part I.

Memory, hither come,

And tune your merry notes;

And, while upon the wind,

Your music floats,

- William Blake

Her earliest memory is of the sea.

She doesn't remember the exact context now; all she knows that when she closes her eyes and sinks into her head, searches the deep corners of it and follows the deeply-buried threads of memory, they lead her along a path, years and years ago, through her time here and her time at home and at the beginning, at the very beginning, there is the sea.

It might be her birth that she's remembering. She must've been born in the sea – isn't that what they say, from the sea they come and to the sea they must return? Her mother must have given birth to her there, salty waves guiding her contractions.

After these images of the sea and the salt and the winds in her hair, the rope of her memory is smooth and without knots. Once, she had remembered Pyke clearly, had been able to see salted stone and the lichen clinging to steps sweeping up to rugged walls that fell into dramatic cliffs along the coastal line and hear the caws and purrs of the seagulls if only she just closed her eyes hard enough.

Yet as the years went, so did the memories.

Now, the Pyke in her memories has sweeping turrets and snow-covered chimneys and heated glass houses, and it's only then that she knows that the present is bleaching out the salt-tang of her past, that she's losing it a little more with every day, and a little more after that.

Her castle isn't the only thing she's lost. When she tries to reproduce a mental image of her mother, she can manage a clear picture for a mere moment – one moment, during which her face cuts into sharp feature within the confines of Thea's mental stage – but not long enough to grasp, not long enough for her to imprint it onto her mind and heart. Not long enough before the lines of her mother's face blur and the colours of her hair dull, and it's like looking at a body floating beneath a frozen lake's icy surface. Gone. Lost. Out of reach.

There is one person who has stayed with her, though.

No matter where she goes or what she does, her father's great memory follows.

Thea slides off her horse and hands the reins to a waiting stable boy. Snow glues black strands of hair to her head and frames her vision, and when she ruffles her hair and paws at the snow, she catches the boy looking at her. Her face twitches into a grin.

The boy averts his eyes with heat pulsing in his cheeks, while behind her, Robb dismounts and gives the servants orders in a calm, polite tone of voice that puts a small glow onto their faces before they scatter.

Robb walks over to Thea, the stable boy hurries off, and she cranes up her neck to look at her little lordling.

She dislikes how tall he's grown.

"Come," he says, secretive little smile on his face, and he leads her back deeper into the stables. Passing rows of horses, they reach a lump of hay at the very back of the stables, where Hodor already stands crouched above a furry bundle of black and white.

"Hodor," Robb says. "You may leave us."

Hodor nods, agrees with an enthusiastic shout of the only word he knows, and tramples off, kicking straw as he walks and leaving Robb and Thea alone.

"Kittens," Thea says, smirk on her face. "How adorable. What of them?"

Robb looks a little slighted, and it's only then that she realises he meant to impress her. He averts his eyes and says, "They're only a few days old. We're keeping it a secret from Bran and Rickon and Arya for now... they're too young, they'd only toy with them." He goes into a crouch and there's a smile on his face that's nothing short of whimsical. "They're so innocent and vulnerable."

Thea's breeches crumble when she leans down beside Robb and studies them. "They look like rats," she says, easy smile on her face. "And they're blind." A little tangle of fur and tiny tiny paws too fragile and small yet to support swollen heads and tails no longer than the shortest of Thea's fingers is what they're really like, and she supposes they're cute, in their own way. It's something Sansa would like.

Robb's eyes flash at her, then fall away. "There's only one problem." He sighs, and flattens another stack of hey. "She has too many."

Another two kittens stumble into sight, their bodies shaky, their eyes closed and their mouths moving in tiny, high-pitched mewls.

"They're looking for her teats," Thea comments. Then it dawns on her. "She's leaving them to starve. Huh." She brushes back another rebellious strand of dark hair and her eyes crinkle in her smile. "Nature sure is fair. Look how she picked the weakest, smallest ones." She touches one with her index finger, rubs it across its tiny head. Feels the fragile bone beneath that cradles the soft things beyond. "They won't last very long."

Robb gives her a look and says, "I asked Hodor to weane them."

Thea smirks. "His teats sure are big enough."

"With mare's milk –" He catches himself when he sees the laughter in her eyes. "Never you mind." He looks away again, and a lock of auburn sprays across his smooth white forehead.

Thea wants to brush it aside.

She doesn't.

They remain like this for a few moments and when she glances over at Robb, his face is hard again.

