|At the End of Our Days
Author: fireblazie PM
Their bond is one that defies words, actions, and even death. Robin/Marian. Spoilers for the Season 2 finale.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance/Drama - Marian & Robin H. - Chapters: 2 - Words: 12,152 - Reviews: 6 - Favs: 15 - Follows: 7 - Updated: 05-30-09 - Published: 05-04-09 - Status: Complete - id: 5039963
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
In the end, it's a stray arrow that finishes it, straight through his chest, toppling him over, landing him in the middle of the forest floor on his back, staring up at a canopy of dark green leaves. If he squints hard enough, he can still catch glimpses of sun peeking through…
The ground is cold and hard against his back, the wetness of the leaves pressing against his clothing. His right hand halfheartedly throws itself over his chest, fingers tensing against the oozing blood. Dimly, he hopes Much isn't the one to find him, poor, emotional Much, it would surely break him…
Black spots cloud his vision and a spasm of pain courses through his body. A groan escapes him as he struggles to breathe.
He feels like he's lying there for what possibly seems like hours, watching the tree leaves flutter in the breeze, listening to the calming noises of the forest. An incomprehensible wave of panic seizes him – this is it, this is really, truly it, and damn it, what is he to do now? The Sheriff barely overthrown, Nottingham still in the aftermath of the confusion of everything, and –
Gathering the vestiges of his strength, he pushes himself up to his elbows, gritting his teeth with the pain. He will survive this. He has survived worse. He – he has to, for there is no alternative…
He topples back to the ground, feeling his throat constrict. Against his mind's wishes, his eyes flutter shut and he lets himself go.
"Fool," a familiar voice whispers in his ear, and then everything goes black.
By the time he regains consciousness, he's no longer in Sherwood. His clothes are clean and – as he sniffs himself surreptitiously – he finds that he smells like he's actually taken a bath. He stops, and takes a moment to gather his thoughts. This is Locksley, he realizes, the Locksley of his childhood.
He takes long, slow strides across the house, smiling to himself at how pleasant it all was before his parents had died, before he'd signed up for the Crusades. Here, his home smells like – like home, of bread and meat pies, not of smoke and blood.
A thunder of heavy footsteps alerts him to someone else's presence, and he ducks beneath a table. Who is it? Gisborne? He realizes he doesn't have his bow, no arrows, no dagger… nothing. He's a sitting duck.
"Robin of Locksley, I will have my father hang you for this!"
His heart freezes.
"Well, you'd have to catch me first, won't you, milady?" His ten-year-old self runs through the room, down the hall, and up the stairs, ribbons trailing from his fingers. Two seconds later, she chases after him, face flushed, her curls trailing behind her. She's absolutely adorable, he thinks, fondly.
"Will you two stop it before your parents hear about this?!" Much is the last to enter, panting heavily. "Spoiled little children, and I have to watch the two of you constantly, as if Robin himself weren't enough –"
A crash resounds from upstairs, and both Robin and the younger Much wince – Much at the trouble he'll get in for failing to have properly supervised the two, and Robin from the memory of what had happened. He massages his nose out of instinct.
Marian emerges, descending the stairs calmly, tying her hair up with her ribbons. Much gapes.
"Is he alive?" he asks, finally.
"Go see for yourself," she snaps, and Much scrambles up the stairs to tend to his master. It's not long before Robin stomps out, hand clutching a bloody nose.
"What on earth is wrong with you?" he demands, furious and embarrassed.
She clenches her fists angrily. "Just because you can't take a punch! You're such a girl!"
"And you're positively unladylike!" he shoots back, glaring daggers at her.
"Will the two of you just stop all the shouting?!" Much growls, stepping in between the two of them. "Come on," he pleads with Robin, "let's just go back into the forest."
"Fine, but she can't come with," he replies, sullenly, as he storms out, Much at his heels. Marian takes a moment to look hurt, and then trails after them, a determined look in her eyes. Robin smiles to himself; it's that exact same look he fell in love with, after all.
When they leave, he climbs up the stairs and enters his room, his eyes taking in the surroundings. He sits on the bed, staring blankly into nowhere. What exactly is this place? Some sort of afterlife? Or is it merely a dream? He reaches up to his heart, remembering vividly the pain of the arrow that had pierced that very spot.
At length, he stands, and paces, back and forth. What to do, what to do?
"Think, Robin, think," he mutters to himself.
