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the kindness of strangers

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Theon wouldn’t have noticed her if not for the broken teeth.

It’s not as if the girl stands out for much else, or as if she tries to stand out in the first place. But the day after Winterfell is taken she’s going around their camp making herself useful, and from that he deduces she must have somehow arrived with the Vale’s army that saved Stannis’s and Jon’s precious arses from having to retreat because they didn’t have enough men and it was too bloody cold.

Sure, no one had expected for Sansa Stark out of everyone to show up with an entirely good army at the last moment, nor that Jaime Lannister would be with her along with that other woman knight whose name escapes Theon right now and who looked more like a man at first sight.

Anyhow, it seems like Lannister turned his cloak and helped Sansa out in the Vale before they came here and as long as he is not losing his head, he can’t care less either way. That still doesn’t explain why a washerwoman with broken teeth would be traveling with that one army, especially since it seems like they left at short notice and hardly brought servants with.

Honestly, he hadn’t even realized she was there until she spoke to someone sitting near him and saw that half of her teeth are — gone or broken.

Same as mine, he had thought, shuddering, and then she was gone and he had sat there thinking, who is she.

Of course, he didn’t ask anyone. Most Northerners don’t want to talk to him even if now they know the truth about the Stark children, and he’s hardly going to speak to any of the others on his own, and so who was he going to ask, Lannister? Sansa?

(He spoke to Sansa once and he thinks it was a good thing Jeyne spoke to her first because at that point she was willing to hear him out. He’s pretty sure she didn’t ask too many questions nor press for answers just because Jeyne told her the entire story, and at least she accepted his useless apologies for his role in Robb’s demise.

It was enough. But he doesn’t know if he can talk to her now.)

Still, he can’t help wondering about it.

And he can’t help taking notice of what she does, if she’s nearby. He realizes that she always covers her mouth when talking to some nobleman and so on, but she doesn’t bother with soldiers or other servants. She also doesn’t smile much, but whenever she’s around Lannister’s squire, or at least Theon thinks he is, she does do that, without covering her teeth, and it takes him two days of camping outside the castle to be sure of it.

On the third, he figures he’ll just bloody ask.

After all, he hasn’t seen his sister (nor Jon, nor Stannis) since they took the castle and they disappeared inside it to deal with both Boltons and whatnot, and they’re probably discussing their future plans along with Sansa. Lannister also hasn’t been seen around since then, nor the other knight.

Theon has honestly nothing better to do with his time that’s not thinking about how relieved he feels at knowing that at least Ramsay cannot get out of that castle to find him and make sure he regrets jumping from the ramparts with Jeyne

(he never will, but — sometimes he considers that option)

and really, the girl is also alone as she folds some laundry, whistling something under her breath. She looks — not happy, but content enough, and Theon would like to know how anyone would be content while stranded in the middle of the fucking snow outside Winterfell along with a bunch of tired soldiers who never asked to be in a war for this long.

He surely wishes he wasn’t.

And honestly, after what he’s done — talking to a serving girl whose mouth looks suspiciously like his own doesn’t seem like such a hardship.

As he approaches her, he wonders if he should ask if she needs help folding those clothes if only to make sure she doesn’t ignore him, then he remembers that folding anything with the state of his fingers would be an exceedingly bad idea.

Well then, no preambles, he supposes.

“Were you with Stannis or the Umbers?” He asks, dropping down next to her.

“No,” she answers at once, still folding a shirt before turning to look at him. “I came with Ser Jaime,” she says, her lips parting slightly, showing her broken teeth. Huh. The way she said the man’s name, you would think she was talking about the Warrior incarnated. Then her eyes narrow. “And who would you be? You don’t look like a soldier.”

Fair enough. “I’m —” He’s about to answer Reek out of habit, but then — you have to know your name, seven hells, he thinks, shaking his head. “Theon,” he says, not providing a surname. He doesn’t bother to hide his teeth as he speaks, and he can see the moment she notices their common ailment. “And I’m not a soldier, but — I have been around here a long time, so I was merely wondering.”