He's not like the boy she knew now, and he hasn't in a year or more, she thinks dully. He's broad where she has remained lithe, narrow where she has bloomed, hard where she is soft. And yet, when she looks at him, she can still see that boy of ten from so many years ago, and there's something raw about his features still. Like a statue being carved from marble that has passed the axe stage but hasn't yet made it to the chisel.

The stables are warm and smell of hey and horse and home.

"Robb," she says, and locks her eyes with his. Her voice is soft, probing, thoughtful. "You'd never kill any of them, would you?"

Unlike Arya and Sansa, Thea is allowed to wear breeches most of the time and wears dresses and skirts only when she feels like it or when circumstances call for them – which earns her envious looks from the former and apprehensive ones from the latter.

"It's not fair," Arya would say. "Mother always makes me wear silk and jewels and scented oil."

Thea just smiles at that, usually. She hasn't the heart to tell Arya just why exactly she's allocated more freedom. Just why exactly it doesn't matter. Just why it matters not if she wears breeches and shoots arrows and takes silly, lovestruck stable boys to bed that smell of horse and lust. She hasn't the heart, and maybe she doesn't like to think of it, so she just pokes Arya in the shoulder and makes her chase her across the yard, bellowing with laughter.

No matter what she wears, though, the glances she receives from Lady Catelyn are always the same: sweet upon casual observance, but apprehensive beneath the cloak.

They weren't always like this. They've grown colder over the years, a little cooler every day at the same time as Robb's grew hotter, and she knows the correlation there, knows the reason, but she's too bitter to acknowledge it.

Today her voice is pleasant enough, but there's something hard beneath when she says, "Thea. Speak to me for a moment."

She grimaces to the side where Lady Catelyn can't see her, and lowers her bow.

The target in front of her is littered with arrows. Discarding the longbow on the floor, she turns.

Lady Catelyn looks her up and down, face pinched, and makes a comment about her archery skills that Thea knows very well is thinly-veiled criticism, and then gets to the heart of it:

"I have eyes. I see the way he looks at you."

"Aye, my lady," Thea replies with a smirk. "He has some, too, so he looks with them, the lad does."

Lady Catelyn doesn't appreciate her tongue, she knows, but she's not like to have her beheaded for it, so Thea gives not a wit.

Her face hardens. "He's a young boy, and confused about what is proper and right and what isn't."

The implication lingers in the air.

"... My lady." Thea gives her a look of mock-concern. "Should I consult Septa Mordane for suggestions on parenting? I hear she has much wisdom –"

"Who are you?" Lady Catelyn interrupt her. Her voice is cold as snow.

Something in Thea's mouth turns stale. "I'm Thea Greyjoy, my lady."

"Just so," Lady Catelyn says.

The, 'and that's who you shall remain' remains unspoken but implicit.

The moon settles in the belly of the night sky like a pale womb and temperatures drop, chasing a chill across the still yard before them.

Thea still feels warm, warmer than she has in days, and she laughs and smiles and japes with the stable boy whose name she's forgotten. It might have been Fred, or Frint, or something like that anyway, but he's blonde and round-faced and hangs to her every word like it means something, so a Fred's just as well as a Frint.

They're to the entrance of the stables, on the floor huddled in blankets. The ale is warm in her belly and addles her mind and loosens her tongue. Maybe she'll let this boy fuck her tonight, she thinks. It won't matter, like it never matters, and no one will know and no one will care and should he be silly enough to march up to her with a bouquet of flowers afterward, she'll just laugh at him like she has at all the other ones before him.

His arm is warm when he pulls it around her, and she giggles when his breath tickles her neck.

"Not yet." She pushes his wandering hands off to bring the bottle of ale to her lips again, and drinks, a sliver of liquid escaping and running down her chin.

The boy gives her the look of only the slow-witted and the very aroused, and his hands reach to her breasts again, and squeezes them through her tunic.

She swats him away again, more forcefully this time. "I said, not yet. Later, if you're good and I'm in the mood. Which I will not be if you keep this up."

Comprehension still hasn't dawned on his face, and then his hand is on her again, one hand squeezing her breast while the other runs down, across the sweep of her rib cage to the nip of her waist, and lower still, lower.

Thea squirms, annoyance hatching, teeth grit, and she is just about to get ready to punch him where it hurts and

The boy is flung off of her and lands a few feet to her left. He whips his head up again, face twisted in anger, only to have every expression swiped clean off his face, looking as if he's just seen a giant kraken break the surface of the ocean.

Or a feral wolf.

"Scramble," Robb says.

