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They were always children in Winterfell, no matter their age.

Theon can remember a day when he took Robb and Jon down to the pool by the godswood tree, said he would teach them how to swim. Jon, solemn and somber, even at age seven, refused to join them and stormed away, but Robb had stayed, grinning his huge gap-toothed grin and pulling off his tee shirt to jump into the pool.

The two of them had splashed about for maybe three hours, abandoning the swim lessons when Robb made up a game that involved some sort of underwater chasing. Robb was horrifically sunburnt when his mother eventually dragged them out of the water, and Theon couldn't stop laughing for some reason. He remembers being happier than he ever was in Pyke, the town where he transferred from, and seeing Robb dance around, slippery and wet, just made him laugh louder.

Robb remembers the moments after their shared swim, when Catelyn insisted on washing the mucky pool water out of their hair by herself. They were sharing a bathtub, and Theon, giggling, had been whispering to Robb the whole time, his words flowing over him in a giddy wave. Robb doesn't remember exactly what Theon had said to him, but it had been so funny the two of them laughed all through their bath while Catelyn looked on with confusion.

The night after Bran was born, Robb dared Theon to steal him out of his crib where he slept and carry him to the godswood in the dead of night. Full of the bravado only an eight year old can possess, Theon had managed to run with baby Bran all the way to the pool. Robb had been by his side, one hand over his mouth, trying to contain his explosive giggles. Theon had set Bran down in the mud by the water, and Robb spread mud "war paint" over Bran's cheeks as Theon sang the Circle of Life song from the Lion King. When Theon lifted Bran up, Robb chanting in the background, the baby decided to start wailing loud enough to wake Robb's parents.

Needless to say, when Rickon was born, Catelyn guarded him with a steel eye and refused to let either Robb or Theon touch him. She also threw away their Lion King DVD.

 

§§§

 

But then summer ended, and Theon was going to be sent back to his father's house in Pyke.

As a kid he had never been told why he had been taken away from home. All Theon had known flying away from Pyke, being told by a gaunt Northern man that he was to be called an exchange student. It would take Theon ages to realize why all the letters to Ned Stark from Balon Greyjoy were marked with a little stamp from an old prison/alcohol rehab center, to realize why the old scars and bruises on his back felt so fresh the day of his departure.

When he understood, Theon never told Robb that he had been labeled as "abused." It made him feel weak, and at that time Theon knew that he was not fucking weak.

He remembers crying when his father pulled up to Winterfell to bring Theon "home," and later, screaming with joy when Balon Greyjoy all too willingly allowed his only son to stay with the Starks a little longer.

"A little longer" soon turned into six months, which led to one year, which led to two years, which led to Theon spending his entire childhood in Winterfell with Robb.

 

§§§

 

Joined at the hip, Ned Stark once said about his eldest son and his exchange student. And they were, Robb and Theon, always wrestling together in the rain or play fighting in the courtyard or swimming in the godswood pool. They always ended up laughing, sometimes so hard that Theon had to press his face into Robb's shoulder to keep from falling over.

Sometimes Robb and Theon would even share a bed. Robb had always felt like the days were too short, that there was never enough time to squeeze in all the fun he wanted to have with Theon.

And sometimes, it was something more- when Robb couldn't sleep and Theon wanted to help, or when Robb would hear Theon crying, late at night, and would want to comfort his friend. So it began, with Robb tiptoeing down his hall to Theon's room, where they'd curl up in bed next to each other and whisper until their eyes fluttered closed from sleepiness.

"Theon?"

"Mmf."

"Why didn't you want to go home to Pyke?"

The sound of bedsheets rustling, and Theon's feet cold on Robb's leg, one of Robb's hands entwined with Theon's. Robb's face close to Theon's chest, Theon's head pressed against Robb's hair. The embrace only best friends can be in.

"It's not my home, Robb."

"But you were born there."

"So? I never liked it there. I like it here. I like being with you guys."

"That's good." A whisper, a confession. "'Cause I want you to stay with us."

A slight exhalation, Theon's hand tensing in his. "You really want me to stay, Robb, or are you just being nice?"

