Whenever she is around Will, Djaq is laid bare.

Hesitant hands trace elegant patterns across the skin of her shoulders. Djaq wishes she could follow them with ink, tattoo these feelings into her being forever.

For nearly all of her life, she had some sort of covering. When she was Safiyah she was required by law to cover herself from head to toe in concealing veils. Clothing was meant to be a protection, but it often felt like a cage.

Will drops his grip to her waist where his hands become still. She murmurs a protest against the furnace of his mouth, then lets out a small gasp as calloused thumbs flick beneath the hem of her shirt, shy and testing and igniting her.

When she became Djaq, she used her brother's identity to cover herself. She used his gender as protection, for practically any situation in the world was safer for a man than for a woman. His strength and his courage gave her covering as well, and she painted them to the surface of herself, displaying the resolute canvas to the world.

Djaq's knees grow weak as Will places kisses down her neck. She can feel him trembling against her, and thinks neither of them will be able to remain on their feet for much longer. Her arms tighten around his neck, begging him to join her in sinking down into warm oblivion.

Then Will Scarlett had come into her life, and with his dark eyes and observant silences saw straight through all of her coverings and defenses. Even before she'd hastily covered the part of her body no man would ever have to, she felt he could see through the ghost of her brother that she wrapped herself in. Even before she broke down and cried in his arms after her capture by the Sheriff, Djaq felt he could see through the fierce determination she wore like a second skin.

The removal Will's tunic allows for more of the delicious feeling of skin upon skin. Djaq runs exploratory hands over his lean muscles, tracing old scars and new bruises. His skin is pale and smooth under her brown fingers; it is like stroking moonlight. She leans forward to kiss the jutting bones in his almost painfully thin shoulders, discovering his tastes like spring water and pine needles. He groans low in his throat, and it is the most beautiful sound she has ever heard.

Even if Djaq wanted to hide what she was thinking or feeling from Will, she hardly ever could. He knew when she was scared even if she laughed and tried to buoy the others. He knew when she was upset even if she said nothing and followed Robin's orders without question. He knew when she was lying, even if she hardly did.

They tumble to the earth in disarray, landing with such an ungraceful crash in the leaf-strewn space between two enormous roots of an ancient tree that Djaq cannot help but giggle. Her eyes meet Will's and she finds him smiling wider than she's ever seen. He laughs a little too, and for a moment everything is light and wonderful. Then Djaq cannot resist pulling Will's face down to hers so their smiles can press against one another's, and things get heavy but wonderful in a very different way.

Eventually, Djaq gave up trying to pretend that she could hide anything from Will. Being buried under layers of people and things she only acted like she was was exhausting, to her mind and soul. It was such a relief to be able to escape that, even for a few moments, and so she finally let Will see all he was able to see. However, she got more than she bargained for when that turned out to include seeing a way to the inner workings of her heart. The day Djaq realized that she'd let Will in there was the same day she realized she never wanted him to leave.

Djaq's breath hitches in her throat as Will takes a moment to simply look at her. Her own tunic cast aside, the warm summer air plays over her skin as steadily as Will's eyes. Reverence and passion make an equal play for dominance in his gaze, and Djaq suddenly feels as she never has before, as though she is something truly special, like a flower sprung from once-charred earth, or the first bud on a tree that seems surely to be dead. Will's gaze makes her feel like she is beautiful.

It took a while for Djaq to come to terms with her feelings for Will. For the longest time, she tried to convince herself that their relationship was no more than one between comrades, no different than her relationship with any of the other outlaws. And yet while she could assign easy labels to those friendships-- admiration with Robin, solidarity with Much, mutually unexpected respect with Allan, a fatherly sense with Little John-- she could find no simple word or phrase to describe what drew her to Will. There was a tiny part of her mind and a large part of her heart that knew the answer, but it was many long months before Djaq was ready to hear it.

Will murmurs words she cannot make out against her heated skin as he kisses his way from her collar bones to her naval, broad hands leading the way. He is careful and unsure, and while half of Djaq is shivering with nerves and is glad of his slow pace, the other half of her yearns to roll her body on top of his and press herself to him as quickly and thoroughly as possible. He pauses, hands resting on her hips, and even as she arches into his touch, Djaq takes the moment to lean forward and place a kiss upon Will's chest, above his heart. There are no words that could do anything but lessen the moment, and Djaq and Will need none. The connection expressed in their matching racing pulses, interlocking gazes and-- as Will bends his head down with an almost unbearably sweet expression on his face-- touching lips and tangling tongues, is more powerful than any speech ever could be.

The realization that what she felt for Will was far deeper than any mere friendship came to Djaq in a sudden moment of clarity, and yet it came not during a time of crisis or distress or deep, emotional bonding. In fact, Will had been asleep at the time. It was a day like so many others in the forest of the outlaws, and Djaq had gone to take a quick rinse in the stream near the camp. When she returned, damp and slightly shivering, her eyes immediately sought out the dark-eyed carpenter only to find him wearied from a long day and sleeping soundly, his head pillowed on his hands. Having been expecting to find Will waiting for her, quiet words on his lips and a smile in his eyes, Djaq dropped to a seat next his sleeping form, feeling disconcerted and borderline angry. It was when she caught herself watching his chest rise and fall with every slow breath that she suddenly knew her life would make no sense if Will Scarlett weren't in it. A few more breaths were all it took for her to realize she was in love with him.

