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The thrill of affection

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Stood beside Wex, Theon eyed a woman as she stepped in to the lift. She smiled at them both politely and turned around to face the lift doors in front of his assistant. Straightening out the cuffs and collar of his shirt, he slyly continued the appraisal, from the designer heels, shapely calves, longer lengthed skirt sat just below the knee, as was common with the older women in the building, but with a slit in the back-

Ring ,” signed Wex, interrupting him.

Theon tutted in response and sighed, “typical.”

She turned to look back over her shoulder, brunette bob bouncing on her shoulder and a quizzical look on her pretty face. “I’m sorry, did you say something?”

Wex stifled a laugh, looking at and shuffling his feet around like he’d never grown up, while Theon’s charming smile disarmed her. It always did the trick.

“Sorry, we were just discussing a change in calendar,” he told her, motioning a hand in Wex’s direction.

He’s a sleaze ,” Wex managed to sign with a sweet and innocent smile on his face masking the meaning.

Theon raised his eyebrows at him, incredulous but unable to comment with her still there to see. Not that it was unusual to play such games. He couldn’t blame him really. In front of them, the woman’s eyes widened. Nor was that reaction unusual.

“Oh, sorry! I see.” She bit her lip as she looked at him carefully, a little embarrassed, and then back to Theon. “Can he-?”

“He can read lips, you’re fine.”

A pretence they kept going. Between Wex’s eavesdropping and his secretary’s charms Theon was privy to what he was sure was the entire office’s gossip, and those of the floors immediately above and below them. How it would play out if someone ever found out he didn’t know.

She sighed with relief, turned back around, fidgeting with the handbag on her arm and digging out a pink lipstick which she applied in the reflective chrome surface of the doors. She only spoke again to say goodbye when they got to her floor with a quick glance as she walked away..

Theon laughed and pushed Wex lightly in jest on the arm. “I could fire you!”

I’d dob you in for unfair dismissal, ” he quickly retorted with a grin.

“One day you’re going to play this game and they’re going to understand,” Theon warned him, not humourlessly, and strode out of the lift when it got to their floor.

This was one of his favourite moments of the day. Keeping a couple of paces ahead of Wex, he’d hold his head high, back straight, as he walked through the office, occasionally greeting a colleague or asking after something. He knew very well that he was being watched, was being looked up and down, and he walked on air.

When he reached his glass fronted office, Kyra was not at her desk outside the door but perched up on his own, legs somehow elegantly crossed while encased in a navy pencil skirt. She could give him a run for his money. It was a good job they largely didn’t have the same audience.

“Honey,” she greeted him, already reaching over to pick up the phone on the tabletop, “you have a call waiting for you.”

He looked at his watched and sighed. Who was calling this early? “Business or pleasure?”

“Say’s his name is Stark,” she said with a cheeky grin. She’d never forgotten a single tale he might have told her while inebriated.  

Theon set his bag down onto the desk. “Pop him on.”

“He will speak with you now,” Kyra spoke into the handset with her phone voice and then switched it over to speakerphone popping it down.

“Hey, babe,” he began, knowing its power to fluster him, “to what do I owe this?”

“Do you know how ridiculously difficult you are to get hold of?” Robb grumbled into the room, and Kyra bit back a smirk in the corner of his eye. “Did you change your mobile number?”

“Yeah, you know how it is, exes get needy, got to have a clear out every so often.”

Kyra raised her brows at him with crossed arms and turned to Wex who was trying to get her attention.

Who is he ?” he asked, feeling left out.

School friend. ” It was accompanied with a wink that Theon did not appreciate. He made a mental note to be more restrictive in what he told her.

“…Right… well, look, this is a bit short notice now,” he sounded fraught. “It was a bit in the first place, but I hadn’t expected to have to do in depth google searches trying to find you.”

“Is everything alright?”

A pause. One that had his heart skip a beat in the panic.

“I’m getting married, Theon.”

Theon felt his face drop along with his stomach and neither Kyra nor Wex missed it.

Wex’s forehead creased into a frown, wanting clarification. “ Not an ex ?”

“You’re getting married?” He asked in disbelief, ignoring the pair of them, and added, his tone a little too harsh, “you aren’t even with anyone.”

“Her name is Roslin,” was all Robb managed in a desperate response.

He sat down on the edge of the leather sofa, feeling as though this was something Robb should have told him to do. As though they were in some film. Rubbing at the bridge of his nose, he finally asked, “how long?”

“Not long – I know what you’re going to say, and I don’t want to hear it. I just want to know if you’ll be best man.”

“Don’t you have Jon for things like that?” Theon asked him brutally.

Kyra kicked him in the shin with her pointed heel. He scowled at her. He knew he was being difficult, he didn’t need her to point this out.

Deathly silence both down the line and in the room.

“I want you…” His voice cracked when he finally spoke and Theon could imagine the flush of his cheeks. “I was hoping if it was for something important you might be able to make some time.”

“Robb, you don’t need to marry some random chick just to see me.”

Robb laughed, “har har, very funny.” At least it seemed to lighten the mood as he had hoped it would. “I hope you can be friends with her. You’ll love her,” he sounded as unconvinced by it as Theon felt, “I’m sure of it. She’s very sweet.”

Sweet?

“Only,” he hesitated, “the weddings next week. We didn’t see any point in waiting.”

Theon snapped, “perhaps giving me some warning to get time off work might have been a point?”

He pressed his eyes closed, instantly regretting the small outburst and wishing he could rewind time. Who was he to expect Robb might delay his wedding just for him?

“I’m sorry,” he sounded sincere about it and Theon’s resolve crumbled.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Theon sighed, pointing at the notepad by Kyra for her throw it to him so that he could write down the details.

“Really?” Robb’s voice brightened, and Theon thanked the heavens that he couldn’t see his eyes roll. How could he not realise the painful reality that he could snap his fingers and he’d go running? If he hadn’t gotten to this conclusion by now there was no hope for him.

“I’ll see you soon, Robb,” he said impatiently and went through the motions of ending the call. Feeling a tension headache brewing, he massaged his temples to little affect.

