

The man snorts a short, humorless laugh.  “You have my gratitude.  She’s not much, but she’s the only horse we have.”

“Then I’m glad I was able to bring her back to you,” Arya says.  “I see you got the wheel fixed.”

“Thanks to your brother,” he says.

“I hardly did anything,” Gendry protests.  “But I did just fix your hitch.  At least temporarily.  It should get you home, provided home is in the town here.”

The man walks over, nodding.  “Yeah, my wife and I run the inn here.  I was just coming home with supplies from King’s Landing.  Name’s Ellit,” he says, finally introducing himself.

“I’m Max, and this is my sister Charlett,” Gendry says.  He thinks he’s getting better at lying.  He’s not sure how he feels about that though.

“Half sister,” Arya adds, seeing the man looking back and forth between them.  “We have different fathers.”

“Our mother wasn’t a whore,” Gendry quickly adds, making sure to sound indignant enough to sound like it’s a misconception that has come up in the past.  “She was married to both of them.  My father died before I was even born, and Mum married her da a couple of years later.”

“I wasn’t thinking ill of your Mum,” Ellit says, hitching the mare back to the cart.  “But I assume your parents are all gone now if you’re here, and so young.”

“Yes,” Arya answers.  “We’re looking for work.  Do you know if anyone in town would have a need for two young but hard-working people?”

Ellit looks at them.  “Come with me to the inn.  Alvira, that’s my wife, and I have been talking about bringing on some help.  My bones are getting old and achy, and I can’t always do the things that need doing.  Could use your brawn.”  He looks at Arya.  “And you’re good with skittish horses, but are you smart?”

“Yes,” she answers.  “I’m very good with sums and I even know some of my letters.”

“Could use a serving girl that has a brain in her head.  And if you can keep your attention on your work and not the young male guests, even better,” Ellit says.

“Oh, I think I can manage that,” Arya declares.  “Do you have a room to spare for us?  We don’t have a place to live, and you can count it as part of our wages.”

“Oh, bargaining, now, are you?” Ellit says, his lips cracking into a small smile for the first time since they met him.  “Yes, if you need a room, we can spare you one.  But just one, so you’ll have to share.”

“We can take the smallest room you have, and we have no trouble sharing,” Gendry answers.  “We’ve been sleeping on the road, so any bed is better than the cold, hard ground.”

Ellit nods.  “Follow me then.”

xXx

Gendry can’t help comparing Tumbleton to Pinkmaiden as they ride through.  It is definitely quieter and smaller.  Nearly everyone they pass greets Ellit like he is an old friend.

“Everyone knows everyone else,” he murmurs to Arya.  They are squeezed onto the bench beside their host, but Gendry is careful to speak quietly.

“I noticed that, too,” she replies.  “You’re right.  We won’t be able to stay here too long.  It’s too close to King’s Landing anyway.”

He nods, then turns towards Ellit to ask how far away the inn is.  As soon as he opens his mouth, he sees it.

It’s a modest place, clean but not extravagant.

“Here we are,” Ellit says, bringing the horse to a stop.  “You can start your new jobs by helping me unload the cart.”

Between the three of them, the cart is unloaded in no time, Gendry demonstrating his strength by hoisting the hog onto his shoulders and easily carrying it all the way to the kitchen in the back, where he sets it on a table for a very surprised Alvira.

“Who are you?” she demands.  She is a tall woman who looks like she does not put up with nonsense of any kind.

“He’s our new help.”  Ellit’s voice saves him.  Arya trails in after, carrying a basket of vegetables.  “Alvira, this is Max and Charlett.”

“Where’d you find them, then?” Alvira aks.

“Had a spot of trouble with the cart on the road just outside the gates.  These two helped me out without my asking, and the only thing they want in return is honest work and a room to sleep in,” Ellit says.

She considers that a moment, then turns to Gendry and Arya.  “You together?”

“He’s my half-brother.  Our parents are dead,” Arya answers.

“How old are you, girl?” she asks, her voice softening.  “Do you know?”

“Nearly 14, missus,” Arya replies.  “Max is 17.  He’s very strong and knows how to fix things.”

“And what can you do?” Alvira asks.

“Whatever you need me to do,” she answers.  It must be the correct answer because the woman finally smiles a little.

