Reek struggles up the steps. His legs tremble, his vision quivers. The patterns on the walls swirl slowly and there's a constant murmur creeping through his head. Screams, too. It's difficult to move smoothly. Probably the sleep deprivation, he thinks but immediately strikes that thought. Master Ramsay is kind and never deprives Reek of anything, really, nothing he'd have needed anyhow.
Still, time keeps skipping when Reek blinks and it's a good thing, probably, that he's too disoriented to fully perceive, because ever since the arrival of Sansa Stark of Winterfell, the world has been unhinged. "You shouldn't be here," he told her, and she shouldn't, she shouldn't, and Reek can't even formulate why. Master Bolton is gentle and good and treats Reek with more kindness than he ever deserved, so why shouldn't Sansa---
? ? ?
(Broken bones and shattered teeth and flaying knives working their way through skin and pretty girls devoured by dogs, that's why, that's why, you know that's why!)
Reek focuses on his work, instead.
Sansa's gaze on him is hard and contemptuous at first, betrayed and despairing later. She hates him -- as she should -- and he fails her, even though he obediently follows his orders, which is as it must be, so ? - ? - ? ????
Reek's thoughts are arranged by terror, a closed maze of imaginary lines.
The logic goes something like this: Ramsay Bolton's word is law. Ramsay Bolton's wants control the world. All Reek has to do is follow Ramsay's orders, then nobody has to get hurt.
Reek is not unaware. He is broken but not unknowing: No matter how good a dog he is, they will get hurt. They all get hurt, it is inevitable. They'll get tortured, and flayed, and raped, and, (like, like Sansa, like--). Ramsay loves to cause hurt, so he will cause hurt. But Ramsay Bolton's commands decide reality. What the Master says to be true is true. So this is true: If Reek had only been good, none of this would have to happen.
The horrors he witnessed, though, he can't swallow them. They burn through the night; they are inked into his mind. The Master is kind and merciful, he keeps reminding himself through his tears. Just do what he says. Just do what he says.
"You don't know him," he tells her, he warns her, he tries to make her comprehend, when she asks him for help. The sooner she understands that there is no escape, not ever, not ever, the sooner she learns to just make him happy...
Sansa won't have it. She calls him by forbidden names. She has him spill forbidden secrets.
She approves of Ramsay's work on him, as she should, and he accepts it.
His vision keeps dimming and the floor keeps twisting. Maybe it's the hunger, he thinks, but immediately banishes the thought. He mustn't be so ungrateful. He's being fed more than he deserves.
Sansa, though, Sansa doesn't deserve this, he thinks unbidden, and he tries to banish that thought, too, because it is Master Ramsay's right to do whatever he does, and it isn't in Reek's power to do anything about it. The Master is right. He must remember this. He's always right.
But he can't forget what he saw, he can't forget her cries. She doesn't deserve this. The thought stays.
Master Ramsay reads his mind, he has the power to do that, and he addresses Reek's doubts with the knife.
"Do you disapprove of Lady Sansa's presence here, Reek?" he asks, jovial.
Reek hunches his shoulders. "It's not Reek's place to approve or disapprove of anything, Master."
Ramsay chuckles softly, cups Reek's cheek in one hand. "Aw. Look at him trying to be clever." Ramsay's hand creeps to Reeks ear, twists it. "Damn right it's not your place, pet, but do you fucking disapprove?"
"No, Master!" Reek's heart races.
Ramsay releases him with a flourish, steps back, incredulous. "So you approve?" His wide eyes bore into Reek’s skull, all-knowing. "You're glad to see her?"
"Uh, no, Master." Reek's teeth chatter. Wrong answer, everywhere you turn, it's the wrong answer.
Ramsay stares at him in mock confusion. His voice is velvet. "Aren't you glad that Lady Sansa of Winterfell has found such a loving husband?"
Reek's mouth is dry and he is dizzy from fear. "I am, Master!" he hastens to agree, but Ramsay kicks Reek's legs out from under him in one violent movement. He slams his boot into Reek's belly. Reek falls heavy onto his back, folds around Ramsay's foot. His breath is knocked out.
"You lie to me?” Ramsay sounds nearly wounded, but it’s a play, they both know. “After everything I did for you, after all the effort that went into you, you'd disappoint me so?" He punctuates his words with more kicks. He doesn't look disappointed, though. He looks excited.
"Sorry," cries Reek, fighting for air, pawing for balance against the floor. "I'm so sorry." It’s a play, but the pain is very real.
Ramsay reaches down to pick him up by the neck. "Time for a refresher lesson, it seems," Ramsay announces, jubilant. Reek goes limp.
Reek screams himself raw under the flaying knife. He forgets everything about the world, everything, everything, except his love for Master Ramsay.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he keeps pleading his devotion.
He loves him. Oh, he loves him. Please stop hurting me. He loves him.
Reek doesn't get to see Sansa for a whole while.
But Ramsay can't resist to have them interact for too long because
it's a display of his power of the kindness of his heart. Ramsay is unworrying. He owns Reek. And now, he also owns Sansa.
Reek stumbles along the corridors, dizzy from blood loss, dumb with pain. I deserve this, he remembers. His fingers are clumsy with the door. The food tray is heavy in his hands. Reek, it rhymes with weak.
Sansa is crying under her covers.
Reek sets her food on the table. He closes her window.
She startles at his noise, sits up. "Where have you been?" she asks. She climbs out of her bed, comes forward.
Reek can't answer that, of course, so he steps back, and back again, as she keeps getting closer.
"Theon! Look at me!" she insists and he finds himself backed against the wall, pulse racing, with Sansa Stark's hands on his shoulders.
