Were he not so at ease, he might have been able to protect himself from Robb’s sudden manoeuvre, dart out of his reach; Robb is the stronger of the two of them but Theon’s always been faster, possessing what can only be described as cat-like reflexes. So, okay, maybe being caught off-guard didn’t have that much to do with it, he probably could still have managed to twist away at the last second, yeah, maybe a little part of Theon wanted to be caught.
Not that he’d ever admit that to anyone, least of all himself.
It’s only that he’s humiliated Robb enough during today’s round of target practice as it is, he’s got to allow his best friend some small victory.
That’s all it is.
There’s no escaping Robb’s hold once you’re in it, however, no matter how quick he may be; Robb wasn’t making any idle boasts, he really did manage to overpower Theon whenever it came to confrontational battle. He was a warrior made for the frontlines, whilst Theon was better suited to tactical warfare.
He chuckles, reaching up with his free hand to squeeze the arm that’s currently lightly compressing his throat. God, but being this close still gets him every fucking time, much as he likes to pretend that it doesn’t.
“I’m only trying to provide some helpful advice,” he teases, “what good is a Captain that doesn’t listen to his men, eh? Let me go and I might even share with you some of my secrets. If you ask me nicely.”
Robb chuckles, fondly shaking his head as he twists Theon’s arm some more; not enough to hurt, of course not, just enough to remind Theon how powerless he is right now. He’s always loved this push and pull between them, this playful rivalry laced deep with their brotherhood - and he knows Theon does too, especially in the shooting range.
"Helpful advice? I don’t see how ‘facing that me and this particular type of gun are never gonna get along’ and ‘leaving it to the pros’ is gonna help me at all, Greyjoy." He removes the arm blocking Theon’s throat but only so he can press his hand against it, fingers feeling his veins. Everything’s really quiet for a moment. "Your pulse is going fast, have you taken your medical tests this year? Practice and a little manhandling are not supposed to make you feel agitated, I need my snipers in perfect physical conditions."
And now he does release Theon, gently pushing him forward.
"Do show me those secrets of yours, though." A mischievous smile appears on Robb’s face as he approaches the computer to customize the target. He leaves the distance, size and transparency just the same, jumping instead to the ‘advanced options’ section and adding a bright red HORNWOOD on the hologram’s chest. “Forget the head. Hit the center of the three O’s, if you can.”
It felt as though Sansa had been packing up her things since ‘the crack of dawn’ - a sun-ring idiom that had never held much weight on the Planet of Winter with its shrunken days and living nights, but one which she felt she should, now, be prepared to use. Already the shy sun had come half-way up and gone back down again, so she knew instinctively that it couldn’t have been more than a few hours since she began and, still, she was exhausted.
Sansa had underestimated the emotional toll of such a project. She’d set the AIs to categorising her possessions but had explicitly wanted to pack them by herself, allowing her hands to pass over all the smooth fabrics and cool metals that had, up to now, made up the context of her world. The idea was that this would be a good way to review her brilliant fortunes, but instead, as she folded up yet another wolf-grey dress, she felt her heart growing heavier and heavier.
Through the curved window of her bedchamber, Sansa could see the hazy yellow glow of Winterfell spun out below her, and the white starlight sloping across the distant ice-fields. In the sky, the dim blue outline of the Vale was visible, thumb-sized and hung among the diamond stars. She put down her things, dresses and leggings and shoes still laid out on the bed, and went toward the glass to look out.
Even from high up in the Holdfast, she could still see the citizens walking in the snowy streets, running between lamplights to and from the mining bars and warehouses. A mule vessel lit up in the middle distance and she saw its silhouette move upward and fly out of sight. Everything in the North was similarly joyless to look upon: austere and grey, framed by a utilitarian aesthetic. Its people were grim-faced and vulgar in their knuckle-cracking humour. She’d spent her childhood dreaming of colour and sweetness and symmetry but, all the same, this was home, and all she’d ever known.
But she was being silly, really. She would be making a new home among the stars soon, hung up in the sky like those mythical princesses that the gods had made into constellations. There would be new friends and luxuries up there, new food and music and the sparkling promise of change. She was leaving home to become a someday-empress! What was the North compared to her sweet, handsome Prince Joffrey?
Stepping back from the window, Sansa went back to work. If she set her mind to mechanical duties, she would be able to conserve her emotional energies. The last thing in the world she wanted was to board the Imperial shuttle the following morning with her eyes all red and swollen from crying. Cersei Lannister would think her some weak little child and Sansa could think of few things worse.
The grey dress had just followed its sisters into the enamelled chest when there came a rap at the door, followed by the AI installation’s chime for attention.
“Robb Stark is at the door, Sansa,” the voice said. “Shall I let him in?”
