A/N: This was orginally meant to be a sort of companion piece to my fic Shattered Glass but who knew it would be so fricken hard to write from Will's point of view? I thought it would be alright, but instead I found myself struggling to get through what for me turned out to be an incredibly frustrating, annoying fic. Hopefully reading it, you will have more luck. Splintered Wood
Will sat alone, his knife digging quickly and efficiently into the long and sturdy tree branch John had found and dragged to the cave. In a few more strokes he would be done with the branch, and in less than ten minutes he would be finished constructing the entire litter that they would use to carry Marian home. It was a task Robin has assigned to him without a moment's hesitation, and it made Will feel as though his heart had grown teeth and was trying to eat its way out of his stomach.
"Will." He looked up immediately at the sound of the richly smooth voice he knew almost better than his own. Djaq stood next to the rock he had chosen as a chair, surveying him with slightly narrowed eyes. Though her face still bore a few traces in mud and tear tracks of the violently wild emotional ride she had experienced earlier that day-- sorrow at Marian's death, anger and fear during the battle, disbelieving joy when the lady had begun to breathe again-- she was now completely composed, dirt and blood-caked hands folded complacently in front of her. "You're bleeding."
Will followed Djaq's gaze down to the knuckles of his right hand, the hand not holding his knife. The skin was split and raw, but Will hadn't noticed the stinging pain until then. He flexed his hand and found his fingers stiff and swollen. Looking back at Djaq, he shrugged. "It's already dried."
"Still, I could make some paste if you--" Djaq stopped as Will shook his head and returned to shaping the tree branch.
"I have to finish this," he said, his voice as wooden as the branch in his hands. "And you've done enough." He couldn't resist another glance at Djaq's face, drinking in the sight of her large eyes and full lips, her calm, self-possessed expression a balm to hurts far worse than a bruised hand. "Robin and Much said you were brilliant with Marian, and that if not for you, she really would have. . . she really would be. . . she. . ."
Though he longed to basked in the happy flush that lit Djaq's face at the praise, he was forced to turn his own face away, tears welling in his eyes as his voice cracked on the last word.
"Will--" the gentle concern in Djaq's voice cut at him like his knife cut at the branch. The tears threatened to spill onto his cheeks and he blinked them frantically back, making sure to keep his cuts long and even. No mistakes.
"I'm sorry," he managed to say, wishing Djaq would go away even as he wanted nothing more than to feel her arms around him and let himself drown in her warmth.
"There is no need to be." The simmering emotion behind Djaq's voice made Will look up again. Though her expression remained carefully controlled, something powerful surged just beneath the surface. Her words were spoken with fervent deliberation. "You came back. Marian is alive. Everything is alright now."
Will shook his head. His knife sank into the branch. There had been no opportunity when he and Allan had first returned to explain themselves fully-- not that Allan wanted to bother-- and Will was never much good with words, but he wanted to try, wanted to take a chance at justifying himself in the hopes of assuaging even a little of his guilt. In hopes of convincing himself that there was even a little chance that Djaq might forgive him.
"I should never have left." The words came out as a whisper, as though that would make them easier to say.
A gentle rustling told him Djaq had moved, and another glance revealed her standing with her arms crossed and her head cocked, a variety of emotions flickering across her face. "So why did you?" she asked, and though she posed it as a simple question, Will didn't miss the faint desperation and lingering hurt behind her voice.
It was a question that there were a hundred answers to, and Will wanted to give her all of them. He swallowed, trying pick one, and voiced the first thing that came into his mind.
"I thought so." Djaq cut him off almost sharply, anger flashing in her expressive eyes. Will noticed the sword still strapped about her waist, and, not wanting her to leave him just to go disembowel Allan, continued speaking, defending his friend.
"He's sorry." Will kept his eyes on Djaq, imploring her to believe him, imploring her to stay just a little longer. "He realized we had to come back right after I did." The actual truth of the matter was that Will had made Allan realize it by plowing his fist into his face.