In the middle of his movements, he nearly trips over a stack of clothing he knows had not been there ten seconds before. He furrows his brow, and stoops to pick up the first shirt on the pile. He unfolds it, his eyes immediately drawn to the hastily sewn patch on the sleeve.
"This is –" He breaks off his musings as he hears voices coming from downstairs. Familiar voices. He tiptoes silently across the room and sits at the top of the stairs.
"My mother will kill me," his fourteen-year-old self moans, brandishing a torn sleeve in Marian's face. Robin quickly recognizes it as the one he holds in his hands at this very moment.
"Well, that's what you get for running around in the forest all day like some undignified outlaw," Marian scolds, looking perfectly serious.
"I don't need a lecture," he barks, still gazing at the ragged sleeve in dismay. All of a sudden, his eyes light up. "You're a girl!"
She shoots him a look that has made lesser men cry, but he proceeds to take off the shirt. Her face reddens. "What are –"
"Relax, I'm wearing something underneath." He pushes the shirt into her hands, and then gives her a cheeky grin. "Disappointed, are you?"
"Grow up." She glares, and then holds the shirt out. "What?"
"Well, you can fix it up, can't you?" He runs to the kitchen and comes back with a needle and a spool of thread. She takes it, dumbfounded. "Well? Go on!"
"You are insufferable," she hisses, before sitting down and swiftly threading the needle. Moments pass by in silence as she works on his shirt. He stands behind her, surveying her work, and then bursts out into laughter.
"That's – that's horrible," he manages, between guffaws. "I should just wait for Much to come back and –" She throws the shirt in his face before he can finish.
"Fix it yourself, then," she tells him, before settling back on the chair and crossing her arms over her chest.
"Very well. I will." He proceeds to stitch the needle and thread through the fabric. He frowns, realizing that the work is more difficult than it seems. More than once, he pricks his fingers with the needle.
"And your work is so much better than mine?" she asks, dryly.
His ears redden in embarrassment as he sees that the shirt's beyond fixing, now. He sighs, laying the needle and thread aside.
"Well, we tried."
She regards him for a moment before reaching for it. She places it in her lap and promptly begins to undo his stitches.
"I worked hard on those!" he protests, but she only gives him a stern look.
"Be that as it may, they were awful. I may not be the best seamstress in the village, but I can surely sew better than you can." She furrows her brow in concentration, blue eyes intent on her work. Her fingers are sure, her movements fluid. He watches her with more than a little admiration.
Minutes trickle by, and neither of them says a word. He's uncharacteristically silent, leaning back against a chair, his arms on either side of his head. She's deep in concentration, focused on her sewing. His eyes are set on her, this quiet, solid presence that's been beside him for as long as he can possibly remember.
She ties off the thread and looks up at him. She opens her mouth to speak.
"There, I'm done –"
"You're actually sort of pretty –"
She stops and sort of just gapes at him, mouth open. He's actually pretty mortified, but hides it behind a cough. He reaches out for the shirt. "Finished, you said? About time. You should practice your embroidery more, instead of running around the forest with me and Much all the time."
Anger flashes in her eyes, sending a thrill down his spine.
"You can patch your own clothes next time," she growls at him, before walking straight out the front door.
"The ring looks good on you," he says, a little too proud of himself.
Robin hides himself behind a particularly fat haystack, listening to his sixteen-year-old self flirt incessantly with Marian as she saddles her horse. Whatever happened to these days, he wonders, days of innocence and happiness, before bloodshed and taxes and power-hungry Sheriffs?
"Does it? I didn't notice," comes Marian's dry answer. He cranes his neck to get a better view of her, with chestnut brown hair tied back in a practical manner. He watches as she accepts the boost he offers her, and gathers the reins in her hands.
"Wait, wait," he says.
"This." Quick as lightning, he hoists himself up into the saddle behind her. Her neck flushes red, and he has the inexplicable urge to press his lips against the fair skin. He thinks better of it, however, and contents himself with sliding his arms around her waist and taking the reins from her hands.
"What do you think you're doing?" she hisses.
"Well, it looks like we're about to go on a ride," he replies, cheekily.
"Get off." She turns in her seat to give him an icy glare.
"No, I don't think so," he says, conversationally, "I'm rather comfortable." And with that, he gives the reins a sharp tug, and the horse trots off. What he doesn't count on is Marian tugging at the reins as well, causing them to come to an abrupt halt.
