He had heard Robb had found a new boyfriend. The fact registered in the back of his mind and he let it linger there for a while, swallowed it with the bitter coffee that burnt his tongue and stared outside the window. The sky was grey, as it often was that far north, tough the weather wasn’t particularly bad that day. Theon had lived through far worse winters, still… it was worse than it had been for a while now.
He laid awake at night, and then he’d remember it. Robb had someone new. Had it been too long or not enough? Had he been ready to give himself so readily? Had he jumped at the chance or had their relationship left lasting scars on him making it hard for Robb to open up to anyone else until…
It was by accident, that he found who he was dating. Not that it came as a surprise. Jon Snow had always been a constant in Robb’s life, even when they were dating. Something Theon pointed out many times, readily and madly. He wished he could feel angry, but the knife carved into his chest had nowhere else to go, and all he could feel was a sad sense of responsibility, a cold sliver of regret.
He saw them, around town. Walking close—closer than they’d allowed themselves to be when Robb and him were still a thing—looking at each other in a way Theon never thought he’d be able to look at someone.
Robb tensed when he saw him, blue eyes frozen on his face, jaw set like he was ready for a fight. And Jon… Jon Snow looked like the perfect best friend turned boyfriend. Righteous and angry, hand on Robb’s, cold grey eyes that seemed to burn through Theon. It made him think of all the nights they must’ve spent talking about all the awful things Theon did, all the times he had hurt Robb.
He stood there, without a reaction for far too long, his legs kept moving but his mind lingered in that moment.
Robb was younger, when they met. Innocent, scared. Theon remembered loving that. The vulnerability he let on so clear. He was sure this was what love was. This desire to consume and be consumed, to set his feelings afire until there was nothing left.
He remembered the way Ramsay looked at him, touched him, the cruel smile on his lips as if Theon was always a step behind and he would be oh so glad to catch up him up.
Robb was very different from Ramsay, but Theon wasn’t sure the same thing could be said of himself.
He remembered the times he would push Robb, with a dare and a smirk, the way his doubts would get swallowed up with kisses, and the bruises on their skin were a thing of love. The times he’d convince him to stay up until dawn, drinking from his cup and falling asleep on a stranger’s mattress, missing classes and family events alike. Fighting and making out in the same breathe.
It never occurred to him that it might not be healthy. Not until the circles under Robb’s eyes grew darker, until his friends went quiet whenever Theon entered the room, until his family started despising him. He thought they were jealous, and he walked around with Robb on his arm like a trophy. Let Jon Snow be bitter, let them all die mad, Robb was his.
Until he wasn’t. until they were past the breaking point and Robb left. With a scowl on his face and tears on his eyes. Theon couldn’t understand, refused to—until Ramsay walked back into his life. A smirk on his lips and a cigarette between his fingers, as though the bruises he left on his body and the words he carved into Theon’s mind were nothing but embers of a dying fire about to be ignited again.
Theon accepted the cigarette but the burn on his lips was nothing short of unpleasant, and the cold evening grew colder, even under the body of the man he once believed to love.
He understand too late what he had done. And when he left Ramsay’s place in the morning, it was with shame and regret burning up his throat.
He wanted to call Robb and apologize, to tell him all of the things he did wrong and explain himself, hoping that somehow it’d make it hurt a little less. That maybe he and Robb could still be a thing. He didn’t. he didn’t know, wouldn’t know, couldn’t know, how his absence made Robb feel, how his presence would, how much pain he had caused—and he could never even begin to fix it.
He wondered—and wondered still if it was just a trick to ease the burning guilt—if sorry would ever be enough. If Robb had to pick up his pieces all alone, if Jon had to build his trust back again, to touch all the places Theon had bruised with caring hands to pull him back together, if he had to show him love could be gentle, that love could be good.
There were tears on his eyes. But he knew, most of all, that it was his own fault and he would never be able to fix the wrongs he left behind. He let Robb go, walking hand in hand with Jon, with bitter memories of who they used to be. Theon hoped he was happy, he hoped, most of all, that he’d learned a better way—both of them.