Fandom: Robin Hood (2006)
Summary: "Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other." Ranier Maria Rilke
"I love you."
The words hang in the air above them, the soft sentiment in counterpoint to the ring of steel against stone. There is a long pause before Djaq can bring herself to lay aside the sword she is sharpening and focus on the man in front of her.
He stands rigidly tall, as though one movement would be enough to break him. His face is as solemn as ever; only his eyes betray that he has related something more significant than a cart sighting in the forest.
She doesn't know what to make of this declaration. "What do you expect me to say?"
"Nothing. I just didn't want one of us to be on our deathbed before I told you."
He is gone before she can think of a response, before her scientific brain can even begin to process this most illogical of confessions. She watches him slip into the forest, sunlight glinting off the axe strapped to his back.
Nothing changes; it changes everything.
She has always resented him trying to protect her. The idea that he sees her as less capable because she is a woman rankles and makes her take more risks than ever.
He knocks out a guard who is about to run a sword through her. It is no different than a dozen other fights where he has had her back, but this time she catches his eye and finally understands.
It is not that she is a woman; it is that she is the woman he loves.
She nods her thanks and keeps fighting.
The gang gathers to rest after a long, successful day, exhausted but satisfied and unwilling to let the good feeling die in sleep. They build a larger fire than usual, and Djaq is truly warm for the first time since this English season of "autumn" began. She is happy, too, as she takes in the routine noises of their little family – Much's complaining, John's snores, Robin's arrows hitting whatever absurdly small target he's set himself this time. Allan a Dale came by a lute – no one bothers to ask how – and is playing some gentle country aire.
Djaq's contentment is pushed aside by a slow-building sizzle in her skin. She looks around and is unsurprised to find Will staring at her from across the flickering flames. A half-smile pulls at the corners of his mouth, and she realizes he is feeling the same peace she is – merely by looking at her.
Her cheeks burn, but the sensation is not unpleasant. The way he looks at her – for the first time in years, perhaps in her life, she knows what it is to feel beautiful.
With the first snowfall comes the need to sleep in a huddled mass. They find a cave that offers them some protection and take turns stoking the fire through the night.
Djaq makes her place between Little John and Will without thought. It is only when she lays there looking straight into Will's deep, unrelenting eyes that she questions her instinctual decision.
But Will simply smiles and tucks the furs up to her chin. "Night, Djaq," he whispers before turning onto his back and going to sleep.
She tells herself the shiver running up her spine is from the cold.
It is Christmas time, and that has no meaning for Djaq. Even the name implies oneness with that person Christ who is responsible for what has come upon her family and her land. But to the others, it means something; even in their poverty, they attempt to fill the season with cheer.
They deliver food to all the families in the Nottingham villages. Small wooden toys, mostly of Will's making, are distributed and squealed over by the children.
Djaq marvels at the details etched so painstakingly on the delicate wood. If they were in Palestine, such artistry would be recognized and revered. Even here, Will could make himself a good living as a craftsman.
Instead, he lives under the label of outlaw.
As she watches him play knucklebones with a group of boys, Djaq's throat feels unnaturally tight.
The first time she wakes up curled into his side, arm slung across his belly and head pillowed on his chest, she is embarrassed.
He is already awake and makes no attempt to hide it. He looks straight at her, and his hand squeezes a little around her waist.
Djaq yanks away, the blood pulsing hot in her face. "I am sorry. It won't happen again."
"I don't mind."
By the fourth time it happens, neither does she.
Spring has returned to Sherwood Forest. After the interminable winter, Djaq has never seen anything more beautiful. Every branch on every tree bursts with new life. A carpet of green cushions her feet wherever she goes. Streams become rivers, and their bubbling joy is infectious.
On the quieter days, when traffic through the forest is light and the Sheriff hasn't thought of another way to make life miserable in Nottingham, she likes to steal away, follow the sounds of the bird calls, feel the rush of life within her veins.
Will joins her sometimes. He is good company on such a walk; he doesn't ruin it with idle chatter. He walks beside her in silence, and if he looks more often at her than the birds or the trees, she isn't bothered.
Her hair has grown over the winter and hangs in a soft bob around her face. It was practical during the cold; all of the men had let their hair lengthen, a minor protection from the icy air.
But for Djaq it has been a comfort beyond physical to run her fingers through her hair again, to feel wisps of it against her cheek. Her hair had once been her glory; she shed bitter tears when she first took the razor to her head.
The danger which prompted the cut still exists, however. She must be as a man to live as she does.
She takes her knife to the shard of broken glass fixed to a tree which serves as the only mirror for their little band. She feels the eyes of all of them on her, and it hardens her enough to hack away all the winter's growth.
Too soon, there is a pile of black locks around her feet. A boy's face looks back at her from under uneven stubs of hair.
When she turns around, her eyes are dry.
Weeks later, she catches a glimpse of Will's tag. He has woven a strand of dark hair through his only piece of identification. He is not just Robin Hood's man anymore; he is hers as well.
It has been a long, fast gallop to escape Gisborne's men this time, and they are all tired and winded by the time they reach camp.
A trickle of sweat runs down Djaq's spine. She itches everywhere. Her desire to be clean outweighs even her desire for food or sleep. At the first opportunity, she runs down toward the stream.
She is almost to the water when the sound of splashing stops her short. She is not the only one with the idea for a wash or the first to act on it.
Through the trees, she can make out Will Scarlett's lanky frame. He kneels shirtless by the bank and scoops water with his hands, soaking his head, back and chest.
From where Djaq stands, she can see the muscles moving in his shoulders. The motion is precise, simple, smooth. Her eyes trace the descent of one bead of water down the center of his spine. He is thin, almost painfully so; she counts every rib in his back.
She watches the drops fall from his hair onto his cheeks, his nose, his lips. She learns the line of his jaw, the slope of his neck.
Afraid he will notice her perusal, she slips away.
She isn't there when he's injured, and somehow that makes it her fault. John carries him back to camp. He is pale, and an arrow lies far too close to his heart. For a moment, she forgets everything her father ever taught her. She wants to scream and faint and cry, but can only stand there paralyzed as the past two years of her life rush recklessly over her.
Finally, finally, she understands.
"Djaq, we need you!" commands Robin.
It is enough. She snaps into action, barking orders she won't remember tomorrow. He is laid before her barely conscious. He opens his mouth to speak, but she silences him with a gesture.
"No deathbed confessions. That was your rule." She softens her words with a smile, and he visibly relaxes.
She has him bite down on a sword belt while she pulls the arrow free. Her hands are steady and sure; they remember what to do much better than her whirling head.
She lets instinct take over.
It is not hours but days later that she sits vigil at his side. Her clinical eye catalogues every rise and fall of his chest. She focuses upon it as though her will alone will make the next breath come.
Her fingers are wrapped tightly around his limp ones, and she memorizes every callus, every scar upon his work and battle-torn hands. The lightness of his skin contrasts with the dark glow of hers; she finds beauty in the mingling.
She says nothing. If he wants a confession, he will have to live to hear it.
The clash of steel against stone brings her to where he is sharpening his axe. He looks up at her and smiles, gentle and welcoming.
"I love you," she says.
It changes nothing.