Sanctuary

Chapter 16

Mya woke up on the floor, curled up in the corner of her jail cell. Her head was pounding. She was disoriented for a brief moment before the horror of the previous day came rushing back. Today she was set to go back to the Eyrie to face a sham trial that would, without a doubt, result in her death. Today was the day Alice Longmire would die, and with her any chance of happiness.

The jail was empty. Pale sunlight crept through the windows, leaving long rectangles on the wooden floor. Drawing her knees up to her chest, Mya rested her chin on the ridiculous, full skirts she still wore. She’d rather stay right here in this cell forever than face Lysa and Petyr again. She’d been up for most of the night, dozing off only in the darkest hours, turning her situation over in her head. The Sheriff wouldn’t let her just walk away, Theon had abandoned her, and the Starks were out of her reach.

Running a hand over her hair, she felt a small flurry of wilted forget-me-nots fall to the floor. The sight of them made her eyes well up again.

Yesterday morning she and Theon had met in the hayloft before the rest of the ranch awoke, knowing their time together would be limited by the festivities of Robb’s wedding. Their lovemaking had been drowsy and familiar, a comfort she’d never experienced. After, they’d laid together on an old, worn saddle blanket, his chest warm against her back.

Twining her fingers through his, Mya had craned her neck and looked over her shoulder at Theon. “What’re you smilin’ about?”

“Nothin’.” Theon had dropped his lips to her shoulder, letting them linger. They were warm, but still sent shivers down her spine. “Can’t a man smile?”

“They usually have a reason for it.” Mya rolled onto her stomach with a coy smile, propping her chin on her hand.

Theon smiled, lazily looping a lock of her hair around his fingers. “I’ve got my very own naked, beautiful girl all to myself. That’s worth smilin’ over.”

Mya laughed. “Is that how it is? I’m all yours?”

“Must be.” Theon shifted her so she was straddling him, resting his hands on her hips. He was hard again already. “I don’t share easy.”

“So I’ve noticed.” Mya slid onto him, heat flaring in her belly. She leaned down to kiss him as his grip on her tightened. “Neither do I.”

They easily fell into their familiar rhythm. Towards the end, Theon drew Mya close, tangling his hands in her hair.

“You’re mine, understand?” he whispered hoarsely in her ear. “You’re mine.”

After, when they’d dressed and were heading back to the house, she’d plucked the sprig of forget-me-nots almost as a joke, telling him Sansa had wanted to put some in her hair for the wedding.

“If I’m yours, you’re mine,” she’d said, only half-serious. He’d worn them anyway.

And now the remnants of the flowers were limp and dead on the floor. Mya picked one of them up, letting the small blossom rest on her fingertip. When she’d lived in the Eyrie she’d heard an old story about how the delicate blue flower was the symbol of love and fidelity between lovers.

Lovers. The word sounded bittersweet in her head. I had a lover. I had someone who cared.

She didn’t know how long she stayed there, staring at the petals. Eventually the jail door opened. The flood of sunlight made Mya squint when she looked up. The figure entering wasn’t Petyr, or Lysa, or even the Sheriff. Instead it was a tall woman who looked to be a few years older than Mya. She would’ve had a slim, almost coltish figure were it not for her swollen belly. She held the hands of two little girls, one on either side. They all had the same soft brown hair and blue-grey eyes. The woman smiled at Mya, setting a bundle down on the table.

“I’m Alys. The Sheriff’s wife.” She scooped up the smaller girl, propping her on her hip. “Smalljon- well, Jon to you, I s’pose, he’s waiting outside. Said what you were wearin’ wasn’t real proper for travel and wanted me to help you out.”

Mya looked down at her now-wrinkled dress. The skirt was dirty from sitting on the floor, and her tears had dried into small, discolored spots on the fabric. What does it matter what I’m wearing? No one cares what you wear when you hang.

“Thank you,” she made herself say. “That’s very thoughtful.”

“Stand up now, let me get a look at you.” Alys tilted her head, regarding Mya’s figure. “The gods didn’t see fit to bless you with much in the way of hips, did they. Ah well, they did the same to me. Well, till Jon Umber got a hold of me.” Brushing her lips across her younger girl’s brown curls, she set the toddler down. “There you go, Nella. Play with Fae for a bit. Mama needs her hands.” Rifling through a bundle of clothing, she pulled out a roughspun brown skirt and soft cream-colored blouse. “These won’t fit me anymore, not after birthin’ my little bear cubs.”

