Ramsay listened to his captive's shallow breathing. He was in pain, it was obvious. And thirsty. First and foremost, thirsty . His pale lips cracked and peeled away like the skins of the slugs he used to dip in salt. His cheekbones were beginning to look a bit sunken, and firelight from braziers kept making deeper shadows dance in their angular hollows. Ramsay pinched his prisoner's forearm, pulled a bit of skin between his index and his thumb. It stayed puckered, was slow to recede back over the bone. The ironborn needed water.

"Wake up." Ramsay said sharply. His words echoed off the silent wet stones of the dungeon, came back to settle like dust on he and his captive and their wooden cross.

Theon's head was slumped forward on his chest. His arms no longer were holding him up on the wooden structure, but he was hanging forward, all the weight straining on his bound wrists and feet. Ramsay tried to recall how long it had been since his pet had last been off the cross. Three days? Or was it four? He recalled his last few mornings, his encounter with a still-feisty female prisoner a few cells over... Had that been a night or two nights past? He licked his lips and thought he could still taste her blood, her sweet screams still rang in his ears like pealing little bells at sundown. However long it had been, it had perhaps been a touch too long. Ramsay was aware that his prisoner could die without water or any care. He didn't intend to let anything of the sort happen.

"You must wake, my lord." Ramsay said, more softly this time, closing the gap at which he had been standing to observe Theon. He put two fingers to the ironborn's neck and felt a strong, steady pulse.

"It's not so bad as all that then is it?" He crooned, his touch and voice slowly rousing Theon. He wasn't just asleep, but drifting in and out of a dull consciousness. He knew Theon's body was numb and aching at the same time, his throat beyond dry, his tongue a swollen monstrosity, his wounds buzzing with pain like a thousand wasps. He made a strangled noise in his throat as the world came into a slow, dark focus.

Ramsay smiled brightly, lifted Theon's chin with his fingers.

"Strong as an ox."

Theon's eyes were confused, blearly.

"Your pulse, my Lord." Ramsay said, a hint of mockery creeping into his tone.
"Please." Theon croaked, already letting his head drop again in defeat when Ramsay removed his fingers. His shoulders strained with his own weight, his dirty hair hang lank and thick with old sweat. You do beg so prettily, he thought.

"You forgot what happened already the last time you said please?" Ramsay tsked, and thought he saw his prisoner shake his head, a muffled sob escape his parched lips.

"I toy with you. I'm going to let you down for a little while. Have a drink of water. Would you like that?" All the better to resume our games tomorrow.

Theon managed to raise his head, search Ramsay's eyes. Was he looking for truth, a lie? He would find nothing. Ramsay knew how to mask his intent, how to trap and lead on like the hunter that he was. He knew how to lay sugar-trails that led to blood. His captive must know this by now.

Theon didn't know what to think, and opened his mouth to beg, thought better of it, shut it again.

"You don't need to say please again, stop your blubbering. You look like a fish on deck." Ramsay bugged his eyes out, moved his lips like a gasping trout as he made to untie the leather straps, laughing at his own joke. He untied his prisoner's feet, noticing swelling in his legs and ankles, the old wound on his foot still caked with dried blood and dirt.

"Now," He began saying as Theon watched him, slack jawed, eyes half closed in pain and exhaustion. "You need to promise not to run. I don't know why you would..The door is barred, of course, and the one after that. Then there's the guards." He went on as if talking to himself. "Then all my fathers bannermen and more guards and.."He paused, then continued on with the straps. "It might be fun if you ran, though. By all means if you've got the strength and the stomach, do try. I would enjoy nothing less than putting you right back up here where you belong. You do belong here, don't you?" Ramsay stuck his head around one splintered wooden plank to look up into Theon's face. "Don't you?"

His ironborn nodded quickly, trying to appease him. He chuckled again at that.

The strap came undone, and Theon's arm fell to his side. He moaned loudly as the joint screamed in a mixture of relief and protest after holding his weight so long upright. When the second arm fell, Ramsay had to hold him up to keep him from falling. His prisoner was heavy, weak. He helped him to the floor easily, letting him rest back against him, and he leaned on the base of the cross for support.

"Easy now, pet. Easy." He was crooning, reaching for his water skin. Theon gulped greedily, letting his captor pour the cool water into his mouth. It ran down his chin and onto his chest, and he spluttered and choked like he never wanted to stop. Ramsay didn't know if he was going to sob or choke or drown himself first, he was trying to do all at once. He knew too much would just make his prisoner retch all over them both. He tipped the skin up again, capped it. Theon opened his eyes, spluttered, and whimpered for more.

"Not so much so quickly now." Ramsay said in a calm, low voice. His captive's eyes searched him, like everything was registering slightly slower than it was happening. How sweet it was to see him so utterly compliant, so dependant on his whims. He felt Theon's weight sag further against his chest. Ramsay thought on how much Theon must hate him, but that his torment made him forget. How eagerly he responded to kindness, like a kicked dog. His fear on the first few days had been bright with currents of hope and anger, and now he had so painstakingly peeled those things away. He had revealed, well, this.

He would put his captive in a smaller cell for the night, maybe even have someone bring him some gruel, perhaps a fatty scrap of sausage. He so wanted to play another game, find a reason to take another finger, perhaps a toe. He would need his prisoner at least conscious, preferably responsive. Not quite so broken as all this. He thought of the girl the night before, her kicks, her clawing, the bright sharp will behind her screams, how hard he had gotten then. How she fought him even as she was under him, like a trapped bird with a ribcage of glass.

He found himself carding his fingers through Theon's hair. He took care to be gentle.

"You will sleep on the ground tonight, not tied."

Theon shuddered in relief.

"That's it now, pet, relax."

Theon's eyes drooped from the soft touches. He was utterly compliant, without pride or shame. Ramsay remembered now something that he had imagined once in a half-forgotten dream and kept at the back of his mind upon waking. He would make this Ironborn fool into his creature. His toy, his dog. Lower than his dog. His captive's breathing was lengthening, evening out as he lie in his arms. He was falling asleep.

"You will be my Reek." Ramsay whispered to the stillness, still stroking Theon's lush dark hair. He thought for a moment, smiled to himself.

The light from the brazier flickered diligently into the never ending dark of the Dreadfort.

… "It rhymes with weak."