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Never Let Go Again

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Robb was so still when Theon woke up that Theon briefly panicked, thinking he was dead. Thankfully there was a faint pulse when he put his fingers to Robb’s throat.

Theon sat up and sighed. He had no idea what he was doing now. He’d never really planned what he’d do after rescuing Robb.

Yesterday felt like some odd sort of dream. He remembered it perfectly but it seemed so unreal. Even with Robb right here, like that, it seemed too strange to be true.

He realized Robb was holding his breath. “You awake?”

Robb nodded.

Theon pushed the furs back and sighed upon seeing the same bloody trousers and the angry scarred skin around the edges of the thin shirt. The rage ebbed as the edges of his mind, but he was more exasperated than anything because he realized that Robb “Still haven’t seen a maester?”

Robb shook his head.

Theon reached down and ran his fingers through the brittle white curls, occasionally catching sight of a pale red strand among them. “Robb, you need to-”

“Just cuts and bruises. I don’t need a maester.”

“Yes, you do need a maester,” Theon insisted. Why was Robb being stubborn about getting healed up?

“No.”

“Robb, I will carry you if you force this,” Theon warned.

“Please, Theon.”

And that did it. Robb always could get him by begging. In the past it was an appeal to his ego, acting like they were equals and always got Theon in the mood to go with Robb’s whims. Now it reminded Theon that Robb hadn’t had a say about himself in a long time.

“Well, we need to get you cleaned up at least,” Theon said. “And bandage the open wounds.”

Robb was quiet for several long moments before, “Just bring me some water, soap, and bandages. I’ll be fine.”

“Robb, talk to me,” Theon said. “Why won’t you let someone help you?”

Robb drew in on himself a bit and Theon winced. Had he been too forceful? Gods he had no idea what he was doing…

“I can’t.”

“You…can’t?” Theon asked.

“I can’t.”

“I…I don’t know what…you can’t what?” Theon asked.

Robb just shrugged, “I can’t.”

Theon rubbed his arm, “I…look. You look like you could use some food. I’ll…I’ll get some breakfast. Bring it up. You…you think about why not, okay? Why you can’t? Robb we…you can’t just sit. Something will get infected or worse.”

“Okay,” Robb said.

“Anything you want?” Theon asked, reaching for his boots.

“…Water. Bread.”

Going by how skinny Robb was, that might have been all he could stomach. “All right. Be back soon.”

He leaned forward and kissed Robb’s forehead, pulling the covers back over the Stark as he did.

.o.o.o.

“How is he?” Jon asked when Theon made it down to the great hall.

“I…he…he doesn’t want a maester,” Theon said.

“What?” Jon asked. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” Theon sighed, grabbing some hunks of bread and a pitcher of water. “He…I don’t know, all right? He didn’t really explain. I said I’d grab food to give him time to come up with something.”

“He needs to see a maester,” Jon said.

“I want him to see one!” Theon protested. “He doesn’t want to. Tried to insist it’s just basic cuts and bruises and he can tend to it himself…”

“Those were not ‘basic’ injuries,” Jon hissed, grabbing some small meat cakes and a bottle of ale and following Theon.

“I know that. You know that. I think even he knows that.”

“Then just take him to a maester!”

“You do it,” Theon growled. “He begged me not to and you know I…I won’t go against him like that. It seemed to scare him.”

Damn it. Why did Theon have to cave to Robb now? Was the phrase ‘for their own good’ not one he understood?

“…He said Luwin died for helping him. Bad memories?” Jon guessed.

“If I knew, I’d say something,” Theon said.

“I…I’m not blaming you,” Jon said. Arguing would get them nowhere. “I’m just as worried as you are.”

“I know.” Theon hadn’t been this subdued in a while. It reminded Jon of before this whole mess started. Of how the Theon always got when Robb hadn’t been around and Theon had been left to his own devices, to subtle Northern scorn.

“We’ll help him,” Jon said softly as they reached the door. “Robb?”

Robb was playing with the hairs on the top fur aimlessly. He looked up to see Theon and Jon, nodded slightly, and went back to looking at his lap.

Theon crossed the room quickly, sitting beside Robb and offering him a roll, “Here. Eat.”

Robb took the roll and pulled a piece off before slowly starting to chew it. He seemed to be trying to keep it on the right side of his mouth.

“We…we’re going to be here for a few days,” Jon said. “Settling things. I…I don’t…if there’s anything you think I should know…”

“If you have to question someone…ask for R…for Reek. He was Ramsay’s closest…whatever they were,” Robb said. “Don’t know if you’ll get much from him but…he’ll know.”

“Did you think about what I said?” Theon asked.

“No maesters.”

Theon sighed, “Robb, please…”

“Robb, you are in terrible shape. That’s the truth of it,” Jon said firmly. “You need help with that.”

