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driftwood & sea salt

Chapter Text

The curve of Theon Greyjoy's spine matched the odd piece of driftwood hanging above the counter of Iron Ink as he sat, stooped over uncomfortably, on the stool that was unequivocally his, no matter what his sister had to say about it. Theon didn't have the first idea why the driftwood was a part of the shop, or what it meant, but when he had questioned Yara, she had glared, and insisted it was art in that haughty voice of hers that meant she didn't have a fucking clue, but she was damned if she'd let Theon point that out. Which really meant it was probably the result of their uncle, and fuck him, but also fuck Theon for bringing it up, and forcing Yara to pretend she liked it, rather than admit she might be wrong, or not have all the answers. It was abstract , she sniffed instead, and Theon rolled his eyes.

Yeah, fuck Theon.

It was a wry thought, and one that flitted through his mind fairly often. It joined with the dim buzzing of needles that Theon was constantly surrounded by, the distant sound of waves lapping at the shoreline that he could hear, if he strained his ears. He had removed the bell in the shop, to his sister's chagrin, because before it had been too loud, and Theon hated hearing the door open, getting that brief sound of the ocean's roar, only for it to be drowned out by an obnoxious trill. Yara had grumbled and complained, but their customers were usually too obnoxious to be missed, and Theon knew she craved the ocean's call as much as he did.

Besides, Theon was usually perched on the stool in what passed for a lobby. His head would snap up whenever the door opened, his eyes just as ready to appraise as they were to seek beyond the threshold of the little shop. Theon was good at reading people. Yara often complained it was the only thing he was good at. His careful eyes noticed the way her face softened, almost imperceptibly, whenever she let that admission slip past her lips. It was as much self-recrimination as it was a playful jape. Theon didn't bother wasting his time trying to convince her it was for naught. He knew a fair amount about penance given to oneself.

There was nothing unusual about today. It bled into all of the other days. Theon was stooped over the counter, his spine curving from where he sat on his stool, bringing his face closer to the magazine he was reading, hidden underneath the paperwork he was supposed to be doing. The distant buzz of needles made up the background noise, coming from the back of the shop, which was really not a back at all, but rather the entire shop, sectioned off poorly to give some semblance of privacy. It was a bit of a pointless attempt too. Customers of Iron Ink were rarely looking for privacy. Theon didn't claim to know what they were looking for, but he wasn't really paid to know that.

Whether Yara did or didn't, few - if any - actually left the shop unsatisfied. Even fewer left sober, but that was neither here nor there.

But today was a wholly ordinary day, except for the moment the most extraordinary girl stepped into the dingy tattoo shop on Pyke Pier.

Theon immediately straightened, and regretted the action nearly as quickly. Theon wasn't what anyone would call old. Twenty-eight was a perfectly respectable year of youth, and he was only just that. But what he lacked in age, he more than made up for in life experience. That was precisely the reason his back cracked so painfully in his effort to sit up straighter. But Theon was well practiced in keeping his facial expressions on a meticulous rotation of smug, disinterested, and completely apathetic. There was no room for anything in between.

The same could not be said for the woman who had walked through the door. Woman, because that's what she was now. Theon remembered when Sansa Stark had barely come up to his knee. She had been sitting down, it was true, but she had still been a young child that was rather cute, but terribly annoying. But those memories were scant in comparison to the dozens of others Theon had of the redheaded sister to the best man he had ever known. The Starks were a special sort, and their family was something to be treasured. Theon still didn't know what he had done right in his life to have been welcomed into the fold, but he had been. And through his friendship with Robb Stark, he had grown close to each of the Starks in turn. Sansa though, had always been special.

She was different from the rest of the Starks, it was something they all admitted easily enough. Once it had been a source of constant tension. God Theon had hated that time. Half of the Stark children - and himself - caught in the midst of puberty and hormones, and everyone else caught in the midst of their carnage. It had been a difficult time for a young girl - turning into a young woman - to feel so different. Theon had watched Sansa cry more than once during that dark period. Perhaps the greatest difference was that Sansa Stark had a heart made for forgiveness. The same could not be said of the other Starks. Robb still glared at Theon any time the jellyfish incident was brought up. In Theon's defense, Robb was one of the smartest people he knew, and he really thought the other man had enough sense not to believe anything Theon said when he was taking the (nearly literal) piss. Even Ned Stark - a fair and just man - didn't seem quite as quick to forgive as his daughter.

Maybe it was Sansa's willingness to set aside hurts that made her special. Theon had - fuck, he had made a right mess of things, more than once. It was no small miracle the Starks still welcomed him, let alone saw them as one of their own. Theon had no doubt Sansa played some part in that. Jon would never forgive him of his crimes, that much Theon knew. It was almost relieving. Not that Theon would admit it aloud. Robb would look at him with pity, and Jon would probably stop interacting with him altogether. Sansa though, she'd look at him with those large blue eyes, as if Theon had broken her fucking heart with his inability to love himself a tenth as much as he loved -

Theon couldn't even lie to himself for more than a fucking minute. Sansa Stark was special for a million and one reasons, but she would always be special to him because he was so fucking gone on her, he was convinced he was no longer present at all.

Theon didn't waste his time with the stupid questions. Not from himself, nor anyone else. Yara had once asked when he had fallen in love with Sansa. He hadn't bothered denying it. What was the fucking point? Yara and he - they had been - not cut from the same cloth, no, that sounded too gentle, too romantic for the fucked up childhood they'd shared. But the two of them, they were made of the same piece of driftwood, mangled and strange, washed up on the beach, and turned into something - abstract. Something rough and confusing, made by equally rough hands. The two of them were like that. It didn't make sense to anyone, least of all Theon. But Yara had always made a little more sense to Theon than himself.

She was also fucking Daenerys Targaryen, so clearly she was doing something right.

But Theon hadn't answered her. He didn't entertain stupid questions, and he didn't waste his time with pointless answers. Yara's question wasn't stupid, but the question itself was somewhere in the small infinity between stupid and not-so-stupid. When had Theon learned how to breathe? When had he learned how to swim without letting his body sink to the bottom of the ocean like he sometimes dreamed? When had he learned to smell the sea salt in the air? There had been a specific point in time, of course, but what was the fucking point in pinning it down to a specific moment? His love for Sansa simply was and it had begun at some point . The when wasn't important. None of the questions were all that important.

Missandei had suggested perhaps Theon had always been a little bit in love with Sansa. He had blanched at that. Not only because he had met her as a child but because there was something viscerally wrong with that. Theon had simply taken another swig of his beer, and shrugged his shoulders. Missandei was a romantic. She and Grey - fuck, that was love. She was a young woman who had been through much - ilk found ilk - but god, she was still so innocent and eager about the world. Theon thought she'd get on with Sansa. They just hadn't the chance to meet.

