[personal profile] narielandherhat
Title Silent Steps
Author: [livejournal.com profile] assassin_nariel
For: [livejournal.com profile] onthethruway01
Beta: [livejournal.com profile] linndechir Thank you for your patience and very necessary ass-kicking!
Characters: Arya Stark, Syrio Forel
Rating: PG PG-13 for guys :)
Words: 1844
Summary: Arya and Syrio, memories and dancing lessons.

“I hear you,” Syrio Forel spoke, admonishing. He stood in the middle of the hall he and Arya used for dancing lessons, a blindfold over his eyes, wooden sword held loosely in his right hand. The casual stance was deceptive – as Arya discovered to her chagrin, he could strike like a coiled serpent, from any position, any angle. “I hear your feet move. Slow is bad, more time to make noise.”

Arya bit her lip, as she quickened her prowl around him. She moved fluidly, naked toes seeking out places on the floor with the least amount of the rustling rushes, all in vain. An idea came to her, and she stopped, fumbling with her hair. She tucked the tangled, swinging ponytail inside her shirt. It tickled wickedly, but now, hopefully, Syrio wouldn’t hear it swishing about on the leather of her jerkin.

“Good thinking, girl. When Syrio Forel learned the water dance, they cut his hair off, but your father is not wanting to see you bald. A pity.” He deflected Arya’s charge with a flick of his wrist. “But you make do, it is good.”

“How do you know what I did with my hair?” Arya blurted out, astounded. The idea appealed to her, and she smiled, imagining Sansa’s face if she showed up shorn like a boy.

“I hear you”, Syrio Forel said yet again. “You held your sword under your arm, and your hair is in your clothes now. Knot is better. Is not itching, will not distract you.”

It was uncanny. Arya ground her teeth, and continued to walk around him. Speaking, it seemed, could not keep him from hearing her movements still. She kicked at the rushes, scattering them aside.

“Angry girl, impatient girl will make more mistakes than a calm one.”

“I’m biding my time,” Arya said, circling, an idea taking shape in your mind. “Like you told me.”

Syrio Forel smiled inscrutably.

She kicked at the rushes again, creating another empty space on the floor – another pocket of inaudibility.

“You are thinking. Thinking is good.”

Arya attacked again, clearing a path towards him. It didn’t matter that he sidestepped and sent her stumbling, unsuccessful. The idea was swiftly turning into a plan.

“Are you ready to switch places, girl?”

“You said only when I hit you,” said Arya, feet shuffling, calculating a route.

“Many years until you do. It is not your last such lesson. Train one arm too much, it will be too big, no balance. All skills are like this. Change is needed, always, a battle will always change...”

Arya squatted down on the bare floor, extending her wooden sword far to the right, gently nudging scattered rushes to create the illusion of a footstep. She rose, carefully, carefully, so her clothes wouldn’t rustle, and moved to an empty spot closer to Syrio, almost within the reach of his sword. Silent as a mouse. She held her breath, watching his profile – no sign betrayed which direction he was listening to.

It was her one chance, and as his sword came swinging by – a fraction too late! - she ducked under it, rejoicing, thrilled, and slammed into his legs, elbow forward.

Syrio Forel’s empty hand thwarted her, broad warm palm catching her elbow inches in front of his groin. She tumbled in a heap by his feet, dreading to look up. However, when she did, he seemed to look pleased, dark eyes twinkling as he pushed up the blindfold.

“A strange realm is the North, where daughters of lords are fighting on streets...”

“I’m sorry,” Arya said, and she was. “It could’ve worked though, no?”

“It might well have, if you are not facing Syrio Forel. Or his student.” Syrio smiled. “A good place to hit, but only once – a smart man will wear a codpiece, after such an experience. Just so, I am wearing one.”

“And if you hadn’t?”

“Then you would have caught me off guard, no?”

“Should I wear one?” Arya asked eagerly, relieved that she wasn’t in trouble. Her mother had been livid, that one time when Theon... but Jon had taken the blame. Sneaking in to keep him company, while he was grounded (when it had really been her fault), was the least she could have done.

“You should fashion one, yes, a different one. A lucky hit from a foot there, you will limp too.”

“I shall,” Arya promised.

Syrio tied the blindfold over her eyes, at last, and told her to stand still and listen for him. And she tried clearing her mind, she really did, so she could be one big ear with a sword, just like Syrio said – and still she kept thinking back of that afternoon in Winterfell, and that she ought to apologise to Syrio. Had she truly been prepared to hurt him like that? What if he hadn’t been protected? She couldn’t imagine him screaming, not like Theon had done anyway, high and pathetic.

