The goddamn rain was blowing in his goddamn face and his hat didn’t do shit and Robb was prob’ly sitting at the goddamn kitchen table right now with a bowl of stew and that bedraggled creature from the barn who didn’t have a half-bad look to her, despite her condition… Theon jammed his dripping Stetson down a little further and shook his head. She was pretty enough, comparable to Ellie, maybe, but nothin’ compared to Ygritte. The thought wasn’t entirely welcome, and he dug his spurs in, racing the rain.
Smiler leaped over one of the fences at the eastern border of the Stark’s land without being asked, bringing Theon back to his present task. He leaned over the horse’s wet neck, urging him on faster despite the storm raging around them; he knew the great bay stallion could take it, knew the horse’s limits as intimately as he knew his own. He’d been the one to break the stallion when he was just a yearling, fierce and headstrong. “Just a little bit longer, there’s a boy,” he told him as he dug his spurs in and took him over a washout in the track, where a seasonal stream pushed over its banks by a wet spring had cut the road in two for at least six feet. It roiled, unknowably deep, and as Smiler landed Theon felt the extra the horse was sinking into the mud. It was slowing them down, making them slip and risking a nasty fall but even as mud flew up and splattered his face he let Smiler find his footing on the rutted road.
"T’morrow’s Sunday...lazy day for you, pal.” There was no work on Sundays, on Cat Stark’s orders. She’d be herding her clan into town for church, but Theon begged off on account of his family’s particular religious practices. In reality, though, he’d use the time to sneak off and meet Ygritte. If he didn’t catch his death of pneumonia out here tonight. Mud and rain flew upwards from Smiler’s hooves as they flew along the track into town, splattering Theon even further than he already was. He swore silently, knowing there'd be no way he could get a bath in tonight. Not with the weather, and not with the injured girl in the kitchen.
The night’d been a bust from the get-go, really, so this was just taking things to their logical conclusions. All of the girls at the saloon had been occupied, or rather all the ones he was interested in, and Robb got too drunk to leave alone, so Theon hadn’t been able to head on down to Ros’s place. The poker game hadn’t been much better, since he’d basically had to play Robb’s hand and his own, reading his friend and playing off him every hand. It’d worked out just about as well as it did when Robb wasn’t pissdrunk; Theon had won plenty, but Robb’s mediocre play took the heat off, and nobody noticed a thing. Only difference was this time, Theon had had to work double for the same measly amount. The poker games in Torrhen’s Square were hardly worth the effort, really, and not at all when he had a belly full of rotgut and double the work.
After asking around, he found Luwin in the exact last place he wanted to go. But Robb, or Catelyn, more like, was liable to pistolwhip him if he came home without a doctor, so he knocked on the door, hat in hand.
“Mister Greyjoy?” Ellie’s older cousin Margie answered the door. Even at this time of night she looked wide awake, her large brown eyes alert. Her golden-brown hair was down, spilling in loose curls over her shoulders, and she brushed it back impatiently, resting a hand on a slim hip.
“What are you doing here this late?”
He raised an eyebrow, feeling a trickle of rain change course and make its way down the side of his face, hoping to be let in to the foyer space, or at least under the stoop proper, as the rain was cold. She just laughed, and suddenly he could see the exhaustion in her pretty face. “You’ll have to excuse my manners, but half the kids are sick as dogs and the rest of the family’s not far behind.”
“Ah…” Margie always put Theon back on his heels, and today was no exception. It was something about the way she smiled, crooked and sharp as an arrowhead. Robb had joked once that he and Margie had the same smile, but Theon had never believed him until now. He shifted on the wet porch, left with a feeling of faint unease that he wrote off as icy rain trailing down his back. “That explains it.”
“Explains what, Mister Greyjoy?” Margie’s smile quirked up a little at one corner. “I do hope you weren’t hoping to see Ellie at this late hour…” Her wry expression seemed to suggest just the opposite, though, and for a brief moment Theon was distracted from his task by the thought of what liberties he might be able to take… He shook his head. He was too damn cold, anyway.