Sansa had been away for years. King's Landing, some fancy university there. That's what Theon would say, whenever his regular drinking buddies gathered. And fuck, his crew of drinking buddies consisted of his sister-boss, his sister-boss' hot as fuck (literally, Yara had almost not hired her due to Dany's criminal conviction record of fucking arson ) girlfriend, said girlfriend's best friend, and said girlfriend's best friend's devoted life partner. Theon needed to meet some new fucking people. Or just reconnect with old ones.

But Sansa was standing here . In front of him. She had been away at university. The University of Westeros, to be precise. Casual as Theon might try to act around his motley crew of drinking companions, he treasured every fact he learned about Sansa Stark, as if it was precious sea stone.

She had always wanted to go South. Anyone who knew Sansa Stark knew that much about her. People would look at her, and shake their heads. "That's a summer child there," they would say. "The North is no place for a girl like that." Theon had always disagreed. Sansa had winter in her bones as surely as any of her Stark siblings. He had seen the chill in her eyes, and it had made him shiver, the way he once had when he was twelve and fucking stupid , and jumped into the water just because Robb had dared him to do it, one cold, January night. That was the first night Theon had thought Ned Stark capable of murder. Not just murder, but murdering his own blood. The only other time Theon had seen such a rage had been when Sansa -

Well. Sansa.

Even though Theon knew Sansa belonged to the North, he had been certain she would thrive in the South. Her dreams of glittering gold and gilded knights seemed more suited for the foreign land, packaged as better and more civilized . Theon didn't understand the appeal. But he supposed the sun shined more in the South, and god, if anything Sansa deserved the sun.

Instead she had returned with pale skin, made paler by the streaks of purple, black, and blue.

Theon had only caught a glimpse of the bruises - just once. It had been two winters ago when Sansa had returned. Not to Winterfell, but to Pyke. The Starks spent their summers in Pyke, but their home was Winterfell. There always needed to be a Stark in Winterfell. Theon had heard the adage often enough. He had watched Robb get those very words inked into his skin. That same winter. Days later, Sansa had appeared, her hair wild and untamed, her eyes terrified and so fucking angry , that for a moment, Theon had thought he was staring into a mirror. She had been looking for Robb. She had come back, but she wasn't ready to face her home. Not yet.

Theon hadn't seen her after that night. He heard the bits and pieces from Robb. He heard enough about what happened in the South, his fingers biting painfully into the skin of his palms, already littered with half-moon scars. Theon didn't know who the fuck Ramsey Bolton was. He had heard of Joffrey Lannister, but fuck, neither of them were worthy of his thoughts. They certainly weren't worthy to exist on the same continent as Sansa Stark. Robb didn't tell him much, and Theon didn't ask. He didn't want to. Not because he didn't want to know, but because he recognized the look in Sansa's eyes, brief though it had been. It was a storm, a fury that would never be quelled. It was the sort of pain that was more painful to put to words. But Theon understood it all the same.

Sansa hadn't returned home since that night. Theon knew that much. It had broken her parents' hearts. Oh she had seen them of course. Theon knew that much. Those Starks, they were wholly unique. They weren't split from the same piece of ugly driftwood, not the way he and Yara had been formed. But they were packmates. Wolves indeed, and they kept to their own. Ned and Cat had struggled enough with Sansa's infrequent visits home when she had been in the South. Even if Winterfell no longer called to her, Sansa remained a Stark.

She had drifted. Theon knew that. She had spent some time with Jon, even further North than the rest of the Starks. Jon had found some sort of peace for his weary soul - far too young to be quite so old - and the rest of the Starks had hoped Sansa might as well. She hadn't, and Theon was a fucking monster for being glad that she hadn't, because she had again returned South. She had visited Pyke the summer before, but that visit was brief. She had the look in her eyes that Theon recognized - this one making his heart clench with fear. It hadn't been the storm, no, Theon recognized Sansa's look as the one he saw so often. The bird-gaze, was what Yara called it. Her tone was always derisive, it always sounded as if she was practically snorting the word out. It was the look most people got, that separated them from the people of Pyke. There were those that made their livelihood here, day in and day out. Theon and Yara were as much a part of Pyke as they were from the same piece of mangled wood. The frozen winds of winter was a part of their blood, as much as the icy waters of the sea. They weren't here only for the balmy summer days. But that was the case for only a small handful of people.

The Starks had always been something of an in-between. There must always be one of them in Winterfell, it was true, but they belonged up here as much as any of the ironborn, as the Pyke residents fondly called themselves. It helped that Benjen Stark was one of them. Everyone knew Benjen, and the only grocery store on the island. The Starks stayed with him every summer. They came and went, but they didn't migrate the same way other visitors did, never to return. They were a part of Pyke, even if they were only part of it part of the time.

Last summer though, Theon was certain he had seen the last of Sansa. He recognized the look in her eyes, saw the restless movement of something underneath her skin. She hadn't stood still the entire time she was there - all of five days. The next he had heard, she had taken off for Skagos. Something about some adventure with Rickon. Catelyn Stark had pursed her lips in disapproval, but her eyes had looked suspiciously shiny, three weeks later, when she received a postcard in the mail, complete with a picture of her dirty, weary, unbelievably proud children, standing on top of a mountain.

Theon hadn't heard much else about Sansa's adventures since then. He knew she had spent some time with each of her siblings. She and Bran met up every few months. They told Ned and Cat that they were attending these silent retreats, dedicated to finding peace and unity with the old gods, but Robb had confided in Theon that the two of them just gathered as much alcohol and weed as they could manage, and spent a couple of days in the woods, drinking and getting high, and talking about how they would change the world.

Robb had sounded so fucking miffed that Theon had almost fallen out of his stool laughing. Tears had sprung up in the corners of his eyes, and he told himself it was only because he was laughing so hard at Robb’s annoyance at being left out. It had nothing to do with the thought of Sansa Stark changing the world, because goddamn if the world wouldn’t be more beautiful because of it.

She spent some time with Arya. Literally no one knew how the fuck Arya had wound up working on a cruise ship, or why, but Sansa was the only one who hadn't questioned it. Theon wondered if she recognized something in Arya, the way he had recognized something in her. He didn't think Arya was running - not the way that Sansa was - but he didn't think he would ever wake up one day to find his phone blowing up, informing him that the youngest Stark sister had fucked off to join some sort of pirate themed ship, where she dressed up in an eyepatch, and flung a play sword around all day.

Or something like that. Theon knew fuck all about what Arya Stark actually did on the ship, but it was weird and not Arya, and he didn't actually care.