"Well, what was that for?" he asks, indignant.
"For prying your large nose into my affairs," she replies, primly. "Now, if you'd kindly get off my horse and allow me to go about my business…"
"You wound me, Marian," he says, looking mock-hurt. She gives him a Look, something she's done quite a lot, if he's honest, and he slides off the horse and gives her a salute. "Very well. Have a safe trip, milady."
She nods curtly and leaves him in the stable. A devilish grin creeps up on his features. If she thinks she's about to get rid of him that easily, she's got another thing coming. He saddles up his own horse and climbs on, waiting until she's a good distance away. He brings his horse to a slow walk, making sure she doesn't realize she's being followed.
Robin ambles after him, fully aware of what awaits in the forest.
When he finally catches up, he's just in time to see his younger self dismount and stealthily hide behind a tree. Marian has a bow and a quiver of arrows, no doubt stolen from her father, and the younger Robin watches as she focuses intently on some target in the distance and releases an arrow. He holds his breath. It soars through the air before landing with a satisfying thunk. Judging from the smile on her face, she's hit her goal. He surveys her as she draws another arrow before striding out of his hiding spot.
"So is this what you've been doing, my fair lady?" he calls out to her, grinning widely.
She whirls around, fumbles, and accidentally releases the arrow in his direction. A horrified look crosses her face. His eyes widen as he instinctively ducks to the floor, the blade of the arrow grazing the top of his head.
"What was that for?" he cries out just as she screams, "Robin, you idiot!"
When the sound of his heartbeat finally stops pounding in his ears, he sits up, dazed. She rushes to his side, propriety and ice-cold Marian-ness forgotten. Her fingertips brush his cheeks, his forehead, his hair, and he leans into her touch.
"Oh, God, are you all right?" she asks, frantically. "There's no blood," she says, before he can reply, "no cuts, no bruising – oh, Robin, what were you thinking?" she wails.
There's only one thing on his mind, though, and he grabs her left hand, staring at the empty fourth finger. He glares at her accusingly. "You took it off."
"What?" She follows the trail his eyes make to her bare finger. "That is not the point right now –"
"It is so the point right now!" He's not sure why his pride is so bruised or why the sight of her fourth finger, blissfully unadorned, makes him so angry. "You said you'd never take it off –"
"I don't remember that," she states, calmly, "I just remember you making threats about pushing me into the mud or cutting off my hair –"
"I can't believe you took it off," he mutters like a sullen five-year-old.
"It got in the way!" She throws her hands up, exasperated. "Do you have any rings on your finger when you're trying to shoot?"
He knows she has a point, but he can't really bring himself to care. "It's the principle of the thing."
"The principle of the thing?" She sighs. "Come on, it's not like I lost it." She reaches inside her shirt and pulls out a chain, where the ring hangs, safe and sound.
The sight of it calms him. This is the only physical symbol of their relationship and he's not about to lose it. He unhooks the chain and takes off the ring. She makes a muted sound of protest, which he skillfully ignores while he slides the ring onto her finger.
"That's the only place that ring belongs," he tells her.
If she's blushing, she refuses to show it and turns away. "Grow up," she murmurs, but there's no heat behind the words.
He finds himself standing at the doorway of his house, watching his eighteen-year-old self trying and failing to tell her goodbye. Even now, so many years later, the sight still hurts. Leaving her has never been easy.
"Well, goodbye," he says, uncharacteristically somber.
"Goodbye," she echoes, nodding at him.
He thinks this is probably the hardest thing he's ever had to do. She stands there, two feet away from him, looking so beautiful that it hurts, it physically hurts to gaze at her. She has her arms wrapped around herself as if she's struggling to hold herself together. He yearns to reach out.
But he doesn't.
He dawdles, taking much longer than is necessary. Making sure the saddle is fastened properly, that his bow is in perfect condition, that his arrows are sharpened. He runs a comb through his horse's hair, dissolving all the tangles. All the while, she stands behind him, unmoving, unspeaking. He almost wishes she would just leave already, but immediately casts the thought out of his head.
He tries to tell himself it's not forever. Because it isn't, of course it isn't. The war will not take long, he thinks, and refuses to believe that it is merely an ignorant, foolish thought. Perhaps a year or so and then King Richard will be back and the Holy Land will be theirs once more and then he can – he can return and marry Marian, and –
But it won't be that easy, will it? Where his life is concerned, things are never simple.
