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haunt me, baby

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prologue.
Sansa sees ghosts. Not in like a metaphorical, super melodramatic way. She actually sees them. Dead people. The whole ‘Sixth Sense’, Patrick Swayze, kinda deal.

It started when she was nine, after she almost drowned in a duck pond. She went in warm and young and a little stupid, and came out cold and shaky and seeing people that definitely weren’t there. Pale people with dark eyes like pools and sad mouths filled with dust. People nobody else was paying attention to. People she could walk through.

Her mom thought it was a brain injury. Her therapist said it was PTSD. That’s what happens when you tell your family you’re seeing things.

Pretty soon she learned it was hopeless and she stopped talking about it and they forgot their little girl was almost crazy. So she gets used to it. She learns to live with it.

And then Theon dies.

And he won’t leave her the fuck alone.

 

i.
He’s dead. Drowned in a boating accident. She can almost choke on the irony of it, the irony of a Greyjoy drowning. His father would hate it, if he had ever given a shit in the first place. Theon was always more their family than his.

Even if he was always a pain in the ass they couldn’t get rid of. Even if she hadn’t seen him in a year and a half. Even if he skipped Robb’s funeral and then skipped town and she decided she didn’t care to see him ever again anyway. Fuck, Theon Greyjoy.

Then he dies. Like an idiot. And she cries anyway.

For a little while.

He shows up three hours after they find out, because of course he does. Of course she’s folded in the armchair and everyone is sniffling and rubbing their eyes when she sees the shadow. Of course her family, her father, her mother, Robb couldn’t or wouldn’t come to her when they left.

But there’s Theon. Pale and blinking and looking around like he didn’t just fucking die.

She almost calls his name for a split second. He’s alive and it was a mistake, it was a joke, the stupid prick. But no one else sees him and she knows. It’s not a mistake.

He looks different, skinnier, a little more sad, a little more fragile, like paper, but it’s him and he’s dead. When he sees her, and she’s already looking back at him he freezes. Swallows. Then his eyes narrow and his head tilts to the side in that irritating way he always had.

And she knows, she knows, it’s trouble.

 

ii.
“I expected more crying exes to be honest. Lot’s of inconsolable women. It’s kind of disappointing,” he says from next to her. Because he’s Theon so he’s there, providing commentary only she can hear, that’s about ready to set her off.

It’s incredibly difficult to mourn someone when they won’t shut the fuck up at their own god damn funeral.

“Shouldn’t you be crying?”

“Excuse me?” she growls under her breath, eyes flitting around her nervously to make sure no one notices her. Notices her talking to herself. Notices her talking to herself at a funeral.

“It’s my funeral. Shouldn’t you be crying? You know, all teary eyes and runny nose over the loss of me or something. Isn’t that what people do at funerals?”

She wants to glare at him. She wants to smack him, but she knows her palm would never make contact with anything. He’s not really there. He’s enclosed in the casket a few feet away from her in the middle of the cemetery where some man from some church was saying words that didn’t really mean anything.

She hates cemeteries. There’s always more people around than there should be.

“Not a single tear? That hurts, Sans. Makes me feel like you didn’t like me very much.”

I didn’t, she thinks. I don’t.

It’s not true. Not really. She still grew up with him, she still knew him. He’s still dead.

Everyone else is crying. Even Arya is sniffling on her other side. She feels like she should be too. Out of respect, at the very least.

She can’t cry though. When he’s right there and it doesn’t feel like he’s dead yet. Because he’s still talking and she still wants to roll her eyes. How do you cry over a death when you can’t even feel it?

“Where’d they find this guy, anyway? God he never stops talking does he? We get it. I’m dead. Put me in the ground already,” he says it like he’s bored. He’s really taking the end of his mortal existence pretty well, actually.

Or maybe that’s just what he wants her to think.

She takes a deep breath that shudders in her chest, trying not to lose it. She finally turns her head to look at him, pinning him down with a glare, but her annoyance might as well have been made of marshmallows instead of knives because it doesn’t really bother him at all. He just smirks at her. (It looks different than it used to.)

Arya’s tiny hand closes around hers where it’s rested in her lap, probably confusing her shaky breath and frigid muscles for grief. It still feels nice.

“And is no one even drunk? I expected more from these people.”

He keeps talking until they start to lower the casket into the ground. Then he stops.

When she looks back up he isn’t there anymore.

 

iii.
She thinks it’s the end of it, truly. He saw his funeral, fulfilled some last wish, and he moved on. It pulls a kind of ache out of her ribcage, one bone at a time. She can be sad now, she can say goodbye and move on and be done with it.

Except, then she gets home and he’s standing in her living room and she realizes she’s not free yet.

Theon’s fucking haunting her.

 

iv.
“Aren’t you supposed to like, I don’t know? Move on? Follow the light? Leave me alone, maybe?” she asks him, exasperated.

He’s been dead two weeks, and usually by then the dead decide to evaporate or ascend or whatever it is they do when their tie to this mortal plane is finally cut. That seemed to be their unspoken rule. They get their closure and they leave.

Obviously not Theon. He’s never followed a rule in his life.

“I don’t know. You’re the ghost whisperer.” For whatever reason he’s reclined flat on her kitchen counter watching the light pass through his hand. Like he’s still mesmerized by it, the warm streams breaking through his pale palm. “Isn’t that your specialty?”

“It’s not like I have a manual,” she huffs.

God, wouldn’t it be easier if I did.

He turns his head to look at her and for a second she can almost pretend he’s actually there. She can pretend it’s two years ago again and he’s annoying her while she’s trying to make dinner. He’s tossing her pick-up lines and she’s rolling her eyes and maybe Robb’s in the other room messing with her TV and Arya’s late like always.

But only for a second.

Then she actually looks at him. And his face is sharper than it was back then. His skin is too pale and he looks like a faded photograph, or a man made of watercolors, a little washed out, a little grey. He’s in the same blue sweater he’s always in, the one she guesses he probably died in. Same ripped jeans. Same stormy eyes.

If she squints, it almost looks like the ends of his curls are dripping with saltwater.

“You don’t ask them?”

“Why would I ask them?” she sighs, turning back to peel the plastic off her microwave dinner.

He sighs like he’s never heard a dumber answer. “You’ve seen ghosts most of your life, and you don’t talk to them? Or ask them anything about being... dead?”

“No? I mean… not really. Generally they leave me alone. Most of them don’t even really talk. Which I prefer.” She gives him a pointed look over her shoulder.

“You suck at this,” he chuckles. His grin falls a little to one side and somehow it’s even more irritating.

“Yeah, well, you’re a shitty ghost. Why are you still around? What’s your big unfinished business keeping you here?”

He’s quiet, weirdly quiet for who he is as a person, and it’s almost unsettling. He’s not someone made to exist in silence, he never had been. She thinks maybe he’s left again, but when she looks behind her he’s still there, staring at her ceiling like he’s about to get up and jump straight through it.

“Hell, if I know,” he breathes. It sounds more like water than air.

“Isn’t there someone else you can haunt? Books to know off shelves, maybe a chain or two to rattle? Literally anyone else you can endlessly annoy?”

“You’re the only one that can see me, Sans.” His voice is a little sad and a little quiet and it reminds her of a drop of water.

 

interlude i.
Once upon a time, Sansa had, what some might have called, a crush on Theon Greyjoy. She was young and it was a delicate secret. This tiny, warm thing she held between her lips. But she never told anyone, not a single soul because it was stupid and he was Theon.

Even if he was kinda hot and a little bit charming and sorta sweet when he really wanted to be and maybe she thought he was cool…

But then she realized he was also a fucking idiot.

 

v.
So she ends up with a roommate who happens to be dead.

Which, all things considered, is easier than having a regular, living roommate because it’s not like he makes a mess or leaves the toilet seat up or eats her yogurt without asking. But it is also decidedly worse because that roommate is still Theon.

Meaning he still complains about everything he can, all the time. He complains about what she watches on TV even though it is her TV, and not being able to smoke anymore, and her (also dead) cat constantly rubbing against his ankles.

He makes a habit of showing up behind her just to make her scream.

He tells jokes that aren’t funny.

He makes faces behind the people she’s trying to talk to.

He does every possible thing he can think of to get on her nerves.

He’s Theon.

Even on his best days he’s Theon.

 

vi.
“Come on, Sansa.”

“No.”

“Just pick something else. Pick anything else,” he begs, same as he always does.

“Nope,” she says cheerfully, same as she always does.

He groans, low and rumbling and annoyed. “For the love of God-”

“I thought you were an atheist.”

“-for once can you just put on something else? Can you just not watch some stupid chick flick, for the sake of my life?”

