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ain't this just like the present (to be showing up like this)

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1.
Theon has always known his family was different.
Like how in year 1, when everyone’s dad came in to talk about their jobs and his didn’t, and didn’t even say why, just shoved him when he asked about it.
Or how his mum lies in bed all day with the curtains drawn (like they get much sunlight in their flat, anyway) and cries when he tries to come in.
He's always known his family was different, But it’s only when he is nine years old that he realizes how different.
He is laying on the sofa in the dingy excuse that is their living room. It’s where he’s slept since Asha got old enough to get her own room, not that the room they used to share was much better. The couch is lumpy and narrow but he’s small for his age, so he fits fine when he curls his legs under him. And anyway, Rodrik and Maron are nineteen and they would beat him bloody for even asking that he get their room, and Asha’s a girl, and mummy and dad get the other room so he guesses what he has is fine (ever since she started on all of those pills all mummy does is sleep, so maybe thats okay).
It’s august so it’s hot- hotter than satan’s asshole- and if the ceiling fan ever worked it sure doesn’t now. Now it only hangs, a spectral white thing above, a sign that once, a long time ago, things might have been different.
From Rodrik and Maron’s room is the sound of music blasting, angry loud music that Theon doesn’t like, not even a little bit, but it’s better than Maron’s drunken laughter and the sound of a girl squealing. Theon saw the girl walk in earlier. Like the rest of the girls that come around on afternoons, she’s tall and skinny and wearing too much makeup and smelling like cheap crushed flowers. He supposes that there must be something about her that his brothers find attractive, even though she and all the girls like her look at him with empty red-rimmed eyes and he wants to run away.
Asha’s out, of course. She’s always out now. She’s fifteen and spends all her time staying with friends Theon has never met. He wishes he could meet her friends. They used to play together, when he was little, when six years wasn’t too much. Even though she always wanted to play pirates and be the captain and he had to be the first mate, and sometimes she slapped him when he was annoying, it was better than anything Rodrik and Maron ever did with him. Sometimes she had even let him cuddle up next to her in bed when mummy and dad fought or Rodrik and Maron made him cry.
It’s nearly midnight and Theon is tired, but the small room feels like it is choking him. He’s wearing a ratty t-shirt and boxers, both of which are a little big on him because they used to be his brothers and he’s small for his age. They are too hot still. The windows are open to catch whatever breeze there is, but all they seem to be catching is the noise of outside, the shouting and laughing and music from down the block.
Another noise crashes into the medley. Hammering on the door. It’s not too odd in itself because they live in a fairly dodgy complex, but what the person outside says, is.
“Police! Open up!”
Theon sits straight up on the couch. Dad comes out of his bedroom. His eyes are dark. He’s wearing jeans and a white shirt unbuttoned, stained with something on the sleeves.
He jerks the door open and two men walk in. One is a giant of a man. At least two meters tall, with a black beard like a cloud of death and a stormy look in his eyes. The other stands in shadow, but he is shorter and leaner and has silvery eyes that glint in the dim light streaming in from outside.
“Robert Baratheon, of the Metropolitan Police Force.” The black-bearded man has a voice as deep and loud as you would expect.
Theon shrinks back. His dad has always seemed to him to be the strongest that a man could get. Compared to the Baratheon man, though, he looks like a toothpick, gaunt and so breakable.
“What ya want?” Balon Greyjoy’s voice is low and rough, and he leans backwards against the wall. Calm. Always calm. Theon wants to scream.
“Balon Greyjoy, we have a warrant out for your arrest. Charges of possession of methamphetamines, distribution of-“
Theon leans back, and presses himself as far away from the men as he can.
His father doesn’t say anything, but he leans over and spits on Baratheon’s shoes.
Theon can tell even as he is doing it that it is not smart. The man swings a fist into his face and there is a sickening crunch before blood blossoms from his father’s nose, dripping down in scarlet rivers down his face and onto his dirty white shirt.
Greyjoys don’t feel fear. Theon can hear Rodrik’s voice, laughing meanly, in his ears. He forces his lips tight even though all he wants to do is scream.
A moment later he is not just imagining Rodrik, but seeing him. He bursts from his bedroom, a beer in one hand and the skinny blonde girl from before under the other. She’s giggling stupidly, but then, Theon thinks all of those girls are stupid. When she sees the policemen, she drops her bottle of beer. It shatters on the ground and Theon finds himself entranced by the glittering shards of light, reflecting and refracting the dim, diffused light.
“Ned, get him in cuffs.” Baratheon turns to his partner, who steps out of the darkness. He doesn’t look angry, more neutral, and for a moment, Theon is relieved. Surely this man who is so calm looking would not hurt his family any more.
Is relief is short lived, though. The other man- Ned, he was called- twists Balon’s head backwards, and deftly slips plastic ties around his wrists.