The point was, Sansa had been with her. She'd been with Robb too, and her parents. Not in Winterfell, never in Winterfell, but she had come close. Robb had admitted it to Theon once, during one of their late night phone calls. During the witching hour, when the candle had grown small - more melted wax than solid, threatening to drown the flickering flame - those were the moments when Theon felt like he could lay himself bare. Only in the near darkness, with the waves roaring in the distance, and Robb speaking quietly in his ear, did Theon feel like he could crack open his chest to allow the swell of emotions to surge forth. Theon didn't ever say as much, but he thought Robb knew. They had always been close. Robb could hear the small hitch of Theon's breath, over the distance of thousands of miles and Theon's shitty cell reception. He could hear the unspoken soliloquies in the silence, just as Theon could read the rough scratch to Robb's voice, that certainly meant he was scrubbing at his face, not trying to hold back tears, because he had grown up in a household where it was okay to cry.

Theon might have seen parts of himself in others, but Robb was the only one who knew him . It was why he had never once tried to keep the fact that he was so fucking in love with Sansa, a secret. It would have been an exercise in futility, and frankly, Robb would have loved him less for it. They never spoke of it, but there was no need. Not when Robb would gently offer Theon information about his redheaded sister, and Theon would listen with an intensity Robb could feel all the way in Wintertown. Robb always kept Theon up to date on what Sansa was doing. But he hadn't said a single fucking thing about Sansa returning to Pyke this summer. Which meant he didn't know.

Robb didn't know that Sansa was back in Pyke, which meant none of the Starks probably knew. Or all of them. Robb was somehow the smartest Stark, and not at all, all at once. It was a paradox that had baffled them all for years. But it didn't matter who knew, because now Theon knew. Sansa Stark was standing in his sister's tattoo shop, in front of Theon, with her ocean storm eyes, a smile that could make the sun weep, and an expectant expression on her face.

"Looking for a tattoo, love?" Theon drawled, because he was Theon Greyjoy, and he was well-practiced at being in love with Sansa Stark. "I reckon we could squeeze you in." He gave Sansa a long look, up and down her body, and sure enough, she let out a delighted laugh, which turned the the lecherous grin on his lips into something far more innocent and true. Theon had been making a pass at Sansa for as long as he could remember. As long as he'd been in love with her, certainly, perhaps even longer. He had stopped, for a time. She had returned with those hurt, storm eyes, and Theon's mouth had clamped shut, his jaw locked together, to keep the devotion and righteous fury at bay, and out of his mouth. But Sansa had looked at him with such anger, her eyes flashing like lightning, and Theon had slowly picked the practice up again. Everyone thought he was just trying to make Sansa feel normal again, but Theon was far too intimate with her kind of pain, to live under any delusions that such a thing was possible. And too selfish. He just wanted to make her laugh. It was the only sound Theon cherished, more than the crash of the waves against the shores.

"Classy as ever, Theon," Sansa replied, and pushed a strand of hair out of her eyes. Theon took a moment to assess the young woman before her. She was as tall as ever, with most of her long red hair tossed over one shoulder, fashioned into a messy braid that looked impossibly beautiful. Her clothing was the simple fare of island visitors, casual and airy, but a quick glance at the pattern of wolves dancing across her light gray shirt confirmed what Theon had suspected. Sansa had made them herself.

Theon shot her his cocky grin. "Can't spell class without an ass," he said with a wink. Sansa let out another delighted laugh, and his grin only widened. Fuck but it sounded beautiful. "Really though, what are you doing here love?"

Sansa's grin didn't waver in the slightest.

"I came to see you, didn't I?"

The simplicity of the statement just about knocked Theon off of his stool. It wouldn't be the first time he fell out of it. Fuck, it wouldn't even be the first time that day that he fell off of the stool, but it would be the first time it wasn't a result of his own clumsiness. Sansa had asked a question, but it hadn't even really been a question. It was a statement of fact, as simple as reciting all of the high houses of Westeros, or which fabrics had been used in the Silvario Pendaerys spring/summer collection - facts that Sansa could easily do at the drop of a hat. It was a natural, carefree sort of statement, and Theon knew she didn't have a fucking clue that with seven words, more promise than question, she had reached in between bones that formed his ribcage, and split his heart with a smile, leaving Theon feeling raw and breathless.

"I dunno, did you?"

"I did."

The smile never left Sansa's face, and Theon's breath stuttered in his chest. He - fuck, he didn't know what to do with this. Honesty had never been his strong point. He danced around, made japes, spoke in funny riddles. He had never been cut out for the Starks' rare brand of honesty, as heady and inescapable as it was. Sansa had always seemed a bit more Theon's speed, expertly weaving her words, and engaging in dances of wit and wordplay with Theon, never quite saying what she meant. Theon wasn't prepared for this. It was a bit like suddenly being in love with Robb, in all of his earnest goodness. Sure he was a little bit in love with Robb, but so was everyone else. It was fucking Robb.

"Well I'm honored," Theon said, managing to hide his struggle to make the words sound as light and carefree as he normally did. "I'm surprised you came here. I'd have thought you needed to scour the whole island to find me."

Sansa shrugged easily, her eyes sparkling a little when she did.

"This actually isn't my first stop," she confessed. Her tone was light, but Theon couldn't shake the feeling that she was sharing something deeply personal and intimate. His curiosity was piqued, and he raised his eyebrows.

"Really? Where else did you look?"

"The marine sanctuary," Sansa admitted. Once again, Theon felt a bit like she had taken some sort of instrument, and cored his insides, leaving him hollow and breathless. It shouldn't have been that important. Just about everyone on Pyke knew how much Theon loved the sea, and the creatures in it. The marine sanctuary of Pyke was one of the best in Westeros, and certainly in the North. It wasn't a stretch of the imagination to think that Theon might have been there. But just the fact that Sansa might have been thinking of him at all...

"Nah, I work, Thursdays through Tuesdays."

Sansa frowned at that.

"You only have Wednesdays off?"

Theon shook his head. "I've got every other Monday off. Sometimes I still come in. It's nice to get the hours, and I could always use more practice." His spine still straightened to its normal position, after all. Theon was hard at work, making sure it stayed a 'c' shape permanently.

Sansa's entire countenance seemed to brighten.

"I have Mondays off too! I'll come over this week."

Theon just blinked up at her. "Y-you're working? Here in Pyke?"

Sansa bobbed her head up and down in response. Theon noticed the way some tendrils of red hair seemed to escape her braid when she did so, but she seemed unbothered. He was finding it rather difficult to breathe, but of course, Sansa seemed as relaxed and collected as ever.