"No, I want you to stay with me. Now and always."

Theon remembers a warm sensation spreading through his chest, something he had never really felt before. "Now and always," he whispered back, as Robb dozed off next to him.

 

§§§

 

And then elementary school was over, and they, along with scowling Jon, were sent away to a place where the girls started wearing tight clothes and shimmery makeup masks and the boys kept trying to grow up faster. Theon and Robb were put into different classes, all but gym class, where each boy was allowed to be wilder than usual. But despite that one class, they couldn't see each other until they met up by the parking lot and walked home together to Winterfell.

And then middle school changed even more. The boys started swearing and going to parties and kissing girls, and something imperceptible changed between Theon and Robb. It wasn't clear to Robb why Theon was distancing himself from him, but it made him feel angry and somehow sad.

One day, Robb and Theon were walking home to Winterfell. Theon can't quite remember what they had been talking about, but it was most likely something about his father, and Robb- sweet, earnest Robb- had given him a hug, right there on the sidewalk.

Some boys, high school age if Robb can remember correctly, were behind them, and one of them had yelled at them. One word, two syllables, stretched out into a high falsetto, a word that made Theon push away from Robb in fear.

Theon had turned on the boys, and Robb could see the fury brimming in his eyes, but the boys were running away and Theon was shaking.

"I'm gonna kill them," he had snarled, and lunged down the sidewalk. Robb had grabbed him by the waist to keep him from trying to fight them, but Theon looked almost scalded by his touch. He pushed Robb off. "Jesus, Robb, just stop touching me!"

Robb hadn't understood what the word meant, but Theon was stalking down the block back to Winterfell. "Theon, wait-"

"Go away!"

Neither boy spoke to each other that night. Robb remembers sitting in his room, pretending to do his homework, thinking about Theon. Why was he so upset, is he mad at me? What did that word mean? He couldn't have asked Jon and he certainly couldn't ask his dad, so he had tiptoed to Theon's room and knocked.

Theon had blessedly opened the door and let him in, but he was stone faced. "You shouldn't be here," he had growled, but by then Robb was already claiming Theon's bed to sit on.

Very quietly, staring at his hands, Robb asked what the boys had called Theon this afternoon.

Theon had stared at him, a little shocked. He'd had no idea any boy, even an eleven year old, didn't know what was politely called "the other f word." And he felt almost angry at Robb, for just being so stupid sometimes, which made him hate himself for hating Robb. "It's, like, a cuss word. It means gay, you know, they were saying... they were saying you were gay, Robb, for hugging me. I don't know."

Robb had been a little confused, and Theon could tell, and it made his stomach hurt, to see his friend so confused and innocent, not knowing he'd never understand.

"Sorry."

"I don't care," said Robb. "I mean, they're stupid, you know, 'cuz I'm not gay."

"I know," Theon replied, even though he had that weird feeling like he was lying.

Robb had thought that it would be nice to sleep with Theon that night, because he could hear crying from his room. But he decided to stay in his own bed.

"Faggots."

Robb remembers whispering the word to himself when the rest of the house was asleep. Funny how such a little word could have such a weird impact on his friend.

 

§§§

 

Needless to say, moving to high school would have been hard enough for Robb, the innocent, and Theon, who could already be classified as the broken.

(It was a label that had not been tangibly plastered to his chest, but the bruises were, and so Theon wore his label with a sort of cold pride.)

But then Ned Stark was shot in the head, and Theon found himself drawn back to Robb's side.

Robb had sobbed openly through the entire funeral, and when it was time for him to give his eulogy, he had broken down in tears and made Arya read it.

Theon can't remember what the rest of the funeral had been like. All he remembers is Robb hugging him after the service, weeping into Theon's neck, and how Robb's hair had smelled a little like Sansa's berry shampoo.

That night, Robb had crawled into Theon's bed again, and Theon found that he couldn't turn him away if he had wanted to. Theon let him wind their hands together, tuck his warm head into the crook between Theon's collarbone and neck, and draw his legs up to meet Theon's.

