Almost, he smiles, and looks up.
“You’re master of the house now,” he begins, lowly, “Must be nice. You’ve got the doors barricaded, the windows sealed, the guns cleaned; every precaution taken, everyone’s safe.” He shifts against the wall, eying the door and the dim shaft of light.
“And I come back, walking dead, in from this infested city, and you’ve got me down here. In the cellar.”
He straightens, handing the bag back and forth between his hands as it starts to thaw. Theon’s silence is rather satisfying, though perhaps if he could see him squirm, it might be more so. Even in the dark, Robb thinks he probably isn’t smiling.
“I thought you’d at least try to strip me down. Check me for bites.”
Theon stiffens at Robb’s words, and he tries to make out his expression in the darkness. Once the words might have sounded gentle, teasing, coming from Robb but there’s none of that in his tone now. His fingers dig into his own sides, scraping thin white crescents into what little flesh is left there. Does he think I wanted this? It’s a nerve too close for Theon’s liking, a barbed mockery of his inability to belong anywhere. I wanted to be one of them, he thinks, eyes closing briefly, but never could. But not like this. Never like this. His eyes are stinging again. It’s the cold. It’s the damp. He sucks in a sharp breath. It’s too much.
When he opens them again, he’s still shaking but it’s only partly to do with the cold and hunger now.
“Are you accusing me because I didn’t?” he asks in a low voice, fingers bunching up the sides of his jacket around him. “Or what are you trying to do?” Theon swallows heavily, wishing he could see his face but knowing that would make it so much worse. His tongue feels too large for his mouth. His jaw too heavy. “I…” And there’s nothing Theon can say to make Robb understand, to make it right, and that more than anything is like a kick in the gut. “I wanted to go back. I wanted to.”
The meat in his hands is frozen stiff, but he’d could eat it raw for all he cares. The idea of sitting by the fire with company and no conversation does not entirely appeal to him. He wets his broken lips and shakes his head.
“I’m kind of surprised,” he mutters, and let’s it hang there for a while to see if it draws his eye.
The cold finally overtakes him, and when he retrieves the final bag of meat, he has to shove his hands beneath his armpits. His teeth chatter, and he folds inward slightly on himself. On the road, he’d become accustomed to the warmth of Jeyne – but she had other’s now, no more need for Theon, the same conclusion most people came to. She has Robb now too, he thinks bitterly, fingernails burrowing into skin all of them had one another. And what have I?
The sight of meat unconsciously causes him to slaver – his body has always betrayed him – but he wrenches his eyes away. Hunger has become a companion, and when it twists his gut in a wretched fashion, why, it almost feels like the touch of an old friend. It had hurt once, he knows. But now he’s been beginning to welcome its familiarity and that is dangerous, such a dangerous thought that he knows should he succumb to it, there will be no return.
Break up the furniture, he remembers, and he tries to recall what else there is left to burn. The beds, of course, but he can’t ask Sansa to give up those memories just yet. He’s been avoiding the bedrooms, truth be told, and not just for Sansa’s sake – he can’t quite give up those recollections just yet either. There’s still Ned Stark’s study, still a toppled bookshelf and the remains of what had once been his desk, not to mention his armchair. He wonders how Robb will feel about that, Theon quite literally chopping up his memories. The chill embraces him once more, and he closes his eyes to fight the sting.
I’m kind of surprised, and Theon shoots him a look. It’s so remarkably…such a Robb thing to say, that for a second, he believes, but suspicion creeps up again almost immediately.
“About what?” He bites back the rest of his question. That we’re still alive without you?
The only light is the moon’s dim reflection off the snowdrifts past the glass. The house is silent. (No more crying.) He could go out the door now and be gone and they’d have thought it was just a dream. And maybe it’d be better that way.
Except for the gnawing, pulling pain in his stomach, which drags him out into the next room, desperate for anything.
When he sees Theon sleeping on the sofa, he doesn’t think twice about putting a hand over his mouth and shaking him awake.
In his mind he’s wondering how to speak, how to say, Greyjoy, where the fuck are you keeping the food? but he only comes out with:
“Food.” Hard and empty.