Theon watches the blood dripping onto the floor. His mummy is in the other bedroom. He remembers when every little sound would have made her come around the door and check on him, back when he still shared the bed in the little room with Asha. He wishes that she would come now, but Theon has seen the rows of orange bottles from the chemist that line the kitchen sink. There are enough that he knows his mummy won’t be coming out to do anything.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Rodrik shoves the girl away from him. She stumbles in her high heels and giggles as she falls in a heap of tangled limbs on the ground. Theon feels bad for her for a second. Usually he’s the one on the ground. But he’s not as pathetic as she is. His eyes are never rimmed with red and his nose isn’t fallen and sunken like hers is, like a crater. He’s nine, but he knows how that happens.
“Rodrik,” Balon says, and his voice is a terrifying calm.
Baratheon only shakes his head as Rodrik charges forward. “You bastards,” he yells, and he only slurs his words a little bit.
The officer is a solid rock. One arm wraps his neck up in a choke-position. Rodrik struggles for a few seconds, muttering curses, but a swift elbow to his jaw quiets him.
Theon would never admit it but there’s something oddly nice about seeing his tormentor tormented.
The rest of the arrest goes by quick enough. Balon is lead out by the other officer. Rodrik is given a stern look and a hard push down onto the ground, but then the men are leaving. In the other room, mummy sleeps on, and in some other part of town, Asha is with her friends, or whomever it is she is always hanging out with. Theon curls up on the sofa. He’s not really sure what to feel, and all he is left with is fear.
Rodrik smirks at him. “Aww, little baby Theon.” He laughs meanly. The girl is still on the floor.
“I’m not afraid,” Theon ventures. His voice wobbles. He wishes he were as big as his brothers, so that they wouldn’t bother him.
“Of course you are,” Rodrik laughs, and sits down next to him on the sofa. He smells like vodka and sweat and blood. “Because you’re a pathetic little baby.” He reaches over and pinches Theon. Hard, right on the line of soft baby fat on his stomach.
Theon bites his lip. There are tears in his eyes, but he won’t cry out.
On the floor, the girl begins to laugh, high and deranged. Outside, the night clamors on like nothing has changed.
Theon is terrified.
2.
Theon and Asha sit on the couch. He’s dressed in the best clothes he could find around the house, and they aren’t much, and his hair is horribly uncut, but something about it feels like an Event. A Happening.
And that is exactly what Theon hates.
“I don’t want to do this!”
It is early in the morning, early enough that blue gray light is making the tiny apartment as pretty as it could ever be. Theon is clutching at Asha’s shirt and he knows he sounds as terrified as he actually is. It’s okay. Maron is passed out on the couch smelling like last night’s beer, and Rodrik is still in his room with another boney cracked-smile girl.
Asha won’t hit him, he knows., But she’s still not too cuddly. It’s been a long time since he crawled into her bed at nights. She brushes him aside, irritated, and flicks her hair out of her eyes. She’s been threatening to cut it short for days, but it’s still as long and thick as ever. “Of course you do. You’re just switching schools, alright? People do it all the time.”
“Yeah, but not-not like this!” Not as a nine-year-old who still can’t really read, going to some nice school all the way across town because the social workers after his dad got sentenced to ten years in jail decided that he needed to go to real school.
“Alright, listen. You are going to some posh freaking school and you are not going to complain about it. ‘Sides,” she added, “your shit reading is explained. By the doctor. Dyslexia.” Asha’s nails were polished and long. Theon isn’t sure if it is the first time she did it or not. When she brushes him on the arm it doesn’t feel the same though. Taptap-taptaptap. She taps a long glossy nail against the side of the table next to them. Dis-lek-sea-uh. One little hard click for each syllable of that stupid word.
The doctor who tested him was a nice lady with a laugh kind of like mummy’s, and she told him afterwards that what he had a lot of other people had and it didn’t make him dumb, but it was still embarrassing when he stumbled over baby words like a pathetic little idiot.
Asha fixes Theon with a stern look. He doesn’t feel any less unsure, but Asha looks less patient, and he knows that his time to be afraid is over. She’s been home most all the time, now. Without dad, she’s almost like she used to be. At night Theon still sleeps on the couch, but there’s a new blanket just for him. And air fresheners so the room doesn’t smell like blood and sweat anymore. (It still does, though. Theon doesn’t think it’ll ever go away)
Asha sighs, suddenly. She’s sixteen, and she almost always looks older, but now she looks young and as scared as Theon.
Theon doesn’t know what to do. Asha is fearless and his hero and he has never seen her look so sad.
“Come on, now,” she says after a minute, snapping back to her hard smile. “I’ll take you on the bus today so that you know how to get there, okay?”
It was even better than what Theon had hoped for. “Okay.”
The way to school is as long as the social worker said it would be, but with Asha it’s okay. They wouldn’t normally have money for two bus fares, but the school gives Theon a buss pass for the journey, so Asha just pays for herself. They first walk all the way down the road by their house, Pyke Road, which is nasty and smells of fish, and get on a bus on King’s Road, which goes into city. There are a lot of people on the bus, and lots of children like him with their Mummys or Dads or even some of them alone. No one looks at Theon funny even though he knows his brown hair is ratty and needing a cut and he’s only wearing dirty jeans and a t-shirt that used to belong to Maron.
