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It’s a murmured order, barely audible in normal circumstances, but in the dungeons of the Dreadfort it cuts through the air like a knife. Ramsay’s arm jerks back at the word, muscles seizing up in compliance with his father, even as his face twists into an ugly snarl. His arm falls lank to his side, bloody fist curled, knuckles split. Theon heaves a sigh of relief on the cross.

“Why am I stopping,” Ramsay hisses, and he adds a grumbled “my lord” as Roose’s eyes narrow.

Lord Roose is leaning against the stone wall, face shadowed, impassive. His shoulders roll back as he pushes himself forward, and the clack of his boots are like thunderclaps as he walks toward his son and his prisoner. Theon feels a flicker of real fear pass through him. The son is just the shadow of the father, he thinks. Roose reaches the cross in a few direct steps, and with a gloved hand he motions for Ramsay to step aside. He does not look at his bastard, and Ramsay seems to take it as a slight.

Ramsay is rigid, unmoving. “I’m doing fine,” he says, and there’s a shrill note to his voice. “Just look at him.” And Roose does; his queerly pale eyes rake over Theon’s prone form like he’s inspecting meat, and Theon cannot help but shudder. Roose takes in every bruise, every laceration, every swollen, abused piece of his prisoner’s flesh. He leans forward and presses a finger against a particularly nasty purplish mark at the junction of Theon’s ribcage. Theon lets out a low moan and a faint smile ghosts across Lord Bolton’s face.

“You are doing fine,” Roose concedes, “for a butcher.” His gaze is fixed on Theon, and he does not see the ugly fury flare on Ramsay’s face. Roose’s pale eyes are like beacons in the inky darkness of the dungeon, and Theon cannot help but stare; he thinks of some long-forgotten quote, something about staring into the abyss, and he shudders.

“There is no art to what you have done,” Roose says. He grasps Ramsay by the shoulder and pulls him forward. “Look here,” he orders, pointing to a patch of mottled flesh high on Theon’s chest. “It’s like you’re tenderizing meat. There is no skill to it.” He gives his son an appraising look, and for all Ramsay’s bravado he seems to wilt under his father’s gaze. “A lord needs to show discretion in all things. Every blow and every strike against him should be deliberate, not the result of your blind fury. You need to control yourself.” He gives Ramsay’s shoulder a squeeze, unphased by his bastard’s murderous expression.

“I don’t know what I expected, really,” Roose murmurs, finally dropping his hand. Ramsay continues to glower. “You’ve never been a conceptual learner. I suppose I’ll have to teach by example.”

“I don’t need your help,” Ramsay barks. “Give me an hour, you’ll see—”

“I’ve given you days, and all you’ve managed to do is make a mess of things. You are mangling the body but neglecting the mind, you will never break him like this.” Roose gives Ramsay a look, then, impassivity replaced by genuine contempt, and Theon thinks, for a moment, that perhaps Balon Greyjoy is not the worst father he could have had.

Ramsay’s face is an ugly, splotchy red. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he hisses, furious. “You don’t know what I want from him.”

“Have you already forgotten who sent you that creature?” Roose says in that odd voice of his, and Ramsay visibly spasms. He looks almost guilty, and Theon, for his part, is nothing but confused. What creature?

“I know exactly what you intend for our poor guest,” Roose continues. “But you lack subtlety. You will never accomplish anything if you continue in this way.” He turns his eyes back to Theon, and Ramsay’s gaze follows. Theon swallows, pinned down by twin Bolton eyes.

“What you need,” Roose says, never looking away from Theon, “is the guidance of a father. Fetch me my blades, and we’ll begin.”

Miraculously, incredibly, Ramsay says nothing. He just leaves. Theon barely registers that he’s gone; a muffling haze buzzes in his head. “Blades,” he murmurs, and he feels a gloved hand gripping the hard meat of his inner thigh.

“He speaks,” a soft voice says from very far away, cutting through the fog that swamps Theon’s mind. “I had thought Ramsay might have taken your tongue.”