When Theon pushes his feet into his boots and grabs his gun, Robb’s stomach sinks. (Would that it had some ballast of any kind.)
“What are you doing?” he asks, bitingly. “Where are you keeping it?” They can’t be so stupid as to not have some supply held back between trips out. They must have something. He can’t go outside, not now, not even for that.
Theon stares blankly – stupidly – at Robb for several moments. He looks like Robb, he sounds like Robb, but Robb had never spoken to Theon like this. It had been Theon that was all jagged edges and bile, never Robb. He lowers his gun back down to the floor, his eyes cast downwards. It’s still too painful to look at him, too difficult to remember.
“Habit,” he murmurs, as way of explanation. He wraps his arms around his torso, hugging warmth to his body fiercely. The fire’s long burned out and Theon’s suddenly aware of how very cold it is. He wonders if it’s Robb that brings the chill. He jerks his head sideways. “Basement,” is all he can manage, and doesn’t that only accentuate the ice in his bones, because since when have himself and Robb ever minced words with one another? It’s not him, a wailing, desperate part still cries, the part that’s still too frightened to hope, that gave up on such follies when they watched the walls of the White Tower crumble around Robb. Theon shivers, and sets off towards the Stark’s basement.
The power has been gone for months now, but with the Walkers had come the cold. They’d packed the old freezer in the basement full of snow and thus found an adequate method in which to preserve the meat from hunts. It could not hold long-term, unfortunately, but as long as you fed it fresh snow every day, it would do over short periods. The remains of a wolf carcass are buried in it now, and Theon sets to digging it out. It hurts, plunging his arms this deep into the cold when he’s still fighting the chill of sleeping beside the dying fire, but he’s felt worse. Pain feels like an old friend to Theon, these days. He need only recall his sister’s smirk and there it is again. He grits his teeth and pushes Asha from his mind.
“We’ll need a fire,” he hisses as he pulls out a rib of wolf meat. “We’ve canned and pickled goods too. Not much but… It serves. For now,” He brushes the ice from his forearms. He does not look at Robb.
He will not look at Robb.
Theon dreams of sightless faces with gaping wounds for mouths, he dreams of buildings crumbling into dust, he dreams of cold hands wrapping around his throat and choking the life from him, of blue, blue eyes glaring accusingly as they watch the light fade from him.
Theon has learned to live with these dreams. They are always the same and he has little choice but to do so.
He remembers his sister often. Of her admission that it had been her that had murdered their mother, and he thinks of his own gun trained upon Ned Stark. What is dead may never die, whisper a memory, and his fingers bunch into the couch pillow, we were only making sure they did not rise again.
He has not drank enough as he usually does, and thus, sleep is harder than he has become accustomed to. He prefers to sink into a sweet oblivion, but after all that came of today, he was not able to raise the bottle to his lips.
Theon chokes back a muffled cry, pressing a cushion to his stomach so as to stifle his gasps. He can’t afford to – why, whispers a distant voice, why, why, why, they all know what you are – to let the other’s hear him tonight. They have their own burdens to bear. They do not need Theon’s.
He thinks of Jeyne fleeing to Ygritte, of Sansa burrowing her face in his brother’s shoulders. He thinks of how he had no one, how he has never had anyone, to share his pain with. He thinks of all the people that he might have – once – thought he could have but they have always had more than him, had better than him.
He thinks of his sister and he has to bite down on a clenched fist to stifle his sob.
He misses her.
Theon has never felt so alone.
He steals brief, fitful bouts of sleep that night, his cushion hugged tightly to his gut. Everyone has someone for comfort but Theon, and he should feel more distraught for that fact than he does. He has always wanted something to cling to, but found nothing in his search
It’s during one of these short bouts of sleep that he jolts out of his restfulness by a hand clamped over his mouth. His instinct is to fight, but something stays him – something familiar - and he casts frightened eyes at his captor.
He wants to say everything but he says nothing instead.