It should have been awkward, it should have been painful like when the boys on the street called Robb and Theon "the other f word." And yet, it was not.

Robb remembers high school, the year when Theon truly lost himself for the first time.

Something about Theon, this tough, unapproachable boy made of iron, made girls go crazy. And for some reason, Theon had seemed to want the girls too.

Robb remembers one night, when Theon had come home with a girl, late in the night. The girl was drunk and laughing too loudly, Theon perfectly sober, and when Robb caught them trying to sneak into the basement, Theon had stared back unashamedly.

The next morning, the girl was gone, and Theon didn't say a word to anyone the entire day.

These girls had came and went, came and went.

One day, when Theon was in a reasonably good mood, he had been hanging out with Robb in his room. The two of them were talking, Robb laughing about some girl named Jeyne in his English class who had a blatant crush on him, and Theon was laughing too, and for a moment it was like they were kids again.

"Seriously, though," Robb had said, "I don't understand why Jeyne likes me, out of all people. Like, she knows I don't like her. Why can't she like you, like all the other girls?"

Robb remembers how serious Theon had gotten, his face flashing from happiness to becoming sharply closed off.

"Because she's a girl," Theon had said, turning away from him. "Because all the girls at this school see you as this perfect, golden boy. Because you're the guy they wanna marry, and I'm just the guy they wanna fuck and dump."

"I'm sorry," Robb had tried.

"Whatever," muttered Theon. "I'm okay with it, really."

"How?"

"It's better for me, okay? Now shut up."

 

§§§

 

One month later, Robb had become fed up. Of everything, of all the silence and the anger and the girls. Mostly the girls.

"Why?"

There had been a girl that night, of course, and he had caught Theon walking her home. When he returned, Robb had begun to shout at him. He wasn't even sure why that night had seemed like a good idea to let loose on Theon, on his former friend, but he was angry.

"I mean, why? Why, Theon?"

Theon had stared right into Robb's eyes, his own gray eyes. shameless and somehow furious. "You wouldn't understand, though, right? Because you just can't understand anything. Not when it's right fucking in front of you, when I've tried to make you realize-"

"Christ, Theon, what are you even talking about?"

"Never mind."

 

§§§

 

Theon remembers getting the letter from his father when he was seventeen. It had been over six years when Balon had contacted his son, and in some sick way, he had been glad to receive a letter from this man who had seemed to have forgotten him. By then he had come to what he called "the realization," but somehow it slipped his mind.

The letter had said that both his brothers had been killed, not specifying why or how. It had said that Theon's father needed to see him. It didn't say anything else.

He remembers being confused, and angry- why didn't you send this earlier, I haven't seen you since I was in fourth grade, can't you tell me anything- and Theon had been so close to tearing the letter apart.

"C'mon, Theon," Robb had assured him. "It's just your dad. He wants to see you. I know he does, and he loves you."

"Pyke isn't my home," Theon had whispered, remembering a conversation from long, long ago. He had glanced up at Robb and said quietly, "D'you remember 'now and always'?"

Robb hadn't even hesitated before wrapping his arms comfortingly around Theon, and even though the contact had made Theon nervous, he accepted Robb's hug. "Of course I do."

Theon wouldn't have gone if it wasn't for Robb. And that was why Theon blamed him.

 

§§§

 

When Theon had come home, he had been more furious than Robb had ever seen him. Theon had ripped his curtains apart, screamed at little Rickon for knocking over his glass of water, and nearly hit Arya when she asked him how the trip went. Angry and perplexed, Catelyn had sent Theon to his room for the rest of the night, to which Theon went gladly.

Robb had known not to disturb him, but Theon was his best friend, and the one person Robb was most afraid of losing. In his heart, Robb had wondered if Theon was already lost.

It was as though he could feel Theon's rage seeping out from under his bedroom door, but Robb had been determined to get Theon to open up to him for once in his life, and so Robb had rattled Theon's locked door handle until he was forced to unlock the door.

"The hell do you want?" Theon's grey eyes were bitter and angry, but it hadn't seemed like his fury was directed towards Robb.