“Sure you were,” she says slowly, turning all of her attention on him. “I’m Pia,” she informs him, “and I don’t think you were nearly wondering.”

“And what would make you think that?” He tries to jape, but it comes off half-sarcastic and half-defensive and he doesn’t think that was what he was aiming at.

He hates how easy it used to be back in the day and how hard it is to do it now.

Theon,” she says, “it would take being blind to not see that we might have something in common.” She sounds sorry about it. And as if she truly understands it. For a moment he’s speechless, because until now it’s been just Jeyne understanding it, but Jeyne —

Jeyne doesn’t know how that feels. Good for her, honestly, but —


“Would it be too much,” he asks, “if I was wondering how — how it happened to you?”

She shrugs. “Everyone knew in Ser Jaime’s army. Wouldn’t hurt no one if you did, too, I suppose.” Pia reaches for another shirt and starts to fold it, too. “It’s not a long story, anyhow. I was a maid at Harrenhaal,” she says. “I’ve always been. When Ser Gregor was there last, I — I spoke when he didn’t want me to and that’s how he decided to shut me up.”

Well, fuck. He cringes openly, wishing he hadn’t felt it the moment she said it.

But he did. Oh, he did.

“On top of that, well.” She shrugs, not looking at him. “I had a certain fame.” She glances down at her skirts, then up at him, raising her eyebrow.


“I understand,” he says.

“I enjoyed it,” she keeps on, not sounding sorry for it at all. “Then — well, I did until they didn’t force themselves.” She finishes folding the shirt, then takes another. “It happened a lot of times until Ser Jaime came to free us.”

“Did he?”

“Yes,” she says, smiling again, and now he can see all of the empty spaces where pearly white should have been rather than the void, but she doesn’t seem to mind at all. “And he took me in his service, which is how I’m here, if you really want to know.”

“Didn’t he turn his cloak on his army?”

“Maybe,” she concedes, “but — when Lady Brienne came to get him, Peck and me noticed they were leaving without telling anybody else.”

Oh, so her name is Brienne. Good to know that.

“So we followed ‘em, and I don’t know if I’m supposed to tell anyone else why he decided to go with her to the Vale so I won’t, but you can ask him yourself.”

“I doubt he would want to talk to me,” Theon sighs.

“Why wouldn’t he? Ser Jaime has no problems talking to the likes of us.”

Right. She must have taken him for another commoner — he won’t disabuse her of that notion, not for now. “We decided to go with him and Lady Brienne’s travel companions to the Vale, and then we followed them all here. Maybe if you don’t want to ask Ser Jaime you could ask Pod, he would tell you.”

“You seem to… really admire him,” he says, trying to sound neutral. He figures that she has her reasons to, but the way she smiles when she talks about Lannister, you would think he is a knight out of some kind of blasted song, and that… just doesn’t add up to anything he ever thought about the man or his family or what he had seen when they came to Winterfell that one lifetime ago.

“I told you that a lot of those men forced themselves on me,” she says. “I could do nothin’ about it. Before or after,” she says, gesturing at her lips. “But then, after he came to free us, one of them did it again. I didn’t expect him to do anything about it. No one else ever did.”

“I suppose you were wrong?”

“Oh, he had that one man executed and his head brought to me.” She grins again, even if her pretty, large eyes are on the verge of tearing up. “And he never touched me wrong once.”

“I — I see,” Theon nods, suddenly understanding why it is that she seems to think Lannister is the best man who ever walked this earth.

Of course she would.

“Anyhow, that’s in the past. There’s just one man that gets to do it now."

"You mean, Lannister’s squire?”

“Peck is a good man,” she confirms. “And he cares nothing for my teeth. See why I would admire Ser Jaime, Theon?”

“Yes,” he immediately says, wishing he hadn’t just felt like hunching on himself and trying to look smaller. “Yes, I understand.”

She says nothing for a moment. Then she takes the last shirt left in her pile. “I suppose whoever did that to you isn’t dead, right?”

“No,” Theon says. “Not yet. Not as far as I know. It wasn’t just that, though.”

“Not just that?”