Allan had passed him a skin of stolen wine, talking seductively of Scarborough and family and Gisborne's money. The thought of leaving the outlaws had hurt Will deeply, but the thought of everyone moving on while he was no longer needed had hurt more. Still, their faces had stuck in his mind as he'd raised the wine in a toast that he pretended felt like closure, not like his heart breaking. He tried to banish them with thoughts of Scarborough, thoughts of his Auntie Annie's house, his father and brother waiting, happy and well fed, sun shining on days without taxes, days without worry or fear.
However, by the time he had taken the first step down that road, Will's dream had shattered, broken by the realization that that's all it was, a dream. There would be just as many problems in Scarborough as there were in Nottingham. Even with a different sheriff, one loyal to the King and not Prince John, times would still be hard. All of England was suffering, and Will knew of only one man who could and would change that. The one man whose employ he was leaving behind.
Will had stopped short and Allan had turned around, the vague annoyance on his face disappearing the moment he saw Will's fierce expression. Backing away, Allan had tried again to paint lurid pictures with his words, one dark and terrible where the others left them, the other bright and cheerful where they went to Scarborough. Where they left the others. Furious at Allan for forcing him to make such a decision and for making sense while doing it, Will he had stepped forward, demanding in a low voice that they go back to the cave. Allan had tried once more, reaching out to touch Will's arm, trying to soothe him back into agreement. But for once, Will had refused to go along with Allan's plan. The sound of his younger brother's perpetually hopeful voice had been in his ears, the image of exotic brown eyes softened by a smile in his heart. The clashing hopes and emotions, combined with the feel of Allan stroking his arm and murmuring honeyed promises, caused a bubbling, boiling surge of frustration and anger and jaded disappointment to rise in Will. Searching for any outlet, he had thrown off Allan's hand, punching the other man square on the jaw, hard enough to send him sprawling. Then, after taking several deep breaths, he had stated with no room left for argument that they were returning to the cave.
A soft touch of practiced fingers brought Will back to the present. Djaq was tracing his split knuckles with physician care, an all-too-knowing smile starting on her shapely lips. "I am glad for Allan's sake that such a realization came about," she said.
Watching the way the torchlight in the cave played across Djaq's smooth skin, amazed that she was still there, still talking to him and not turning away in betrayed disgust, Will found his next words tumbling out. "We thought we'd be forgotten." It wasn't something he had planned to tell her, but it was easier than telling her that it had been thoughts of her which had kept him moving without rest on the way back to the cave.
Djaq stilled and faced Will with an almost defensive stance, something coiled and wary in her voice as she asked, "What do you mean?"
"The King is coming," Will murmured, each word a sharp stab to his heart. "And Allan and I. . . we don't have a place. Here."
"Your place is with Robin." Djaq's voice had grown sharp, her eyes hard.
Will swallowed, knowing her anger, when fully invoked, was a fearsome thing to behold. Still, he continued, desperate for Djaq to understand. "If we're pardoned by the King, if we're no longer outlaws. . . we're nothing." It was the first time Will had said the cruel fact out loud, and he felt it reverberate through his entire being.
"But your carpentry," Djaq said, lapsing almost with relief into the familiar territory of her logical reasoning mode and gesturing to Will's hands as he lashed rope to the finished branch. "You could easily make a living with your skills."
The certainty that colored her words took away some of the twisting guilt in Will's stomach, replacing it with a warmth that spread through his body like the tingle following a drink of whiskey. He felt his lips curving into a smile before he remembered his earlier thoughts on that very thing.
"I could just as easily do carpentry in Scarborough," he said. The words fell from him like heavy stones.
"Where your family is," Djaq added, her voice even heavier. Will nodded, and felt the corners of his eyes again begin to prick. Bending his head into the shadows and away from Djaq's too-observant eyes, he tugged hard on the litter's rope, under the pretext of making it secure. A few sharp stings of pain in his hand were enough to drive back the tears, but the thoughts of his family were not nearly as easy to banish.
Dan and Luke Scarlett were never far from Will's mind. In fact, in the brief moment of that first step down the road to Scarborough, thoughts of seeing them again had blotted out all thoughts of the outlaws he was leaving behind. It was such a strange thing, having his family alive yet so separated from him that he thought about them in past times and memories as if they were dead. Correspondence was sporadic at best, letters snuck through mail caravans that, like so many things, often fell prey to the Sheriff's harsh rules and taxes. Sometimes upon opening a letter that described events which clearly must have taken place months ago, Will felt as though he was exchanging words with ghosts.
