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A Very Throbb Xmas Collection

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It was late on a bitterly cold night in Winterfell. The snow had been falling all day in deep relentless drifts, but now all was still, deep, and dark. In this cold darkness, a poor old man was wandering the grounds of the ruined castle. He was bareheaded and barefoot. He had, of course, had boots but they had been stolen from him as a jape by some inhabitants of the castle. They had pushed him into the snow, spit on him and called him “Turncloack, Traitor… Reek..” He had made no protest. He knew he had earned those vile names. 

So the poor man limped on through the snow with naked feet, which were missing toes and turning first red then blue with the cold. He kept his head bowed as he walked, his frail form shaking harshly. The poor creature had the body of an old man but in truth he was not much over twenty. Yet, with his shock of white hair and skeletal face, perishing with cold, he looked the picture of misery.

Lights were shining from every window in the castle and candles had even been lit in the old abandoned sept for, though this was the North, it was still the Eve of The Smith’s Day and during such bleak times, praying to a God who could rebuild, restore and create was comforting to some. The man stood outside the small sept, mournfully muttering something to himself before moving on towards the Godswood.

The snow was caked against his filthy rags and it was becoming increasingly difficult to walk as he could hardly feel his feet which were numb with cold. Yet, he pushed on with quiet determination. He had made up his mind.

When he finally arrived in the Godswood he felt a shiver go down his spine. He moved timidly to where the heart tree stared accusingly down at him with bloody eyes that reminded him of a wolf he had once known as a boy. He crouched beside the tree, drawing his mangled feet up underneath him with some effort.

Everything hurt and he was colder than he could have ever imagined. But he did not dare return to the kennels. He had betrayed his Master. He had lit a candle in the Broken Tower that aided his Master’s wife’s escape from the castle.. When the Master returned he would kill him- but not before taking his remaining fingers and toes and flaying the rest of his body until his heart gives out.

In the pocket of his rags there were a cluster of lightbringing sticks (or red priests as they are called farther south) that his Master had mercifully allowed him in order to light the fires. The maesters of the north had always made the lightbringers by dipping soldier pine sticks in sulfur and then drying and storing them. When rubbed together or against a suitable surface it ignited in a burst of flame, much faster than striking flint…

He took one of the lightbringers out of his pocket and wondered briefly if he should light it and pray to The Smith. The Smith, after all, repairs broken things. And what was he if not a broken thing? But he was in the Godswood. The Smith was the wrong God for the Godswood. None of these strange Gods, old or new, were truly his. For he had once belonged to a seafaring people who worshiped a sea god. A drowned god that could never die but only rise again and again. He doubted the drowned god would even know his name now that he was submerged in a sea of weirwoods and snow.

But oh, a lightbringer could bring him a world of comfort if he only dared to strike it against the heart tree. He drew it against the tree- ritcshhhh! How it blazed and burned, illuminating the dark Godswood. It was beautiful. A warm bright flame, like a candle. And He felt a merciful warmth spread through his remaining fingers as he cupped his ruined hand over it.

As he stared into the dancing flame it began to seem to him that he was not in the Godswood at all but in the practice yard with two other boys. One with red hair, the other black. And it seemed, yes, it truly seemed that it was not a lightbringing stick he held in his hand but the end of an arrow as he drew back his bow and let it fly.

"Well done, Theon,” exclaimed a deep, strong voice behind him as he looked up to see the broad smiling face of his old teacher, Ser Rodrik. “The best archer of your age that I have ever seen.” Theon felt pride surge through him as Ser Rodrik clamped a fatherly hand on his shoulder and the red haired boy broke into a smile that lit up the whole world. But then the master of arms said in his stern but kindly voice, “Even so, if you are to be a true warrior, you must also train with the sword.“

Ser Rodrik then drew forth a long broadsword and held it out to Theon. As the boy took the sword from him with trembling hands, he suddenly noticed the blood trickling from Ser Rodrik’s neck and spilling out of his mouth. The sword dropped to the ground with a sickening clatter as the red haired boy’s mouth opened in a soundless scream. Theon reached his hand out toward his teacher as the lightbringer went out and he was left alone, holding the burnt end between two of his remaining fingers.

Now trembling violently, and colder than ever, the wretched man attempted to light another pine stick, frantic to go back and fix what had happened. This time it was harder. His remaining fingers were painfully frozen. Finally the sulfur tip of one of the lightbringers ignited in a burst of holy light and the man gaped in wonder at the vision that rose from the flame before him.