“Wex? Could you get some coffee please?” Kyra asked him when the phone was down with the little flick of her dark lashes that had the ability to lessen the blow.

Wex rolled his eyes but went along with it anyway. He’d complain about it later, something along the lines of them treating him like a kid, but his unfortunate little crush on Kyra would prevent him from protesting in the moment. Instead of waiting for the coffee, however, she broke out the bottle of whiskey from Theon’s desk drawer along with two glasses and nudged it closed again.

Theon smirked at her and shook his head as she came to sit on the glass coffee table between his parted knees, holding out the crystal glass for him to hold as she poured out a couple of fingers.

“You’re too good to me,” his free hand half-heartedly stroked her knee over thin tights, “will you come? Could be fun.”

“You want to use me to make him jealous?” she asked suspiciously, arching her brow.

He decided to feign ignorance. “What are you on about?”

“Oh Theon, come on,” She smiled, a level of sympathy laid in her eyes that he didn’t ever want to see, “you like him, don’t you?”

“No, I don’t. That was the problem, remember,” he pointed out stubbornly, swirling around the liquid in the glass. Normally he’d say she knew him far too well, but in this instance, she’d missed the mark. Perhaps he was a little jealous, but not in that way. Just of Robb having moved on with his life. It had been 10 years since Robb had admitted his feelings, of course he didn’t feel like that anymore.

“Mmmm,” Kyra mumbled in disbelief. “Of course… you don’t think perhaps you just ran from a relationship that had the potential to be serious?”

-

Later that evening Wex pulled the car up to the curb outside the airport in the drop off area. He’d insisted on driving him there and, when all of Theon’s insistences that he could get a taxi were dismissed, he’d come to the conclusion that he might have been possibly put up to it by Kyra and found himself bracing for the onslaught of nagging that was bound to come. There was still a while until it would be possible to check in and so he pulled the packet of cigarettes from the inner pocket of his jacket and offered Wex one. Lighting one up himself, he took a drag and blew the smoke out of the rolled down window.

Get it over and done with and make it easier for the poor bastard , Theon told himself.

“Let’s have it then,” he encouraged Wex.

She’s worried about you .”

“She has no need to be,” he flicked ash onto the pavement outside and wet his lips, considering what to say, “it’s just what she does, forget about it.”

You know you can tell us, right ?”

Theon rolled his eyes. “There’s nothing to tell. I’m happy he’s found someone.”

Theon felt sick to his stomach with little knowledge of why. With an elbow propped up on the window sill, his long fingers holding the cigarette trembled a little as he looked away, biting his lip and leaving Wex unable to respond until he physically reached out and tapped for him to look at him.

With his sharp face full of concern, he signed, “ you don’t look happy .”

“I’m just tired. Thanks for the lift,” he said opening the door to signal the end of the discussion, “I owe you one,” he told him as he stubbed out the cigarette butt. “Make sure you don’t cause too much trouble for Kyra and keep out of Stannis’s way. I don’t want you gone when I get back.” He laughed knowing Davos would be able to talk Wex down if he did get too much for him to handle in Theon’s absence.

Smiling softly, Wex simply nodded and climbed out of the car to fetch Theon’s bag from the back.

-

Robb was immediately identifiable within the crowds of people at the airport’s arrivals. He waved over the heads of those nearby, but Theon would have spotted those auburn curls anywhere. He’d come to get him himself and Theon’s stomach flipped at the thought. He had half expected that he might have sent a driver or a younger sibling considering how busy he was claiming to be.

When he got close enough, Robb descended on him with a wide grin of pearly white teeth and wrapped his arms round him, clapping him on the back with a firm hand. Despite being taller than Robb these hugs always made him feel encased, protected, warm to the pit of his stomach. He’d gone a long time without one of those hugs and he had no intention of going as long again. Standing back, Robb looked him up and down. It was a look he got often, but it felt different coming from him, neither shy, nor expectant.

“You’re looking well,” Robb said, his hand moving up to squeeze Theon’s shoulder affectionately, “I should warn you though that I expect Cat will be trying to fatten you up a little.”

Theon snorted and shook his head, since when did Robb call his parents by their first names? “I think you misjudge how much she cares for me.” Catelyn Tully-Stark never did seem to approve of him hanging around her eldest all that much. If her good-as-gold son got into bother it was all on Theon leading him astray. “And I won’t be engaging in it. Do you know how much these suits cost? Can’t risk growing out of these babies.”

“Too much, I’d wager,” laughed Robb, nipping his lip lightly as he took it as an invitation to have another look, a smirk building.

“Presentation matters in my line of work, Stark,” he taunted him, “not that I’d expect you to understand.”

Jaw dropping in mock offense, his eyebrows rose, “how very dare you!” In that moment it was like no time had passed at all.

“So,” he began as they walked out to the car, something much fancier and shinier than he had ever seen him drive before, “this all seems very sudden. What is it? She the no sex before marriage type or something?”

Robb flushed from his neck to the tips of his ears. He always was such a prude. Taking the suitcase from Theon, he put it into the little boot space the car had. Had he always been that broad in the shoulders or was it the cut of the suit jacket? Had this girl finally got him dressing for his build? He’d aged well since he last saw him. The red of his hair now with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. The light developing lines of crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes a constant reminder of the way his smiles filled the entirety of his face.

“No,” a shrug, an attempt to be casual about it, “just why wait?”

“Ah,” Theon teased, the corner of his lip twitching up, “so it is.”

Suddenly, he caught a glimpse inside the car through the window. An impeccably dressed girl with a handbag clutched primly on her lap. Peach sundress, white pashmina. She smiled politely and waved when she saw him and leant over to open the door closest to him.

“Theon, this is Roslin. Roslin, Theon,” Robb introduced him and got into the driver’s seat.

Somewhat thrown, Theon got into the back of the car with Robb’s fiancé. She even smelt sweet, a sickly vanilla, and it made his head ring.

“It such a pleasure to finally meet you,” she blushed a little, speaking in a quiet voice, and offered out a dainty hand. “Robb speaks very highly of you. I feel like I know you a little already.”

