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(we were always going to be) claimed by the sea

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He first takes Robb to the beach when Robb is ten and Theon is twelve. Jon tags along too, which annoys Theon because it was supposed to be his personal time with Robb, but they end up on the sandy King’s Landing shores anyways. Theon is in charge of packing, slathering both of their winter-pale bodies with sunscreen, claiming a spot on the overcrowded beach, and teaching them how to swim.

 

When he was four, Theon learned to swim the Greyjoy way. His father carried him to the rocky edge of Old Wyk harbor where the water was deep and cold, and dropped him in. Theon doesn’t remember it, but his older brothers used to recount his screams and flailing limbs to tease Theon. When Theon would protest that any toddler thrown against its will into dangerous waters would panic, their father would break into the conversation. His father never stopped talking about how Rodrik and Maron and Asha had learned to swim when they were three and loved it.

 

There was never any use in arguing with his family, Theon had learned by then, so the next day he dove off the rocks of Pyke and forced himself to swim for thirty minutes. He had to become more like his family, and if nearly drowning every day meant his father would stop being so cruel to Theon, so be it.

 

It was almost ironic. He had been young and fit and strong, and his father had still been heavy-handed with Theon, but he was becoming a real Greyjoy. That was when the police had broken into their home, arrested his father, took his mother to a hospital, and sent Theon to Winterfell. He was no Greyjoy now, just a ward of the state, sentenced to isolation in the cold North, and the Northerners laughed at the Ironborn.

 

“Is this a hermit crab shell?” Robb says eagerly, holding up a tiny conch. He has been obsessed with marine life ever since Catelyn said it was okay for Theon to take him to the beach. The mark of approval from the Starks had made Theon feel like maybe, just maybe, they were starting to trust him. And when they trusted Theon, they might let him see his father. It makes Theon excited, thinking about going back to Pyke, a real man now that Rodrik and Maron were gone, with his father truly proud of him for once.

 

He hopes his father will still be proud of him.

 

“It’s just a conch.” Theon lets sand flow out of the gaps between his cupped fist, building a drip castle while Jon watches in awe. “You won’t really find anything good here. This beach is too polluted and crowded. If you wanna see real sea monsters, you have to go to the Iron Islands.”

 

“Jory Cassel says that your reservation’s only got fish in its waters, and you all make up krakens to impress the rest of us,” Jon ventures. He is digging a trench in the sand so Robb can bury him in it.

 

“Jory Cassel’s full of shit,” Theon snaps. He’s used to hearing the northerners mock his tribe, used to hearing that the Ironborn aren’t as proud and fierce as they were before they were forced to become part of Westeros. It still hurts when Jon Snow, probably not much smarter than Hodor, has to parrot that back at him in front of Robb.

 

“Yeah,” agrees Robb, and Theon feels a little better. “My dad says that they found a dead kraken washed up in Essos, so there’s definitely real ones out there. And Theon’s seen a sea dragon before, right?”

 

“Yeah,” Theon says to Jon, even though he’s only seen Nagga’s bones, and who knows if they really are sea dragon bones anyways. But Theon believes in his god and he believes in sea dragons and he believes that his father loves him, even if there isn’t tangible proof. He has faith. “They’re much scarier than some direwolf.”

 

Robb examines Grey Wind. That was the one exception to Theon’s beach trip, both Starks had to travel with their dogs. He doesn’t mind. Theon gets a certain satisfaction out of Grey Wind’s affinity for him- the dog doesn’t like most people, just Theon and the other Starks. “Maybe,” says Robb hesitantly. “But I bet a sea dragon is much bigger than any wolf, right?”

 

“Right.” Theon feels smug.

 

Jon glares at the sand. “Whatever. Are you guys gonna bury me or what? The hole’s deep enough.”

 

“I wanna learn to swim now,” Robb says, “it’s so hot out and we can bury you any time. We can’t find mermaids in the godswood pools.”