“Food,” Robb says, and Theon does not question it, simply nods in muffled agreement, sucking in a deep breath when Robb finally pulls his hand away. They still have not spoken, and Theon finds himself wondering if there was ever anything to speak about.
He swings his legs over the couch, setting himself to the task of pulling on his shoes and lacing them up.
It’s been bubbling in his throat since he first saw him.
He swallows it back down with the rest of it, and fumbles for his gun without a word.
He feels as if he caves in over her but that she is so small and boney-sharp under his hands and he’s barely even touching her. He doesn’t feel the tears; she’s pressed her face to his shoulder and there are layers between them. It’s like empty birdcages rattling and clashing against one another. He can’t even summon the energy to try to crush her so he stares at the fire behind her and grips her hair.
She shakes for a while, and he meets Theon’s eye against his better judgment. He kept her safe, at least. Finally, he meshes his windburned lips to the top of her head and lets her loose, still holding her at the elbows.
It’s difficult for him to speak again. The words keep coming up against his lips but he grits his teeth against them. She’s alive. She’s safe. Now what? What can he even begin to say? He cups her face instead, shadows playing in her hollow cheeks, and kisses her, hard, on the forehead.
“You’re alive,” he says, quietly. He looks up. “Why are you still here?”
She doesn’t want to let him go because then the world would crash around them again, and when his lips leave her brow she settles her hands over his. Of course she’s alive, of course she would keep on fighting, she’s let the winter into her bones and he is the summer.
But she did not know why she came back to the house. Because I don’t know where we’re going from here. The city is home, the countryside is foreign, I thought your remains were here and I couldn’t leave them.
“You’re alive, too.” Her voice is soft. “We wanted to get what we could.” Because the ghosts called us back.
Theon’s never belonged, not really; not in the Stark home, not in his own family’s home either. He has never truly been a Stark, no more than he’d really been a Greyjoy, he’d been left treading the waters between the two clutching to the only anchor that he had ever known, to Robb. But Robb was not his, Robb was a Stark and with that came the family that adored him, the wife that had loved – loves? – him, Robb has been the root that held them together and there was so much of him that Theon wanted but could never had. He had always belonged to more.
Theon doesn’t think he’s ever felt such an acute sense of not belonging than right now.
He watches them and wonders who it is he’s jealous of. Sansa, for being welcomed by Robb like that, or Robb, for ever being wanted, being needed like that? He thinks of Asha, of the last time he’d seen her hollow laugh and lips that refused to part to utter goodbye. Theon can’t let himself believe she’s dead. Asha had been the true Greyjoy, not him. She could not die whilst he still drew breath.
Robb’s eyes catch his and his eyes lower in shame. It had been him who’d told Sansa, in a drunken stupor and by a fucking text messaged to top it off. She’d deserved better. She’d deserved much more than Theon had ever been able to give her and he seems to shrink into the wall he’s leaning against at the thought.
He wonders what he’s even doing here. Jeyne had stalked off, assumedly in search of Ygritte, but Theon had lingered like the fool he was, has always been. Ygritte and Jeyne wanted him no more than Sansa and Robb did and he knew nowhere else to go. I should…leave them to this, he realises, finally, and he pushes himself away from the wall, shoulders hunched and dragging himself off towards the kitchen. It’s there, out of sight and alone that he allows himself to crumble, sinking into a chair at the kitchen table and burying his face in his hands. A choked, strangled sound escapes him that resembles a sob but he cannot let it become that, will not, but a tear leaks out all the same that he furiously wipes away. I should have gone back, I said, I knew, I told her, we should have gone back, and it’s all in vain because Theon knows the truth. He’d condemned Robb the death the moment he’d opened his eyes and beheld the ruins of the tower. Theon could have never saved him.
Theon had never been able to save anyone.
His mother’s face flashes before him and he closes his eyes and remembers a time he used to know this place as home.
He stands before he as at an altar and watches the tragedy of her face when she says his name. He hasn’t heard his name in a long, long time, and it’s the first thing she says, of course. There’s no running now.
