Sleeping ArrangementsThe question had been bothering her ever since Robin Hood had officially accepted her into his band of outlaws, but since none of the other men seemed to be worrying about it she didn't want to be the one to bring it up. However, when the small group began pulling off their over-tunics and weapons, throwing down their cloaks and cursing at buckles, it seemed Djaq had little choice.
"So," she said, placing her hands on her hips and pretending she was full of confidence instead of uncertainty. "Where do we sleep?"
Robin looked at her, what she was already getting to know as a habitual smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Here," he said, gesturing to the forest floor.
"Perhaps the lady would like a bed," the roguish one drawled, shooting Djaq a vaguely lascivious grin. Though it rankled her, she could tell he-- Allan, she recalled his name to be-- meant little by his comment. He wasn't speaking to her such because he found her to be an attractive woman, but rather simply because he knew she was a woman, and he didn't know how else to speak to them. Well, Djaq thought, he was just going to have to learn.
Fixing Allan with her best glare, perfected through years of being able to show emotion only through the slit her veils allowed for her eyes, Djaq stated coldly, "That wagon you found us in, we slept in that for three days." She knew invoking her captivity would make these self-righteous Englishmen squirm with discomfort, and was pleased to see it work on Allan. She decided to push it a bit farther. "And that was not even close to the worst place I have ever had to sleep in." She sank to the ground in one fluid movement, crossing her legs in front of her and continuing to eye Allan with a sharp gaze.
He looked away, plucking nervously at the pine needles that littered the ground. And yet it seemed he wasn't entirely subdued. He tried a final time, with the faint desperation of a man whose world is changing against his will. "Well if you get cold," he began, attempting to regain his former aplomb but still not looking at Djaq. "There's always room near m--"
"Allan," Robin barked sharply, with that single word reminding them all that he was the leader and it was his forest. He allowed for a terse moment of silence, then dropped next to Much with a sigh and asked for his bedroll. And, with only a single glance at Allan now quietly laying out his cloak, Djaq knew that would be end of it.
Smiling slightly at the small victory, Djaq shrugged off her pocketed vest and looked around for the best place to lie down. Her eyes met with the solemn gaze of the dark-haired young serf. Will Scarlett. His name she had no trouble remembering, nor the look in his eyes. It was as intense and focused as beam of sunlight shining through her fire glass. It was the same look he had given her when they had locked eyes through the bars of her cage, the same look he had when he'd stumbled upon her washing herself, the same look he had flashed her when he revealed her gender to the rest of the group.
Pretending she wasn't still annoyed or embarrassed by the two latter of those experiences, Djaq met his gaze head-on, taking care to make her own steady with a hint of a challenge. Will responded to it without hesitation.
"I have an extra blanket," he offered quietly, scooping it up in his arms then rising to his feet. For a moment, Djaq was sure he was going to insist on making up a pallet for her, and so she stood as well, steeling herself for another battle. Looking at Will, with his determinedly set jaw and unyielding stiff posture, Djaq decided he was a far more serious threat than Allan ever would be to the ambiguous gender identity she had chosen for herself. Allan's lechery was easily dealt with, and would be forgotten within a few days. Chivalry was a much harder thing to kill, and Djaq thought Will Scarlett would be one to fight to the death.
However, when he stepped forward with the frayed cloth in his arms, it was not to begin laying it fussily out for her as Much was doing for Robin. Instead he went against everything she had been expecting and simply held out his arms.
"It's not the best," he said as Djaq, desperate to cover her surprise, reached for the blanket.
"It will be fine," Djaq found herself assuring him, and couldn't repress a small smile at the earnest look of happiness on Will's face that her acceptance sparked.
"Much made them," he added, lips quirking in a half-smile.
"And it was no easy feat, let me tell you!" Much picked up the tale with the ease of having told it many times before. Will turned back to preparing his own area for sleep as the manservant bemoaned the quality of wool in Locksley and cursed the Sheriff and his taxes a few times over. "And you know what?" Much continued as he bent to stir the fire, punctuating his sentences with jabs from a tree branch. "I bet the Sheriff has all sorts of wool stored up nice as you please in Nottingham. Have you seen the stuff Gisborne wears? You don't get that from the average sheep, no sir."