He glances at himself, wishing he could keep his mouth shut, but suddenly talking to her feels almost freeing. It’s not that Jeyne wouldn’t understand, but Jeyne was there too and some things are just too much, and someone who does get it to a point but doesn’t know who he is, wasn’t there for it… it’s different. He doesn’t know how or why, but it just is.

“How old do you think I am?” He asks, letting his hands uncurl along his knees. She glances at his hands, noticing how some of the sheaths for the fingers in his gloves hang down without anything to fill them.

“Old ‘nough to have fought in the Rebellion, maybe?” She asks. “I was just a little girl then,” she goes on. “Even if I did remember when Ser Jaime was appointed to the Kingsguard.”

“I’m two and twenty,” he says, and he notices at once that her eyes go from a dreamy look (probably imagining how handsome Lannister might’ve been back in the day) to horrified in the span of mere moments.

Two and twenty,” she repeats.

“Has my tale told you speechless?” He asks, shrugging minutely.

“No, but believe me if I say it’s a bit strange to believe you’re younger than me,” she says, shaking her head. “And I guess whoever did that to you is still alive?”

“Yes,” Theon says, not providing any other detail. He’s sure she noticed how hard he shuddered as he said it. But then he forces himself to look up at her again. “And actually, I never asked you what I wanted to in the first place.”

“You can ask,” she answers a moment later.

“It’s just,” he starts, feeling fucking ridiculous, but since he did it with Asha, he hasn’t been able to do it again, and — “You don’t seem to mind other people seeing —”

“Oh, I used to,” she says. “Now I cover it if I talk to any of them lords ‘cause I know it makes ‘em uncomfortable and it’s not worth it.”

“Well, how do you? Because I only could do it when I wasn’t thinking about it, and it’s happened once since — I ran.”

Her large brown eyes stare into his for a long, long moment as she takes back her shirts, holding them to her chest. She has rough hands, Theon can’t help noticing.

“It was two things,” she finally answers. Theon almost hates how understanding she sounds. “I found that someone would want to kiss me even without ‘em. But having seen the head of someone who wouldn’t, and who wouldn’t care if I wanted him or not, well, that didn’t hurt either. If I were you, if I knew the person who did that to you would die, I’d try to stand there and watch it happen. Even if it wasn’t him who did that to me, it felt good.”

She excuses herself after that, saying she has to bring back those clothes wherever it is that they’re supposed to to go.

Theon nods, thanks her for having taken her time and watches her go, as a bitter voice tells him, as if anyone would ever bring you Ramsay’s bloody head.

As if anyone would kill him in front of Theon, for that matter.

And if you ask him, he doesn’t even know if he wants to be there for it. The mere idea of seeing Ramsay again gives him the creeps, his stomach turning itself over, and he has to swallow back down the vomit that threatens to rise up his throat.

Maybe it’s not a good idea.

Still —

When, later, he notices Pia and Lannister’s squire on the camp’s outskirts, lips locked and hands all over each other as if what happened to her matters none, he feels a distinct pang of longing.

At least she still looks pretty, he thinks wistfully, and while he thinks that if he could have back his fingers and toes and teeth he could forgo his once good looks, he envies them for a long, long moment.

He hasn’t told Pia that teeth and looks and fingers weren’t the only thing Ramsay ever took from him. He hasn’t told anyone, not even Jeyne, even if she definitely understood without needing him to.

He doesn’t think he could do it now, honestly, the mere idea makes him want to throw up anew. But a small part of him wants to think, if it happened to her and those two are happy with each other, maybe one day

One day, his arse. He laughs to himself, bitterly, knowing that it’s not likely to come anytime soon, and heads back for his own tent.

He thinks he’ll content himself with imagining all the ways Ramsay’s head might roll.

That’ll have to be enough.


The next morning, Asha is on the other side of his tent as he wakes up.

“What —” He starts, blinking helplessly against the morning sun.

“Rise and shine, little brother,” she says. “I have news.”


“Oh, a lot of that. First thing, it took us this long because someone showed up with Robb Stark’s will legitimizing his brother, so as it is, Snow’s actually king.”

On one side, Theon is absolutely not surprised of it. Of course Robb would have done it. On the other… Jon Snow?