Asha takes his hand in hers and even though she never says anything, she squeezes it tight and Theon knows that she cares about him. He sits in the aisle and she sits by the window and tells him all about her friend Brienne, whose house she always goes to, and her school. She wants to drop out, she says, and get her GED while she works. Theon doesn’t really understand what she means, but he thinks back to how angry she got when Maron spent the welfare money on beer and other things that he hasn’t seen and he thinks he knows why she wants to get a job. It’s not like anyone really does much of anything in the family.
Soon enough, though, the bus is stopping at a pretty brick building on North Street, and Asha is pushing him up and outside. There’s more of a wind here and Theon’s glad he’s got a thick black sweatshirt. Asha walks ahead of him towards the doorway. She’s got on her beat up blue-black boots and ripped jeans and a gray shirt under a thick leather jacket. There are some other people walking around, mainly mothers wearing nice clothes and giggling children. Theon’s stomach clenches painfully. The social worker told him it was still a state school like the one he went to off of Pyke, but that it was far nicer. It is.
He doesn’t want to look afraid. If Maron and Rodrik saw him they would be off their arses laughing at him in a second. They would know that he really was just a baby when they saw that a bunch of fancy mums made him feel queasy.
Asha leads him to an office where someone hands him a folder with his name on it- Theon Greyjoy, neat as you please- and then Asha is leaving, squeezing his shoulder and briskly walking off.
Theon looks up at the man who is leading him down the hall. He is taller than his dad was, and is wearing a neat suit and has a close-cropped beard and dark hair. He asks some questions- what Theon’s name is, some other silly things, but he’s too nervous to answer. He mumbles something, maybe, and wraps his sweaty fisted palms in his t-shirt. Knotting. Unknotting.
“This is it- Year 5, Miss Arryn.” The man smiles brightly like he isn’t handing Theon a death sentence, and then opens up the shiny wooden door and gestures for him to answer.
Theon wants to faint or scream or run away. Instead he walks into the classroom. Desks are arranged in neat clusters, and there are bright posters and drawings all over the room. The teacher is about mummy’s age, thicker around the middle but with a nice smile.
“Hello there,” she trills when he walks in. “You must be Theon!”
Theon manages a squeak. The room is filled with children that look about his age. They are all gazing at him openly and curiously and Theon wants to shrink back inside of his baggy hand-me-down clothes until he disappears.
“I am Miss Arryn, and as a class, I know that we are all proud to welcome you to Andal Primary School!” Miss Arryn gestures to her class and smiles at him again.
“Welcome, Theon,” the class choruses, bright and shiny and smiling.
Theon’s heart pounds. The last time this many people said his name, mummy was crying. That was before she started with all her pills, so a ways back, but no one in his family ever called him by his name much. His dad called him ‘boy’, mainly, his brothers a slew of mean names, and Asha, ‘little brother’.
Miss Arryn is still talking. “Why don’t you take a seat right there, on the right-“ she points with her head to an empty spot at a table. Theon nods. He feels sick to his stomach, standing there with all those eyes on him and his tatty clothes. He’s shaking a little when he fast-walks to his seat, setting his beat-up black knapsack (Asha says she bought it from the charity shop fresh for him, so he doesn’t mind how the zipper is broken at the end and there are little rips all over it.)
His place is next to a redheaded boy with the bluest eyes Theon has ever seen. They are the blue power ranger mixed with the sky blinking happily up at….Theon?
“I’m Robert Stark,” he says. He smiles brightly and there’s a tooth missing, but not in the scary way like some of Theon’s dad’s friends are. “Everyone just calls me Robb, though.”
“H-hello.” Theon has never been very good at talking to people. He has never really had any friends his own age, except for maybe Ramsay, who likes to pull the wings off of living butterflies, and lives one floor above them. Even so, they don’t talk much (Theon’s always been scared of that kid, since one time he peeled the skin of a local cat just to see what would happen. That was a year ago and Theon wants to throw up whenever he so much as sees a cat now.) “I’m Theon Greyjoy.”
Robb laughs, and Theon feels his cheeks flush, and tears start to come into his eyes. Rodrik was right when he said that no one would want to be friends with a stupid fat kid.
“Are you okay?” Robb has switched to being concerned, and he blinks solemnly at Theon.
“Yeah, ‘course,” Theon responds, keeping his eyes open so tears don’t leak out. He looks straight ahead. Sometimes that fools Maron into thinking he’s not upset for a little.
“I wasn’t laughing at you, before.” Robb giggles like the idea was insane.
“Y-you weren’t?” Theon ventures out, biting his lip.
“No! It was funny because you looked so nervous and I felt bad and then- I- I didn’t want to hurt your feelings, Theon!” Robb smiles again.
“Wh-why not?” Theon bites his lip. He’s waiting for the punch line. On the scale of things to care about, he isn’t dumb enough to think his feelings make it above the very bottom. Not for him, not when there’s things like finding good food before his brothers get to it, and certainly not for anyone else in his family, who either ignore him, or torment him.
Robb’s smile fades for a half second while he thinks about that. “My dad says that you should never try to hurt anyone’s feelings, even if you don’t like them. And if you do, you need to apologize because it’s not nice to hurt anyone.” He looks expectantly.