 

“Betcha you haven’t seen no mermaids,” challenges Jon, but Robb has one hand pulling his half-brother into the warm cloudy water and the other hand wrapped in Theon’s slightly larger hand. It’s a good distraction technique, and Theon’s tired of fighting with Jon anyways.

 

“Come on, I wanna swim!” Robb yells, half a laugh and half a whine, and Theon grabs his little pale sides and tickles him until Robb is hunched over laughing hysterically in the two-inch deep water. Jon tries to jump up on Theon’s back, whooping, but the abundance of sunscreen that Theon had to slather on him makes Jon slide off into the sand. They’re a mess, sand in their little-kid swim trunks, a strip of seaweed clinging to Robb’s pale thin chest, and Theon laughs too.

 

It’s as though the sun is only shining down on the three of them, and Theon’s chest feels like it’s expanding outwards, like he’s a whirlpool of happiness. It’s like everything is lining up just right- he’s by the water, he’s laughing, and everything is just perfect.

 

- - - - - -

 

Theon gets the call the day after he turns thirteen, a man grown by Ironborn standards. The custom is for the Drowned God to pick his chosen one from a ring of drowned children in a pool of salt water, but Theon is nowhere near any ocean. Instead he wakes from his sleep with seawater rising in his throat and drowning there in his bed, his hands clawing at his throat and his mouth wet with water.

 

When he is revived by one of the Stark guards, he understands what the Drowned God needs him to do. Theon presses his head into his hands, and he weeps.

 

- - - - - -

 

“Come on, you seriously can’t go any deeper,” Theon cries.

 

“That’s what she-”

 

“Gods, Robb, you’ve got to stop saying that.”

 

Robb still has the same laugh from when he was a kid, Theon thinks, like he’s a toddler at a carnival and everything is new and shiny and wonderful. Theon hates that about him. Theon hates a lot of things about Robb, and all of them boil down to the same two thoughts: I can’t be you, or I can’t have you.

 

Too much thinking makes him feel sick, and Theon kicks his legs hard. There is the omnipresent thrum of worry in his chest that starts up whenever he is with Robb in water, beating against Theon’s heart. It has been two months since the calling. “If you won’t go back to shore, at least swim harder! You wanna drown out here?”

 

The two of them have snuck into the freezing ocean water just off White Harbor while Robb’s father visits the Manderlys on business. The water is colder than King’s Landing’s shabby beaches, but it is clean and sharp and it reminds Theon of swimming off Pyke’s shores. He has swum out so deep that White Harbor’s shores and statues have shrunk, so far away that Theon wonders if he could die out here and never be found by the Starks, his corpse sinking to the bottom of the ocean until the Drowned God would retrieve him.

 

He can’t allow himself to drown out here, though, because Robb had to be a fool and follow him. Robb is only thirteen, and still such a bad swimmer that he has to hold onto Theon’s foot to keep from sinking. And if there’s anywhere Theon will let himself drown, it’s closer to the Iron Islands, in the churning black waters of his reservation. It would only be right.

 

“Isn’t that-” Robb’s head bobs just above the waves, and he sputters through the water in his mouth. “- some kind of Ironborn ritual? Drown someone, revive ‘em?”

 

“Baptism, yeah,” Theon says. He keeps his voice nonchalant. “And don’t ask me to baptise you, your mom would tear me in two. Even if you made it through alive, I’d just be ‘Theon, the Bad Influence’ again.”

 

“With all her talk about how I’ll burn in the seven hells if I don’t pray, I think she’d be glad I paid attention to anything religious,” says Robb pensively. The irony hurts Theon’s stomach. “Maybe even if I started praying to your Drowned God. Can he still reach us all the way over here?”

 

The Drowned God is present in any form of salt water, but all Theon says is “not for your pasty ass, Stark,” and tries to keep the fear out of his voice. His god may be close, and Theon knows that his god is waiting. He called upon Theon a full year ago, and the fact that he has not yet completed his task weighs on him almost as heavily as the fear of completing his task does.