The hardest letters to receive however, were those with sections penned by his Auntie Annie. Her writing was elegant yet neat, exactly as her sister's had been. Will would trace the curling lines and little swirls with his fingertips, imagining himself riding to Scarborough in glorious triumph, knighted by Robin or perhaps even the King himself, laden with riches to present to his family before bringing them home. He would imagine them emerging from his aunt's house, his brother tall and straight-backed with color in his filled-out cheeks, his father whole and solid with darker hair and a face unstretched by lines of grief and pain. He would imagine his mother alive and well between them, her skin rosy and not sallow, her smile bright and not strained.
His delusion never lasted long before something always happened-- the Sheriff blockading another town, Gisborne exploiting more commoners, a command from Robin to go to Nottingham-- to bring him back to the painfully real present and break his happy fantasy apart like splintered wood, leaving only painful slivers of memory in his heart.
He remembered his mother when Sir Edward was the Sheriff, the way her hugs were always warm, her laughter was always bubbling to the surface, and a light always shone in her eyes. He remembered his father teaching him and Luke how to whittle with precision and care, the young Luke quickly growing bored and begging to be taught to shoot a bow instead. He remembered his mother losing her easy smile and growing thinner and wearier by the day. He remembered the almost translucent look of her skin when they found her lying on the bedroom floor, when his father had panicked because she wasn't breathing and tore open her bodice, discovering the layers of clothing she had been wearing underneath to conceal the fact that she was nothing more than bones. Bones they had buried that same day. Will remembered Luke's face as the body was lowered into the ground, his little brother clutching his hand, eyes far too wide above cheeks far too pinched. He remembered grabbing Luke's hand again after going for three days without food, taking the younger boy into the forest to shoot game so they could for once have a decent supper. He remembered his father's ashen face as he cradled the bleeding stump that had been his right hand.
Will remembered the day he nearly died, the day Robin had given him a chance to live again, the day his father had placed a hatchet in his hand and made him an outlaw. Will had joined with Robin that very day, fighting with the lord-turned-outlaw for his family, for his father who couldn't, for his brother who shouldn't have to, and for his mother who had refused to in order to give her sons a chance. He had nearly left Robin's gang for them as well. Memories of the past and fantasies of life in Scarborough tangled in his head, leaving him with an intense, violent anger that almost was enough to burn away his bitter sorrow.
"They deserve so much more," Will whispered to the darkness of the cave. It had no answer for him, and neither, it seemed, did Djaq. She stood for a few long moments in silence, watching Will's hands flick down the nearly-finished litter, adding small notches and grooves as he saw fit. Then she asked, very quietly, "And what do you expect me to do?"
Will looked up at her, unsure of her meaning. She looked straight back at him, her body displaying too many emotions for Will to identify or make sense of clearly. He could see anger in the slight clench of her hands, apprehension in the tightening of her shoulders, and worry in the knitting of her brow, but also a wish tightening her lips, and hope flashing in her eyes.
"What do you expect me to do," she repeated, "When the King returns?"
"Go into medicine." The answer seemed so simple to Will that he voiced it before considering the true implications of Djaq's question. She cut him another look, veiled suspicion in her voice.
"Become a physician?" she asked.
"I-if you wanted to." Unable to guess what was causing such a troubled expression on Djaq's face, Will decided to speak as plainly and truthfully as he could. "You're one of the most intelligent and talented people I've ever met. Any town would be lucky to have you as their physician."
Again Djaq looked at him strangely, her chestnut eyes harshly unreadable. "I am a Saracen and a woman," she said with a bit more vehemence than perhaps was necessary, blinking and looking away at last. "It is unlikely that many towns would accept such a combination."
"Oh." It was Will's turn to frown, slightly at a loss. His next words tumbled out, honest and unfiltered. "I didn't think of that."