Theon is still wrapping his mind around all that because it sounds like rubbish and he wouldn’t last two hours in his house if he tried not to hurt anyone, but… Robb’s face is flushing near as a red as his hair and he looks… embarrassed? Theon almost laughs because Robb looks like he’s afraid he’s said something wrong but Theon has never heard anything so right.
“Oh. Oh, okay.” Theon nods a bit and smiles even though it feels a little funny on his cheeks. Something tells him that is the best thing he could have done in the situation, and a moment later, he is rewarded by another brilliant smile.
He’s been smiled at before, obviously, he’s not so deprived that he doesn’t even notice joy, but… His father’s thin, tight-lipped smirk, Asha’s half-second grin, Rodrik and Maron leering with bitter snarl-smiles, his mummy… well, he doesn’t really remember her.
But Theon knows he doesn’t need to remember every smile directed his way to know that they were not the same as right now, not the same as Robb grinning at him like he was a hot cinnamon buns or something like that.

3.
“Are you sure you’re allowed to have me over?”
It’s chilly now, nearly Christmas, and there’s even a little snow beginning to drift down. Theon wears a sweatshirt over his T-shirt and even a denim jacket. Asha thought maybe he should take a scarf, because it’s supposed to be much below freezing tonight and the bus doesn’t have very good heating. Maron saw him holding the scarf though, and laughed himself silly. It was a nice scarf, to be sure, some kind of fuzzy knit in a bright shade of blue and Theon has no idea where his sister got it from, but it was a girl scarf, so he tossed it aside. Now, he’s cold.
Theon kicks at some little pebbles on the ground. He hopes Robb thinks he’s only shivering from the chill wind and not because he’s afraid of Robb’s family. He’s heard all about them, of course, of Sansa, who loves playing with dolls, and of Arya, who wants to become a knight. Even little Bran. Theon loves hearing about them. In another universe he thinks maybe Rodrik and Maron love him the way Robb and his siblings love each other. He tried being jealous out for a little, but he couldn’t. Robb and the Starks are not even in the same universe as him and his brothers. It would be like an octopus being a jealous of a wolf.
“Don’t be so worried,” Robb laughs. He’s smiling, like he nearly always is. He’s got a fluffy hat on over his ears that makes his eyes look bluer than ever. “Of course you’re allowed over! Everyone is dying to see you!”
“Y-you told them about me?” Theon is cold all over and it’s for sure not because of the wind now. If they knew about him, about his messed up family and the little flat with the lumpy sofa and oh, god, all the pill bottles in a line on the bathroom shelf, they would never let him into their house. They would know in an instant that he was a loser, a pathetic fuckup like Maron always said.
“Of course I told them about you!” Robb looks shocked that it’s even a question. “You’re my best friend!”
Theon only blinks, but Robb’s words warm him all the way back to Robb’s house. It’s a very short walk, Robb says, which is why they let him walk alone. (Theon imagines a world where his mummy is afraid for him, or where Asha and his brothers didn’t let him take the bus alone. He can’t even seriously consider the possibility, though. It’s just too outlandish.) It’s just to the corner of North Street, and then right around a pretty one way street called Winterfell. The houses are all big and have pretty gardens that Theon knows are just glorious, even in the snow that is just starting to cover them.
“This is our house!” Robb giggles at Theon’s shocked look. “Come on inside!”
Theon shrugs. The house is big and white and beautiful, with gray trim and black shingles and warm lights glowing through the window. It looks just like the house in a fairytale. He could have stayed outside. He could have slept outside and it would be good to be even so near to such a lovely house. He is rather cold, though, so he lets Robb take his cold hand and pull him into the house.
The door is open and there is a mat outside with flowers. Robb pushes it open with one hand, and drags Theon in with the other. They enter into a room that is nearly the size of the living room of Theon’s house. Only, it doesn’t have that stickysweetugly smell and there are big windows with dark red drapes and a woven carpet and a doorway leading to what must be the rest of the house. Theon wants to just melt into the ground and stay there forever. It is warm and it smells like something is cooking. There are sounds everywhere. Laughing and shouting and pretty music.
“Theon and I are home!” Robb calls out. He sheds his coat and hat and yanks Theon’s jackets off as well, and then gets to work sliding off his snow boots. Theon kicks off his trainers. They’re rather too big, and falling apart when he got them as well. He puts them next to Robb’s smart blue boots. They look sad and out of place. Just like him in this warm, happy house.
“Hello, Robb!” A tall man with gray eyes enters the room, and ruffles Robb’s amber hair affectionately. Theon is entranced at the way Robb’s eyes light up and he goes to hug the man that must be his dad.
Then the man goes to say hello to him.
Theon freezes.
He’s back on the sofa and the two policemen are there with their guns and their badges. Baratheon.
And-
This man.
Theon is only thinking that he needs to get away, and get away now. His heart is pounding all of the sudden and he’s hot and shaky even though he’s still cold from outside.
This man ruined everything.
He turns and runs away. He’s wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants with holes at the seams and only some old socks and it’s snowing and it’s so cold but it’s colder inside.