 

Robb attempts to float on his back, flails his limbs for a bit, and eventually returns to shakily treading water. “I bet it gets annoying for you, having so many white people ask about your culture and stuff.”

 

“Yeah,” Theon mutters quietly, and shakes his head bitterly. He’s gotten used to it, more or less, but he wants to focus on keeping Robb alive and breathing right now. Robb has soft pink lips and pretty white teeth, and Theon needs to keep Robb’s mouth above the water line.

 

“You wanna talk about it?”

 

No, Robb.”

 

It’s another thing he hates about Robb, how he’s apparently the neighborhood fucking hero. Robb’s always been the kid who cleans dinner tables without being asked and rescues cats from trees and comforts his insecure half-brother when the rest of the family hates him. And that’s just Jon Snow.

 

So of course Robb wants to take care of Theon, the “misguided teen from an abusive family from a broken tribe” that the Starks don’t even want.Theon is always wondering when he’s going to wake up and realize that his best friend is a piece of shit and kick him off. He’s always waiting for the shoe to drop.

 

He knows there are bigger, darker things to worry about when he looks at Robb Stark, but Theon is good at tucking away his secrets inside of himself. He can at least hope that Robb won’t find out about the Drowned God’s call until it is truly time for Theon to answer it.

 

There is silence, and then Robb paddles over to where Theon is, treading the cold ocean water. “You want me to leave you alone?” he asks, his hair wet and curling on the nape of his neck, big blue eyes wide. He looks like a doll. Breakable, Theon thinks, he looks like I could shatter him if I wanted, could break his wrists with my hands and snap his neck, or even just press down on his shoulders until his lungs fill with salt water.

 

“What’s the use in that?” Theon says with a forced smile. “You leave me, you’ll die before you get to the shore.” And I don’t want that, please, please, don’t make me do this-

 

Robb laughs, that repulsively lovely, innocent child laugh. “Hey, it’s White Harbor. Everyone says there are mermaids in this part of the ocean. If you don’t help me swim back, they will. I bet they’re much sexier than you, too.”

 

“Fuck you, I am the sexiest creature in any part of the ocean,” says Theon, pretending to be affronted, and Robb giggles. “And if your mom catches you saying that-”

 

“Stop talking about my mom,” Robb groans, ignoring Theon’s protest that “you brought it up before, like, twice,” and pushes at his shoulder. Theon grabs him with one hand and tickles Robb, who thrashes in the water and squeals like a kid again.

 

Robb’s head dips below the water twice, and each time Theon pulls him up before he can so much as cough. Not today, he thinks as Robb giggles wildly, their bodies pressing together in the cold water, not today, not me please.

 

- - - - - -

 

Westerosi Child Services allow Theon one visit with his father each year. When he was younger, he had pleaded for extra visits- “there’s more than one holiday each year!” “he didn’t talk at all, I don’t think that should count! do-over?” “please, please he’s my father, can’t you let me see him tomorrow?”- but now he feels sick. Theon wants to scream at the boy he once was, wants to press his hands against the bruises and cuts left by their father until he understands that time away from his father is better.

 

Well. There is still a part of Theon that still craves his father’s approval, even despite all the places on Theon’s body that he can point to and name the exact time when his father hit him there. He hates that part of himself, almost as much as he hates the little marks of abuse his father has left on his body.

 

Robb has seen these marks. Robb does not understand why Theon goes to see his father, but Theon does not (and can not, honestly) explain it to him. He tries not to speak to Robb the day before his scheduled visit with his father, because he knows what his father thinks of Robb.

 

“You’ve been disgracefully lazy,” Balon Greyjoy mutters at his son when Theon arrives. “Did you not get your calling from the Drowned God several years ago?”

 

“Three years, dad,” mumbles Theon. He doesn’t expect a greeting anymore.

 

Theon stares around the jail flatly. This place was once a maximum security prison, used for murderers and terrorists, and was the pride of the Westerosi government. Due to tax problems, the prison has fallen into disrepair, but it keeps its fearsome reputation. It’s a good place to keep Balon Greyjoy, chief of the Ironborn tribe, now caged and run-down. He matches.