Frint or Flint or whoever scurries off, and when his footsteps recede in the distance, deafening silence rushes in to replace it.

Thea numbs the impulse to draw the blankets around her shoulders. Wonderful, now he'll pride himself on having saved me from a raper forevermore, she thinks bitterly. I could've easily disposed of him myself.

"Well, Sansa would have swooned," she says dryly.

Robb looks at her so intently that something in her belly churns.

"... What are you doing on your own at this time of night?"

He's jealous, she thinks, and the idea is so amusing she barks a laughter at that. The alcohol kicks and stirs in her blood.

"I wasn't alone. As you noticed." She leans forward, dangles the bottle of ale between her legs. "And I could have defended myself, you know. And anyway – who's to say I wasn't willing? Maybe you just condemned me to having to go to bed all on my lonesome." She giggles, the alcohol like salt in her veins. "However will you take responsibility?"

His eyes narrow, and she wonder if he's been looking for her. If he waited for her in front of her chambers and came looking when she didn't turn in. If he worries.

She watches his hands curl into fists, then loosen, as if he caught himself doing it and is embarrassed at his own reaction. "... You shouldn't be out drinking." He sounds sickeningly self-righteous to Thea's ears. "It's dangerous for a maiden."

"Hah." She can't help herself; she laughs, low and throaty, until her throat hurts more than anything else. "Robb Stark, you must be blind, deaf and stupid to think I'm still a maiden. And I know you're not stupid."

She meets his eyes, and the tension sparks.

One step, then two, and he's next to her, on the blankets, and he yanks the ale out of her hands and pushes it aside along with the other ones, the empty ones, all of them empty.

Thea watches him with a blank expression on her face and props up her legs. She wears a skirt today, and the hem line falls back to reveal a line of thigh that shines pale and insubstantial in the moon light.

Then he's watching her, in that way he does recently, as a man watches a woman he wants, and her belly tightens.

"... Want some?" She smirks and offers him another bottle. "It's sweeter than any maiden's kiss, my Lord Stark."

She doesn't really expect him to drink. She doesn't expect him to just let it go, either.

But she doesn't expect him to look like this, either, and she can't describe the look he throws her as anything other than pained, and he says, "Why do you do this, Thea?"

She doesn't understand. She doesn't.

The surprise must have shown on her face, because Robb detracts his steps almost immediately, fumbles for the words to say, runs a distressed hand through his hair, and then mumbles, in a voice so tired it reminds her of the other Lord Stark, "... We should go back inside. You should sleep."

"Sleep?" She knows her smile is sweet and thick as honey. "With you?"

Even in the dim light of the moon, she can see him pale.

She laughs, and leans in closer, closer, with her sitting on the blankets and him crouching beside her, and she says, voice low and soft, "I've seen the way you look at me."

He avoids her gaze. "How do I look?"

"Why, with your eyes, my dear." She laughs at her own wit, but then drops her voice again. "And yet not. You started looking at me with the other eyes around the time you grew tall and sprouted some fuzz on your cheeks. And probably started to play with yourself in the dark. Didn't you? Different now. Different intents."

Robb goes very still, as calm as a stature, but the rapid movements of his eyeballs give away his nerves.

So she gets on her knees and gives him a shove; rapid and fluid enough to have startled him, she manages to push him to the ground and straddle him. Her skirt rides up higher when she spreads her legs to hug them along his torso, and then higher still, baring the entire strip of her thighs.

Thea looks down at him and the moon light rides along his hair and dulls its colors from red to brown. She grinds down against him and feels his cock twitch to frantic life.

"...Thea," he says. His voice breaks in the middle. "You're not – you've had to... drink."

"So I have." Leaning down, she brings their faces close together, until it's only inches from hers. "Yet I know you want it. I know you've wanted it for a while. That wild girl with her arrows, the one that still remembers you as a fat-cheeked little boy? You want to show her you're a man grown now. Want your cock in her cunt." She grinds, hard and unforgiving. "I'll let you, you know. More than that, I'll even let you squirt your seed into me."

Robb lets out a strangled groan.

Thea laughs. "I know where to get moon tea, and it's nothing to me."

Forgotten are the blood lines. Forgotten is the past and the present and the intertwining memories that stitch them together. Forgotten is Lady Catelyn and her stern eyes. Only this matters, the pleasure and the thrill and the expectation and the now, now, now.

Robb swallows. Putting both hands on her waist, he keeps her in place, stops her from grinding.

She looks at him. Blue eyes darkened to nearly black. Familiar features cast in shadows. Cock hard and ready, most important of all.