“Yes,” Sansa answered, hurriedly, “yes!” She wiped her eyes quickly in case some tears were still clinging there. If her big brother saw that she was upset, she’d be so embarrassed. With Father leaving and Robb newly in charge, they both had their duties to rise to. She could show him she was just as brave as he was.
The door slid back and she smiled, instantly.
“There you are,” Sansa said. “I haven’t seen you all day.”
It was snowing.
It had been a while since the last time Robb had to shake the melting snowflakes off his hair; the past months in the North had been almost gentle, offering mere cold winds and a stable chill rather than the terrifying storms that could freeze a person’s very bones and send them crying for Dorne’s heat.
He was glad the snow had decided to say its farewells to Sansa too - Robb remembered her as a little girl, flushed pink and wrapped up in so many layers she could barely move, staring in awe at the white covering Winterfell’s gray walls and Wintertown. It was beautiful, she used to say, like a city made of crystal shining under the sun’s dim golden light for her. He wondered if she still thought it pretty, or if snow, like Winterfell and the North and their dull gray days that were always the same, had bored her.
She had the Red Keep to look forward to now - and not only that. If her wishes of becoming the Empress were granted to her, Sansa would see a hundred more beautiful sights: the Reach’s gardens, Dorne’s sands and palaces, maybe even Essos some day. What was the North, compared to that?
Home, he thought.
Sansa’s AI let him in, and Robb smiled as he walked up to her, mirroring Sansa’s own grin. There were dresses on the bed in a mess of gray and white, waiting to be packed.
"Father wanted to give me some last minute advice on how to keep Winterfell in order. I think he meant last hundred hours advice." He made a face briefly, crooking his mouth in mock disgust. "How is this going, San? Need any help?" Holding up a dress that was lying on Sansa’s bed, he frowned. Then he gestured at the one Sansa herself had her hands on. "Why do girls even need so many dresses? Look, these are practically the same thing."
Given the events of his past, it should be strange that Theon Greyjoy can achieve such a sense of inner peace on the grounds of a firing range.
One would think, perhaps, that the gunfire might bring it all back to him, that awful night when his home was destroyed, his brothers killed, and he was spirited away from his mother and sister by the Northmen that frightened his nine-year-old self so.
Strangely, it had never quite had that effect.
Quite the opposite, in fact. The shooting range was one of the very few pieces where Theon could stop thinking. His head was a chaos, more often than not, and being on the surface seemed to accentuate it to the point it was unbearable. Theon’s mind had always been a dark place; it was never healthy getting lost there for too long.
Behind the barrel of a gun, however, everything else disappeared. All that existed was him and the target, along with that feeling of absolute omnipotence that came with resting his finger over the trigger.
That was what he loved most about sniper rifles, if he’s brutally honest with himself, probably what had drawn him to them in the first place. The power of it. A skilled marksman was the deadliest thing there could be.
And Theon was the best this planet had ever known.
Robb, conversely, was not quite so skilled. He preferred close range combat and so favoured guns more along the lines of assault rifles – he was even relatively proficient with a Sabre, as Theon had learned after being on the receiving end of several trashings during sparring sessions back in the Academy. But he lacked the patience that was needed to handle a weapon as precise as the sniper rifle, always grew frustrated and let his aim waver so that they went long of their mark.
As is the case now. Theon’s watching him through the plexiglass from his own booth, his arms folded, relishing a little at the way Robb’s face screws up with concentration, eyes squinted almost to the point of being shut. Too much, Theon sighs to himself, he’s over-thinking it. Focusing too much on the target allows self-doubt to creep in, and that would spoil your aim every single time.
He detects the slight tremble in Robb’s arm, knows before he even pulls the trigger that his friend will miss.
He doesn’t exactly take satisfaction when he’s proved right, but lets out a chuckle when Robb erupts into a string of very un-Lord like curses.
“Face it, Stark,” he teases, “you and that particular type of gun are never gonna get along. Best just leave it to us pro’s.”
It’s not like he’s absolutely useless at it.
One could not graduate from Wolfswood Academy labelled as one of its brightest students without passing at least each test with a remarkable score, and maybe the sniper rifle was the one that gave Robb the most trouble and the one that required him to practice three weeks instead of one - but at the end of the day he can handle it if he puts his mind into it.
Of course, it’s nowhere near as good as it could be; not impressive enough when Theon Greyjoy is in the same room, owner of several medals and trophies gained one by one at the Academy with nothing but his gun and his unbelievably sharp eyesight. If Robb is just fine then Theon is excellent, and as it happens Robb always does worse when he’s with him, as if his desperate desire to prove himself to his best friend only helped him fail.
"Fuck that," he growls quietly when his bullet hits the hologram’s arm instead of the head, pulling back from the weapon with a heavy frown. The target, pale blue against the black of the walls, shatters into digital pieces that disappear into the air like dust before being replaced by a new entire hologram in an instant.
He shoots Theon an annoyed glare, but his tone is relaxed when he speaks.