Theon runs for a while. How, long, he has no idea. It’s a part of town that he’s never been in, and foggy with the snow (which is falling harder than ever). Even though Theon isn’t sure he would know much about what he is doing even if he was back on Pyke near the complex he lives in. He feels like he’s in a daze. It smells like wood smoke and cold dry snow but below that Theon only smells blood.
His feet start to ache after a bit. They were cold from the start, Theon supposes, but now they are burning and throbbing. Theon looks down and he sees that they are bleeding. He doesn’t feel anything there, because he supposes the cold is too strong. If his jaw weren’t so frozen he would be smiling because Rodrik loves talking about how Theon is a fucking little pussy who cries at anything.
Thinking about Rodrik makes Theon start to cry, though, like he’s proving himself wrong. His brothers are horrible, he knows, now that he knows how good brothers can be. But they are his horrible, not like Robb Stark's father. They would be angry like him (but probably less scared). Theon hates his stupid flat but he wishes he was there now. He has no idea how to get home, and no idea where he is. He thinks of Robb talking about how his parents would worry if the walk home from school weren’t so short. That makes Theon laugh because if anyone other than Asha spared him even a passing thought he would be shocked. Then it makes him cry because he’s seeing Robb in his mind. Smiling at him with that perfect smile.
Theon sits on the curb and watches snow fall on a street he has never seen before.
He doesn’t know how long he sits there, but it is getting dark when he sees a tall figure walking towards him. He stopped crying long ago, but his tears are still on his cheeks. His feet are bloody and cut and now, now he feels them, aching and burning under the bite of the freezing wind. He’s too cold to move when Robb’s father sits next to him, and he supposes his too tired to run away or be scared, and he supposes that he’s too tired to even be surprised.
“Theon,” he says. His voice is low and warm, but not too warm. He sits down on the curb next to Theon, and he doesn’t even look upset that its mucky and slushy and he’s getting wet. He reaches out a hand, as if to touch him, and then thinks the better of it. “I am Ned Stark. Robb is my son, and you are his best friend. I would never hurt you.”
Theon says nothing. I would never hurt you. He sees his dad walking away. He wants to laugh because no one has ever told him that before and he definitely does not believe it now (I would never hurt you, but he led his father out. I would never hurt you, but Rodrik’s fists did and… and that would have happened no matter what.). Theon says nothing.
Ned seems to read his face. “I arrested your father because, well…” He sighed. “It is my job to do such things, but it is not about you, do you understand? I did what I needed to do.” He smiles and it’s not as wide as Robb’s, nor does he have the missing tooth, but it’s the same smile.
Theon blinks. Rodrik would spit. Maron would laugh. Asha would say nothing. In an instant he realizes that Robb is more of a brother to him than they are. And Theon knows what Robb would do. “I’m freezing.”
Ned smiles again, a little wider this time. “I thought as much.” He stands up, and then without a word of warning, scoops up Theon and places him on his back.
Theon is cold and tired and Ned Stark is warm when he carries him back to the Stark house. Rodrik and Maron would laugh and probably beat him if they knew that he was being carried like a little baby girl, and even more if they knew by whom. (They would and will beat him either way, though, but so he isn’t really fussed) But Theon doesn’t have much time to worry about his brothers because as soon as they reach the Stark house, Robb is running over and wrapping his arms around Theon.
“I’m sorry you ran out, Theon,” he mumbles into Theon’s hair. “You must be so cold!”
Theon is cold, but he’s not gotten many hugs in his life, and certainly never one as good as the one Robb is giving him.
My best friend, he thinks. My best friend.
4.
Theon loves staying over at Robb’s house.
It’s all good fun to be with his best friend (He doesn’t pretend those word don’t give him a little warm squeeze whenever he hears them) and dinner with the Starks is only about ten thousand times as good as he’d get at home, but the best part is when they all get ready for bed.
Robb’s room is big enough that they could easily fit in a mattress on the ground, and to be honest Theon would be happy with a blanket and a pillow on the soft plush carpeted floor, but they always end up together in Robb’s bed.
“You wanna read or something?” Robb rolls over so he’s on his side, looking at Theon through those bright bright eyes.
Theon shrugs. “If you want to.” He’s twelve now, and Robb about eleven, and even though he knows not to be embarrassed about his reading (he’s much better now, he only really stops knowing what do with all the squiggly shapes on the page when he’s scared or upset) it’s not like he would read aloud for anyone (certainly not Robb, who is brilliant and reads fast and confidently) for fun.
Robb nods once, like he gets it, and flips open his laptop. Theon doesn’t say anything, but he doesn’t need to, because Robb is tabbing over to some internet movie site, and the Harry Potter theme music starts playing.
Theon isn’t sure what he did to deserve a friend like Robb Stark. They’re only in year 6, but Robb is already popular and his circle of friends are all happy and bright and bubbly all the time, and Robb is much more like all of them than Theon is like him. Whenever Robb is talking to anyone, though, he always pulls Theon into the conversation, even when all Theon can do is blush and stare at the ground and try not to want to run away.