"Reek," he corrects, but he looks, and she's thinner than he last saw her, eyes puffed up with crying and exhaustion, hair unkempt. She grips his arms, tries to shake him, oozing despair.
He can't help her, though, he can't.
When she releases her grip, her hands are bloody. She looks at her palms with horror, then at him. She opens her mouth to question, but he quickly ducks away.
"Do what he says!" he whispers, wiggles free of her gaze and of her hands and flees out of the room.
Ramsay is in a good bad mood. Or a bad good mood. A playful mood. A good--
it's all the same, it's all the same.
"Be a good dog," Ramsay tells him.
He must obey. Serve and obey, serve and obey, then he won't get hurt again. If only he was good. If only he was good, then maybe he wouldn't get hurt. Oh, if only the hurt would stop.
After Ramsay is done with him for the night, he clings to Kyra and Red Jeyne and cries into their fur.
Sansa is waiting for him, with intent.
"Theon," she says, always choosing the wrong name. "Reek," he corrects. "Theon," she repeats anyhow, and points at her seat. "Theon, will you eat with me?"
His throat seizes in terror. He is very hungry, he's always hungry, but he's not allowed to just eat. The Master decides when he's allowed to eat, if he's been good enough to-- and surely, he hasn't,
He shakes his head, and quickly backs away.
"Wait!" says Sansa, quickly. "Wait. You don't have to eat. Just... sit with me, then?"
Reeks stands trembling and he thinks probably he mustn't, but Sansa looks at him so pleadingly and maybe just for a minute would be fine.
He nods, careful, and lowers himself on the very edge of the seat. Sitting hurts, but then, so does everything. Sansa looks at him with encouragement.
For a second, they both sit here, scared to move.
"Theon," Sansa says again, careful, very careful, like one tries to approach a feral cat. "Theon, you're very scared of him, I understand that. He's a monster. I'm scared, too."
This was a mistake, this was a mistake.
"No!" he says, quickly. Pain shoots through his skull. "No... no! I have no reason to be scared, he's a... kindly man, he's--" Sweat is running down his back. "I'm... I'm grateful, I..." The world is spinning. He can't be here.
"I must go." He scrambles out of his seat and out of the room and quickly shuts the door.
Sansa's worried gaze burns his back. It was better when she hated him.
"Theon," says Sansa, next time. She has a plan. "Theon, please help me with my hair."
"My name is Reek," he corrects, but, all right. That, that Reek can do.
He's scared to touch her, filthy as he is, but she presses the brush into his palm and indicates him to start. Her hair is rust and copper, the wildest shock of colour in the room. He takes a strand of it with shaking hands and drags the brush through, softly.
For a while, there is silence.
Finally: "Theon, how long have you been here?"
Reek's hands still for a moment. He's unsure. "After... Theon Greyjoy failed to hold Winterfell, he was taken prisoner. At the Dreadfort, first, later, here."
Sansa turns around to look at him and he can't quite read her expression. "Since the capture of Winterfell?" she says, and there might be something like horror in her voice.
"Yes," he agrees. "I don't know how long ago that was." It's been difficult to keep track of time.
"Years," says Sansa, and averts her face. "You've been with him for years."
Reek doesn't know what to say to that, he doesn't know what to think on that, so he concentrates on the next strand of hair, on the movement of the brush.
"Theon," Sansa starts again. Her voice sounds pinched. "When I said if I could do what he did to you right here and now, I would?" Reek nods. He remembers. "I wouldn't." Sansa turns back around to look at him. "Do you hear me? I spoke in anger. I would not do that."
Reek avoids her gaze, focuses on his work. "I deserve it," he says.
Sansa's eyes are ice and she replies: "It's not about what you deserve."
Reek pauses his movement. It's not?
"It's about what's right," Sansa explains.
Sansa reaches out for his hand and he flinches.
"This is not right," she decides.
Reek's head is burning and he starts to shake. Master Ramsay is always right. She mustn't talk like this.
"Theon," she says, and she mustn't talk like this, she mustn't use this name. "Do you remember my father?"
Reek looks up. Of course Theon remembers Eddard Stark and his greatsword. He nods.
"He was beheaded as traitor at King's Landing," Sansa tells him. "They forced me to watch. Did you know it?"
His head keeps burning. "I'm so sorry," he manages.
"Did my father teach you to treat traitors like this?" she asks, and she's still holding his mangled hand, but she looks at the whole of him. The whole wretched shape of him.
Bile is rising up Reek's mouth. He hasn't eaten but his throat burns all the same. Ramsay Bolton is always right, but so was Eddard Stark.
"Answer me!" Sansa presses.
"He taught us to kill with one stroke after passing a sentence," Reek complies.
"Exactly," says Sansa. "This is not right," she repeats. " It's not right what he does to us. What he did to you, it's terrible."
It's too much. He mustn't hear this, she mustn’t talk this, he mustn't be here.
"You mustn't be kind to me," he warns her. "He will make me hurt you."
"Pork chops!" beams Ramsay, as Reek brings in his food. "My favourite! Very good, Reek."
It's pork chops with potatoes and onions and peas.
"Mhmmm, that smells good, doesn't it?" revels Ramsay. "Unlike you!"
"Yes, Master," Reek agrees.
Ramsay is heaping the food onto his spoon and then into his mouth.
"Bet you'd like to have a piece of that, huh?" says Ramsay, mouth full.
"Yes, Master," Reek agrees. No point denying it. Ramsay knows he's starving. He likes it that way.
"Yeah," says Ramsay, munching. "And do you think you deserve any?"