Her cheeks are a little sunken, her chin more pointed than before but she does not appear to have starved. Behind her, Theon is getting to his feet - the cut of his shoulders is still broad, his face more like they were when they were children, but still his Greyjoy. He says nothing, like he’s waiting for more proof.
He pulls the scarf down his face to below his chin - let them see what the winter’s done to him.
But Sansa’s alive and… at the house? He cannot think of a place he’d rather be less than in his parents’ home with the smell of their lives hanging in the coat racks and Bran and Rickon’s forms still pressed into the bedsheets. Why did they have to go there? Why didn’t they leave? Everybody in the fucking city is dead or gone, so why are they still here?
His eyes fall on the guns, gathering snow in the storm. He looks back at Theon again, no other movement.
“Trying to kill me twice?”
How’s that for proof?
He puts his gun up over his shoulder, trying to get his bearings in the white-out. Which direction is home? If he looks he does have to see their faces, see the little health they’ve held on to and feel ire whipped up in him. He wonders if they found food. He should ask really, but instead he finds the path away up to Chelsea and makes for it.
And Theon thinks he’s gone mad.
The thought had crossed his mind more than once in this pale wasteland. It seemed so wrong that he should live as the world crumbled around him, so wrong that he still drew breath when the best parts of him were gone. Theon had not been the one with the beloved family, with people who needed him and relied on him – the only person who ever had was Robb, and now he was dead.
But now he wasn’t.
But he still can’t be sure – it looks like him, it has his voice, but Robb had never spoke like that, Robb did not rage like that, Robb was warmth and Robb was the one always ever eager to please, the one who could barely hold a grudge, let alone win a fight, and Robb was not this.
The snow is seeping into his jeans and the chill will kill him if starvation doesn’t, he remembers, and he struggles back to his feet. He cannot take his eyes off him. He pulls the scarf down and the lump that is lodged in Theon’s throat only swells. His cheeks have sunken in impossibly thin, and Theon is reminded of the images they showed him in school, of prisoners lined up against walls with gaunt, drawn faces. He looks older, harder. Two blue eyes – blue, but not blue enough for a walker – gaze accusingly at him and there is something changed because Robb did not look at Theon like that. Not Robb. Not ever.
He wants to reach out and touch him, wants to see if for himself, but his limbs have turned to ice.
Robb catches him staring, and throws a pointed look at the guns lying uselessly at his feet.
“Trying to kill me twice?”
No, never, not you, I would never, never you, but the words are frozen in his throat as well. He stoops to pick them up, his eyes downcast shamefully. I would never.
By the time he straightens up and hands Jeyne’s gun back to her, Robb has already started to stalk off in the direction of his former home. Theon’s aching limbs struggle to keep up with him.
He doesn’t know what to do. What to say.
He catches up and his fingers reach out uselessly brushing Robb’s shoulder. The force with which he whirls around sends him stumbling back.
“Robb,” and it’s practically a whimper, and “how?”
If there is a world beneath this snow, the ghost of Robb Stark cannot see it and he would not know it if he did. The sky bleeds white, bleaching the city paler than bones.
There’s no traction in sight, but, still, his head spins.
It has been two days since he last slept. (Archive room. Imperial War Museum. He dreamed of fire, of teeth and abattoir breath and woke up with his fingernails imbedded in his forearms.) That doesn’t help. He thinks of oranges instead.
He can’t remember if oranges ever existed but he recalls eating them in Hyde Park once when his hands were no bigger or coarser than the rinds. Perhaps that’s a false memory - the fruit, the vivid grass, the heat - but if there’s something else that exists other than snow and ice it might feed him, so he puts one foot in front of the other and keeps on through the storm with the snow stinging his eyes. He’s a black scarf tied over his nose and mouth to keep out the worst. Beneath it, he bites at the raw flesh over his bottom lip and gets the taste of blood in his mouth. Copper. Did anything ever taste of anything else?
