Arya pushed a strand of chestnut hair behind her ear. Dressed in her breeches and a loose tunic she was ready to start her morning training.
'Have you found Jaqen ?' She asked impatiently when she saw the young priestess entering the dining hall.
The tiny woman approached the table, moving almost soundlessly.
'No one has seen him since yesterday.'
Arya sprang to her feet, her hair cascaded around her face, her baggy tunic slipped off her shoulder. She stood towering over her tutor, staring down into her pale face.
'I'll check the baths !' She offered hopefully.
'I already have.' The Waif informed as she sat across the table from her.
Arya dropped to her seat reluctantly.
'Where is he ?'
'He didn't sleep in the temple.' The priestess shrugged her shoulders lightly. 'But you already knew that.' She tilted her head regarding Arya with calm curiosity. 'Is this his shirt ?'
It was a poorly guarded secret that they had been inseparable ever since Jaqen returned to Braavos. The Waif never said a word but the Kindly Man heaved a sigh of concern whenever he saw them together. Though even the old priest had to admit that Arya never neglected her duties. Jaqen could teach her a lot, more than the Waif who never left Braavos. And Arya was so willing to learn !
But last night she was alone. Her fourteenth nameday came and though she didn't expect any celebration in the House of Black and White she was disappointed that Jaqen wasn't there with her. She wanted to tell him that it was a special day. Arya Stark nameday. Because with Jaqen she could always be Arya Stark.
Instead she spent most of the evening waiting for him in his chamber. Eventually, she couldn't stand his absence any longer so she sneaked out of the temple hoping to find him in Braavos. But Braavos kept its secrets well. For the first time since she crossed the narrow sea the girl didn't find comfort in the colorful life of the city.
Arya ate a piece of bread absentmindedly. Suddenly she felt cold fingers of fear wrapping around her heart as the dreadful suspicion flashed upon her mind. She pushed her plate away. Jaqen left her ! They sent him on another mission !
'A friend needed him.' The Waif saw the horror on her face. 'A friend from Braavos.' She added quickly.
Arya let out a breath she didn't know she had been holding. But the feeling of relief was quickly replaced with a sting of jealousy.
'I need him too !'
'You need to finish your breakfast.' Her tutor raised her eyebrows slightly and gestured at the food on the table. 'Please, eat. Starving yourself won't help.'
Arya furrowed her brows.
'Who needed him ?'
'An old friend.'
The Waif sliced off a thick piece of cheese, then poured herself some wine and water. She ate slowly and methodically, carefully masticating each bite.
'What friend ?' Arya queried gloomily.
The priestess sighed.
'A troubled one.'
Arya knew the Waif had made a promise and she would keep it no matter what. Why did Jaqen tell her his secret ? She needed to know who was that friend. She wanted to hear that is wasn't a girl !
'Braavos was celebrating yesterday.' She tried a different approach. 'Bellegere held a dinner for her wealthy friends to introduce a new girl. The girl wore a purple dress and caught attention of the sealord.' She had learned three new things, she deserved to be rewarded. 'I didn't know Jaqen attended ?'
'Men have all kinds of desires, don't they ?' Was all she got for an answer.
She knew men used to leave the temple at night to meet their friends waiting for them at Bellegere's house. She caught the Handsome Man more than once sneaking into the House of Black and White before dawn. One morning, when it was her turn to help Umma, she even bumped on him on her way to the kitchen right before breakfast.
Long time ago, in Winterfell, Theon talked about the girls all the time. Every man wanted girls. The Hound did too and even Thoros, the red priest. All of them !
But Jaqen was no ordinary man. He was her friend !...
She thought about the baths in Harrenhal. She recalled the wench washing his red and white hair and the girls giggling in admiration whenever he walked by. The memory fueled her anger.
She was a stupid child! Jaqen was no different than any other man ! In fact he was even worse ! The worst of them all ! In Winterfell she never heard girls fighting over who got the pleasure to wash Theon's hair.
Her heart wasn't cold with fear anymore. It burned with the flames of something else entirely.
'Seven hells !'
'What is wrong with you ?' Her companion sounded concerned.
'I, I should have my training now !'
'You will have your training when Jaqen comes back. Be patient.'
'Maybe he'll be too tired after a night with his friend !'
Suddenly thirsty, Arya grabbed a heavy pitcher and poured herself a full tankard of cool minty water. She gulped it down but it didn't put the flames to rest.
The Waif remained silent for a long while then asked cautiously.
'Does it bother you that Jaqen has friends ?'