Against all reason, Reek can't stifle the hope that Ramsay might share some of the food. He's so hungry... His belly has long stopped hurting but something like nausea grips him, a primal, dizzy need. Maybe just a bite? The answer on that one's obvious, though. "No, Master," says Reek.
Ramsay arches an eyebrow. "Really?" he says, as if disappointed. "Oh, well, if that's your opinion...." And he gobbles down his next spoonful, savouring. Despair raises its head in Reek's guts, but he knows it's a jape. He would never have given me food anyhow.
"So, Reek," Ramsay continues, and the twinkle in his eye grows dangerous. "How have you been getting along with the Lady Sansa?"
Careful, now! Careful. "I... have been tending to her needs, as Master commanded," Reek answers.
"Oh? Did I command that, now?" says Ramsay and licks his tongue over his knife.
Reek tries to stifle his quaking. He doesn't know what to say to that, so he says nothing.
"That wasn't the question, though, Reek." Ramsay's voice is patient, lenient. "I asked: How have you two been getting along?"
Reek's thoughts race. What is the correct answer to this? Is there a correct answer to this?
"I... I can't tell yet for sure, my Lord," he tries.
Ramsay nods, thoughtful.
"More wine, please," he orders, and as Reek reaches towards the jug in compliance, Ramsay snatches Reek's hand by the wrist, slams it against the table and quickly spears it with his knife. Reek crumbles onto his knees and howls. Ramsay seizes him by the hair, and bashes his head against the table with a crack. Again, and again, and again, until his vision dims.
Then he says: "Think again, Reek."
"Uh, she has been trying to reach Theon Greyjoy, Master," Reek speaks through the blood in his mouth. "She is seeking him as ally."
Ramsay's hand in his hair turns caress. "Right," he says, softly. "That's what I thought."
He wrenches the knife out of the wood and out of Reek's hand. "Clean up this mess," he orders.
Ramsay enters Sansa's room, joyous whistle on his lips, Reek in tow.
Reek's vision is thankfully bleared, eyes swollen after the recent damage. Better to not see too much.
"So," starts Ramsay. "My loyal Reek here tells me you're harbouring plans."
Sansa stares ahead, features like ice.
"Plans," she says.
"Plans," Ramsay says, and he lays one hand on Reek's head, "of charming my Reek. Of making him comfortable with you." He ruffles Reek's hair. "Of winning his help, mayhaps?"
Sansa says nothing.
"It wounds me so, my dear wife," says Ramsay. "I'll share with you everything. All I own. We are husband and wife, after all." His eyes are wide and honest. "But my Reek, he is mine."
He tightens his grip on Reek's hair. "Aren't you, Reek?"
"Yes, Master," Reek hastens to agree. "Yours, Master, only yours."
Ramsay hums. "I'm a kindly man, you see," he says. "Soft-hearted, my father used to say." (He didn't.) "My Reek, though, he's a beast. Isn't that right, Reek?"
"Yes," whispers Reek. Ramsay smiles in glee.
"So tell me Reek," says Ramsay, "how would you punish Lady Sansa for her... transgressions?"
Reeks trembles on the floor.
Sansa scoffs. "I can see you've tortured him for this!" she says.
Ramsay gasps. "Ah!" he says, eyes wide, and lays a hand against his chest. "But it's not his torture we're discussing, now."
Sansa's knuckles turn white.
"Now, Reek?" prompts Ramsay.
"I... it's my fault, you can punish me," Reek tries.
"Ohhhhh pfffff," makes Ramsay and throws up his hands. "Are you for fucking real, now." It's nearly gentle. But it's with lighting speed that he hooks his fingers under Reek's jaw and yanks. "Get your boring ass up!" he orders, and tugs. He expected this, Reek realises, stumbling onto his feet. Ramsay's eyes are unblinking and his breath is hot as he whispers into Reek's ear: "Now spit it out. I will not ask again."
Reek understands. He understands. There is no escape. His thoughts race. He must deliver.
"Spanking?" he ventures. He feels sick, but a spanking is not so bad. Comparatively.
"What are we, twelve?" says Ramsay, dismissing. "Be more creative."
Creative. Reek feels dizzy. "With the belt?" he says, uncreatively.
Ramsay cocks his head, as if he was seriously considering it. He looks at Sansa like a piece of meat. "Mhm, you'd like that, yeah?"
Reek wouldn't. "Yes, Master," he says. Sansa is looking straight ahead, chin up, eyes fixed on something beyond the horizon.
"So you wouldn't have her flayed?" Ramsay asks.
Sansa's fists are trembling as Ramsay reaches to twist a strand of her hair around his finger.
"Uh, if that's your wish, Master," Reek says, from somewhere far away.
"If it's my wish?" says Ramsay. "But it's your decision, my sweet Reek".
Reek is shaking and this is a labyrinth of trickery and he can't think, he can't think any more. Reek is too stupid to think.
"Please," he says.
"Please.... what?" asks Ramsay and his hand wanders down to squeeze Sansa's breast and she sits very, very still.
"If it pleases my Lord," Reek whispers, and he took a wrong turn with his words somewhere, but he can't think any more. He can't comprehend. Meaning has been disappearing.
"You want me to flay her?" Ramsay repeats.
Reek shivers and his thoughts keep skipping. No, he thinks. No, no, no. His skull is melting, his flayed back is flaming. "Yes?" his mouth says, it is so obviously the answer Ramsay wants to hear, even though it's also the wrong answer,
Sansa's eyes are burning into his head.
Ramsay rips open Sansa's dress and shoves her onto the bed.
"All right," he says, and produces a knife. Reek can't breathe at the sight of it. "Since you say so, Reek. Which part do you want to flay?"