So he busies himself with something unimportant like making sure his bag is attached securely to his horse and tries to scratch every detail into his memory. The way the wind blows the scent of her hair in his direction. The way the sun shines on her chestnut brown hair. The way she stands, strong and determined, never breaking eye contact.
Much pulls up beside him, fully aware of the gravity of the situation. When he speaks, his voice is quiet.
"Master… it's time."
He knows it is. He knows he's wasted at least five minutes, standing here in awkward silence with her.
So he does what he does best – he fakes a smile, settles himself comfortably onto his saddle, and takes the reins in his hands. He nods, waves in her general direction, and gallops off, Much following closely behind.
He doesn't look back because he doesn't think he'll be able to leave otherwise.
There are so many things he wants to, needs to say, but he swallows his words and buries them deep within his heart. Someday, he thinks, he'll tell her, and she'll love him, and they'll finally get the ending they deserve.
In the Holy Land, he dreams.
Amid the sweltering heat of the desert, the unceasing firing of arrows, and the eternal bloodshed, stained forever on his fingertips, sleep is a commodity that is hard to come by. Sometimes, he doesn't know if he is awake or asleep. No matter his state of consciousness, the screams of fallen men echo in his ears.
But sometimes, he gets a reprieve. Sometimes, when he finally allows himself to fall asleep beneath an unsteady, wavering truce, the blood washes away and the sands disappear into evergreen leaves and he finds himself back in better times.
Her hair is beautiful, he thinks, not for the first time. He wonders at the softness of it, the natural curls, the deep brown.
Her back is turned to him, and a smirk curls upon his lips as he approaches her from behind, a hand reaching for her shoulder…
His fingers grasp air.
"Marian!" His voice is hoarse, his arm outstretched, as he bolts upwards. His breathing is heavy and loud to his ears, and Much stirs next to him.
"Master?" Much asks, groggily.
It's only a dream, he realizes. It always is.
On one of the first nights of his return to England, he climbs up the side of her house and perches himself on the windowsill. Previously, he might have dared to tap on the window or even barge in uninvited. But he knows he's lost that privilege now.
Inside, her room is dark.
Robin hides himself behind the branches and leaves of a nearby tree and watches his younger self brood. It's uncanny, really, this – hallucination he is having. A vivid dream. Or perhaps a nightmare? He sighs and leans back. It appears that there is nothing to do but watch.
"What do you think you're doing here?" Her voice suddenly floats from the window, detached and cold. Hearing it hurts. For Marian has always been a little cold, but never, never like this.
"I came to see you, my dear," he replies, pertly. "I have missed you these five years, you know. Never has a day gone by without me thinking of you."
"How nice." She runs her hands through her hair, combing through the tangles. "Is that all you came here to say? It is well past midnight, you know, and I should be getting to sleep."
"Well, you're the one who opened the window," he points out, and enjoys her glare.
"An action I'm beginning to sorely regret, I assure you," she retorts. "Now, really. Was there an actual reason for your being here, or have you simply grown bored of the foliage in the forest?"
"I already told you." He decides to push his luck and leans closer to her, even as she backs away. "I came to see you."
"And I have already told you." She gives him a look that is so simply Marian his heart hurts. "Your so-called charms do not work on me any longer, if ever they did."
"Oh, don't be like that –"
"I will be like that," she rejoins, angrily, "I have every excuse, you know I do. The day you broke off our engagement to seek glory in the Holy Land was the day I earned the right to do so."
He falls silent. "Marian…" he tries, but she cuts him off.
"Goodnight, Robin." Her footsteps fade away and he listens to the rustle of blankets. He exhales, deeply, before making his descent to the ground.
Robin watches as he makes sure there are no guards keeping watch before taking off into the forest. He remains on the tree for a few seconds before hopping closer to the window. He leans back against the wall and listens to the sound of her breathing. It's enough, for now, to know that near him is a living, breathing Marian.
He doesn't know how long he sits there, but out of the blue there are footsteps behind him and she's standing at the window, gazing out in the direction of the forest, a look of longing in her eyes. It's too much for him to take, and although every fiber of his being is screaming at him to, for once in his life, not do anything stupid, he stands up on shaky knees and reaches in to caress her face.
"Marian…" he says, huskily.
But his fingers pass through her flesh and she makes no indication of having heard him. She turns away and walks back to bed.
