By the time he reaches the first port after leaving the Iron Islands, he knows that his father has officially labeled him turncloak.
By the time he’s in the Riverlands, whoever recognizes him looks the other way. How can you trust someone who turns their back on his own family?
What makes him laugh bitterly is that if he had stayed and fought his father’s war, everyone from the North onward would be calling him turncloak.
Short of his father accepting the offer Theon had brought him, there was no way that it wouldn’t end badly whichever choice he made.
If he had any faith left he’d pray that he made the right one, but he isn’t so sure of that. He has technically turned his back on his own family, and he wishes it had been easy. It hadn’t been, not when he has spent the last ten years anticipating his return to a home that in the end turned out colder than Winterfell ever was. People saying that he shouldn’t be trusted not knowing the entire story wouldn’t even be wrong. It’s not as if anyone else ever did – only Robb.
There’s a reason why he’s picked the one choice that wouldn’t gain him anything from both sides. If he had chosen his father it’d have been only one side resenting him. He can’t even blame the people he’s now supposed to fight with – he’s still a stranger to them, ten years at Winterfell or not.
When he finally arrives at Riverrun – alone, no one else coming with him from the Iron Islands or anywhere else, his clothes too heavy for the still slightly warm Riverlands weather – and asks to be let inside, he’s allowed. The best he gets is suspicious looks and no one greets him.
For a second he’s tempted to turn his back and run – what was he thinking? He’s thrown his lot with people who don’t even think he’s worth their time. He should have stayed, he should have –
He should have what? His father would have been happier if Theon had come back just to say that he had decided to take the black rather than reclaim his rights, his sister sees him as an obstacle, he wasn’t even allowed to see his mother again. It wasn’t a warmer welcome than the one he’s getting here. And it was clear that he wouldn’t have been trusted to do anything important, and there’s so much his pride could take.
By now, he’s really starting to think that his life is some kind of jape. If only his father had accepted, he thinks.
Then again, there’s no use worrying about something he has thrown away for good. He asks for Robb, is told that he has to go to Hoster Tully’s solar. After being given directions he heads to his left. At some point he walks past the Greatjon, who sends him a stare that might have made anyone else crawl under the first table, out of shame.
Of course. On top of everything, he comes back without his father’s fleet.
When he knocks on the door, it’s just Robb and Lady Stark – thankfully. He had hoped it would be Robb alone, but it’s better than Robb and the rest of the northern lords.
Lady Stark looks at him as if she’s sincerely surprised that he’s here.
Robb, though –
“Mother, would you leave us alone?”
“Robb, are you sure that –”
“Please,” he replies, even if his voice is less courteous than it could be.
Lady Stark doesn’t answer and goes – Theon moves so that she can pass.
When he’s inside the room, Robb locks the door before turning towards him. Theon expects disappointment – there isn’t. He looks… something close to relieved?
“You must have heard everything by now,” he says, trying to make himself sound as if there was no difference to him.
“I have,” Robb replies, moving closer. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re what?” Theon almost snaps.
“It was your idea. It was a good idea. And I also – I sent you because I knew you would have wanted to go home.”
“I did. Maybe I shouldn’t have,” he replies. “It was useless, anyway. He had already decided to go to war on his own,” Theon replies. He wants to vomit – if he hadn’t been a turncloak before he’s being one now. But he can’t help it – if he hadn’t gone at all and he still was a hostage, and if his father had gone to war nonetheless –
He can feel blood rushing away from his face. He thinks he needs to sit down. He hadn’t thought about that, but now that he has he can’t shake it away.
He doesn’t even register Robb grabbing his arm and pushing him towards a chair.
“Do you really think that I would have killed you?” Robb asks, sounding almost offended.
“According to the rules, you should have,” Theon replies, trying to keep eye contact regardless of how dizzy he’s feeling.
Robb shakes his head, biting his lip; for a second, he looks like the kid Theon used to spar with and not like the king in the North that he never suspected he’d become.
“You – do I even have to tell you that you never were my hostage?” he asks. He’s looking at Theon the same way he used to when they were children and he was the only one not keeping him at an arm’s length and Theon thinks, maybe I really did the right choice.
“I know. But it’s not just a question of what we want, is it?”
“Are you with me?” Robb asks instead of answering, and for a second Theon wonders what in the seven hells he’s fishing for.
“Stark, everyone in the Iron Islands is calling me a turncloak. Everyone in here thinks that because of how my small errand went you shouldn’t trust me, and it was because I told my father I’d fight your war rather than his. Who do you think I’m with?”
For a second there’s silence and then Robb smiles at him. It’s small, but it’s real and it’s there and it was what Theon had hoped to get that time when he killed the wildlings holding Bran hostage, and then Robb’s hand goes to the hollow of Theon’s neck, his thumb brushing carefully against his throat.
“Thank you,” he says, and Theon wishes his heart wasn’t beating loud enough to betray what he’s feeling. “You tried. I can’t fault you for your father’s decisions. And you came back. I think I can trust you indeed, can’t I?”
Yes, gods, yes, he wants to say, but the only thing he can think is, you trust me but what about everyone else? He isn’t even sure of how much he trusts himself, but the only thing he can think right now is that for once he has seen right.
“At least someone does,” he manages, wishing that Robb would just move and let him stand up. But Robb leans down instead, placing a kiss at the corner of his mouth; he lingers for a second before moving away.
“The others are coming for discussing plans in an hour,” Robb says, as if nothing important had just happened. “If you want to rest, you can ask my uncle for a room. If you want to attend, you’re welcome to wait. You need to help me win a war, don’t you?”
His body is screaming at him to take that rest, but he isn’t sure that he can even stand up. He can still feel the pressure of Robb’s lips against his skin, and Robb is still looking at him as if he’s perfectly happy with how things went even if he has all reasons not to be.
“I can rest after,” he settles on, not moving from his chair and feeling his heart slowly coming back to a normal rate. He should feel embarrassed, he should resent Robb for having that much power over him, but he isn’t going to kid himself. Robb never was good at faking, and throwing away a kingdom that no one wants him to rule for the way Robb looks at him doesn’t seem like a bad bargain.
Not when it means that he gets to stay in the only place where he feels welcomed that he has ever found.