"I wanna talk to you, okay?" Robb walked into Theon's room and sat on his bed, but Theon didn't tell him to leave. "You gotta tell me about what happened in Pyke."

"No."

"Seriously, Theon. Something's up with you." Robb bit his lip. "I'm worried about you, man, and we haven't talked in forever."

Theon's words had been spoken in a low, slow voice. "You sound like a girl. D'you think that we're gonna have some cutesy bonding moment? I don't want to talk to you, Robb, and I'm not going to tell you what happened at Pyke."

"So something did happen? Something bad? Was it with your dad?"

Robb remembers Theon's hand come crashing down on the bedside table. "Just stop talking, okay? You always do this. You always make it worse."

"I'm sorry?" snapped Robb, completely blinded. "I try to talk to you, Theon. You know I'm here for you."

"Oh yeah?" Theon was standing, and he towered over Robb. "Then why are you always screwing things up for me, Robb?"

"Is this about the letter?"

"No! It's about you and your little hugs and your stupid crying all the time and trying to sleep with me, and it's fucking annoying! Jesus Christ, why is it that you're the one always living in such denial? You can't even see it when it's right in front of you!"

Robb had felt a boiling sense of anger rise up in his chest. "What are you even saying? I never understand you, being all cryptic and then acting like I'm supposed to know everything you're saying, and getting all mad at me when you realize I just don't get you!"

"Of course you don't get me! No one gets me!" Theon was ranting, eyes bright and vicious, like an ancient sea creature going in for the kill.

"You can try try talking to me for once!"

"No I can't, and you know I can't, because you're just so... so..." Theon had punched his dresser drawer. "Do you like to fuck with my head or something? With my goddamn girly emotions for you or some shit?"

Robb balled his hands into fists. He had known that fighting with Theon was exhausting and pointless, but not only was he confused, he wanted to punch something. Badly. "What do you want from me, Theon?"

Robb still can't remember how it had happened. Had Theon whispered something he hasn't wanted to hear, or is that in his imagination? Had Robb responded with something that he hadn't meant to say?

And which one of them threw the first punch? Robb thinks maybe it was him, eyes wet, hearing the slight crack of fist against bone. But Theon had always been taller, older, and so much stronger, and when Catelyn found the boys fighting viciously on the floor, it was Theon that she saw first.

She had screamed something about ruining the family, even when Robb had screeched at his mother that they had both been fighting, but Catelyn continued to yell until Theon pushed himself up from the floor and run out the door and disappeared.

 

§§§

 

Theon had run all the way from Winterfell Manor, blood running from his nose and unshed tears blurring his vision, into the nearest street he could find, and when he reached the pavement, he fell to his knees and sobbed.

A car had pulled up, and a young man with the palest eyes Theon had ever seen asked if he needed help. In a moment of desperation, Theon had let the man who introduced himself as Ramsay Bolton- always Bolton, never Snow- take him out for a drink. It had been stupid, it had been crazy, but Theon could only think, I've lost the Starks, I've lost my family, and worst, I've lost Robb. Nothing left to lose.

He never loved Ramsay. And he knew Ramsay had never loved him.

They had to feed off each other, really. Ramsay needed someone else to fill up his ex, this Reek boy's space in his life, no matter what happened to him. And Theon was there, but he was never enough until he became Reek.

And this weak, crying boy, by the name of Reek, needed someone to make him forget, forget about that one boy with the glowing blue eyes and shining auburn hair, and the neck that smelled a little like his sister's shampoo.

Because Ramsay was so impossibly different than the life a boy named Theon Greyjoy had led.

Because being with Ramsay was like being in a dream, or a nightmare maybe, or even something closer to a coma. The things Ramsay would do to him were so far from anything he had ever heard about in Winterfell, the pain he gave Reek almost unreal.

It had been Ramsay's stepmother who had rescued Reek, a young woman named Walda, who Ramsay detested and called 'Fat Walda' behind her back and to her face. She had been the one to call the police. Reek had tried to stop her, but Walda had seen the knife mark Ramsay had left in Reek's chest.

And the fingers, or rather, the lack thereof.