His hands tremble violently as he collapses onto the ledge. All too suddenly, it's very clear. Everything makes sense. This – all of this – this is not a dream, after all.
"I'm dead," he says to himself. "I'm…dead."
"Took you long enough," someone says from beside him. Someone who was decidedly not there a few moments ago. Robin turns, surprised.
In England, he dreams.
In between robbing from the rich, stopping carriages through the paths of the forest, and the memory of Marian's cold body lying in his arms, sleep holds no comfort for him any longer. The line between consciousness and sleep has been blurred far beyond comprehension. He is tired beyond belief, but he pushes himself on, for King Richard and for England.
But sometimes, he escapes into dreams, beyond the protection of the forest, beyond the world of men. It's the only time he allows himself to relax.
When he sleeps, he only sees her, her and her blue eyes, her beautiful, infectious smile.
She's sitting in what appears to be a cozy sitting room, perched in front of the fire. She holds her embroidery in front of him, and a smug, teasing comment is on the tip of his tongue as he approaches her, arm outstretched to muss her curls –
Only to snatch a handful of leaves, damp from the morning dew.
He raises his head to the heavens and lets it thud angrily against the ground, curses bubbling in his throat. It's always like this, now. She's gone, nothing but an elusive ghost that disappears into smoke as soon he wakes.
"So, what, is this it?" Robin asks, lying in the fields of tall grass, staring up at the sky. "Heaven? Or is this the other place?"
"Neither, actually," Carter replies, staring down at him and kicking him gently in the side.
"Ouch," Robin says, absently rubbing at his side. "So then what is this place? Looks just like the real world to me. Or are you just being funny? Is this a joke? It's Allan, isn't it? He put you up to this."
"This isn't a joke, mate," Carter tells him, nudging him again with the toe of his boot. "Now, come on. Get a move on."
"What? I'm dead, right? You can't make me do anything more."
Carter sighs. "Listen. This isn't the real afterlife. Think about it. Have you seen anything remotely supernatural? All you've done is see little snippets of your life on earth, right? So obviously, you haven't made it yet."
Robin furrows his brow. "So I'm not dead?"
"No, you are." Carter grins. "Happens to the best of us, so don't feel too bad about it. What I'm trying to say is this: You're still here because you're not quite ready to move on. Meaning that there's still something you need to see. Something you need to learn. Something you need to figure out."
Robin frowns. "Are you saying that you haven't moved on, either?"
"Oh, no, I got through ages ago," Carter replies cheerfully. "Strictly speaking, I really shouldn't be here, but you were just taking much too long to figure things out and we figured you needed some help to get to where you were supposed to be." He shakes his head. "You've never been the brightest, I suppose."
Robin scowls at him. "They sent me you of all people? What about –" He stops short, an idea coming to him. When he finds his voice at last, it's quieter, shakier. "What about – Marian?"
Carter looks away. "I haven't seen her myself. I'd already passed through when she arrived –"
"What?" Robin leaps up, seizing him by the sleeves. "Are you telling me that she's lost somewhere?"
"Er, no, I wouldn't say that, exactly." The other man looks rather uncomfortable. "Listen. Just figure out whatever you need to figure out, okay? Or see whatever you need to see, or do whatever it is you still need to do down here. Once you've done that, then everything will make sense."
The anger and confusion on the outlaw's face fades away to be replaced by bewilderment. "What on earth am I supposed to see, or do, or learn?"
Carter shrugs. "How would I know? It's your life."
"Load of help you are!" Robin exclaims, annoyed. "Well, all right then!" He leaps to his feet and gestures out towards the world in general. "Bring it on! Give me the life-changing lesson I'm supposed to learn, then! I've got somewhere else I need to be!"
When he turns around, Carter's gone.
"Oh, lovely," he mutters to himself. He stares off into the distance, trying to figure out what to do next. This is unfamiliar territory to him, and it unnerves him greatly. Fighting the Sheriff and his men, fine. Robbing corrupt noblemen, all right. But sitting here in the middle of the afterlife, or whatever this is – this is different and confusing and –
"Slow down!" A small boy yells. "I'm telling Mama you left me behind!"
"I dare you!" Another boy, slightly older, glares at him. "Come on. We don't have all day! We have to be back in an hour, probably less, as it is! Hurry up!"
"Well, try harder!"