He took it with a smile and settled into a car ride in which he found himself mostly zoning out, letting Robb chatter on about his life, and avoiding looking at her and her pretty long chestnut hair. It was strange to be back here in the Riverlands. He hadn’t been there since tagging along on family holidays with the Starks. Memories flooded back of lazy days spent swimming in the tributaries of the Red Fork and basking on the banks. Robb and Jon wrestling, pulling each other under the water. Robb emerging from the water with it trickling down from his curls – they’d been longer then - and that stupid grin on his face.

“We met at a fundraiser,” he explained despite Theon having not asked. “I think though perhaps it was a bit of a set up,” he added, flashing Roslin a fond smile through the rear-view mirror. “Okay, we know it was a bit of a set up. Mother had been dropping hints about one of Frey’s daughters for a while by then.”

That sparked his interest. He eyed Roslin carefully. Suspicious, he asked, “how long have you two known each other, did you ever say?”

Robb’s attention turned back to the winding single track road on the way to the family’s holiday home outside of Riverrun, letting Roslin take over for him.

“A couple of months, but when you know, you know, right?”

“Yeah… right,” Theon frowned and looked out through the window, hand playing with the stitching of the leather interior, not knowing quite what to say.

The Robb he knew didn’t fall this hard this quickly. And not for prim and proper girls like this. In fact, he couldn’t remember his ever expressing such an interest. The idea that any affection Robb had for him had been replaced by that for her filled him with a dismay that threatened to boil over.

“So, Theon,” Robb’s intense blue eyes met his in the mirror, “I have a favour to ask you. I can’t really just stop working during all of this unfortunately and, well, I’m not much help either I’m afraid, you know me; I can’t make style decisions and my tastes in food aren’t the most elegant… it would mean a lot to me if you’d be willing to fill in for me and help Ros.”

“Oh, please, would you?” She joined in, clasping her perfectly French manicured hands together, the diamond ring on her finger glinting in the evening sun flooding the car.

“Oh, I see, is that why I’m here? Free design-“

“No!” Ros interrupted him looking horrified.

Robb waved his hand dismissively at her from the front of the car in attempt to calm her, knowing full well what Theon was like. “Pay no mind, he’s just joking.”

Am I? Wondered Theon bitterly.

“Sorry,” she smiled, glancing down to her bag and wringing her hands nervously. “I don’t have a great sense of humour.” A pause as she searched for something to say. “Robb tells me you’re in advertising?”

Nodding, he chewed his cheek, wrenching his gaze from where it was held watching Robb idly rubbing his lips with a free finger through the wing mirror. “You should avoid telling Jon I’m helping,” he smirked, “he’ll start blathering on about style over substance… why not ask Sansa anyway?”

“Well, Sansa has been a huge help, but she’s got her hands full at the moment.”

“She’s just had her second,” Robb followed up, sounding proud of his little sister, “A little girl, Myriame.”

“She’s so sweet. And of course, it may change but she has the most beautiful strawberry blonde hair.”

Theon couldn’t help but smile. He’d always suspected Sansa would be the first to have children and he could already picture her in that life. He’d seen the photos from her wedding to the Lannister bloke and she’d been the most beautifully elegant bride. He felt himself fill with regret at not having made as much effort as he could to get there.

Half an hour after leaving the airport, with multiple suggestions from Theon that he get a hotel room shot down – ‘you’re family’ - they turned up the Stark’s drive. It hadn’t changed in the slightest over the years. The same red climbing roses covered the grey stonework and fish swam in a large round pond on the front of the property which was as immaculately kept as ever. There were more cars parked up then there ever had been before. Presumably most of the ‘kids’ now owned their own.

Once they were out, Roslin wandered up to the door and opened it confidently in a way that suggested she was more than used to being here already, despite the short time they’d been together. She jumped a little to the side as a grey blur steamed past, bypassed Robb, and jumped straight up at Theon. The huge dog had a paw on either side of his chest and Theon pressed closed his mouth as it was licked at gleefully.

“Stark!” He shouted, tearing his head to the side to avoid anymore ‘kisses’ on the lips, and laughing despite himself. “A little help, please?”

“Down!” Robb called and followed it up with a whistle. “I guess he must remember you!”

“Hmmmm,” murmured Theon as the dog got off him, wiping down his clothes with his hands and trying to get the hair off them. At least he was wearing grey he supposed. And he was secretly pleased to have received a positive reaction, but he wouldn’t be letting anyone know that any time soon. “It hasn’t been that long.”

Robb’s brow’s knitted, “it’s been five years.” He was clearly holding out some resentment over this.

“What?”

“The last time I saw you was that lunch we had two years ago in King’s Landing,” Robb pointed out solemnly. “You haven’t been here or Winterfell for quite a long time, Theon.” He looked away with his lips taut, avoiding eye contact.

It was rare for a person to see such a crack in the façade. Robb Stark could come across as easy going and then fire up at a moment’s notice, he could be serious and stern when needed, but to see him so downtrodden? That was reserved for the very few and only when he was pushed to it. It happened when he suddenly put himself front and centre.

Theon reached out instinctively to touch him, to comfort him, a hand falling against Robb’s forearm and causing him to turn back to face him. “I’m sorry,” he breathed out nervously, a thumb rubbing against the wool of Robb’s sleeve. “I’m here now. And we won’t leave it as long next time. I know I’ve been… in my own little world maybe.” An understatement.

“No… no, it’s fine. It’s as much of my fault as it is yours. Things have just been a bit tough with the business, that’s all. I shouldn’t take it out on you. I just…” his eyes followed the way Roslin had gone and to the door of the house, “I wish we’d have had some time before. I don’t like this. I don’t want to be strangers.”

Theon took his bag from Robb, allowing his fingers to linger just a little longer than necessary, but he could have sworn there was some resistance to him taking it from him, an extension to the touch.

“Come on, let’s get inside, they’ll be wondering what happened to us.”

He took a deep breath and prepared himself for the commotion of the busy house behind the door, and the change that couldn’t be seen on the outside.