 

§§§

 

She had come too late, though. Ramsay's knife had left deeper marks in his mind than in his hands and chest.

"Theon, give me the phone, don't be-"

(thats not my name, stupid fat girl, not my name, not your business)

"Theon, please. You can't stay here, come on."

(go away, dont you know he doesnt like you, and so i guess I don't either)

"Look at me! God damn it, Theon, look into my eyes. Tell me that you don't deserve to live with my son-inlaw. Please, Theon, please tell me- can you understand me, Theon?"

(not my name! get out of here, go, go, I dont need your help)

"Hand me the phone, Theon. I'm calling the police. This is too fucked up, even for my son-in law."

(no! stop trying to take it from me, i dont want you to call the police, dont want to leave, cant see him again, not robb, cant go back to pyke please)

"Hello, this is Walda Frey-Bolton, calling about a man being held hostage? That's right, we're at the Dreadfort... yes, a young man named Ramsay Snow... victim's name Theon Greyjoy, I think he's maybe nineteen or so..."

 

§§§

 

When the police came, Ramsay hadn't even blinked.

"You'll come back to me," Theon remembers him saying, leaning against the squad car as the police handed him the weak little restraining order. "The-on."

He tried not to flinch. Ramsay's voice made him cower, made him think of those long sleepless nights with his meaty hands everywhere and his rough, lusty voice whispering Reek, my Reek into his ear.

"No, I won't."

I'm stronger than that. Right?

"Liar," Ramsay had laughed. "Liar. They always come back."

(Because Theon hadn't wanted to leave Ramsay, even if he hated the other boy with such passion it scared himself. Because the outside world was too cold and bitter, and maybe it was easier to dwell in this world of pain for a little longer. Because since Ramsay was so cruel, so unbelievably psychopathic, it was easy for Theon to become Reek and forget himself, and forget a boy who he had once swam with in the godswood pool.)

 

§§§

 

Social Services had given Theon Greyjoy enough money to fly out to Pyke, where his sister Asha lived back then. She was on leave from the Navy, and let him stay in her apartment.

Theon hadn't thought he could have forgiven her for what happened in Pyke when he was seventeen, but this was a different Asha than the one he had known there. This Asha was gentle and quiet to him, giving him her pajamas to wear (well, pajamas some old boyfriend had left at her house) and feeding him the pills his doctor made him swallow.

The outside world, Theon observed once, was sharp and fierce and real. And he hated it.

He didn't want to read, didn't want to play computer games, didn't want to do anything she offered. Everything Asha tried to get him to do reminded Theon of his old life, of Robb. When Asha propositioned a swim in her apartment's pool, Theon found himself kneeling and sobbing on the floor, his head a frantic mix of sick memories: not just the feel of his own blood trickling through his lost fingers with Ramsay, but worse, the long forgotten swims with Robb by the godswood.

Exactly one week later Asha told her brother to leave.

"What?" Theon had been sleeping again, and fatigue clouded his eyes. The pills had been making him slow and lethargic, and he could barely process the image of his sister with his suitcase in her hand. "You're kicking me out?"

She was leaning on the doorframe. "Yeah. I mean, I love you and everything, but you have to go home, Theon. I'm leaving for the Navy in two days, and you... you seriously have to go home."

"Dad hates me." He paused, remembering the old newspaper with the caption "Balon Greyjoy Assassinated on Bridge." "Hated, I guess. Hated. With an -ed."

"I don't mean home in Pyke. I mean home in Winterfell."

"Winterfell isn't my home. It never was."

Asha had stared at him, and that was the first time Theon had ever seen his perfect sister register any sad emotion. "Theon," he remembers her whispering, "you can lie to yourself, but stop lying to me, okay?"

One day he woke up in the middle of the night, his cell phone buzzing with a number he just slightly recognized. Asha had grabbed his phone, ran out into the hall, answered it for him. She must have thought Theon couldn't hear her yelling into the phone, she must have thought Theon hadn't known that it was Ramsay calling.

"Let me talk to him," Theon had pleaded when she had walked inside.