"I'm working for Uncle Benjen, in his shop. He needed someone in the floral department. Speaking of which..." Sansa's lips twitched in a small smirk, and it was then that Theon took notice of what she was carrying in her hands. A lovely looking bouquet of flowers. Theon didn't know much about flowers - or anything that wasn't the sea - but he could appreciate what Sansa had brought. It wasn't an explosion of spring, like he might have expected, rather it was an assortment of odd, spiky looking plants, with only one traditional flower. It looked unique and potentially lethal. There was a chance Yara might actually let the flowers be displayed in her shop now.

"The flower is a gardenia,” Sansa explained. “It serves as both a warning and a welcome. A welcoming sign for visitors with good intentions, but a warning for those who would wish you ill.”

Theon had never heard of a gardenia before. He didn't really care. He found flowers pretty strange, frankly. They were plants that were cut from the earth, and then thrust at other people as signs of affection. Theon's dislike of flowers may or may not have stemmed from the one time in grade school, when he had tried to give Loras Tyrell some wildflowers, only to have the other boy turn up his nose, and insist they were weeds not flowers. Theon hadn't felt so bad for making the five year old cry, after that.

"Thanks Sansa," Theon said sincerely, taking the bouquet from her. "I'll try to convince Yara not to toss them in the garbage or something."

Sansa's lips quirked into a smile. He thought she might find it amusing, even if his sister were to do exactly that. Nearly a decade ago, Sansa might have been horrified at the thought, and stamped her foot. That phase of Sansa's life had been brief, but sometimes Theon still found himself thinking back, and comparing the woman who stood in front of him today, with the recollection he had of the past.

"So, does that mean you'll be hanging around for the summer then?" Theon asked, trying to keep his tone as casual as he could. He refused to let his heart tumble out in front of Sansa. He rather thought parading around the shop naked would have him feeling less exposed than that. "Are you staying with the rest of your family?"

In the five minutes that Sansa had been standing in Iron Ink, her smile had never really disappeared. It had twisted and widened and brightened, but it stayed on her lips. Theon didn't detect any movement, but there was something different about her smile now. It was in her ocean storm eyes. There was something knowing, something secretive. Theon could have sworn that he was staring straight into the sea, instead of Sansa's eyes. He wanted to know whatever secret it was that she held close to her chest. He wanted to sink to his knees and beg. He wanted - fuck. He just wanted .

"The rest of my family isn't in Pyke," Sansa informed him. Theon knew that. He had spoken to Robb only the night before. Robb had volunteered to be the one to stay behind at Winterfell this year, since his wedding would be at the end of the summer, and he planned on coming to Pyke for his honeymoon. Theon had scoffed, and called Robb a bloody fool for picking such a terrible location, when he could easily take Jeyne to Lys, or Pentos instead, but Robb had insisted. The rest of the Starks wouldn't be coming to Pyke for another two weeks, and they'd only be staying a few days this time. Older Starks meant more clubs and commitments, and romantic entanglements. Robb had complained that Rickon and Lyanna were absolutely unbearable together, and could use some separation. Theon thought Robb was just annoyed because Lyanna acted like she was better than just about everyone. Or maybe he was annoyed because he knew she was better than just about everyone. The Starks were older now though, some of them already grown and moved on. Gone were the days when the island could look forward to the Warden of the North bringing his family to Pyke for the entire summer at a time.

But Sansa wasn't with her family, and she was working for her uncle Benjen. Surely that meant she planned to stay at least the summer?

"I'm staying in the flat above the shop," Sansa continued. "My friend Margaery Tyrell is spending the summer here as well. It's a bit cramped, but it will do for now. Until I move home, that is."

Theon's heart gave a painful lurch in his chest. It was a wholly unpleasant feeling, not unlike the time when he was eight, and had been running to jump off the pier into the cold, dark water, when his body had simultaneously decided to jump, and dig his feet in at the exact same moment. He had wound up falling gracelessly into the water below, and painfully twisting his ankle in the process.

On one hand, Sansa was leaving. She was always leaving. Theon had accepted that as a part of his life, a part of loving Sansa Stark. She would come, and then she would just as certainly leave. She wasn't of Pyke, after all. Each time she left, Theon felt certain his heart couldn't last again. But he was born of salt and iron, and his heart was as reliable as the waves that crashed violently against the rocks scattered along the shoreline. It beat on. She would be leaving Theon again.

But she would be going home . He couldn't explain the sense of happiness, the sense of relief. As a child (and still as an adult, if he were truly honest, something he rarely was) he and Robb would try to see who could hold their breaths under the water for the longest stretch of time. Theon always won, and he always pushed himself, long after he knew that Robb had conceded. And every time Theon broke through the surface of the water, he would gasp in a breath, and let his lungs inflate with air and relief. It was a dizzying sensation, and akin to what Theon felt now.

Sansa Stark was leaving him. Theon had long ago accepted that was a part of his life, the way he accepted rising tides and the waning moon. But she was going home . Sansa Stark, more than anyone Theon knew, deserved to go home.

So he smiled brilliantly at her, knowing that his teeth were gleaming white, and not stained with red, because choking on his own bloodied heart was just a metaphor, and he drew her in for a hug. He allowed his large hands to stretch across her back, his thumb moving ever so slightly, back and forth across the fabric of her shirt, barely brushing against her skin.

"I'm happy for you Sansa," Theon murmured into the crook of her slender neck.

He couldn't see her expression, but he knew she was smiling.

"You will be."

Chapter Text

Sansa Stark knew the precise moment she had fallen in love with Theon Greyjoy over strawberry lemonade.

She remembered with perfect clarity, sipping her favorite drink from a plastic straw, sticky with the remnants of her lip gloss that she had finally been permitted to wear, now that she had reached the tender age of eleven. It was bright pink, and bubblegum flavored, and matched the happy color of her drink. Sansa had experienced something akin to an epiphany, as the sweetness of her drink chased down the sourness in her throat. It had seemed familiar in a way she couldn't understand until she saw Theon later that night, at the family's annual Fourth of July barbeque. Theon Greyjoy was like strawberry lemonade, Sansa had decided then and there, her cheeks now matching her lip gloss, flushed with excitement over the night and her realization. Her English teacher would have been so proud of her, for her an analogy. Sansa had found herself almost wishing it was still the school year, so that she could share her discovery, and subsequent comparison with Mrs. Lannister. The woman had impossibly high standards, and an unpleasant expression, but Sansa was determined to eventually win her over.

But if she had been at school she wouldn't see Theon.

So Sansa Stark could identify the moment she fell in love with Theon Greyjoy. She simply couldn't decide when she had realized it.

Falling in love with Theon had been an instantaneous sort of thing. Even then Sansa had detected a distinct sense of before and after that she had been unable to explain at the time. Falling in love with him had not been slow or gradual, in that softly romantic way that Sansa had learned to idolize over the years, as she began to abandon her damaged dreams of knights and fairy tales and castles. It had been sudden and abrupt. Realizing and accepting that love though, had been a series of softer, quieter moments that had crept up on her unexpectedly. Like waves, gently lapping at the shore.