“You’re dead, Theon.”

He gives her an all suffering glare combined with a sigh that’s so tired she almost laughs. She can imagine it mirrored on her own face most days. She wonders if he picked it up from her.

Or if it was the other way around.

“Please, Sansa Stark. I am begging you, do not put Titanic on this TV screen. Please.” He’s looking up at her from his seat on the floor, his back resting against the couch she’s curled in the corner of.

“But I want to watch Titanic.” It’s raining outside and she has a headache and she’s in her biggest sweatpants and her softest green sweater and she just wants to watch the stupid movie and eat her stupid ice cream and maybe cry just a little bit.

“You always pick the movie,” he pouts, letting his head fall back against the sofa cushion. His curls fall a little in his eyes. Lady is asleep in his lap and she almost feels a slight pang of jealousy. That the dead boy gets to pet the dead cat, but she doesn’t.

“Possibly because it is my apartment and I am the only one here that can physically hold the remote and change the channel.”

“I’ll talk through the whole thing.”

“No you won’t,” she scoffs. He’ll be over it in a few minutes and he’ll sit and watch the movie because he has nothing better to do even if it’s miserable for him. (She has a feeling it’s not.)

She thinks it might actually be the only time he’s not talking.

“Just this once, can you just please-”

“I’m not watching Pacific Rim.”

“Sansa,” he drags the end of it out until it’s not even her name anymore it’s just a long bumpy road falling out of his mouth.

He still watches it with her, same as he always does.

 

vii.
The thing about seeing ghosts is that, after the first couple years, it’s actually surprisingly normal.

It’s not scary or ominous. It doesn’t send a shiver down her spine or raise the hair on the back of her neck or stop her heart in her chest.

They’re just wilting flowers pressed between pages. The shapes of people caught between slides and blurred around the edges. Were she more like the romantic she used to be, she might find it poetic. Were she more like her mother she might try to understand it. Were she more like her father she might try to save some of them.

But she isn’t any of those things, not anymore. She’s only Sansa and she is tired.

So it is only a part of her life that exists, just like any other part. She sees shadows at the coffee shop and smiling children on the corner and silhouettes in windows. She feels the breeze a little harder, the room a little colder. She doesn’t even remember what it was like before, without all of it.

It is her life and it is her secret, one she writes on a slip of paper and burns with a zippo, whose ashes she swallows like poison and whose smoke tickles her lungs. But there is nothing else but this.

Until there is Theon. Fucking Theon.

Because she hates him, even when she doesn’t, and more often than not she finds herself wishing he would evaporate. But he’s dead. And he knows her secret.

And god, it’s like she can breathe just a little bit easier. Despite the rest of it, she doesn’t have to hide that tiny little part of her from someone. Even if that someone is insufferable and dramatic and has poor taste in film and worse taste in women. She can talk about it.

She is not ‘Sansa minus her ghosts’, she is just Sansa.

Maybe that’s the great joke of the universe. The person she truly can’t stand, the person she had already begun to erase from herself, is the person she doesn’t have to hide from.

The world had a shit sense of humor.

 

viii.
“Sansa?”

“What?”

“Am I still hot as a ghost?”

“Go away, Theon.”

 

ix.
It was bound to happen, the Robb fight. Honestly, she’s surprised it hadn’t happened sooner.

She isn’t even sure how it starts, a stupid comment on his part or an irritated remark on hers. Too many hours of existing, too much pressure behind her eyes. It doesn’t matter either way. Whatever is said it turns to Robb, and once it turns to Robb it’s like dry brush igniting in the summer. It can’t be stopped and it is destructive.

She yells, she knows she does. And he yells back, just for her.

(If a dead boy yells in an apartment building in the middle of the night and she’s the only one around to hear him, does he really make a sound?)

She opens her mouth and hornets fly out, hornets made of resentment and anger and hurt. She wants to make him hurt too.

He drips guilt from his fingertips and wipes it across her walls and pretty soon they are just yelling and her living room is a warzone and she’s never felt so full of air and so breathless at the same time.

At the end he can only look at her. He can only look at her with those sad, stormy eyes that can’t actually cry and that angry, twisted mouth.

“Trust me, no matter how much you blame me or how much you hate me, I can guarantee I hate myself more.” There’s more pain in his voice than she’s ever heard. It makes her stop, it makes the fire in her lungs freeze because that’s not his voice. That’s not Theon’s voice.

Then, he’s gone.

 

x.
She sits in her room, balanced on the bed, for a long time after that. Fuming and fizzling.

Her fire turns to smoke, turns to ash.

She can only see his face, his face that, for the very first time, looked haunted. Actually looked like a ghost. Twisted and tortured and different.

She can only hear his voice and the way he choked on the words. And there is something that scares her.

And she doesn’t hate him. She can’t hate him, as much as she had tried so hard for so long, it’s gone and he’s just Theon. She starts to hate herself instead.

Because she knows there’s something under the surface, there’s something missing.

“Theon?” she whispers into the dark.

There is silence.

“Theon?” she calls out, louder, and it almost sounds desperate.

“Yes?”

Her head snaps to the shadowed corner of her bedroom where he stands. He looks small. Now that he’s there, she doesn’t really know what to say. The words get lost somewhere between her throat and her lips, caught between her teeth and stuck to the roof of her mouth.

“I-”

“It’s okay,” he interupts softly. “Me too.”

She nods and she’s grateful at that moment that their apologies and their forgiveness pass through the air between them like breath and that’s all it takes. It’s easy. And it’s not.

Her life is weird, but out of the two trembling rib cages in that room, his still feels more haunted.

“Theon,” she starts and she hopes the words follow in the right order. “What happened? After you left…”

She sees the way he doesn’t look at anything, the way his eyes turn glassy and still, like his past is the ghost.

“Nothing good.” If he had breath, it would hitch. “It was… bad. Really bad.”

He tells her. He tells her everything. All the ways he tried to smother his guilt and carve it into his skin at the same time. The drugs, the fighting, the abuse. He tells her about Ramsay and the bruises and the broken bones. How he’d died way before he drowned. He unloads it all, brick by brick, until he is rubble at her feet.

Then, she gives him her broken pieces.

She tells him about Joffery. Both before and after he died. The rage and the way it grew even colder in his dead spirit. About her own scars, the ones on her skin and the ones underneath it. She tells him about the fear. She tells him all of it.

And maybe they both feel better and maybe it makes a little more sense and maybe she never even started to hate him.

 

xi.
It’s different after that.

 

xii.
The day feels soft. That’s the only way she can think about it. Soft and warm and new.

The kitchen tile is cold beneath her bare feet as she sways and steps through the apartment, dancing to the melody playing in the air. The windows are opened and the breeze lifts her arms above her head and she feels like a bird.

Maybe she could really fly away.

She sings along to the words in her ears, the ones playing through the phone in her hand. She smiles and she spins and twirls and she feels like a girl. She hasn’t felt like a girl, not in this way (innocent and happy and young) in too long. It feels nice.

“Someone’s having fun.”

She tries not to scream, she really does, but she can’t stop the squeal that slips from her chest or the embarrassing way her body jumps and spasms in shock.

Theon laughs at her from the doorway where he’s very obviously been watching her, smirk on his face. It’s a nice laugh though, different, more like bells and less like hyenas.

She wills her heart to chill out and stop galloping against her breastbone.

“Jesus, Theon. Don’t fucking do that!”

“Oh, but Sansa it’s so fun.”

“You’re such a prick, you know that?” She combs her fingers through her hair, pushing it back from her face to glare at him more clearly. But there’s not any heat behind it, is there?

“Boo,” he grins, and then he fucking winks like some bad boy in a leather jacket she’d expect to meet at a bar.

She rolls her eyes and flips him a middle finger with the most condescending smile she can manage, but then she keeps twirling and they keep laughing.

 

interlude ii.
Once upon a time, Sansa loved Theon Greyjoy.

She just didn’t know in what way, not at the time. It was a puzzle she was constantly trying to figure out. Which piece fit where and what picture it made at the end.

She had known him since she was young and he was there, at her side like Robb, or sometimes like Jon. He was family, or close enough to it. But he also felt like something else.

It got more complicated when she turned 18 and he kissed her, with his hands like iron on her hips and his tongue still tasting like cheap gas station vodka. She remembered it like a VHS tape played too many times and melting at the edges.

But then he pulled back and he blinked and apologies fell from his mouth almost like vomit and he stumbled away. Three days later he was back with Ros and they never brought the stupid fucking mistake up again.

 

xiii.
She doesn’t realize she hasn’t really seen her family lately until there’s a knock on her door and she opens it to find her cousin standing in the hallway with a case of beer in one hand and a large, paper sack in the other.