Asha glared angrily at him. "Are you shitting me?"

"Please, I just wanna talk to him."

"No." She had pocketed his phone.

In the morning, Theon found himself in Asha's car, the GPS set for Ramsay's house, and then he started to cry.

The next day Theon was leaning against a cab, holding a suitcase, and Asha was in her Navy uniform, kissing him on the cheek. It was a surprising display of affection.

"I'll miss you, baby brother." Asha had bit her lip and mumbled, "And I'm sorry. For everything that happened, you know, when you came back to Pyke."

He wanted to tell Asha not to leave him, or even just that she was probably the best person he had ever met. No matter what had happened the first time he came to Pyke.

(Asha, I love you. Thank you for everything. I'm sorry. I'm sorry I ate all your food, I'm sorry I kept you from all those dates with Qarl, I'm sorry I dated Ramsay and then you had to keep him away because I'm too damn weak. I'm sorry you have to deal with someone as fucked up as me. I'm sorry I'm your brother.)

What he had said was, "Yeah. Whatever."

 

§§§

 

His plane ticket was to Winterfell.

Ramsay had called again, while Theon was in the airport. And Theon had answered.

"You're coming back, The-on. I can tell."

Theon had paused. Everything hurt. Slowly, he traced the outline of the knife mark Ramsay had cut into his chest, with the three fingers he had left on his right hand.

"Where you staying? I can pick you up."

Theon stayed quiet, the phone pressed to his ear. Somehow this gesture reminded him of the way Robb Stark would stand while answering his own phone, somewhere out there in the North.

Robb.

Winterfell.

Home.

"Theon?"

Ramsay was still talking on the other end of the phone, but Theon had heard him as if through a deep well. His mind was moving slowly as he pushed open the airport doors, racing outside into the biting Northern air.

"Reek, what are you doing?"

A taxi had pulled up to where Theon was standing. With his good hand, he hailed the cab.

"Jesus Christ, Reek, don't you fucking do this right now-"

The voice on the other end was incoherent and furious, like Ramsay's anger was pouring out of a faucet, "don't you hang up on me. I know you're gonna come back-"

(Now and always, Robb.)

"Not to you, Ramsay. Goodbye."

 

§§§

 

And now?

It is Now, and he thinks he can stop remembering.

It is Now, and Theon is in the taxicab, and it is snowing in the north. He wonders if Robb is watching the snow as well, and his heart hurts more than he ever thought possible.

Part of him thinks that there is no possible way he can ever face Robb again after the fight, and the absence. Part of him wants to turn the car around and see Ramsay, but the strong part of Theon Greyjoy says no, and he continues the drive to Winterfell.

Sansa is the one who opens the door to Winterfell Manor.

(He knows now that Catelyn is dead. The newspaper that he read in the taxicab said that she was stabbed at her brother's wedding. Theon thinks that maybe he's supposed to hate her, for everything she said after his fight with Robb, but it's not her fault. It never was.)

Theon watches Sansa's eyes widen as she takes in his bruised face, his broken front tooth, the thinness of his body and the small size of his clothes. All from Ramsay. All from his "love." He hides his right hand from her, the one with only three fingers.

"Theon?" she whispers.

"Hey, Sansa," he says nervously. "How've you been?"

"We thought you had left us," says Sansa, and now she's crying a little. She's grown a lot since he last saw her, and she's maybe seventeen years old and absolutely beautiful. "Oh my god, Theon, you're... you're so skinny and..."

"Yeah, I know." His hand clenches.

And suddenly Arya, a girl who he's always liked but has never really loved, is there, and she's squeezing him in such a tight hug he thinks he may explode. "THEON!" Arya screams, sixteen years old and still wild, "you're back, where have you been?"

"Nowhere," he mumbles to her, but it doesn't matter because then Bran and Rickon are there, all grown up into little teenagers, and even sullen Jon Snow, who's wearing his Army fatigues and on crutches, and suddenly most of the pain in Theon's heart is gone.

All of the hurt is gone, save for a little piece that would represent Robb.

 

§§§

 

And now?