Robin stifles a chuckle. Watching these two boys reminds him of his childhood with Much, running off in every direction when the adults' backs are turned. He feels sorry for their poor mother – they must keep her busy.
"Oh, look, Andrew!" The older one calls, "these are her favorite!"
"What? Where?" The smaller one runs towards his older brother, kneeling in the grass, staring at the clump of wild bluebells. "Oh, they're pretty."
"Don't say 'pretty'," The older one scolds, "that's not manly."
"Then what I am supposed to say?" Andrew asks, petulantly. "They look nice?"
"Just don't say anything," his brother advises him.
Andrew shoots him a glare, but begins picking the bluebells carefully and meticulously, whereas his older brother rips them almost violently, smuggling them in the crook of his elbow.
"You're smushing them, James."
"We don't have time to make them look pretty."
"But it's for Mama, and they have to look nice!"
The older one lets out a long-suffering sigh. "Fine, fine." And he slows down considerably, examining each flower before plucking it from the ground. At length, he stands, and gestures for his little brother to do the same. "Hurry, hurry," he rushes him, before taking off in the direction of the village.
"James!" Andrew hollers, "wait for me!"
Robin follows him as he races to the village, struggling to catch up with his brother. It's no use, of course; his brother's legs are longer and more used to the running. But he has to admire the boy's sheer determination. Oddly enough, it reminds him of someone.
They come to an abrupt halt in front of Locksley Manor. Robin feels his heart drop to his stomach.
"No," he whispers, "this – this can't –"
Andrew practically trips over the doorstep, barely catching his balance. "Mama!"
"Yes, what is it, darling?" Marian – Marian, Marian! his mind screams at him – turns from whatever she's doing to smile gently at her son. Her son who has her eyes, Robin realizes. He's numb all over. What is this?
"I picked these for you," Andrew mumbles, having obviously seen the arrangement James had given her earlier.
"And they're beautiful," Marian reassures him.
"I got here first." James sticks his tongue out as Marian reaches to take the flowers from his younger brother.
"That doesn't matter," Marian says, patting both of her boys on the head. "These are the prettiest flowers in the entire world, and my wonderful, wonderful boys got them for me."
"I'm home, and look what –" Robin, appearing to be in his mid-thirties, falters, and a mock-pout appears on his lips. "You beat me to it!" He waves a bouquet of bluebells in the air.
"They take after me," Marian quips. "Quicker, faster. In the head, you know."
"Oh, I'm sure." Robin leans in for a kiss and the two boys turn away and appropriately gag and fake-vomit. Strange as it sounds, Robin feels like doing the same. His head spins, and he falters on his feet. He collapses onto the ground outside, leaning heavily against the side of the manor.
"Is this some sick joke?" he demands of no one in particular. "Showing me – showing me what could have been? Showing me everything that's been taken away from me? It's not funny, it's –" He's horrified to discover tears burning their way down his face.
He sits there for what feels like hours, staring up into the sky. He stares into the sun until his eyes water and the tears dry on his cheeks.
"Come on." Carter appears from out of nowhere, and holds out a hand in front of him. Their surroundings are blurring into something altogether different, but Robin is too tired to care. He allows Carter to pull him up, and then hastily rubs at his eyes.
" 'm not crying," he mumbles.
"Just laughing on the wrong side of your face?" It's a pathetic attempt at a joke, but he cracks a smile anyway. "Well, go on, then. With all you've been through, I think you deserve it."
Robin looks up to see a heartbreakingly familiar sight. It's her, sitting on a bench, wearing that sea-green dress that he loves so much. Her hair, chestnut-brown, hangs down past her shoulders. It's been so long, much too long, since he's run his fingers through the tresses.
He stops just behind her, hands shaking. He's had too many dreams, too many false encounters, too many ghosts. But the scent of her hair teases him, and the warmth he feels on his fingertips is incredibly tempting and he decides, to hell with it, to hell with it all, and reaches for her –
Her shoulder is blissfully solid beneath his fingers and he thinks he could weep with relief.
"It's about time," she says, and turns to face him, a trace of a smile on her lips.
"Of all the ways to go, really," she scoffs. "A stray arrow in the chest? Really, Robin, I expected much more out of you. Perhaps a vicious fight to the death with the Sheriff? Or Guy, you might have enjoyed that one more. Or both. Honestly, I'd always thought you'd waltz in here covered battle scars from head to toe with a story for each one of them."