"Are you suggesting," grumbled the big man, John, as he rolled himself in his heavy coat and dropped to the ground like a felled tree, "That we go to Nottingham in order to stage a wool rescue?"
"Well we shouldn't rule the idea out!" Much protested spiritedly, nearly oblivious to the fact that John and the rest of the group had given up listening. "Who knows how long it will be until the King returns, and it may be summer now but if we're still living in this forest come winter. . . Mark my words, you'll be begging for some lovely thick Nottingham-wool blankets then!"
"Much," slurred Robin from the tangle of cloak and blanket where he had buried himself near the fire. "Go to sleep. We'll discuss wool liberation in the morning."
Switching his grumbling from the group to himself, Much hunkered down near his master, equidistant from both his sword and his tree branch, as ready to fight off the Sheriff's men as he was to stoke the fire during the night.
Djaq, still unsure of where she wanted to lay and thus still standing, watched the rest of the group settle in with her scientist eye, observing the little details and filing them away for possible later use. She noticed the group followed an unspoken agreement to sleep in an almost circle around the campfire, spaced far enough apart from each other so snatching up weapons at a moment's notice wouldn't involve any awkward collisions, yet close enough together that there were no large gaps left unheeded and they preserved warmth. Much lay on one end of the line, Robin sprawling next to him. A few feet away John was utterly still except for the deep snores rumbling through his broad chest, making Djaq think of a hibernating bear. Next were Allan and Will, lying close but not touching, Allan flat on his back and already asleep, Will on his side like a small child, still watching Djaq with his penetrating gaze.
Despite the fact that the circle was relatively well completed by the outlaws who had obvious practicein arranging themselves thus, there was thankfully enough room between Much on one end and Will on the other for Djaq to make her own space. She kicked aside a few stray twigs and crunchy leaves, then settled down in the fire-warmed dirt and threw Will's blanket over herself. Used to long and shadeless days spent under scorching suns, Djaq was already beginning to feel the chill bite of the English night, and was grateful for Will's donation.
However, as she drifted off to sleep she could have sworn she heard Allan mumble, "Will, you didn't leave a yourself a blanket. You're going to freeze, mate. . ."
When Djaq woke up again it was very dark, and for a paralyzing second she panicked, thinking she was back in the slave caravan, soul and body being slowly crushed by the weight of imprisonment. Gradually the sounds of the forest became audible over the pounding of her heart, and she took a deep breath, remembering where she was. She was free, she was safe, she had true protection and purpose for the first time in a long time. She was a member of Robin Hood's gang. She was very, very cold.
Lifting her head, Djaq saw the fire had burned down low into a few faintly glowing embers. Much and his tree branch lay quietly in the darkness some distance away. Unwilling to wake him just for her own needs, and loathe to expend the energy she knew it would take to rekindle the fire herself, Djaq rolled over and tucked herself into as tight of a ball as she could manage, clutching her blanket close.
Her new position brought her gaze to rest on the bodies of Allan and Will, the former of whom was twitching and murmuring fluently in his sleep. Heaving a long and contented sigh, Allan rolled from one side to the other and threw an arm across Will Scarlett's stomach.
Unaware that anyone else was awake, Will made no attempt to feign or disguise any of his emotions. Djaq clearly caught the briefly annoyed but ultimately resigned look that crossed his face as he reached for Allan's wrist and quietly removed the other man's arm from around his torso. A few mumbles and shudders later and Allan had thrown it right back. The silence of the night easily carried his sleepy mutterings to Djaq, and she was able to pick out a few phrases that, had she heard them two years ago, would have made her blush bright as a summer sunset. Now however, they made her unable to suppress a giggle.
Will's dark eyes snapped to Djaq's as she half sat up and placed a muting hand over her mouth. It had been so long since she had had anything to laugh about that she allowed herself to revel briefly in the moment. Will's face colored a little and his brow creased, but he made no attempt to move himself or Allan's resting hand. Though it might have been her normal practice to let her laughter play out then roll over and go back to sleep, Djaq felt she owed some sort of explanation to this solemn-faced peasant. For some reason, she really did not want Will to think she was laughing at him.