“Nah.” He spit off the edge of the porch, dismissing her suggestion. “We got a situation out t’Winterfell that requires Doc’s attention.”
“Oh no, not the same thing we’re fighting here, I hope?”
“No, no, just--” He suddenly realized it might be better not to say that they’d found a strange girl in the barn and shrugged. “Guess it could be, come t’think of it, don’t rightly know. Robb ‘n I’d just got home when Cat said t’ ride for Doc. And here I am.” He spread his arms wide, reminding her that he was standing on the porch in the middle of a downpour.
“Here you are…” The way she looked him up and down was positively lecherous, Theon was sure of it. But after a long moment, she just nodded. “I’ll fetch him for you.”
Old Doc Luwin was a good enough rider, though his old dapple mare had a hell of a time keeping up with Smiler. The rain had mostly petered out by the time they made it back to Winterfell, and Theon took the reins of Luwin’s horse without a word, heading for the stable. Smiler needed a good rubdown after that ride, and the doc’s mare a stall to rest in. And anyway, he didn’t want to be inside when the girl from the barn got her arm reset. He knew from experience that the good doctor was stingy with the laudanum, and he had no interest in hearing a woman scream anything other than his name.
The next morning broke fine and clear, the muddy ground the only trace of the storm from the night before. He and Robb had slept rough; the strange girl from the barn had upset the household to a considerable degree. Sansa and Arya had given up their bed to her, and they, in turn, had booted Theon and Robb from their beds. Robb opted for the foot of Bran and Rickon’s bed, but Theon was forced to choose between the kitchen floor in front of the stove or the hayloft in the barn. The hayloft offered better opportunity to slip away in the morning, so he headed out to the barn with a blanket under his arm.
“Muh?” Theon sat up, hay drifting out of his hair and down between his eyes. Everything was lit up with a fuzzy golden light, and for a moment he couldn’t remember where he was...what the dust filtering through the morning sunbeams was. But with a creak of old hinges and a thunk of wood, Robb’s head popped up in the trapdoor, dark circles under his eyes, squinting as the sunlight hit him square in the face. As Theon stared at him, and he stared back,the night before came back slowly.
“Greyjoy. Ma wants you to check on Alice while we’re at church.” Robb said. He folded his arms on the floorboards and put his chin on them, brushing away some straw from his chin, and waited while Theon forced himself more awake.
“Alice?” The only Alice Theon could think of was the big piebald mare that one of his uncles’ had rode, years back.He stared at Robb dumbly, waiting for further explanation.
“Alice. The girl from last night?” Robb’s tone was fondly exasperated. “The reason you’re sleepin’ out here in the first place?” He gestured with a tired hand.
“Right, right.” Theon laid his head back down on the balled up saddle blanket he’d been using as a pillow, folding his arms behind his head. He wasn’t entirely convinced that was the girl’s name, not with the way she’d hesitated when telling them. But what did he care what her name was? “Yeah, sure. I gotta ride out and check the North pasture, too.” Robb opened his mouth, and Theon held up a hand, forestalling his protest. “I do. Your pa wanted it done last week and we never did get ‘round to it. I’ll camp out there t’night and meet you at the river in the morning. And I’ll check on Alice before I go,” he finished as Robb opened his mouth to cluck at him.
Once the carriage was away, a trail of dust marking its progress towards town, Theon climbed down from the hayloft, stretching his weary limbs. He slept rough more often than not, but still...it was nice to get a night on a mattress, even if it was stuffed with straw. But he wouldn’t begrudge the girl, Alice or whatever her name was... Shaking his head, he made sure his saddle bags were packed with everything he’d need, then climbed the steps of the back porch and headed in to check on her.
Cat had left a stew simmering on the stove, and it was just beginning to fill the kitchen with its scent. There was one carrot left that she’d either forgotten about or hadn’t had time to chop, and he grabbed it as he made his way to the stairs at the back of the house. Smiler could use a treat after the ride last night.
