He falls asleep, again, thinking of Robb, thinking of the salt and the sea and the snow. He falls asleep, again, restless and tangled in his memories, wandering through paths that could never have been taken.
He burns the letter. He says their words, watches his father watch him and there is no going back now. He writes a note that means more than anything spoken, but it’s never seen by anyone but the Drowned God. He laughs, bitter with tears.
And so it goes.
“Your Grace,” Theon says, as soon as Robb is crowned, because this is always where it was going to end up. Robb is the Lord, the man upon the throne, the Prince and now the King, and Theon is the hostage masked with finery, but still a hostage. Theon is two steps below and looking up at Robb’s smile, bright as summer, and wondering if Robb has forgotten that winter comes not only for Lannisters, but for them too.
Theon sucks Robb’s cock into his mouth, teases under the crown of it with his tongue, looks up at Robb through the wisps of hair that cover his eyes. Theon drags his teeth, almost gentle, against the length and watches Robb gasp, watches Robb’s eyes close and his lips part.
He brings Robb closer, closer, to the edge, until Robb begs with pretty words and prettier sounds, until Theon’s knees hurt and his jaw aches and he finally has the upper hand. For someone who will never have it again, Theon likes control far too much.
Later, Robb sits at the head of the table, orders his men into battle, and his eyes are fierce and snarling. Later, Robb is again wearing a crown and Theon a collar and Theon can no longer forget their places, the parts that they play.
Theon and Robb, they have been cast into lives, already-defined, always-fated, and from these roles they will never stray. And so it is.
His ancestors may have taken what is theirs, but Theon’s never had that luxury. He takes what he is given because there aren’t so many options; only one truth.
When Theon leaves for the sea, for the home that he has not yet found, he already knows that he will never return. He may be yet a boy in his elders' eyes, only nine-and-ten, but he knows enough about his father, knows enough about their shared blood, to know that he will not simply listen to Theon and he will listen even less to reason. The ironborn have always been good at that, after all, always been good at ignoring sense for greed.
Well, at least Theon got that part right.
Robb’s last words to him dig underneath his skin with the weight of a thousand ruins. He looks at Theon with a trust that Theon does not deserve and Theon wonders how many more will lie to him in their last shared breath, how many more Robb will lose to the pull of war that he cannot control.
“Come back safe,” Robb says, fingers warm, clasped around Theon’s neck.
“I will,” says Theon, as if he will come back at all.