Sansa starts to fight. She twists her breast away, she kicks a long leg against Ramsay's hands, she yanks her arms out of reach. Ramsay laughs! He jumps into the bed, pins himself on Sansa. She howls and she bites. Ramsay's expression is pure elation.
"Reek!" he shouts, an order made to cut through the universe. "Hold her still for me." And it's the force of his voice that tugs at Reek's limbs like strings, it's the power of his word that moves Reek's flesh for him. Reek complies.
"Theon," Sansa says, face like horror, and he wants to clamp his hands over his eyes and his ears, except his fingers are gripped on Sansa's limbs, so he can't.
Ramsay sits still for a minute, straddling Sansa's hips. He savours the sight of them. His chest is heaving, his pupils are wide.
"Right," he says finally. "So, where, Reek?" He trails the knife lightly along her ribcage. "Where do I cut?"
Reek has lost the power of speech. Reek has lost the power of sight. Forms keep disintegrating in front of his eye. Time is fraying.
Ramsay grips one breast. "It's a nice breast, isn't it, Reek? You liked that breast, didn't you?"
The world is tilted sideways and a low howl churns through Reek's ears, nearly loud enough to drown Ramsay's voice. He wants to die. He wants to die. "Yes, Master," he mumbles, lips so well-trained in obedience.
"We could cut off the nipple," says Ramsay. "Or we could cut her belly. Or.... But what do you think, Reek?"
"Yes, Master," Reek babbles.
"Where, Reek?" Ramsay insists, eyes bright like the moon.
Reek wills himself to fall unconscious. He wills himself to have a seizure. He wills himself to drop dead. But he is so inescapably there.
"Please," he begs. "Please, don't make me decide. Please..."
"But this was your idea, Reek," says Ramsay, disappointed.
"Please," Reek says, his tears are wetting Sansa's hair. His bones are shaking out of his skin. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I love you. I'm sorry," His tongue is heavy in his mouth. Maybe he is dying. He hopes he is dying.
If Ramsay gives him the knife, he will cut his own throat. He hopes Ramsay will.
Maybe Ramsay reads that thought, because he tucks away the knife and leans forward to kiss Reek's forehead. "Shhhh," he says. "Shhhh. My stupid, stupid Reek."
Ramsay's hand crawls through his hair. "Of course you can't decide. You don't know how to decide anything. You don't have to say more. Let me take care of everything."
Reek slumps in relief. "Thank you, thank you, thank you," he mumbles.
Ramsay kisses him on the lips.
"Now both of you, sit very still," Ramsay orders, and spears the knife into Sansa's thigh.
The world drowns in red horror and Sansa's screams.
The next time he brings her food, Sansa doesn't try to talk to him.
Her skin is washed white, her eyes are dead.
"Thank you," she says, when he sets the food down, and she shouldn't thank him, he will die from guilt.
"I'm sorry--" he tries, but she cuts him off.
"Don't." Her lips look greyed, her lashes are crusted red. "Don't apologise, Theon."
"Reek," he corrects.
"Theon," she repeats. "Your name is Theon."
He shakes his head. "Theon would never do what Reek did," he says.
"Theon murdered children", she replies.
He has nothing to say to that.
Ramsay is in a good mood. He stays in the most excellent of mood for days. It's dangerous when he's in a good mood, but then, it's dangerous always, and Reek is despairing.
Ramsay never harms Reek without cause, he tries to remind himself. People only get hurt when Reek makes mistakes.
He just has to be a good dog. He just has to please him. He just has to obey. He just has to--But he always makes mistakes, he always gives him cause, and that's why, that's why--
There's no room left in his head to go anywhere. Any path he could have taken, Ramsay found and twisted, long ago. He carved it out of his flesh, he flayed it from his mind. Any escape he could imagine, in life, in death, in thought and in real, Ramsay hunted down and shuttered. There's no room but here.
Reek's world has shrunken to Ramsay's pale eyes and Ramsay's harsh hands and Ramsay's fickle wants. All else has disappeared, a long, long time ago.
But now here's Sansa, an envoy from another life.
"Does she excite you so much?" asks Ramsay, aware, always, always aware. "Does she make you all wet, this dear, beautiful wife of mine? Does she remind you of... gentler times?"
Ramsay's eyes pierce through Reek's soul and Reek can't look away, can't ever look away, and he says: "Only you excite me, Master."
"Ohhh?" makes Ramsay, lips arched in need and cups Reeks ass.
"Tell me all about it, then," he whispers, drinking Reek in, "how I excite you."
And Reek, wretched Reek, tells him all about it.
Reek is curled on the floor, watches the ghosts dance through the dark. His heart stumbles in his chest. It's freezing.
Helicent licks at the blood from his neck. Alison sits heavy against his back, growls softly for position. Reek's wrecked flesh keeps leaking. Alison's fur rubs against his wounds, but he's grateful for the warmth. His exhaustion reaches somewhere beyond sleep. Endless repetition, unending demolition.
You must do what he says, he reminds himself.
Ramsay smashes his fist into Reek's face and throws him down the stairs.
"Why is everything so disappointing!" he yells.
Reek bangs against the stones. His head hurts, his heart hurts. He didn't want to wound Ramsay. He doesn't know what he did wrong.
Ramsay picks him up by the hair and drags him across the hall. He kicks him through the door, into the yard, flings him into the frozen mud. Reek's ears ring.
"All I ask of you, my disloyal Reek, is to obey," Ramsay shouts, and his eyes look wild, his hair is in disarray.
Ramsay was in such a good mood. What happened? Oh, what happened?