It’s only practice for fun, after all.
"Don’t mock me when you’re so close to me," he warns, a predatory smile curving his lips as he crosses the couple of steps separating him and Theon, quick like lightning. He grabs Theon’s arm, twisting it behind him with just enough force for Robb to manipulate him as he pleases, which he does by turning Theon so that his back is pressed to Robb’s chest, his other forearm pressed to Theon’s throat to keep him in place with no real malice. The whole thing couldn’t have taken more than three seconds. "I’m the one that always wins in one-on-one combat, remember?"
It’s clear the time for teasing and jokes is over: the tremor in Robb’s voice makes that more than apparent, as does the unwavering stare he has fixed at a particular spot on the table. A pang of guilt shoots through Theon: no doubt Robb harboured such doubts before their conversation, but his own disapproval had done nothing to lessen them. And Theon should have. Robb may be the acting Warden of the North now, his captain and his Lord, but beneath that, he’s a young man, only newly thrust into a position of such overwhelming power and responsibility. Theon thinks he can detect a slight tremble in his hand, now moved from his shoulder and resting beside his drink, and it’s incredibly tempting to reach out and lay his own over it.
Fuck, but this was his fault. Had he not put his own feelings aside for the sake of their friendship? And that meant putting Robb first.
Even if it broke his own heart in doing so.
“It’s not that I think it isn’t a good idea,” he begins, pausing to chew his lip as he carefully chooses his next words. “I mean, I guess… It’s just that, well, just because other people tell you something is the right thing doesn’t necessarily make it the right thing.” He presses the pad of his thumb against a water ring on the table surface, then moves it to trace the rim of his glass, producing a shrill ‘wrrrrring’ in the process. He lowers his voice slightly, just several octaves short of a whisper. “I guess I just worry you value what other people think more than what you do yourself. What do you want?”
There’s a moment of silence before Theon breaks the tension with a sudden laugh.
“Don’t mind me. Surface must be fucking with my head, you know how it makes me think too much. Really, I’m probably just moody because I’ll have to share you.” He accentuates his point by digging his elbow playfully into Robb’s ribs. “I don’t get to see you half as much as it is.”
He’s grateful for Theon breaking the silence with a bark of laughter soon after his question; Robb’s never liked being reduced to a fumbling, hesitant fool during conversations, and that’s effectively what would have happened had Theon not provided him with a much needed interruption.
What does he want?
He doesn’t want to marry Margaery Tyrell, that Robb knows.
But he does want to follow his duty as the lord of the planet and the head of house Stark in his father’s absence, and what do his own selfish preferences serve him for anyway? Eddard Stark and Catelyn Tully surely never wanted to marry each other, but time proved them wrong and showed them that love didn’t follow rules - Robb knows that his parents love each other fiercely, unconditionally, in ways couples that fell for one another in more natural manners never ended up reaching. Why should he and Margaery be any different? What he’s seen of her has appealed Robb enough, and surely if they make a genuine effort to make their marriage work…
Theon digs his elbow into Robb’s ribs, and Robb finds himself smiling even though the doubts are beginning to consume him like the Targaryens’ fire consumed the System and tainted it in blood. His stomach churns a little but at least he doesn’t have to force himself to eat anymore - the news of Baratheon’s dead has more than killed dinner.
He playfully knocks Theon’s knee with his own under the table.
"Margaery is the one that will have to share me. I’m not going to disappear into my bedroom with her forever, I promise you I’ll still be there for you to kick my ass in the shooting range, if that’s what you’re worried about." Before Theon can insist on his question of what does Robb actually want, he gets up again and pats Theon’s shoulder affectionately. "I should go now, Luwin left me a huge file on my terminal that I should check out, something about how much we’re importing from the other planets this year…"
(I don’t get to see you half as much, Theon had said.)
"…Do you want to give me a hand with that?" Robb rubs at the back of his neck, a bit embarrassed. Is it really proper of a lord to ask for assistance with such a simple but important task to someone with no real ties to the North? Probably not, but only if someone finds out. "I mean, it’ll be boring, but if you have nothing better to do maybe you could try your luck at convincing me to bring more alcohol and tobacco from the Reach."
He can’t help the hopeful grin that curves his mouth.
The flight sim leaderboard hangs illuminated above the training rooms, with that week’s high scores, the last year’s high scores, and the all time high scores, each in their own neat row. It takes Alys only a week to make it up there, unsurprising given that she was flying spacecraft since practically before she could walk, but a nice feeling all the same. It’s a month before she makes it to the last year’s high scores, mastering each level of the flight sim with varying degrees of ease. That too makes her cheeks blush pink with pride, a fuzzy feeling warming in her chest.
