Author's Notes: This will be a couple-chaptered fic. Because … pre-series Robin/Marian dynamic is too much fun to ignore.

Blow Your House Down

Chapter 1: The Truce

It took Robin of Locksley about six seconds to decide that he liked this Marian creature: he liked the way she scowled slightly as he kissed her hand, and the way her dress had mud stains across the back, and especially her somber little face that told him she was going to be too much fun to resist.

On the ride to her house, Much leaned over and whispers confidentially, "Bit of a stick in the mud, isn't she?"

Marian shot him a glare as sharp as daggers across the isle. "I can hear you, you idiot," she snapped scathingly. Robin didn't pay either of them much attention; his mind was already hours ahead, in the cover of darkness, plotting ways to put a toad in her bed or convince her of a haunting. "Listen. I know all about you and your stupid tricks, Robin of Locksley, so don't think for a second that I'm going to fall for any of them."

Much shrunk back from her, offering a timid smile as he laughed nervously. "Tricks?" He asked, his voice unnaturally high. "Don't . . . don't know what you're talking about, my lady. Robin will be on his best behavior. King's honor."

She sniffed, curling her arms over her chest and shifting her stare to Robin. He smiled disarmingly, the way that always worked to get him out of trouble with the girl servants and his mum, and made sure his slingshot was well-concealed as he stuck out a hand. "King's honor," he repeated.

Marian gazed at his outstretched limb as if examining it for some sort of disease. Then, tentatively, she clasped it with her tiny fingers and shook once, hard.

Even so. For the rest of the ride she kept one eye trained carefully on his hands, and she would only talk to Much.

---

Dinner was boring, as usual; mostly just their fathers going on about crops and harvests and other boring talk while their mothers gossiped and laughed and traded tips. On the other hand, he was seated next to Marian, and despite her best efforts she kept getting distracted by servers or parents or other such interruptions and couldn't properly monitor him.

"I think they're getting on famously," one mum said to another, and they turned to study the children. Both Robin and Marian plastered on wide smiles. "Robin, don't you think Marian looks lovely this evening?"

He smiled at her like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. "Absolutely I do," he gushed. "Marian, would you like some sugar for your tea?"

Her mother cooed. Marian studied the offered item with suspicion until her mother hissed, "Well, Marian, take it!"

She cautiously lowered a spoonful of sugar into her cup and then shoved the sweet back at him. "Thank you," she muttered, and raised her tea to her lips.

He watched her face careful as the liquid touched her mouth and she realized that it was not sugar lacing the edges of her cup. The sour tang of salt slapped against her gums and tongue, curling her features into a grimace as she swallowed.

But to his great disappointment, her expression didn't change except for a light, friendly smile she handed him. "Thank you," she repeated cheerfully. "I do love my tea sweet."

He didn't understand.

"Do you . . . want some more?" He asked helplessly, thinking that perhaps she hadn't put enough salt into the fluid to have an effect.

The salt-for-sugar trick always got results. He didn't understand how this tiny slip of a sheriff's daughter could guzzle that much salt and not even notice.

She accepted the extended sugar bowl with a gracious nod. "Oh, yes, please," she replied, dipping into the salt and dumping several more spoonfuls in and drinking with apparent ease and pleasure.

He wondered if perhaps he'd mistaken the sugar for salt and simply switched one sugar for another. There was no other explanation for Marian's apparent oblivion to an otherwise perfectly executed prank.

He carelessly dipped his own spoon into the sugar bowl and funneled more than a fair amount of the substance in (just to be sure he could taste it). He brought the cup to his lip and opened his mouth wide, nearly half the cup pouring over his tongue and into his throat.

He spluttered, coughing and wheezing as it scratched and fought its way down. He covered his mouth, fighting the urge to throw up, when suddenly he could feel the substance rocket through his nose and explode out his nostrils, spraying across the table and splattering the guests on the other side.

Marian squealed in laughter, clapping her hands and finally putting her teacup down. He turned, staring dumbly at her for a full five seconds before emotion could even kick in. Much clapped his back worriedly, waving his hand in front of Robin's face. "Master? Master? Are you all right, sir?"

"I told you I wasn't going to fall for your tricks, Robin Hood," Marian whispered sweetly.

Robin waved Much aside, keeping his eyes on the delighted Marian. She was smirking victoriously, eyes wide and innocent. "I'm fine," he snapped. "It just went down funny." Still looking at his newfound opponent, Robin began shoveling spoonful after spoonful of salt into what was left of his tea. His stomach squirmed as he watched the color change and lighten. The salt sizzled slightly as it hit the water, only to be silenced as it sunk to the bottom.

Marian's eyes narrowed in confusion and her laughter faded. "What are you doing?" She asked, frowning.

"Sweetening my tea," he replied, smiling lightly and clenching his fist beneath the table as he swallowed the god-awful liquid. He couldn't keep from grimacing but continued gamely to drink, watching with satisfaction as her jaw dropped.

She thought she'd beaten him. But Robin of Locksley was not easily defeated.

Her face colored slightly and she scowled, reaching across him for the salt. She dumped at least five spoonfuls into her own cup and began drinking furiously. Instantly he retaliated, adding more salt and drinking more quicker than she; but she only doubled his salt concentration, swallowing in huge gulps. He raised her two spoonfuls and she one-upped him; they continued like this for several minutes, neither willing to give up, neither willing to admit defeat.

Marian's face had paled, and with every sip of tea tears gathered in her eyes from the sting. His stomach churned and bubbled, threateningly close to rising back up his throat and decorating the tablecloth. Marian whimpered as she added another spoonful to her cup and he almost cried with joy. "Had enough?" He croaked, half-desperate for her to say yes.

"Have you?" She whispered hoarsely back and took a long drink of the tea. Tears spilled down her cheeks.

He considered throwing a tantrum; it wasn't fair! Why couldn't she just be quietly and tearfully scandalized like the girls at Locksley would have been? Why did she have to go and try to beat him?

He emptied the salt into his cup and finished the tea triumphantly. Surely this meant victory. (He didn't think he could stand continued competition.)

Marian stared disbelievingly at the empty sugar bowl and then raised her eyes to his. For a second he thought she was going to admit defeat; then she turned to her servant and said in a gravelly, pained voice, "Lilly, will you please bring me some salt?"

His jaw dropped.

He watched in amazed silence as she added another spooning of salt to her tea and struggled to drink it; she managed a single swallow before she leaned to the side and threw up all over the floor.

Instantly the adults were at her side, carrying her to the bedroom and fussing over her; he felt himself getting queasy himself and jumped up, running as fast as he could to the nearest window where he, too, failed to keep down his dinner. His father was by his side in a blink, hefting him into his arms and carrying him up the stairs in the wake of Marian and her parents. They lay the children beside one another and fussed for a few minutes before leaving to fetch a doctor.

"Don't tell them," Marian croaked. "You'll get us both in trouble."

He nodded. "Okay." They lay in silence for a few minutes and then he said quietly, "I'm sorry I made you throw up."

She giggled. "I'm sorry I made you throw up."

He turned his head to look at her, the first girl not to put up with his trickery. He felt a quiet, unobtrusive feeling of respect spreading through his stomach as she valiantly struggled to keep from throwing up again. He stuck out a hand. "Truce?"

She didn't regard this offer as carefully as she had the first; she simply latched onto his fingers and smiled, squeezing weakly. "Truce." She hesitated. "And later, you can tell me how you switched the salt without anyone noticing."

He grinned. It took him about six seconds to realize he was still holding her hand.