“Are those Dornish veggie burgers?” she narrows her eyes.

Yours is.”

“With the secret sauce?”

“I’m not a complete idiot, Sansa,” Jon chuckles.

“You may enter,” she says, eagerly taking the bag from his hand and inhaling the mouth wateringly delicious smell of spices and grease.

She grabs some paper plates from the cabinets and tosses Jon the bottle opener off the fridge and they sit on the floor around her coffee table, food and beer spread out in front of them. He might be naive about most things, but anyone could admit her quiet cousin knew his beers and his takeout. He was rather proud of it actually.

“What’s the occasion?” she asks, popping a french fry between her lips.

He looks away a first like he’s a bit embarrassed, and takes a quick drink before he actually answers her. “I just wanted to check in on you. You haven’t been around much since… in a while.”

Since the funeral. She knows that’s what he wanted to say. What’s she supposed to say to that?

Don’t worry, Jon. I’m fine actually, I’ve just been spending my time with the ghost of the dead boy we all grew up with who I’m supposed to despise. Yeah actually it’s been totally cool.

She swallows the salt in her throat.

“I’m okay, Jon.” The sigh feels tired and she can tell he doesn’t really believe it. He nods anyway.

“It still feels weird doesn’t it. That he’s dead. I mean I know we hadn’t seen him since… it still feels weird.”

“Yeah…”

“The fucker never even liked me in the first place.” She’s not surprised to hear his voice from the hallway. Honestly, she expected him to show up sooner. He’s right though. He and Jon had never really seen eye to eye. Despite how much they actually had in common.

She throws him a short warning glance before turning back to Jon.

“I thought you guys didn’t get along.”

“I mean, did anyone actually get along with Theon? Besides Robb?” Okay, she’ll give him that. “Or you, I guess. He always listened to you.”

She turns a questioning glance to the hallway.

“You were very bossy,” he says dismissively, rolling his eyes.

“But,” Jon continues, “we still knew him most of our lives. He was still… Theon.”

That he was. It was the best way to describe him. Despite everything else, no matter what they all went through, no matter what walls were built and broken down around them, he was Theon. He was their brother and their friend and their annoyance and their problem and just theirs. She has to smile softly against the lip of her bottle.

“I kinda always thought he would…” he trails off.

“Come home?” she finishes for him.

“Yeah.”

She thinks of the things he told her in the shadows of her bedroom not many nights ago. The broken bits of the missing year, and the pain between his shoulder blades. She thinks about how he has ghosts too and she thinks about the sad way he’s looking at them now from the archway to her left.

“I think he wanted to. There was just… there was too much he was trying to run away from here.”

“I don’t blame him. For Robb or for any of it. Not anymore. It wasn’t his fault, he was just. We were all broken kids. He was a good person. I know he didn’t think it, and I never really helped, but he was a good person.”

She looks over her shoulder again. He’s frozen there, with a look on his face that makes her want to smile and cry. It’s like every muscle in his face has gone slack, his lips barely parted, and his eyes swimming with confusion. Like he never expected to hear anything like that, let alone believe it.

She looks him right in the eye. “He was.”

She sees him swallow, can practically hear it.

“I should’ve told him that before,” Jon says, a little watery. It’s the first time since the funeral Sansa has felt like Theon is really dead. He’s standing right there, or part of him is, but looking at Jon, talking about him like he’s gone, it leaves a weird, gaping feeling in her chest.

For everyone, but her, he really is gone.

“He knows.” She lifts her beer out in front of her. “For Theon.”

Jon clinks his bottle against hers with the saddest smirk he can manage and she thinks he feels just a little bit better.

“Thanks,” the dead boy croaks and she can see the same little smile on his own pale lips. He deserves it. Even if it’s too late, he deserves that love from them.

She nods and he’s gone.

 

xiv.
“Did any of them ever..?”

He doesn’t have to finish for her to know what he’s talking about. Father, Mother, Robb. Did any of them every show up? Did she ever get to talk to any of them?

She shakes her head. “Nope, just you.”

“Just me…”

 

xv.
She sighs. “If you watch The Princess Bride with me, without being an annoying shit the whole time-”

“That’s already a lot to ask of me, Sansa,” he interupts, the usual ornery twist in his mouth.

“If you stay quiet through the movie, I will,” she takes a breath, hardly believing she’s about to do this for him, “put Pacific Rim on.”

He straightens and flips his body around, eyes comically wide. “You serious?”

“Yes, but you cannot be annoying about it, Theon.”

“I won’t, I swear.”

She still finds it hard to believe, but it’s been three months since he died and then moved into her apartment and she’s made him sit through enough of her choices so she guesses maybe he deserves to watch his favorite movie and maybe she wants to see him get excited about something again.

(And maybe at this point she’s a little bit intrigued.

She’ll never tell him that though.)

Turns out he can keep his word and he sits quietly on the floor and only makes a handful of comments, none of them too annoying. She thinks he might actually enjoy it to some extent, what with the pirates, and sword fights, and vengeance.

(He’ll never tell her that though.)

So she puts the movie on and she sits through two hours of bright colors and giant robots and several fight scenes for him. And the way his face lights up, god maybe it makes her feel like a good person. And the way he keeps looking at her out of the corner of his eyes to make sure she’s paying attention, maybe she finds it a little cute.

He adds his own commentary and she can’t even be annoyed about it because he’s so excited and there’s almost a light behind his eyes again. Stuff like “oh watch this!” or “this is so cool”. She actually enjoys herself and its nice and he feels like her friend. It feels normal.

And it’s not a terrible movie.

When it’s over and he turns to her expectantly, she sighs again. “Objectively,” she starts, “it was not a bad movie.”

He grins, full of satisfaction, but really happy. Like he truly wanted her to like his favorite movie and now he’s happy she does.

“It’s better high,” he says wistfully.

It reminds her this isn’t normal because if it was normal, he’d be high off his ass and they’d be sharing the popcorn and he’d probably throw it at her at some point. If it was normal they would’ve watched it a month ago and he’d probably put his feet in her lap and she’d probably throw a pillow at him.

It’s not normal. It’s a spray of cold water on her back and an ever growing confusion inside her.

She shakes it off and slides her fake-annoyed smile back onto her lips. “I’m sure it is,” she laughs.

Maybe they can make it their own kind of normal.

 

xvi.
Sometimes after he leaves, when his silhouette has faded into nothing and he’s gone, she swears she can still smell just the tiniest hint of cigarettes and sea salt in the air around her. It makes her want to cry so instead she smiles.

 

xvii.
They throw her a surprise party a week before her actual birthday at Arya’s house because, to everyone’s continued surprise, she is the only sibling with an actual house and a live-in boyfriend and any semblance of having her shit together. Sansa might be bitter if she wasn’t so proud.

Arya had Hot Pie make dozens of tiny lemon cakes instead of one regular birthday cake. There’s velvet and lace streamers strung around the room, white balloons all over the floor, pink punch that Margaery assures her is very much alcoholic, and a tiny tiara perched on her head.

And it feels almost perfect.

She gets a bomber jacket from Jon who pretends like he didn’t spend weeks trying to find exactly what she’d want. Marg gets her a new dress she swears will look great with her hair color. Brienne hands her a box of old books and records she says belonged to Catelyn and Sansa does not cry. Absolutely not. Arya tells her the party was her present, but then volunteers a free oil change at Gendry’s shop as an added bonus.

Bran says he can get high with her whenever she wants and she guesses for Bran that’s a lot.

Rickon tells her he’s a child with no money and therefor did not get her a present.

They take birthday shots and she laughs too loud and beats Gendry at Mario Kart and argues with Sam and dances with Margaery. She makes them play flip cup and Pod throws up in the bathroom and everything feels good. Or it feels like it should.

Except something feels like it’s missing and there’s a piece of anxiety wedged between two of her ribs and she keeps looking around and watching the door like she expects someone else to show up even though she knows everyone is already there.

It’s one in the morning and she’s properly drunk before she realizes what it is, what’s missing, and it hits her like a punch to the chest because she’s looking for Theon.

She’s waiting for Theon.

And he’s not coming.

He’s not walking through the door and he’s not laughing at her jokes and he’s not on her beer pong team and he’s not alive.

Her fingers feel cold and she feels far away and suddenly it’s not so easy to laugh anymore. So she takes another shot and she pretends everything is fine.

 

Except it’s not.

She gets home drunk and sad and, if she’s being honest, a little bit pissed off. Because she was okay. For a year and a half she was okay and he wasn’t a problem and then he had to die and stick around and haunt her for the rest of her life.