Alys likes the attention, though she would be loath to admit it, the way it brings warmth to her chest when the boys point and stare. Only one of the Mormont girls can keep up with her, and none of the boys in her year, though they try. Some of the pups grumble as she passes, but most just want to know her tricks, know the ease with which she shifts gears, or how she hooks her turns, or how she can possibly know instinctively how to fly so many spacecrafts.
Truthfully, it’s a learned instinct, one she honed through years of flying anything and everything she could get her hands on, regardless of make and model and purpose.
Alys takes on the all time high scores one by one. First, she knocks out Dacey Mormont’s high score, then Domeric Bolton’s. It’s not until the late days of April, with the flyers first trip into orbit budding on the horizon, that she finally takes out the record for speed on one of the hardest level of the flight sim, the one held by Robb Stark.
The leaderboard’s a good extra 5 minute walk from the hangar bay, where Alys knows she’s due, but she can’t help but walk out of her way, just to see her name up there, second on the list, just below Theon Greyjoy, and her time winking next to it. It’s a rush that bubbles like a glass of fine Middle Planet champagne. Alys’s only had the stuff once, but the way it fizzled into her chest is a feeling she’ll never forget. It feels like victory.
It’s on his third year at the Academy and at eighteen years old of age that Robb finds out that, in fact, sharing a bedroom with Theon Greyjoy is not as messy as he thought it would be.
By now his roommate is aware that if he wants to smoke he should do it by the window and making sure he doesn’t leave any smell behind, he knows that all empty bottles of alcohol must be picked up and thrown into the recycle bins by the next morning, and Robb’s never had any trouble with Theon taking over the room for himself and his sexual conquest of the week. They’re very different in pretty much every aspect -Robb doesn’t smoke, or drink often, and he definitely doesn’t make a show of his own love life- and he wasn’t quite sure the room-sharing was the brightest of ideas, but they’ve somehow managed to adapt to each other and co-exist together without any real conflict.
Theon does this thing where he changes clothes and leaves the former ones right there where he took them off, and there’s nothing Robb hates more than seeing someone else’s pairs of socks on his own bed, a dark jacket decorating the floor as if it was a damn carpet, and several shirts and pants hanging from places that definitely weren’t made to support clothes. Keeping a clean, organized room is a trait Robb picked up from his previous roommate during his second year, and well, it turns out that new habits die just as hard as old ones.
So that’s why Robb is tsk-ing as he picks up every piece of clothing Theon’s left behind today, patiently folding them before adding them to the growing pile of clothes on his friend’s bed. Like a maid, Robb thinks dryly, eyeing one of Theon’s favourite black shirts with narrowed eyes. He’s half-tempted to throw Theon’s clothes into the recycle bins to finally teach him a lesson, but he swallows the urge before it gets any stronger.
And that’s how Jon Umber finds him, pushing the door open without any sort of warning and announcing only as loudly as he can, “A pup! A fuckin’ pup beat you, Stark, you suck so much. The Young Wolf, my ass.”
Robb’s face must be quite the comic painting, because the Smalljon laughs so hard they must hear him all the way back to Dorne.
"Go see your failure for yourself."
And that’s why Robb stands in front of the flight sim leaderboard fifteen minutes later, Theon’s pile of clothes forgotten, frowning as he looks up at the records illuminating the board’s dark surface. He hasn’t participated in flight sim lessons or competitions in a long while, and he hasn’t looked at the records since his first year, when he set the one that has now been pushed one spot behind. Hell, before today he didn’t even remember there was a board.
Theon’s name remains at the top, a picture of him smirking next to it and the best time Wolfswood’s seen since they both entered the Academy. Robb’s own name and solemn photo used to belong under him, his record high enough to be a good rival to Theon’s and yet not quite as impressive, but that place has now been taken by an unfamiliar name with an equally unfamiliar picture, showing the face of the new cadet that was a whole seven seconds faster than Robb.
Alys Karstark, says the board, and the photo shows a round-faced girl with piercing eyes and long hair.
It takes Robb an entire half a minute to realise that it’s the same girl standing next to him, looking up at the boards as well and then staring right back at him when he just remains there with his gaze fixed on her like an idiot.
He inhales sharply as he snaps out of it.
"You beat my record!" he blurts out very fast and loud, then cringes a bit. A winking 4:58 in bright red looks back at him when his gaze shifts back to the board. “I mean… You’re Alys Karstark, right? I’m Robb Stark, right there under you.” Turning back to her again, he offers a hand. “I know your family, you’re all very good pilots. Good job.”
Theon isn’t too sure how to feel about the prospect of Ned Stark returning. Sure, Robb’s been busier in his father’s absence, has had less time for their usual folly – but he has enjoyed it being just the two of them. It’s been nice wandering Winterfell’s halls and not having to worry about crossing paths with its Lord and Lady. There’s not even Robb’s godawful bastard brother to worry about these days, just his two little brothers, both of whom are too young to be really worth Theon’s attention.