-

Cat set a cup of tea in what was once his favourite mug on the table top in front of him. He looked up at her and smiled appreciatively. Each time he saw the Starks over the years they seemed more at ease with him. Perhaps now as they got older there was less of a chance he’d rub off on Robb. In any case, the tea was particularly welcome after the flight, which always left him feeling grotty no matter the length, and the car trip. Which he would rather put out of his mind for the time being.

Sipping the tea, he rubbed his temples with his free hand. There had definitely not been enough time to mentally prepare for this situation. He watched Robb as he washed dishes in the sink, his face bright as he threw back his head to laugh at something Arya, sat up on the counter, was telling him. Suit jacket and tie now discarded, and shirt sleeves rolled back to keep them from the bubbles covering his forearms, he looked all the more ‘Robb’ for it. It was both a relief and painful to see him like that.

When Sansa appeared, she came to greet him with a kiss on the cheek and angled herself to let him softly stroke the head of beautiful babe wrapped to her, tossing her long hair over her shoulder. Motherhood definitely suited her. The way she spoke naturally with Roslin as sat down with them at the table made him wish he was more adept at this kind of thing.

Sansa’s hand on his arm brought him out of his thoughts, “I’m sensing you need this evening to rest, but mum tells me she’s up for a little baby sitting,” she smiled with the excitement, “so we were planning to go out for a drink tomorrow.”

He nodded and smiled fondly at her, trying to reassure her. It was very much needed.

Roslin stood by Robb, drying the dishes as he passed them to her. A little more comfortable with the situation now, she talked easily with him and he looked at her with a fondness that Theon felt strike him. It was foolish of him to feel like this about the pair of them. He should be happy for Robb, not behave like a small child who gets riled up when asked to share a toy they aren’t even playing with. But it was easier said than done.

“You alright?” asked Sansa looking perplexed, a hand gently patting Myriame’s bum as she began to stir.

He forced a smile. “Yeah, just a little tired, it’s been a long day.”

“I bet,” she nodded sympathetically. “It was really good of you to come so quickly. He really appreciates it, you know.”

“I know,” Theon laughed lightly, he always did try to be honest it these ways. “How could I not?” Then he softened his voice and looked at her. “I’ve missed you all.”

-

The room was cool and had an air of having been left empty and unused for quite some time now. It was largely as he’d last seen it. The same bed under the eaves of the roof, same window seat, the same chest of drawers with photos of them in the great outdoors. One of him, Robb and Jon with Robb in the middle pulling them both in close stood out. He remembered how his teeth chattered from the cold, all three of them drenched from their antics tipping each other out of the kayaks which sat in the background.

He pulled his suitcase up onto the bed and sat beside it, the beds springs bouncing and creaking as he did so. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out his phone and set up a group video call, already regretting it to some extent.

Wex picked up first, apparently sat on his laptop. Theon doubted that any work was being done from the chatter in the background.

Hey, you alright ?”

Theon rubbed his face, finding it difficult to articulate his thoughts and feelings. What was the point in this? What was he expecting? He was saved by the appearance of Kyra, clearly stood in the toilets of some bar, dressed to the nines. She immediately smirked at his distress, though thankfully resisted the “told you so”.

“I’m fucked,” he groaned.

“Oh, I know, sweetheart. Want to tell us about it?”

“Not really, no…”

What are you going to do about it ?”

“There’s nothing really I can do… it’s ridiculous. She’s not even his type.”

“Maybe he’s changed,” suggested Kyra, shrugging.

“No one’s tastes change that much, Ky.”

“But some people are flexible I suppose,” she reasoned.

“Maybe…” he sighed heavily, running a hand through his hair. This was ridiculous. “Something seems off though.”

What do you mean ?”

Kyra’s lips pursed slightly like she wanted to jump in and say something, but she resisted and waited from him to speak.

He hesitated, knowing what he was implying was wishful thinking and not quite feeling up to voicing this pet thought. “It all seems very sudden.”

“You think its a marriage of convenience.” It wasn’t a question but a statement.

Wex’s mouth formed an oh and Theon groaned. “I know I’m being ridiculous.”

“You aren’t,” Kyra reassured him. “Look, I don’t know Robb. but from how you speak about him I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s not all that crazy. Just… tread carefully?” She looked briefly around her, in thought. “I’d offer to come out there, but I wouldn’t be able to for a couple of days.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll survive.”

I’ll come ,” Wex told them suddenly, seeming excited by the idea.

Theon was shocked by how eager he seemed. “Really?”

Of course.”

Watching his bright smile, Theon began to wonder just quite what he’d signed himself up for. Kyra’s lips also turned into a wide grin at them both.

“Excellent! Now, boys, I’m going to have to get off. Have fun, behave , and I hope all goes well. Keep me updated, I’m going to feel left out. Ta ra!” She waved and then hung up on them both.

-

The following morning he headed down to the kitchen to find both Sansa and Roslin pottering around, Ros with the baby in her arms dancing gently to the music on the radio and singing softly. Seeing her like that, still in the clothes she’d slept in and all together more… human, was a jolt to the system. He saw what Robb might, how she fitted in with his life, how gentle and serene she seemed. He pictured her reassuring him sweetly after a rough day with sweet kisses and kind words.

Taking a deep breath and silently reprimanding himself for how sickened he felt, he walked in and flicked on the kettle, exchanging sleepy good mornings with the pair of them, and thought about calling Wex to get him to cancel the plan. Sansa immediately pulled his mug out of the cupboard and slid it over the worktop to him.

“Did you sleep well?” she asked.

No . He smiled, throwing a tea bag into the cup and lying through his teeth, “like a log.”

“You must have been exhausted,” Ros said, the song on the radio she had been singing along to having finished. He smiled weakly in response. “It’s really good of you to have come so quickly,” she continued, “it was really eating him up; him not being able to get in touch.”

Theon’s gut clenched. He opened his mouth to speak but was stopped by footsteps on the stairs and the joyful entrance of Robb into the kitchen.