A fierce, strong woman with laughing eyes, radiating more warmth than a roaring fire. She was looking down on him, smiling as though he were the one that was beautiful- as if he were the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. She knelt down with her arms outstretched and said in a voice filled with unbelieving joy, etched with too many shattered hopes, “Did they allow you to come back home? Theon, my baby, come to mother!”

He didn’t know where he found the strength, but he rushed into her arms and was soon clasped in an embrace so emphatically accepting and loving that he felt overwhelmed with feelings of unworthiness. A wretched sob escaped his throat and she let him cry against her, holding him, protecting him, and singing catches of songs he remembered from his childhood…. but he wasn’t a child… he was a disgrace… filthy and ugly.. he was dirtying her beautiful gown with his foul nastiness. Why had she allowed him to touch her? He began to back away from her, appalled at what he had done. Would she beat him for ruining her dress? She held her hand out and whispered, “Hush now, my baby, it’s alright.” Slowly he realized that she… truly… loved him. In spite of how filthy and broken he was, she loved him. All he had to do was accept that love. He timidly reached his hand out to hers.

But as soon as his ruined hand made contact with hers, he felt the paper thin skin of an old woman and saw his own frantic madness reflected in her eyes and face which was now suddenly framed with a shock of brittle white hair. Her eyes stared passed him, filled with horror. “My sons!” She screamed “What have you done to my two boys!”

Theon turned around to face the charred corpses suspended in the air behind him. Tears filled his eyes as he beheld his work. He couldn’t help these children. He couldn’t give them their lives back. What is dead is dead. He turned back toward his mother wringing his hands. “Please..” he said, reaching out to comfort her but she shrank violently from his touch as the flame went out.

He frantically struck lightbringers against the tree, trying to make his way back to her. “Please,” he repeated over and over. “Please I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Please take my life instead. Please. I know I should be dead. I know.. I should. I should have died with him.

One of the lightbringers caught fire and the red headed boy was standing before him once more. Older now, but still so very young… with eyes bluer than winter roses. The boy smiled and breathed out a sigh of relief as if he had been holding his breath for years. “Theon!” he exclaimed as his eyes filled with grateful tears. “I knew you’d come. I knew it.”

“Robb,” said Theon as he moved toward him…“I’m sorry… my father… he burned your letter and I-”

“It’s alright. It doesn’t matter. We’ll think of something else. All that matters is you’re here now.”

“I should have been…”

“Shhhhh…. it’s alright,”

Robb’s lips were soft and tasted like long delayed dreams. Theon pulled away in fear. “What are you doing?” He asked in wonder.

“What I should have done before you left. What I should have done so many times… that day in the woods.” His eyes fell, “I’m sorry I lashed out. I’m sorry for the way I’ve been treating you lately. Just… please let’s not separate again. Everything falls apart when you are gone.”

Theon nodded and they stood there for a moment, looking at each other with smiling eyes as the snow began to fall around them.

The sickening sound of an unleashed arrow…. Theon heard it before he saw Robb lurch and fall forward. Robb turned toward him, his blue eyes questioning “Why?”

As the light began to fade, Theon cried out, “No!” He rushed over to where Robb had staggered as another arrow flew past his head, narrowly missing him “I know that you will vanish when the flame goes out- like Ser Rodrik and my Mother and… the two boys…. please.”

Another arrow hit Robb and blood flowed from his mouth bathing his lips in red. He crashed to his knees. Theon desperately grasped at the remaining lightbringers in his pocket. As soon as the rest of the pine sticks came into contact with the struggling flame, they all burst into a radiant blaze.

Robb raised his face to look at Theon, bewildered. Theon held the flaming lightbringers up as he faced Robb. “I should have been with you. I should have always been with you. Please. Take me with you. Let me die with you… Will you allow it?”

In spite of the pain and the chaos around them, Robb’s winter rose eyes were shining with a strange joy. It was as if they were the only two people in the room. He nodded once and Theon rushed toward him as the arrows shot into their bodies, ripping away at their flesh. Theon lifted Robb from his knees and held him close as the light overtook them.

