Author's Notes: I know I said all my Robin Hood BBC fics were going on hiatus until we found out if she's really dead or not.
But you can't say no when Robin wants you to write about him. And this is the last time that I will entertain the idea that Marian might actually be dead. Because I refuse to believe it.
desert sand, ocean sand
This has better not come true.
This is how it begins:
Hot desert sands, flicked by invisible fingers into the mourners' eyes and teeth and tongues. No words, not even the barest whispered mumble, for none can bear to break the silence that holds Robin Hood together. He stands shaking, his shoulders tight, fists clenched, eyes somehow open and closed at the same time. Just as palpable as the grief is the fear, soaked into the outlaws' clothing—fear for Robin and of Robin, of the slightly crazed snarl on his lips and shuttered glaze over his eyes.
He walks away without a sound, footprints swallowed by the ever shifting sand.
Will's grip is tight around Djaq's fingers. His jaw is taught and knees locked as they wave at the departing ship. King Richard's hand is on his shoulder and he tries to concentrate on being intimidated, but all he feels is tired.
Djaq tells him quietly, "I love you for staying."
He thinks of Sherwood, the soft forest green and the damp earth below. The feel and scent of England's wood curling and molding beneath his expert fingers. The quiet drip of winter rain.
The cold grave his mother lies in. His father's face shining in the rock. The aching sound of children as they starve.
He takes a deep breath, but cannot relax until the ship has gone too far to see Little John pressed against the railing, waving his staff.
"I love you for keeping me here," he says.
It takes one hundred days to return to England.
Robin speaks for none of them.
England is just as cold and wet as they remember, but heavier with silence. The outlaws avoid speaking in camp; the echo of their words is too stark a reminder of all that they have lost. Much cooks without complaint; Allan isn't being funny, but he's just too tired to do anything but sleep. Little John mostly whittles away on that staff of his, not carving any shapes, just chipping at the wood until he's reached the center.
It's dead, all the way through. Brown and crusty and thick beneath his fingernails.
At first they plan to go back to doing what they did before, to helping the poor and screwing over the rich, to being all that is good and left of the old England and so on.
But Robin will not lead, and Much will not leave him, and Allan is too tired to do anything but sleep.
So John cuts and carves and whittles until there is nothing left. And then he stands, his head rising away from the warm firelight and into the chilly darkness, and he packs his bag and says, "You lot, I'll miss," and walks without looking back into the forest.
He has a wife to find and a son to claim and no one tries to stop him.
The first time he sees her, Robin's whole body rockets forward, speeding ahead of his slow and startled thoughts. He crashes through the wood and away from camp, darting through the bushes like a panicked sparrow.
She leads him to a clearing and than stands silently, watching him, wearing the same white dress she wore in the Holy Lands and smiling just as sweetly.
"Marian," he breathes.
She cocks her head quizzically at him and then looks down, a puzzled frown across her face. Blood blossoms from her side, slow drops falling like dead petals from a spring rose. She clutches the wound, doubling over, hair falling across her cheeks as she looks up at him and gasps, betrayed, "Why weren't you here?"
He presses his fingers to the wound, panicked, trying to close it, trying to stop the bleeding, trying to save her this time, trying to make it stop make it stop make it stop—
She dies and he fails and he can't get the blood off his hands.
The first time he sees her, Guy's whole body rockets backward, speeding ahead of his slow and startled thoughts. He crashes into a table and spills the wine, goblet cracking against the table as red liquid staining the table.
She stands silently, watching him, wearing the same white dress she wore in the Holy Lands and smiling just as cruelly.
"Marian," he growls.
She throws her head back and laughs, pale cheeks gathering color as her chest heaves. Then suddenly, she chokes and looks down, a puzzled frown across her face. Blood spurts from her side, angry red streaks slicing her skin. She clutches the wound, doubling over, hair falling across her cheeks as she looks up at him and gasps, triumphant, "I love Robin Hood."
He presses his fingers to the wound, furious, trying to be sure that she feels the same pain that courses through his veins, trying to be sure that this is only a dream—
She dies and he fails and he can't get the blood off his hands.
