Theon tries. For once he doesn’t run from the hard thing, the hard choice. He stays and he tries. He fights. He loses. He feels the Ice King gut him. He falls to the ground and his mouth fills with blood and for all the times he has been ready to die (as Reek he often begged for the release of death, to finally be spared from suffering anymore) it seems ironic that it would come when he is finally ready to live again. He has saved his sister. He has returned to Sansa. He has protected Bran. He could never make up for the things he’s done, no matter what he did he could never bring those two boys he murdered back, but maybe he can do better with the time he has left on this plane.
He could try to be the good man Bran told him he was.
But it would seem the chance to be would never come. Maybe this is the best he could get, an end where he would be remembered. Where he would be missed. His sister once told him not to die so far away from the sea – well, he wouldn’t be going out in his own fashion if he wasn’t disappointing someone.
But then he hears the sound of a familiar voice.
“Someone call a maester, he needs help.”
Her face is blurry and worried and he reaches out – she was so much older, so much bigger than when he last saw her.
“Tell Lady Sansa – Tell her that I – “ That he what? That he came back to see her again? That he thought of her every day after he left her? That her bright red hair was often a beacon of hope in the bleakness of his nightmares and trauma? That it was thanks to her that he would die as Theon, and not as Reek. She gave him back his name and he could live for a thousand years and he would never be able to repay her for that. She saved him as much as he saved her, if not more so. He doesn’t know how to put that properly in words, but he has to try, he has to try something –
Arya glares at him (he thinks, his visions swoons a bit and it’s hard to be sure). “Tell her yourself. I’m doing this for her. Because you saved her. But I. haven’t forgotten what you did – you’re not taking the easy way out now.”
He wants to say she’s right – she should hate him. He doesn’t understand why Sansa and Jon forgave him. He can never make up for the fact that he took their home, he ran them out, he betrayed Robb. He should have died with Robb.
“You got me just in time.”
He doesn’t recognize the next voice but it doesn’t matter. His vision darkens and then he hears nothing.
Theon, you have to wake up.
He is trapped in stormy waves, in oceans that are as blue as the eyes of Tully children. He’s lost in Robb’s eyes, in the memory that Robb died before him somehow. He is drowning in grief and pain.
He had loved Robb, he realizes that now, when it too late to do anything about it. He realized it on a cross in the Dreadfort, when all he could do was ruminate and brood between torture sessions. It wasn’t the sort of love one feels for a brother, but something stronger. A way that good, proper, noble Robb Stark probably never would have returned anyway. Later, as Reek, Ramsay told him all the details about the Red Wedding, how happy Robb and his wife had seemed. They were going to have a child together.
He was better off without Theon Turncloak (Ramsay had his number right away, the man always saw right through him). And yet when Ramsay would touch him or caress his face, he often found himself still wishing it was Robb, even though that would be impossible.
If he is dying, maybe he can finally see Robb again. Wouldn’t that be nice? Would his friend be happy to see him? Proud? Angry? All of the above? He would be crying no matter what, that much Theon knew for sure. Robb was always more in touch with his feelings than he was with his own. It was one of the many, many things he had envied about the man.
He sees arms reach out for him and he grabs on but instead of being pulled out of the water, he’s pushed further in, he’s being drowned.
He should have died with him.
Bran is okay. I need you to be okay too.
He falls deeper and deeper into the water, and it fills his lungs, making him choke. Everything is dark and murky here, not like the lovely blue he had been trapped in before. This is something darker and stormier.
Not everyone Theon carries with him is good like Robb was – no the ghost that haunted him the most was anything but kind. Ramsay’s laughter often echoes through his head, stopping him in his tracks.
Often, when Ramsay tortured him, Theon thought that death would be a mercy, it would be better than the constant agony was he was trapped in. But death never came, only more pain. There was always more Ramsay could take from him, there was always new ways to hurt.
And yet, Ramsay is the one dead now. And as much as his ghost tries to drown Theon, tries to extinguish the last bits of fight out of him, Theon decides to fight back. Because he is not Reek anymore. He’s allowed to fight. He kicks and fights and the hold this dark water had on him begins to dissipate.
Perhaps there is hope for him yet.
What’s dead may never die, isn’t that what you stupid ironborn say?
The water is beginning to look bluer again, like the eyes of the people he’s loved the most. He hopes this is a good sign.
Robb might have been the first Stark Theon loved, but he was not the only one. When Sansa arrived in Winterfell it was the first time in a long, long time any part of Theon awakened in Reek. At first it was because she was Robb’s sister, one of the Starks, the people he betrayed, but It quickly shifted because of who Sansa was. She was strong and even in the face of Ramsay’s abuse she knew who she was and that she deserved to be free of him. She never broke, not like he did. She kept urging Theon, kept fighting and reminding him who he was. She gave him back his name.