“Morning,” he told them all brightly and kissed first Myriame and then Roslin on their heads. His hand came to sit against Theon’s back to make him aware he was behind him as he reached for his own cup. It took every will within him for Theon not to lean in against him.

“What’s gotten you so jolly?” Theon chuckled despite himself, taking hold of the cup to make the drink for him.

“Oh, you know, my favourite people all under one roof,” Robb grinned, now stroking his back affectionately. It was gone much too soon, but for just a moment Theon let himself imagine what it would be like to have that every morning. A silly thought considering Robb’s usual morning self, and a terribly domestic idea.

“Soppy git,” Theon teased with a smirk.

“That’s me,” he declared, happy with the description and eyes bright.

Sansa chuckled and scolded him lightheartedly, “shhh, you’ll wake everyone up.”

“I hope you don’t mind,” Theon met Robb’s eyes, as though he was the only one who mattered. Partly, it was his wedding. Partly, his opinion was the only one Theon cared about in this instance. “Is it alright if I have a plus one?”

“Yeah, sure, no problem,” said Robb, a little too quickly for his sanity. Grabbing the milk from the fridge, he looked away, concentrating on the bottle.

“What’s her name?” Sansa asked with a raised brow. “To think, Theon Greyjoy bringing a date to a wedding.” She winked. “How serious.”

Theon snorted, already hating himself for what was about to spill out of him, his heart racing. “His,” he corrected her rather than reveal it was in fact just a friend. Wex was going to kill him. “His name’s Wex.” He was pretty sure he could get fired for this. His eyes fixated on a knot in the wood of the counter, too scared to look properly, but in the corner of his eye he saw Robb stop what he was doing to stare at him.

“Sorry, that was very presumptuous of me,” Sansa said, tittering at herself and shaking her head.

“You weren’t to know,” he reassured her, glad that this was the reaction.

“No,” Robb said, his voice verging on the bitter, or perhaps that was what Theon’s unusually optimistic mind led him to believe. “There’s no reason you would have thought any differently considering his track record, or anything he’s ever told us over the past 20 years.”

Theon managed to scoff out, “track record?”

Suddenly, Roslin piped up, “sometimes we need someone special to bring us out of our shell.”

All three of them turned to look at her and she simply shrugged, flashing Theon a kind smile.

“He must be quite something then,” Robb responded flatly, eyes narrowing as he nailed them on Theon.

Shit. Wex was going to need some filling in on this.

Theon smirked over the top of his cup of tea. “Suppose he must be.”

-

The cake was probably delicious, it showed all the signs of it; fancy bakery, fancy flavours and decorations, fancy customers, Ros included, making appreciative noises at them all. But Theon couldn’t taste a thing.

Cake. He had to pick a wedding cake for Robb’s wedding. It all tasted dry and tasteless. Nothingness in the form of food. He settled for agreeing with her when she made any comments, that was until she decided to go with lemon.

“No,” he shook his head, pushing away the plate slightly. “You should go with the blackberry and white chocolate.” He sighed, looking at her face, realising he was going to have to explain. “You like fruity things  I’m guessing?”

“Yes…”

“And you’re leaning towards lemon because the Starks are often eating it?” Sansa’s doing.

She hesitated, but admitted it. “Yes”

Nodding, he licked his lip nervously, self consciously, knowing he shouldn’t really be annoyed with her for not knowing these things. “Your wedding shouldn’t be based on fitting in with them all, I know it might be tempting because you’re become a part of the family, but it should be about the marriage of the pair of you before everything else. Perhaps he hasn’t let on to you; he’s like a small child,” he laughed, thinking of Robb with his easy smiles, “he’s the type to think a dessert’s not a dessert without chocolate, and white chocolate is the pinnacle of chocolate. Don’t try to reason with him that white chocolate isn’t chocolate. It isn’t worth your time.”

“Really?” Full of giggles, she looked up at him with a hand against her lips and said sincerely, “thank you.”

“No worries, that's what I’m here for after all. Anyway, white chocolate always pairs well with something a little sharper. A bit of a tang. And I always associate blackberries with him.”

“Oh?” she asked raising an eyebrow.

“You should see the photos Cat has of him with his hands and lips stained purple when we used to come down here. He always made a beeline for the blackberry bushes on any walks.”

She laughed, squeezing his upper arm with affection, “we should get some of them for the slideshow at the reception.”

“Definitely.” He smiled stiffly, it hitting him again what they were there for, that it wasn’t just a moment of sharing tales about Robb. “Now, I think you should try not to think about what everyone else will want you to pick and choose a design you like.”

As she bit her lip, clearly anxious about the idea of her putting her preferences first, Theon felt his heart twist and threaten to break. How could even consider trying to tear apart this doe-eyed girl’s whirlwind romance?

-

He was hovering and he knew it. He should have gone to the airport to fetch Wex as he’d suggested in the first place, he knew what time the arrival was and it would have given him a chance to get down some of the basics. At least, he supposed, they knew a fair amount about each other. Just perhaps not enough for it to be convincing that they were in enough of a relationship to invite him out here to meet what was, in essence, his family.

With the majority of the Starks and even a few Tullys in the sitting room shouting out as they went through some games, they were all distracted at least, there was less of a chance for them to realise how often he was going outside to smoke or how often he went to make a drink.

Admitting defeat for this round of waiting, he went back inside and sat at the feet of his teammates - Bran and Arya had insisted he join them. It had been a relief to get some space from Robb, but it did mean he had a much better view of him from the opposite side of the room. Being his usual competitive self he sat on the edge of the seat, leaving Roslin and Edmure humoured by his eagerness. Theon suspected that with someone else she might be inclined to remove herself and turn to her quiet persona, but her fiance's uncle put her at ease, explaining the rules patiently.

When the knock came at the door the room fell silent and before Theon knew it Arya bolted to invite the new guest inside with her mother calling after her to tell her to take it easy and not immediately scare him off. He could hear a confused but merry one sided conversation from Arya as she welcomed him in inside. Stood at the doorway and leaning against the doorframe, Theon waved to him and inclined his head to encourage him along and into the room.