The cold morning light found the poor broken man leaning against the heart tree with a radiant smile on his face. He was dead- frozen to death in the night. The dawn of The Smith’s Day broke on his frail little body, revealing the burnt out lightbringing sticks still clasped in his destroyed, stiff hands. “He must have tried to warm himself” the people of Winterfell said. Nobody knew what beautiful visions he had seen or in what a glorious halo of light he had been made whole.

Chapter Text

Theon was the one to open the door and Robb breathed a sigh of relief. He had thought it might be Asha with her mocking grin. Theon’s smile wasn’t any less of a smirk, but it always made him feel safe. He depended on that smile. It always made him feel like things weren’t so dire, that there was still hope. He definitely needed to feel that way now.

Theon was holding a mug in his hand and his lopsided Santa hat matched his lopsided grin. He seemed genuinely happy, if also genuinely surprised, to see him.

“What are you doing here, slut?”

“Well Merry Christmas to you too Theon. Nice hat.”

“Seriously, Robb, don’t you have to be at some lovely Christmas dinner like other normal people? Your mom’s going to be beside herself.”

At the mention of his mother Robb looked down and breathed in slowly. He didn’t trust himself to speak yet as the tears were threatening to break through. Fuck. He had thought he’d at least be able to keep his shit together until he got inside.

“Hey….” Theon’s voice softened. “Hey kiddo are you okay?” Kiddo. Theon was only 4 years older than he was but he had taken to calling him kiddo recently. Robb loved it. Theon put a protective arm around Robb’s shaking shoulders and ushered him inside the house.

Theon’s house was much smaller than Robb’s, it was always darker inside too. Robb wondered if they kept the lights off so you couldn’t see how dirty it was. But at the same time, it wasn’t like the Greyjoys to really care about what others thought.

Theon’s Dad was hardly ever around and neither was his Mother. She had never been the same since his older brothers had died in a car crash. Robb tried to remember if she was back in the hospital again. Theon didn’t like to talk about it. He had only been ten when it happened.

Theon brought him into the kitchen and put down his mug. “You want a drink?”

“Is that hot chocolate?”

“Yeah. Well… it’s hash hot chocolate.” Theon grinned.

“Oh.” Said Robb. “What’s it in?”

“I’ll make you one.” Theon said his eyes dancing.

“Theon! Who the hell is it?” came Asha’s voice from upstairs.

“Um, none of your fucking business, assface!”

“Fuck you!” came the laughing reply.

“Sorry about that,” Theon turned back to Robb.

“No. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to bother you like this… on Christmas..”

“Oh yeah, I mean, it’s such a huge inconvenience to us- I don’t know if we have enough fine china for an extra guest.”

Robb chuckled nervously. “So, what do you guys do for Christmas anyway?”

“Asha’s friends are coming over in a bit… I don’t know, we’ll set off fireworks, drink beer….”

“Set off fireworks?”

“What, like it’s weird?” Theon smiled smooth as silk as he winked at him.

Robb found himself smiling broadly in return. “Well, maybe just around here.“

“So are you gonna tell me why you are here? It’s not like a Stark to skip out on their family time, especially on the Holidays.”

Theon’s tone was concerned but there was still an edge to it underneath. Though Theon and Robb had been close since they were young, Theon had never been welcome at family things or during the holidays. His mom had always been weird about keeping things just the family. Theon pretended that he didn’t care, but Robb knew it bothered him.

Robb shifted uncomfortably and tears threatened to fill his eyes again, “I- I came out to my parents a couple days ago…”

Theon’s whole demeanor changed to one of protective gentleness. “Baby.” He said as he hugged Robb into an embrace. “It’s alright. It’s okay. So they took it badly?”

Robb choked back a humiliating sob and nodded against Theon’s chest. Theon suddenly broke the embrace and keeping his hands on Robb’s shoulders gently moved him back so he could examine his face. “Did they beat you?”

“What? No!” Then cautiously ,“is that what happened to you?”

Theon dropped his hands from Robb’s shoulders and hesitated. Robb felt his hands inadvertently clench.

“Come on assholes!” Came Asha’s cheerful voice as she, Qarl, Tris, Ygritte, and a few people Robb didn’t recognize, including a girl with silvery colored hair, pushed passed them with a keg and a box filled with all sorts of adventurous looking contraband- store bought firecrackers and sparklers as well as steel wool, wires, aluminum foil and matches.

Ygritte shoved Robb playfully saying “Tell that know-nothing cousin of yours Merry Christmas!” She then called over her shoulder before she flew out the back door, “And tell him I still hate him- the fucking bastard!”