Now her best friend is a ghost and she misses him even though he’s not around and he’s only half a person, or part of a person, and she can’t even hug him and everything is wrong and confusing and she needs another drink.

She knows she looks like a mess, barefoot still in her birthday tiara trying to open a bottle of wine with her teeth, when she feels him behind her.

He looks her up and down wearily. “Are you alright?”

She yanks the cork free and spits it at her feet before taking a long gulp. “I am fine,” she says when she wipes the back of her hand across her mouth.

“You’re drunk.”

She giggles and steps around him, even though technically she could just walk through him if she wanted to. “You are correct.”

She takes another drink. “It was my birthday party.”

“Oh. Happy birthday.”

He looks out of place, the way he always does, like he’s a little lost and a lot dead. It just makes her even more upset. He shouldn’t look like that. His cheeks should be pink and warm and his eyes should be glassy and drunk just like her and he should laugh and other people should get to hear it.

It all makes her sniffle.

“Did something happen?”

“I drank lots of vodka and we played games that were pretty fun and I almost won flip cup, but for some reason Sam is like really good at it. And it was fun. I should have had fun,” she slurs pacing around the room.

“Why didn’t you?”

She has to take another drink, hoping it’ll either drown out the ache she’s feeling or something. “I realized something and it made me upset.”

That’s when she realizes she’s actually crying. Silent tracks of salt and wet mascara trailing down her cheeks. God, she’s a fucking disaster. She’s a disaster and it’s his fault and there isn’t even a solution.

“Sansa,” he starts gently, hovering behind her like he’s worried. “What’s wrong?”

“You.”

“Me?”

She turns around to look at him again. She doesn’t want to because it hurts and it’s fucking confusing and he has a stupid face.

“Yeah, you,” she whispers and she can see the apprehension in his eyes and his lips fall open. “You and being dead and being here. Because you died, and there was a funeral, you were there actually, and you were buried and everyone cried and was sad and got to grieve, but I didn’t. Because to me you aren’t gone and I can still see you and hear you and so why would I cry? It doesn’t feel like you’re dead to me, but you are! You are and I don’t know what to do because it’s so fucking confusing.”

She’s actually crying properly now, gasping for air between words and heaving her shoulders and gripping the wine bottle with trembling fingers, but she can’t stop.

“And now you’re my friend, you’re like my best friend and I just want to watch stupid fucking movies about robots and aliens and laugh and forget about it. Then I’m with my family and my friends and I’m looking for you and I’m waiting for you to show up and you aren’t going to. You aren’t going to because you’re gone. Even though you’re not. Do you know how hard that is? How hard it is to try to mourn someone and get over it when part of them is still around?”

It pours out of her like gravel spilling down the edge of a cliff. She wipes half heartedly at her wet eyes, takes another drink.

He looks so guilty and it makes it so much worse.

Nothing is right. It’s all wrong and she hates it.

“Is that what you want?” she barely hears the whisper pass his lips. “Me to go?”

She thinks about it, about him actually being gone forever and no she doesn’t want that.

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “I want you to come back.”

Everything goes out of him when she says it. His whole body falls and deflates and he has to close his eyes and look away from her. Why’d he have to do this?

Why did he have to leave in the first place? Why did he have to die? Why did he have to come back and haunt her and be so fucking annoying until she got used to him? Until he was her friend again? Why?

He shakes his head so sadly. His fingers twitch at his sides like he wants to comfort her if only he could.

“Me too, Sans.”

 

xviii.
She has a terrible fucking hangover the next day.

He shows up halfway through it and it’s just another one of those things they don’t talk about.

 

xix.
“Where do you go? When you’re not here?” she asks him one night. She’s propped up reading and he’s thrown his body gracelessly across the end of her bed, arms and skinny legs dangling over the sides.

“I don’t know. I don’t really go anywhere.”

“What do you mean?”

He sighs and flips onto his back, looking at her. “I guess it’s like.. I just go to sleep. I don’t do anything, I just… stop. I mean sometimes I walk around, or sit on the roof, or check in on everyone else if I’m bored, but the rest of it is just like I’m napping kinda.”

“You do that? Check in on everyone?” She asks, surprised. She hadn’t thought he ever left her apartment. She didn’t know why, it made sense that he would, but maybe she liked to think of him as hers now. Even if that was selfish.

“Yeah. Jon and Arya… Bran. I just,” he takes a breath, looking away. “I miss them sometimes.”

She suddenly understands that she’s all he has. He’s dead and all the people he’s cared about, his family, they can’t see him or hear him or talk to him. He’s dead and he’s alone except for her.

What a shitty end of the stick.

 

xx.
As it turns out, her siblings have a tendency to turn up at her apartment unannounced at any given time. Jon at least knocks, but Arya, being Arya, swings the door open and just walks in like she owns the damn place.

That’s exactly what she does as Sansa is curled on the couch, with Theon at her feet, and Meg Ryan faking an orgasm on her television.

“Okay, you sad bitch. I hope you’re clothed!” her tired voice exclaims. Theon snorts.

“You know that key is for emergencies right? Like life or death type of emergencies,” she sighs.

“Who says that’s not what this is?” her sister asks, appearing in the hallway. Sansa can already see the bottle of tequila in her hand and her stomach clenches and flips over on it’s own. She still hasn’t recovered from her birthday.

“Who died then?” She wants to smack herself after she says it because, well, ghost at her feet.

“Your social life,” a second voice calls out, sounding like bells, and Margaery follows behind her sister. Oh great, she recruited Marg. Maybe it is serious, Arya doesn’t even like her on her best days.

“Um, my social life is fine?”

Theon laughs again from the floor and she sends him a glare that says ‘shut up, you’re dead this is your social life too’.

“Honey, it’s eight o’clock on a Saturday night and you’re in pajamas watching When Harry Met Sally by yourself,” Marg sighs, looking at her like she’s a tragedy.

“But fear not, we are here to save the day!” Arya all but shouts and Sansa has to wonder if maybe Margaery drove and her sister already tested the tequila. “Gendry is out of town visiting his sister, so here I am! And we have alcohol, which is always fun, and Margaery is here, which I guess you’ll enjoy, and we can finally talk about all the sex you’re not having and all the sex I am.”

So yes, she was definitely already drunk.

“Ew,” Theon mumbles. It almost feels like he’s there.

“That’s nice, Arya.”

“And look what I find at Olenna’s when I was over for tea last week!” And Sansa swears her life is a fucking joke because Margaery Tyrell pulls a ouija board from behind her god damn back, holding it in the air and bouncing around in excitement.

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” the actual ghost chuckles next to her, taking the words right out of her mouth. A fucking spirit board for the girl living with a dead boy and a dead cat. It’s a cosmic joke. It has to be. And Theon can’t stop laughing.

“Yeah, I think I’ll go.”

She wants to tell him to stay, but really why would he? So he can lurk in the shadows and crack uncomfortable jokes she can’t laugh at and watch her enjoy the merits of alcohol and life while he can’t. So she just gives him a sad nod and sighs as she pauses the movie and follows the two girls into her kitchen, where Arya is already pulling shot glasses off a shelf.

“Is this necessary?”

“Yep,” Arya answers.

“Absolutely,” Margaery says at the same time.

“Great.”

“Oh, come on, Sans. Don’t be dull, it’ll be fun!” Margaery begs.

“Yeah, Sans,” her sister teases, with a dopey (and very tipsy) grin on her lips. She slides two shot full shot glasses across the counter to each of them, lifting her own in the air. “To saving Sansa’s life!”

She rolls her eyes and lets the liquor slide down her throat with only mild shuddering. Of all the alcohol in the world, she could definitely do without tequila. It reminds her of too many high school nights peeing her pants in someone’s basement.

“Get this loser drunk, baby Stark. I’ll get the spirit board ready and we can find out if they have weed in the afterlife or if the ghosts here think I’m hot.”

Based on her many, suffering conversations with Theon, she knows the answers to both of those questions already.

The baby Stark in question is slipping her jacket off her thin shoulders and shaking her head. Sansa watches her pour out another shot, just for her specifically and she wonders when her sister became the cool one.

Not that she’d ever admit it out loud to a single soul, but she really admires the little ball of curse words in her kitchen. Everyone fell apart after their parents, especially after Robb, but Arya pulled herself together afterwards. And now she was an adult.

Short and slender and composed, all lean muscle and messy hair and tattoos, standing in a cut off and ripped jeans and taking a short swig straight from the bottle. So cool. Sansa’s grateful they found a way to be sisters and not enemies.

“Drink up, bitch,” she smirks. “Marg isn’t gonna let you in there until you’re at least three shots in.”

“Cool,” but she does as she’s told and hands the glass back for one more.