"I obey! I obey you, Master! I always obey you," Reek chants, dripping blood.
"You can't even follow the simplest of commands!" Ramsay accuses.
Reek cries. Is this about the cup he dropped? Is this about flinching when he shouldn't? Is this about not paying enough attention? Is this about remembering Lady Sansa?
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I will, I will," Reek babbles.
Ramsay picks him up by the armpits, stands him up in the dirty snow, bloody and battered as he is.
Ramsay’s eyes are bright like ice and feral and uncompromising.
"Stand here, then," he commands.
Reek stands in the yard. It started to rain, an icy rain, half water half hail. Drops pelt his face. Water streams down his nose, into his eyes, down his neck. He hunches on himself, squeezes his hands under his armpits, but he doesn't move. Master Ramsay told him to stand here, so he will stand here.
A punishment, maybe, or a reward, or a test, or-- He doesn't remember. It's all the same.
The yard is crowding with ghosts. He can see them with his eyes. He can commune with their whispers.
His rags are drenched, his skin is ice. The water flows frigid through the furrows of his back where he's been whipped. His limbs are turning dead blue. His hair clumps frozen.
He can see the girls Ramsay hunted. They crowd the yard, they stare at him, flesh mangled, limbs chewed to pulp. They stare accusing. An army of flayed Ironborn, eyes plucked from their sockets, betrayed. Bran, crying. Robb, bleeding, dying. And the crisp smell of two small burned bodies.
"Help!" he hears someone cry. "Help, help, help!" He feels himself drowning. "Save us!" it cries. "Save her!" "Save yourself!" Is that Theon's voice?
Is he freezing? He's beyond trembling, now.
He sees Theon Greyjoy covered in blood. He sees Ser Rodrick’s head rolling through the mud. He sees his father's fists. He sees Sansa's hair, floating through the water. He hears the sound of waves, rolling, crashing, eternal.
His heart is a slowing drum.
Yara grips his shoulders, shakes him. "Don't die so far away from the sea," she commands him and his vision turns white.
When he comes to, he's lying in the frosted mud. Alive, apparently. He hasn't been moved from where he crumbled. No one would touch him. No one would help him. The rain has stopped. A pale sun warms just barely. He tries to move his limbs, but he can't. His eyes flutter close, lashes frozen.
He tries to move again, and again, and again, limbs pierced by needles. His breath wheezes in and out of his lungs, persistent. For a creature so desperate for death, he certainly clings to life.
"I told you to keep standing," says Ramsay, reproachful. Strong arms pick him up. "It was such a simple command."
Reek struggles up the stairs. He has trouble breathing. His chest bubbles, laborious, a wet pain. The tray is so heavy in his hands. The light hurts his eyes. He can still hear the ghosts' many whispers. He stops for strength every few steps.
Sansa looks up, when he enters, looks at him with revulsion, or maybe pity, or maybe horror, before she smoothes her face into frost.
He sets the tray on her table. He tries to pour her water, though he can barely manage to hold the jug.
Sansa's hand lands on his arm and he lacks the strength to jump. "Just, let me do that," she says, softly. Her voice is choked. He tries to answer, but his throat is swollen dry. He sways where he stands.
"Theon," she says, after some hesitation. "Can you stay?"
He shakes his head.
She looks at him shuffling out of the room with something like resigned sorrow.
Reek finds Ramsay to faint at Ramsay's feet, an apology silent on his burning lips, and Ramsay kneels to pick him up. "You'd crawl back to your master to die, sweet Reek," he lauds. "Good boy."
Reek's head lolls against Ramsay’s leg. Week fingers cling to Ramsay's boots. Ramsay's fingers trail over Reek's throat, feel for Reek's racing pulse.
"If you could only see yourself," he whispers his elation into Reek's ear. "What a sight!"
Ramsay bundles him up in warm furs. He allows him to rest. He feeds him warm broth. He pats his fevered cheek. He cleans his wounds. Reek is so undeserving and Ramsay is so kind.
"Do you love me?" Ramsay asks, days later, when Reek's delirium abated enough for him to understand language again. When Reek answers "of course, my Lord," it's nothing but the truth.
Snow has been piling up in the yard. It engulfs them and their castle of horrors.
Reek climbs the stairs to Sansa's door, slowly, legs still so weak. His chest doesn't hurt any more, though his muscles still tremble and his lungs feel frail. His thinning hair sticks to his neck.
When he enters, Sansa looks up with surprise and says: "You're still alive."
Reek can't think of anything to say to that. She's alive, too, though she looks hollow and deadened.
Her room is unchanged, since the last time he saw her. Frost has whitened her windows. The pale light throws bleak shadows over stony walls and wood. It's such a small world she's been confined to. Warmer and more comfortable than the kennels, but so narrow.
"Theon, please," she asks, a sliver of urgent hope in her voice. "Stay."
She provides him with an excuse: "Help me with my hair."
Against better reason, he complies. Her hair is fire and gold. Her skin is damaged by Ramsay's hands, neck bruised, shoulders scarred in bite marks, but her hair glows. He doesn't want to touch it with his broken hands, but she insists.
At first, they sit in silence. Then, she tells him: "Theon, I don't forgive you." He nods. Of course not. He wouldn't expect her to. It calms him to hear her say it. She turns back to look him in the eyes. "But I do want you as my ally. Can you be my ally, Theon?"
His hands still. "No," he tells her.
She keeps looking at him anyhow, expectant. Her eyelids are red, she's been crying.
"You saw that I can't," he protests.
"I saw you resist," she tells him. He sits unmoving and defeated. "Theon," she insists, "after all he did to you, I saw you try to resist!"