 

His father looks older than when Theon last saw him, his dark skin creased with wrinkles and silver threads dotted through his long black hair, but he still sits perfectly straight and regal in his chair. Even in an beige jumpsuit, he still looks like the man that raised him, and Theon stares into his father’s sharp black eyes with a feeling of apprehension and awe.

 

“Three years ignoring our God,” his father sighs, voice thick with disappointment, and Theon’s chest hurts. “Of all the children I sired, you were the one chosen. Not your brothers, so fierce and strong, not even your proud sister. Is this punishment unto me?”

 

“Jail’s your punishment,” Theon snaps. “And I’m working on it.”

 

Balon’s eyes rove around the cell with contempt. Theon feels the same anxious feeling he would get as a child before his father’s fist would crash across his face rise up in his stomach. “Jail? This place is no real punishment. The only one who can judge us is our god. Our god, who will certainly wreak havoc on our land if you do not-”

 

“Shut. Up.” Theon’s hands are shaking. He hates this part of the visit, where his father spins words around until he reiterates the same point he has been telling Theon for years: I did nothing wrong, and it is your fault I am in prison, and you are weak. “You’re in jail for child abuse. You’re in jail because you drank too much and-”

 

“How long must we-” interrupts Balon, and Theon keeps talking. If he lets his father speak over him, then Theon will be stuck here forever listening to his father berate him about what a terrible son he has been. Theon has not let his father finish one of his sadistic lectures since he told Theon that it was his fault for being taken away to Winterfell, not Balon’s.

 

“-and you hit me so hard that my fucking head hit the kitchen table-”

 

“-you should have never gotten in the way-”

 

“-you’re seriously blaming me? Me? God, fucking again, you always hit me, never Asha or god forbid Rodrik and Maron-”

 

The words coming out of Theon’s mouth are almost nonsensical, tainted with anger and a dark kind of sadness, and he does not take his eyes off Balon.

 

“-you will not criticize my methods for dealing with a child as willful and pitiful as you, you do not understand what I went through to raise you-”

 

“-you raised me? You hurt me! They took me up north because I was in a goddamn coma with my face cut open, and you left Asha perfectly fucking fine-”

 

“-you will not compare yourself to your sister, Theon, she has always been-”

 

“-better than me, yeah, just like Rodrik and Maron were before you got them killed-”

 

The sight of Theon Greyjoy and his father screaming at each other is something the prison guards must deal with once a year, and have become accustomed to physically separating the two men from one another. “You will not come back next year unless your calling is complete,” Balon hisses as Theon is dragged out of the room.

 

“Fuck you! I hope you get stabbed to death in there!”

 

Theon’s face is wet, and he wipes his cheeks. He’s crying, he realizes after a second. He is disgusted by himself.

 

“You can clean up in the bathroom, but you after that you gotta go,” the security guard states in a bored voice. “Your restraining order says that you can’t spend no more time with your father.”

 

“Yeah, with pleasure,” Theon mutters tightly. Another whole year without his father; more if he can’t obey the Drowned God’s call. He is again cut off from his family, untethered and floating away. He imagines sacrificing himself to the Drowned God instead of Robb Stark like he is supposed to. He imagines his corpse being the one to sink to the bottom of the ocean. He wonders if anyone would care.

 

- - - - - -

 

He will admit it to no one, but Theon is terrified of fulfilling his calling. The idea is so unmentionable, so awful that Theon feels weak and boneless just thinking about doing it. And yet it angers him, because what Ironborn doesn’t want to prove his worth to his god, his family, his tribe? Theon wants to do it, he wants to give the Drowned God the offering that he needs. If he does this, if he just does this one simple task, he can be welcomed back into his family, even if he isn’t legally a part of his tribe anymore. It’s all Theon wants.