Mya took the proffered clothes, perplexed as to why this woman she’d never even met was giving her clothes. “You...know who I am, right? What happened?”

“I sure do.” Alys tilted her head. “You’re a whore who didn’t want to whore anymore and went about it wrong. But if it helps, some of us here in town don’t think any ill of you. Desperate times, desperate measures.”

“What about the rest of the people?”

Alys pursed her lips as she pulled out a large iron key and unlocked Mya’s cell. “Don’t matter what they think. Go on and get changed now. Your ride’s waitin’ out front for you. And don’t think about runnin’, neither. Like I said, my husband’s waitin’ out there, too.”

Mya waited until Alys had wrangled her girls out of the jail before changing. The clothes fit her well enough, but they felt like a funeral shroud. She wrapped her fingers around the bars of her cell door. It swung open on silent hinges, waiting for her to exit. The rest of the jail was silent and still, and Mya wondered if she’d imagined Alys and her children. Go, she told her feet. You have to go. It’s time to face the truth.

Her feet seemed to have rocks tied around them, and it felt like years before she stood in front of the door. Her hand trembled as she put it on the knob, and her palm was so sweaty she almost couldn’t turn it. You have to. You have to do this. Petyr’s out there waiting for you, Petyr and Lysa and that snot-nosed little boy of hers. If you don’t go the Sheriff will come in here and drag you out eventually. Don’t let them know you’re scared. Be brave. You’re a Stone. Be strong.

Her eyes welled up. She just wanted to see Theon one more time, to feel his touch. She wanted to hear him forgive her, for him to know that she did truly, deeply love him.

The time for that has passed.

Mya turned the knob, pushed the door, and the air went out of her. Parked in front of the jail was Theon in the Stark’s little wagonette. He looked rough: an eye was blackened, his lip was split, and he was still dressed in yesterday’s clothes. They were rumpled and torn in a few spots, and he had a day’s growth of whiskers on his chin. Exhaustion rolled off him in waves. One foot was propped on the wagon’s buckboard and his shoulders were slumped.

For a long moment all she could do was stare. Then Theon spat over the edge of the wagon and looked at her. Her insides shriveled, and all Mya wanted to do was cry. “I’ll take ‘er from here, Sheriff.”

Mya looked back at the Sheriff, who merely nodded. “Best of luck to you, missy.”

It was just the two of them then. Mya tried to keep from fidgeting, her heart pounding in her throat. “I thought Petyr or Lysa would come for me.”

“Get in.” Theon jerked his head at the seat next to him. “I got some things that need sayin’.”

Mya’s feet seemed rooted to the ground. “I- I don’t understand…”

Theon heaved a huge sigh, clearly irritated. “Godsdamn woman, would you just get in the wagon?”

Mya scrambled to comply. Her foot slipped when she started to climb up into the seat. Theon grabbed her wrist and hauled her up. His grip wasn’t as hard as it might have been, and his fingers lingered around her wrist once she’d found her seat. Something about his touch gave her a sliver of hope.

Theon said nothing, just clicked to Smiler. The stallion set off down the road towards the train depot. Mya could see the engine waiting, gleaming black and bellowing steam. A few figures moved around the platform, but she couldn’t tell who was there. She leaned forward in her seat, biting her lower lip so hard she tasted blood. The tension wove around the two of them like wires, hard and binding. Finally Mya made herself speak.

“Why’re you taking me? I thought Petyr and Lysa would come and get me.”

“Nope. They ain’t gonna bother you anymore.” Theon said evenly. He still hadn’t looked at her.

A cold pit formed in Mya’s stomach as she took in his split lip, bruises, and swollen knuckles again. “What-...did you kill them?”

This time he did look at her, incredulity on his face. “Hells no! How stupid do you think I am? Either a’ them turns up with so much as a splinter, everyone’d come after me for it. You think I was lookin’ to be your cellmate? No, they’re alive. On their way out of town with that train back there.”

