A/N: English is not my mother tongue and this little piece of writing did not undergo beta, so there will be a lot of mistakes. Usually I'm really confused about tenses. Oh and I made Robb older, so they the two of them are of the same age.
Disclaimer: Next to nothing is mine, much less the characters.
Summary: modern!Au in which Theon and Robb meet at the seaside and become best friends
Theon Greyjoy is a normal teenager living in a small town by the sea. A loner, but a boy with hopes and dreams who longs for love and understanding just like everybody else. Then again, his family isn't what people call normal. His mother hasn't left the Greyjoy family home since her two eldest sons died overseas in the war two years ago. His father has no job and likes to drink, a lot, and can get rough when Theon isn't on his guard. He likes his little sister enough to watch out for her and help her in every way he can. All in all Theon sees himself as a normal boy who works at a boat rental to support his family and quite likes to go to school. As someone who is destined to spend his whole life in this town.
He has to help a family put out their rented boat to sea. As if Theon were completely dumb, his boss reminded him ten times that the Starks were very important clients and that he will most definitely get fired if he messed this up. He's been told that the Starks are a rich family from the city. They stay in their beach house every summer for three weeks and Eddard Stark is the owner of four different law firms and is a lawyer himself, just like his father and grandfather before him. And apparently he has a very outgoing and not to mention handsome son who likes to annoy complete strangers like Theon with random facts about this and that and the additional unusual questions.
"Are there any smaller boats?" are the last questions the tall boy asks that day and flashes a big smile. Theon doesn't understand why the eldest of the Stark siblings suddenly takes such an interest in boats at the end of the trip, but he eventually agrees to show Robb all the smaller boats the company owns the next day.
Theon doesn't even realize it at first, but they see each other nearly every day after that first meeting. Robb pays him short visits at the Pier when he's working or they spend their evening together in the park or at the beach. Robb tells him about his life back at home, about his family and about his friends. Theon can't remember ever knowing so much about another person, but surprisingly finds himself wanting to find out more about the tall boy from the city.
"I'm glad I finally found a friend here." Robb says out of the blue one evening when they just are about to go their separate ways. Theon isn't sure if he wants to laugh or cry. He probably should say something, but when he lifts his head, Robb's already disappeared.
The next time they see each other at the beach Robb insists Theon has to come to the big Barbecue the Starks hold in the garden of their beach house every summer. He's never been invited to a get-together or any kind of social event before, so he gladly and curiously accepts. When Robb tells him he can bring his family along, Theon's smile disappears. "I don't think… I don't think they can make it.", he states. Robb stares at him intently, but leaves it at that and Theon is glad for that. "You can bring your girlfriend instead." is the only remark he gets to hear and he shoves Robb playfully to the side so that the other boy lands with his feet in the water before he is able to regain his balance. A splash of water is Robb's comeback and Theon doesn't quite understand and can't hide the smile that creeps up on his face.
At the Barbecue the Stark family welcomes him like a long lost family member. Cat and Ned offer him warm smiles and a soda before they disappear to finish their preparations. Robb's brothers and sisters stay with them until their friends arrive. Sansa seems particularly interested in his love life, Bran in his work with the boats and Rickon sits next to him and points every now and then at the dogs playing with what seems to be a plush rabbit. Later Theon has to bring his dinner to safety from the five dogs and from Robb, who apparently is still hungry even after eating two burgers of his own. "Your family is nice." he says as he watches Arya and Jon play cards with two boys from the neighbourhood everybody just calls Gendry and Hot Pie. Robb smiles at that. It is a content and lazy smile. "Yes, yes of course they are."
That's why he's surprised to find Robb leaning against one of the benches at the Pier the next day, fuming and cursing his father. The Stark keeps standing there after Theon hands him one of the beers he gets out of the mini bar of one of the bigger boats. "I'll replace it later." Robb looks at the drink warily, but opens it anyway and takes a sip. "He wants me to take an additional economic class." Theon huffs at that and opens his own can. "But I want to take an art class." That's when he let's Theon have a look at his sketch book for the first time. "You should take the art class.", Theon says and means it. He wants to see the drawings again until he is able to remember every small detail of them and that's reason enough for him. "And you should draw Marily."