 

When he thinks about answering his call, he has the same image in his head as the one his father told him as a child. The moon will be full and its light will shine against the black ocean waves, like a silver pathway to the horizon, and Theon will stand at the shore with his offering by his side. That is where his mind cannot continue.

 

He cannot imagine himself holding Robb’s head under the water until he drowns. He cannot visualize how Robb’s bloated corpse would look as Theon pushes it out into the deep dark sea. He cannot do it.

 

Theon wonders why his god needs him to sacrifice Robb, of all people. Robb is just a teenage boy. Robb is the one person closest to his heart, the one person that he really loves. It must be some cruel joke that fate wants to play on Theon: he, the boy cast out from his home, forced to kill the one person who has given him a second chance at having someone to love and be loved by.

 

- - - - - -

 

It is a lovely funeral. Everyone who attends Eddard Stark’s memorial service says so. There are copious flower bouquets and weeping relatives and psalms about the Old Gods read, and it looks exactly like a funeral should.

 

It is a terrible, awful funeral.

 

Under the lace veils and murmured condolences, there are whispers. Dark, worried whispers, about what could have been the true cause of death and how soon he died after Robert Baratheon and the way Cersei Lannister is examining the coffin with a cool facade and the fact that something is very, very wrong.

 

At the mass held by the godswood tree, Theon holds Sansa’s hand and pats Bran’s back and strokes Arya’s hair, trying to comfort the children. Robb stands next to his brothers and sisters with his eyes red from crying, but Theon does not touch him.

 

A teenager’s funeral should not look like his father’s. When a boy Robb’s age dies, they should gather his sobbing friends in a nice cemetery and talk about how wonderful he was when he was alive. But if Theon does manage to sacrifice Robb, his funeral will inevitably look like this: ominous, confused, covered by a facade of piety yet undermined by the whispers and theories about how he died. When Theon looks at Robb today, all he sees is what is soon to be another corpse.

 

- - - - - -

 

He last takes Robb to the beach when he is sixteen and Theon is nineteen, and no one follows them to the shore because the rest of Robb’s happy little family is in Winterfell hosting a party for his birthday and no one wants to come to Weeping Water at this time of night.

 

Theon puts one foot into the ocean. It is bitingly cold, and he remembers how Maron and Rodrik used to grasp his ankles and pull him into the sea as a joke, the way the water felt closing over his head. He remembers seeing their obituaries in the paper. He remembers how cold his father’s eyes were when Theon visited him after they died. Is this a joke to you? Your brothers are dead and I am left with you, you pathetic weak-willed boy- Balon Greyjoy’s voice, tight and high with anger, and Theon winces.

 

He stands barefoot in the shallows by the shore, cold and wet and determined, and he waits.

 

“I got your text-” comes Robb’s voice from behind him, and Theon closes his eyes. “Hey, what are you doing? Aren’t you cold?”

 

Robb’s skin will be mottled and traced blue from the veins in his cheeks and his eyes will be swollen, his corpse bloated and stinking of salt and fish and-

 

“No,” Theon yells back. His voice cracks. “Come on.”

 

It is windy tonight, at least ten knots, and Theon watches Robb pull his coat around him more tightly. Theon wonders if the coat will weigh Robb’s body down, if his dress shoes and slacks will help him sink to the bottom of the ocean. “What are we doing here, Theon?”

 

He stretches his mouth into a smile. “What, we’re not allowed to celebrate your birthday at night now? You’re sixteen, dude! Sweet sixteen by the sea! It’s alliteration and everything.” He is rambling and even his voice sounds scared, but Robb doesn’t seem to notice.

 

Theon imagines his god rising up from under the ocean floor and wrapping his arms around Robb’s corpse. He thinks of Balon’s eyes when he will return. He thinks of Catelyn’s eyes when she hears the news that her son has been murdered. Theon shakes his head and imagines his sister smiling instead.

 

“It’s so cold out. And I bet it’s worse in the water.” Robb steps forward, his eyes bright and hair messy from the wind. The sky behind him is enormous and black, all-encompassing, devouring the horizon. The darkness that will swallow the dawn, Theon thinks, and he can’t remember where he heard that. He almost wishes for the black sky to swallow him up too. “Just come inside with me, okay? My family won’t mind.”