“Very well.  I’ll be wanting your help with all this soon enough,” she says.

Arya nods.  “All right.”

“Charlett, there’s a small stable out back.  Would you take Clover and give her some food and water?” Ellit asks, and Arya nods again, then leaves.  “Max, you can help me with the barrels.”

“Yeah, sure,” Gendry agrees, following Ellit back out.

When they have everything settled, they head back inside to find that Alvira has put out some bowls of porridge for them.

“I’m betting none of you have eaten this morning,” she says.

“We had some dried meat and some apples that were about to turn,” Arya says.  “But we’ll never turn down food.”

“Good.  You’re too small,” Alvira declares.  “Probably malnourished.  We’ll take care of that.”

Gendry digs into his porridge to hide his laughter.  Lady Arya Stark of Winterfell.  Malnourished.  Right.

“You need to remember to leave enough food for your sister,” Alvira says to Gendry.

“I always make sure she eats her fill.  Our mum was a little thing, too,” he replies, improvising again.

“You must have split her nearly in two,” Ellit says with a chuckle.

“She always said I was a tiny babe,” Gendry says, and it is true.  Or at least he thinks it is true.  One of the few things he does remember about his mother.  “She said my da was a big man though.  I must take after him.”

“Our children are like that,” Ellit says.  “One looks like me, the other like Alvira.”

Gendry sees Arya smile to herself, and he wonders if she’s thinking about her real siblings.  He remembers her saying that she and her sister were as different as night and day both in personality and looks.

“Where are your children?” Arya asks.

“King’s Landing.  Grent wasn’t interested in staying here and taking over the inn for us when we get too old, and Lucia went with him to find a husband.  She said Tumbleton was too small and all the marriageable men were idiots,” Alvira answers.  “Grent is a carpenter now and Lucia found herself a nice butcher.”

“Both solid professions,” Gendry remarks.  He wonders if he ever encountered either of them before he left.  Master Mott was as popular with butchers as he was with knights.  He isn’t going to waste his energy wondering about it now, because the mention of King’s Landing gives him the opportunity to ask the one question that has been ready to leap from his mouth since he first encountered Ellit.

“Speaking of King’s Landing, you said ‘King Tommen’ before,” he says, looking at his host.  “What happened to King Joffrey?”  He glances at Arya and sees her trying to hide her shock.  Joffrey is one of the names one her list.

“How is it possible you haven’t heard?” Alvira asks.

“We’ve been traveling,” Gendry answers.  “You’re the first people we’ve spoken to in a few days.”

“Of course.  King Joffrey was murdered at his wedding to the Tyrell girl.  Word is his uncle the Imp did it,” she says.

“I doubt that,” Arya mutters, just loud enough for only Gendry to hear.

“He was poisoned.  Rumor has it that it was quite the horrific sight.  They’re saying his whole face turned purple,” Ellitt says.

“Some people are saying he choked on his wine.  Others say it was food he choked on.  I say that regardless of how, that little inbred monster got what he deserved,” Alvira adds.

“Inbred?” Gendry asks.

“Where are you from, exactly?  There has been talk for a while now that Joffrey wasn’t King Robert’s son, but the Kingslayer’s sinful get with his own sister,” Ellit answers.

Gendry makes a face, and Arya says, “I wouldn’t be surprised.  That whole family is awful.”

“What would you know about it?” Alvira asks, curious.

Arya shrugs.  “Same as everyone knows, if they pay close enough attention.  Corrupt, hungry for power, stopping at nothing to get what they want.  Ser Jaime is arrogant and has been given more power than he has brains for.  Queen Cersei spoils her children.  Lord Tywin wants the Iron Throne for himself.”  She sees the way their hosts are staring at her, and adds, “Those are just some the things I’ve heard.”

“You hear a lot of things,” Ellit says after a moment.

“People tend to forget I’m around because I’m young and small, so they don’t watch their words,” Arya answers.

Alvira smiles.  “I think you’ll do just fine working here, Charlett.”

Arya returns her smile, but it drops when she hears Ellit’s next words.

“Lord Tywin definitely won’t be sitting the Iron Throne now,” he says.  “He’s dead, too.”

“What?  How?” Arya asks.

“They say the Imp killed him, too.  While he was taking a sh—”

“In the privy,” Alvira interjects.  “Shot him with a crossbow.”