She didn't know what age she was when she realized she was in love with her older brother's best friend. She didn't know what she was doing, and she hadn't posited any more fancy analogies. She had never impressed Mrs. Lannister, who had moved on to teach Sansa's AP English class with the haughty air of someone who thought even the coveted position left behind by Mr. Mormont was beneath her. Sansa hadn't stopped thinking in metaphors, but she had stopped wanting to share them, especially with Mrs. Lannister. That had happened around the moment Sansa had stared down at the blossoming purple bruise around her wrist, and noted how much it looked like one of the flowers that Mrs. Lannister's son had given her - a second gift to follow the first that Sansa unwillingly wore.

Sansa was a woman of precision. She was punctual and exacting. It was commentary she often received on her writing, whether framed in a positive or negative light. Sansa arrived everywhere early, and she kept careful inventory of her belongings. She liked to have all of the information, and she committed important details to memory, to the point of terrifying several of Robb's past girlfriends with her sheer breadth of knowledge based on the scant details she had managed to glean from her brother. It should have bothered Sansa that she didn't know exactly when she had realized she loved Theon. It was certainly strange that Sansa could identify the moment she fell in love, but not the moment she realized she was in love.

But like her love for Theon, it was something she accepted. It was one of the very few things she was content to be passive with. Perhaps it had everything to do with the man she was in love with; Theon Greyjoy was like the smoke from the cigarettes he thought she didn't know he smoked. All soft and grey and languidly curling up to the sky, taking his time in drifting.

And Theon was adrift. Sansa knew that much. She didn't know when she realized she was in love with Theon Greyjoy, but she knew the exact moment when she recognized the look in his eyes. It had terrified and saddened Sansa. She hadn't stayed long that summer, and she could admit to herself that she was running. The fact that she recognized that side of Theon had broken her heart. Sansa had gone through a period of true bereavement. She was forced to grieve her innocence, and grieve what Theon might have never had. It had been devastating in a way unlike any of the other hurts that had Sansa's body had born. That summer, Sansa had been forced to face not only her mind, heart and body, but her very soul. There was a certain sort of hurt that no one should experience, and certainly no one as lovely and loving as Theon Greyjoy.

Sansa had realized in that moment too, that Theon had always been adrift. His look was familiar to her, not just through self-reflection, but in her memory as well. There had always been something in Theon's impossibly green eyes, something that Sansa couldn't place. It had bothered her as a child. Once she had recognized it, she wept. Theon Greyjoy had been adrift for as long as she could remember. That summer Sansa had barely texted Theon. They had never been frequent pen pals - or whatever the modern equivalent was - but there was a healthy exchange of memes and selfies that was comfortably surface level, and never touched at the much deeper feelings Sansa harbored for the older man. But that summer Sansa's fingers had hovered over Theon's name (accompanied by several emojis, including the strange-looking squid he had insisted on adding, one hot summer night, when both of them were a little tipsy on wine coolers and summer heat, and soft laughter that had Sansa wondering - if she kissed Theon, would he taste like strawberry lemonade? ) at least a hundred times. But she never sent a text. She couldn't. As much as her heart longed to reach out to the man she finally recognized as being lost at sea, she couldn't do it.

Sansa Stark thought in metaphors, and she was reminded of the one time she had been on an airplane.

She didn't like flying. Sansa loved the feeling of the open road, letting her arm dangle out of the window of her car, flesh pressed against hot metal and the wind of passing cars. The Stark family had cultivated a healthy love of road trips in all of their children. They had become fewer and further in between as the children grew older, and outgrew the cramped suburban, but Sansa still loved driving. It was why she had always elected to drive the eight hours to King's Landing from Winterfell, rather than fly. Most Northerners who chose school in the South chose to fly, but Sansa had never entertained the thought.

Essos though, was a different story entirely. Sansa had been convinced to go at the height of her foolishness - drunk on the life she felt she had finally wrestled back into her own grasp, the sort of recklessness that was reminiscent of taking the curve of a highway too quickly. Margaery had always possessed a silver tongue, and Sansa had dreamed of seeing what Essos had to offer. The two of them had flown out, and the entire trip was dreadful, particularly the plane. Margaery still bore the scars from where Sansa's nails had dug into pink flesh out of sheer terror. The turbulence had nearly upended Sansa's stomach, and she had elected to take a boat across the Narrow Sea, and drive the length of Westeros to return.

But she remembered the safety seminar, before the flight. Sansa remembered the way the red lipped flight attendant had flashed a smile too wide and too perfect to be anything other than fake. She remembered how the boredom all but radiated off of the woman as she wore her plastic smile, and pointed with well-practiced fingers, to all of the emergency exits. Sansa remembered how she reached for the orange oxygen mask, and continued her monotonous lecture, as if telling the passengers to put their own life before another's was the most banal part of her day. Perhaps it was. But Sansa had been stunned. Putting on her own oxygen mask before helping someone who needed assistance had contradicted her very nature. It was not the person her parents had raised her to be - it was not the woman Sansa was .

She hadn't understood. Not until she returned to Pyke, with the same restlessness and recklessness humming under her skin, and stared at Theon Greyjoy, and recognized the desperate look of a man on a failing airplane. The look that Sansa knew he certainly saw in her own eyes. He was adrift, but so was Sansa, and she needed to anchor herself first, or they would both be lost at sea.

And so she had departed. Her family hadn't known what to make of Sansa's odd little tour, but they had accepted her with open arms. Sansa knew they spoke about her when she was not in the room. They had various group texts dedicated to her movement. She was quite certain Bran had created an instagram for her travels. But he had over ten thousand followers and a carefully cultivated aesthetic, while Sansa - for all her love of beautiful things - had only a mess of jumbled, blurry pictures on her own account and a few calligraphy tutorials set to airy indie music, so she was really okay with Bran taking over as her unsolicited media manager.

Her family thought she was out finding herself. Sansa disagreed, but never bothered to correct them. They were trying, so hard, for her. She just didn’t know how to put her feelings into words. Sansa Stark was good at metaphors in her mind, but her tongue still felt heavy, every time she opened her mouth to speak.

Her family thought she was on an adventure to find herself, but really, the past year had been all about anchoring herself. Taming the restless waves that swelled and retreated underneath her skin. Sansa had known who she was - she never lost sight of that. But she had needed to learn how to be, and she had to do it on her own.

Sansa’s last stay in Pyke had been brief. This time she planned to stay longer.