As she pours it, Sansa studies the black ink twisting up her bicep. The tattoos Arya so affectionately called her sleeve of dead loved ones. She has one tattoo for each of their family. A long sword for their father melting into some kind of fish for their mother fading into a wolf for Robb. Sansa freezes.

“When did you get that?” she asks running her thin fingers along the painted skin.

“Oh,” she says, looking down and shrugging. “About a week after the funeral.”

Below Robb’s wolf, twisting around her elbow and down the back of her forearm is an intricate squid Sansa has never seen before. For Theon.

“It’s beautiful,” she whispers, pulling her fingers back.

“Thanks. I mean, I know we weren’t like, close or anything, but he was family too. I figured he deserved it.”

“Yeah. He did.” Her smile is watery at best as she nods.

“How have you been doing? With all of it? I mean you haven’t been around as much, and you didn’t cry at the funeral and you haven’t really been… sad and stuff. I mean, I know you guys hadn’t talked or anything since… since the fight and Robb, but you always had something.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know, it was like you guys were always on the same wavelength or something. You were probably the only person that could ever talk any sense into him most of the time. I think Robb was always paranoid you guys had a thing.

“What?” she laughs. “A thing? Me and Theon? Why? We were always fighting.”

“Exactly, he picked fights with you all the time. He was so annoying about it. It was like foreplay or something.”

“Oh, come on,” she sputters, because no way. It hadn’t been like that, not at all. He was a stupid boy that liked to tease her and tell dirty jokes to make her uncomfortable and tug on her ponytail when he walked by. She thought his smile was full of shit and he messed around with too many girls and he should probably shower more. She thought he had bad taste in movies and he thought she had bad taste in music.

That’s who he was. That’s who they were.

There was nothing else.

She thinks.

“You can talk about it, you know?” she looks back up, into her sister’s grey eyes. They’re warm. (Sansa remembers when they didn’t use to be.) “You can talk about him.”

She looks down at her hands, twisting her knuckles. “I miss him.”

“Yeah, me too,” Arya sighs, then chuckles. “Can you believe it? Missing Theon fucking Greyjoy.”

It makes Sansa grin, despite the ache in her bones. Despite how the shape of his absence still feels scorched into her skin. She still smiles at the thought of his face knowing little Arya Stark missed him. That so many people missed him. He’d play it as a joke, make it a comedy and queue the laugh track. But she knew his heart now and she knew how much it would actually mean.

“He’d love it,” she says simply. She’ll have to tell him.

“Get the fuck in here! I wanna flirt with a ghost!” Margaery yells, interrupting their small moment of shared mourning.

Arya offers her the filled shot glass, but she reaches over her and takes the whole bottle in her fist. It burns all the way down, and she wishes it would burn all her grief away with it.

 

interlude iii.
Once upon a time, Sansa hated Theon Greyjoy.

He was an idiot and cocky and a supreme fuck up and she didn’t care if she never, ever, saw his stupid fucking face again.

He didn’t care about anything and he didn’t follow any rules.

It started when he kissed her against a tree. It consisted of betrayals and mistakes, drugs and bar fights. It ended when he slept with Robb’s girlfriend, when his best friend gave him a black eye, when she told him she hated him, when he didn’t come to the funeral, when he left town without a word.

She hated him.

But then he went and fucking died and she missed him all over again.

 

xxi.
“Why are you freaking out?”

“I’m not freaking out,” she says. This is the fourth time she’s checked her reflection in the mirror, running her fingers through her hair and pulling at the dress hugging her waist. Okay, maybe she’s freaking out a little.

“You’re definitely freaking out,” Theon confirms from her bed.

“I’m not,” she huffs. “I’m just nervous, I am not freaking out. Everything is fine.”

He looks at her like he doesn’t believe a bit of it, like he can see the lie as clearly as if she’d written it in the air in front of him. All tilted head and narrow eyes and that stupid little smirk he gets when he just knows he’s right. It’s annoying.

“Whatever,” she mumbles. She grabs the black dress still hanging on the back of her bathroom door and holds it up, next to the green one she’s already wearing. “Green or black?”

“What?”

“The green one or the black one?” she asks, turning away from the mirror.

“Why would my opinion on this have any value?”

“Because you’re a guy and I am going on a date with a guy.” When he still doesn’t say anything she sighs. “And you’re the only one here. So tell me which dress makes me look more, I don’t know, fuckable?”

“Fuckable?”

“Yes.”

“You want me to tell you which dress makes me want to sleep with you more?”

“Not you specifically,” she swallows, and her skin feels warmer than it should. “But yes.”

He looks at her for a long time, like he’s trying to work out if he’s actually supposed to answer. “Green,” he says finally.

“Green, got it. Cool. Are you sure?”

“Yes, Sansa I’m sure. Now please calm down. It’s just a date. You’ve been on dates before, I know you have.”

“Yeah, but… not since Joff.”

“Oh,” is all he says.

Joffery. He knows the story now. His name is a shadow that hangs over the room and makes her fingers feel cold. She wishes she had somewhere to hide him inside of herself. Take every bad, every vile, memory attached to that word and wrap it in cellophane and lock it away behind every wall she has.

She shakes him away. She refuses to let his memory do even a fraction of the damage his spirit did.

“And it’s a blind date that Margaery set up.”

Somehow that’s the scarier part.

“Oohhh,” he says it differently this time, laughter tainting his voice as he grins. That stupid grin. “Ok, yeah, now that makes sense.”

Sansa loves her friend, she does, truly. Margaery is fun and wonderful and dear to her. At one point she even had a crush on her. But she is also Margaery Tyrell and she has very bad taste in men and an overly enthusiastic attitude about introducing all of them to Sansa.

She has to groan. All the air goes out of her in a pitiful rumble and she hides her face in her hands. “That’s it, I’m not going. I’ll say I’m sick. I don’t know, I can’t do this.”

“Sansa,” he uses his big brother voice and she hates it. She’s 23 years old and she doesn’t need someone to baby her, she doesn’t. Especially not him. For some reason it doesn’t fit him like it fit Jon and Robb. “Come on, look at me.”

Her face stays hidden behind her fingers.

“Sansa.”

She grunts and opens her eyes and he’s in front of her, right in front of her, giving her that look. The one she doesn’t understand. It’s soft, but it’s sharp at the corners and it’s almost like he’s about to laugh, but he can’t and also a little bit like how she’s seen people look at babies, which makes her confused and it feels heavy. It just slides over his face sometimes and it always makes her stop.

It scares her, but she likes it.

She looks at him like a child throwing a tantrum and he looks at her like that. Whatever that is.

Stupid.

“You look very pretty. The green dress is perfect. Margaery loves you and she knows what happened and she wouldn’t set you up with some fuck-all ass hole on your first date since then. Everything will be fine. I promise. Stop worrying and take a deep breath, and then put your damn shoes on and go have fun on your date. And if I’m wrong and it’s terrible, you can come home and drink wine and tell me all about it and I’ll let you watch whatever stupid chick-flick you want. Okay?”

“You think I’m pretty?”

“What?” he fumbles over the word like stairs and it makes her grin.

“You think I look pretty.” She tilts her chin up in satisfaction. It feels like winning. She doesn’t know what exactly, it just feels like winning.

He swallows and rolls his eyes like he always does. And then he sighs like she’s dragging his deepest secret right out of his own lungs with her bare hands. Maybe she is.

“I think you look beautiful, Sans.” It catches her off guard. Somehow, for a split second, it feels like walking outside into a gust of wind and not being able to breath. Something feels different. But he clears his throat and she looks away and it’s gone.

“Now, put some fucking shoes on and go let the poor guy buy you some spaghetti or whatever and have fun.”

“Fine,” she sighs. He’s right. Of course he’s right. It’s just a date.

“Can you turn the TV on before you leave? I would like to entertain myself while you have a life.”

“You’re like a pet.”

“Nah, you treat pets better.” He winks at her as he leaves the room, smug and irritating.

“Pets are less annoying,” she calls back, following him out.

She puts some cooking show on for him which seems a little masochistic for someone who can’t cook, or eat, or taste anything anymore, but that’s his choice. She slips into her shortest heels and checks her lipstick one last time and takes one last deep, calming breath before she heads to the door.

“Sans,” his voice calls as her hand is reaching for the handle and she turns back to look at him. The paled silhouette of a man folded up on her couch.

“You do, you know?”

“I do what?”

He looks uncomfortable for a moment, like he regrets saying it, but then he just smiles and it’s small and it’s kinda sweet.

“Look beautiful.”

