Theon wakes and there is a hand against his chest, against his ribs and where his heart beats, too loud. Theon wakes and there is a pair of eyes watching him – Tully blue eyes that are all too familiar.
“Robb?” he asks, and falls back to sleep even before he hears an answer.
His nightmares are about Pyke now; not about war or about his brother’s deaths or about his own. His nightmares are of his father and Balon’s cruel words and his crueler hands, of wet dungeons for the traitorous boy, of a whip and the words, repeated, “We do not sow.”
His nightmares aren’t nightmares at all, but memories, scratched into Theon’s mind and his back and his torso. Theon’s nightmares are not nightmares, but realities.
He wakes again to the smell of broth, to the warmth of a fire; he wakes to Robb, still at his side; to the wolf and not the kraken. Theon is neither of these things, not anymore. He is only Theon and he has come crawling back to his captors with not even his name.
“Theon,” Robb says, and he sounds less like a king and more like a lost boy, like a younger brother that Theon once had. “Theon,” Robb says, and Theon turns away from him because he was never Theon’s younger brother and he won’t ever be, will only be Theon’s king. Theon looks at the spatter of rain against the canvas of the tent, remembers his hair, wet, and the crash of waves against the shores, and carefully avoids the King’s eyes.
Theon is no longer a Greyjoy and he is even less a Stark and his Grace should not be there, for Theon is nothing anymore, only a lowborn bastard of a boy.
When Robb has left, when the sun has gone down and the candles have died and it is pitch black, Theon finally sheds his tears – sheds his salt water like a snakeskin – until it has all gone from him, until he is dry. Except that he is still wet, will never be wholly dry, still can feel the mildew on his arms and the sticky spray of the sea; Theon is dry except that he will never fully be rid of the salt, nor the water.
“Greyjoy,” his bones still sing, “Ironborn.” But he is neither, not truly.
Robb is still Robb and so he does not take no for an answer, least of all from Theon, and the next time he steps into Theon’s tent, several days later, he says, “Brother.” His eyes shine with the steel of a victor, with the silver of his sigil, and his hair is matted, but still he is every inch a king.
“Don’t,” Theon says, “Your Grace.”
Robb sobers and his brows furrow and he stalks towards Theon, brushes the hair from Theon’s forehead. Robb is king and nothing more, but still Theon cannot help but watch him, cannot help but wish that Robb would stay with him and cleanse him of his faults and of his scars. Theon watches Robb because Robb is the only person left that knows him, that may yet care, but he is King and not Theon’s to have.
“Theon,” Robb says, “You are my brother, even if not by blood,” and Theon wishes that it could be true.
“Do not tell me to stop,” Robb says.
“No, I—“ Theon says, “No, Ro—Your Grace—I’m not.”
“I’m not,” he says and it’s a stutter, a phrase repeated until Theon can convince himself of its truth.
He’s not Robb’s brother, not anymore; not when he has failed Robb and he has failed his once-family and he has failed himself. He doesn’t deserve to be at a king’s side, least of all Robb’s; doesn’t have anything to offer anymore, no name or lands or peoples to command. He has nothing, only two dead brothers and a sister that rules instead of him, and even they are not his to claim anymore. They are Greyjoys and Theon is no one. Robb is king and he is not Theon’s to claim anymore.
“Theon,” Robb says and cups Theon’s jaw within his palm, as if he does not care that Theon has failed him, and it is larger than when Theon last felt it – truly a man now, then – and his eyes are sharp with affection. Theon can’t help himself, looks up at Robb, leans further into Robb’s touch, for Robb is there.
“I’m not, I’m not,” he says, and he thinks, forever and always.
He wakes in the middle of the night, screaming, and Robb is by his side already, stroking along Theon’s sides and murmuring words into Theon’s ear. Robb is there and he strokes the ridges of Theon’s ribs, presses kisses to the scars that have been left behind. He breathes, wet, against Theon’s neck and he cradles Theon to him, as if he is the elder.
Robb is king and Theon is no one, but still he touches Theon as if they are young again and back at Winterfell, as if nothing has changed, and Theon lets him, presses his face into Robb and forgets that he should not.
“They will pay,” Robb promises, “You are my brother and they will pay.” His voice is choked, but it is certain, diamondhard with the fury of a wolf scorned, and Theon cannot help but believe him.
He still dreams of chains and of krakens, of his father; he still screams in the darkness and sometimes in the light. He is still not a Greyjoy, nor a Stark, and he still does not have a home. He has nowhere else to turn, but he is Robb’s and so all of that matters less, for he still has this.