Robb doesn't look as surprised as he should when Theon tells him that Marily is a sea turtle that likes to swim at a small hidden bay Theon visits whenever he can. The two boys climb down the stony steps of a hill that lead to the bay. "Don't tell anyone about it.", Theon reminds the eldest Stark son. Robb looks him in the eyes. "Don't worry, I won't." And Theon believes him. He introduces him to Marily and isn't surprised that she only swims around his own legs and steers clear off Robb. "She has to get to know you better first.", he reassures the city boy and takes the shirt of, "Let's take a swim, the water's great here." Robb looks at him like he's lost his mind.
Turns out Robb Stark never learned how to swim. Theon can't coax him into trying or at least into taking a look how it's done. Neither can he persuade him to draw a picture of Marily, even though they visit the bay three more times before the Stark family leaves the small town to return to the city that is their home.
Theon doesn't own a phone, so Robb promises to write.
Theon's life returns to the empty shell that it used to be before he met Robb Stark. The memory of the brown haired boy seems to get farther and farther away with every passing day. Sometimes he wonders if he had only dreamed their encounter and the time they'd spent together. Nearly every day he talks to Marily about Robb. Just to make sure he won't forget about him. He gets up early every morning to get the boats ready for the tourists, goes to school and goes back to the boats to clean them, goes home to make sure his mother and his little sister get something to eat, does his homework and goes to sleep. Some arguments with his father every once in a while give variety to his daily life, but never a letter from Robb. Only when he's tidying up the living room one evening he finds a letter addressed to him next to the rusty chimney in a pile of old mail, ready to get burned. Asha swears she didn't touch it and apologizes profoundly. She must have missed it while going through the mail that day. Theon nothing but sprints to his room to read and answer the letter.
They write back and forth until Balon Greyjoy finds Theon one day crouched over his desk. "Don't ever waste your time writing letters again boy." is all he mumbles as he throws all the papers on the desk in the bin and sets them on fire. Theon somehow manages to get hold of the maths homework that also fell victim to the fire and to finish it. The letters are lost though and during the following weeks he only writes at the beach or on one of the boats. In safe distance from his father. He writes about things he never told anyone before. About his brothers and about how their deaths changed his life. It's easier to write then to talk he figures eventually.
"You're handwriting is terrible. It took me almost two hours to decipher only one paragraph.", is the first thing Robb says when they see each other for the first time in a year.
"At least I don't write like a girl."
That summer they just like to sit on the rocks at the small bay, feet dangling in the water, watching the waves crash against the rocks. "You know, I don't really want to be a lawyer.", Robb says one day, completely out of the blue after a few minutes of comfortable silence, "I don't… I can't… ", he turns back to face the sea and takes a deep breath, "I can't be the person my father, my family, expect me to be."
"You're Robb. You're you. That's better than anything they expect you to be." Theon replies and nearly pukes because it sounds so cheesy (and maybe also because he doesn't get how anyone would want to change anything about his best friend). "Even Marily likes you now, just the way you are."
"Do you want to own a boat one day?", Theon gets asked one day later. "Yes.", is the simple answer. "A whole fleet." Robb puffs out a laugh at that. My dreams are ridiculous. "My mum told me, well, before…" Theon picks up a small stone to twirl in his hand. "She told me her grandfather once had two sailing ships, but he had to sell them to buy the house." The Greyjoys still live in that house, but it is only a shadow of what it once had been. Theon would have kept the ships. Robb laughs again when he tells him he would name his first ship Sea Bitch and opposes that Grey Wind would be a far more suiting name for the flagship of a glorious fleet.
Two days later Theon finds a drawing of an impressive sailing ship jammed under his doormat. He's glad his father hasn't left the house the past three days and therefore hasn't had a chance to discover the piece of paper. He only looks queerly at his son after he's heard a quiet laugh as the the lettering on the ship's bow that read Sea Bitch is discovered.
Theon tries to be funny and does a drawing that shows Robb swimming in the sea next to Marily. It's his luck that the joke backfires and Robb constantly nags at him for being a terrible artist from then on. "I guess I must be glad you didn't behead me too. Poor Marily doesn't even have a head! She'll get lost 'cause she can't see."
"Is that a cut on your cheek?"
"A cut. On your cheek." , Robb repeats in a stern voice with a look that clearly says You very well heard me the first time and don't you dare to lie to me now and points at Theons face. "I walked into a door." Is his reply and he doesn't have enough time to flinch back before Robb touches the tender area around the wound with his fingertips. "It was stupid.", he adds as he swats the hand away. Yes, it was really stupid to have answered his father's question honestly and tell him they went to the cinema yesterday evening. Balon already knew then he'd miss that money the next time he goes out to buy his liquor.