“And people were fine with it?”

“You don’t know how many of those northerners couldn’t wait for it. Sansa Stark was in tears of happiness, for that matter. At that point, they decided on an alliance until they get rid of both Cersei Lannister and the bloody White Walkers, then they’ll see how to split their wins, if they win. I managed to broker a deal to support them if they help me get rid of Euron and spare your life, so as far as they’re concerned, you’re a more or less free man.”

“More or less?”

“I think they want you to stay here just in case, but then again I think you want to be here and make up for your wrongdoings more than you’d want to come back home and deal with our charming uncle.”

He should argue.

The truth is —

“You’re right,” he admits. “Fine. And what of the rest? Or is this all?”

“Two other things. First, if you want a room inside the castle instead of freezing out here, you can have it. Second, I figured you might want to know that Ramsay Bolton is meeting his end tomorrow at dawn. I have to go back inside now but do what you want with it.”

She seems to consider what to do for a moment, then she pats his shoulder very awkwardly before standing up and leaving.

It’s almost touching that she’s trying, Theon thinks, and he wonders if they will ever have time to make up for all the time they’ve lost up until now.

Given how things are shaping up to be, he has a feeling they might not, but he supposes that there’s nothing too bad in hoping for it.

Until a short while ago, he hadn’t dared hope for much at all except maybe dying, but now he’s not dead and he won’t be for the foreseeable future and he will outlive Ramsay if the gods will it, and maybe be will have a chance to make up for his wrongdoings.

Maybe — he could.

He could.


“You look worried.”

He almost spills his soup as he turns to his side and notices Pia sitting there — right. He went at the servants’s table that evening, figuring that the least he was seen around his sister the better, and honestly, half of these people weren’t even here for his stint as Reek at the Dreadfort and the other half hadn’t seen him that closely. It makes sense she would eat there, too.

“What if I am?” He admits, figuring he has nothing to lose. No one informed her of who he is, or so it seems, and it’s — nice, to talk to someone who won’t look down to him because he’s a traitor or a turncloak or a supposed kinslayer, or someone who contributed to bring Robb Stark to an early grave whether he wanted it or not.

“One would wonder why, since you’ve got food and clothing and your head on your shoulders.”

Fair enough.

“Maybe the person who did this to me is dying tomorrow and I am still not so sure I am not dreaming the whole thing up,” he shrugs.

Pia stares at him uncomprehending, but then understanding dawns on her.

“So it was —”

“Yes,” he interrupts. “Him.”

“I have heard very little,” she says, “but what I heard was horrible.”

“Be glad you just heard,” he sighs. “I don’t know if I can go and watch it happen.”

“No one should be forced to do anything,” she answers after taking a moment.

“Well, I doubt Lannister’s going to bring me his head.”

“Oh, Ser Jaime absolutely would if he could,” she smiles brightly, again, “but I don’t think it’s his responsibility. Still, knowing he lost it won’t hurt, I think.”

“That it won’t,” Theon agrees, wishing he could smile as freely as that, broken teeth or not, just thinking about someone. He figures they really were wrong on the man back in the day. Or maybe it just depends on who you’re talking to. “But — thank you nonetheless.”

“For what? It’s not many of us who understand how it feels,” she replies, the corners of her mouth curling upward in an almost sweet grin that he would have wanted to kiss, maybe, a long time ago.

He wishes he could disagree.

But he can’t. He goes back to his food and they don’t say anything else until she leaves with Lannister’s squire, and Theon is left staring at his empty bowl as he tells himself over and over that at least from tomorrow he’ll be dead and gone forever and he’s not going to break anymore teeth, for anyone.

It’s a sweet thought.

Maybe enough to make him wish he could see it happen.

But he’s still not sure he wants to.


Later, he’s walking back to the room he was given — far enough from his old one, small and with only one bed and a wardrobe, but he doesn’t have to share it with anyone and that’s enough —, cursing his feet and Ramsay for maiming them all over again. It’s almost amusing that when he jumped he could barely feel it but now he feels like they’ll bleed out at any given moment.