It’s the most comfortable the North’s felt for him in a long while – even if is on the surface.
“I doubt your absence will be noticed,” he remarks dryly, idly flicking a stray pea at the AI as it tops up his drink. It makes a noise that sounds remarkably like disapproval. “What was the Emperor to you anyway? Just because you share a name with the fat fuck doesn’t make you kin.” Theon was still recovering from his own disappointment he’d felt upon finally meeting Emperor Robert Baratheon I. That slovenly pig was the man whose command had brought his own father to his knees? The brave warrior, whose Chopper had toppled the Targaryen dynasty?
It was hard to reconcile those tales with the lecherous sot he’d encountered at Winterfell.
He’s ripped out of his reverie by Robb’s hand upon his shoulder, and his warmth was so sudden and so overwhelming that he can’t repress a shiver. God, but the Northmen’s blood ran hot.
That particular thought conjures up images that will lead nowhere good, so Theon clears his throat, chases it with a chug of beer.
Robb’s words aren’t helping, however. There’s that tightening in his chest again, that feeling that his heart has swollen so large that his ribcage simply cannot contain it any longer. It had taken a long time for him to come to terms with the fact that this was simply what love felt like, and he does his utmost to shove it back down, not let it consume him utterly as it so often threatens to do –
But when Robb is so very Robb, like he is now – he makes it difficult to ignore.
It’s always moved him how Robb notices Theon’s unease on the planet’s surface. Others perceive his restlessness, jape and tease him about it without really ever bothering to guess its cause. But Robb could discern the why, even from a young age; probably because Robb was the only one who ever really cared.
(But it’s more than that, really. It’s what Robb isn’t saying. Theon has never been allowed to wander free since he came to the North, was always kept under a careful watch. As suitable for Lord Stark’s ward, no doubt the Starks would say, but Theon’s no fool, he knows the real reason: he’s an Ironborn, treacherous by nature. This isn’t his home and never would be, he was a hostage, and hostages don’t get to roam free.
Except to Robb.
Robb would give him the sky, if he could.)
Humour has long been his weapon of choice when it comes to the art of deflection, and thus he utilises it now.
“First you’re chucking me out of an airlock, now you want to send me into space without you?” It’s clear he’s teasing, any trace of the hurt caused by Robb’s earlier remark dispersed. “So much for Stark charm. No, I’m afraid you’re stuck with me, like it or not. My place is at your side: always has been.”
It’s tempting to shoot Theon a warning look and tell him to mind his words like a proper lord should, that calling Robert Baratheon a fat fuck, as true as it is, is no proper way to refer to their former Emperor and, most of all, a man that has passed away so recently that his body must still be warm. Instead Robb just snorts and looks away, tries not to think of the icy look his father would have given Theon had he been near to hear how his ward talked about his best friend.
Sometimes it’s hard, walking the tricky line between being his father’s son and his father’s hostage’s closest friend. Loyalty is a thin blade with a sharp edge, and trying to keep his balance can cut deep more often that not.
Every moment of doubt is worth it, however, every fumbling step is easily forgotten when Theon says things like this.
"I’m noticing a bit of a fixation there with airlock-chucking, Greyjoy," he japes right back, the corner of his lip curving upwards.
With a heavy heart Robb wonders if some past day, long before them, Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark said such things to each other as well - if they swore to always be by each other’s side only for duty to tear them apart without mercy.
He wonders if that’s what’s waiting for him and Theon as well, once Balon Greyjoy is gone too. Theon is his son and heir, lord of the ironborn by right of birth, and Robb’s not foolish enough to think that Theon’s fate won’t be a cause of dispute when he’s finally ready to inherit the iron moon. Duty will catch up to them too, and when the moment comes will Theon answer to its call or hesitate?
The thought makes Robb’s hand tremble a little on Theon’s shoulder, so he drops it and sits down once more, determined to move the topic back to safer waters.
"Do tell me though, is there a reason I shouldn’t marry Margaery Tyrell? You know, apart from the whole never-seen-her-before-in-my-life aspect of it." He intended for it to sound amused; it comes out dry and sort of terrified. His gaze is fixed on the table with unnecessary focus. "I thought it was a good idea all around. All my life I’ve been told we’re the ideal match and I used to hate it, but when you think about it, it really does make sense and seems to be the best option. Am I missing something? This is no easy decision, and I do value your advice."
And just like that, the anger, the hurt – it dissipates completely.
Trust Robb to be able to cut to the core of him so deeply, and then sew him right back up without leaving a single trace.
It should drive him crazy, the effect that the other man has over him. That another person was capable of influencing his emotions, his very moods with such leisurely ease.
But it doesn’t.
It never has.
A soft grin tugs at his lips, betraying any attempts at composure, so he tries to mask it by ducking his head, rubbing at the side of his neck as he contemplates his mangled vegetables.