Much knows that he has never been the brains of this operation. He never fooled himself into believing that he's anymore than Robin's sidekick, the one cast off to cook and clean and play mother to those that can't.
He doesn't mind. He's been playing this part his whole life.
But Marian is dead; sweet, beautiful, fierce Marian is dead. He can remember her as a child, knees skinned and hands on her hips as she put Robin in his place, or quiet and solemn as she watched them play. He can remember years of terribly embroidered pillows from her, his name stitched awkwardly and messily across the front.
That girl is dead, buried beneath the weight of a thousand years of sand.
Much has never been the brains but he knows enough to learn from his mistakes. And he loves Robin, loves him deeply and truly as he's ever loved anyone, but he can't be his mother anymore.
He will stay until Robin can smile again, and then he will find Eve and have the life that Robin meant to lead. A funny sort of turn around, don't you think?
Allan isn't being funny, but this isn't what he imagined life was going to be like.
Once he was an outlaw and once he let his brother die, once he was a traitor and once he convinced Will to forgive him for it, once he was a hero and once upon a time, that mattered.
Now he is alone, his best friend across the world with the only woman who ever genuinely interested him, and he isn't an outlaw or a hero (or if he is, nobody knows), and he's not even doing much good for anybody anymore because mostly all he does is sit and sleep and think.
Robin is locked in his room and Little John is gone and the Sheriff is no where to be found and he's even grown to miss the sound of Much's nervous babble. Sometimes when he sits for too long his fingers get that familiar itch, tickling along the tips, seeking cloth and copper coins.
So far he has been able to resist. But he can't help but hear his father's disgusted voice in his head: once a thief always a thief.
He tries to say "once an outlaw always an outlaw" but it has such a ring of tragedy to it that he finds himself reaching once again for a just little pint of ale.
One day the ale will run out. Allan tries not to think that far ahead.
Twelve months after Will watches the ship sail away, Djaq bears his child. It is a bright, giggling little girl with skin light as her father's and eyes dark as her mother's. They name her Safiyah Danielle Scarlett and Will doesn't think he's ever seen anything or anyone so perfect in his whole life.
Her fingers are chubby and eager, and when she laughs his heart beats in rhythm. She's a perfect combination of himself and Djaq—she has his laugh but her mother's mouth, his face but Djaq's eyes.
She is born of the sand and in the sand but whenever he holds her in his arms, all Will can taste is forest—soft, green, and flower-scented.
The second time Little John meets John Little, he panics. He collapses behind a tree and stands trembling, listening to the sound of his son swinging an axe into wet wood. His breathing is heavy but he's humming a tune—one so familiar that it explodes an ache in Little John's chest.
"Almost done, John?" The man's voice is casual and friendly, relaxed against the quiet green of the wood. John Little looses his grip on the weapon in his hand and laughs.
"Just a few more," he calls. "Tell Mum not to get her skirts in a bunch."
And there it is, a happy family.
Little John waits for the boy to go inside. Then he breaks off a good, thick branch from a nearby tree and starts back, leaning heavily on the new staff.
In the end, he can't leave him.
Much is a lot of things, and not all of them good, but Robin is his master and his brother and his best friend, and when at last he's faced with the choice he realizes: he can't do it. He can't go off to Bonchurch and marry Eve and forget that somewhere Robin is practically decaying.
"Eve," he murmurs, his hands on her shoulders and her head on his chest, "I can't come with you."
She smiles up at him, her eyes bright. "That's okay," she whispers, standing up to kiss him. "That just means I'll have to stay here."
At the wedding, for the first time in a year and a half, Robin Hood smiles.
Mostly Robin wakes up shaking and mostly he has to re-learn that she's dead. But sometimes he gets the feeling that she's not gone, exactly, not ripped from him for ever (and ever and ever and ever and) but just hovering silently, somewhere just out of reach. When he's quiet he can hear her voice in the wind, or in the rain, or in the silence of his own bedroom.
When he's quiet he can hear her in his heartbeat, in his breath, in his pulse.