“Come on- we can watch from the roof,” Theon instructed Robb as he threaded his fingers through his, picked up the mug of fresh hot chocolate and lead him out of the kitchen. Robb barely had time to register that this was the first time Theon had ever held his hand before they were on the roof. The air was crisp and there was the smell of frost in the air but it wasn’t bitterly cold and it wasn’t snowing. They huddled against each other, sharing the mug between them.

There was some arguing from below between Asha and the silver haired girl about the best way to light the fireworks. Theon smiled slyly. “They like to have it out with each other … intensifies the lovemaking later.“

Theon offered Robb the mug and Robb sipped it, sighing with pleasure as he felt the warm liquid hit his stomach, filling him with a sensation like everything was going to be okay. Robb took another sip before he cautiously asked, “So did your dad beat you.. you know when you told him?”

Theon looked at Robb for a minute before answering. “I never actually told my Dad. But yeah, I think it’s part of the reason he’s beaten me before. My brothers too.. They knew what I was before I did…” Then he fell quiet. Robb shifted guiltily. He knew Theon didn’t like to talk about his family.

“My parents have never hit me… but…. Christ, they were just so.. disappointed. My mom’s so religious. She wants me to look into some sort of Catholic support group to help me remain chaste.” He glanced at Theon thinking he would be smirking at that but Theon was not smiling at all. Robb cleared his throat. “I mean, I know she loves me. I know she’s just worried but… she won’t even say the word gay. She calls it ‘same sex attraction.’ She says I have ‘same sex attraction’ like it’s some sort of disease or something. My Dad… well, he didn’t say much. But I could just tell how disappointed he was. My mom’s been crying a lot. And.. I mean, I always knew that I wasn’t what they thought. I was never what anyone thought you know? My parents or my teachers… my brothers and sisters… everyone has always treated me as if I was this.. I don’t know, a person with potential… like a role model I guess.” Robb blushed wondering if that sounded arrogant to say. “But now… it’s like I’ve become completely… worthless.“

Robb felt Theon’s hand on the back of his head, his fingers carding gently through his unruly hair. He closed his eyes, leaning into the touch. Theon gripped his head and looked straight into his eyes. “Robb, I’ve known a lot of worthless people. You…. you are definitely not one of them. I never want to hear you say that about yourself again. Okay? And if anyone, including your perfect fucking family tries to make you feel that way, they will have to deal with me because they are wrong, Robb. They’re completely, utterly wrong, okay?”

Robb nodded and Theon’s face burst into such a beautiful smile that Robb felt lightheaded. The sparklers were being set off below and Robb felt like his body was made up of a million exploding stars. He timidly leaned forward and pressed his lips against Theon’s.

Theon drew back immediately and the stars went out.

“Robb?”

Robb closed his eyes against the inevitable rejection. Of course. Why should Theon want him? What could he offer someone like him who could have anyone he wanted, girls, guys… what could Theon ever see in an inexperienced kid like him? What did he have to offer? He turned away, eyes still closed, face burning with shame, wishing the roof would open up like the mouth of a shark and swallow him back down into the house.

When Theon spoke again his voice sounded different, strained and unsure. “Robb. You don’t want to get involved with someone like me.”

Robb’s eyes flew open. This didn’t sound like the Theon he knew- all confidence and swagger… the Theon he opened his eyes to looked vulnerable and slightly fearful. His eyes were downcast and he suddenly seemed so small.

“What do you mean someone like you?” Robb protested. “You’re…. ” how could he even describe to Theon how he saw him? “You’re everything I wish I was,” he confessed.

Theon smiled sadly. “Robb, do you realize you are the only person, probably in the whole world, who thinks that way about me?”

Robb did realize it. He’d never understood why other people couldn’t see how amazing his friend was. His mother had called Theon a sexually depraved delinquent on more than one occasion, as usual completely exaggerating the situation. It was true that Theon had always been in some kind of trouble for as long as Robb could remember- he’d even been arrested a few times, but never for anything serious- shoplifting, disorderly conduct, that sort of thing. He’d brag about it to other people but he always seemed a little embarrassed if it was brought up around Robb. He also had a reputation for being a bit of a man whore but none of that mattered to Robb. All that mattered to Robb was Theon’s kind, loyal heart. What did he care if no one else saw it?