"Sorry to disappoint," he says, softly. He's smiling at her and he doesn't think he'll ever be able to stop. She's sitting, upright, on the bench overlooking what she's explained to him are train tracks, and he's lying down, head in her lap. He's drowning in her scent, and if this is death, then he thinks it's really not so bad.
She looks down at him with a gentle expression. Her fingers run through his hair and he closes his eyes, reveling in the nearness of her.
"I've missed you," she murmurs. "Everything about you. Your arrogance. Your stupidity. Your irresponsibility. Even your silly flirting, as hard as that may be to believe."
"I've missed you as well," he says, hoarsely. "God, Marian. Your stubbornness. Your pride. Your coldness. Your kisses, your scent, your hair…" He raises a hand to her cheek. "I realized I'd taken you for granted."
"It was very quiet without you," she admits, laughing. "All of a sudden I had no idea what to do with myself. There was no one to save, no one to scold, no one to be angry with. I thought I'd die again, this time of boredom."
For once, he doesn't say anything. Just contents himself with finally being close to her.
"What did you see?" she wonders. "When you first came here, I mean."
"I'll tell you if you tell me," he replies, grinning.
She rolls her eyes at his antics, and flicks at his forehead. He grabs her hand and laces his fingers through hers. "Well," she begins, "I saw… you, mostly."
He blinks. "Me?"
"It was almost like… being in a dream." Her eyes grow unfocused, like she's replaying everything in her head. "I wasn't sure if I was actually dead or merely…dreaming. I saw snippets of our life together. The day we first met. The day you gave me your ring. The day you told me you were leaving for the Holy Land. Things like that."
She glances down at him. "I saw you bury my ring in England. In Sherwood. Beneath that tree I so foolishly climbed when I was a girl. You were so sad, I wanted to – but I couldn't –"
He remains silent, twisting her fingers with his. Finally:
"I saw you, too," he says, quietly. "The day you punched me in the nose for stealing your hair ribbons. The day I left for the Holy Land. All those memories. It made me realize how much I really loved you."
She smiles. "We never said that to each other enough. 'I love you.' It seemed like we were just figuring things out when it all – when I –"
"When you died," he murmured, "part of me did, as well. And for everyday that I lived and you did not, more and more of me became nothing but dust in the wind."
"Melodramatic as always," she says, caressing his forehead. "You did well enough for yourself."
"I'm not being melodramatic!" He sits up, feeling an intense urge to let her know how much he'd suffered without her. "I put up a brave face. I threw my tantrums. But I had to continue fighting for the people. I had to keep fighting against the Sheriff. But when it was all said and done, Marian, when I had a moment to spare, when I couldn't keep the thoughts away any longer… you were the only one I thought of."
"I know." Her voice is muted. "Thank you."
"You don't have to thank me." He frowns. "You're my wife."
She tilts her head at him, a small grin on her mouth. "You're being oddly nice to me. It seemed like we were forever antagonizing each other, before. Is this what will become of us? Are we to become the old, boring, nice couple?"
"Hardly!" He laughs at her. "This is only temporary, my dear. We haven't seen each other in years and I'm still adjusting to the idea of being dead. Once I've settled in I'll be good old annoying Robin and you'll wish I'd never died in the first place."
She reaches for his hand. "I never thought we'd end up like this."
"At such a young age." She makes a face at him. "The thought had crossed my mind, of course… with the times we were living in, the actions we were committing on the other side of the law… it's rather sad, isn't it?"
He pauses, rubbing circles in her palm. "There was something else I saw before I came here," he confesses. "Something that was not part of our life."
"What was it?"
A smile drifts to his face at the memory. "You and me," he begins, "living in Locksley Manor. We were married, and well into our thirties. We had children, Marian. Two boys. They had your eyes. They were beautiful children and they worshipped the ground you walked on."
She smiles, and he can see a glimmer of wistfulness in her eyes. A pang resounds in his heart. "They sound wonderful."
"I'm sorry." The words fall out of him. "For not giving you children. For not giving you marriage when you'd wanted it. For not giving you the long, full life you deserved to have."
She shakes her head. "No, Robin, you –"
He cuts her off. "No!" The beginnings of tears glisten at his eyes. "I should not have gone to the Holy Land. I should have stayed and married you and given you children. Or perhaps I should have stayed away from you altogether! If you had never met me, you would have never – you would have never been – you would have never died – but you did and it's all because of me, it's all my fault!"