Arya stared into her empty tankard.
'I'm his friend too !'
She didn't see her tutor's face but she could hear she was smiling when she spoke again.
'Arya, we all care about Jaqen.'
The girl looked up sharply.
'A girl has no name and she doesn't care !'
'A nameless girl wants to be Jaqen's only friend.'
'I do not !'
'She wants to be his dearest friend.' The Waif continued in her quiet voice, a small smile tugged at her mouth. 'So dear a friend to spy on Jaqen in the baths.'
'I don't need to spy on him !' Arya blurted. 'I already saw him bathing !'
'Did you ?' The Waif considered something a moment then asked slowly in all seriousness. 'Is that why you kept asking about Jaqen when you first came to this place ? Because you knew what he looked like naked ?'
'Shut up, stupid !'
Arya felt her face was burning as well.
'By the gods old and new !' The Waif chuckled softly, mimicking Jaqen's manner of speech. 'A girl has desire !'
'You're imagining things ! I don't want to kiss him at all ...'
Arya stopped abruptly, putting her hand over her mouth.
'Ah, the sweet state of denial !' The Waif sighed clearly amused. 'Do not fear. Your secret is safe with me.'
Her tutor spoke with unusual warmth yet Arya felt too mortified to notice the change in her tone. She tried to come up with some clever remark when a sudden noise coming from the kitchen drew their attention. They heard laughter and Umma's voice raised in mock anger. Arya guessed who had caused the commotion. The last person she wanted to see at the moment. And the person she missed the most !
The laughter accompanying the cook's litany of fond reproaches had grown louder. Arya bit her lip hard trying to rule her face. She prayed to the Many Faced God with all her heart, begging him to stop the Waif from sharing her stupid ideas with Jaqen.
Moments later he appeared in the hall. He was pale and there were dark circles under his eyes. Arya noticed he was wearing the same clothes she had seen him in at breakfast the day before. One look at his face made her want to run to him and hug him. But it would only prompt the Waif to start talking again. Calm as still water she forced herself to remain in place.
'Umma is baking her apple pie.' Jaqen announced instead of a greeting. He arched a brow when he recognized his old shirt on Arya. 'A man will need that back eventually.' He said jokingly and tossed her a shiny red apple he had just stolen from the kitchen.
'We can share.' Arya caught the gift swiftly.
'You look tired.' The Waif observed compassionately. 'How is she ?'
Arya thought it was a strange thing to ask. They had just heard that Umma was perfectly fine and chatty as ever. Jaqen glanced at her before answering, his eyes flicked down to her bare shoulder.
'Glowing.' He averted his gaze quickly.
That was an even stranger response.
'Like every girl in love.' The Waif smiled. 'And every man.' She added quizzically.
An expression of pure longing crossed his face and Arya felt as if a thousand of needles pierced her heart. So there was a girl ! Some glowing girl who dragged him away from the House of Black and White. Was it someone she knew ? A courtesan ?
'Jaqen.' Arya wished her voice didn't sound so small. 'My training !' She insisted. 'I'm ready.'
'Lovely girl, a man must apologize.' Jaqen inclined his head. 'A man hasn't slept for a whole night.'
'Come.' The Waif raised without further questions and gestured for the girl to go with her. 'You will have a lesson with me.'
But Arya paid no mind to that.
'The whole night ?' In an instant she got to her feet. 'Where have you been ?'
'Go now, sweet girl.' Jaqen smiled wearily. 'We'll talk later.' He winked at her to cheer her up. 'I promise.'
He thanked the Waif politely and turned to leave but Arya padded after him. She needed to know the truth even if it meant more needles in her heart.
She followed him to his cell. Jaqen shed his boots and dropped onto the bed fully clothed, murmuring under his breath about lovely girl's stubborn behavior. Arya lit a small candle she had found on the table and curled up by his side.
'A girl must obey.' He said, closing his eyes but he put his arm around her. 'A man has no time to talk.'
'A man lies.' Arya hooked her leg over his in response. 'What happened ?'
'Nothing you should worry about, little mouse.'
Her fingers traced his chest, drawing invisible lines up to his collar bone.
'I thought you'd gone away again !'
Arya bit her lip. She didn't want to say it aloud. Once again the words escaped her lips and she couldn't call them back. Her hand wandered down his arm, she clenched her fingers around his wrist, her nails dug into his skin.
'A little mouse becomes a cat.' He murmured as he freed his arm from her grip and brought her hand to his mouth. He kissed the tips of her fingers gently. 'Go, evil child ! Let a man have his rest.'