Mya gaped as the wagon travelled into the cool pine forest outside of town. “What? But...how?

“I’ll tell you later.” Theon shook the reins again and Smiler broke into a trot. “For now though, do me a favor.”

“Anything.”

“Just...be quiet for a spell. I had a long night and my head’s achin’.”

“Oh.” Mya tried to sit still, but her insides were itching for her to jump up and dance. Whatever Theon had done, she’d never be able to repay him. She linked and unlinked her fingers, trying to keep from being too jittery. All she wanted to do was throw her arms around Theon and never let go. “Are we goin’ back to Winterfell, then?”

“Eventually. I want to show you somethin’ first. And like I said, there are some things that need sayin’. Just hush up now though.”

Mya did her best to obey. Theon steered the wagon along the road towards Winterfell, but before they reached the ranch he took a smaller, less-travelled road that headed straight for the woods. They travelled on for half an hour maybe, before he turned down an even more rutted path. At the end of it the path curved upwards, leading to a small clearing surrounded by ancient, towering trees. Smiler’s hooves were muffled by a carpet of pine needles and old leaves. The underbrush swatted at the wagon’s wheels. Once in the clearing, Theon stopped the wagon and climbed down.

Mya followed, looking around. The clearing was beautiful. The woods here were old. The wind whispered to itself as it blew through the trees, and sunlight danced on the ground. There was a small, sturdy-looking stone cabin towards the back of the clearing, covered in vines. One window was broken, and the roof was littered with fallen twigs and branches. The porch was missing a step, and the door hung open like a broken jaw. Across the clearing was a barn, looking just as old. As they watched, a skinny fox crept out of the barn, a dead stoat in its jaws. The fox watched them warily for a moment before bounding off into the woods.

“What is this?” she asked Theon, bewildered.

“It’s mine,” he replied. “Or, it will be once I talk to Ned.”

She felt like she’d fallen into a conversation with Theon halfway through it, and she’d missed the most important parts. She shook her head, trying to clear the cobwebs. “Yours?”

Theon looked around the clearing and for the first time that day Mya saw him smile just a hair, that crooked smile she loved so much. “Mine. I’m comin’ up on 24 years old, Al-...Mya. That’s too old to be sharin’ a room with a boy that still wets the bed, and too old to be livin’ hand-to-mouth on someone else’s land. I’ve wanted this land since I came of age. The Starks don’t need me around anymore, either. Robb’s healed up, Jon’s around now, and Bran’s near old enough to start learnin’ the ropes. I’m not one for seein’ signs everywhere, but I almost missed out on this. I’ve got an opportunity here to take this and make it my own. To do somethin’ good with myself. I’d be a fool if I didn’t take it.”

Mya’s skin prickled pleasantly when he said her name. The clearing was quiet while she tried to figure out how to reply. Theon was acting as though the previous night hadn’t happened at all...Had it? Was she still sleeping? No, that was ridiculous. Her back ached from where she’d curled in the corner of her jail cell. She cleared her throat. “I think you’ll do well here.”

“It’s 40 acres from where we turned onto the second trail. Enough for me to train horses, start a few crops. But not by myself.” Theon glanced at her and something in his eyes made Mya’s heart trip and stutter. “I wanna ask you somethin’. And I want you to be honest with me.”

“Of course.”

“Yesterday when I was leavin’ the jail you said you...loved me.”

Mya went very still. “Yes.”

“Did you mean it? Or were you just tryin’ to get me to bust you out?”

“I meant it. I mean it,” Mya said quickly. “I do.” She looked at her hands, trying to gather her thoughts. “I never meant to lie, honest.” Mya looked up at Theon, feeling her eyes sting. “I was just so scared.”

Theon reached out as if he wanted to touch her, but at the last minute pulled away. “You lied from the start, though. How do I know you’re not still spinnin’ a yarn?”

“Because I’m not!” Mya exclaimed. “You know I’m not! If you thought otherwise you would’ve left me for Petyr and Lysa.” When Theon didn’t reply, she tentatively took his hand. “Yes, I was a whore. I didn’t want to be. No girl wants to be. All I wanted, all I ever wanted, was to feel like I had a place, that I was wanted, and that I had a home. That brothel wasn’t a home. I wasn’t safe there. I never knew if the next man who bought me would get angry and beat me or kill me or make me do...just horrible things. My son died there, and I never-” Mya had to stop and catch her breath. She was gripping Theon’s hand so hard her knuckles were white. “I never saw him.