“I don’t mind being the only one who’s right.” Robb smiled. Theon’s face broke into a grin again, though he still wouldn’t meet Robb’s eyes.

“Robb it’s not that I don’t want to kiss you. I do. I mean, fuck, I’ve always wanted to. I just… I would never want to hurt you... If fucked it up I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.. and I’m afraid if we started…“

Robb grabbed Theon’s hand and pressed his wrist against his own. The scars were faint but they were still there, commemorating the day they had become “blood brothers” as kids. Robb looked up at Theon and said, “No matter what happens, you’re my brother, now and always, remember?”

“Well that’s a tad incestuous in this context, dude.”

“Theon shut the fuck up” laughed Robb as he sought his lips again in the growing darkness. Theon smiled into Robb’s kiss and didn’t retreat this time. There was a burst of sparks and commotion below. Robb and Theon broke their kiss to see the silver haired girl twirling the ignited steel wool and wire around herself so that it looked like she was standing in a cascade of white flames. It looked like an exploding Christmas tree. She then brought the sparking wire in front of her and twirled it into a fast circle amidst cheers of appreciation from Asha and her friends.

Robb had never spent a Christmas quite like this before, but he was beginning to think it was the happiest Christmas he had ever experienced. He snuggled back against Theon who held him tight as they both basked in the glow from the bright sparks of light that had smashed the darkness.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t until Christmas Eve that Robb finally gathered the courage to seek out Theon at the address Sansa had given him. His feet felt more unsure with each step he took through the snowy streets after exiting the train. The night before had seen sleet as well as snow and it felt as though the entire world was encased in ice.

When he finally approached the door he suddenly felt as frightened and alone as when he was a kid, banging on Theon’s door Christmas Day after coming out to his family… back when Theon was the entire world to him. When he had been so sure that Theon would have been the last person in the world to hurt him. He paused before he knocked, unsure if he should. “He has really changed.” Sansa had warned. “You won’t recognize him.” Robb’s fingers brushed against the scar on his wrist. Now and always. He beat his hand against the door.

Theon watched him coming from the window, his curly auburn hair like a bright flame against the dreary scene outside. He was carrying a package under his arm and had paused tentatively before walking up to the door. Theon crouched, doglike on the floor, worrying his leather collar with his hands, his hands. He wasn’t wearing his gloves! The pounding on the door was insistent and determined. It echoed through his body, boring into crevices of memory and longing that were more painful than anything Ramsay had managed to do to him. He pulled himself up and moved painfully to the door.

Robb felt his heart slam against his chest as Theon opened the door just enough for him to glimpse a bit of his face that seemed to be ravished with anxiety and fear and framed with brittle white hair. His eyes were a sea of misery and fear. Robb’s voice caught in his throat and everything he planned to say dissipated in the steam that escaped his mouth when he opened it to speak. Theon looked like some sort of cornered animal. It made all the anger and pain that Robb had nurtured over the past two years soften. “Theon?” he said shakily. That was apparently too much. Theon suddenly shut the door with such force and desperation it made Robb stumble back slightly, catching his breath. Fuck.

Theon cowered at the door hating himself. What was he doing? Robb was out there. Robb. He moaned with the desire to see him again. No it must be a trick. Ramsay had sent him to test him. He tried to breathe steadily as he told himself that Ramsay was gone, locked up. He couldn’t hurt him… his heart was pounding so hard he thought it might escape from his rib cage and his fingers and feet were going numb. I must get my gloves he thought distractedly. He fumbled around putting on his gloves and then finally grasped at the door to open it again. He couldn’t let Robb leave. Not when he’d prayed to see him once more. Not when thoughts of him were sometimes the only thing that had kept him sane, had kept him from becoming Ramsay’s completely.

“Robb?” The voice was low and hollow and sounded more like a beaten animal discovering that he could speak instead of Robb’s former best friend. Former lover. He had loved Theon once. He loved him now. He would love him always in spite of how much it hurt him to do so. Theon was rail thin, malnourished and his face was covered in bruises. He wore no coat but the leather gloves on his hands looked huge and his hair was now a shock of white. And yet, it was still Theon and he was still beautiful. Yes beautiful. Robb felt almost bad to still see such beauty in the ghastly state his friend was in. And yet, God help him, Theon was still the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. His eyes are the sea…

Theon began trembling under Robb’s gaze. He couldn’t believe they were mere steps away from each other, yet there was still such an incredible expanse of emotional distance to traverse. A distance he had created. My work. “I’m sorry.” He began. “Please, you can come in if you want to.” Theon saw Robb’s eyes begin to shine with tears. He lowered his own eyes and turned abruptly, almost slipping as he clambered to get back inside before Robb.