He hardly noticed the happy warmth and sweet little smile that blossomed on Djaq's face at his words, his thoughts turning inward as the rolling sea of guilt again surged forward, hot and suffocating. From the moment Allan had mentioned leaving with Gisborne's stolen money, Djaq had been the main object of Will's thoughts. He had thought of her eyes and her smile and her delicate, capable hands. He had thought of her courage and her strength and her incredible determination. He had thought of the way she sighed when she slept, the delight she took in being outdoors, her anger at Robin whenever he treated Much as a servant. He had entertained a misguided fantasy of bringing his family back to Nottingham and introducing them to her, happy and successful.
He hadn't thought of how hard it had been for her to make her place in a world that had torn apart everything she'd known. He hadn't thought of how hard it sometimes still was for her as she struggled to maintain her identity yet nullify her gender. He hadn't thought of how hard it would be for her when the King returned, when she was forced to start all over once again, again searching for a way to belong in a place that rejected nearly everything she was. And yet he had thought of leaving her. The idea had become a true possibility in his mind for only a moment, but as far as Will was concerned that was one moment too many.
"I'm sorry," he whispered brokenly, his throat clenching as he stared down at the now finished litter resting in his hands. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be." Djaq's voice was smooth and firm without a trace of blame, but Will still couldn't bring himself to face her. "I understand why you left."
Will shook his head, refusing to allow himself to believe in her words. The self-loathing guilt and shame that had nearly crippled him when he had been told Marian was dead-- his mind immediately conjuring what-if's even more devastating, such as it being Robin or Djaq herself who lay still and cold on the slab of rock-- had a strangling grip on him once more.
"I'm a coward," he breathed, finally saying aloud what he had been thinking since taking the first step towards Scarborough. He had tried to blame his cowardice on Allan, hitting him as though things were all his fault, letting the other outlaws think they were. He had half-hoped to hear Robin scream at him for such cowardice, give him the kind of withering, biting speech that only Robin could give. He had tried to hide the cowardice from the others and himself, covering it with sincere contrition and the excuse of his family.Now he was admitting it in front of the bravest person he knew, the one person he truly wanted to be brave for.
Djaq took his confession in silence, standing very still and offering hardly even a sign that she had heard what he had said. After a long pause, Will heard the quiet rustle of her clothing and guessed she was walking away, done dealing with him at last, all her pity or anger or whatever it had been that was keeping her there run out.
Then Will felt the touch of delicate fingers on his arm. He caught the smells of woodsmoke and metal and the forest after a rain as Djaq slipped her arms around him from behind and held him tightly, one full, soft cheek pressed to his. Her breath, deep and even, was warm against his skin.
"You are not coward," she said, her body pressing to Will's and allowing him to feel the words move from her. "A coward runs away." Will stiffened in her arms but she didn't release him. Her next words were spoken with her lips placed against his ear. "Only someone with real courage comes back."
Djaq pressed the lightest kiss to Will's temple, then shifted so they were once again cheek to cheek. His arms lifted of their own accord, placing themselves over Djaq's. He wanted to cry and he wanted to laugh and he wanted to say a million things to the incredible woman he could feel with every part of him, the woman who he was determined never to leave againInstead, he let the cathartic silence of a moment speak volumes of its own as it wrapped itself around them as securely as Djaq wrapped herself around Will. They stayed entwined for only a brief amount of time, hardly breathing as though the less they moved the slower that time would pass. Then Will dropped his arms and Djaq removed her heavy warmth from his back and together they bent as one to pick up the finished litter and carry back to the other outlaws.
When they drew nearer, Little John rushed to help them, scolding in mutters about small people trying to carry something so large. Much exclaimed over the craftsmanship, Robin flashed Will a grateful smile. Allan touched a hand to the small of Will's back, his gaze meaningful but bright. Will could still feel Djaq's soft skin on his, still smell her earthy scent, still hear her words ringing in his ears. She brushed past him to move to Marian's side, her hand briefly touching his as her eyes flashed with warmth.
The littler slipped in Will's hands, banging into his knee and drawing a muffled curse from John. Allan chuckled, ignoring Much's pointed suggestions that he lend a hand. Robin threw a "Careful now" over his shoulder as he knelt next to Marian. Will steadied his grip, eyes still on Djaq. He didn't apologize, didn't offer an excuse or even utter a single word.
He knew then that he didn't have to.
Review please, especially suggestions if there's one part you think really needs changing.