“With you...I’m home. You make me feel safe. I want to be with you. That hasn’t happened before. Not like this. And I don’t expect it’ll happen again. Things like this don’t happen to girls like me. I don’t know if you’re meaning to send me off or what. Can’t say I’d blame you if you did. If that’s what your plan is, I’ll go. Just know that I do honestly, truly love you.”

For a long time the clearing was quiet. Mya wiped her eyes, trying to collect herself and think of her next move. She didn’t look at Theon; she couldn’t. Looking at him would mean facing his rejection and his anger and she couldn’t bear that.

Theon shifted. “There’s forty acres here,” he said as if Mya hadn’t said anything at all.

She looked up at him warily. Had he not been listening? “You said that.”

“It’s too much land for me to handle by myself. And I can’t very well drag Robb away from Winterfell.” Theon was still looking around the clearing, his arms crossed over his chest.

Something inside Mya cracked. She turned to him, her tears renewing themselves “Didn’t you hear what I just said? I poured my heart out to you, Theon, and you’re sitting there talking about how you can’t handle all the land you’re set to buy? I love you. Can’t you at least acknowledge-”

“Seven hells woman,” Theon broke in impatiently. “Are you really gonna make me say it?”

That brought Mya up short. “Say what?”

Theon finally looked at her. His bruises were only getting worse as the day went on, the bags under his eyes heavier. He swiped a hand over where his lip was split, glancing at his fingers as if he expected them to come away wet with blood. “It’s what you said - things like this don’t happen people like us. I’m just s’posed to stay the last son of a gang of stagecoach robbers, and you’re s’posed to lay with any man that pays you. In another world I’d probably be one of them. But…” He shrugged. “That ain’t the way it is here. And if I had to put words to what I feel about you, then I love you too.” Theon smiled, a little crooked thing. “There. Now will you stop bawlin’?”

Mya burst into tears.

Theon sighed, but gathered her close. “I don’t know what it is with women,” he said softly, his lips against her hair. “Bunch a’ sobbin’ messes, the lot of you.”

“Hush up,” Mya said in a wavering voice. She pulled away just far enough to look up at him. She couldn’t stop smiling or crying, and she knew she looked a mess. “What do we do now?”

“Now, we go back to Ned, I buy this land, and you come with me.” Theon cupped her face and wiped her cheeks. “This is probably a terrible idea but I’d be kickin’ myself if we didn’t at least try.”

“Think about the way the women in town will talk, the two of us shackin’ up. Poor Sansa will go into hysterics.” Mya laughed as relief flooded through her. “ ‘less you plan on marryin’ me.”

Theon gave her a look. “I just barely escaped one marriage. I’m not about to go jumpin’ into another. As for the people in town, let ‘em talk. Honestly, no one should be surprised that I’m livin’ in sin with an unemployed whore.”

“Retired.” Mya corrected him. She paused, biting the inside of her lip. “Are you sure? I can’t cook, can’t sew, can barely clean, I’ve never kept a house before-”

Theon kissed her. “Hush up. You could barely saddle a horse when you came here. You learned. And you’ll learn how to do a woman’s work. I’m sure Cat and Sansa and Rosanne-”

Roslin.

“-Roslin will teach you.” Theon smiled widely, and laughed as he drew her close. “Gods. This is the first good thing to happen in months.”

“I know,” Mya closed her eyes as she buried her face against his chest. She inhaled his scent, felt his heart beat beneath her cheek. His arms tightened around her. “This is perfect.”

“Almost. Let’s go buy this shack, and then it’ll be perfect.” Pressing one more kiss to Mya’s forehead, Theon straightened.“ ‘course, then we’ll have to patch the roof, fix the window, replace that step, shim the front door, and the gods only know how many varmints are livin’ in there right now…”

“Stop that.” Mya knocked his ribs with an elbow. “You’re going to make me change my mind.”

“And give up all this?” Theon made a sweeping gesture across the clearing.

“No,” Mya said, tucking herself against his side. “This is home.”


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