Gendry covers his laugh with a very fake-sounding cough.  He has no love for Lord Tywin, and the idea of someone shooting him with a crossbow while he was taking a shit struck him as rather funny.  But he doesn’t want to offend their hosts, so he at least made an attempt to stifle his coarse reaction.

When Ellit gives him a small, sly look, Gendry knows he was caught.  He picks up his mug and drinks to hide his face.

“Lord Tyrion did all that?” Arya asks.

“That’s the rumor,” Alvira answers with a shrug.  “I find the idea of him using poison to kill someone more believable than the dwarf wielding a crossbow, but I suppose stranger things have happened.”

Like a dead man being brought back to life, Gendry thinks, remembering how they saw Lord Beric run through by the Hound’s sword, only to return to life minutes later.

He doesn’t remember Arya ever saying Lord Tywin’s name when she recites her list – something that has been happening with less frequency of late – but he is certain she feels no sadness over the man’s demise.  She said the stern lord was not cruel to her, but she never said he was kind to her either.

When he looks over at her, she is pondering her nearly-empty bowl, and somehow he knows she is thinking about her list.  But he’s not sure if she is wishing that Cersei had been killed instead of or in addition to Tywin.

xXx

Alvira warms up considerably more after their breakfast conversation, even asking them if they’re sure they want the smallest room.

“Whatever you’d like to let us use is more than enough.  We’d even sleep in the stable if that was the only thing available,” Arya says.

“Now, now, let’s not be ridiculous,” Alvira replies.  “I’ve got a small room in the back corner which might suit.  I rarely have people stay there because it’s small and farther away from the main room than the others.”  She sighs.  “An unfortunate aspect of owning an inn is drunk patrons needing to stumble back to their rooms, so the closer, the better.”

“Far away from everything is fine with us,” Gendry says, and Arya nods.  “It will be safer for my sister that way too,” he adds.

“Precisely,” Alvira agrees.  “Pretty little thing like you will have to look after herself,” she adds.

Gendry sees Arya trying to hide her surprise.  He also can tell she wants to refute the compliment out of habit, but all she says is, “I know how to take care of myself.”

“I’m certain of that,” Alvira says, opening the door.  She drops the key in Gendry’s hand.  “There is only one other key to this door, and I have it,” she says.  “You’ll likely be wanting to lock yourselves in at night.”

“Why?” Arya asks, looking like she is suddenly unsure about their safety.

“Guests can lose their way in the middle of the night.  You don’t want any unexpected bedmates,” Alvira explains.

“Oh.  Right.”

They look around the room, assessing their surroundings.

It’s slightly bigger than the little attic room they shared in Pinkmaiden, and it also has more of an actual bed than a pallet on the floor.  It’s stuffed with straw, not feathers, but will still be the most comfortable thing they’ve slept on in months.  Possibly years.

“It’s very nice,” Arya says.  “Very clean.”

“I pride myself,” Alvira replies.  “This little inn isn’t much, but it is clean for certain.”  She runs her finger along the fireplace mantle, then shows it to them.  “Not a speck.”

Gendry smiles as he sets his bag down on the small table.

“I hope you don’t mind my asking, but one bed is acceptable?” Alvira asks.

“We’re so used to sleeping close together on the road for warmth that I don’t think we’d know any other way,” Arya answers, glancing at Gendry.

“It’s completely fine.  The bed looks very nice, thank you very much,” he adds.

“I’ll leave you to get settled in.  There’s a small wardrobe behind the door, but let me know if you need anything at all,” Alvira says.  “We start serving lunch at noon.  Charlett, if you could be out in the main room an hour before, we can discuss your job as a serving girl.  Max, you can report to Ellit and see what he needs you to do.”

“Yes, ma’am,” they both reply.

Alone again, Arya looks up at Gendry.  “She’s very… brusque,” she says.  “I like her.”

“We’ll always know where we stand with her,” he agrees.  He watches as she walks around the room once, then plops heavily on the bed.  “You all right?  I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to tell you about Joffrey before I brought it up with them, but I saw the opportunity to ask, so I had to take it.”

“Of course.  And I’m glad you did,” she says.  She bites her lower lip, then answers, “I don’t know how I feel, to be honest.  I’m glad he’s dead, and it sounded like it wasn’t an easy death.  I’m glad about that, too.”  Her expression clouds.  “But…”

“You wanted to kill him,” Gendry supplies.