"I've got you a farewell gift.", Robb tells him while rummaging around a brown leather bag. "You shouldn't, I didn't get you anyth.." Before Theon can finish the sentence Robb interrupts him and holds a blue mobile phone in front of him. "It's actually also a present for myself." The Stark hands him the phone and points out the background picture that shows the sea. "I can't accept that." Theon whispers and wants to hug the other boy. "You can. Just don't let your father know and we'll be fine." We will be fine. Theon clears his throat. "Thank you. I don't know what to say."
"Then just say nothing. Save it for our phone conversations."
"I feel like I am drowning." comes Robb's voice out of the small speaker. "Ah well, are you somewhere near water? Because then you probably are." Robb doesn't think that's funny at all, but tells him everything about his college applications anyway. "Just send in the damn application for the art school. There's no harm in that." Theon thinks that the long pause that follows after that is probably not a good sign, but in the end Robb agrees somehow. "You have to oppose your father, Theon. And apparently so do I." This is the first time Robb mentions Theon's relationship with Balon Greyjoy openly. Theon just hopes Robb will be more successful in this endeavour than he himself ever has been and ever will be.
"Robb? Oh ok, only voicemail. I just wanted... well I won't be able to call you tonight, I'm kind of on the way to the hospital."
"What does that mean you were kind of on your way to the hospital?" Before Theon can even take a breath to reply, Robb goes on, tumbling over his words. "Did your father...?" Theon is quick to shake his head and realizes only seconds later that Robb can't see him. "No it's my mother. She had a bad reaction to her new medication." At least she finally realized she needs help.
Theon's mother is committed to a mental hospital a week later and Theon sends his little sister away.
He feels horrible, but sending her away is the only way he knows to keep her safe and to open doors for her that will forever be closed to him. Their uncle Victarion will take good care of her and thanks to his best friend, Theon's got a phone now. He will be able to talk to her every day.
"The sea is in my blood." Theon croaks out laughing as he tries to show Robb how to swim backstroke. He still can't believe Robb's finally willing to learn how to swim. The Stark's already at a stage where he doesn't look and act like a dying dog when he's in the water. It's almost as if his best friend wants to say 'This summer is the time to make changes. Let's do it.'
"Maybe we should become blood brothers. A little of my blood will do you good. You'll be a real Michael Phelps then." The sputtering to his left suggests that one can be glad that Robb isn't drowning at this point.
"You have to come with me, I'm not confident enough without you.", Robb admits quietly as he's looking at the acceptance letter from the art school. Theon lays his hand over Robbs, neither says a word, neither moves for the next half hour, before Robb's mobile phone makes itself felt and its owner mutters something that sounds like "Dinner time, I gotta go, see you tomorrow?" Theon nods and watches Robb climb the stony steps until his back disappears behind the hill. I wish I could, was the one thought that dominated his mind for the hours until he had to go home too. He hated to disappoint Robb. He was used to being a disappointment, but his best friend deserved better.
I wish I had enough talent to come with you. I wish I had enough money to even try.
Now that he had finished school, Theon works at the boat rental full time. It's a financial relief, since he additionally has to pay his mother's medical bills now.
After a long day of work he's sitting at the beach next to Robb . It's the same spot at the bay where he used to write letters to the curly haired boy. Today he's looking through a thin notebook that made up the biggest part of Robb's application for art school. Theon is baffled, because he finds colourful drawings of Marily, the bay, of Kraken, his favourite animals besides turtles, and of himself.
"You are my brother Theon." No, Bran and Rickon are your brothers. Jon is. I am not, not really. "You helped me. In more ways than you can imagine." Robb continues gently. "Now let me help you." The Greyjoy shakes his head. No, I'll never take other people's money.
"I won't go home tomorrow." Theon lifts his head when he hears this, surprised and hopeful. "I will go straight to the college. I can already move into the dorm." Theon makes himself smiling at that. Of course he does. Did you think he means he's staying here? Stupid."And the best part is, you won't believe it.", Robb continues, "My father will help me move and settle in." Theon's smile grows wider and now it's a true smile. He's delighted for Robb and puts an arm around his best friend's shoulders. "The new Picasso's first steps."
As soon as Robb has left, Theon realizes his heart feels completely empty and that there's nothing holding him here anymore. He knows one day he will end up like his father, but today is not that day and now is not the time to think about it. He has to leave. And there's only one way to go. He thinks.
Forward. Alongside Robb, now and always.