He almost trips against one of the stone tiles as he hears Jon’s voice from behind him — what even? They barely even saw each other at this point. He was sure that Jon was avoiding him, for entirely legitimate reasons at that.

Well, it seems like it’s not the case. He stops and turns to look at him, because he has to and he’s not going to jeopardize anything, Asha’s efforts first and foremost, because he’s dead afraid of what Jon might want from him.

He looks good, he thinks. He’s wearing clean dark gray Stark garb, the same as Robb did, but Robb’s was more light gray if he doesn’t recall wrong. His hair is clean and held back up, he could do with a shave but the beard does suit him, and he certainly isn’t lacking any body parts. He also looks completely as if he hates his new role.

How things change but then really don’t, he doesn’t say. Robb had the exact same look on his face, but he doubts he’ll be the one to share that information.

“Your Grace,” he says, and Jon grimaces at once.

“Please don’t,” he answers, “it’s bad enough the way it is.”

“… Wasn’t that what you always wanted?” He asks, before biting his own tongue and trying to find a way to take it back. He shouldn’t do it, he shouldn’t, now he’ll be offended that he threw it back in his face —

But then he doesn’t because Jon laughs — not much, not loudly, but he does, and he doesn’t seem angry after all, and — how?

“Yes,” he admits, “and now I sorely regret it and if Robb was here I would tell him that if we could go back in time I would never envy him for anything. Anyway, I would be overjoyed if someone around here didn’t talk to me as if they were walking on eggshells, and I am tired of taking heads. Nonetheless, I will have to take one more tomorrow, and it won’t be yours, so — stop looking like I will.”

He nods, trying to gather his wits. “Still. I shouldn’t have presumed —”

“Theon, Sansa forgave you, Jeyne spoke for you in front of the entire council, we know Bran and Rickon aren’t dead, and for that matter Stannis’s Hand just sent a raven informing us he’s with Rickon in White Harbor, I have an alliance with your sister and I am not in a hurry to hold any grudges. You can presume whatever you want at this point, I don’t think I have the strength for it.”

He sounds like he just turned fifteen years older and not two, which would be almost amusing, if Theon himself couldn’t share that feeling.

“I — thank you,” he replies, figuring that it’s the safest answer, and for that matter he felt so relieved at hearing what Jon’s just told him, he does mean it. “And what could I do for you? I suppose you called me for a reason.”

“Oh,” Jon says, “right. Well, you do know Bolton is dying tomorrow. And — I have been told.”

“About what he did to me?”

“Jeyne was… she told.” Jon shakes his head in disgust, but not at him at least. “I think everyone in the entire room immediately agreed to your sister’s terms for that as well, so what I meant is, if you want to — see him or tell him something before he dies, you can.”

“… What?” That was not what Theon had expected. “Uh, I beg your pardon, but —”

“Theon, if you want to tell him that he hopes he rots in the Seven Hells in person you can ask, that is what I meant.”

He swallows, considering it. On one side, it’s tempting. He could throw back in Ramsay’s face how he was wrong and that he left and he took his fucking bride with and he’s better off for it. But on the other — his hands are sweating and his feet seem to hurt way more than they were just a moment before, and if he sees Ramsay again he knows he might do something exceedingly stupid and he has no idea if he wants it or not.

But —

If he’s not sure that he wants it, then… then he most likely does not want it.

“No,” he says. “I mean, thank you, I — I greatly appreciate that you thought of it, but I think I’m done with him. If before he dies any of you wants to inform him that he was wrong about — about what I was to him all along, I would be grateful, but other than that… I think I can do without.”

“Very well,” Jon nods, still staring at him. “And for what it’s worth, some people who survived the Red Wedding told me that when Robb heard you were being tortured, he told them to stop.”

“He — he did?”

“He said he didn’t want your skin, just your head, and not before he knew the reasons why you did that. And I’m sure that if he could see you now he wouldn’t even want that. I certainly don’t.”

“… Thank you,” he says, uselessly, for the third time, and maybe he does smile just slightly, and he can see Jon noticing his teeth.

He immediately snaps his mouth shut. “I — I think I will go to bed now. Your —”


“… Jon.”