“Yes.  I mean, I did, but did I really?” she asks.

He’s not sure if he’s supposed to answer.

“It wouldn’t bring my father back,” she quietly says.  “I could kill every person on that list and my father would still be dead.  So would my mother and brothers.”

“You’re right, but that doesn’t mean that their deeds should go unpunished,” he comments.

Arya looks up at him and her eyes nearly break his heart.  “I’m glad Joffrey suffered.  He was a horrid person.  You have no idea how truly evil he was.  So I don’t care if it makes me a bad person, but he deserves whatever pain he felt before he died, and more,” she says.  

Gendry sits down beside her on the bed and wraps his arm around her shoulders.  “You’re not a bad person at all,” he reassures her.  “You’re a better person than Joffrey, the Hound, Cersei… everyone on your list.  Because you actually care about other people, no matter who they are.  You value kindness and justice, and none of them do.  They only care about themselves.”

Her breath unexpectedly hitches and she turns her face into his shoulder.  He draws her against himself and lets her cry into his chest.

xXx

Arya is a natural with customers at the inn.  Gendry admires how easy it is for her to talk to customers, charming them with her quick wit and the way she treats every customer like they are an honored guest.  She also is much smarter than the other serving girl, Ronlyn, and makes far fewer mistakes.  In fact, Gendry isn’t certain Arya has made any mistakes at all with her customers.  And she doesn’t flirt with them the way Ronlyn does, either.

She has come a long way from the angry little girl he met so long ago.  She still has (quite understandable) moments of anger, when she remembers what happened to her family and why she is where she is instead of at home, with them.  And she is most definitely not a little girl anymore.

This becomes abundantly clear to him one night about three weeks into their stay in Tumbleton.  Arya was serving customers, chatting easily, even laughing with some of the ones she’s gotten to know.

Gendry watches all this from his place near the door, where he is repairing the hinges that got damaged recently courtesy of an over-zealous and drunken knight that was passing through the previous day.

Arya has taken to wearing dresses when they aren’t on the road, partly because they are easier to acquire than trousers of a size that fit her, and partly because it makes her less conspicuous.  People would remember a young woman wearing breeches and tunics instead of simple dresses.

Gendry tries not to think about how nice she looks when she is clean and dressed like a girl.  Her hair is getting long, and she has it styled in two braids down the back of her head to keep it out of her way.

He huffs and turns his attention back to his task, driving new nails into the door frame to affix the new hinge to the wood.  Then he hears it.

“Oi!  I’m not telling you again!”  Arya’s voice is distinct, but he would know it regardless.  He stands, hammer gripped in his hand.  She is a few tables away from him, holding a rounded blade to the neck of a man he has never seen before.

“You gonna stab me with a cheese knife?” the man asks with a laugh.

“It doesn’t have to be sharp if it’s moving fast enough,” Arya responds.  “And I’m pretty fucking fast.”

“Oh, that’s what I’m counting on, sweetling,” the man replies.

That’s when Gendry slams his hammer down on the table beside the man.  He doesn’t even remember approaching the table.  “She said to leave her be,” he growls, taking great satisfaction when the man has to keep looking up to see his scowling face.

He also immediately raises his hands in a gesture of innocence.  “You her man?” he asks.  He sounds concerned now.

“Her brother,” Gendry answers, lifting his hammer and spinning it in his grip.  “And I think it’s time you left.”

“You don’t have the nerve, Boy,” the man sneers, standing.  He’s half a head shorter than Gendry and swaying slightly with drink.

“Don’t I?” Gendry challenges while Arya starts laughing.

“Oh, he doesn’t know you at all,” she says.  “My brother is as strong as a bull.  And about as reasonable, when it comes to my safety.”

“You’d better go, Ranulf,” another man says, stepping in, carefully eyeing Gendry.  “I’ve seen that look before, and it never ends well.  Come on.”

Ranulf allows his companion to lead him out.  “I won’t be coming back here,” he loudly protests, as if it was a threat.

“Good,” Gendry says, then stomps towards the back, heading outside for some fresh air.

He runs into Ellit in the yard, who stops him.  “You look fit to murder someone,” he says, laying a gentle hand on his shoulder.