Until he ruins everything in one clean swipe when he presses out, "It's... it's not all I want."

She feels as if doused by cold water. She stops grinding against him. Stares at him.

Sobriety crashes upon hard as a slap. She straightens her spine and pins him with a look.

Leaning in, she says, "Who are you?"

He blinks. "You know who I am."

"Say it anyway."

"... Robb Stark."

"Just so," she says, and feels her chest ache. She gets up, smooths down her skirt, and throws him a look over her shoulder.

Thea smiles at him, full and bright and unwavering. "So go to bed, little boy."

It's curious how she remembers so very little from Pyke even though she was already ten when she left. Ten is supposed to be an age at which the mind of a child is already curious and bright, but no longer supple and eager to bend around new rules. Arya is not yet that age, and it seems to Thea like a lifetime wouldn't beat the wolf out of her.

"It happens," Maester Luwin told her in this mild voice of his that always reminded Thea of cobwebs. "It's not uncommon for people to suppress things. Especially not when they happened in circumstances of duress." Especially not when they brought on traumatic life changes, she supposes.

And especially not when they seem like they could have happened to someone else entirely.

Her father, though, she remembers.

Like that one time, at barely eight, when he had taken her to the box in the corner that smelled of fur and life, and a litter of kittens writhed and mewled and clawed, and their cuteness made her bite down squeals.

She looked at her father out of questioning eyes. So very great, so very tall, she caught only glimpses of his face: the profile of his nose, the hollows of his eyes, with the rest swathed in darkness.

"You are ironborn," he said. "Your blood is salt and iron."

"I am ironborn, and my blood is salt and iron," she repeated.

"They are not," he said, with a gesture at the litter. "They are not of the sea."

The mother cat perked up then. Her yellow eyes rested on her round and suspicious.

To Thea, they seemed full of accusation, then as now.

"It's a little tight around the bust." Lady Catelyn appraises her. "But it's the best we have."

"You look nice, Thea," Sansa says courteously. "Blue silk suits you very well."

"The lady is kind." Thea inclines her head while she studies herself in the mirror, traces the lines of her face and body. She looks comely enough, she thinks, though a bit too short and wiry for her own liking; she doesn't think she is or ever will be a beauty like Sansa, and she's never cared to be.

Arya is the only one not yet clad in flowing silks. "Why do I have to wear this?" She eyes the garb presented to her. "It's uncomfortable. I won't be able to move or breathe or think properly."

That's because they only want you to do one of those things, Thea thinks.

Lady Catelyn looks like someone who's been through this a hundred times already and would really like to change the subject already, but she's calm enough when she says, "Because we need to look presentable for King Robert. He will arrive soon, an hour at most; you know that very well, my sweet –"

"Robb and Bran and Rickon don't need to wear dresses," Arya says. Stubbornness is a rock in her eyes.

Thea turns away her head to hide her smirk.

Lady Catelyn clears her throat. "Yet they're not exempt from having to do their duties either. Robb and Bran and Rickon will wear breeches and their finest tunics and cloaks, my sweet. They will have to answer to their own code of conduct –"

"It's only because they have cocks," Arya says, and the room goes very still. "Robb and Bran and Rickon do."

Sansa gasps. Lady Catelyn's spine tightens. Thea smirks.

Then Sansa rushes her sister to berate her in a prattle of 'you shouldn't do this because it's this and that' that Thea blurs out to grey background noise when she meets Lady Catelyn's eyes.

The lady's blue eyes narrow. "You've been talking to her." It's not a question.

Thea smiles. "Inquiring minds want to know, my lady. Arya is very bright for her age, it must be said."

And then, as she stands to the side and watches the three Stark women drift in their own orbits, she wonders when exactly she stopped hoping that Lady Catelyn would ever be her mother.

It might have been that one day, years and years ago, back when laughter still came cheap and bright. Back when she was a tall girl of three-and-ten, and Robb a child with a rounded belly and a rounder face.

Robb has always been her favorite. The others were all too young to be worth of her notice. Arya, Thea does feel a certain kinship for; yet the younger Stark girl has always been too young to be her friend, and too sheltered to be her sister in name.

Jon, that bastard boy, while closer in age, has always been too suspicious, too intimidated by her zest and her mischievous grins, too aware of her status. Too jealous of her high birth. More than once, Thea has caught the bastard looking at her with his face drawn and his eyes sharp, studying her as if he could take her apart to look inside and see what made her turn and bleed.

Robb is nothing like him.

