He'd never admit it, but standing in the kitchen with a split lip and his father screaming at him - little flecks of spittle dotting his face and arms - all Theon could feel was relief. He lifted his chin and willed his face to do its impression of what fury might look like. Defiance. Outrage. Pride. But like always, he was having trouble keeping a straight face.
"You may be my son, but you are no Greyjoy!"
And the old man was more right than he knew when he blamed his son's degeneracy on his relationship with the Stark family. Specifically Robb Stark. And more specifically, the way Robb Stark bit his lip.
They'd both been drunk, but looking back on it Theon supposed he must've been way ahead of Robb, as usual. Theon hadn't even been invited to the party; but Robb had and it was pulling teeth to get him to go.
"You know that's really not my scene."
Theon rolled his eyes. "Yeah, well until you figure out what is your scene - and being in bed by 10 on a Friday is nobody's scene - you should just take me to the stupid party.
Robb raised one of those very arch eyebrows and said, "Do you actually care if I go, or is it just that you want an excuse not to go home tonight?"
And damn, that was sharp. Theon looked down at his sneakers then up at his friend. He told this particular lie more than any other one, and yet it never stopped exhausting him. "I don't mind going home tonight; I just figured we could use a bit of fun is all."
If Robb saw through it, he didn't let on. He just sighed heavily, which Theon knew meant surrender.
“Fine. But I’ll not be saving you from getting herpes or a broken nose anymore.”
Theon laughed and Robb couldn't stifle a smile. As they got dressed, Theon decided that making Robb smile - like, full-on smile - was a kind of superpower that he had.
They always looked ridiculous when they showed up to a party together; Robb inevitably overdressed in a suit-jacket and dress shoes, and Theon very deliberately looking like he'd been wearing - and sleeping in - the same jeans and T-shirt for the past three days.
It turned out to be a better time that Theon was expecting. Almost all the kids from the north side were there, and although none of the guys had any kind words for a Greyjoy, none of their girls seemed to mind that he'd come.
It happened when they found themselves alone in the basement.
"Don't you want to go have a smoke with the rest of them?"
Theon was aware that the only thing keeping him upright was the wall they were both leaned against. The inside of his mouth was dry and tasted of a sickly jaeger-and-tequila mix and he damned himself for not just sticking to beer. The wall was cool concrete and he pressed his cheek against it.
Robb laughed. It had been almost a year since Theon had noticed it last winter. The air stung their lungs; their breath was white. Theon had managed to slip a handful of snow down the back of Jon's shirt. Jon stood there, unable to do anything but pout furiously, while Robb clapped Theon on the shoulder and the two of them doubled over in laughter. It was the same laughter they'd shared almost since Theon could remember, and yet suddenly it had hit him full-force. You want him. And since then, Robb's laugh was a sound that stirred something in Theon's chest, but he always managed to ignore it. This time, though...
This time, you are hopelessly schlitzed.
This time Robb bit his lip, and it was all Theon could even see, those perfect teeth - damn those perfect teeth! - pressed against lips stained with wine.
Although he could barely keep his eyes focused, Theon's brain was running through a number of possible strategies. The trouble was, Theon had no idea where to begin putting the moves on his best friend; he knew what worked on girls, and he knew what girls did that worked on Robb, but those were disparate things and neither of them felt right. He thought about touching Robb, or maybe a premeditated stumble to bring them chest-to-chest. Aw fuck it.
"We'll always be mates, right? No matter what?"
Theon could barely hear his own voice over the locomotive of his pulse.
"Now and always."
Robb's lips were warm and sweet.
"Whoa, what the hell are you doing?"
It was as though his heart had suddenly turned into a stone and dropped into his guts. He felt Robb's grip on his wrist, felt a hand against his shoulder pushing him away. When he opened his eyes, Robb was smiling, but Theon recognized it right away as Robb's Pity Smile, mingled with a touch of Robb's Confused Smile, and that was what hurt the worst.
"Nothing." He felt like he was on fire; it was all he could do to stay standing. "Nothing. I'm sorry."
The next thing he knew he was stumbling up the stairs. He remembered the hot crush of bodies giving way to the cool night air, the grass pressed against the backs of his arms. A girl - she had dark hair and a trashy accent. He pretended to be charmed by it. He brought her home, even though he wasn't supposed to do that. It was loud and awful and seemed to go on forever. He's going to kill you for this. His knees still burned from crawling down the hall to the bathroom, retching violently for several minutes, first into the toilet, then into the shower. When he returned to his room, she was passed out and his phone glowed with an incoming text. From Robb, of course.
"Dude, where are you?!"
He lay down and his phone buzzed again.
"Tell me you didn't go home shitfaced as you are."
Theon had never been so glad to fall asleep.
When he woke, she was gone and the weight of the previous night made it difficult to breathe. His father only hit him once, but it was hard enough to drop him to the floor. Theon started to dry heave. Balon stood over him, fuming, but all Theon could think about was Robb. Such a fucking idiot. A fucking drunk piece of shit. He couldn't even tell sometimes if these words were coming from inside or out. Please let this not be real. Please let me try again.
When Balon told Theon that he would finish his senior year at reform school, Theon had pretended to be angry. He'd even thrown his glass of orange juice against the wall. But when he locked himself in his bedroom, all he felt was that empty relief. He was aware that tears were running down his face, but he was grinning. You must be a total head-case. Yara was knocking at his door.
"Fuck you then!"
He heard her stomp away down the hall, some brief shouting. He looked at his phone. Another text from Robb.
"Please call me."
He wiped his eyes and typed, "Wow. Last night was fucked, huh? You should've heard the accent on this girl."
He deleted it and tried again.
Theon stared at the words for a minute before he discarded the message and turned off his phone. At least he would never have to see Robb Stark again.