“Almost did,” Gendry replies.  “One of the drunks was getting handsy with my sister.  She told him no and he didn’t listen.”

Ellit slowly nods.  “So you had to step in,” he guesses.  “You’re a good brother.”

“He’s still alive and uninjured, thanks to a friend of his who stepped in and got him to back down,” Gendry replies.  “That’s the only thing that saved him.”

“Is Charlett all right?”

Gendry nods, then chuckles.  “She already had a knife to his throat by the time I got there.  It was a cheese knife, but it was better than nothing.”

“She’s a little spitfire, isn’t she?”

“You have no idea.”

Ellit gives a knowing smile and nods.  “You’ve met my wife?”

Gendry snorts a laugh.  “Right.  Oh, the man said he wouldn’t be back, so I’m sorry for costing you a customer.  His name was Ranulf.”

Ellit rolls his eyes.  “He’ll be back.  That’s the fourth time he’s threatened to never come back, but we’re the only inn in town,” he explains.  “Wish he would make good on the threat though.”

Just then Alvira’s head pops out of the back door.  “You gonna finish fixing that door, Max?  I’d like to be able to lock it up proper tonight.”

“Right, sorry,” Gendry apologizes.  “Just had to clear my head.”  He nods at Ellit then heads back towards the door.

“I saw what you did, lad,” Alvira says when he is close enough.  “Charlett is lucky to have you.”

“We’re both lucky,” Gendry immediately answers.  “She looks out for me just as much.”

“I bet she does,” Alvira approvingly pronounces as they walk back into the main room.  “Ronlyn!  Get off his lap and refill those drinks!” she yells.

Gendry walks past Arya, wondering if she’s going to be mad at him for coming to her rescue.  But she merely reaches out and gives his arm a squeeze as he walks past, and he takes it as her way of thanking him.

xXx

Later that night, in their small room way in the back of the inn, Arya is uncharacteristically quiet as she prepares for bed.

Gendry waits for her to say something.  He knows she was a little rattled by the episode with Ranulf earlier, but he’s not sure if it’s because the experience unsettled her or because she probably wouldn’t think herself attractive enough to draw that sort of attention.

And therein lies the beginnings of a new problem, at least for Gendry.  He keeps finding himself noticing Arya.  Noticing things about her he had never noticed before.  Some things he simply never really gave any conscious thought to, like how musical her laugh is and how she always seems to know exactly what to say, especially to him.  Other things are new, like the way her hips have begun to flare out from her waist and how her face has started to lose its childish roundness, transforming her long oval face into a becoming heart-shaped one.

Dressed only in a pair of soft breeches, Gendry pads behind the small privacy screen Alvira thoughtfully provided to empty his bladder into the chamber pot, letting Arya finish changing clothes.  He tries not to wonder how her blossoming curves might look beneath her clothes.  He doesn’t completely succeed.

He lingers behind the screen until he hears her slide into the bed.  She’s facing the wall, and he crawls in behind her.  He hesitates a moment before moving closer, suddenly unsure if he should.

“What is it?” Arya asks without turning her head, sensing his hesitation.

“Are you upset?” he asks in return.

“With you or in general?”

“Either.”

“Yes.  No.  I don’t know,” she answers with a heavy sigh.  “There’s so much in my head right now.”

He still doesn’t move and isn’t even sure what to say.  “Anything you want to talk about?” he finally asks.

“Will you get over here?” she demands, finally looking over her shoulder at him.  She is scowling, but he can see in her eyes that she needs his comfort right now.

He kicks himself for not realizing it, turning onto his side to wrap his arm around her waist.

“I could have taken care of that man myself,” she finally says.

“I know.  That’s not why I stepped in,” he replies.  “I did it because even though I know you could have, you don’t need to think that you must.”

“What?”

“It’s all right to let people help you, Arry.  It doesn’t make you weak or useless,” he explains.  “I knew I could be of assistance in that situation, and I wanted to help you, so I did.”

She is quiet for a long moment.  “So it wasn’t… it wasn’t you trying to be a dashing hero coming to the aid of a damsel in distress?”

Gendry chuckles, his head falling forward against hers.  She had bathed that morning and her hair still smelled nice.  “No,” he answers.  “Not really, anyway.”

“Explain.”