The girls’ room was on the east side of the house, and when he cracked the door, the sunlight flooding damn near blinded him. “Hellfire…” He muttered, shading his eyes with a hand. There was an indistinct murmuring from the bed and he opened the door a bit wider, peering in. How could she still be sleeping in broad daylight? As his eyes adjusted to the sun, he saw how her arm was wrapped to her chest and the pallor of her face beneath ink-black hair, and realized it was probably pain that kept her abed.
“Oi,” he began, then scuffed his feet. Cat would have his head if she knew he were talking to a young lady that way in her house. “Miss. I gotta be out t’the North pasture now, but the family’ll be home from church soon.” The only reply was a muffled sound that could’ve been a snore and he shut the door, satisfied he’d done his duty.
It was hard not to keep his mind from wandering as he rode out to the North pasture. The day was fine and clear and the sun was burning high in the sky by the time he made it over the river. He’d been leaving signs for Ygritte all week as he and Robb had rode the width and breadth of the Starks’ land, things for her eyes, that only she’d understand...feathers from a red-tailed hawk tied to a fencepost in the northwest, green wood in a campfire, so she’d see the thick smoke. He was sure she’d be there today, though sometimes the timing didn’t work out, and missed each other. When that happened, he was like to spend his entire month’s pay in one of the brothels in town, trying to recreate some small measure of what she had to give him.
The North pasture was a hundred acres of fine grazing land, but he veered straight to the left when he came to it, headed for the thick copse of aspen and larch trees at the western edge. Hot springs dotted the land here, and he knew if she’d seen his signs, she’d be waiting for him there. Cattle dotted the land to his right, and everything looked as it should, as far as he could tell. Not that he was looking closely. He could see a tiny tendril of smoke rising from the copse of trees and he gave Smiler a taste of his spurs, eager to get to his woman.
She was waiting for him at the edge of one of the springs, just undoing the laces of her snug leather leggings. She pushed them over her hips and Theon swallowed, his eyes travelling down the flat, white plane of her stomach, lower and lower. She looked up at him with a bold smile and her fingers slowed down, tantalizingly so. Theon swore by all the named gods that she had some sort of sixth sense and purposely waited until the moment he arrived to begin stripping down. Tying Smiler up to a tree a ways off from her own dappled mount, he tossed his hat at her as he dismounted and began unbuckling his gunbelt.
“How do I look?” She put the hat on, laughing when it slipped down over her brow a little. “Howdy, pardner.” She twirled an imaginary sixshooter and holstered it, her laughter bright and clear in the shady copse of trees and Theon thought maybe he’d never leave this place.
“Howdy yourself, ma’am.” He dropped his gunbelt next to her bow and picked her up, smiling when her legs wrapped around his waist, strong and lean beneath the worn leather. “You look beautiful. Over-dressed, but beautiful.”
“Beautiful.” Ygritte’s fingers were tangled in his hair and she gave it a sharp tug, her eyes dancing. “Don’t try’n sweet talk me, cowboy.” Sliding down off of him, she disentangled herself from his arms and finished undressing herself. He liked to watch her, the act so unlike the ridiculous striptease of the whores in town, but she took his hat off and smacked him across the chest with it. “You too. Hurry up.”
He took longer than her, his chaps requiring unbuckling and all the little buttons on his shirt needing undone. One time she’d ripped them off, but then he’d had to sit and sew them all back on before going home, lest Cat ask questions. They’d fought about it, then made up, but now she refused to touch his clothing at all. Well...mostly.
When he was down to just his cotton trousers, she snagged him by the waistband and pulled him close, kissing him as she undid each individual button with a slow precision that drove him mad. And made him laugh, as he knew she was teasing him about the shirt buttons. She nipped at his lips and pushed the pants down over his narrow hips. He tried to guide one of her hands to his cock, but she pulled away and jumped into the hot spring with a shout.
“Come on!” She splashed him and pushed herself back into the middle of the pool, steam rising up around her, her small breasts just hidden beneath the cloudy blue water.
Theon didn’t jump, but rather eased in with a groan. After a long week of riding and breaking yearlings with nothing but a splash of cold river water on his face, this was luxury beyond belief. Sinking in up to his chin, he closed his eyes for a moment and let his body loosen and float. When he opened them, Ygritte was gone. He knew what was coming, but it still took him by surprise when she wrapped a hand around his ankle and tugged him under the water before darting away.