“Everyone,” he began, his hand on Wex’s arm as though silently reassuring a partner, “this is Wex. Wex, everyone .”

Awkward greetings done, he excused them both to fetch a drink for Wex. While stood being mocked by an incredulous Wex, who seemed to find the whole thing hilarious, he spotted another walk in on them both.

Robb cleared his throat to get their attention and Wex, apparently determined not to let on that he could hear him and having had enough practice to do so, continued to look at Theon with a wicked smirk on his face.

“Hey,” Theon turned to smile at Robb and pulled Wex round with him, “ this is Robb .”

I guessed ,” he grinned, “ man of the moment .”

“He says hello,” Theon told Robb drily, knowing even Robb would know that hadn’t been what he’d said, and continued to translate the conversation between the pair of them, resisting the urge to roll his eyes whenever he was forced to sign what Robb was saying and occasionally throwing in some sarcasm to make the process a little more bearable. Thankfully, Wex was doing a good job at keeping his face straight.

“Sorry, if I’d have known you were having someone over I’d have made sure you got a room with a bigger bed.”

“Don’t worry about it, this one doesn’t let me have any space anyway. He’s a cuddler.” He hadn’t considered the queen sized bed of his room. Wex was beginning to struggle to control with expression.

Robb frowned slightly. “I suppose it’s not like you aren’t used to sharing it with one person or another.”

Theon narrowed his eyes and bit his tongue from questioning if there was a problem with that. Beside him, Wex began to chuckle, shocking Robb out of his scowl. “Sorry,” Theon told him bitterly, “I forgot to mention he’s quite adept at reading lips.”

“Sorry,” Robb mumbled, the tips of his ears turning a bright red.

As though you are secretive about conquests .” Wex teased and reached towards Theon to graze the back of his hand against his jaw, sweeping back his hair to place a kiss on his cheek, and Theon’s eyes closed, not daring to look for how Robb might react.

Letting out a sigh, possibly of relief at not having caused any upset, Robb’s eyes flicked between the pair of them. His adam’s apple bobbed as he gulped. “We’re going out soon, yeah?”

-

Robb leant over the pool table to reach the ball. Theon’s gaze fixed on just how his hand sat against the felt, of how the muscles in his arms flexed as he prepared to take the shot. As he watched he knew he shouldn’t be as blatant about it, but try as he might Robb made it exceedingly difficult not to watch him. Deep in concentration, he bit against his lower lip, turning it to a grin when he potted the ball. Following a high five with Roslin, he took a quick swig from his bottle of beer and walked around to his side of the table. With it perfectly displayed, Theon struggled not stare at his arse, feeling his chest tighten.

“Nevermind.” Ros smiled when he missed. They weren’t doing too badly considering how Theon could imagine she’d never played before.

He took the cue from Wex and lined himself, aiming at their penultimate ball. Feeling Robb’s eyes burning into him, he smirked smugly and pushed his hair back before bending over. It was no trouble. Robb and Roslin were not playing a tactical game and the last came just as easily, but the black hit the corner of the pocket.

With Roslin’s turn up, Robb guided her, up against her back and hands encouraging her to get into a better position. When she was successful she swung around and threw her arms up over his shoulders with joy. He laughed, letting himself be tugged downwards owing to her shorter stature.

A nauseating wave of jealousy hit him watching the pair of them like that. Every touch between them was sickening. He couldn’t bear to look. He had to get out of there. Make an excuse and leave, go anywhere. Options were limited all things considered, but no one could fault him for ducking out to the loos. He wouldn’t be needed anytime soon, Wex would win for them while he was gone and then it would be easier to suggest they head back.

Stood before a mirror and relieved it was a quiet night and he found himself alone, he patted down his face with cold water and clutched the edge of the sink, knuckles turning white from the grip. He pressed his eyes closed, gathering his wits, only to be startled at the opening of the door and Robb’s appearance behind him.

Robb largely ignored him as he headed past to relieve himself, and it was only once he came up to the sinks with clenched jaw, glancing at his reflection, that Theon’s determination broke.

“Is there something you want to say?”

“What would I have to say?” retorted Robb.

Theon snorted and shook his head, turning away and walking to the door. As his hand took hold of the door hand Robb finally spoke up.

“Is he not a little young for you?”

He smirked, probably in quite an unattractive and sneery manner, still facing the door. “Is that really what you want to say? You’re going to have to do better than that.” With Robb remaining quiet, he turned to face with a quirked brow.

Robb faltered, his mouth gaping as he struggled with the words. His hands flapped up and down at his side, fingers spread. “You don’t like men.”

“And there it is,” Theon mocked with disdain. “Well, I have some news for you, Robb. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t know everything about me. But I didn’t take you for a bigot.”

He scowled heavily, turning red in the face, torn between anger and embarrassment. “You know that’s not true.”

“Is that what this is about?” He stared into those burning blue eyes, fighting to keep the cocky smirk on his lips and gulping dry

The tension of unsaid words hung between them, as dense as a fog, choking him as a cloud of smoke might. And then Robb was upon him. Walking towards him with a purpose that had him back up against the wall. His nerves sparked with excitement. Full to the brim with anticipation, he searched Robb’s face, just waiting for him to take action. To do anything. Passion. A demonstration of how he felt. Raised voices. Anything. But Robb stopped short, his anger subsiding to the pain.

Sucking in his lip, Robb sighed heaving and forked his hands through those brilliant curls of his, hands sitting clasped at the back of his head. His shirt rode up with the movement, chest broad and puffed out. Theon couldn’t stop himself from taking in that bare strip of skin, the trail of hair running down and concealed further by his waistband. “I’m sorry, I know it’s ridiculous of me. It’s not like you’re forced to feel the same way just because you aren’t straight. I just-” He bit his lip and looked away. Theon wanted nothing more than to go to him, to tell him that if anything he was the exception. Something about it caught and snagged on his mind.

“I’m not forced to feel the same way,” Theon breathed, his lungs heavy, catching Robb’s eye as they were both struck by the implication of the present tense of both their words.