It makes her heart jump and her lungs shiver at the same time. And it makes her sad. She doesn’t know why she feels any of it, because when has she ever really given a single shit about Theon Greyjoy’s opinion of her? But she feels it. It feels like drowning and it feels like breaking the surface of something.

She fumbles for words she can’t find until she just clears her throat and thanks him and leaves. And she can’t help feeling like something just happened and she doesn’t even know what.

The date’s nice. Really it is. Willas is sweet and charming and really kinda cute if she’s being honest. He pulls her chair out and asks her about herself and he’s got a smile that reminds her of puppies.

She mostly ignores the pale little girl crawling under tables and giggling around feet, and the old man watching her from the corner with a twisted mouth.They’re dead and she’s on a date and it’s fun.

When he drops her off he kisses her cheek and doesn’t try to grab her ass or convince her to invite him in. Really, it should feel perfect.

It’s nice, but that’s all it is, just nice. Like there’s one thing missing, or one thing she’s looking for that she can’t find. Something just a little off and she doesn’t know what it is because she would have normally loved it.

But this is different and she feels different and it’s not what she wants, which is frustrating to say the least.

This is nice, and she doesn’t think she’ll make another date.

 

xxii.
“What’s a Scandinavian capital with four letters?”

“Why?”

“Because I’m doing a crossword,” she says simply. Like it’s quiet a normal occurrence even though they are both very away it is not.

“Oslo,” he answers from the floor. He’s starfished himself across her living room floor with Lady on his back. The cat bats at the curls resting on the back of his neck and he pays her no mind. “Why are you doing a crossword?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I just felt like it.”

“Alright.”

“I can do crosswords if I want. I can be the kind of person that does crosswords for fun.”

“Sure you can, babe,” she doesn’t have to look up to know he’s smiling. She should be annoyed that he’s teasing her, but he called her babe and she’s more preoccupied with the quick little way her heart stuttered for no good reason.

“You’re an ass,” she pouts.

“The sky is blue.”

They’re both wrong because on that day the sky is grey and she definitely doesn’t think he’s an ass.

 

xxiii.
Objectively, Theon is attractive. On a good day, she might even venture far enough to say he’s hot or that personally maybe she is, on some level, attracted to him.

He’s got those stormy eyes that actually look like the fucking ocean and that stupid smirk that makes him look like he’s up to no good and those curls she sometimes wants to touch. He’s lean muscled even if she thinks he’s too thin and the stubble halfway to a beard along his jaw makes him look older, but in no way more responsible.

So yeah, objectively, he’s attractive. And objectively, it’s totally normal that she would think the boy she grew up with and now basically shares an apartment and watches sappy romances with almost every night is kinda hot.

What’s not normal is the part where he’s dead and admitting to herself that she likes his face a little bit too much is all she’s ever gonna have. So what’s the point.

 

xxiv.
She’s spinning and jumping around her kitchen again with her arms in the air and The Ramones are playing through her laptop speakers because Theon wanted a turn to pick the music.

Her socks slide across the floor and her hair gets stuck in her mouth and her face is warm. But she laughs with her entire chest and she smiles so big it hurts and she hasn’t felt this weightless and this young in so long.

Just dancing to loud music while she makes frozen pizza. It’s so normal, but it feels more special than that.

He’s sitting on the counter watching her and he’s smiling too. It feels like theirs.

The song ends and wailing guitars fade into the piano melody of whatever’s next on shuffle. It’s soft and she sways with her eyes closed, her racing heart turning into a lullaby.

When her eyes open, he has that look again. Like looking at her is the best thing he’s ever done and he doesn’t want to stop. She doesn’t want him to.

So she glides towards him like she’s made of water and she asks him why he isn’t dancing and he laughs like she should know. She sticks her tongue out. It feels childish, but it makes him laugh and she likes it when he laughs.

Something happens to the air after that. Something flips like a lightswitch and it feels thicker and it feels like there’s something running through it and around her and between them and like she can’t move or the whole world might shatter.

Their smiles falter, but she doesn’t stop looking at him. Something sweet turns into something else.

The way he’s looking at her, the way he’s been looking at her, she thinks she gets it now. Because she thinks she’s looking at him the same way.

He reaches his hand out like he could actually touch her or hold her or feel any of her. She wants him to. Her eyes flutter shut on their own and, god, she can feel her heartbeat in her throat and on her tongue.

His knuckles brush against the side of her neck and she can’t feel it, not really. Not the way one would feel skin and bones and warmth against their body. Life to life. She doesn’t feel that.

But there’s a feeling, a sensation, something that’s not tangible, but just is. It’s like a gust of wind trailing down her neck, or like someone whispering too close to her ear. He feels like fucking ocean mist kissing her skin, but he doesn’t feel like a person.

She sighs and it’s gone and when she can open her eyes he looks so sad.

If they were normal people, she’d want him to kiss her right then. If they were normal people, he would have.

But they aren’t.

The timer on her oven goes off like a fucking fire alarm and the moment falls to a million pieces at her feet. It’s like snapping out of a spell. She remembers who they are and where they are and why this is their life. Like cold water she remembers.

She steps back and she becomes Sansa Stark again and he’s Theon Greyjoy and this is the only story they have. She sees ghosts and he’s dead.

The timer goes off again. She gets her pizza out and she wishes she could take the last 5 minutes back and do them over and do something different because it feels broken now and she hates it and her best friend is dead and she still kinda wants to kiss him.

 

xxv.
The credits roll on Dirty Dancing and it’s dark.

“I had a crush on you.”

“What?” she asks. It feels like her stomach twists.

“In high school, I had the biggest crush on you.” He doesn’t even look at her when he says it, like he can’t. Or he’s scared to.

Maybe it’s the dark of the room hiding their faces, maybe it’s the wine she drank, maybe it’s his voice in her ears telling her first. It could be anything or everything, but she feels brave then. And she feels honest. And really what does it even matter.

“I had a crush on you too.”

She can tell he looks at her out of the corner of her eye, just a brief turn of his head before he looks back down at his hands.

“You never said anything,” he whispers.

“Neither did you.”

He’s quiet for a while. And when he does speak again it’s sad and it hurts.

“I should have.”

 

interlude iv.

Once upon a time, Sansa thinks she’s in love with Theon Greyjoy.

But he’s already dead.

So it doesn’t fucking matter.

 

xxvi.
So arguably, going to see a supposed witch she found on Craigslist about raising the dead boy she might love from the grave, isn’t really Sansa’s greatest idea. But to be fair she’s desperate and really sad all the time and she sees ghosts so, hey, maybe the witch lady can pull it off, right?

Mostly, Sansa thinks she’s in denial.

But it can’t hurt.

The shop is downtown, between a vintage furniture store and a mediterranean restaurant and the whole street smells like dust and burnt meat and is not altogether welcoming, but she steps inside anyway.

Almost everything is red and it reminds her of warmth and fire and silk.

A woman steps out from behind a bookshelf as the bell above the door rings. She’s beautiful, Sansa notices. Fuck, it’s hard for her not to, looking at the woman. Long crimson robe, dramatic face, sharp bones, steady eyes, red hair brushing her back. Not red like Sansa’s, or her mothers, dark red, like wine or like blood.

The woman, Mel, she assumes from the ad, looks at her so long she feels uncomfortable and feels the need to twitch or move. She scans her face and her body down to her muddy boots and back to her eyes and she sighs.

“I can’t help you, girl.”

“You don’t even know what I want.”

“You love a boy that is gone and you want me to bring him back,” she says, her voice is so much like gold Sansa forgets to breathe. She doesn’t even wonder how she knows, it just makes sense that she does. “I cannot.”

“Please,” her voice comes out a whisper. A broken whisper leaking sea water from its edges.

“I cannot,” Mel repeats. She says it. And she looks at her like it’s important and like there’s something she doesn’t get. “I am sorry.”

Sansa nods and she leaves and outside it turns out dust and burnt meat smell a lot like death.

 

xxvii.
Hypothetically, she can date a ghost, right?

She can love a ghost, right?

She’ll just never kiss him. She’ll never run her fingers through his curls and she’ll never hold his hand close to her and she’ll never touch his face and she’ll never press her body against his

She’ll never feel his hands run up her back again. She’ll never feel him smile against her neck or pinch her thighs. She’ll never make him gasp her name in the dark when they cling to each like they’ll die if they don’t.

She’ll never get married and she’ll never have kids that look a little like her and act a lot like him. She’ll never go on double dates with Margaery and she’ll never show him off to her family like he’s a prize and she’ll never make Arya grossly uncomfortable with their PDA.

She’ll never go on an actual date and she’ll never tell people he’s her whole heart now and she’ll never have anything close to normal.

Nobody will ever know she loves him, but she will.

She’ll love him and that’s enough.