Robb is good and trusting. Robb is a bittersweet flurry of unconditional affection.

Her father would have called him soft like sea anemones.

That day, they were out in the courtyard. Overcome with pangs of nostalgia, she had bought seashells off a passing merchant the day before and presented them to Robb with a smile of secrets on her face. They played with them, arranged them like jigsaw pieces on the damp ground, tossed them to each other and studied the patterns on their cool, mottled surfaces. She told the boy about the sea while he hung to her every word with rapt attention.

The sea is vast and almighty. It's where all life comes from, she told him. Yes, even him.

And Robb asked, "What does the ocean look like? Like the Trident, maybe?"

Laughing, Thea told him that the Trident was to the ocean as a puppy to a direwolf, and that was when someone cast a shadow across their shells that drew spikes where there were none, and they both looked up to see Lady Catelyn standing there.

She said, "Robb, Maester Luwin is looking for you. It's time for your teachings."

Robb looked up, a frown cut across his face. "I'm playing with Thea right now, mother, look, she's teaching me, too. I'm learning about the sea, and –"

Then Lady Catelyn said, her voice cold, "She's not to teach you anything," and Thea hasn't told Robb about the sea since.

The worst thing about it is that she can't really hate Lady Catelyn for it.

It would be easier if she could, certainly. Better if she could just store her away as her tyrannical captor and keep her locked somewhere that'saway, as far away as possible from her heart, her mind, her being.

Because she remembers that, all those years ago, it was her who first gave her tacit approval to take up the longbow even when Lord Stark was still apprehensive about the idea. That is was her acknowledged that she should be taught by Ser Rodrik just as Robb and Jon were, if Thea so wished. That it was her who made sure she made it to the maester's lessons and learned about numbers and sums and great houses.

And she knew why, certainly. Thea wouldn't be married - or if she were, it wouldn't be so that the Starks could benefit from it. She wasn't going to have to represent the family to outsiders. She wasn't one of them, so what did it matter if she was feral?

She knew all that, and yet, for all those years, Thea had never been able to shake the feeling that maybe -

Thea looses the arrow. It swished through the air and drills into the wide, raw, gaping heart of the target.

Hatred would make it easier.

... Wouldn't it?

With Lady Catelyn and Lord Stark both gone, Robb is left to rule Winterfell, and ech day, a new rope of day unravels with the gleam of dawn.

She hits each knot with practiced ease, unties them and stores them away when another day ends. Practice. Lunch. Arrows. Dinner. Ale. Lessons with Ser Rodrik here and there. Practice, lunch, practice, dinner, ale. Glimpses of Robb here and there.

She and Robb have drifted apart since the incident at the stables. Sometimes, she'll catch his eyes resting on her, but then when she turns around to look at him, he averts his gaze.

Restlessness eats at her innards and bites a little harder every day.

So she says, "Spar with me."

Grey Wind raises his head in the corner of Robb's study and watches her out of calm eyes. Robb finishes the line he's been writing before looking up and giving her a mild look and a dry, "I'm going to lose, I fear. Your tongue is far sharper than mine."

"I meant with swords," she says. "And I'm envious of yours."

"You're a woman," he points out.

"Aye, and always have been. Never stopped you from practicing with me before."

"That's when I was a boy, and you were a girl."

She grins entirely without humour. "One of those is still true."

A frown cuts across his forehead. "I am the lord of Winterfell in my father's absence -"

"Oh, say it louder, will you. Maybe some of the merchants and bar wenches down in Dorne haven't yet heard."

He's taken aback. "I didn't raise my voice."

"Wasn't your voice that was loud, but the message. 'It's beneath me to spar with women, especially breeches-wearing ironborn hostages -'"

"That is not what I meant, and you know it."

He pins her with a look so hard and heated that she shivers.

Tension brims in the air.

They haven't discussed anything about what happened, have avoided the topic until it festered between them like an untreated wound. Each unwilling to administer the poultice, they let the stink of the wound waft between them and trickle its poison.

In the corner, Grey Wind growls; Robb holds up a soothing palm without taking his eyes off of her.

She never even looks at the direwolf. Only at Robb.

Who, after a few more moments of painful tension, finally relents. "Fine. Have it your way, Thea Greyjoy."

He stands, and she smiles.

The days have grown colder over the months, and their breaths puff into the air. Snow drifts down soft and silent like memory.

They're the only ones in the courtyard today. She grips the training sword a little tighter and eases into position.

Robb lines up before her, hesitation still plain on his face.