Robb wasn’t sure why Theon was in such a rush and his animal like movements were really beginning to rattle him. He walked cautiously to the door and slipped inside. The ground floor apartment was dark and in filthy disarray. Robb’s eyes fell on the large dog cage in the corner. He cringed inwardly at the memory of the things Sansa had told him about the night she had followed Theon back to Ramsay’s apartment… he noticed suddenly that Theon had a leather collar around his neck. A dog collar. Robb’s throat went dry and he felt like he was about to throw up. He was desperate to get back outside for some air but what would Theon think if he suddenly rushed from the room? He closed his eyes and tried to steady his breathing. When he opened his eyes Theon was looking at his feet, his gloved hands folded in front of him as if waiting for direction.

“Can we sit down?” Theon heard Robb’s voice. He looked at the sofa littered with take out containers and other junk. He rushed over to the sofa and busied himself with clearing it off so that they could have a place to sit down. Then he waited, his eyes never leaving Robb.

Robb realized that he was waiting for him to sit. He walked over and sat down, placing the package next to him. As soon as he was sitting Theon sat down as well. They were right next to each other, almost close enough to touch but they didn’t. The time of easy touches between them had passed a long time ago. Once they were sitting Theon kept his eyes lowered. Robb didn’t blame him.

The last time he had spoken to Theon- the night their relationship ended- he hadn’t been able to meet Theon’s eyes either. Theon had confessed to cheating on him. He had begged, had said it meant nothing. But how could such a betrayal mean nothing? At the end of all the pleading and arguing and fighting, Robb had sat on the sofa, and without meeting Theon’s eyes he had said, “Get out” through gritted teeth. Theon had quietly gathered his things and left without protest. And here they sat, two years later, with a horrifying amount of abuse and failure between them. Robb was shocked when Theon was the first to speak.

“I heard you got married,” Theon said, his voice far away.

“Divorced. The divorce will be finalized in a couple weeks actually. Jeyne was… she was really there for me after you left… it was such a mess… when she got pregnant… I thought I was doing the right thing to get married but when she lost the baby… Well,” Robb continued, “it just fell apart.”

Theon finally raised his eyes to him. “Robb, I’m so sorry. For that and for… everything.” Theon whispered, wondering if he would ever have anything on his lips besides apologies.

“You’re not the only one who feels guilty. I should have tried to work things out. Then maybe this wouldn’t have happened to you.”

“It’s not your fault you didn’t want to stay with me after what I did.”

“Why did you..." Why did you cheat on me? The last part died in his throat, the question that had been on his mind for the past two years.

So you wouldn’t leave me first. Theon thought. Because I thought you wouldn’t even care. Because you wouldn’t even tell your family we were engaged. Because how could someone like you really be in love with a person like me? But all of these reasons seemed like the cliched reasons people always give for cheating, and he didn’t want to cause Robb anymore pain or make him feel any guilt. So he just said, “At the time I was… worried about us. But it’s not your fault. I should have talked to you about it instead of sleeping around. I didn’t have to fuck it all up. I would take it all back if I could…” His voice broke on the last words.

Robb suddenly realized in horror that Theon was crying silently and trying, unsuccessfully, to hide it from him. He reached out a tentative hand and tried touch Theon’s shoulder but Theon jerked away violently. Robb knew that Theon had been abused from what Sansa had told him but to have him shrink from his touch like that hurt.

“I’m sorry.” Theon said stridently. “This isn’t going to work. You have to go!” Theon leapt off the couch and retreated to the cage area.

Robb felt his resolve to keep it together crumbling like sand as words of pent up hurt and frustration came pouring out of his mouth.

“Do you even know how many sleepless nights I spent worrying about you? Where you were and what abusive person you’d hooked up with next? What I could have done differently. What I could have said, or did, or been? Was I too boring for you? Too functional? You- you stole my confidence from me. You made it impossible to trust anyone again- Jeyne, anyone! What could I have done differently to make you only want to be with me?”