Even after they parted ways, even after he left her in the much more capable hands of Brienne and Podrick to get her safely to the Wall, to Jon, to her family, he carried Sansa in his heart. Her voice rang sharply in his ears in the moments when he felt himself slipping back into Reek. He heard her loudest when he dove into the water, too afraid to act and save his sister. When Euron reminded him so much of Ramsay all he could do was flee again.
Your name is Theon Greyjoy, last living son of Balon Greyjoy and Lord of the Iron Islands, do you hear me?
When he arrived in Dragonstone and he was so sure Jon was going to kill him (and he would have been right to do so, after everything Theon has done) the only thing he could ask was how Sansa was. If he was going to die, if he was going to leave this world, he needed to know that she had survived. That she lived. And in asking that she had unknowingly saved his life again. Jon spared him.
It’s why, when he finally makes his way back to Winterfell, all he can do is offer himself to her. If she’ll have him. She doesn’t answer him but her arms are warm and safe as they wrap around him, and for the first time in years, perhaps ever, he feels at home. They share what might be their last hours on the world together, eating soup and talking, and he tries to pretend that the warmth he feels in his chest is only the soup.
He’s always been a terrible liar.
He is no longer sinking, but the swim is difficult on his own, But this time when he sees arms reach out to him, they try to drag him back to the surface instead of back under.
It occurs to him that even if she can survive without him, she shouldn’t have to. And more so – he doesn’t want her to. For all the times Theon has wanted to die, he wants to live now.
We received a raven today, apparently you’re not allowed to die so far from the sea.
He isn’t quite there yet. He can see where the waves are beginning to break, where there is sand and shore and sun, but he needs to keep going to get there. He needs to be the real Theon Greyjoy, like his sister had once begged him to find again.
Because it was not just Starks that Theon loved. There had been no love lost between him and his father, it’s true, and less between him and Euron, and yet there were those of his blood he did love – his sister and his mother. Alaynns Greyjoy no longer lived in this world – she had succumbed to madness after losing three sons all at once, throwing herself off one of the bridges across Pyke before Theon ever had time to return home. But still he remembers her warm embrace when he was young, the way she would hold and comfort him when his brothers teased him. Even then he was too sensitive, too soft for the Ironborn.
Yara is not soft like that, but she loves her brother all the same. She loved him when nobody else did, tried to rescue him when nobody else would have, and even if her attempt failed, even if he bit her hand in madness, it still means something. It means everything. Theon has tried to do right by her since he returned home, and it hasn’t always gone exactly as plan (he remembers diving in water, swimming away, fear and fear and more fear overriding everything else) but they are closer than he ever could have imagined. She helped him find himself again. Sometimes her methods were harsh, but they worked.
She lets him go to Winterfell. She has no love for the Starks or the North, but Yara lets him go anyway because she knows what it means to him. Because she knows he needs to. Because she wants him to be able to make choices for himself, for once in his life. It means everything to him, and though there had been a finality in that hug they shared he had hoped that somehow, he'd get to see his sister again.
And this time, when he feels her yanking him from the water onto the shore, he does not bite her hand. He does not scare her away, because this time, Theon finds himself wanting to live. This time, he finally, finally, feels like maybe he deserves to be saved.
The sun feels harsh and stings Theon’s eyes as they open. How long was he out? He cannot tell. Vaguely he recognizes the room he’s in as the one he used to live in in Winterfell, a long long time ago. Next to him, sitting in a chair looking startling like her mother is Sansa. She works on needlepoint of some sort, much like Catelyn had at Bran’s bedside years ago. He clears his throat, unable to quite get words out just yet. His mouth feels impossibly dry. How long has he been out, exactly?
Bright, piercing blue eyes dart towards him and they widen as she realizes that he’s awake. How long has she been waiting here, he wonders? Surely, with everything else going on, she had better things to do.
“Theon,” She whispers. “I kept talking to you, like the maester suggested, but I was beginning to think it was a lost cause, that you might never wake up.”
He remembers acutely now, a voice calling to him in the darkness, as he swam through the ocean of his mind. His regrets and demons. His love and triumphs. She didn’t give up on him, there’s something about that notion that makes his heart ache.
His voice is weak, but he finds it all the same. “I heard you. Every word.”
Well, maybe not every word, he supposes, but enough of them.
She rises to her feet, pouring him a glass of water from a pitcher on the table. She hands it to him.