"Will. . ." His name is a sigh on her lips, a plea and an offer and nearly frantic gratitude jumbling together to make her voice husky and ragged. It is the only word her brain can make sense of, can transfer fully to her mouth and she sighs it again and again amid gasps and small cries. One of Will's hands holds her securely as he has held her a dozen times before, while the other makes her feel as she never knew possible. He seems to be discovering her pleasure just as she does, gentle and probing and watching her with a look of pure awe on his face, breaking in pattern every so often to lay gentle kisses across her stomach and chest. Her eyes soon flutter closed, and her hands clamp to his arms. She feels his touch through every part of her. He is every part of her. "Will. . ." she breathes.

After the past couple years of her life being filled with nothing but loss and pain, Djaq was unsure at first if she could to trust herself-- her real, true self-- to an Englishman she had known for only a matter of months. So she watched Will carefully, trying to discern the feelings behind his silences and long, slow blinks. Will didn't say a word to her about he himself felt, but Djaq knew him so well she didn't need to him to speak his thoughts out loud for her to able to hear them. Once she was ready to open her ears, they were more than obvious. Will screamed his love for her with every action, every gesture, every look. And then Djaq realized he was watching her just as carefully as she was watching him, and looking for the same things.

It takes Djaq a long time to return from the crashing shores of white-hot bliss, but gradually she becomes aware of her surroundings once more-- the forest dappled in late-afternoon sunlight, and Will. He is still poised over her, still watching her as though he wants to absorb her right under his skin. In that moment, his hair sweat-dampened and hanging in his face, his lips parted and his body glistening and golden in the sun, he is heartbreakingly beautiful. Djaq reaches for him without a second thought, her physician's hand steady and firm. At first Will looks adorably surprised, then concerned-- he has been adamant about not rushing her-- but as Djaq does not falter his head soon drops to her shoulder, his breath coming hot and fast against her neck. She guides him to where she most wants him to be, and he pulls back to exchange a final glance. She smiles, and he kisses her, deep and sweet and wonderful. In the next moment they finally meet, and the world implodes into them.

It didn't take long for Will to become a part of Djaq, to be almost more of her than she was herself. He became like air-- necessary, sustaining, sometimes overlooked until his absence reminded her she couldn't function without him-- but even more important. Without air, she would die. Without Will, she would be destroyed. They expressed their affection first in small glances and weighted words, which steadily grew into tender touches and profound silences. As their relationship gradually developed, so did the rest of the outlaw's awareness of it, and by the time Djaq was snaking her arms around Will's torso by way of greeting, or Will was stroking her hair by the fireside as she leaned on his shoulder it seemed to everyone as natural as rain falling from the sky or night following day. Djaq didn't even have to work to reestablish her gender ambiguity, because despite the new ties to the young blacksmith, to everyone she remained simply Djaq. And yet Will-- to whom 'simply Djaq' meant so much more than seemed possible-- was able to make her feel, for the first time in her life, like she was a real woman.

Will collapses with a sigh, twisting his body to avoid landing on Djaq yet catching her in his shaking arms so she stays pressed close to his chest. She unclenches her hands and flattens them against the muscles of his back where moments before she had unconsciously pressed blunt fingernails into his skin, also unwillingly to lose contact. The woods seem still and silent around them, echoes of Djaq's desperately moaned words in her native tongue and Will's low cries fading away into the trees. One of Will's hands traces up Djaq's arm, and she trails slow kisses across his shoulder. "I love you," his whispers, and though it is not the first time he's said it the sound seems to be torn from him and his voice is thick with emotion. His grip on her tightens almost convulsively. "I love you, Djaq. I love you--" Djaq kisses him on the mouth then because she thinks she sees tears glistening in his eyes and thinks she feels them starting in her own. She knows just what he is feeling because her heart is so full of the same aching pleasure-pain that she thinks it may burst into a million glorious pieces at any moment. She will repeat Will's words to him later, many times, stating them matter-of-factly as he patiently carves a new tag to replace the second one Allan lost, whispering them in his ear as they lay down with the others to sleep, shouting them to the world when they next find time to be alone. But for now she can only kiss him, stare into his bottomless eyes and wrap herself in his arms, letting the moment wash over her. For in it there are no barriers, no pretenses and no facades. There is no fear and no Sheriff and no outlaws and no war. There is only her and Will, bodies and heart entwined.

Whenever she is around Will, Djaq is laid bare. She is unveiled, uncovered, open and exposed. When Will turns his gaze upon her, it burns up everything she ever had to hide behind, and though it leaves her feeling vulnerable she has also never felt more safe. While she remains in a sort of limbo, projecting one side of herself to the world while letting Will see every side, she knows there will come a day when things will be easier and times will be brighter and Will will offer her the chance to step from the shadows and come fully into the light. And though the idea terrifies her, it is also a comfort because she knows Will will be waiting there with open arms, and as long as he is around she can come to no harm. So when the day comes that it is possible for Djaq to throw off all her coverings and leave them behind, she will do so without looking back. She will look only into the dark eyes of the man that holds the other part of her soul when she moves at last into a new world, one where she is truly safe and truly free, and one where, once she arrives, she will remain. Forever.