“Well, you know,” he mumbles, picking up his fork and stabbing a helpless potato. “You’ve a wife to make room for. Might not be such a bad idea.”
He looks up then, allows the grin to stretch across his face when he meets Robb’s gaze.
See. He could even joke about the very subject that was currently tearing him in two.
He wasn’t completely hopeless.
The smile that Robb rewards him with is doing ridiculous things to his stomach, so he hastily diverts his attention by commanding one of the AI’s to refill their drinks.
“So,” he announces, “what now?”
There’s a certain warmth that spreads through his chest when Theon smiles; such a simple gesture, and yet it makes Robb’s pulse quicken a little all the same, makes his heart flutter in the most ridiculous way. Robb can’t help mirroring that grin with one of his own, so very relieved Theon’s not going to hold it against him, how Robb reminded him so brutally of the death sentence hanging above his head.
Theon even seems to be starting to approve of Robb’s engagement, for which he is extremely grateful - sometimes he still feels like the five year old that chased Theon around Winterfell restlessly, yearning for his approval and greedily craving those rare genuine smiles.
He grabs the drink the AI just refilled and takes a long gulp, thinking carefully about his friend’s question.
Right. The Emperor´s dead. There are more important things happening right now than Theon Greyjoy’s smile, he has to remember.
"I suppose," he says, setting his glass down again, "we can only wait. I can’t imagine Joffrey will keep my father as his Hand, I saw the way Cersei Lannister looked at him." Like a very annoying bug that was too insignifcant to be crushed, but irritating all the same. "And she’ll be the one guiding her son. My father might as well be packing right now."
Just as Robb had finally gotten used to it; when he didn’t innerly flinch at someone calling him my lord anymore. Just when he felt that maybe, just maybe, this really was what he was always meant to do, and the way he was meant to be happy. That this was where and how he truly belonged, as Robb Stark, and not just the shadow of his father.
He purses his lips.
"I should go to the funeral, it’s what’s proper and I could make it through the relay route… but there must always be a Stark in Winterfell, and I’m not leaving Bran alone. Not with our mother gone too." Suddenly, he feels extremely alone. His father, his mother, Sansa and Arya, Jon… Only Bran and Rickon remain, and as much as Robb loves his brothers it’s just not the same.
He tries to get rid of those thoughts by placing a hand on Theon’s shoulder, squeezing it fondly. “What are you going to do? I know how much you hate being on the planet, are you leaving for the station? You don’t have to stay here just because I am.” He bites his lip; what he’s just said is dangerously close to the subject that made Theon so tense only minutes ago, but Robb feels it’s necessary.
You are not a hostage. Not when you’re with me.
Luwin makes no effort to disguise the fact that he considers Theon’s presence in the discussion of such important matters inappropriate, punctuating the passage of each minute by shooting a wary glance in his direction. Theon’s well used to it by now, has taught himself not to waste any energy on anger but instead focus on the smug satisfaction he feels from the way Robb pointedly ignores the Maester’s obvious discomfort. Robb has never paid much heed with regards to what other people think of Theon.
Theon even goes so far as to shoot Luwin a self-assured grin, as he shuffles out of the room, datapad clutched to his chest.
He turns his attention to Robb, who has remained standing, brow furrowed as he frowns into the distance at something unseen.
“Give ‘em a day or two to get rid of the body, maybe,” Theon replies dryly, reaching once more for his beer. “Then they’ll stick that little git on the Celestial Seat. I’m sure they’re already polishing it in preparation for his royal arse.”
What Robb says next makes his blood run cold.
Fucking hell. What a dinner this was turning out to be.
He sets his beer down slowly, his movements stiff. What Robb and Theon don’t talk about is Theon’s situation. Robb had always referred to him as his father’s ward or as his best friend – once or twice, he’d even called him brother – Theon was completely certain he’d never ever breathed the word ‘hostage’ in his presence.
He loved that about Robb. He made it easy to forget sometimes. So long as they were away from the hostile stares of the other Northmen, when it was just the two of them, just like this – Theon could pretend he belonged here.
If only for a little while.
They didn’t talk about his father’s penchant for failed rebellions.
They just didn’t.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” he says as calmly as he can muster, although his tone is like ice, “but I haven’t exactly been in much contact with my father. He doesn’t really deem me privy to his plans.”
He shoots Robb a bitter smirk.
“Why? That eager to see me chucked out an air lock? And here I was thinking you liked having me around.”
Theon’s voice is colder than any winter Robb’s been through in his life in the North, and he regrets his words almost immediately, hates himself for how quick he was to let his concern for Theon hurt the very same person Robb was looking out for.
Because he knows what he’s said stings deep inside Theon - Robb knows him too well, knows parts of him that no one else has had access to but him. He knows that the stiffness of his movements, the mocking curve of his lips and the sarcasm of his response is nothing but Theon trying to mask the gaping wound Robb’s poured salt into. A wound that time doesn’t heal.