The cocktail  in her hand was pink and sour, but not quite a strawberry lemonade. It was still sweet on her tongue though, and Sansa felt a pleasant buzz, a tingle in her fingertips, a sense that the room was spinning around her, just the slightest bit. Or maybe that was just the result of Theon tossing her one of his catastrophic smiles every few minutes from the corner of the bar where he was throwing darts with Margaery.

“He’s in love with you, you know.”

It was Daenerys, Yara’s silver-haired girlfriend who was every bit as breathtaking as Sansa had always found the Greyjoy siblings to be, who spoke. Dany was the one to lay out the facts so plainly, in her cool and detached voice, but Sansa felt the weight of several pairs of eyes fixed upon her.

Theon had invited her to go drinking with his friends, of course. Albeit, he had spoken in a voice full of nonchalance and mischief, and mentioned it only in passing, but Sansa’s heart had still fluttered, and she had accepted the invitation the moment the words had left his lips. A younger Sansa might have at least tried for some coyness, but she had decided long ago to stop wasting time on the little things. There were things that Sansa Stark wanted, and she was allowed to let herself want them. She was allowed to delight in the way Theon’s name sounded when she held it in her mouth, the way his ocean eyes fixated on her as if she was the moon that commanded the tides to ebb and flow each night.

Besides, she never would have seen the brilliant smile that Theon gave, all raw energy and hopeful surprise. It wasn’t a smile that Sansa saw often, and it melted into something a little more arrogant and teasing only a moment later, but Sansa had learned to catalogue and cherish all of the smiles Theon Greyjoy bestowed upon her.

It was curious company Theon kept, but Sansa found herself enthralled by them.

Yara Greyjoy had been as much a part of Sansa's childhood as Theon. She had been Sansa's first crush, her first kiss. She still smiled fondly, remembering that night on the beach, the giggles that had chased the salty taste of Yara's lips. It had been a favor, as well as a farewell - a preparation for middle school, Yara had told her with a measure of kindness she usually reserved for only her brother. Yara was just a part of Pyke - so much so, that whenever Sansa were to draw images of the island to her mind, she could not do so without thinking of what Yara and Theon were doing.

Yara had been the one to give Sansa her first tattoo. A small act of defiance, acquired over the winter break of Sansa's freshman year. Only fools came to Pyke in the winter, but Sansa was rebelling against her own heart, and she had made her way to the island for a single night, simply to receive the tattoo from Yara's new shop. It had been worth the journey, Sansa had decided then, and later with viciousness, when Professor Baelish' eyes had darkened - not with lust, but anger - upon seeing the small wolf made up of a single line along the curve of her breast. Yara had never breathed a word of Sansa's ill-conceived trip - nor had she said anything about the bruises and scars she had seen on Sansa's skin when she returned for more.

She at least, was familiar to Sansa. The rest of them were unknowns. Daenerys was a stunning woman. Sansa had never met anyone quite like her. She didn't know what to make of the other woman, except for the fact that she was currently resting her head on Yara's shoulder as she stared Sansa down with a strange, violet gaze. Sansa's eyes flickered to the tiny tick of Yara's lips, the sort of smile that Sansa recognized from Theon. The one that was a little bit disbelieving, but desperate all the same. As if Yara couldn't believe that Dany was actually there, but she'd be damned if she let the woman go.

Sansa smiled and took another sip of her drink. She didn't know what to make of Dany, but she liked her.

She liked Missandei and Grey too. The two of them were behind the bar, working tonight, and Sansa found herself watching the way the two of them moved around each other in silent tandem. It was like a dance, and Sansa found it difficult to look away from their movement. Grey spoke less than Missandei did, but there was an intentionality to everything he said. Sansa liked that. Her father had always warned his children that it was better to keep one's mouth shut and allow people to assume foolishness, than to open one's mouth and prove someone right.

His eyes often darted toward Theon when he delivered this particular proverb, and the Pyke boy's mouth would twist into a wry grin.

Sansa agreed with her father, but she had also learned how easy it was to open one's mouth and prove foolishness, all to hide something darker and deeper. No one looked too closely at the fools. When Sansa understood that, she understood Theon a little better.

Grey did not speak often, but his body sang and the song was dedicated to the woman at his side. The woman who was staring at Sansa with eyes as keen as Daenerys.

Sansa simply smiled, and took another sip of her drink. "I know."

She did, in fact know that Theon Greyjoy was in love with her. He was terribly obvious about it. It was easy enough to realize, when all of the small things Sansa found herself doing out of love for Theon, were things that he did for her - or had been doing for some time. It was sweet, and humbling in the most striking of ways. There would be times where Sansa would be reminded that he loved her - the way he looked at her, the way he held her name in his mouth like it was something precious, the way his hands hovered as a question mark every time he touched her - and it knocked the breath straight out of Sansa's lungs. She hardly felt worthy of such love. She had gotten better at shaking off that traitorous thought that followed, but it sometimes still crept up and caught her unawares. Sansa would never really be done battling herself, and proving her own worth, but she had made great strides. She was content with that, for now. Who was she to dictate who was deserving of Theon's love? She would not take that away from him. Theon loved her, and Sansa loved Theon. It was simple.

And yet -

"Are you planning on doing anything about it?"

"No."

Missandei looked surprised. Grey looked disinterested, though there was a certain sharpness to his gaze that had not been present before. Dany looked almost angry, straightening in Yara's arms, but the older Greyjoy simply looked at Sansa with that inscrutable gaze that had always been so singularly Greyjoy .

"Why not?" This time it was Missandei who posed the question. It was all curiosity, but Sansa could have sworn she detected an undercurrent of heat to it.

Good , Sansa thought with an uncharacteristic savagery. It pleased her to know that Theon had people who were as loyal to him as he was to them. Sansa saw it, in the carefully controlled slump of his shoulders, the way his eyes kept darting between the dart board (and his abysmal attempts at beating Margaery) and the group gathered at the bar. It was important to him, Sansa meeting them. It was important to him that she liked them. It was important to Sansa that they - if not liked her - found her acceptable. They were important to Theon after all.

"Theon doesn't think he deserves me," Sansa said simply.

"He does," Dany said hotly, fiercely. Yara looked at her girlfriend with pride, a wider smile on her lips, and Sansa just nodded.

"Yes, he does."

Daenerys' eyes had narrowed in appraisal, and Missandei's expression had become more difficult to read. They weren't quite certain what to make of her, and that was alright with Sansa. They would learn, just as she would learn them. For now, she would put their worries to rest, as much as she could.

"Why not just tell him you love him back?" Missandei suggested quietly, her gaze flickering toward Grey. Sansa smiled softly. She enjoyed watching the two of them. She wondered if Theon did too, or if his heart ached a little each time he saw the two of them together. Once, Sansa might have felt that way. She would have envied their love and happiness. Now she wished them nothing but joy. It was a terribly easy thing to do. As easy as walking along the shoreline, or watching the light of the Pyke lighthouse circle against the waves at night. It was as easy as loving Theon Greyjoy.