"Stop it!" She cuts him off harshly. "Do not blame yourself. I was at fault, too! I paraded around as the Nightwatchman long after you told me not to. I manipulated Guy purposely, in order to get what I wanted. I tried to kill the Sheriff. These actions were all committed by me, independently. They were not your fault."
He clutches her to him, his grip fierce and tight. "You should not have died so young," he whispers. "You deserved so much –"
Abruptly, she pushes him away and shoves her finger in front of his lips, effectively shushing him. "Be quiet," she snaps. "None of it is your fault, and sitting here whining about it isn't going to change what's already happened."
"Okay, okay," he says, rubbing at her hands in an appeasing manner. "I'm sorry."
"We're here now, and that's all that matters," she goes on, glaring. "There's no point in thinking about the past, or thinking about what we should have done. So – be quiet or I'll have to sew your mouth shut!"
He can't help but laugh. "I've missed you," he tells her, looking at her fondly.
"I did miss you as well," she mutters, "but if you keep this up I'll send you back there myself."
He chuckles and moves closer, slipping an arm around her shoulders. "What was this you mentioned about… waiting? Hm?"
She tries and fails to glare. "This is the middle ground… it lies between the world of the living and the actual afterlife. When someone arrives here, a train –"
"A train?" he asks, curious.
"It's sort of like a fancy-looking carriage. And don't interrupt." She swats at him. "A train comes to take you to… beyond. Of course, once you've gone on, you can't really come back, except in special circumstances. Carter, as you've seen, came back to talk to you. My father had heard that I wouldn't be much long after him, so he stayed and waited for me."
His throat goes dry as he pieces the information together. "Carter said that he'd never met you yet," he says, hoarsely.
"Yes, that's true." She looks away, a flush of embarrassment on her face.
All of a sudden, he's consumed with an incredible amount of love for the woman in front of him. "Are you telling me that you've been here for – for –"
She looks distinctly uncomfortable. "Well, the train came for me, but I decided to stay back. And before you say anything, it was not because I couldn't bear to go on without you or something nonsensical like that. It was merely because I knew you would be very – very sad and – and –"
He draws closer to her until their noses touch. "Marian," he whispers.
Her eyes widen. "What?"
He moves closer and closer until her lips are a hairsbreadth away. "Shh," he murmurs, before sealing the distance and pressing his lips against hers, pouring into the kiss all of the intensity, passion, and regret of the past years. It's been far too long. Much too long.
When they pull away, she smiles against his lips. "Now that I've missed."
"Oh, is that all I'm good for now?" he pretends to look hurt. "For my kisses? I feel used and violated."
"Robin, if you don't kiss me again, I'm leaving."
"Now, now, no need for threats." He grins against her skin before pulling her close and kissing her again.
When the train finally comes to a slow stop in front of them, they don't move for a long while, content simply to stay in place, steam billowing out in heavy clouds.
At length, Marian squeezes his hand. "Come on," she says, softly, "we've kept them waiting long enough."
"You've kept them waiting long enough," he corrects her.
"You've kept me waiting long enough," she retorts. She stands, and pulls him up with her. "Do you know how bored I was while you were off gallivanting with your men? Don't make me regret it, Robin."
"I'll spend the rest of forever making it up to you," he declares, grinning cheekily at her.
"More of your useless drivel?" she remarks, but there's a smile hovering on her lips. He allows her to lead him to the edge of the platform, where the door to the train carriage slides open.
"Are you sure you'd rather not wait for the rest of the gang?" Robin asks her, teasing. "After all, you've been here for quite a while. I imagine you've probably grown quite attached to the place. We could sit here for fifty more years until Much and Will and Djaq and the rest of them show up!"
She sighs, a long-suffering sigh. "Robin, get in."
He grins and steps inside, taking the first available seat. She sits down next to him and he automatically wraps an arm around her. He's gone for far too long without her by his side and he's not likely to relinquish her now that she's finally here again. "So is this the beginning of our forever?"
"I'd certainly hope so," is her reply. "We've waited for long enough, I think."
Robin glances down at the woman in his arms, with her chestnut brown curls teasing his chin and her soft form pressed comfortably against his, as if she'd been made perfectly for him and he'd been shaped precisely for her. He feels himself relax for the first time since her death.
Eternity sounds quite nice to his ears.
"Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while."
- The Princess Bride