The pool was only so big, the water bubbling hot out of the ground, but it took him a moment of sightless groping before he caught hold of her hair and pulled her to him as he broke the surface, her back flush with his front. Her body was slick and slim and perfect against him. She wriggled against him, teasing, until he wrapped a solid arm around her waist and held her fast against him. “That’s enough’a that, woman.”
Quick and lithe, she turned in his grasp and wrapped her legs around him again. This time, there was nothing between them and the only thing keeping him from pushing into her was his lack of traction in the middle of the pool. Still holding her close with one arm, he moved them back to the stony edge of the pool and found a small, smooth rock outcropping that would serve nicely. As soon as he set her on it, she pulled him into her, her hips rocking in a steady, driving rhythm. It had been too long, for both of them.
Theon had never thought to find a woman who liked, no, needed, to fuck like him, but Ygritte was certainly a match for him in that regard. Her nails dug into the meat of his shoulder, gripping him hard as they moved together. It had been like this from the very start, this almost desperate coupling.
They’d met...well, ‘met’ wasn’t really the word for it, in truth. They’d come across each other on the far Northern border of Stark land, both of them tracking elk they’d wounded. Theon found hers first, an arrow tipped with white feathers sunk deep into the animal’s shoulder. Sinking to a knee and pulling out his long knife, he slit the beast’s throat in one swift motion, but before he could rise, a second arrow thrummed past his head, embedding itself, quivering, in a tree in front of him.
Rising, he flipped the knife, catching the blood-slick blade with deft fingers and flinging it as he turned. But instead of pegging the wildling man he’d expected right between the eyes, it sailed over the head of the short, slim wildling woman in buckskin leggings and furs, who was pulling another arrow from her quiver.
“That’s mine,” she snarled, fitting the arrow to the bow and drawing in one smooth movement.
“Alright, darlin’, alright…” He rose to his feet slowly, keeping his hands in the air and well away from his six-shooters. His rifle was slung over his back, no help at all. “‘Course it’s yours, I can see the arrow plain as day. I was just finishin’ him off for ya. Lung shot,” he finished lamely. Anybody with two eyes and half a brain could see it was a lung shot.
“Would’ve been a heart shot,” she replied tartly, “if some fool’s gun hadn’t gone off an’ spooked ‘im.”
She lowered the bow as she spoke, and Theon relaxed a hair. “Pretty sure mine was a heart shot, though. ‘S’the advantage t’usin’ a rifle.”
Now that he wasn’t in imminent danger of being turned into a pincushion, he was able to see that while she was dressed in wildling garb, the woman in front of him was clearly not wildling-born. She had the sort of pale, speckled skin that he knew would burn in the summer, and was near translucent on this cold autumn day, and masses of curly red hair only partially tamed by her intricate braid.
“Think so, do ya?” She jerked her head back in the direction she’d come from, and he had a hard time not staring at the graceful line of her throat. “Go’n have a look.”
As it turned out, he’d hit a lung too, and she’d already dispatched his kill with impressive alacrity. They’d helped each other with field dressing the elk, then found their way to the springs after, ostensibly to wash off. He'd glanced up at the rustle of clothing, and had been caught off-guard to see the woman wiggling out of her clothes. She had approached him, her body surprisingly well-muscled, and she'd had to stand on her tiptoes when she went to kiss him. That first time, Theon had been shocked to discover that she enjoyed herself just as much as he did, and afterward she curled herself around him and slept as if she didn’t have a care in the world. Theon wasn’t much for sleeping; he just laid there with her under the lean-to she’d built, trying not to move so he could feel her breath rush over his chest, her skin warm against his.
In short order they’d arranged a way of meeting, a series of signals and signs that signified place and time...and Theon realized he was truly lost. Nothing could compare to Ygritte, not even the most expensive whore in town. He craved her like nothing he’d ever known; every time he saw one of her signs, his heart and stomach soared. He expected it to wear off after a few weeks, but the longer it went on the more he was convinced maybe it was meant to be. And then came Ellie...