“Are you doing okay?”, Robb asks, once they’ve turned off their movie and are lying in the dark. He’s got this shampoo that smells like fucking strawberries and vanilla and its not like Theon is trying to smell his best mates hair or anything (because that’s weird as hell, and no, he doesn’t just like the way it feels on his face when they hug either) but every time he breathes in, this close to Robb, it’s pretty incredible.
Theon shrugs. Soft t-shirt against just-as-soft sheets, nonchalant because no one can see the traitor tears that want to come out when he needs to tear himself away from the precious now. Theon sighs out a long breath and rolls onto his side to face Robb. “I guess,” he says.
Theon leaves it at that. He’s really not okay (even though he hasn’t been okay for a long while and maybe not ever and right now next to Robb he’s maybe even approaching okay). Maron got fired from whatever shitty job he had and he’s angrier than ever, like it’s Theon who caught him smoking something behind the counter and not his manager. Asha is busy and even so Theon is old enough that he isn’t going to go to his sister for help. (Even though he has bruises like blue flowers across his ribs.) Robb doesn’t need to know about any of that, because there’s nothing either of them could really do, and it would just make Robb feel bad for him.
“Okay,” Robb says, like he doesn’t really believe Theon but isn’t going to push the point. He’s smart. He knows more than he lets on, Theon supposes.
Theon punches the pillow and settles more comfortably onto it. He isn’t sleeping on the sofa anymore. Asha put her foot down and made his brothers share their room with him, and Theon guesses they listened because their sister is the only one who does any real work, and is going to college at night as well so she’ll be supporting them. It’s not any better though, because all he has is a cot under the window where it’s always bitter cold or damp on wet nights (at least he gets a breeze when it’s hot, but its not usually warm enough to make the constant draught worthwhile), and it stinks like beer in the room. (And that’s just the flaws other than Maron pinching him and slapping him and Rodrik punching him and kicking him while he tries to curl up and sleep.) Robb’s bed, though… Robb’s bed is perfect. It’s like a freaking cloud or some shit and the blankets are soft and warm and there’s Robb himself with him, which makes it even more perfect than it could have been otherwise.
Theon supposes he must have drifted off at some point, floated off into the perfection that is Robb Stark and his lovely bed, because suddenly he is being shaken awake.
Robb is staring at him, his eyes wide and scared. The nightlight is on, casting a warm glow over the bed, and the clock on the bedside reads 2:37 AM.
Theon blinks. He is sweating and his stomach is twisting and he is shaking.
“Are- are you okay?” It is the second time Robb has asked such a question tonight, but now he looks terrified himself. “You were crying and muttering things and thrashing all over- were you having a nightmare?”
Nightmare. Theon takes a deep breath and tries to stop shaking. He’s had bad dreams his whole life, but it’s the first time he’s had The Dream with Robb. It always starts differently, sometimes he’s at school, sometimes he’s at home. It always ends, though, with his father being lead out, and Rodrik sitting down next to him with a tight fist and angry eyes. This time though-this time-
Theon dashes out to the bathroom, making it just in time to crumple to the floor and vomit in the neat white toilet.
Robb is a second behind him. He flips on the lights, and Theon sags against the cool white tile in the hard fluorescent light. His stomach feels slightly more settled, now, and even more once Robb begins to pat his back, lightly at first, and then harder, rubbing soft circles into his shoulders.
“I was dreaming that-that-“ Theon’s voice breaks and he looks away. Maron would piss himself laughing if he could see Theon now, not only being a pussy but being a pussy in public. (Well, Robb’s not public, exactly, but Theon thinks his brothers wouldn’t forgive him it.) “I dreamed that you were being hurt.” That you were the one being beaten by my brothers and all I could do was watch while your blood dripped and you screamed.
Robb doesn’t say anything, but he sits down next to Theon and wraps his arms around him. Theon is sure he smells like sweat and vomit besides, but Robb makes soft sounds into his shoulder and Theon melts, like he always does. Pussy. Robb is warm and comforting next to him, and his dream is fading away like a ghost in a Polaroid picture.
“Do you want some hot cocoa?” Robb pulls away and smiles his bright smile, and Theon feels himself smile back. Because you can’t not smile back when Robb smiles at you even especially at nearly 3 in the morning when you have sick on your mouth and you’ve just gone completely mental.
Robb leads Theon downstairs and by then they’re both giggling at the deceit of making cocoa so late at night, so early in the morning. Robb takes out his favorite mug (grayish silver with a wolf leaping across the handle) and Theon’s favorite (dark blue with a gold squid) and expertly measures out the right amount of milk and chocolate powder so that when he pops it into the microwave, it’ll all melt together.
Theon sits at the kitchen counter on one of the swivel-y stools and watches Robb. His dream has all faded away almost entirely, but if he takes his eyes off Robb, he knows he’ll see blood on the couch and someone walking away from him.
Robb hands him his cocoa wordlessly a few minutes later, and Theon sighs happily. Robb has many talents, and making hot cocoa is one of them.
“Um,” Robb clears his throat a little awkwardly. “I have an idea of how you can fall asleep again.”