Tears started to stick in his throat and strangle him. He knew that it was wrong- so very, very wrong to be arguing like this with someone who had been through such trauma. But he couldn’t stop himself. It was as if Theon’s rejection of his touch had set off an eruption of grief and confusion he had spent the last two years trying to bury and keep under wraps. He stopped to take a breath and steady himself. When he spoke again, his words had none of the venom of his previous speech, just a sad sort of wonderment.

“What did I do that was so horrible to make you prefer sleeping with guys who would treat you like shit… that would abuse you like this…? I guess you running into someone like Ramsay was inevitable.”

Theon had slowly been raising his eyes to Robb during this entire speech as hot tears began to flow. He knew all of this without Robb telling him. He knew that his betrayal had put Robb through the same kind of guilt and shame that he alone deserved to feel. His mind groped for some sort of way to explain how this had happened.

“I mean, fuck, Theon, you always had to be in control in the bedroom- how could you have gotten into a relationship with a guy like this? Why did you put up with the abuse for so long?” Robb stopped cold, suddenly remembering what Sansa had said to him about victim blaming. He was about to apologize when Theon said simply,

“Because I deserved it. I left you. I deserved what I got.”

Robb looked at him in horror. He began to walk slowly toward Theon, memories of the first time they’d kissed on the roof those many Christmases ago flooding his brain and making him dizzy with the blurring lines between the past and the present. He held his hand out in front of him, keeping eye contact and asking silently for permission. Theon nodded, and Robb placed his hand gently on Theon’s shoulder. Theon leaned into it, doubtless the first gentle touch he had experienced in a long time.

“Listen to me,” Robb said firmly. “You didn’t deserve this. I never want to hear you say that again, okay?”

Theon nodded as Robb put his arms around Theon and drew him close into an embrace. Theon didn’t hug back, but he allowed it to happen, eventually resting his head on Robb’s shoulder as sobs shuddered through him. Theon wished he could stay like this forever. He wished he could die like this. He didn’t want any more. Just this.

As Robb held Theon, he could feel his bones protruding through his thin shirt. He wondered how someone so frail had managed to beat up Ramsay Bolton. It was then that he remembered the actual reason he had come.

“Thank you for helping Sansa that night.” He mumbled into Theon’s neck, ever conscious of that collar between them.

Theon broke the embrace and turned away. I almost didn’t he thought. I almost let him rape her right in front of me. That’s how much I was his. He didn’t deserve Robb’s thanks. What a mess that night had been. Ramsay had sent him out to do errands and he had run into Sansa who had confronted him about cheating on Robb and disappearing without a trace. His appearance and the way he was acting had disturbed her and she had demanded to know what was going on, going so far as to follow him home, where she had met Ramsay.

He still didn’t know what came over him or how he found the strength to beat the bastard bloody until the cops had to pull him off of him. When he saw him try to hurt her, something inside him snapped. And yet, he almost did nothing. And that is what terrified him the most. That he had become so depraved, so part of Ramsay. What kind of broken person allows themselves to be owned by someone else? And the cruelest part was that he missed him. He missed him even now. He knew how sick it was, he knew it made no sense. But Ramsay had managed to fill a void inside him. Ramsay had needed him. No one had ever needed him like that. He was manipulative and abusive but it hadn’t begun that way. Theon had been attracted to him. His intense blue eyes and unruly hair had reminded him of Robb… And Ramsay had needed Theon in a way that he feared Robb never would.

Robb’s voice broke his reverie when he heard him say, “Sansa wanted me to bring you this. She made it for you.” Robb was back at the sofa now, retrieving something wrapped in tissue paper. Theon cautiously stepped forward and sat down with Robb on the couch.

“We actually both thought of it,” he continued nervously, anxious for Theon to like the gift. “But she was the only one of us with the ability to make them…” Theon took the parcel clumsily with his gloves. It was then that Robb immediately saw his mistake. Sansa had said that Ramsay had mutilated Theon’s hands. The pictures of Theon’s body taken the night Ramsay was arrested for assaulting Sansa would be enough to convict him on their own. “Here, let me.” Robb said as he easy ripped the paper off to reveal knit gloves and a scarf. The gloves were black, as was the scarf with the design of a kraken in gold. “I hope you still like krakens, squid boy. Sansa tried to make it like the ones you use to draw all the time.”

Theon smiled in spite of himself, even if the tears were still pricking his eyes. He used to draw Krakens all the time. “I was such a loser,” he almost laughed.