Sometimes she is saying it's okay. it's okay. it's okay. And sometimes she is saying you're okay. you're okay. you're okay.
But the thing is, she never says I'm okay, and that's what scares him.
It's been two years since the Holy Lands when Allan finally decides to get off his stupid ass and do something worthwhile. They haven't helped anyone in a while, not really; not like they used to, back when Robin was more than just a lump of skin in clothing.
So he goes into town and distributes some money and kicks the crap out of some guards trying to arrest a ten-year-old kid for "stealing" food (from the garbage heap, for pity's sake), partly because it's right and partly just because he's angry. He's been angry for a while.
The kid looks up at him like he's God or something and Allan's not being funny, but he's sort of starting to remember exactly why he got into this Robin Hood thing in the first place.
"Are you an outlaw?" The kid asks, his eyes wide and impressed.
Allan laughs, ruffling his hair and taking a step back. "Do I look like an outlaw?" He asks rhetorically, and then jokes, "Nah, kid, I'm Friar Tuck."
But the thing is, ten-year-olds can't grasp sarcasm.
John comes back without much ado. He just appears in camp one day and doesn't explain; no one asks and no one pushes and it's sort of like nothing's changed at all.
And nothing has, except that Eve is pregnant and Much isn't getting bossed around anymore and Allan is known around the villages as Friar Tuck for whatever reason. So John slips right back into routine and within a week it's like he's never left at all.
After a month of being back he starts going to town with Allan, starts pretending like he's still one of Robin Hood's men, and it feels … right, almost. Like he's back where he belongs.
The second child is born on the ship back to England so they name her Oceana. It's not the most original thing in the world, but Will thinks that not many people back home (home, that's where he's going, is home) will have heard it before.
He'd promised Djaq and Safiyah they could go back to Jerusalem after the visit, but it's been four years, and Luke is probably married by now, and—excuses aside—he wants to see the forest.
Mostly Guy wakes up shaking and mostly he has to re-learn that she's dead. But sometimes he gets the feeling that she's not gone, exactly, not ripped from him for ever (and ever and ever and ever and) but just hovering silently, somewhere just out of reach. He sees her everywhere: in the courtyard, in the stables, in the silence of his own bedroom.
When he's quiet he can hear her in his heartbeat, in his breath, in his pulse.
Sometimes she is saying robin. robin. robin. And sometimes she is saying he won. he won. he won.
But the thing is, she never says you lose, and that's what scares him.
In four years, Much can count the sentences Robin has said on two hands.
But two weeks after his little girl, his little Marian, is born, he stands hiding behind a tree as Robin cradles her in his arms and whispers, "You're going to be okay, Marian, you're going to have a long full life in an England that's not wrecked by greed and evil, and you're never going to know what it's like to have to choose. You're going to fall in love, okay, you're going to fall in love and he's going to love you back and don't you ever let go of that, not ever, don't think you can get it back because it only comes once so you hold onto it, don't let anything put it in danger because that is life, Marian, and when it's gone, so are—so are you, you feel like there's nothing to you anymore but bones and skin."
He breaks off, breathing heavily, cuddling the child to his face. "You're never going to be gone, Marian," he whispers, kissing the baby's forehead. "Never."
The next day Robin picks up his bow for the first time since the Holy Lands. Allan looks up at him with a grin and says, "Finally," and Little John hefts his staff into his hands like a weapon. Djaq and Will shake their heads from the beds and Eve keeps a tender eye on Marian and Saffiyah, who are playing in the corner, and no one thinks he's going to say anything but he does.
He says, "So who wants to be my target?"
This is how it ends:
Guy wakes to the sound of cheering.
The villagers are crying: Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Robin Hood! And Marian is in the corner, hands crossed over her bloody gown, a smile on her lips. "He's okay," she tells him. "He wins."
"You're dead," he snarls at her. "Shut up."
"You lose, Guy," she whispers, taking a step forward. "It's okay and I'm okay and Robin—" she breaks off with a big smile, despite the blood dripping from the corner of her mouth. "—wins."
"I'm not done fighting."
He feels a flicked of fear when Marian says, "Neither is he."