"Where are you?" Ygritte murmured against his neck, dragging Theon back to the present. She pressed her lips against his pulse, her fingers tangling in her hair.
"I'm here." Theon gripped her hips and thrust into her, pulling her against him to hit her most secret places. She gave a soft, hoarse cry, and he grinned sharply as he did it again. "I'm right here."
Hours later, the night had wrapped around them, dark and mild, and Theon and Ygritte lay tangled around each other next to the remnants of their campfire. Embers rose into the air, blinking and flashing the way the stars were. They'd fucked for hours, rested, ate, and then fucked again, until she'd collapsed on his chest, spent. He turned his head slightly to inhale the scent rising from her hair, smoke and earth and some spice that was just her, and his fingers drifted up and down her spine. Theon wasn't one to believe in fate, or destiny, or any of that bullshit, but he believed there was a reason they fit together so well.
We're both outsiders.
Ygritte had been raised by Wildlings, but hadn't been born one. She'd been two or three when her family's small homestead had been massacred, both parents and an older brother slaughtered. One of the raiders had found her crying and cowering under her parents' bed, mere feet from her mother's body, and had dragged the girl to his tribal leader. The leader had, instead of ordering the girl's death, taken her in. He and his wife had raised Ygritte alongside their own children, teaching her how to hunt, and live off the land. When she was twelve they’d told her the story of how she’d come to live with them, and they also taught her how to kill. Her first kill, she'd told Theon, had been the man who had killed her original family. She loved the people who adopted her, but she had to have her vengeance.
Theon couldn't imagine Ygritte as anything but a Wildling woman. She was more at ease in the woods with her bow than anyone he'd ever seen. She was quiet as a deer when she moved through thick underbrush, still as stone when she stood in shadow. He couldn't imagine her in skirts, scrubbing dishes like Sansa or Arya. It just didn't fit. She was wild and free and able to roam wherever she liked, and sometimes it made Theon nearly sick with jealousy.
He was a Greyjoy, and his people were also raiders and marauders, only they stuck to stagecoaches and trains instead of homesteads and farms. They struck fast and vanished into the far Western hills and forests before the law could ever find them, except for one time when Theon was a child. A posse had caught up with his father, brothers, and uncles. They'd hung Rodrik and Maron, his brothers, and his father and uncles had been dragged to jail. For almost a month his mother refused to let him or his older sister Asha out of her sight, clinging to them in the shadows of their old, creaky homestead. For almost a month, there was no word of his father.
One day they came for him: a group of somber, dour-faced men led by Ned Stark. He’d taken Theon’s mother aside and had spoken to her in quiet, hushed tones, glancing at Theon and Asha occasionally. He remembered how his mother had cried out "No! You can't-" before Ned had taken her arm and gently led her into the parlor. By nightfall Theon was riding double with Ned Stark, his face screwed up against the older man's leather longcoat. All his worldly possessions were jammed into a few bags strapped to Ned's enormous black mount, and when he glanced over his shoulder he saw his home, the only home he'd known, vanishing into the dusky pines. He knew his mother remained there, could still feel her tears on his cheek as she'd given him one last hug. She'd told him he was going to live somewhere else, that he had to be very brave, and to always remember who he was.
"You're a Greyjoy," she'd whispered. "Remember your father. Remember me."
"I remember, Ma." Theon didn't realize he'd spoken out loud until Ygritte's steady, deep breathing changed next to him. In an instant, she was fully awake.
"Mmm...Theon?" She was stirring, resting her bony chin on his chest.
"Sorry, did I wake you?" He looped a lock of her red hair around a finger lazily, watching how the firelight seemed to make it glow.
Ygritte shook her head. "Were you thinkin' about her while you were inside me? Your little wifey-to-be?" Ygritte grinned sharply, her teeth white and even. "You ought to bring her with you sometime. 'd love to meet my competition." There was a threat there, plain as day, and it wheedled Theon like a splinter under his fingernail.
