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."
They’ve only been back on surface for three days, and already there’s an itch beneath Theon’s skin that nothing will kill.
He’s always found that strange. Technically he’s lived on solid ground now longer than he did on Pyke, but he’s still never felt at ease there. It makes him edgy, being this far from the Star Sea, like the gravity may just shackle him to the surface altogether, never let him allow to the sky. He smokes more on the surface, drinks more too, gambles, fucks – anything just to relieve the tension building up and threatening to burst.
He wonders sometimes if it’s because of the drowning. He doesn’t remember it, of course – he was only a few months old when they placed him in the vacuum. But it’s always made him think, had filling his lungs with Sea tied him to it irrevocably? Was he part of it now, as much as any star floating in its depths? Did his discomfort stem then, from being so far away from a part of himself, like a still-beating heart ripped from a chest, or a meteor sent crashing from the sky?
Theon sighs, shakes his head as he drops his cigarette and stubs it out with the toe of his boot.
Fuck the surface. It got him too up inside his own head, and that never lead anywhere bloody good.
He hadn’t quite expected Theon to congratulate him on his nearly official engagement - not really.
But Robb certainly hadn’t expected this either. When thinking of Theon’s reaction, Robb had merely anticipated that maybe he’d get a pat on the back and some crude jape about sex for the good of the Stark bloodline, perhaps even one of Theon’s dry and completely innapropriate smirks along with a cheeky wink.
This, though. The concern in his voice and the weight of his words (you can’t) - this is not something Robb had prepared himself for. Is Theon really worried for Robb’s own happiness, the fact that he knows marrying a woman he’s never seen in person before is not exactly Robb’s wish? The knowledge that he does indeed lack the time to spend his days with his best friend and his comrades, let alone a future wife?
It’s touching that Theon is looking out for him like this, but Robb feels a wave of defensiveness wash over him all the same. It’s done, it’s sealed, it’s happening - and it was his decision, for better or worse. Theon should trust him. If he can’t even trust Robb to handle his own personal affairs, how can he consider himself part of the Northern Fleet under Robb’s charge?
"I’ll find the time," he says simply, gaze fixed on his glass. He runs his thumb over the rim slowly. "My father built our family and raised us all while being Lord of Winterfell himself; I can do it too. He didn’t know my mother at all when they got married, but they grew to love each other with an open mind and dedication."
He looks up, remembering the articles he’s read about Margaery Tyrell, the pictures he’s seen - she was very beautiful on both paper and screen, if a bit too innocent-looking, and there was an edge to her smile that made Robb curious and excited to meet her.
Or maybe he had just been trying too hard to find something else in him that wasn’t dread when he thought of her, spring, and a wedding.
"We’ll have time to get to know each other." Robb clears his throat and pokes at his food with his fork. "She’s very pretty, and everyone who’s written about her says she’s lovely and charming. I think… I think she’ll make me a good wife, and give me a good family. I’m willing to work hard for us to be happy with each other."
I have to.
The Planet of Winter is a fitting name for those who have never set a foot on it, but a northman knows better.
A northman knows how to tell winter’s freezing and unforgivable days apart from spring’s dry and amiable cold; summer’s gentle winds are not the same as fall’s stable but piercing chill. Growing up in the North means getting to know the true meaning of winter, and Robb Stark knows that it’s not here on this planet that bears its name, not just yet.
It’s close, though.
It’s barely halfway through the day and the sky is already a dark blue, deep and ominous, flirting with black - the stars are already out and shining proudly, ready to welcome the night at any moment even though there’s still a glimpse of the Red Sun clinging timidly to the horizon. It grows weaker by the moment, and Robb leans against the window and watches it fade away until finally the constellations are the only lights keeping the North safe from its own perturbing darkness.
At night, Winterfell seems to morph into a different sight altogether; cyans turn gray and browns turn black, whites glow ghostly in the shadows. Robb wonders if Margaery Tyrell will embrace these opaque colours when she makes Robb her lord husband and the Planet of Winter her home, or if she’ll spend her days missing the vivid ones of her own homeworld. He’s never been to The Reach himself, but Robb’s heard and studied enough - the Tyrells rule a planet red and green, purple and yellow, orange and pink.
He wishes he knew Margaery half as well. It’s disturbing that he remembers by heart all of The Reach’s major trade points, its ruling families and their words, the primary resources that keep their economy afloat and rich - but he doesn’t know Margaery’s favourite type of flower from her own garden, or the song she hums when she’s distracted and thinks no one’s listening, or -
If she wants to marry him at all.
If she thinks they’re making a mistake.
Those are not thoughts Robb Stark can allow himself to linger on, however, so later that night when he joins Theon for dinner -just the two of them alone, sitting side by side, the way they like it- he sets his fork down and swallows his doubts and says, determined and firm, “It’s done. I’ll be engaged to Margaery Tyrell in the next year and marry her as soon as her family allows it.”
And then, quietly, “I think we should wait until spring for the wedding, as a gesture of good faith - I’m not sure her guests would appreciate our winter.”
The Planet of the Winter
"Robb Stark was born healthy and happy, crying loudly in the arms of Catelyn Tully, one cold winter night when the Targaryens still ruled The System. It was the blue of her eyes she gave him, as well as the auburn of her long hair - but Stark was his name and his legacy, and so he behaved and was raised like one, heir to the land where men and women are as cold and ruthless as the planet they call home." [read more]