"Allan," she whispered, indicating the source of her mirth with a vague wave of her hand and another round of muffled giggles. "He thinks you are a girl!"
As if to emphasize her point, the dreaming Allan shifted and hugged Will closer, spouting more half-intelligible sleep talk. Djaq continued to laugh, and though Will's face colored again he met her gaze firmly, almost defiantly. He shrugged, one bony shoulder moving deliberately so as to be visible to Djaq but not disturb Allan.
"He dreams of home." Will's voice, deep, quiet, and unapologetic, was as serious as his face, and just as striking. His next words brought an immediate end to Djaq's laughter. "And he keeps me warm."
Djaq slowly lowered her hand from her mouth, growing suddenly still. She flicked her gaze to the dying fire, then back to Will's face.
"You gave me your blanket." It was part accusation, part question, and perhaps part muddled attempt at gratitude.
"Yes," Will agreed without pause, soft and definite.
Having expected him to humbly yet condescendingly shrug off her statement, insisting that it was no trouble at all and that she deserved to have the blanket, Djaq was again utterly surprised, and fell silent, watching a pair of brown moths chase each other around the campsite in a fluttering, frenzied dance of courtship. After a long moment she regained her bearings and turned back to Will, finding him still watching her with a steady stare.
"You know," she began, her partially forced indignation making her whisper come out as more of a hiss, "Just because I am female doesn't mean I need you to--"
"I know." Again, Will's simple, sincere statement caught Djaq completely off-guard. Again she paused, searching Will's face for some sort of clue or sign that would give her some insight into this man who was unlike any she had ever encountered before. As Djaq stared at him, Will regarded her steadily, laying a hand atop a suddenly restless Allan's arm, easily soothing the other outlaw back into a peaceful sleep. Djaq felt a smile tug at her lips at the gentle gesture, and then the realization hit her.
Will didn't give her his blanket because she was a woman, or because he thought she was weaker than the others, or because he thought she needed someone to take care of her. He gave it to her because she was new, she was cold, and she didn't have one. She could have been almost anyone freshly accepted to the Robin Hood family and looking for a place to sleep, and Will would have given up whatever he could without a second thought. Because he was nice. After years of dealing with men who were brutal and horrible and selfish beyond thought, men who lied and killed and destroyed lives and hopes with the wanton of those who had really lost both a long time ago, Djaq hadn't recognized someone who was honestly and genuinely good-hearted.
Djaq continued to observe Will for a few moments longer, her new discovery jumbling nearly all her thoughts and opinions of him, but not really in an unpleasant way. An idea struck her and she hurriedly cut off her thoughts, putting voice to the unexpected notion before it had time to slip back into the doubting depths of her mind.
"Well then," she said, again faking a confidence she most certainly didn't feel. "The least you can do is share the blanket with me." Luckily the dark of the night and of her skin prevented her face from flushing red, but she still had to look away from Will's surprised face and widened eyes.
"What?" he asked, his voice soft and low as though to speak any louder would have shattered the night.
"I am freezing," Djaq replied, using her best scientist-reasoning voice, "You are freezing. Our body heat and this blanket will warm us both." Her gaze, still avoiding Will's face, came to rest on Allan and a small giggle escaped her. "That is," she added, "If your bedfellow doesn't mind."
"He has his own blanket." It wasn't an acceptance of her proposal, but it wasn't a rejection either.
"Yes." Djaq didn't know what else to say, and she hated the feeling. She made a little gesture with her hand and felt foolish.She hated that feeling as well. Her next words tumbled out. "But this one is yours."
Again, Will spoke softly. "I gave it to you."
Djaq countered with fire, her eyes snapping to his. "I did not ask you to."
Apparently, Will had a little spark of his own. "I'm not asking for gratitude."
"I'm not giving it." Djaq took a deep breath, pushing herself back into her rationalizing mode, dropping her voice back to a steady, sensible whisper. "I am asking a favor, for you to share this blanket with me and keep us both from turning into icicles."