So she takes the opening he presents and lurches, giving him barely enough time to parry the thrust of her wooden sword – thuck – before she slinks out of reach again, grin on her face. "Don't go easy on me now," she says, blowing up into her dark bangs. "I deserve better."

He takes a step forward and lashes. She ducks out of reach, takes a step back, and swipes at his feet. A jump and he's away, and she curses the shortness of her limbs when he's already charging forward again, and she feels the whoosh of the sword as it swipes past inches from her stomach.

Thea spits onto the snow-covered ground. "You're good."

He just looks at her, then lowers his sword. "If I should stop – ow."

She hasn't jabbed him with her sword very hard, but it did connect with his hip. "Dead now," she says airily. "I guess it's Bran's turn to be lordling?"

He swipes at her, first hints of genuine anger on his face. "You tricked me."

Dancing out of reach, she parries him. His weight flings her back, just barely managing to catch her own. "Your enemies will do that, and worse."

"You're not an enemy," he says, and lashes again.

She sidesteps it, but just barely. Sweat trickles down her spine. "'s not so easy to tell friend from foe, is it?" and then charges forward to lash at him, and she can only see a flash of his eyes, a heated pulse of blue, and then a pain on her wrist. She yelps and the sword clatters to the ground and she's turned around and shoved back and back and back and when she connects with the wall, her head rams against it with a loud thud.

The world is drenched white before it shutters into focus again, and then he's there, in front of her, holding her against the tower walls and close.

Too close.

Thea feels his breath on her face. "What do you want from me, Thea?" His voice is sharper than any sword. "I keep asking and asking myself this. You – you pull me closer and then you push me away again and I don't –"

"I do?" She looks at him intently. "What about your glorious mother and father?"

He bristles. "They're not here at the moment."

"That's where you're wrong. They always are."

He brings his face closer to hers. "... I'm in no mood for this. What do you want from me?"

Something I can't ever have, she thinks, but she only says, "And what do you want from me?"

She's expected it to fuel his anger, yet he only laughs. "Only cravens answer questions with questions."

"I'm not craven," she snarls.

His fingers dig into her arm. "Then give me your loyalty."

She knows her grin is an ugly thing. "Loyalty is what you ask of your wife, your whore, or your sister. I am none of these things."

"And I never asked you to be."

A sudden hot rush of affection tightens her throat.

So she loosens it with a laugh, and when she does, she feels something in her head go unhinged. "You... you're a good man, Robb Stark, you are." She laughs again. "You've a good heart. Sometimes, that's enough to see you safe wherever you go. Mostly, though?" A lopsided smile. "It's not."

Impatience narrows his eyes. "You haven't answered my question."

She smiles. Something in her body, lower than her head but above her groin, jolts in a sudden ache. "You needn't ask me for my loyalty, my lord. You already have it."

Her lord father always said that hard places bred hard men, and that hard men ruled the world.

She has little recollection of her brothers Rodrik and Maron. There's flashes of Rodrik's dark eyes that always seemed to be glossed over the a sheen of mead, or Maron's perpetually curled upper lip. Rodrik's haughty smirks. Maron's japes. Both of their rugged howls of joy when they pushed her into the waters and held her head beneath the surface until the salt burned her eyes.

She remembers, though, that her father used to line them up every fortnight, her and Asha and her brothers, and walk from one to the next to ask their progress. Maron and Rodrik would boast of their achievements with the longbow, or the longsword, or hunting, until their father passed them by with a satisfied smile and turned to his daughters.

Once, she remembers, Maron objected. He might still have been smarting from when Thea bested him at archery. "Why do they get to learn to fight, too? They're only girls."

The slap echoed in the darkened hall. She remembers that she could not help a flinch, at which Asha put a warning hand on her arm.

She remembers what her father said:

"Hold your tongue, your arrogant fool. They may be wenches, but their blood is as much salt and iron as yours." With a glare, he turned to his daughters.

Thea remembers pressing up close against Asha then.

"Your cunts will not protect you. They may be a weapon, and you might well have needs to learn to wield them well; they might be your greatest curse, they might prevent you from ever ruling, they might be your death, but they will never protect. Wenches of any of the other kingdoms may be soft, but you are ironborn. Iron is never soft."

When she came across Maron's crushed corpse years later, she did not weep.

Dark wings bring dark news from King's Landing, and still she doesn't weep.

Robb does.

Not right away. He just sits there for a long time, half-slumped over his desk, hands spread out on the table in front of him, eyes hidden beneath his mop of auburn hair.