“Well, it’s sort of the same as that rapist by the river.  Men like that… they only really only understand one thing, and that’s the biggest, toughest man wins.  They don’t care about anyone apart from themselves and what they want.  They think with their cocks instead of their brains.  Yeah, you could have shoved your little cheese knife into his neck, but if you had somehow killed him, you would be to blame.  Even though he was the one behaving inappropriately.”

“That’s—”

“That’s the way things are for us smallfolk, Arry,” Gendry interjects with a heavy sigh.  “And you know this, because it’s not much better for highborns.  Women aren’t truly seen or heard when they need to be.”

“You’re right.”

“I knew I could get him to stop without potentially killing him, or at least without spilling blood on Alvira’s floors that she would make me mop up later.  Even though I really wanted to,” he explains.  “And, to be completely honest, the thought of any man pawing all over you like that makes me furious.  No woman should have to put up with that, but you’re my friend.  My best friend.  And I wasn’t going to sit idly by while that cunt tried to do… whatever it was he was trying to do.  Not when I am bigger and meaner than he is.”  Telling her all this is making his anger rise again, and he realizes he is squeezing her rather tightly.  “Sorry,” he softly says, loosening his grip.

“You’re bigger than most,” Arya says, “but I’m not sure about meaner.”

“Oh, I am,” Gendry confirms.  “You just don’t see it much because you’re the only person I like.”

She is silent for a while, and he stares down at the top of her head, wondering what is going on inside that fascinating brain of hers.  Just when he thinks he has her figured out, she throws something new at him and he finds himself off-balance once more.

“Thank you,” she quietly says, drawing him out of his thoughts.

“Any time, Arry,” he replies.  And he means it.  Any time.  He intends to always be there for her, for as long as she will allow him to be.

xXx

“There you are,” Alvira says late the next morning as Arya comes hurrying back into the Inn.  Their hostess and employer had sent her to the cobbler when she noticed that her boots were nearly falling off her feet, and too small besides.

“Sorry,” Arya says, slightly breathless.  “What do you need me to do?” she asks.  The midday crowd will be showing up in an hour or so, and the two of them need to finish their preparations.

Gendry, ever at Ellit’s beck and call, is currently surrounded by a sea of stools that he is repairing.  Arya gives him a significant look, and he nods, acknowledging that she has something noteworthy to tell him.  He knows he’ll have to wait until they are alone again to find out, so he bends his head over his work again.

Lunch comes and goes in a flurry, and he doesn’t get a chance to talk to her alone until mid-afternoon.  Alvira had just sent him out to help Arya with buckets of water for cleaning and cooking.

“What happened while you were out this morning?” he asks.  He thinks about taking the handle from her as she draws the bucket up, but knows that she will tell him no.

“I sent a raven to Kallen,” she says.

“You did what?” he asks in a shocked whisper-shout.

“Calm down; I didn’t write anything that would give us away,” she calmly replies.  He takes the bucket from her, empties it into the basin, and passes it back.  “I was walking back from the cobbler’s and saw a septon sending a raven.”

“You always walk around looking up?” he asks.

She rolls her eyes.  “I caught the motion out of the corner of my eye and looked up, Stupid,” she says.  “Then I went inside.  Impulsive, I know, but I was careful.”

“I know you were,” he responds.  “You’re better at this than I am.”

“You’re doing just fine,” she assures him.  “I asked the septon if it would be possible to send a message to the sept in Pinkmaiden.  I know the septon there knows Kallen.”

“Everyone in Pinkmaiden knows Kallen,” Gendry agrees.

Arya nods.  “And I know Tyla can read, so—”

“Kallen can, too, but Tyla does it more, so she’s better at it,” he interjects.

“I had to give him a few coins, but I thought they would like to know that we are safe.  That’s all I wrote,” she says.  “I said, ‘We are safe.  Thank you for everything.’  Didn’t even sign our names.  Not even Teren and Salla.  Nothing.  I figure they will know who it is from.”

They empty another bucket into the basin, which is now full enough for Gendry to carry inside.  “I think I’m glad you wrote to them.  I still feel a bit bad for up and leaving them.  I really liked working with Kallen, too.”

“I know you did,” Arya quietly answers.  “Maybe at our next home it will be safe enough for you to do it again.”

“Maybe,” he allows.