And Theon just looks at him. He feels the pressure of a large hand pressing down on the muscle of his leg and he knows, very clearly, that nothing can come of begging. Realization must have dawned on his face, because Roose gives him a mocking smile. He has too many teeth, Theon thinks, and he feels hysteria bubbling up in his chest. He thinks of the things that Ramsay has done—tried to do—and his chest heaves. The son is just the shadow of the father.

The wooden door creaks and Ramsay returns, a folded case of leather tucked under his arm. He passes it along to his father wordlessly, but as he catches sight of Roose’s hand on Theon’s thigh he frowns. He gives Theon a hard look, and Theon almost laughs at the absurdity of it. But then Roose unrolls the leather and the light hits a dozen shining blades, and all humor flees. Roose selects a small, curiously curved knife with no hesitation, passing the case off to Ramsay.

Two sets of Bolton eyes peer up at Theon. “Pay close attention,” Roose instructs. And they begin.

A lifetime ago, Theon had learned how to gut a deer. Lord Stark had taught him, him and Robb and Jon. They had all crowded around a heavy oaken table and watched as Lord Stark sliced open the belly, the air so cold and the meat so hot, so fresh that steam rose in the air. He had given each of them a turn, holding their hands to direct the blade as it sliced through skin and muscle and bone. Sansa saw them washing the blood off, later, and she had screamed so loud that Theon he would go deaf, but later, when they all ate the cooked meat, she had enjoyed it just as much as the boys. “It’s a good skill to know,” she had told Theon shyly. “A good lord must always provide food for his lady wife.”

It was a good memory, one of Theon’s best. The gods must hate me, to mock me so, he thought, as Roose’s blade cut through his chest in the same motion as Lord Stark’s knife all those years ago. But Lord Stark had not looked at the deer like this; he had been detached in the carving, perfunctory—it was a task to be completed, nothing more. Roose, though...there was a flicker of something in his eyes, the sort of hunger possessed by a lean wolf. A barely controlled composure, with great energy trapped and rolling beneath the surface.

Theon’s toes curl as the blade ghosts a nipple, and he lets out a low moan. “You’re barely doing anything,” Ramsay complains, a whine in his voice.

Roose does not remove himself from his work. “It is a gradual process,” he explains. “You need self-control and stamina to effectively shape him.” The blade hits a bit deeper, and Theon groans. Blood wells up like a string of pearls, and soon his chest is crisscrossed with red. There is no sound in the dungeon save for Theon’s staggered breath. The knife traces the same path, dragging through the same damaged flesh, over and over and over. Theon is finding it difficult to maintain composure.

The blade’s course does not deviate, and the wounds evolve. They are no longer thin trails of pearls, but angry red paths split and frayed at the edges. Roose has one hand braced against Theon’s trousers, bunched into the cloth, and the blade stills. Theon has his eyes screwed shut, tense with anticipation for another swoop of the knife.

“He’s terrified,” Ramsay breathes. Theon opens his eyes; they’re blurry, and it takes him a moment to realize he’s crying.

“The greatest fear is brought on by one’s own mind,” Roose mutters. He straightens up. “I’d like you to try it,” he says, and when he hands Ramsay the blade Theon nearly screams.

Where Roose was a fine blade, Ramsay is a blunt axe; the knife resumes its path with no restraint, dragging through the open wounds with such force that Theon can see the veins pulse in Ramsay’s arm. And there is no way to be quiet, now. Theon screams, tears hot on his face, voice cracking. Ramsay grabs at his hip and gives him a demented grin. He presses forward and Theon can feel the heat of him against his thigh, and he is aroused, clearly aroused, and Theon screams louder as the knife deviates from its path as it drags up his face, past his chin, toward his eye—

And then Ramsay is hauled off him, spluttering protests. Theon quiets himself but he cannot stop shaking, and a drop of blood drips from his eyebrow down, down across his face.

“Once again you disappoint me,” Roose growls out, and Theon thinks the emotion now present in his voice is more terrifying than any of Ramsay’s fits.

Ramsay is purple with rage. “You have no right to stop me, he’s my prisoner, he’s mine—”

But Roose just blows right past him, and Ramsay’s temper is rendered impotent, ineffectual on his father. “Rutting like an animal, it’s disgraceful.”