Robb feels suddenly clumsy, awkward, not entirely sure of how to put into words the apology that is stuck in his throat. I was just worried about you. I’m scared of what’s next if your father chooses his ambitions over you. I’m afraid of being told to kill you, and what will happen to both of us when I can’t do it.
And maybe it’s because the tension of their previous conversation hasn’t quite faded away yet, but Robb finds himself responding more seriously than he should. Maybe what Theon really needs is a smile and a harmless, friendly jape.
But what he gets instead is a firm, “No one’s getting killed, Theon. Especially not you, and especially not under my command.” And now, yes, now he does grin a bit, even if it’s slightly sad. “We’re stuck here together, whether we like it or not, alright? And I do happen to like having you around, lucky for us. Quite a lot, actually. So no, there are no chuking you out an air lock plans in my schedule.”
Robb’s right. He’s been right from the start, and Theon’s well aware of that. Theon is the one being irrational, behaving like Robb’s doing anything out of the ordinary. He hates himself for it, particularly when he can hear the strained note in his best friend’s voice – Robb needs his support now more than ever. But Theon, of course, is too fucking selfish.
He’s always been that way.
(It’s especially foolish, considering that he should make the most of what precious little time alone they have together. If they rarely got a chance for privacy now, what hope would there be when Robb would be expected to take his meals with his pretty little wife, and the undoubtedly gorgeous kids they would soon be popping out? What time would he have for Theon at all? His heart sinks even heavier. It was one thing not being able to possess Robb in the way he truly longed to, another to not have Robb at all.)
“I guess,” he eventually concedes in a brittle tone, angrily spearing a broccoli floret. They lapse into a sullen silence as Theon goes about mashing all his vegetables into a green mush, whilst Robb does his best to pretend he doesn’t notice.
Theon’s saved from making a further idiot of himself by the arrival of Maester Luwin, clutching a datapad and wearing a grim expression. Great, Theon muses darkly, that’s sure to mean more good news.
“News from the Red Keep, my lord,”
Rather than elaborate further, he touches his fingers to the datapad then sets it down on the table before them. A miniscule hologram pops up, image flickering briefly before becoming concrete. Theon thinks he recognises the projected figure - an anchorwoman from the Westeros News Network, if he’s not mistaken. Something Fossoway.
“It is with great regret and remorse that we announce the death of our Emperor Robert Baratheon…”
Theon’s mouth falls open with surprise, all thoughts of that Tyrell girl suddenly fled from his head. Holy fuck. The Emperor was dead? He chances a glance at Robb, who was now all of a sudden wearing an expression even darker than Luwin’s. He turns his attention back to the hologram, who continues on to explain that the cause of his death was currently unknown, but appeared to have been the result of a hunting accident. Theon chews absently on his thumbnail as he listens, flicking his gaze back and forth between the newscaster and Robb.
When the broadcast finishes, there’s a silence.
“So… Is his kid the new Emperor now?” Theon pulls a face, recalling his encounters with the boy during the royal visit. Usually kids his age were too young to really draw Theon’s interest, but Joffrey Baratheon had been so bloody obnoxious that he was hard to ignore. Sansa had been besotted, which was all well and good given she was the one marrying him – but Theon had been of the opinion that the boy would benefit from a good kick up the arse. Or winding up on the wrong side of an airlock. Either or.
His father’s place was at the Emperor’s side for as long as they were both alive, he’d said only minutes before.
It’s the first time Robb’s had to eat his own words in such a manner. The hologram carries on for a moment, talking now about the Emperor’s family and his coming funeral, but Robb fails to follow - his own thoughts stay with Robert Baratheon, dead by an accident and leaving an entire system behind in chaos.
Robb had grown up hearing stories about Robert - not only he was the current Emperor and it was necessary for a future lord to be well-taught in the matters of nobility, but he was also Robb’s own namesake, his father’s best friend and brother in arms. Like Robb and Theon, Ned and Robert had bonded over wardship, and together they had defeated the Targaryens and strengthened even more the bond between the North and the rest of Westeros. Robb was bound to know more about him than he should have, considering he’d never seen the man before.
When he had met him, Robb didn’t think much of him; the strong, radiant leyend that had conquered the system and crowned himself Emperor was certainly nowhere to be found in the drunk, fat man that downed beer after beer and hit the table with his fists, loudly yelling for more food and more ladies, Ned, where are you hiding them?
But he was Robb’s father’s best friend all the same, even if his glory had faded away after years, like a star’s light begins to dim. He was still the man that kept the system in peace for almost two decades after the Targaryens were threatening to tear it apart with their madness.
Robb stands up, fingers browsing through the text in the datapad. He barely hears Theon asking something about a new Emperor.
"I should contact my father," he says. "I need to know what he plans to do."