Right?

 

xxviii.
She looks at him.

She looks at his face. She looks at his eyes. The dark fan of his eyelashes. The tip of his nose. The curve of his bottom lip.

She looks at the smooth space where his neck meets his shoulder and the soft arch of his collar bone under his shirt. The scars on his knuckles. The saltwater in his hair where it’s pressed to the pillow.

She looks at him and he looks back at her and she thinks they are the most tragic people in the world in that second.

They probably look like lovers, facing each other in her bed, silent.

But they aren’t.

They’ll never be.

It’s not a love story, it’s a tragedy. The biggest fucking tragedy.

She wants to cry, but she doesn’t. Instead she smiles. Even if it’s like a torn piece of paper and it feels like breaking, she smiles as softly as she can, looking at the space between where their hands are resting. The air between their fingers.

“I wish I could feel you,” she whispers. She touches his hand, but it’s not a hand. Her fingers pass through his and all there is to feel is the cold.

“Me too.” His fingers would curl around hers if they could. “It’s warm. It feels like the sun.”

He looks at where they aren’t touching and she feels like the sun and he feels like the ocean, but they don’t feel like skin. She wants to feel skin, calloused fingertips and bony wrists and warmth and life. She wants to feel him.

She wants to press every part of her body to every part of his and she wants to shiver and smile. She wants so much from him and with him and it’s not fair. It’s not fair this is all she gets.

They are a ghost and a girl and they never even got a chance.

 

xxix.
It comes crashing down. It breaks like all beautiful and tragic things break.

She comes home and he’s standing there and he looks like heartache.

“I need to say something,” he tells her and she wonders if he can hear her heart it’s being so loud. She’s scared. She knows she’s scared and she doesn’t want him to tell her anything.

“Okay,” she says anyway.

“I need to say something, because this isn’t fair. I’m not being fair and I can’t-” he stops and looks down and then away. She wonders if he wants to cry. “I know what’s holding me here. I know… what my unfinished business is. I have for a while. Maybe since the beginning. But, hey, I’ve always been selfish right.”

“What?” she asks.

“You,” he says, and then he laughs bitter like coffee. “Always you. I didn’t tell you.”

“Tell me what?” She can’t fucking breathe and he isn’t saying anything.

“Theon-”

“I love you. I really, really love you, Sansa. I think I probably have most of my life, and I was a fuck-up, and I ignored it, and… and I’m sorry, I’m so fucking sorry I was too big of an idiot to die before I ever told you.”

It feels like he dug a knife into her chest and tore her heart out with his own hands. That’s what it feels like. They’re standing on the corpses of a love they never got to have and he’s telling her he loves her anyway and it’s like he’s dying all over again.

It was one thing to love him quietly on her own, it is another thing to hear he loves her too, has loved her, would have loved her, and that they missed their shot. It’s a hopeless sound and she wishes she were deaf to it.

“It’s not fair,” she says.

“I know-”

“It’s not fair that I had to love you too only after you were gone,” it tastes like tears. “It’s not fair we didn’t have a chance, we never even got a fucking chance.”

Her voice breaks, it shatters. And she’s crying. And it hurts.

“Don’t cry. God, Sansa. Please don’t cry,” he begs her. Like he’d fall to his knees before her if it meant he wouldn’t have to witness it.

But she can’t help it. It feels like she’s bleeding.

“It’s bullshit. It’s not fair and it’s bullshit and I want a different ending,” she tells him and she wants to scream it. She wants to crack the sky open and yell it until her chest hurts.

“Me too, baby,” he says, his voice catching on a nail and tearing open. “Me too, but this is the only one we have.”

“I don’t like it.”

It makes him smile, an ugly thing on his soft face. “I don’t either.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too,” he says it like it’s the most important thing he’ll ever say. Then his face falls again and the way he looks at her, it’s like she’s the one that’s dead. He swallows. “I have to go.”

“What?” She sounds small.

“I can’t… Sansa, I can’t stay. It’s not fair. I know why I was here and I can go. It’s selfish and I’ve been selfish for so long, I can’t do that to you.”

“Do what to me? Love me?”

“No, Sans. I can’t hold on to you like this. I’m dead. I’ve been dead, and you need to mourn me.”

“I don’t want to,” she shakes her head.

“You have to. You have to have a life. You deserve to have a life. I can’t give you any of that, I can’t even touch you. You have to let go of me, and move on, and you can’t do that while I’m still here.”

“You can’t go.”

“Sansa,” he sighs through the glass in his throat.

“Please don’t go,” more tears. Hot tears, angry tears.

“I have to-”

“No, you don’t!” she yells like she can feel her heart actually breaking. “You can stay. I won’t love you. I’ll stop, I’ll move on. I promise.”

“You know that won’t work.”

Her breath hitches and hiccups. She got him and she’s losing him in the same day. She never even had him. They are just smoke between each other’s fingers and the wind is blowing him away from her.

“Yeah,” she knows. She knows asking him to stay is her own turn at selfishness. She know it’ll never work. And she knows it’ll hurt more the longer it lasts. She knows all of this, but she wants him to stay anyway. She wants a happy ending.

Her hands rake over her face and back through her hair and everything is drenched in tears.

“Can you,” she tries, swallows, and tries again. “Can you stay one more night? Can you not leave yet?”

He looks at her like he’s never loved her more and he nods.

They sit on the couch and they watch Titanic, because he admits he likes it and she wants to watch the longest movie possible and maybe it’s kind of fitting. The tragedy of it, the grief.

She watches him more than she watches the movie because she wants to remember his face when it’s gone. She never wants to forget his face. Even if she has pictures, she wants to remember him like this and she wants to remember the way he looks at her.

They don’t say anything, they don’t really have to. They sit there and the movie plays and it feels like a countdown to the end of the world.

Still she falls asleep, exhaustion and heartbreak pull her head onto the pile of her arms and in her sleep she dreams. Only of him.

When she wakes up, he’s not there and she knows he’s gone.

And then she really breaks.

 

xxx.
She doesn’t know what time it is, she doesn’t even remember how the fuck she got there.

She just knows it’s cold and she didn’t put on a coat before she left and now she’s standing at Arya’s front door and she’s falling the fuck apart.

Gendry’s the one who answers, rumpled and shirtless and vaguely angry until he sees it’s her and then he’s mostly confused.

“Who the fuck-” Arya is stomping behind him. Then she sees her sister, standing in the cold and looking like she’s dead or dying, and she stops. “Sansa? What’s wrong?”

Her bottom lip trembles. What does she say? She regrets coming here now. She regrets bothering her sister and carrying her problems like broken bones and she regrets that she’s here now and she doesn’t know what to say.

Theon’s dead, but they already know that. They knew that six months ago when it happened and they mourned and they are okay and she is not. It feels like there’s a hole inside her and it’s growing and it’ll never stop. She feels the tears.

“Sans?”

“He’s gone,” she whispers because her own voice will knock her down.

It’s more than that. It’s that she loved him and that she never got the chance to do it the right way. It’s that he was part of her life and now there is nothing there, not even the shape of him and it hurts so much.

But Arya must get it, she must understand enough, because her face falls to the fucking floor and she’s pushing around her boyfriend and catching her sister in her thin arms.

She cries. God does she cry. She cries like she’s dying and she cries until she can’t breathe and then she cries some more. She cries until there is nothing left. Arya just holds her and she whispers against her hair and rocks her back and forth and rubs her back.

Gendry brings her tea and a blanket and hovers at the edge of the room until Arya gives him a look and he goes back upstairs.

She trembles and she thinks her hands are stained with grief and she’ll always smell like tears. She’s sad and she’s so angry and she wants the world to fall down around her at how much she is feeling.

She wants to spit in its face.

“I didn’t get to love him,” she sobs into her sister’s shoulder.

“I know, Sans,” Arya whispers. “I know.”

She cries too, but Sansa does not see it.

 

xxxi.
Her apartment feels empty and it doesn’t feel like home anymore.

Because it wasn’t her home anymore, he was.

And now he’s gone.

 

xxxii.
Jon goes to the cemetery with her.

To visit his grave for the first time. (For both of them.)

To stand on the ground where part of him was stuck forever and to look at his name carved in a chunk of rock and to feel better. She doesn’t. Feel better that is.

It feels worse. She doesn’t feel closer to him. She’s never felt farther away. But Jon holds her hand.

There’s a woman under the trees, one that’s not supposed to be there, that Jon can’t see. She’s in a grey dress and there’s pepper in her hair and Sansa doesn’t want to look at her. So she looks away and she pretends, for one moment she is normal and this is grief.

They stand there, looking at their feet, in such silence for so long she can’t handle it. Jon is the one to break it.