“But you do the same, I’ve seen you, I know what you do. I know what you are,” and Ramsay is screaming, genuinely screaming at his father, and Theon knows he’s about to go into a blind, raging fit when Roose slaps him across the face. Ramsay reels back, stunned; his hand grips his cheek, already a shining red.

“I am your lord father,” Roose hisses. “Do not speak to me like that again.” His eyes flutter close for just a moment, and when he turns back to Ramsay it’s as if something has been shut off within him. “I should know to expect this sort of behavior from you; your blood was fouled at birth. Nonetheless, even the basest creatures can be taught respect.” He glances up at his prisoner, and Theon’s blood runs cold. “You want to murder and mutilate and rape my property, and this I cannot allow. I am your lord father, and what you have, I have given you. If you wish to turn this boy into your creature, it is only by my will that it shall pass.” Roose turns to Ramsay, then, and the bastard gives him the most furious, seething look Theon has ever seen. Roose smiles. “And you will not have him until I do so first.”

Lord Roose unfastens Theon from the cross with surprising ease, laying him on the cold stone floor without difficulty. He gives Theon a mocking smile as he pulls of his gloves. “I trust I need not have you bound?” he asks, and Theon shakes his head. He does not shed a tear, and Roose gives him an approving sort of nod. “And you,” he barks over his shoulder, back to the shadows where Ramsay sulks, “I will hear no complaint from you, or I swear, you will envy this boy’s fate.”

Theon has lost a great deal of weight, and it is an easy thing for Roose to lean him against the wall, even easier to slide his trousers past his bruised hips. When a thumb presses into the hollow of his hip, Theon feels terribly, helplessly small. Roose presses forward against him, clothing scratching Theon’s bare skin. The stone feels cool against the back of Theon’s head, and he shuts his eyes. A large hand traces the lines on Theon’s chest, fingering the bloody gaps where the skin is ragged, open. Theon groans, and Roose smiles lightly.

Roose turns Theon around with surprising gentleness. Theon can feel his cock pressed against his backside, and he shudders. He hears Ramsay groan from the corner and the wet slap of skin on skin, and he is grateful, at least, that he is not made to watch. Behind him, Roose shifts a bit, freeing his cock. His fingers dig into Theon’s chest, drawing up blood until he is soaked with it, drowning in it, and it is with Theon’s own blood that Roose coats his fingers and breaches him.

“This is a kindness,” Roose murmurs in his ear. His beard scratches against Theon’s skin. “I’m afraid my bastard will not be so gentle.” The fingers leave him and he feels bared, open, when a hot pressure bears down thick against him. Roose fastens his mouth against the white skin of Theon’s neck and bites just as he pierces him, and Roose’s incisors sink into Theon at the moment his cock enters him. And Theon feels owned, dominated, and as Roose’s fingers press into his open wounds and his teeth penetrate the veins of his neck and his cock rips into him from the inside, Theon realizes he is being consumed. I’m dying, he thinks, I’m being eaten alive. Roose grunts into his neck, grinding into him. Theon braces himself against the wall and thinks of gutted deer and Old Nan’s tales, of Boltons eating up naughty little Stark children, and he does not shed a tear.

It lasts an age. Lord Roose is nearly silent when he finishes, the only real sign of his completion the way his grip on Theon tightens with iron ferocity. Between the hard wall of Roose’s flesh and the stone of the dungeon Theon is suffocated, and he lets out an audible sigh when Roose finally, mercifully extracts himself. Theon does not look at him, just lets his head sag against the stone as warm seed drips down his legs.

“See that he’s cleaned, when you’ve finished abusing yourself,” Roose murmurs to his bastard, a smirk in his voice. “And let him be, for the evening.”

“Yes, my lord,” Ramsay grumbles. And for once, Ramsay is true to his word; Theon is given a cloth wet with warm water, and he is cleaned, and later he is fed. Ramsay does not reattach him to the saltire, not that night. And for once, Theon sleeps through the night.

He dreams of full moons and pale eyes and a shadow so long and dark he could drown in it.