Robb shook his head.

“Yes you do! Jon’s right, hell, when the fuck do I ever say that?” Theon asked.

“No.”

Jon ran a hand through his hair. Why was Robb being so difficult? “Robb-”

“I said no!” Robb snapped suddenly, eyes wild. Jon resisted the urge to jerk back from him. “I don’t want…don’t want…”

“Don’t want what?” Theon asked.

“…Anyone seeing.”

Gods. This was Robb’s pride at stake then.

He had a point too. The maesters with the army, none of them were exclusively Stark men. They might say something…and it would be bad for a lord to be seen in such a state of weakness. “Then let Theon and I help. You know we won’t say anything.”

He shouldn’t have made the offer for Theon but he knew Theon would agree anyway. If it was for Robb he’d agree to almost anything, Jon felt.

“…I don’t even want you seeing,” Robb said. “Just let me-”

“No.” Robb’s pride was not enough for Jon to leave him be, not with those injuries. “Those are your choices, Robb. Either a maester we make stay quiet or Theon and I. A lot of that needs looking at, hell, we should have had it looked at yesterday.”

“Jon please-”

And it might have been swaying Theon, who even now looked like he was losing resolve about this, but not him. Theon would do what Robb wanted. But Jon was a Stark, of sterner stuff than even iron, and was here to force what Robb needed.

.o.o.o.

It had been a simple matter to get everything from a maester, citing Robb’s privacy as their reason. Jon had instructed the baths to be left alone for a few hours for them.

Theon hated the twisting feelings in his chest as Robb grew more agitated. He knew Jon was in the right here but Robb was…

No. Best focus on just the fact that they had to do this for Robb’s own good.

“It’s all right. No one else is here,” he coaxed gently, helping slide the thin shirt over Robb’s head when Robb almost got caught in it.

“You…you won’t like this,” Robb said.

Theon knew that already. He’d seen enough of what had happened to Robb for a long, long time. But he could take more, and he’d take it with no reaction. Something told him that would be best.

Jon didn’t quite manage, choking upon seeing the massive whip scars across Robb’s back.

Some looked fresh, barely-healed. Others were older. Theon could see at least four different levels of fading, so four major whippings. In addition to flaying and losing fingers and toes and getting teeth knocked out and –

He stopped himself. He was no good to Robb if he was in a snit.

“Looks like your feet need the most attention. That bit on your arm looks fresh, though,” he forced out.

“Flayed.”

“Yes we guessed that.” Jon was more rigid than usual.

Robb’s hands twitched like he wanted to clench his fists. He wouldn’t look at either of them. “Just…get it over with.”

“All right,” Theon said. “But…you need to take your trousers off. Then get in the bath. All right?”

Robb shook his head.

“Robb, please. Especially if they…to you…you need to clean down there,” Jon said.

Robb’s hands shook again and Theon hated this whole situation so much and there had to be a way to just get this done and “Jon and I won’t look.”

Jon shot him an annoyed glance for it but Theon ignored him, “Until you’re in the water. We won’t, Robb.”

Robb nodded, his lips twitching in a pale imitation of a smile. “Turn around.”

Jon pointedly placed himself by the door, but like Theon he turned his back.

Theon hated that he did want to turn back anyway to try and assess any damage, but he knew that would only make things worse.

After some rustling and a faint splashing noise Robb said, “You can look.”

His arms were crossed low on his stomach, making it hard to see beneath them in the water. He was also shaking.

“Is anything down there still bleeding?” Jon asked.

“Just my feet and one shin,” Robb said. “You’ll turn around again when I have to get out?”

“Right,” Theon said. “I…do you want me to cut some of your hair off? Make it easier to clean?”

He had to ask since it meant putting a knife by Robb’s head.

“Fine. No shaving though,” Robb said.

“Good thing you’re still too young for more than a bit of fuzz,” Theon joked weakly, drawing his dagger.

“You don’t cut hair with a dagger!” Jon argued.

“Oi, you help him with whatever else,” Theon said. “I’m doing this part.”

“Idiot,” Jon muttered before taking Robb’s left hand to inspect it.

A soft chuckle escaped Robb’s lips, “You never change.”

“Not really,” Theon said, pulling the pale curls straight so he could get a more even cut. There were definitely some red strands hiding in there, looking like little threads of copper buried in dull wool.

He ended up taking most of it off, leaving Robb’s hair barely long enough to curl on itself. “Somebody pass the soap.”

.o.o.o.

Robb had been cleaned and bandaged and let back to his room—or was it Theon’s room? He was sleeping there, anyways, and he intended to go back to sleep as soon as he could.

But his thoughts wouldn’t let him.