The rifle (assault - someone knocked over a police station and then conveniently froze to death outside) hangs from one arm at his side, though he’s seen no walkers since he set out. He’s sure they’re out there, hiding under the blizzard’s curtains, but the cold keeps his temperature down and they can’t smell him through it, he’s learned. The snow is thickening in the sky - he hasn’t long now to find somewhere stocked with food. He changes his path, weaving closer to the grey brick walling, trying to see in through the windows and their icy patinas. No luck - office blocks. His stomach growls beneath the layers of wool and nylon.
He doesn’t duck back into the street. There’s something comforting in the hard line of the block, in knowing he’s not walking through a void, even though he might as well be. Even after all this time, it’s nice to know the world is still there.
At the end of the street, the world opens up again, and in a thin region of the falling snow above him, he sees the pale gold of the Houses, which is good enough to place him. The river keeps the snow thin on the ground, so he comes down the hill onto the flat. This isn’t far from what used to be home… His father used to meet him for lunch around here, back when everything was alive, and he can probably trace the way back. If not, it’s another evening spent down in the stations, and he’d rather not risk seeing anyone or any bodies when he’s so hungry he might go mad any moment.
They leave Sansa in the Stark manor with Ygritte as her protector whilst they go out to hunt. Theon had volunteered to, really, but when he stood up to leave, Jeyne had followed him with a word, handing him his gun. Theon had said nothing. He supposes this is what they are now. Some kind of fucked up unit that survives off grief and memories.
A blizzard is raging, more violent than anything he’s ever encountered in this country before. Jeyne is bundled beneath one of Robb’s old ski jackets they found in the attic, somewhere the looters had not thankfully found. Theon chose one of Ned Stark’s winter jackets and it hangs loose off his frame. It might have hit him once, some time long ago. The coat feels scratchy and rough against his skin, as if rebelling against its newfound owner. I gave you the gift of mercy, he thinks, remembering Eddard Stark’s reanimated corpse, it was mercy.
The winds howl as if in answer. Theon pulls the coat tighter around him and tries to ignore how much it resembles a scream.
“Theon,” Jeyne grabs his sleeve suddenly, wrenching him out of his thoughts. His gaze follows where she’s pointing and there it is: barely visible behind the thick layer of falling snow, but there all the same. A silhouette. A distinctively human looking silhouette.
Theon curses and fumbles for his gun – a task made more difficult by the gloves he was wearing.
“Should we hide?” he calls to Jeyne, barely audible over the wind.
“It’s seen us,” she replies and Theon sees the truth of it. It’s lurching in their direction and then there is no choice. Fight or die. It’s one of the faster ones, by the looks of things, the more intelligent ones. That’s no surprise – the stupider, slower breed had begun to starve to death over the course of the last two months.
He keeps his gun trained on it as it comes closer and closer into view. It’s funny, really, but the closer it gets, the more familiar its gait seems, slowed by the snow as it is. And suddenly his throat feels too dry but he can’t quite place why just yet and his stomach is churning and it’s the strangest thing, but his knees feel weak…
Their hair is whipping madly in the wind. Red hair.
Theon drops the gun and crumbles.
But it was.
What was dead may never die and Robb had risen again with the rest of them. As one of them.
I should have died with him.
It’s become something of a mantra to Theon, his very own national anthem, a eulogy that haunts him when he opens his eyes to greet another day, another day in a world where he does not belong.
Even as she had been tracing the London map, even as Jon promised he’d keep her safe, it hit her. She didn’t have much hope of getting out of London – only a little. Alys was clinging to a small hope, a speck. But looking for Jon’s family was more productive than waiting for the walkers to find them in the school, promised more a chance of living, of something other than death, than waiting to be found and torn apart in the hallways.
As she and Jon entered the boarded-up pub, she had dimly recognized the faces and then it came to her. Robb’s wife. And Greyjoy. She had never really interacted with Jeyne Westerling beyond small talk at some of the Stark events. And what she knew of Greyjoy was pretty much from reputation or relayed stories. Relief flooded her, that they had found some with a tangible relation to Jon, that Jon was with those close to his brother.