Reek shakes his head. He will hear, he will know, he will punish.
"No," he repeats.
She looks away, rearranges her hair, rearranges her dress. Reek's mouth tastes like iron.
"I do know him, Theon," Sansa says. "Maybe I didn't, fully, when I first asked you, but I do now. I saw what he does."
Reek clings to her brush like to a lifeline. His chest hurts.
"Keep brushing my hair," she orders, and obedient, trembling, he resumes his task. It's soothing, in spite of everything.
"Do you remember Joffrey?" Sansa asks.
Theon does. The blond royal git, haughty on his horse. How Sansa looked at him. "They'll say it's my fault for thinking him beautiful," Sansa says. "For dreaming a future of him."
Theon scoffs. They would, yes. Reek keeps dragging the brush through copper strands.
"He was a monster, turns out," says Sansa. "Like Ramsay, only dumber, and more coddled."
Reek's tremble worsens, but he keeps listening.
"He hurt me," she says. "So did his mother, the Queen Cersei. I became their hostage, after they murdered father. I didn't know what it means to be a hostage, Theon, before. We were children, I didn't understand. I'm sorry."
Theon shakes his head. It wasn't like that, for him. It was many things, but it wasn't like that.
It hurts him, to remember. Robb's freckled laugh, the way he'd shove against Theon's shoulder, intimate. Tiny Arya's tiny hands on her bow, her brow twisted in ambition, correcting her posture following his instruction. Rickon stumbling through the yard on his fat baby legs, learning to say "Theon".
"He is jealous of the memories we share," he warns her. "He will stamp them out."
"I know," says Sansa. "But he can't."
He doesn't believe her, but she turns again to look at him. Her eyes are pale like his. "He already tried, but he can't," she maintains. "Look at me! He already did everything to you, and yet, you remember me." She searches his eyes. "And I remember you."
It's true, he does. They do.
"Reek forgets," he tells her. "Sometimes. Everything but love and pain."
"But when you see me," says Sansa.
Then he remembers, yes.
Reek thinks that Ramsay could make him forget, if he chose to. He has the power to. He controls everything. But Ramsay likes him having his memories, because they torment him. Oh, the danger of it.
"Joffrey was murdered," Sansa continues. "He was poisoned. He was King of the Seven Kingdoms but he died like a rat, choked on his own vomit."
She folds her legs under her and turns to face him. She wears thin silk, stained bloody. "Do you see? If we cooperate, we can escape. It is possible."
Anguish swallows his belly. Reek curls up his shoulders in retreat, lowers his head.
"Don't you see?" he argues. "How often Theon tried to escape?" he whispers. "Do you know how much he fought? How often he tried? What it took for Theon to learn there is no escape?"
Sansa shakes her head. She looks terribly sad, but her eyes are dry and hard. "I'm so sorry," she says. "But it is still true as I say."
When Reek climbs down the stairs, later, on his way to his other chores, he's freezing, starving and in pain, like always, but there's something different. If Ramsay asks Reek about their conversation, he will spill it all. He will. But Reek also made a new memory, and he tucks it deep into his heart.
Ramsay has been uncharacteristically kind. He hasn't raised a hand in violence at Reek for days and in a gut-churning way, that is very worrying. Reek is scared. Ramsay must be planning something terrible.
"Let's go visit my wife," Ramsay smiles, and there it is, Reek thinks. He will make me hurt her. He will make me hurt her so much she can only hate me, and then he'll hurt me, too.
Sansa looks up when they enter, both of them, and she seems to think the same. "I do know him," she told him, and she did not lie.
"My dear wife," says Ramsay, friendly, courteous. "You think me jealous." He tugs at Reek's collar, keeps him flush against his thigh. "You think I want to destroy your beautiful friendship." Ramsay tugs harder and Reek is starting to have trouble breathing. "But nothing could be further from the truth."
Ramsay's smile is sweet honey. "Do you like dogs, milady?" he asks, amiably. Sansa stares, mouth shuttered. "No need to answer, I know you do." He waves a hand. "So do I!" He beams. "We have that in common, you see?" Reek is slowly choking, tries to paw at Ramsay's trousers for mercy. "It's so good to have interests in common, as husband and wife, don't you agree?" Reek's vision is filling with black spots.
"Stop hurting him," Sansa says.
"Hurt?" Ramsay asks, surprised. "But he loves this!" He smiles down to Reek, lenient. "Don't you Reek?" Reek's head is sagging against Ramsay's boot, his fingers claw weekly at his throat. "Oh," Ramsay says, and slackens his grip. Reek wheezes for air. "Don't you Reek?" Ramsay repeats his question. "Yes, Master," Reek squeals, between breaths.
"I wanted to offer him to you, in fact," Ramsay says. "Thought you might want to hurt him a bit." His lashes flutter, softly. "I am generous. I do know how to share. Even my Reek, who belongs to me. I'll share him with you, because you are my wife, and I am generous."
Sansa stares, calculating. "I'm not like you," she says, contemptuous.
Ramsay's eyes widen. "Oh?" he says. He looks at her appraising, surprised. "You really do believe that about yourself?" His smile crawls over his face. He licks his lips, his pupils dilate. "But then again, Sansa: Would you rather be like me, or like him?"
Sansa stands tall and doesn't answer. He doesn't need her to. Her silence is answer enough. "Neither," she says, finally, but it rings too late.
"Anyhow," says Ramsay, conversationally. He picks up one of Reek's arms, grips it gently, holds it up for her as offering. "You're Lady Bolton, now. You should learn how to flay. Traditions are important."
It's him or you. The implication hangs in the air.