This close in all he could smell was the spiced and woody scent of Robb, all his eyes would deign to see was Robb, and he desperately wanted, more than anything else, to feel his hands against him, and taste him on his lips.

And then he was there up against him, the heat radiating from his body. Theon felt his lip quiver, unable to make even the slightest curl. His breath hitched when Robb came in close.

“You’re infuriating,” he whispered against his lips. “You don’t want me, but you can’t handle the idea of me with someone else. What a cliche.”

Theon’s head whirled. It was what he’d told himself after, but it had so quickly been revealed as something else. To expose the truth risked everything. What had the plan been? To have Robb run from the altar and declare his love? Would that have been enough to settle the panic? The fear of rejection and abandonment? Lips caressing the plump softness of Robbs, he spoke softly, “no.”

“No what? No, you aren’t? No, you don’t? No, you can’t? No, it isn’t?” “No what? You aren’t a cliche? You don’t want me? You can’t handle seeing me with someone else? What?”

“No, I can’t,” he whined at the feel of Robb’s hand against his hip. Gripping so tightly, his fingertips pressing so forcefully, that if he were in a relationship he’d feel the terror and excitement of being marked for another to see. And that was what he let himself believe. That Robb meant for others to see that he’d been claimed.

Robb’s spare hand took hold of his chin, his thumb played with his lower lip, toying with the way it moved to his touch. Dark eyes dropping to watch as Theon took it willingly into his mouth.

“What happens when you get bored?” Robb asked snidely.

I won’t , the words caught in his throat, I love you .

“Hmm,” Robb grumbled at his silence, stepping back and wiping his thumb against his jeans, full of derision. He left Theon there in the bathroom, achingly hard and with his heart racing.

-

What happened ?”

Theon paced the room back and forth. How did one come back from that? He couldn’t very well go to him now. Had the opportunity of confession passed? They’d achieved what they set out to do and he’d let the completion flounder.

“I need Ky.”

He watched as Wex gave an understanding nod and spun the laptop on the bed round to face him. As they waited he dropped down to his knees before it.

“Oh, honey…” she answered the call, and Theon knew that if she’d have been there she’d have her arms round him in seconds just from the look on his face. At that point he knew just how dire the situation was.

“I messed up,” he admitted and went on to confess the events that had led him to this condition.

“Sweetheart, you need to either be truthful or let it go, for both your sakes.”

-

She didn’t really need his help help with choosing flowers, he could tell from how she looked at them and collected a stem from each see liked, considering how they looked next to each other. Maybe she was concerned there was something else she’d overlooked, or perhaps she needed his encouragement to trust her own judgement. Flowers were not Theon’s forte. But at this point it felt best to humour her.

Having relaxed around him a little, she chattered away to him without needing much input on his part. It was as though she kept everything inside until given a channel to let it out. It was possible though, he considered, that she was just friendly and welcoming once she became comfortable.

“... and so now my dad is less worried that he might suddenly lose the Stark’s business-”

“Sorry,” Theon’s brows knitted, “what?”

Her head tilted to the side, a little confused by the question, “well… the marriage sort of eases the tensions between them. They’ve quarreling about prices and priorities for years. Hopefully he’ll be less inclined to his outbursts. ‘They’re taking the piss’ and all that kind of nonsense.” She glanced down at the collection of white roses, blue hydrangea and eucalyptus she’d got going on. “What do you think.”

“It works well,” he told her, holding back a sigh, unsure in himself of whether he was referring to the bouquet or this convenient marriage of thiers. The Stark’s were quite reliant on the use of the private rail for freight down from the North.

She turned quiet after that. Or rather she spoke of arrangements only and made small talk, asking him of work and such like, while inside adrenalin ran through his veins. He’d been right? Was that all it was? Was that just wishful thinking?

Looking down at her phone after a ping, she smiled wistfully, tucking hair behind her ear as she replied to it.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Roslin moaned, suddenly anxious, “I don’t know what to choose, are you sure these are right? Perhaps I should be going for the reds instead. Something more romantic.”

“Do you want the red?” He asked, becoming exasperated. It felt somewhat hypocritical to be telling her to go for what she wanted.

“Yes, maybe.”

“Then the red it is. You don’t want to look back on it thinking thinking you wanted them and could’ve had them, but were too nervous to go for it.”

“You’re right…” she bit her lip and glanced over to the shops owner with an apologetic smile. “Would it be alright if I called you later with a final decision?”

-

She’s right. You need to tell him before it’s too late ,” Wex told him and set an elbow on the table to angle himself for a better view of Theon’s expression, sat sideways on the dining chair.

Theon grimaced. He knew they were right, of course. If he believed Robb was in love it would be one thing, but to believe there was a possibility that this was another case of Robb trying to live up to others’ expectations was another. The ache in his heart told him this was not something that would be easily overcome, even if he did then hide away at King’s Landing. No one could hold a torch to him.

You love him .”

Theon caught Robb’s eye down the table and was met with a hesitant smile, heartrendingly beautiful and full of melancholy.

I know .”

-

He hesitated outside Robb’s room. It was now or never. But he was stopped by the sound of Roslin’s voice through the door. He hadn’t expected to find her there; she seemed the type to respect tradition. To spend the night elsewhere on the night before the wedding.

“I... “ her voice was soft and required him to get up against the door to hear. “I don’t think we should do this.”

Robb sounded confused and the creak of the bed suggested that he was at least sitting up to look at her. “Where is this coming from?”

“Theon he-”

“What did he say to you?” he asked, interrupting her.

“No- It’s not what you think.” A pause. He wanted desperately to see inside. “He got me thinking… We don’t know each other all that well. And I don’t want to feel like the decision was made for me.”

“Are- are you sure?”

She hesitated. “Robb… I have feelings for Edmure. Nothings happened, I swear it-”

Robb cut her off, “I believe you.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for. I’m sorry… I haven’t been attentive or particularly invested in making things work…”

“We were in love with the idea of being in love… and pleasing everyone else.” She laughed lightly. “Theon taught me that.”

A breathy chuckle escaped Robb. “He can be like that. Always has been strangely insightful.”