 

“Later! I’ll go in later, man. I just wanted to show you something.”

 

Robb is trying to smile. He is confused, amused, open. He doesn’t understand that he should be suspicious, defensive, terrified. There are millions of spots on the human body that can be hit and cut and pushed, and Theon knows all of them, and Robb has them all unguarded.

 

Robb is pulling off his shoes. Theon wants to tell him to run, but he stands solemnly as Robb steps into the water and yelps. “Gods! It’s freezing, how are you not dead?”

 

“I’m Ironborn,” Theon says quietly. “I grew up by the water. You have your snows, I had the water. I taught you how to swim.”

 

“Oh,” says Robb, still confused, but he is attempting to be polite. Theon wonders if Eddard Stark was this courteous just before he was be killed, too.

 

“Oh, I remember that. In King’s Landing, with Jon. And in White Harbor, right? I was terrible.”

 

“Maybe I wasn’t a good teacher,” replies Theon distractedly.

 

“No, man, you were fine.”

 

There’s something in Robb’s voice that Theon can’t place, something quiet and sudden, like a realization that something bad is going to happen. Theon has to move quickly if he wants his family back, and his throat constricts.

 

“You were a fine teacher. Maybe I’m just fat and that’s why I couldn’t keep my head above water, huh?”

 

Theon shakes his head. He can barely hear Robb over the wind. “I always made sure you wouldn’t drown,” he mutters. “You were always safe with me.”

 

“Yeah.” Robb is touching his arm protectively. “Remember when you beat up Jon Umber for calling me a fag? I told you I could’ve dealt with him myself, but you broke his nose.”

 

Jon Umber deserved it anyways, Theon thinks. He does remember how many fights he had gotten into when he first started attending public school. Too many white kids were fascinated with his dark skin and accent, with his strange clothes and long hair, and mild interest turned into whispered insults faster than Theon could keep up with. He’d only gotten into one fight for Robb- the kid insisted on wearing a shiny plastic backpack with cartoon wolves on it, and tiny Jon Umber Jr. had laughed at him in the hallway, yelling the word faggot until Theon’s fist collided with his face.

 

“Your mom made me apologize to that little shit,” Theon recalls, “but I don’t think she minded. Your dad said that violence wasn’t the answer, but-”

 

“But loyalty is, above all, the most important thing a man can hold on to,” finishes Robb with a grin. “And anyways, Arya thought you looked cool with a black eye.”

 

The story can’t really strike Theon as humourous right now, but he snorts out a laugh anyways. “Your family’s a piece of work.”

 

Robb’s teeth are chattering, and he sidles closer to Theon in the shallow water. Theon wonders if Robb is conscious that he is rubbing his shoulders against Theon’s, but he doesn’t care to ask. Robb is warm against his arm, and he will soon be cold and bloated and blue-lipped, and it won’t matter anyways. “Can I ask you something? Why- why didn’t you go see your dad this year?”

 

“Didn’t think you would have noticed,” Theon says warily, and does not meet Robb’s wide earnest eyes. “I’ll see him soon. There’s still time.”

 

“You don’t need to see him. If you don’t want to.” Robb’s voice is tentative. “I mean, maybe it’s g-good that you’re spending some time apart from your dad. You know?”

 

Theon isn’t listening. Farther out, the surf is growing more choppy, more violent. He can’t tell if it is mere coincidence, or if his god is right here, growing impatient. “Things will change between me and my family. I’m almost eighteen anyways, and then I don’t have to be taken care of by your family.”

 

There is a long silence. It feels as though the water is getting rapidly more cold, and Theon’s feet are beginning to go numb. The wind is like ice raking through his flesh, cold seeping into Theon’s very bones. He remembers his mother pulling him out of the Old Wyk harbor, remembers how she had wailed that he was going to die, the water was so cold.

