So Theon waited. It wasn't patiently, but he waited. He paced the dark halls, stared blankly at the tapestries of bloodshed and battle and sea monsters, and thought of Robb. Robb, dark curls like the tentacles of an octopus, lips pink like the underbelly of a conch, and skin white as the breaking of a wave. No, no, no. Ocean metaphors would never do for a Stark, thought Theon. His hair, soft like the fur of direwolves. Lips, pink as windbitten skin. Skin white as the fresh-fallen snow, of course.

The sheet music had never been re-written, as Theon had intended. In fact, the song of Robb thrummed even louder in his veins than before, as though the thought of losing him was cue for an orchestra in his mind to tune their instruments and start again. He thought that coming here was a way to put his romantic-competitive compulsions behind him, but the gods seemed to have different ideas.

I am being punished, he thought. The gods of the Starks are angry at my betrayal, and the Drowned God doesn't know me from driftwood. Because that's all I am: a useless, hollow log bobbing aimlessly about. I should never have left Robb's side, not after he finally told me we were brothers. How long had I waited to hear those words? And how have I repaid my adoptive family? With unwanted loyalty to another family? I fucked up. I brought this on Robb.

Worries and guilt filling him like a flood, Theon didn't like leaving Robb out there among the sharks. He wanted to trust in his sister, but his ears were alert listening for sounds of a sword leaving its sheathe. That sound never came, and eventually Yara re-entered the room.

Theon could barely contain himself. "So, what did he decide?" He tried to ask the question calmly, but his worry was obvious.

"Calm down, brother. No one has to die today—the Drowned God is feeling rather…flexible this fortnight."

In an un-Greyjoy-like show of appreciation, he hugged his sister roughly and felt her smile into his arms. She angrily shoved him away, but her eyes betrayed her true feelings. Theon breathed a little easier, but knew that it wouldn't all be smooth sailing as of yet. "What did you say to him?"

"I told father what you said about using Stark as a weapon against our enemies, and he seemed impressed. I may have thrown in a bit about the Drowned God's will, as well." She laughed at that, but then her face grew darker. "There's only one drawback, little brother." Theon's breath caught like cotton in his throat. "You have to claim Robb Stark as your merna."

Theon's thoughts grew tangled, marshy. Keeping a Stark as a merna? His father clearly meant to degrade the Northern people with this decree. Would he force him to complete the full, loathsome ceremony as well? Robb would hate him. That is, if he didn't already. But was there any other choice? Theon couldn't let his father torture and execute his own bloodless brother—no, he would never forgive himself for that. But if he did go through with this new plan, could he forgive himself then?

As a merna, Robb might have the chance to escape someday. As a prisoner of war, Robb would face excruciating pain and eventual death. But as a merna, he would lose something more. He would lose his pride, his dignity, his humanity. Robb would rather die than face the life of a Greyjoy's merna—of that, Theon was sure. The process of training a merna was meant to de-humanize, to turn even the fiercest of wolves into sheep. Wasn't this what Theon had always wanted? To best his rival and make him grovel at his feet? The victory felt hollow.

"Theon! Are you listening to me?" He shook off his thoughts. The decision had to be made now, and there was no time for doubt. If Theon appeared doubtful or weak in front of his father, he was afraid that Balon would use it as an excuse to kill Robb anyway. "Father wants to speak to you immediately. The ceremony will be tonight—Stark is already being prepared." Without a word, Theon walked past his sister into the hall. The doors slammed shut behind him as he made his decision, and he only paused when Lord Balon called his name.

"Theon! I will see you here tonight or the boy will die."

Theon didn't turn around to face Balon or the counsel. "I understand."

"And you will keep him in line, or I will do it for you." Theon walked on, heart hard and jaw set for the night ahead. It wouldn't be easy, not for either of them. But if Robb survived it, maybe Theon could somehow make him understand. Maybe one day he would forgive him.


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