She had used one of Bran’s paths that day, to get out of needlework – along the ledge of her room’s window, all around the tower, down the vines that grew there, on the eastern side, watching out for poison ivy, over a bridge to the battlements, and from there onto the stable roof and through the hatch into the attic, landing with a rustle in hay. It smelled of summer. But instead of the usual quiet snorts of horses, familiar voices had drifted up to her. Theon, there was no mistaking that audible sneer, and Jon, she was almost sure – it was that quiet mumble he slipped into when trying to melt into background, usually whenever around Lady Stark. She could barely hear him, even perched as she was right above them, seeing their dim frames through the thin floorboards of the attic.

Theon’s laugh, cruel like a serrated knife edge, covered up whatever Jon was saying: curt, bitter words, too soft to catch. When Theon spoke again, interrupting him, there might or might not have been a mention of brothers, of her mother, of father and Robb’s name. And Jon, instead of lashing out the way he usually would when provoked in such a manner, only cringed back, trapped between Theon and the beam supporting the stable roof – why, he seemed to be pleading with that stupid prick. And Arya couldn’t watch that happen and not act. She had come down, scattering the heap of hay she landed in, any words between the older boys were drowned out in the horses’ agitated neighing. She’d brandished her stick at Theon and told him in no uncertain words that he back off her brother or else.

Strange, how it was all coming back to her now. She felt a brush at her elbow – a teasing nudge from her dancing master’s wooden sword, and lunged wildly in that direction, finding no resistance, no presence, she stumbled. Yet still, even listening intently for the smallest gust of air, her mind remained in that stable at Winterfell. She fought to calm her breath.

Far to her left, Syrio Forel clicked his teeth disapprovingly.

“I’m sorry I tried to hurt you...” Arya offered, and jumped as Syrio’s hands landed on her shoulders, reassuring, giving her a sense of orientation in the dark.

“Ah, but you have not hurt me. There is someone else you should say sorry to?”

“I’m not sorry about him,” said Arya – and, searching her feelings, realised she meant it. Sure, Theon was a jerk in general, but it wasn’t his sneering voice, nor the disdain with which he had looked down on her, the miniature scarecrow with dirty hands clutching a stick. It wasn’t even the infuriating way he held Jon by the collar, like a cowed animal on a leash. It was that Jon hadn’t met her eyes. He’d just stood there, taking it, instead of punching Theon in the face as he usually would when he got fed up, or snarking back about the Greyjoys losing their rebellion, fleet and power, anything. He didn’t even seem to muster up the energy to huff and leave for the godswood to have a good old familiar Snow-Sulk. Everything about him spoke of defeat, and it struck Arya as bad, wrong in a way that still turned her stomach. So she had lunged at Theon, without thinking anything through, just wanting to hurt him for making her brother give up.

“I’m not sorry. He deserved it. I hope it... broke,” she added, defiantly.

“Wicked men deserve that, yes.”

She took offence at the patronising tone in her teacher’s voice. “He did!”she insisted. “He was... he was mean to my brother. Calling him a bastard and gods know what else, and he made Jon so sad he couldn’t even hit him himself, so I had to. He’s never too sad to hit Theon, no-one can be – no-one should ever have to be that sad. He’s always giving himself airs how he’s such a trueborn prince, but he’s just a pirate’s get and a hostage, we just keep him so the Ironborn behave. And Jon is there because father loves him, so he’s just jealous really. He’s really my brother, he even looks like me. Like father, I mean...”

“You are missing your brother.”

Arya was grateful for the blindfold then. She felt her brow furrow, like she was about to cry, but she couldn’t. Little girls cry. “He gave me my sword...” she said, and her voice wavered and trailed off. And, somehow, she felt that Syrio understood. There were no better words. Her lip trembled. Little sister, he used to call her, and never with more love than on that day. And she has never felt happier than seeing light return to his eyes, even as he scowled and gave Theon a kick for whatever insult he had thrown at her while writhing in pain. You don’t say that to my sister, Greyjoy. They had come back out into the wan afternoon sunlight, hand in hand, and she had admonished her big brother for not fighting his own battles. Even Sansa would have done better, she’d scolded, and made him smile more.

“He will be proud to see you use your Needle properly then, would he not?” Syrio prompted, sliding back soundlessly. She barely felt his hands lift off her shoulders.

Arya nodded, ground her teeth, and moved into a water dancer’s stance. She paused briefly to wipe her nose on her sleeve, and listened for Syrio Forel’s steps.

In the evening, she braved the quills, ink and parchment and began a letter to Jon Snow. She never finished it – the next day, she had to run away. But Needle was with her, and so were the dancing lessons and the memories of home.

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