"I won't flay him," Sansa says anyhow.
"Oh, don't worry, he loves it," Ramsay says. "Don't you, Reek?" But Reek can't bring himself to agree to a flaying, even if Ramsay asks it of him. He can't. He sobs into Ramsay's boots. "Please," he whimpers. Ramsay smiles down to him, softly.
He shrugs at Sansa, as if helpless. He looks at the skeletal creature sniffling and trembling at his feet, dressed in his stinking rags, then back up to Sansa. "Aw. Prince Theon Greyjoy, am I right?" An old shame twists in Reek's chest at the memory of this name. At the memory of that life. "Such a wicked prick that was. I gentled him for you." Ramsay looks proud of his work. "You should be glad," he tells Sansa.
Sansa looks nauseous.
Ramsay picks up Reek's arms like one would the paws of a dog. "Look, the hands that murdered your dear brothers." He wiggles them at Sansa. "You sure you don't want to flay just the one finger?"
Sansa's eyes harden and Ramsay licks his lips again, unaware of what's happening. "No," says Sansa.
"Oh, well," says Ramsay and drops Reek's hands. "I was just offering." He shrugs, as if that was all nothing. "If you're so uninterested in all of that, I guess we can just fuck." He clicks his tongue. "Come on, Reek."
They spend the most wretched of night (even though Reek wants to serve, he does, he does), but wretched nights, they've spent many.
As Reek dutifully scrubs the floor, after, exhausted, unslept, pained by old wounds and new and with a new pile of horrors branded into his mind, the most indigestible of remembrances, there's also this: Sansa knows that Theon didn't murder her brothers. She's known for weeks and Ramsay was unaware.
Impossible. The master knows everything. But--
Reek buries it deep into his heart.
Winter is evolving, deepening. All colour is fading into grey, white, black. Snow hardens into ice, fresh snow piles upwards, forms layers of new frost over old. The floor rises, hides the earth deep, deep underneath. The sun, a pale shadow, rarely comes out any more. The dogs huddle for warmth, but Reek forgot the meaning of warmth. His rags barely protect him, his starvation exposes his bones to the freeze. It's all miserable but it is what it is. He's never too tired to be scared, but he's too tired for most of anything else.
He still sees the ghosts. They whisper to him their warnings and comforts.
In spite of all the twists and horrors, there's a pattern to Ramsay's atrocity. A cycle to his moods, a hunger to his needs. He's unpredictable, yes, creative, surprising, terrible, but one thing is certain: He will always find reason to cause hurt.
Pain explodes along Reek's back and Ramsay laughs! The whip cracks and blood trails down his ribs and his thighs and Reek cries. He doesn't remember doing anything wrong, but he must have, he must have. He doesn't remember much of anything. He doesn't,
He sobs into the wall and screams and begs and he detaches from his husk, as always, but it doesn't spare him most of the pain, and it doesn't spare him his life, and that's the extent of the universe. That's all there is, that's all there always was. There is Ramsay and pain and Ramsay and Reek and pain and there is no escape there is no escape there is no escape
Reek is despairing.
Kyra the dog is gnawing at a bone. She's lean and hungry. Ramsay has been starving his girls, again. They know Reek by smell, he's the lowest of their pack, they won't eat him. Still, the ferocity of her hunger makes him nervous.
Kyra the ghost is staring at him. Blood drips from her broken ribs, from her split entrails. She looks at him with reproach. She looks at him with disappointed love. "There never was escape," he tells her, defensive. "Are you truly that lost, Theon Greyjoy?" she answers.
Sansa is ill.
When Reek enters her rooms, she doesn't stir. She doesn't move. Reek sets down the tray, then hesitates, uncertain. He approaches, timid.
"Sansa?" he asks.
She's curled on her side, motionless. Her eyes are open, her breathing even. Her face is grey and slack. She looks like light extinguished.
"Sansa?" he asks, again, worried.
Her hair is spread out on her cushions, like dried weed. It doesn't glow any more. She stirs, very slowly, looks at him, eyes dulled. She makes no effort to frost her features. This is barefaced hopelessness.
"What did he do?" he whispers.
She doesn't answer. Stupid question. What didn't he do, really.
Her limbs are whole. There is not more blood than usual. She's alive and breathing, in spite of it all, and she's in need of comfort, but he doesn't dare touch, doesn't dare speak. He doesn't dare much of anything.
"You were right," she whispers, after minutes, barely audible.
Reek hovers, anguished.
"There really is no escape."
It spears his chest, because, because--- she's right, but,
"There must be," he answers, against all reason, against all knowledge.
She can't find the strength to scoff. "Now you dare tell me this?" she says.
"Not for me," he clarifies. "For you."
She shakes her head and she's right. It's such a very stupid thing of Reek to say.
Sansa is Ramsay's wife now, and he's hurting her as he sees fit. Once, she was Sansa Stark of Winterfell. She liked furs and silk, as he did, and stories about heroes, as he did, and had an opinion on which of his coats looked best with which boots. She was polite in ways he'd never been, and at home in ways he'd never been, and full of romantic ambition. She liked lemon cake and does Ramsay know this? But she is Ramsay's prisoner, now, his property, as he is. She is no envoy from a world long lost, no being apart from this place, she is wretched, as he is. No one will rescue her, no one, if they don't save themselves. She has no reason to hope for escape.
"You won't help me," she says. She says this without reproach. She is stating a fact. "And I can't get out on my own. I'm locked in this room at all hours. I'm locked waiting for him to come. I'm locked waiting for him to go. This my life now."
She looks more lucid in her despair and maybe she has never dared to speak its truth, yet, not even to herself. This is our life now.