“I know you’d probably get a real kick out of this. Me being here, after everything. But… You were family. You… I didn’t say it enough, or ever, but you were as much my brother as Robb. Or you should have been. And I’m sorry I never said that. I love you, man. I’m actually probably going to miss you a time or two.”

The tears don’t fall, but she can see them in his eyes. She can hear them dripping from his voice. If Jon can do this, so can she.

“I’m upset with you,” she starts. “I think I can finally say that. I’ve been upset with you a lot. It used to be because you were a jackass, and then because you were a fuck up. I used to think I’d be upset with you forever. But now I’m upset with you because you died. And I miss you.”

She wipes at her face with her free hand and Jon squeezes the other.

“You died and you made me miss you and that’s something I never wanted to do. I never wanted to miss you, even when I hated you. But here we are. You never did what people wanted you to. But I do miss you now, I miss you so and it hurts.”

He lets go of Jon’s hand and squats down so she can press pale, trembling fingers to the headstone. She runs them over his name.

“I hope it’s better there. I still… I wish this had a different ending.”

Maybe she does feel a little better afterwards.

 

xxxiii.
“You know what sucks?”

“Hmm?” her brother asks, offering her the blunt in his hand.

“Not realizing I loved him until he was gone.”

“I know,” Bran sighs, sad and tired. After a moment he looks at her. “He loved you too.”

Sansa smiles. “I know.”

 

xxxiv.
Her apartment smells like smoke.

That’s the first thing she notices before the door even closes. It smells like cigarette smoke.

But she doesn’t smoke.

It makes her slow down, it make sher stop. She has to look around. For a second she actually has the stupid thought that she’s in the wrong place.

She doesn’t smoke, but it smells like cigarettes and the beach and-

She does not move. She has never been so afraid to fucking move. Because her heart’s doing that thing where it gets ahead of her brain and she already feels it forming in her chest and stretching between each one of her ribs and she’s so scared to move because she really doesn’t think she can take the disappointment.

She breathes.

She can’t believe she can do it, but she breathes.

She puts her bag at her feet and before she can change her mind or walk back out the door she takes a step forward, and then another. And then she’s walking down the hallway like a toddler that just learned and she thinks her legs might actually be boneless.

She walks down the hallway and she looks in her living room and she thinks her heart might have stopped.

There’s a boy standing in the center of the room, a man, a person. He has curly bronzed hair and eyes like a churning wave and shoulders you could cut yourself on. He’s beautiful and he’s standing there looking at her like he always does, but with a little more guilt, a little more apprehension.

She blinks. She wants to pinch herself.

She’s afraid to look anywhere else in case none of it’s real and he disappears.

“Hi,” he says. Fucking hi. Like it’s a casual greeting not her whole world being upended. But she can’t even be upset she can’t even scoff or roll her eyes because she never thought she’d hear his voice again.

“What are you doing here?” she asks.

“I wasn’t ready to go, I guess.”

She takes that in, thinks about it, and wants to spit it out.

“Really? And the big goodbye?”

“I’m dramatic,” he shrugs and he smirks and oh how she wants to both smack it and kiss it away.

“What happened to wanting me to mourn and get over you?”

“I’m selfish.”

She snorts. It feels good. It feels casual and soft and like it’s right on the edge of something.

“So you’re not… moving on?”

“No. I think I’d like to stay. If you’ll let me,” he grins.

She still wants to touch him and she still can’t and it’s still too messy and not enough, but it’s something. It’s something where she almost had nothing and just looking at him feels like living.

“I think I can find some room,” she says, stepping closer until he’s there, right in front of her.

“I don’t know, my ego’s pretty big. Takes up a lot of space.”

She laughs. It feels warm, so warm, in her mouth. And she can’t stop smiling. She can’t stop looking at him and smiling and loving him.

He was gone nine days and here he stands and she thinks even in those nine days her memory of him must have faded because he’s even more handsome than she could remember. Maybe it’s the smile maybe it’s the way he glows.

She looks at him, every part of him she can see and drink in from his eyelashes to his fingertips to his-

Not for the first time that day her body freezes and she’s afraid she has forgotten how to breathe. She feels her smile slip and her eyes widen and her chest fall apart.

Because his shirt is green.

His shirt is green and that doesn’t make sense because it used to be blue.

It used to be blue and now it’s green, but ghosts can’t change their clothes and this is not the shirt he died in, this is not the shirt he wore for six months. This is different.

Why is it different?

No-

She moves her hand, so slowly, to reach out for him, and she doesn’t think she’s lived through anything as terrifying as this. She reaches for him and she’s shaking and she has to stop a breath away from touching him.

She’s so scared. So scared she’s still just a stupid girl and all she’ll feel is air on the back of her hand.

“Sansa,” he whispers and her name sounds so lovely on his lips.

She moves her hand and it does not go through him. She moves her hand and she feels a chest, muscle and bone and warmth. She moves her hand and she can feel him.

She has to force air into her lungs. Her whole body shakes under the force of it.

This isn’t real. It couldn’t be real. It was another dream and she’d wake up to a nightmare or something. Because this wasn’t real and Theon was dead.

Her hand rests on his chest and it’s all she can look at. It’s all she can feel.

When she looks up at him he’s grinning and she can feel tears ready to fall.

“How?”

“You loved me,” he tells her like it makes all the sense in the world. And somehow, it does.

She knows her eyes are wet and salty tears bleed down her cheeks. They bleed down his too. All she can do it look at him and run her fingers over his chest and feel his heartbeat flutter under her fingertips.

They cry and they smile and she doesn’t know which emotion to feel first because there are so many. She’s happy and she’s confused and she is so filled to the brim with love her skin is about to burst with it. But she’s nervous and she’s scared none of it’s real. She’s scared he’ll disappear again even though she can hold him and she can feel him.

She traces his shoulder, up his neck, until her hands find his face, holding him there like he’s precious and he is. God, he is. Her thumb traces the corner of his mouth, his smiling, perfect mouth, and her fingers curl around the back of his neck and into the soft curls resting against it.

“You’re real?”

“I’m real.”

She shakes with the sob, but it’s such a happy one and she still can’t stop smiling. She doesn’t think she could ever stop smiling. He’s here.

He’s fucking alive and with her and it’s all she wanted. It’s all she begged the universe for with her lungs and her tears and her whole heart.

He leans forward until he can rest his forehead against hers and she closes her eyes. She closes them and she breathes in this moment, holding him, holding his face to hers and feeling his breath on her cheeks and his own tears under her palm and the stretch of his smile against her thumb.

This is so much more than she’d ever thought she would get. This is everything.

“You came back. You came home,” she whispers like she’s afraid to break something and she looks at him and he looks at her.

“I came home,” he agrees.

She grins the biggest, messiest grin of her life and every bit of it is filled with happiness. It’s filled with love and maybe a little hope.

And she kisses him.

She finally kisses him and it’s like fucking sunshine. The moment his lips press to hers it’s like every inch of her body, every vein and every pore, is filled with sunshine and fucking warmth. It feels right. It feels so right.

She could float away on it.

On the way he fits against her fucking perfectly and the way he tastes like every single thing she’s ever wanted, and also a little bit like salt. The way his lips are soft, but his hands are rough. The way they smile and sigh into each other as if to say ‘finally’.

When they pull apart, her hands are knotted in the front of his shirt and his are tangled in her hair and they are so breathless from each other, but they keep smiling and they keep crying and it feels like they’re made of magic.

“I love you,” he says, it sounds like music.

“I love you too.”

The way he smiles, wet eyes, pink lips, she’ll say it for the rest of their lives. Fuck, now they have lives. Now they have a chance and they have each other and god help her she would never let that go.

He kisses her again, softly on the mouth and then across her cheek and into her hair and then he’s holding her, his whole body wrapped around hers and his face in buried in her. She clutches him tighter and they cry and tremble and they bask in it.

In their happiness.

She doesn’t know how long it lasts, it feels like forever and only a few seconds.

Eventually, he leans back to wipe the tears from her face, gentle fingers skimming over her skin.

“How are you going to explain this to everyone?”

“What? That I’m in love with you?”

“No, Theon,” she rolls her eyes. “That you were dead and now you are not.”

“Oh, I’m sure we’ll figure something out.” He smiles and squeezes her hip with one warm palm. “Fake body?”

“Mistaken identity?” she offers.

“Magic?”

She laughs and he kisses her again.

He’s kissing her forever.

 

epilogue i.
Once upon a time, Sansa is without a doubt in love with Theon Greyjoy.

This time, there are no buts, because he’s alive and he’s with her and he loves her too.

And it feels like a happy ending.