Robb laughed too out of relief to see a glimmer of the old Theon more than anything else. “Nah,” he said. “Krakens are badass. You taught me that.” Robb began to imitate Theon’s enthusiastic childhood voice. “They symbolize both great power and inner strength.” Then he became serious “… and they are believed to have the ability to regenerate any lost limbs.”

Theon understood what Robb was saying. His hands shook a little as he removed his gloves exposing his mutilated hands. He was missing three fingers.

Robb’s own fingers clenched. Jesus… He had to control himself. He didn’t want to cause Theon any humiliation. But it was a good thing Ramsay was in jail or he would kill that fucking monster. Robb had to beat back tears of anger as he said, “Here, let me help you try them on.”

Sansa had lined the gloves with velvet. Theon was sure it was the softest thing he had ever felt. Sansa had also filled up the fingers with fabric where his missing fingers would have been. He hardly trusted himself to speak, he was so touched that they had given him anything, let alone something so incredibly thoughtful.

“Thank you.” Then said softly.

“Wait there’s one more thing.” Robb said as he held up the beautiful kraken scarf. Theon’s newly gloved hands instinctively flew to his dog collar.

“Robb-“ he begged. He wouldn’t meet his gaze.

Robb held his hand out in front of him again, asking permission. Theon looked up at him, terror in his eyes. “It’s alright.” Robb said in a soothing voice.

Theon finally nodded, though he let out an involuntary whine when Robb’s fingers first came in contact with the collar. “It’s okay,” Robb kept repeating as he removed the collar to reveal even more scars around Theon’s neck. Bite marks and deep cuts that looked like they were still healing.

Robb didn’t know what came over him but he slowly leaned forward and gently kissed each scar on Theon’s neck. He looked up at Theon completely vulnerable. Theon was looking at him curiously.

“Robb?”

“Yeah?”

“Would it be alright- I understand if you don’t want to… would it be alright if you came back once in awhile. To visit?”

“No. I’m not coming back here.”

Theon nodded in acceptance feeling as though he heart was shattering.

Robb smiled, “I’m not coming back because I’m taking you home.”

Home… Robb wanted him to come home. The realization that Robb still loved him was beginning to dawn on him.

“You- you would forgive me?” The disbelief, yet hopefulness of the question was heartbreaking.

Robb paused before responding. “I already had. Not because of what you’ve been through- long before that. I was just too.. I was afraid, okay? I was afraid to reveal how vulnerable I am to you.”

Theon’s sea eyes were wide, drinking in this new information. Robb continued, a little less sure of himself, “It’s hard to admit that. I’d always thought I was the kind of person who would have more respect for myself you know? That I wouldn’t put up with lies and betrayal of any kind… sorry.” Damn it. he didn’t want to keep rehashing it when Theon felt bad enough. “But you know, it’s like I kind of discovered that I wasn’t who I thought I was.”

It was a minute before Theon spoke. “So you discovered that you are actually a better person than you thought… that’s better than discovering you are a.. a horrible person.”

Robb breathed in sharply. He had thought it made him weaker, not better. But Theon had always had a way of seeing the best in him. Even now, broken and traumatized, he still managed to make Robb feel better.

“Come on,” he seized Theon’s shoulders a little too abruptly, luckily Theon didn’t flinch. “Let’s pack up all your stuff and go.”

“Wait, Robb, it’s Christmas. Your family. They won’t want me… they won’t want me in their home.”

“Well, they’ll just have to deal with it. You are my family.”

Robb… this is doomed to fail…” It was. For one thing, how could Robb ever really truly trust him again? You can’t feel safe with someone who would break trust with the person they are supposed to love the most in the world. But even if Robb could truly get passed that… how could they have a functional relationship if Theon can barely stand to be touched? “Robb, Ramsay did things that… I’m afraid I couldn’t be to you what I was before.”

"I wouldn’t ask that of you. I just want to be with you, Theon… however that works now. As friends, as lovers. I don’t care. However you need it to be. I will be patient.”

"I don’t know if you know what you are asking.”

"Just let me take you home for Christmas and we’ll go from there. Please.”

In response, Theon picked up the kraken scarf and wrapped it around his neck.

“That looks great on you,” Robb said, eyes shining with tears. “I hope you like your present.”

“I feel like I should have a present for you.."

"You are my present," Robb said as Theon reached his kraken gloved hand out to clasp his.