 

“I’ve th-thought about this a lot,” Robb admits quietly, his voice shaky but controlled. “I, um, studied your religion in freshman year.”

 

He leans against Theon’s arm, Robb’s head resting on his shoulder with his red hair lit by moonlight, and Theon stares down at him. Now, you have to do it now, he thinks, but Robb is small and warm and terrifying in this icy cold ocean next to Theon, too peaceful, too serene. “What- what do you-”

 

“It’s f-f-fine.” Robb takes his hand, and it startles Theon. His eyes are sorrowful, and something feels wrong. “I know you wanna go back home. I- I mean, I get it-”

 

“What are you talking about,” Theon enunciates, panic rising in his throat. “Robb.”

 

“I’m not dumb,” says Robb, and he is starting to cry. “You had passed out in a pool of saltwater, miles away from the sea, and you think that didn’t scare me? You think I didn’t ask anyone I could find about what had happened to you? I tore Mr. Luwin’s library apart-”

 

“No,” Theon says blankly, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

“You have to kill the oldest son in your rival family, you have to kill me, I read about it,” Robb says. His face is a mess of tears, cheeks flushed red from the wind, lips quivering. He’d always been such a messy crier. “I’m scared. It’s okay.”

 

Theon pushes him away and tries to step backwards, but the sand under his feet has gripped him tight and made it impossible to move. “Go away, Robb. Just get out of here.”

 

“No! You’re my brother, right?” Robb clutches Theon’s shirt. “Now and always.”

 

“I’m not going to hurt you! I always made sure you were safe in the water, just go back to your family and forget about me.”

 

“But you never had a family!”

 

“Robb, shut up and-”

 

“You just had me.” Robb is breathing hard, eyes determined. The sky is getting even darker than it was before, like the moonlight is being sucked away into the sea.

 

“I know my dad used to ignore you and I know my mom doesn’t love you and I know you need to stay with people that love you. And I love you, Theon, okay? And if you give me up, you can go back to your own family, and you don’t need to protect me anymore. I’m doing this for you. I want you to be happy.”

 

Robb is reaching out for him, Theon is pushing away, Robb is leaning forwards and Theon is shrinking back- Robb’s hands are on his shoulders and their mouths press together, Theon’s hands curling around Robb’s, stomach flooding with a bright sharp pleasure-

 

- - - - - -

 

He remembers drifting alone in the cold ocean, eyes swollen from the salty water but forced open to stare at the black inky sky. The water was black, too, and the hair that floated in a fan around his head was black, and on the inside he felt sick and ugly and black.

 

After that, he remembers a roaring in his ears unlike anything he had ever heard before, wordless and full of rage, and then nothing.

Chapter Text

Later, people will agree that the wave they saw that night was the biggest anyone had seen in decades. The tidal wave was made of such dark water, it was said, even darker than the rest of the ocean. Many of the villagers claim that they had seen two young men out on the shore before the water struck the shore, but neither were seen afterwards and the claims were dismissed.

 

It was a very dark sky that night, a few eyewitnesses mentioned. Out of nowhere there was darkness where there was once light. Like the moon had vanished, and the stars too. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight, they said, but a black sky at night… that was something a lot more worrisome.

 

A missing boy is reported later: a young man, barely sixteen, with auburn hair and blue eyes. He was reported as gone by his mother, who had been seen crying out on the ocean shore where it was theorized the boy had gone missing. Legends will be told about this weeping woman clutching her neck and wailing for her boy, unable to be comforted until she herself lay down in the ocean and let the water take her. She becomes known as Lady Stoneheart, a strange silent spectre occasionally seen on the shores of Weeping Water, her eyes huge and her self-inflicted wounds leaking saltwater.

 

Though the myths of Lady Stoneheart live on, nothing is said of the boy’s body. He vanishes from the public’s mind within a few months, and exists now in only Coast Guard reports from years ago.