Theon shrugs and then he nods, because he trusts Robb more than anyone in the world. They walk back upstairs, silently, holding their mugs in their hands. (In the morning, Catelyn will see the cocoa powder left lying on the counter and smile to herself and shake her head.) Theon finishes his cocoa sitting on Robb’s bed while Robb looks for a book.
Theon sometimes forgets how lucky he is, because he as a friend like Robb Stark. Sometimes Ramsay, from his building, makes fun of him, and says that he’s whoring himself out to the Starks and he’s pathetic for trying so hard, but the way Theon sees it, Ramsay is just jealous. Theon gets to go to the Stark’s once a week, if not more, and gets to eat their good food and sleep in comfy beds and spend time with his best friend, and so even though he always has to go home to his shitty house with his brothers he knows that Robb will still be around for him. Ramsay doesn’t get that.
“Okay!” Robb has returned, clutching a book with a silvery spine to his chest. “I’m going to read to you!”
Theon blinks. He was not expecting that, and now he isn’t sure what to say. No one has ever read to him, he thinks… well, in class obviously, but- just for fun? No one in his family ever did it, for sure. Or, well. His mummy may have, once upon a time, but certainly not in memory.
“My dad always does that when I can’t sleep or something, and…” Robb shrugs. “If you don’t want me to, I can just…”
“No, no, I want you to!” Theon is quick to reassure him. Robb is always on the edge of self-doubt, which Theon doesn’t understand, not even a little bit, because Robb is perfect and self-doubt is something just for him and the other losers who know that they will amount to nothing (no matter what redheads with blue blue eyes have to say on that).
They settle down on the bed. Robb opens the book and Theon doesn’t even care what it is. Robb flips it open and switches the lights so it’s only the dim one closest to the bed, and then he lays down on his side on the side of the bed they have always agreed Robb gets. Theon lays his head next to Robb’s and if his brothers would laugh at him, well, he doesn’t care. Robb’s voice is warm and he reads smoothly. The story doesn’t even matter.
All that matters is that Theon gets to fall asleep next to his best friend.
5.
“Are you running off to your little boyfriend?”
Theon doesn’t even turn around to respond to that. He’d tried to keep his friendship with Robb as unspecific as possible, because the more his family knew about him the more they could do what they did best - fuck everything over. But it’s been more than five years, and so he knows that if he takes heat about it now, it’s been a long time coming.
Rodrik is splayed out on the sofa, his arm around a girl who isn’t even that skinny, but just as glazed out as most of the girls he mooches around with are.
“I’m going to see Robb, yeah,” Theon says, keeping his voice even. He doesn’t want to get into a fight any more than he ever does, but recently, the monsters of his childhood have been more pathetic than scary. Theon is nearly sixteen, and doing well in school at that (well, not everything, but he’s taking calculus with honors so he figures it's not so bad that he still hasn’t gotten the whole reading thing down pat) and the coach of the swim team says that if nothing else works out he could probably get a scholarship to uni for that. And his brothers- nearly thirty, both of them, are still smoking the same shit and fucking the same girls and living in the same house that they’ve been living in forever.
“Do you let Robb Stark fuck you?” Rodrik laughs and he actually sounds somewhat lucid.
Theon says nothing. His hands clench into fists, and then unclench slowly. He will not get angry.
Rodrik stands up, and he doesn’t seem to be wasted or high or anything, for a change. The girl stays on the couch.
“I said, do you let Robb Stark fuck you?” He takes a step towards Theon and swings a fist towards his face.
Theon ducks and spins away. “It doesn’t matter,” he says. He tries to keep his voice calm. He’s never gotten good at these sorts of confrontations, never mind that most of his life has been one.
“Well, yeah, it kind of does.” Rodrik laughs sharply. “Because if you do, you’re a goddamn faggot.”
“And so fucking what if I am, Rodrik?” Theon regrets rising to the bait as soon as he speaks, but then it’s too late.
Rodrik is a fuckup and a loser but he’s taller than Theon and is at least twice his weight. He swings forward and nails Theon’s shoulder with the full force of his arm. “If you’re a faggot, we’ll kill you.”
We?
Theon hears Maron’s nasal laughter behind him as he is knocked backwards. He crumples to the floor and tries not to think about all the different ways his brothers could fuck him up without anyone ever knowing.
“I always knew you were a dirty cocksucker, but I didn’t know it was for real.” Maron is howling at his own joke, so overcome with laughter he doesn’t think to kick Theon, for which he is bitterly grateful.
Rodrik doesn’t laugh though, merely grunts and lifts a half-empty beer bottle.
Theon jumps to his feet. He’s lost the fat he carried through his childhood, and swimming has made him toned and strong, but his brothers are big guys, and in a fight, Theon knows he’ll have no chance against them. “Leave me alone!” The words sound as weak as they did when he was a terrified eight-year-old.
“You gonna make us, fag?” Rodrik is a handsbreadth away from Theon and his breath reeks but he’s scarily sober for a change. He grabs Theon’s arm and twists it behind him. Theon grits his teeth and tries- fruitlessly- to stop tears from worming their way out of tight shut eyes.
Shutting his eyes is a terrible, terrible idea. The beer bottle that Rodrik was holding a minute ago comes crashing towards his head. Theon twists out of the way- maybe being smaller and more slippery has its benefits after all- but clearly, not many benefits.