Reek could unlock her door. He could, but--
"I could unlock your door," he says, against all reason.
"You won't, though," Sansa answers. She says it without judgement. She states things as they are.
And what would it help, were he to unlock her door? Where would she go? I have friends in the North, she said, long ago, and unlike Theon Greyjoy, who has only enemies, it's true, she has. But Winter is deepening and Ramsay's dogs are hungry and Ramsay is all-knowing and it's one thing to leave a room but another to flee a fortress. What use are friends when you are trapped unreachable in the abyss?
"I want to help you," he explains, "but he can read my thoughts."
"He's a man," Sansa says, and he's not sure if that's a retort or an agreement.
"He knows everything," he says.
"You didn't kill Bran and Rickon," she reminds him.
"I murdered two boys," he says.
"Yes," she agrees.
Reek understands. He is not all-knowing.
Sansa rolls herself up from her lying position, reaches for his hand, and her eyes are not fully dead any more. Not quite alive, either, but not fully dead. And this here is the unrecognised truth about Sansa of Winterfell, that she'd still find the strength to reach out like this. This deep well of courage that resides inside her, the intensity of her will. She could be saved. She could.
"I want to help you," he explains, "but he sees through my mind."
Her smile is very wan.
"We'd have to act mindlessly, then," she says.
Ramsay knocks out another of his teeth and Ramsay makes him scream and bleed and Ramsay has him jump through all these hoops, over and over again, until he's breathless and spineless from agony and terror. And he crawls and he begs and he licks and he sobs, as Reek does. Like always, really, like always and forever. This is his life now.
At night, he speaks with the ghosts.
"You've been a captive all your life," Kyra the ghost says. "And you've always accepted it. What would you know of escape?" Kyra the dog stirs at his back, huddles closer. All of them are so cold. "Theon knew escape," Reek protests, weakly. Kyra growls at him, contemptuous. He didn't, they all know he didn't.
He sees Robb. He never sees Robb, usually, maybe because Robb didn't die here at Winterfell. Robb died far, far away from home, and far away from Theon Greyjoy, who had left him, treacherously. Of all the ghosts to see, Robb's hurt the most.
Reek tries to bury his face into Kyra's fur, tries to look away. But Robb is unleaving.
"He has my sister," says Robb the ghost.
Robb the ghost is covered in blood and pale like clouds. Robb the ghost looks at him with disappointed love.
"He has us both," Reek answers. It is an excuse? A justification? A cry for help?
"I loved you," Robb accuses and Theon hugs the cold stone floor and cries.
Kyra licks his face. "You would eat Sansa if he ordered you to," Reek tells her, but he accepts the comfort. In a world without comfort, you accept what you're given.
They start to experiment. He unlocks her door, but she doesn't leave, and he locks it again. Ramsay doesn't comment, Ramsay doesn't notice. She sneaks just a few steps into the hall at night, and back again, and no one knows. She shares some of her food with him, and that is risky, so, so risky, because what if he vomits under Ramsay’s torture, he does so frequently, what if Ramsay notices, but when he does, Ramsay doesn’t even pay attention.
Reek has been Ramsay's dog for so long, they don't know he is capable of disobedience. Of mistakes, yes, of being so very disappointing, yes, of deserving to be hurt, yes, but of disobedience, of real disobedience? And Sansa, spoiled little Sansa, has done nothing but cry and wait to be rescued for weeks now, hasn't she?
Reek hears in on Ramsay's plans and he tells Sansa. Sansa listens to Ramsay's bragging and she tells Reek. Sansa tells him about her friends in the North. Reek teaches her the names of the dogs. He shares the schedules of the guards. They hold hands and remind each other of memories past.
Ramsay throws Reek against the wall so hard that his vision remains cracked and his memory fleeting for days. Sansa has to explain the plans again. Then Ramsay locks Reek in the dungeons and cuts away at his skin, just to remind him he can, and they don't see each other for days.
Reek faints of blood loss on the stairs and Ramsay crawls all around and into him, and Ramsay is the centre of the universe. Ramsay decides over pain or even more pain. Ramsay commands annihilation, and Reek would spill every secret under his terrible gaze, he would reveal everything there ever was to reveal, everything, and he loves him, and all that saves them is that Ramsay never even asks.
Ramsay is just too certain that he owns them.
The day she acts, they didn't prepare and they didn't rehearse. The lesser Reek knows, the better, they agreed. Reek can't be trusted, not under Ramsay's eyes, not under Ramsay's knife. Reek is traitorous. We'll have to act mindlessly, she said.
So he's as shocked as any to see her standing outside her prison in broad daylight, very much not locked up. She’s dressed warmly, ready for a hike, she stands determined. Run or die, her posture says. Today we run or die. And when Myranda unsheathes her claws and her bow and he begs Sansa to go back to her prison, please, please, just go back, maybe he means it, in the moment, maybe he doesn't, but he certainly never planned on killing Myranda. He never planned to fight anyone; Reek can't fight. But this is still Theon Greyjoy’s body, murderer born of murderers, violent villain, and he moves quick and with intent, and a second later, Myranda lies broken in the snow. Sansa's hand is in his and Ramsay’s horns hoot at the gates and it’s now or never, now or never.
They stare down the abyss, windblown. They stare and know themselves dying. The ground is so very, very, very far down. The jump will kill them, it will. If this is the only escape available, they will take it. He searches her eyes and she searches his. Ready? Ready.
The snow catches them, or maybe the ghosts, or maybe the ravens, or maybe the Gods are not finished with them.
Choice opens up again. They run for their lives and their paths expand into possibility.