"It's not as simple as that," Sansa said quietly, fiddling with the ring on her right hand. It had been a gift from Robb, Jon, and Theon for her sixteenth birthday. Robb had found the iron, while Theon had found a beautiful green-gray seastone that Jon had turned into a intricate piece. It was long, and extended past her first knuckle. Sansa hadn't taken it off since the day she received it. "That would be easy, but not simple." Her eyes found Theon's across the bar again, and she gave him a gentle smile. He smirked at her in return, but his grin was decidedly softer than the one he wore when he turned back to Margaery, and sent his dart flying straight into the middle of the board. Sansa wondered what her friend had said to coax him into truly playing. "He won't let himself have me if he doesn't think he deserves me. Sometimes we feel like we have to prove ourselves before we're ever allowed to truly want ."

"What does he need to prove to you then?"

Grey's voice was low, contemplative. His eyes carried that same intensity as he held Sansa's gaze across the bar.

For a moment, she was unable to speak. She was reminded of countless nights spent awake, curled on the forest floor with her brother, or in a nest of blankets at her cousin's apartment, trying to battle the vicious chill of the midnight air with snug woolen socks and the memory of sunshine and smiles reflected in the ocean. She was reminded of the hideous paisley patterned couch she complained about every Tuesday and Thursday (and sometimes on Saturdays too) for a year, and an arrogant smile that was so reminiscent of another golden-haired Lannister, that Sansa had almost refused to ever visit the office again, until realizing that Jaime Lannister actually helped her. Thinking about him now, the corner of her mouth jumped up ever so slightly, and she met Grey's stare with one of equal intensity, certain that he would recognize her own devotion.

"It was never me he had to prove anything to."

It was a fundamental difference, and often the source of tension between Theon Greyjoy and the Starks. He struggled to accept kindness without conflating it with charity, and by the gods his pride could hardly handle it. He had set himself the impossible task of earning their love and peace - Herculean in nature, because it had always been his, if only he would allow himself to receive it. From the day Robb Stark had brought the sea-soaked boy with the angry ocean eyes into the Starks' summer home, he had been theirs . He had been Sansa's . And yet he did everything he could to prove himself worthy.

"Who does he need to prove something to then?" Missandei's voice was more curious than before, and even Dany seemed interested, less put out, though Sansa suspected that had as much to do with the way Yara was carefully winding her fingers through her girlfriend's silvery locks.

"Himself."

Yara snorted, and Sansa shot her a small smile. Her reaction was not unexpected. Sansa didn’t know Dany and Missandei and Grey. Not very well, though she hoped to learn them in the coming weeks. She didn’t know their relationships with Theon, nor did she begrudge them their closeness with him. But Sansa knew Theon. She suspected she knew him as well as anyone. The only ones she would feel confident placing above herself in their knowledge and understanding of Theon Greyjoy was his sister, and her brother. Yara knew Theon better than Sansa, and she knew the truth of her words.

“If you’re waiting for him to prove anything to himself, you could be waiting forever.”

“I can wait forever.”

There was a small lull in the conversation as the group regarded Sansa. Slowly, carefully the conversation moved on, lighter topics dancing on their tongues, inside jokes being traded back and forth. Sansa observed with the same smile on her face, the smile that widened each time Theon glanced her way.

Brick by brick and stone by stone, her mother said, with fondness in her eyes, her heart on her sleeve.

Simple, but never easy, Ned Stark had said softly, words he had hoped would guide his children.

Sansa chanced another glance at Theon, now concentrating on his aim, and she smiled again, taking a final sip of her sweet-sour drink.

Being in love with Theon Greyjoy was unlike anything at all.

Chapter Text

Theon hated Stark Food and Flowers. He never stepped foot in the store if he could help it, which meant that Yara typically did the grocery shopping for him, which meant that Theon lived on a diet of Hot Pockets and saltine crackers. He probably would have purchased that for himself, but Yara didn't mind the store nearly as much as Theon did. She and Dany could be devastatingly domestic, to Theon's horror. The two of them were somewhere in the store, pushing Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion around in that godsawful black and red stroller. Theon had no idea how his older sister had wound up with someone who pushed her dogs around in a stroller, given how many times Yara had made fun of such an action. But she loved Dany, and some days Theon suspected Yara loved those pit bulls more than she loved her own brother.

While the two of them were wandering around, likely trying to pick out a decent aged cheese, or something equally sophisticated, Theon was just trying to make his way through the store. It wasn't particularly large - it was certainly better than the supermarkets on the mainland - but it was bright. Light streamed in through the windows, and while it created an aesthetic picture, it was simply too bright and too loud for Theon. His fingers twitched at his side, wishing for the comfort of silence. The layout of the store didn't help. Benjen was a shrewd man, and had purposefully designed the aisles so that customers were required to walk through every single aisle before reaching the checkout. The claustrophobia seemed to press down on Theon's lungs, and he spent nearly five minutes staring at an offensively chartreuse box of animal crackers, before he finally managed to steady his racing heart.

His wireless earbuds - the pair that he had purchased with his first paycheck from Iron Ink, that Yara never stopped making fun of - were jammed tightly in his ears, a soft piano cover playing gently in the background, though not loud enough to drown out the noise of the grocery store. Theon had pulled the hood of his lightweight charcoal jacket over his head, and his hands were shoved into his pockets. It was clear that he did not want to be here, but he had an intended purpose.

Moving through the aisles and the groups of people, Theon rounded a corner, and felt the air abandon his lungs with an audible sound. It was enough to make Sansa turn around, and as she did, a wide smile stretched across her face.

"Theon!" She greeted happily, and for a moment Theon forgot his nerves, his purpose, his name. He felt a bit dizzy, with black spots starting to appear at the corners of his vision. It seemed he had forgotten how to breathe as well, and had to actually think about the act of letting his diaphragm expand with air. He had played trumpet throughout high school, he knew proper breathing techniques. It seemed that Sansa Stark had the power to override muscle memory - even involuntary muscles.

"Hey," Theon said, moving forward, letting a casual smirk settle on his lips.

It had been two days since the night in the bar. The night when Theon had stepped two feet inside, only to be whisked away by a stunningly beautiful woman who took one look in his eyes, laid his mind bare, and handed him a few darts, telling him to try his luck at the battered board hanging on the opposite wall. In the span of the conversation, Theon had managed to wrangle out a name. Margaery Tyrell. Sansa's friend, the one who had come to stay with her in Pyke for the summer. Theon assumed it was for the summer. Margaery had been unsurprisingly mum about the duration of her stay, despite Theon's candid attempts to eke a departure date out of her, in hopes that it would shed some light onto when Sansa herself would be leaving, taking all of Theon's heart with her.