The heavy glass bottle catches him in the side of the forehead. There’s a burning pain, followed by a sickening crunch, and sharp, needlelike pinches start to throb just above Theon’s eyebrow.
Grunting, Theon ducks down and half-slithers half-crawls away from Rodrik, who is grinning dumbly and holding the now partly-shattered bottle up. “See what happens to your sort in this house?”
Maron smirks. “Only reason we aren’t going to finish yeh off here completely is that a few years from now Dad will get out of jail, and he will kill you himself when he finds out what you are.” He spits on the ground. “And we’ll be there, helping him.”
Theon reaches up a shaking hand and touches his face. His fingers come away red with sticky blood. He feels sick, and not just from the pain in his head. He knows that his brothers are not kidding around when they say they’ll kill him, and somehow, from what he remembers of his dad, he wouldn’t hesitate either. Hell, the guy was running a drug empire. He sure wouldn’t mind one more kill. For the sake of the proud Greyjoy family. Theon almost laughs. Maybe once they were proud, but now they are nothing but a bunch of pathetic violent arses.
Rodrik starts forward again, but Theon is faster this time. He leaps to his feet and darts out the door. He’s not wearing a jacket, and it’s pretty chilly outside, and all he’s got on him is a couple quid and his mobile, but in a few minutes, he’s halfway down Pyke, gasping for breath at the bus shelter.
He knows the way to Robb’s by heart now, so Theon lets himself space out on the busride. He holds a still-shaking hand to the bloody gash on his forehead. He had always known that his family would in no way support him if they knew- if they knew he was bisexual, but he’d never seen any reason to have it come up. As far as he knew that they’d known, he’d carefully only mentioned the girls in his life, never ever any guys. Then again, the only guy- the only person that mattered was Robb. Theon allows his head to fall against the window. His head is pounding but what he hates even more is that it’s from his brothers. They’ve always been cruel, but Theon has never seen the raw, animal hatred in their eyes before.
Theon wants to cry. Asha is not going to be able to help him with this. He’s not 9, even if he still feels like it, and there’s no angel that will give him a home.
No angel other than Robb.
“Mate-“ Robb opens the door to the Stark house, his face goes from happy to confused to worried in about two and a half seconds. “What happened to you?”
He leads Theon inside and Theon is happy to sign out and let Robb take care of him, just like he has throughout their entire friendship. Robb sits him down and gets iodine and bandages and clucks around him. The gash burns when Robb dabs at it, but it burns less than Maron’s words ringing in his ears. Not that he expected that they would be at all fluffy and cuddly if and when they found out about … him, but still, he can’t stop hearing them over and over.
“Theon…” Robb finishes, sits down next to him. He’s already taller than Theon is, and his eyes, so blue when he was 8, have only grown brighter since then. Now, he lifts a hand, thin and white, and runs it through his hair. “I know- I know that there’s stuff at home that isn’t good, but-“ he shakes his head, “what happened to you?”
My psychotic older brothers figured I was into guys, which I am, but I’m only really into you, but without me saying any of that, they decided to beat me up. “Rodrik and Maron happened. My brothers.” Theon’s voice cracks and it suddenly feels like he’s talking around a football in his throat.
He looks down. There are tears in his eyes, he knows, and he can’t for a second imagine how they got there. Well, no, he can. But he’s never really had a warm cozy family situation, he should be able to deal with this. This is why Maron says I’m a little girl.
Theon stiffens for a second when he feels Robb leaning towards him, but then he is melting into an embrace. Robb’s arms are around him and a hand is stroking his too-long needing-a-wash hair.
“Shh,” Robb says as Theon inexplicably begins to sob into his shoulder. He rubs Theon’s back and Theon wants to inhale the moment, the smell of shampoo and old spice that Robb always carries with him, the light touch of fingers carding through his hair, the soft scratch of a worn t-shirt next to his cheeks.
“Robb.” Theon pulls away. His heart is pounding and he’s sure that there are… other signs of his excitement throughout his body. “They-they beat me because they-“ Realized? Guessed? “-Because I’m, you know, into guys,”
Theon looks down. His face is flushing as Robb’s silence stretches on from one second into another.
Some half-shit music is playing on the radio, Guns ‘n’ Roses or something like that. (In retrospect, Theon will like My Michelle a lot more.)
Then Robb is kissing him.
+1.
Robb’s lips are soft and hard and tentative, but Theon is too surprised to react so Robb presses harder, frantic almost. His lips brush downward and his tongue flicks out, lightning fast, and then Theon is melting towards him.
Seconds later- too soon- Robb pulls away to gulp in a deep breath, lips swollen and blush red.
`Theon blinks. “What..?”
Robb looks away, abashed. “I didn’t – I mean, I wasn’t sure before, but-“
“But- you wanted to?” Theon is too shocked to over-analyze what Robb is saying.
But he doesn’t have to, because then Robb is smiling so bright that Theon is dazzled all over again. “Of course I wanted to! You idiot!”
Then Theon leans over and kisses him. Hard.
And he is not even a little bit afraid.