“Arya found you just in time – they said it would take a miracle for you to survive.”
He cracks a weak joke. “It would not be the first time I defied the odds.”
And in spite of the tears threatening her eyes at this point, Sansa smiles a little at that. “No, I suppose it would not be. I am glad for it. My heart could not bear the thought of losing you.”
He remembers her words as he swam through the water. She repeated his people’s words, among many others. She did not give up on him. Once again she kept trying to get through to him until he got his head out of his ass and listened.
Gods, he does not deserve Sansa Stark, but in this moment he realizes something very clearly: he wants her. He wants a life with her in it. With his sister in. He does not want to be haunted for the rest of his days by regret and pain, by the ghosts of Robb and Ramsay, he wants a future.
Is that so wrong?
He tries to sit up, tries to find the words he wants to say next, but she places her hand on his shoulder, firmly pressing his back against the bed once more.
“You need more rest.”
And as much as he’d like to argue with her – he knows she is right. His body is fatigued and still healing from the spear he took to the gut. He will not threaten his recovery now.
It is weeks until he can properly walk through Winterfell – though he still has to use a cane some days. A lot has happened while he’s recovered. King’s Landing was burnt down. Sansa had to go back to King’s Landing (he’s glad she had Arya, Brienne and Bran at her side when she did but selfishly wishes he had been well enough to join her). Jon is exiled. Arya decides to sail the sea alone. Bran is King of the Six Kingdoms, and most importantly, Sansa comes home as the Queen of the North.
He will need to go back to the Islands at some point and visit his sister, but he does not want to leave before the coronation. Someone from her pack should be there for it. And in an impulsive move, he swears his shield to her. She makes him the commander of her Queensguard. And when the time comes he is the first to thrust his sword in the air.
“The Queen in the North”
It is late in the night when the two finally get the chance to talk alone, as he escorts her back towards her chambers.
“Robb would have been proud of you.”
The words had slipped out of his mouth before he could think better of them. It was hard not to think of her brother tonight. The North’s independence had meant everything to Robb. He had sworn to help protect it once and failed Robb. He hopes not to fail her this time.
A sadness echoes through her eyes, but Sansa still smiles softly at him. “Do you always think of him when you see me?”
It’s a reasonable question. They rarely talk of Robb directly, but his shadow lingers between them all the same.
“Not anymore – I cannot lie and say that was always true, but I do not see him as much anymore – when I look at you, Your Grace, all I can see is you. All I ever see is you.”
Her expression softens more. “First of all, I am still Sansa when we are alone, second of all, good. I do not want to fight a ghost for your attention. If you’re going to be here, I want it be because you want to be, not because you think you owe it to someone, let alone my brother’s ghost.”
If you are with me, I want it to be because of me.
She does not say it out loud, but it hangs in the air between them all the same.
He stops in his tracks now so he can look at her more closely. Her eyes are clear blue like the waters of the rivers, while his are stormy like the ocean. It’s taken him a long time to be able to look people in the eye again, but he does not avert his eyes here.
She deserves better than him, better than a broken excuse for a man, and yet he cannot resist the urge to bring his hand up to cup her face.
“Trust me when I say this, you do not have to compete with anyone – he may have had my heart once but you have it now, you have had it for a long time, you will probably have it for the rest of my days even if you don’t want it. Your voice was the only one to save me when I was Reek, and the only one I could hear as I swam through the oceans of death. I do not pretend to presume you feel the same way, but as long as you want me here, I wish to remain by your side.”
He isn’t sure what he expects her to say. He suspects she is trying to find a way to gently, diplomatically let him down. What he does not expect, however, is the feel of her lips pressing against his. It feels like home. Safe and warm. He deepens it a little, his hand sliding from her face to entangle itself in her hair. What they are doing would be quite the scandal but lucky for them, no one else is around her corridor.
Finally they pull away from the kiss to gasp for air, and she rests her forehead against his.
“I love you, Theon Greyjoy, you will always have a place by my side, in my heart, in my home.” She digs into a small pouch she had been carrying to pull something out – a silver direwolf pin. She begins to affix it to his chest.
You’re a Greyjoy, and you’re a Stark.
All of his life, Theon has felt like he was drowning, trying to find a shore to call his own, and for the first time he is no longer simply gasping for air. He has a home, he has two of them for he knows he will always have a place with his sister as well.
He does not know what else to say so instead he takes Sansa’s hand, their fingers entwining with one another, and they walk the rest of the way in silence. They have the rest of their lives to figure this out.
For once, Theon finds himself happy to be alive.