"I thought you’d want to, my lord - I tried getting through before coming here to make sure the line was ready, but the Red Keep has blocked communications for the moment. They must be getting call requests from all the system right now." The maester shoots Theon a brief look, as if wondering if he should even be here, but he merely takes the datapad Robb’s handing him in silence. "You may have better luck trying later."
"Then that’s what I’ll do. Thank you, Luwin, you may go now."
And Theon and Robb are left alone once more, quiet and still as if time has frozen.
Had they really been talking about a wedding only minutes before?
"I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out they have already made Joffrey the new Emperor, the Lannisters don’t waste any time." Robb frowns, not really sure of what to do. If there is even something to do. It’s expected for such a big event to have equally big consequences - but there’s not really any reason for him to be concerned. Joffrey Baratheon will be made the new Emperor, he’ll either keep Robb’s father as his Hand or let him come back to Winterfell, and that’s it. Life will go on. "It seems Sansa’s wish of being Empress won’t keep her waiting for long."
He casts a hesitant look at Theon.
"The ironborn wouln’t try their luck at another rebellion now that Baratheon’s dead, right?"
And he’s perfectly aware of what he’s asking.
If his heart wasn’t feeling quite so heavy, Theon might have managed to chuckle at Robb’s rebuttal. Truly, he was his mother’s son in more than just his physical appearance – Family, Duty, Honour. The age-old words of House Tully: Robb was following them to a T. Catelyn Stark would be proud.
But laughing is the last thing Theon feels like doing.
No, what he feels is ill. He’s incredibly tempted to tell the AI’s to fetch him something stronger than a beer, but that would be a little too telling. The plate of food in front of him has lost all its appeal, even though only moments ago he’d been ravenous, and so he pushes it away as he allows the weight of Robb’s words to wash over him.
She’s very pretty. Jealousy cloys at his throat, making him feel suffocated. It’s hardly an unfamiliar sensation: Robb may lack Theon’s tendency to chase after anything with two legs, but he’s still a hot-blooded male, and Theon’s seen him with girls before. He’d even dated several back in the Academy – if ‘dated’ was the right word – but that had been different. Theon had always known those brief affairs were as doomed as Theon’s own chances: Robb was the future ruling lord of the Planet, he was fated to be married into only the noblest of houses.
Except now that time had come. And there was fucking nothing Theon could do about it.
He should be a good friend. Assure Robb that he was right, he was fortunate to have such a beautiful bride-to-be – Theon had seen her image in the broadcasts before as well – and she would no doubt make a wonderful wife. That the match was an excellent idea, that The Reach was one of the most prosperous planets in the system, and the North was sure to thrive as a result of their union.
But he couldn’t.
He just couldn’t.
“I don’t…” His mouth feels dry, so he takes a long swig of his beer. “…are you sure? I mean…” He shakes his head. “Shouldn’t you wait maybe until your father returns? Or something?”
He knows his words are futile, and there’s nothing that can stop this now that the wheels are in motion. But it still doesn’t stop him from trying.
Robb’s starting to feel more and more defensive by the moment, taken aback by Theon’s words and doubts, his lack of faith in his Captain’s choices. It makes him question himself, makes something in Robb feel incredibly perturbed - could it be possible that this sounds like such a bad idea that even Theon Greyjoy, well-known for his utter lack of care about anything that isn’t shooting things and indulging in the pleasures of life, sees a flaw in the plan that Robb so carefully checked over and over? Sees something that Robb is completely overlooking?
Because it really is not about lack of time, Robb knows that. Being the lord of the planet and captain of the fleet is no easy task - but Robb is sure he’s not sinning of arrogance when he thinks he’s done a good job so far, enough so that the North’s people don’t seem as uneasy anymore, like they used to be back when their warden left for the Red Keep in a moment’s notice. It was no simple work, filling his father’s shoes; regardless of his last name Robb still had to prove himself to the cold and unforgiving northmen, but he eventually gained their trust day by day, audience by audience and reunion by reunion, keeping peace and justice in their homeworld just the way his father had. He is busy, but having a wife and heirs is no hobby or annoying secondary task to tackle - it’s his duty. And having time for duty is what Robb’s been taught all his life.
"My father’s the Hand now, his place is at the Emperor’s side for as long as they’re both alive. I can’t keep relying on him, or waiting for him - I’m the lord now and that’s that. Things need to continue as normal." Robb sighs, his appetite slowly fading away. Still, he forces himself to continue eating. As the lord, it’s also his duty to keep himself healthy. "I appreciate your concern, Theon, but I’ll be fine. I can think of worse things than getting married to a beautiful girl from a respected family."
He’s extremely grateful when he sees Maester Luwin enter the dining hall, datapad in hand, heading towards their table.
But the old man’s face is somber, and his voice is even darker when he speaks.
"News from the Red Keep, my lord."