Robb is in the kitchen, trying his hardest to stay out of little Lyanna Mormont's way. She's barely twelve years old and already a better cook than anyone Robb knows, but this makes Lyanna incredibly bossy in the kitchen. He pretends that Lyanna is only allowed in the house because she's friends with Bran (and apparently dating Rickon, which scares him a little- Rickon does not need another partner in crime) but secretly it's to get her cooking advice.

When Robb goes to grab the teriyaki sauce, he brushes past the Tabasco sauce and is violently reminded of the time he dared Theon to drink the entire bottle of hot sauce. Theon had nearly passed out after two spoonfuls, but refusing to admit defeat, had chugged as much of it as he could before vomiting on Catelyn's shiny white kitchen floor.

It's the same emotion as always, a thick feeling of grief and worry and shock, and it makes Robb's head hurt so bad he has to bend over until his head is pressed against the cool interior of the refrigerator, his hand flopping weakly into the bottle of barbeque sauce.

"Barbeque sauce, Robb? Seriously?" Lyanna's reaching into their refridgerator, pushing aside the many glass bottles. "You need teriyaki, obviously, or else the tenderloin is gonna taste like-"

The front door clicks open, and Sansa's voice floats out into the hall. Robb thinks it might be solicitors, and he tunes out of Sansa's conversation with the mystery person at the door. He does hear Arya pushing out of her chair, which must mean the guy at the door is important enough for Arya to stop sucking face with her boyfriend and go see.

He's in the middle of chopping carrots for Lyanna when he hears the name.

"THEON!"

Everything freezes, because the first thought is that she's found some newspaper that says he's dead, but then Robb hears another voice, cracked and thin, and he feels like he's filling up with boiling water.

Lyanna is probably still talking from the other side of the kitchen, but Robb is in a sort of numb haze, and slowly, he walks out of the kitchen to find Theon.

And it is him in the hallway, surrounded by Sansa and Arya and Bran and Rickon and Jon, all the other Starks hugging him, Sansa crying and Arya berating him like a mother and Bran silently holding Theon and Rickon babbling about everything Theon missed in his life, and Jon just laughing.

And it is him, so skinny Robb could fit him through the crook of his arm, and scars crisscrossing his face, and with a broken nose and broken tooth and broken eyes.

Theon doesn't look up from his embrace for a long time, and Robb lets him have this one moment before he calls out, his throat choked, "... Theon?"

His eyes flick up to see him, grey and widening.

"Hey," Theon says simply, like it's the easiest thing to do in the world. "Robb. Hey."

"Theon, hey, welcome home."

 

§§§

 

It would have been a nice cliché way to end the day, Theon will think later, to go swimming with Robb alone in the godswood pool. But there's something about those damn Starks, the way that they never let anyone have a moment alone, because when Robb suggests they go see the pool, Rickon's already there with Lyanna.

Robb is laughing because he's sure the pool has frozen over, but Rickon and Lyanna are splashing around gleefully and Sansa says it might still be warm enough despite the snow, so Arya pushes Bran into the pool with his clothes on to check.

Robb yells and dives in to save Bran, and when he comes up for air he realizes that yes, it magically is warm, so then Arya jumps in too. Her boyfriend Gendry What's-his-name and her fat friend follow, and from there it's chaos.

Sansa gets tugged in by her friends Mya and Randa (who Robb didn't even know were over at his house), and Bran's friends jump in (had someone invited them over without telling Robb?) and it's a perfect moment with the stars out and everyone yelling happily.

Robb doesn't even notice that Theon's in the water with them until he sneaks up on him from behind, his clothes sodden to his skinny frame and hair wet.

"Hey," Theon says again. He's not quite smiling, but he's almost there.

"I'm glad you're home," blurts Robb stupidly.

Theon nods. "Me too."

Their hands twine together under the water, and Theon smiles just a little bit.

It's a start, tentative and shy, and Robb likes it. He's not sure how the rest of his life, or Theon's life, is going to play out, but he'll manage.

It's a silly thing to think, because Robb should know better, but he thinks it anyways:

Everything's good now.