Maester Luwin shifts. "I know this comes as a great shock to you, my lord – as indeed it comes to all of us – but you needs make preparations as soon as –"


The maester bows. "As you wish." He turns to leave, and notices Thea still rooted to her spot and gives her a look.

She ignores him.

Maester Luwin shifts. "My lord, what of Thea Greyjoy?"

Thea says, "I'll stay."

Robb thins his lips, but remains quiet, and she knows that his silence is as good as an agreement.

When the Maester's footsteps have dropped below the edge of her hearing, she inches closer to Robb.

"... Why didn't you leave with him?" Robb says. His voice is small, smaller than any child's.

She shrugs, and something large and hollow as a bauble settles in her stomach. "You didn't ask me to." Taking another step closer, and another, she comes to a halt in front of his desk.

She feels moved to say something, but isn't sure what. "I fear I am no good at giving comfort." Keeping her expression and voice neutral, she adds, "That, I wasn't taught."

He doesn't give an answer, and she's started to think he hasn't heard her when she notices it.

His arms tremble. The knuckles in his hands stand up against his skin like pale anemones in the sea.

Salt falls in small drips, one on his hand, one on the table, and then another. His eyes are cast down so she can't see them, and she's grateful for it because she's not sure what she would do if she did.

Her father taught her to be a kraken, the Starks tried to teach her to be honorable, but she never learned how to be a rock.

So she just creeps around the desk and places a hand on his shoulder. His shoulders shake in silent shudders. More drops land on the table and she watches them in morbid fascination, thinking of the salt.

He cries in complete silence; she keeps hers, too.

After what might have moments or hours, his shoulders finally still. He gives a strangled sob, and looks up at her.

His eyes are wide and blue. Tully blue, like his mother's, but now bloodshot and glassy with the tears, wide and stark enough that he looks years younger than he is.

She speaks without thinking. "What is dead may never die."

His face remains still. "What does that mean?"

"...I don't remember," she says, and realises that it's true. "I was taught this as a girl." She drops into a crouch next to where he sits. "Mayhaps it means that no one can die more than once. What is dead is dead, but not dying."

He swipes a tired finger across his eyes. "... Is that supposed to make me feel better?"

"How can being dead be worse than dying? However bleak the night right now, dawn will come."

His lips twist into a smile that is horribly empty. "By dawn, he'll still be gone."

"Aye, but this should be the worst of it."

"It isn't." Robb's face darkens. "I'll have to act. I know they'll all tell me to get revenge. I have no choice."

"But it is. The worst of it, I mean. Once you paint the rocks red with the blood of the traitors, once you start on it, once it becomes your purpose and your meaning, it will be better. Your river of pain will trickle to a stream before the sea of red."

For a moment, he looks at her as if he's frightened of her. "Is that what they taught you?"

Thea ignores his question. "Anger is the antidote to grief, Robb." She's in no mood to call him 'my lord' right now. Squeezing his shoulder, she leans in. "Grief can be a powerful weapon in a skillful hand -"

He kisses her.

Robb tastes of salt and darker things. Eyes squeezed shut, he grabs her by the back of her hand and presses their lips together, pries open her mouth, lashes out a wet and hot tongue that barrels into her mouth and claims it as his.

All the while Thea remains shocked into motionlessness. Her eyes are wide, her jaw slack, and her thoughts jumbled. She has expected him to kiss her eventually, but she never imagined it to be like this.

Robb pushes forward, forward, and she loses balance on her heels and falls back, until the rug is against her back and he's on top of her, mouth demanding and hands desperate, and she feels her body responding, feels how her breasts go heavy and her womb tight. Her legs fall apart to let him slip in between them, still fully clothed, and when she feels his cock press up against her, she moans.

They've kissed before, back when she was small and Robb was smaller, little pecks that were little more than japery. Never like this, never as adults, and she can't believe she's responding like this to a boy she knew as a child, to a boy so much younger than she is.

He's dominant, never lets her take control of the kiss, strokes her tongue with his and presses her to the ground, all of it unrefined. Sloppy and inexperienced and needy.

Needy. That's the word.

Clarity cuts through the jumbled mess of heat long enough for her to break the kiss and grin at him. "My lord Stark, have you forgotten?"

He kisses her again, and again, desperate little pecks, but she draws her face to the side when he tries to deepen the kiss again.

Falling back, he groans, "What?"

"I told you," she says, and her grin goes cold. "I am not your whore."

He glares at her, annoyed by the denial and too swept up to be courteous about it. "From what I hear, you're no stranger to acting like one."