“That’s better,” Jon says, sounding slightly relieved, and then he disappears in the hallway.

Theon drags himself to his own room, locks the door and decides that at dawn he is not going to be out of bed.

Ramsay can go to the Seven Hells without him having to watch it.


He’s woken up by someone knocking on the door very insistently. He glances out of the window — it’s past dawn for sure, but not by much. He drags himself to his feet before opening it, figuring that there would be no point in asking.

It’s Jeyne. Why would she even be here?

“What’s wrong?” He asks.

“Nothing,” she says, “all the contrary, actually, but Jon would like to see you.”


“He specifically called for you,” she says, and why is she looking happy?

“Is he dead?” He asks, figuring that he should get it out of the way now.

“Yes,” Jeyne replies at once. “And good riddance it was. But you still have to come down.”

Theon shrugs and says he will once he puts on his boots — he forces himself to do it, then walks downstairs and curses his feet all over again, until she brings him to — the kennels?

“What are we doing here?”

“Just go inside,” she asks, her lips slightly smiling. “And I think you earned what he’s about to offer.”

What in the Seven Hells? She leaves after that, and he has no idea of wha she’s up to, but it’s not as if he can not do it, so — well. He’s going to have to walk in, after all.

He takes a deep breath and does.

The kennels are cleaner than he remembers them being, and he’s plenty glad to notice that the dogs are safely locked.

Jon is standing in front of their cage, looking like he could go to sleep for the next fifteen years. He’s still dressed in that same Stark grey, with a spat of blood on his sleeve, his hair tied back the way his father’s was, but they don’t look alike at all right now. Ned Stark never looked this disgusted or tired after an execution and Theon would remember that.

“Did — did you ask for me?”

Jon shakes his head and turns to look at him. “Oh, I did. See, Stannis and I discussed what to do with Bolton’s corpse.”

“I imagine not burying it in the crypts?”

“Of course not,” Jon says. “I’d suggest you glance at what’s inside that cage.”

Theon does. He squints as he tries to make out what the dogs are doing inside there, since they’re all huddled around the same area. A moment later, he does notice that the dogs are eating something.

Might it be that —

“You fed it to his own dogs?” He asks with barely enough voice to be heard.

“I did,” Jon says, grabbing a sack from near his feet. “But then I thought, maybe you would like to do the honors with the one part I didn’t feed to the dogs yet. From what Jeyne said, I think you might’ve earned it,” he says, before handing it to Theon and leaving.


He opens the sack, looks inside and immediately closes it again.

He did —

Oh, Seven Hells

He really gave him —

He doesn’t know if he should take it out or just throw it away, but just the fact that Jon actually went there

He takes a deep breath, then another, then another.

Then he thinks of how freely Pia had smiled when she told him of what Lannister did for her.

He reaches down into the sack with his right hand and grasps at greasy hair dirty with blood.

The first thing he thinks as he stares at Ramsay’s dead face is that he doesn’t look so — imposing and larger than life now. Honestly, just looking at him, you wouldn’t even begin to guess what he could do and what he has done. Those lips that still look like a worm’s are puffed and larger before, but they’re cold and pale and they can’t touch his skin — it’s just dead flesh. That can’t hurt anyone anymore, not even him.

He stares at the dogs, still intent on munching.

“To the Seven Hells with you,” he says, and throws it in the cage.

One of the girls immediately snatches it and it disappears in between them.

Good riddance, Theon thinks, and that’s when he realizes he’s grinning openly, without a care in the world.


So that was what she meant.


He finds Pia that evening — there’s an empty place next to hers at the table and he takes it.

“You know,” he tells her, “you might have been right.”

“‘Bout what?”

“J — I mean, the king, might have in fact… given me his head.”

“Did he now,” she grins. “And how did that feel?”

He can feel himself tentatively grinning back. “Honestly? It felt — good,” he admits.

“Well, you’re smiling. Told you it would work,” she winks at him, and gods but while he doesn’t think he can do that yet, he can’t help smiling just a tiny bit wider.

Nothing to add.

She was right, after all.