She had said a lot that night, Margaery had. Theon had said considerably less. Despite that, he walked away feeling as though Margaery had been the one to discover far more about the boy from Pyke, than he could say of her. She was clever the way Sansa was. Theon had seen it action before, at some of her aunt's social events, flitting around, talking to person after person, yet never revealing a lick of information about herself. With some of the company Sansa had found herself around, Theon couldn't help but be grateful that she had such a skill in her back pocket. She had never turned it on him before though. It had been unnerving, being on the receiving end of it, from someone named Margaery Tyrell.

Theon had left a victor at darts, but not certain he won anything at all. He had made his way over to his sister and his friends and Sansa. There hadn't been much talking after that. Sansa had bought Theon a beer, and he had bought her another of the strawberry sugary drinks she liked so much.

(And gods, hadn't he wanted to bend his head just so, and capture her lips with his own, and see if it truly tasted as lovely as he imagined she might. But he hadn't done it. He had just wanted to.)

The jukebox had played a song that Theon was certain Margaery had put on, for Sansa had squealed with delight, and just a touch of tipsiness, and wound her arms around Theon's neck. She had always loved dancing. It was not something he would easily forget. So Theon had placed his hands around her waist, and the two of them had swayed quietly in time to the music. Theon had been hyperaware of the people around them, they eyes on them, but Sansa only seemed to have eyes for him. His chest had swelled in that moment, but he had only ducked his head, and mumbled, letting her slip from his grasp the moment the song ended. It seemed that Theon was always letting Sansa slip away.

He hadn't texted her, after that night. Theon had promised he would, but he had broken promises before, and many of them to her. She didn't look angry, when she turned to greet him with a wide smile, but Theon couldn't help but wonder if there was disappointment hiding in her eyes. He wouldn't blame her. How was he to explain that every time his hand reached for the phone, his fingers trembled like mad, and it slipped through his hand, onto the floor? His phone had acquired three new cracks in the screen, and he bloodied his fingers every time he attempted to swipe to unlock it, since he still lived in an era in which thumbprints were unnecessary.

"I wasn't expecting you today!" There was a brightness to Sansa's voice that threatened to bring Theon to his knees. There was such sincerity in her voice, it took Theon's breath away. Theon could not shake off the feeling that when Sansa Stark looked at him, he was laid bare before her. Her eyes had always been keen, and her mind sharp. Her brother had the uncanny ability to know every part of Theon, even the parts he wished would stay hidden in the shadows, and far away from the best person he had ever known. He wouldn't be surprised if Sansa took after Robb. Unsurprised, but certainly mortified.

"Yeah well, I figured I'd drop by," Theon said simply, shrugging as if Stark Food and Flowers was on the way home, and not well off of his usual route, and a source of anxiety. "Yara actually liked the flowers, believe it or not, so I figured I'd get some new ones for the shop." A lie. There had been a time when lies fell off of Theon's tongue more easily than the truth. It had been a while, but standing in front of Sansa Stark, Theon felt like all he could do was lie. Yes, Yara wanted flowers. No, I'm not in love with you. Yes, I'm perfectly alright.

If Sansa didn't believe his lie - and why would she? She had known Yara as long as she had known Theon - she gave no indication. She only beamed, something soft and bright and lovely. Her eyes were so clear, Theon felt as though he could see down to the very depths. He bit down on his lip to ask what secrets she held at the bottom of her ocean blue eyes. If he asked, she would certainly tell him. If Theon Greyjoy was a liar, Sansa Stark was an honest woman.

"Oh? What kind of flowers are you looking for?" Sansa looked so eager that words failed Theon for a moment.

“Not sure.” He shrugged. “Nothing too girly. Maybe something a little dangerous?”

“Hmm,” Sansa tapped a finger against her lips, and Theon struggled not to swallow his own tongue. Gods but she was adorable. “You need tulips.”

Theon raised a brow. “Tulips?” His voice sounded doubtful, because he was. He knew fuck all about flowers, but nothing about the springtime buds he sometimes saw around the mainland screamed dangerous.

Sansa just nodded enthusiastically. “They may not look dangerous, but tulips are considered to be ill omens.”

Torn between incredulity and snarkiness, Theon defaulted to his typical smirk, and fixed Sansa with a gaze. “You’re wishing ill omens on me, love?”

If Theon’s imagination wasn’t quite so overactive, he wouldn’t have made anything of the way her eyes seemed to darken the tiniest shade, the way Sansa’s teeth suddenly dragged across her lower lip, making him wish that he was dragging his own teeth over that lip, and making her eyes darken for a different reason entirely.

“You did want something dangerous, didn’t you?”

Teeth biting into flesh, cold winds snarling his hair as he stood, barefoot on the frozen beach, a sunset smile that cut him down to his very core and laid him out in pieces for the crows to feast upon. The feeling of being lost to the waves, letting them shove him roughly against the coarse sand, dragging him along with the currents. You wanted something dangerous, didn't you?

"Whatever you say, love." The words were light and carefree on his tongue, a juxtaposition to the way his shoulders scrunched up by his ears, and how the buzzing of the shop seemed to overpower the soft piano melody in his ears. Theon could not rid his body of its tension, and so he studiously avoided Sansa's eyes, instead letting his gaze fall upon her gentle hands as she began wrapping a dozen tulips in yellow, crinkled paper that seemed painfully bright to his eyes.

"I say..." Sansa paused for dramatic effect, though Theon still did not raise his gaze to meet her eyes, "That we should get ice cream."

He looked up then, an eyebrow raised. Sansa's smile was soft and gentle, and knowing. Theon remembered the wildness that had once been in her eyes, the way she had held her arms close to her body, like a bird, ready to spread her bent wings at any moment, and take flight. Her stance was relaxed now, open and inviting. She held the bouquet of tulips out for him with one hand, his heart in the other. As if it was his for the taking. As if Theon could do something as simple as ask for it back.

He couldn't. It had always been hers.

"Ice cream?"

Her smile was still soft, still lovely. "It's tradition, isn't it?"

Theon swallowed thickly, his mind full of heady memories, days and nights spent walking along the boardwalk with a mint chocolate chip ice cream cone in his hand, standing next to Sansa and her lurid pink confection. He remembered the way he would have to look away in embarrassment, horrified and betrayed by his body. He remembered how he would hold the cone in his left hand, even though he knew doing so would make some of the ice cream drip down along his arm, because his right hand was more balanced. But he had left his right hand free to swing at his side, so that every few moments, his hand would brush against Sansa's, and he could pretend they were just another couple, walking down the boardwalk, enjoying ice cream and the summer together. It was tradition.

"I suppose it is."