He’d never thought he’d see either of them again. Jon at the Wall and Theon hopefully somewhere safe with Bran and Rickon or maybe, terrifyingly, dead.

He’d never believed Ramsay when Ramsay said Theon had betrayed him.

But what had being loyal earned Theon? Stripped of his name, his titles, his family…and for what? For Robb?

Robb wanted to sob at it all. The person Theon gave all that up for wasn’t here anymore.

His father was dead. One sister was missing. The other sister was a hostage. His mother was tied up in the Riverlands, trying to get North with more troops. Her father’s troops. Or were they her brother’s now? He thought Theon had said something like that…

He shook his head. Just the idea of living daily without pain, without being raped or flayed or starved or beaten was confusing him enough.

And the world wanted to be more confusing. There was a fight for the Iron Throne on. Theon’s family was apparently making trouble again. Jon was forced to lead. And Theon seemed to be commanding not only respect but fear from the soldiers.

Theon commanded fear. Theon was supposedly terrifying. It just did not make sense to him at all. Theon was a joker. A fine archer and a decent swordsman with a good mind for strategy. But he’d never seemed frightening to Robb or seemed to have anyone in fear of him.

Jon said it had been like that since they’d heard of Robb’s capture. Not since Theon had been disowned, but since Robb had been confirmed in chains. That it was like something in him had snapped.

Why? What about that could have changed Theon so much?

Deep down it warmed him. It made him think that maybe Theon had been as serious about what used to be as he was. But it also made him cold.

Robb wasn’t Robb anymore. Not the same Robb he’d been. Theon had changed for someone who’d been changed as well.

He picked at the bandages around his hands. Left ring and little finger, right pointer and little. He doubted he’d ever hold a sword again.

Robb Stark was an excellent swordsman.

Robb Stark could quell his fears and stand tall. He could barely stand.

Robb Stark was the son of a lord, afforded respect. He had only pity.

Robb Stark knew where his life was going, knew what was expected of him. He had no idea what to do.

Robb Stark wasn’t here anymore.

.o.o.o.

“So, wait, are they fighting each other or the bloody Lannisters?” Theon asked after skimming a letter from Lady Catelyn after breakfast.

Jon shrugged. His guess was as good at Theon’s, “Gods only know what Renly thinks he’s doing, all right? But it keeps the Lannisters from getting any more men to the Riverlands or to us if they’re fighting two instead of one.”

“But if those two were one they might actually be able to fucking win,” Theon said. “If they fight each other too then the Lannisters might take them both out! They should work together!”

“They won’t win when Tywin’s grandson’s the one with his ass on the throne,” Jon said. “Look what happened to House Stark when the thought we were too big a threat. Who’s to say a united House Baratheon wouldn’t get the same?”

“A united House Baratheon could fucking break them,” Theon argued. “They’d have the Reach, the Stormlands-”

“Lannisters have the West, the Crownlands, and whoever in any other kingdom they can turn,” Jon argued. “After what the Boltons have done we can’t trust they won’t get another house to knife their lord in the back. And other lords know it.”

“So, what, we’re fucked because we can’t bloody well trust anyone?” Theon asked.

“We can trust the houses we have right now,” Jon said. “The houses who didn’t turn when no one would have blamed them. And the Riverlands, barring the Freys since they won’t just fucking let Lady Catelyn being armies north.”

“And trust my former family to be reliably troublesome,” Theon added dryly.

“There is that,” Jon said. “Damn it. I never…I didn’t learn this like you and Robb, I just picked things up from you two. What do you think?”

“…Secure the north first,” Theon said. “Join with Lady Catelyn once she makes her way here. Fuck the Freys on the way south again. That’s all I’ve got. I know it leaves Sansa and Arya to the mercy of the Lannisters but…it’s all I’ve fucking got, Jon.”

“Right,” Jon said, leaning his head back against the chair. “Right.”

“I…if you need me to do anything…since Robb’s still mostly resting…” Theo offered.

Well, there was something he needed done. And Theon was probably the best to do it, given the circumstances and need to keep this sort of thing quiet.

“I’ve got men to hang and a castle to secure,” Jon said. “You…you go find that ‘Reek’ Robb mentioned and see what he knows. Theon, I’m trusting you with this. Do not lose control again, do not attack him. I won’t send anyone else in there to listen to whatever that man has to say, for Robb’s sake but don’t you dare-

“I won’t lay a hand on him, then,” Theon said. “He might still be worried, since I think he’s the ass I beat last time. But if he doesn’t talk?”

“Then we’ll discuss what you can do to make him. But we…we do this the right way,” Jon said. “Am I clear?”

Theon looked like he very much wanted to disagree but he sighed and hung his head, “Yes. We’re clear.”

“Good. Talk to me about what you find before anyone else. To get your head cleared. All right?”

“Yes.”