 

Later, a body washes up on the shores of King’s Landing. Murder out at sea, especially in the capital’s dangerous and pirate-infested waters, is common, and the body was almost disregarded as collateral damage. Almost.

 

The body that washes up is male, dark-skinned, but not estimated to be Dornish or Essosi from the shape of his jaw and cheekbones. It is plastered in thousands of luminescent plankton, swirled over the mottled corpse in intricate beautiful swirls of glowing light that contrast with its mouth, open wide as if in a horrified scream. Further examinations of the body will identify who the young man was, but no one ever comes for what is left of Theon Greyjoy.

 

It is speculated that the man may have been part of a human sacrifice, as is common in the Ironborn culture. The Ironborn are known to perform a curious and terrifying ritual every several years: the eldest son of the most powerful Ironborn family sacrifices the eldest son of their most powerful rival to the Drowned God in exchange for prosperity on the Iron Islands.

 

The absence of a sacrificial corpse rules out this theory, however. Theon Greyjoy’s body is found drifting alone in the water instead of his victim’s, as alone and sad as he was in life as he was in death.

 

- - - - - -

 

Asha glances at the two chairs by her father’s cell. Every year, an extra chair is laid out for her brother’s annual visit. The guards must not have heard the news.

 

“You should have let me take home his body,” she snaps at the man in the cell, her words slowly crescendoing into a snarl. “He was my brother. He was Ironborn.”

 

“He was many things, but he was no Ironborn,” Balon Greyjoy says, his voice steady. Asha has wept for nearly an hour after she heard of her brother’s mangled ritual and following death, and has mourned for the customary half a day, yet her father has not seemed to have shed a tear over the passing of his last son.

 

“I don’t care if Theon sacrificed the wrong guy, father, that doesn’t mean he isn’t my family. It’s not like you’ve never fucked up before.” Asha remembers when Theon still lived at home, when her father threw him into the kitchen table, remembers the slick red blood that had clung to her clothes when she tried to lift his slack body.

 

Balon shakes his head dismissively. Even now, he will not own up to his cruelty, and Asha stares at him with a disgust she has rarely felt for her father. “I have made misjudgements, but I have never disobeyed my god as he had.”

 

Asha wants to give up this argument, knowing her father is as stubborn as she, but she cries out that her brother was good and kind and undeserving of this, but the guards have called time’s up and she is nearly dragged out of the police station, screaming at Balon Greyjoy.

 

Qarl, bless him, is waiting for her in the car. “Sorry,” he says sheepishly when Asha slams the door behind her.

 

She wipes angrily at her eyes. “Fuck him. I knew he didn’t really like Theon, but-” and then she breaks off into a stony silence. There’s nothing she can say.

 

“Fuck him, yeah,” agrees Qarl.

 

They sit in the car together, immobile, saying nothing. Asha wonders what Theon must have felt when he first got his calling, choking on seawater and fear, and how he felt when he realized he sacrificed the wrong body. Asha can’t imagine how betrayed she would feel if she were her brother.

 

She remembers what Theon’s body had looked like, frozen and perfectly preserved and covered in glowing light. She remembers the ad for MISSING BOY- SIXTEEN, AUBURN HAIR, BLUE EYES, 5’9 and the picture below it. Asha had never kept in touch with her brother after he was sent to live in Winterfell, but she knew about Robb Stark from the news channels.

 

Robb Stark, she thinks. Oh, shit.

 

What was the criteria for an offering again? The eldest son of their rival family?

 

“Qarl,” Asha says quietly. “I need you to drive me to Winterfell.”

 

Her boyfriend looks up with concerned eyes. “Is it about Theon?”

 

“Kind of.” Asha puts her head in her hands and thinks, Who else. Who else. There has to be someone else. Robb Stark could so easily have been the boy that her brother killed, and it all made sense: the Starks were the closest thing to rivals that the Greyjoys had now, Robb was the oldest, Theon lived in Winterfell with him-

 

Oh shit.

 

“I need to speak to Jon Snow,” says Asha breathlessly.

Poor, poor Theon.