And now Robb Stark was dead. I killed him, and Jon’s expression was one of grief and horror and Alys wondered if that was on her face with Daryn’s death. Theon was still holding the gun, Jeyne still staring at Jon and they wore the same face. They had gone out looking for life and had been answered with death, more death, always death.
“Jon,” she took a small step towards him, “you didn’t know he was in there. It could’ve been anyone who did it. You didn’t know.”
Empty words, she thinks, useless words. But needed ones. The room is filled with static and she realized it had swallowed her whisper and spat it back loud, pain was reverberating off the walls.
He wasn’t sure why, but Theon couldn’t bring himself to relax his grip on the gun. He keeps it trained on Jon and Alys as if at any second, ice blue might begin to creep around the black of their iris, fill their eyes with cold, cold death. Perhaps it’s a madness. Perhaps he’s losing his fucking mind. He wouldn’t be surprised – the only thing, the only person that had kept him rooted to the earth, kept him sane, is gone, gone, gone. His mother, his brothers, his father, Robb, all dead, all rotting. Once he would have thought Asha too stubborn to die but in a world where the dead walked and tore flesh from the living, he no longer knew what he believed.
His head is fucking killing him. He’d only been able to drift to sleep the night before in a haze of whiskey and shame, and he’d only had two drinks this morning to take the edge off. His arms are trembling beneath the weight of the gun. Yet he doesn’t lower it.
Jeyne speaks to Jon and Theon thinks back to Sansa’s messages from the night before. He wishes in a way that it was her that had stumbled through the door, not Jon fucking Snow and some girl he hardly recognises. He’s sorry for how he told her, he should have been gentler, should have been kinder – he’s sorry for how he treated her, he’s sorry for everything. If he sees her again someday, he’ll tell her that, he vows. But it’s hard to hold that image in his head, picture that far ahead when he can no longer envision a future in a life devoid of Robb.
Theon’s attention is grabbed by Jon’s outburst.
“You what?” he hisses, fingers hovering over the trigger of the shotgun. That girl – Alys, a memory whispers – tries to intervene, tries to utter reassurances but Theon isn’t listening.
It’s a rage unlike anything he’s ever known.
He takes aim and his finger closes around the trigger.
The shot nearly drowns out the sound of the women’s screams but not quite.
to: Theon Greyjoy
[She wants to throw the phone across the room. Did Ygritte lie to her? Was this more recent? Less than twenty-four hours and she’d lost her father and brother.
They were wolves, like on their crest, and her father had swept her up into his arms and called her his Little Wolf, and she would giggle as he pressed his scratchy stubble into her cheek.
The press called her and her brother the Young Wolves, inheritors of a legacy.
She could not be the only one left.
She would not.]
to: Sansa Stark
message: im sorry
[[The phone clatters from his hand to the floor beside him, he can’t fucking do it any longer, acknowledge that the best part of him is gone, the best thing he ever knew is dead, crushed beneath the layers of history. The tears are welling in his eyes again and he doesn’t know what else to do fucking do anymore, so he raises the bottle of gin beside him and takes a prolonged gulp. He can barely feel the burn of it anymore as it sears his throat, all he knows is that he thinks it might help him forget, help him not remember what it meant to feel any more.
He’s slumped down on the ground, back leaning against the wooden surface of the bar. He’s still shirtless, he can’t be bothered searching for where he threw his top away in the heat of the…that. Theon’s dimly aware of the clattering of Jeyne somewhere in the back, dividing up the ammunition in his backpack between them and searching for supplies in the backroom of the deserted pub. He should be more ashamed of himself, curled up on the floor in self-pity like some sort of wretch, but he simply lacks the strength for anything else.
Robb’s voice rings in his head: We’re living through this together, and Theon tries to kill it with another swig, tries to make it stop but it doesn’t, it can’t, Robb’s face dances on the edge of his periphery, grinning at him as he’s bathed in the light of the flames engulfing Harrod’s, laughing as they toast one another a merry christmas at the end of the world, he sees Robb as he’s always been, the heart and soul of everything Theon’s ever known.
He bites his hand to keep from audibly sobbing. His phone bleeps.
He can’t bring himself to pick it up.]]