After a break in the noise from within he heard footsteps approaching the door and flattened himself against the wall of the hinge side.

“He loves you too.”

“No. No, he doesn’t. He’s jealous. That’s all it is.”

“He thinks otherwise…”

“What?”

“God, this is embarrassing… I should have let them know from the start, but then it got past the point and it just got awkward. And it’s not like I’m hugely proficient-”

“Ros. Please.”

“We use some basic signing with the kids at school.”

“Oh…” he didn’t need further explanation, “shit.”

The door handle turned.

“And…”

“And?”

“You don’t need to worry about Wex.” She chuckled for a moment, presumably at his reaction, and opened the door. “Go easy on him.”

With his chest heaving, he leant back in the shadows and waited for her to head downstairs. When it came to knocking on the door he hesitated, struggling for what to say once face to face with him. And then the door opened for him.

“Theon-” Robb began, confused at him being there.

Theon bit his lip, eyes searching his face, searching for a sign of emotion. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” he told him, fists clutching at his shirt to pull him inside the room.

“No, it’s not. I was-”

Taking Theon’s face into hands, Robb joined their lips and his own parted on their own hungrily, allowing Robb to possess him eagerly. He parted only to speak. “I don’t care. I can’t wait any longer.” Kisses fell against his jaw and down to the sensitive skin of his neck. “Because, fuck, have you kept me waiting.” Embarrassingly, Theon felt his knees threaten to buckle under the touch of Robb’s mouth and the graze of stubble. At the sound of his husky voice by his ear. “It’s a good job you’re worth it.”

“Fuck. Robb.” This wasn’t him, he needed to gather some semblance of composure. His hands gripped Robb at the hips, fingers teasing at the waistband of his trousers. Slowly he let his thumbs dip below and caress the concealed skin, feeling its heat and moving them further forwards with circular motions and swiping down his fingers.

Robb’s breathed hitched as they pulled down and a groan emerged. “I didn’t mean- we don’t have to.”

He smirked. “Oh, I know.”

Silently, he encouraged Robb to move to the bed while working on his belt and the button of his trousers. Backing him up against it he pushed them down and ran his palm over his crotch. Robb, forced to sit on the edge of the mattress, shuffled up to the headboard expectantly. Once there he was there, Theon made a show of taking off his clothes slowly with agonising restraint. It was worth it for the look of pure adoration of Robb’s face, at the expression that told him if he were any slower he’d have taken things into his own hands. A look that spoke volumes. A look that sent shivers down his spine.

Robb Stark would eat him alive and he’d hand himself over to his whims and desires without reservation.

“I…” Robb’s eyed Theon carefully, and hands reached to bring him in, roaming over his torso as he did so, treating him as one might touch a work of art, an artefact for tactile exploration. His fingertips rode across the landscape of his body. “This is different.”

Theon chuckled, twisting himself to let Robb inspect, with eyes and gloriously firm hands, the kraken as it wound around his back. “It’s like you’ve never seen a tattoo before.”

“It’s just a shame my fantasies were devoid of it. It’s not in the memory bank.” He winked playfully. Charming fucker. “And this,” he said looking between where his hand played with the nipple piercing and the reaction on Theon’s face. “This seems like something I should have known about.” Robb’s hands clung to him, holding his body tight in as it arched under the delight of the sensation of his mouth toy with the ring and dark flesh beneath.

Vigorous and devoted, his hands worked him as easily as one might clay. Verging on delirium as he looked at the pride written on Robb’s face through half lidded eyes, and, overwhelmed, he slumped into Robb’s body, forehead finding the nook between neck and shoulder.

As he felt Robb guide him down onto him, he couldn’t help but feel relieved one of them seemed to be holding it together. Groaning with pleasure, relishing the fullness, he pulled back to meet Robb’s eyes, the blue taken over by blown pupils. He looked like he felt. His forehead scrunched from the concentration as bit down on those plump lips of his.

“You’re beautiful,” he moaned, reaching to pull the tie from Theon’s hair, letting the dark cascade around him. His fingers wound through, testing and appreciating the silken locks.

“You’re lust drunk,” teased Theon, rocking himself and arching his back to find an angle Robb clearly found gratifying.

Robb’s tongue darted across his lip, eyes pressing closed momentarily. “I love you.”

“I know,” Theon smirked and watched as he smiled against the intensity of his expression. “I love you too.”

Seizing Theon’s hips, Robb took hold of the situation, taking them into a punishing pace.

“You feel so fucking good.”

Theon could only moan out his agreement. No fantasy would ever compare. He’d been under the false assumption that usually reality did not meet the expectation of a dream. As he began to struggle to hold himself Robb flipped him over onto his back, pounding into him. His hands reached to clutch anything, but the sheets didn’t cut it. They found Robb’s arms, marvelling at just how firm the muscles felt under the pressure of holding him up. He gripped so tightly, overcome with bliss, his body singing, that he could almost feel the bruises being drawn out.

Finding himself teetering on the cliff edge, he let go to pull down Robb’s forehead against hims, letting their breath and moans mingle and join together in harmony.

“Robb- Fuck- Robb,” the calls streamed from his mouth as he battled with the intention of being quiet within the full house.

Robb’s hand jerked as he tried to alter his position slightly, his movement alternating between and fast and slow. Neither of them would last much longer. Stumbling slightly, the hand landed part on his neck, the thumb pressing unwittingly before it slid down and caught on his hair, pulling it. Theon heard an embarrassing whine escape him and Robb start and cut off the word ‘sorry’.

Robb’s eyes widened and he quirked a brow. “Baby, we’re going to have to revisit that.”

The mere promise tipped him over. With curled toes he writhed beneath Robb who didn’t last much longer.

“That was…” Theon struggled for adequate vocabulary, the daze setting in.

Robb finished for him, “something else?”

“Yeah, that.”

Smiling, Robb brushed the hair from his sweat laden brow and set a kiss sweetly against it.

“So…” Theon said as Robb collapsed beside him, “what are you going to do about this wedding of yours that you made me style?”