'I'm not a child !' She protested as she shifted in his embrace. 'I'm fourteen ! A woman grown.'
'Just so.' He nodded. 'A man can't sleep with a woman grown laying in his bed.'
Arya chose to ignore his complaint. She sniffed at the linen of his shirt. It smelled of sea and salt and morning dew. She grazed her nose against his neck and continued her little inspection, breathing in the scent of his skin. That spicy scent that made her feel so good. Ginger and cloves.
Jaqen kissed her hair. She felt him grinning against her head.
'One day you will make some poor man a fearful husband !'
Arya had no intention of finding herself a husband. She raised her face to see if he was mocking her. His eyes remained closed but his lips twitched in a gleeful smile. Did he think to annoy her ?
'Maybe.' She seeped deliberately.
His chest vibrated with quiet laughter.
'I pity a man already !'
'You should pity yourself !'
She lowered her face and pressed her cheek to his chest. 'Tell me !' She demanded.
'A girl is greedy !'
She nudged him in the side and his chest vibrated again. 'Tell me !'
She chewed on her lower lip, expecting the worst - Bellegere, the Nightingale or some nameless girl glowing with love for Jaqen !
Arya bit back a sigh of relief.
'You went to see Brusco ? Why ?'
He rolled to his side so they faced each other, his palm rested on her waist.
'A man begs forgiveness.' An apologetic smile tugged at his lips. 'A man missed your nameday.'
'You knew ?...'
'Will a girl forgive ?'
Arya watched his youthful face framed by shiny red and white hair. His cheeks were lean, his chin bore a faintest shadow of a beard, his eyes were full of secrets. She reached up and ran a finger along the fine line of his jaw. Had any man ever been so beautiful ?
Suddenly a disturbing thought hit her.
'Did Brusco... die ?'
She liked the old fishmonger. It didn't feel right to hurt him.
'That's what he said !' Jaqen sighed, but amusement sparkled in his eyes. 'Brea and the boy wedded in secret. Brusco swore it killed him. Though he seemed very alive to me when he was enjoying that Dornish red I'd brought him.'
'Brea would follow that boy everywhere !' Arya admitted, grinning. 'Where is she now ?'
'A friend owed me a favor. They can stay at his inn for a while.'
Arya wanted to ask what friend but suddenly something else seemed to be more important.
'That boy of hers is a thief !' She chewed her bottom lip for a moment. 'Jaqen, will they be happy ?'
'How can a man tell you this ?' He whispered with unexpected tenderness. 'A girl is so young.' He studied her face intently as if searching for the truth there. 'Does she even know what she wants ?'
'She never wanted anyone else !' Arya was stunned by the sadness in his gaze. It hurt too much seeing him like that. More than a thousand needles. 'Jaqen, don't you understand ?'
The candle cast a glow across his handsome face. He must have found what he was looking for, Arya decided, because she saw a flicker of hope in his eyes.
'Her joy is his blessing.' He started slowly. 'Her tears break his heart. If this is what happiness is then a man will die a happy man.'
Arya curled her toes as she felt a wild unnamed surge of emotion. Brea stole the thief's heart !
'He should find a better service.' She stated firmly.
A half smile curled the corner of Jaqen's lips in a familiar teasing humor.
'Valar dohaeris.' He nodded. 'A girl has already planned their future.'
'Valar dohaeris.' Arya agreed. All that talking about marriage and thieves made her feel dizzy. It was a strangely sweet sensation when she thought of it. 'Will Brusco forgive them ?'
'Eventually, he will, I think.' His voice was distant as if he was talking to himself. 'He's a good man after all... Perchance one day he will take their child in his arms and he'll understand... that it was bound to happen.'
'Just so. Now !' He nudged his nose against hers. 'Will a girl forgive this man ? Perchance we can celebrate later, with apple pie and summerwine. '
'A girl will forgive !' Arya declared solemnly.
With a sigh of contentment she nestled her head in the crook of his neck. She had to bite her lip to stop herself from purring happily.
Jaqen is right, I am a cat ! But one day I'll be a wolf and I'll make him !...I'll make him...
She wasn't sure what exactly but she knew it would be the sweetest thing. And she would never let him leave Braavos. Surely not without her !
For a delightfully long moment she stayed in the warmth of his embrace, listening to his even breathing. She considered waiting until he woke up but on a second thought she decided to go and have that lesson with the Waif. She didn't want her tutor to start imagining things again.