Finding herself staring into Will's eyes, trying to read the emotions there but floundering a little in the depths, Djaq looked back to the fire. It was almost all burned out now, dark logs covered in a fine coat of gray-white ash.
Will shifted, his clothes rustling against leaves. Allan let out a few irritated mumbles, but they soon faded back into gentle snores. Footsteps sounded on the earth, most of their noise absorbed by the ground's coat of pine needles. One, two, three, then worn brown boots appeared at the edge of Djaq's vision. She looked up for quick glance at Will's eyes, saw what she needed, and scooted over, holding out the blanket. No words were said, because none were needed. Will lowered his long frame next to her, and they both lay back. The blanket was fairly large and they took care not to touch, but Djaq could still feel the heat of Will's body warming the length of her. And some part deep inside her, some part she had hardly noticed was frozen, began to thaw as well.
She had passed off her request for Will to join her as simple logic, a smart and practical solution that benefitted both of them. Yet while she was indeed quite cold, that wasn't all that motivated her to ask in the first place, or that caused her to match her breathing to Will's, heart pumping slowly with each inhale, exhale. The truth was she had missed the comfort of a body sleeping near hers, truly sleeping of their own free will, not forced there by fear or captivity. It reminded her of when the war had first started and she had yet to learn what a devastating effect it would have on her life. Then it had only been a vague and distant annoyance, responsible for her father moving her and her twin brother from their big house in a big city to a much smaller one in a small town, a house with only one bedroom. The three of them had shared the bed, and when the war had become a very real and very horrifying threat, it had been the one place Djaq had felt safe.
She felt safe now. It was ridiculous, and Djaq was inclined to scoff at the feeling, but it was true. In the middle of the forest, in a foreign country where she had been a captive until that very day, surrounded by outlawed men she had just met, one of whose body was lying mere centimeters from her own, Djaq felt completely and utterly safe. And with the sense of security came a serenity she had not experienced since before the days of the single bed in the small house, before the war broke out.
"Thank you," she whispered to the night, addressing no one with the strange phrase she had had little occasion to use as a slave because now she meant it for everyone. She was thanking Robin Hood for making the effort to understand her people and for caring, giving her something so much more powerful than freedom when he accepted her into his band of outlaws. She was thanking all of them too, Much for building the fire and cooking the dinner without anyone asking him too, John for collecting fallen branches for firewood and chiding Allan for leaving his sword laying about unsheathed, and she was thanking Allan himself for reminding her how she could be treated and giving her the opportunity to prove she had the strength to overcome that, and for Allan going against all he knew in doing his best to overcome it as well. She was thanking Will for revealing her gender to the group and saving her from continuing to live the lie that was consuming her, for treating her with kindness that had nothing to do with that gender, for lying next to her in the still of the night with no questions, making her feel warm and safe.
The blanket pulled slightly across Djaq's torso as Will moved, and Djaq felt the brush of fingertips against her own. Will fell silent and still once more, making no attempt to take Djaq's hand in his, but simply letting his fingers rest against hers, their weight solid and constant, like the man himself.
It seemed that small, delicate touch was all Djaq needed to chase away the remaining chill of the night, and she shut her eyes, sliding contentedly into sleep.
The life of an outlaw was all about change and unpredictability. Djaq's first months as part of Robin Hood's gang saw plenty of both; fake abbesses, the death of Allan's brother, Djaq's own capture by the Sheriff, Greek Fire, even Saracen assassins. But there was one thing that never changed. No matter what had passed during the day, Djaq would always find her place near Will at night. If any of the outlaws noticed the craftsman's spot in the circle had shifted a few feet, none of them said a thing except for Allan, who complained darkly for a night about the cold, then moved his own place back to Will's side. However, on the increasingly frequent mornings that Will awoke to find an arm curled around his torso it did not belong to the cheeky, sardonic brigand but rather to the fierce, capable Saracen woman who almost always rose to wakefulness with the hint of a smile on her face.
A/N:Like most fics I write this was originally meant to be much shorter. I'm not displeased with the outcome, but it wasn't exactly what I intended when I started it. I was going to post it in two parts, but then I just got fed up with rereading it and so here we go. Let me know if you like it please, I just can't decide.