"Stop that." Theon sat up abruptly, shoving her off him. He rose to his feet and stalked towards where he'd dumped his saddlebags. There wasn't anything of import in there, but he couldn't stand to see the mocking in her blue-green eyes. After a minute he turned back towards the fire, staring at the flames. Across from him, Ygritte was sitting on her knees, arms crossed across her small breasts. Her expression was hard to read and he hated that too. "You know I don’t want her."
"Aye, y'don’t want her and you're betrothed to her. A fancy arranged marriage made by your dastardly father." Ygritte's tone was lilting and singsong. "Just like in the fairy tales." He glared at her over the flames, and she rose to her feet, padding across the soft earth until she wrapped her arms around his waist. “Come away with me, Theon. Now. Tonight. We can run and run and run and no one will ever find us. Y’wouldn’t have to even think of any of them ever again, and we could be free. Like all men were meant to be.” When he didn't respond she went on, her fingers trailing up and down his bare spine. "You 'n I are the same, Theon. Both stolen away from where we rightfully belong. But my folk never dared t'presume they could tell me who to marry, command me who to love. The heart don't work that way. We love who we love, who we're meant to love, and no more."
Theon rested his chin against Ygritte’s wild curls, taking comfort in the feel of her flesh hot against his. A soft breeze wound through the old pines, whispering softly and pulling at his hair. We could have this every night. Sleep under the stars every night. Answer to no one but the gods. For a moment he was tempted, so tempted….At the edge of the clearing Smiler snorted and brought Theon back to reality. Ned Stark had given charge of Smiler to Theon as a newborn foal when Theon was twelve. Eleven years now. You’ve been with the Starks longer than you were with your own kin. "He's yours, Theon. You raise him, you see him weaned, you break him. As long as you live with us, he's all yours."
Those words rattled around in Theon's memory. As much as Smiler was his, when it came down to it he was still the Stark's property. Just like you are. “I can’t, Ygritte. You know I can’t.”
“You can.” Ygritte was looking up at him with those deep blue-grey eyes of hers, fringed by surprisingly dark lashes. She bit her bottom lip, dragging it through her teeth in a way that was at once maddening and arousing, and bumped her hips against his. “I know you can. You're your own man, aren't you?”
"You know I am." Theon sounded like an indignant child, even to himself.
"Then prove it." Ygritte's look hardened. "You're not some dog they have chained to a tree."
“I’ve got…”Theon twisted out of her grasp and crouched next to the fire, poking a stick into it. “I’ve got responsibilities.”
“They shouldn’t be yours to begin with. You didn’t ask for any of it.”
"What's it matter?" Restless, Theon rose to his feet again, pacing. Ygritte was still as a statue, and he couldn't help but stare at the way the light pooled against her collarbone, the pink tips of her breasts. "I...I didn't come here to talk about any of this with you. I just want..." He lifted his hands in a helpless shrug and let them drop. "I just want you."
"Then have me." Ygritte padded across the small clearing and took his hands in her small, rough ones. "I'm yours, Theon. As much as anyone can be someone else's. You're mine. I'll kill anyone who tries to take you away from me."
Something about the way her jaw was clenched made him suddenly concerned for Ellie, the sweet, simple fiancee he just couldn't love. She was a good girl, raised right and well-bred enough to overlook his reputation, especially with the girls at Ros's brothel. If it weren't for negotiations between her father and uncle, and his father and uncles, they never would've given each other a second thought. Hell, none of the Tyrells should even be this far north, but that old bat Olenna wanted to sink her claws into as many pies as she could, and that included setting up general stores and shops in every town on the map. But here they were, forced into a marriage that would ensure his folk never touched another train or coach carrying her folk's goods. Assuming he could talk his lover out of cutting the girl's throat.
"Ygritte, sweetheart..." He lifted her calloused fingers to his lips and kissed the tips. "She's harmless. She's innocent, so you leave her be, y'hear me? She's not the one I love."
Ygritte's lips quirked upwards and she leaned back slightly. "Ain't she?"
"Hush up now." Theon couldn't help but smirk. "You know better."