She forgives him, if only because she knows he's pained. "You're mistaken. Whores are taken when someone wants them." Their breath intermingle. "I take when I want, and only when I want."

Thea's lips are kiss-bruised and her mouth feels empty where his tongue was just moments ago, and lower, she's still wet and clenching around nothing, but she's too good for this.

And so is he.

Robb breathes heavily for a few more moments. Looks at her as if trying to make sense with her, with his eyes and cheeks still wet with tears.

Then he gets up, stumbling a little, and collapses back onto his chair. He slams his elbows against the wood and buries his face in his palms and says, "Leave."

Sometimes, when she's alone in her bedroom, she thinks of not only what her father taught her, and not only of what the Starks taught her, but of what Ros taught her, too.

Ros's hair was redder than Robb's, but her eyes were not so blue and her smile far more wicked. Still, when Thea met her that one day when she was five-and-then and on her way to Winter Town to buy ale with her meager allowance, Ros reminded her of him, and they began to speak and form the only real friendship Thea has had in her life with someone who was not one of her captors.

Thea soon found out that Ros was a whore, but it mattered not. Ros said that Thea was interesting, that she liked her, that she reminded her of a younger version of herself, and Thea might have been a little drunk on the love or whatever it was, but she soon starting sneaking off to see Ros several times a week.

Ros was soft, with her generous cleavage and her rounded hips, but she was only soft in body and never in mind. She wasn't much older than Thea but years more mature, confident where Thea was shy, knowing where Thea was ignorant. Whenever Thea visited Ros in the brothel, she would wait until Ros was done with her work for the day until they walked into Ros's room to talk.

She never touched Ros, not in the way her patrons probably did, and Ros never charged her for her time either. Ros might have liked that Thea hung to her words, that she looked at her as if she were wisdom. She might have thought Thea an adorable puppy, but Thea's not sure now. Ros left Winter Town years ago after all.

Thea still misses her.

She remembers sitting on Ros's bed while watching Ros powder her cheeks and rub scented oil into her arms so she would look and smell good for those men who never cared about her, and Thea started to wonder.

"Isn't it difficult? To... to sleep with all those men."

Ros laughed. "Difficult, how? Just spread your legs and lie back."

Thea blushed then, she remembers, and Ros said how she was shy and awkward and a little cute for it, and Thea bristled and asserted that her she wasn't cute, not in the least. Saying that never failed to make Ros laugh.

Thea remembers Ros's room well, that darkened place that always smelled of candle wax and powder and musk. Ros looked at her over her shoulder. "The secret is to realise... that it doesn't matter."

Thea tilted her head. "How can it not matter?"

Ros's smile flashed her canines. "Because they don't matter."

Thea looked at her skeptically. "Who?"

Making a sweeping gesture, Ros said, "They. The men who visit me. Why should it matter if they lie with me? I take my moon tea, they leave no damage; they moan a name that isn't even my own; they shudder and whine and some of them love me and some of them hate me but the thing they all have in common? Is that none of them matter, my sweet. At the end of the day, all they are is stains on my sheets and coin in my purse."

Thea remained quiet, mulling this over in her head.

Ros turned her face toward the window. Light fell in from beyond it and traced fire along the curls of her hair. "It's the ones who matter who are the real danger." Melancholy tugged along the corners of her lips. "The ones you like. The ones who fear. The ones you love." Her eyes fell onto Thea's. "The ones who yearn, the ones who know, the ones who care."

And Thea understood.

She wanted to ask Ros who hurt her so, she wanted to offer to go and kill him for her, she wanted to know who that bastard was, but she felt her throat too parched to speak.

Ros just looked at her, miniscule smile on her face. "Sleep with the ones who matter, my little Thea, and it matters."

"And I don't want it to matter," she said. "Do I?"

"No." Ros smiled, and it was one of the saddest thing Thea had ever seen. "You don't. You really don't."

Note: This is a kink meme fill that mutated and grew. Genderswitched Theon is a very interesting concept to me, because his being a man seems so central to his identity that I grew fascinated by the idea of what sort of person he would be if you took that away.

I tried to imagine how things would have been different if he had been born a woman. How would it have affected her relationships with Robb or Catelyn or Arya or Ned? How would things be different and how would they stay the same? In the process, the fic grew and grew and now my Word document is just shy of 10,000 words long. I have an end in sight, though, and I think it will only be two chapters in the end. I sure HOPE so, anyway, haha

On anoher note, I have no idea why I keep writing so much UST fic when I am so bad at BEARING all that tension. Hahaha! Owwww.