Allan was a practical man. He had been for his whole life, and it had helped him through a number of hard times. He solved problems in the simplest, easiest terms available. Hungry? Steal some food. Cold? Break into someone's stables for the night. Can't stand the thought of sleeping surrounded by three weeks worth of horse shit? Well, that was something you just had to deal with. To Allan, with all his practicality and experience, things either made sense or they didn't.
Looking at Djaq and Will as they helped set up camp for the night, Will chopping firewood and Djaq arranging it into an intricate teepee, Allan thought they made sense. Will solemn, quiet, and earnestly naive, Djaq fiery, stubborn, and shamelessly jaded; Allan had known they completed each other long before they had even begun to realize it.
They were his best friends.
It was still an odd concept, Allan thought, watching the muscles shift in Will's arms as he placed a piece of firewood into Djaq's delicate hands; for him to have friends. And not the we've-agreed-not-to-kill-each-other-for-our-mutual-benefit kind of friends, but real ones, people who Allan cared about and who— for some reason he couldn't understand— cared about him. When Allan and his brother had first parted ways, both without so much as a single coin in their pockets and the same idea on how to acquire them, Allan had thought he'd given up friends, given up anything more than no-throat-slitting-between-us acquaintances. A thief, he'd thought, couldn't have friends.
He would never have guessed he'd be surrounded by them, happily surrounded, a willing member of a group. Honest, powerful Robin, strong, reasonable John, even complaining, devoted, heartfelt Much.
And Will and Djaq. Above all, Allan would never have expected to have such friends as Will and Djaq.
Well, Will made a little sense. He was a peasant like Allan, one of the many common people crushed under the relentless laws and taxes of the Sheriff. Will had lost as much as Allan, if not more, and yet he had not turned to thievery or lawlessness. Until he had nearly starved and then joined Robin's gang that is, which didn't really count as far as Allan was concerned since it was for the good of the people and not really for themselves, and Will could still carry his noble attitude with pride. For that was one of the biggest differences between Allan and Will, something Allan still had a hard time believing they could so easily overlook. Will was noble. Will was honest and kind and full of good intentions and integrity. Allan was not.
He could remember his thoughts from the first day he had met Will, when they were both scheduled to hang for crimes against the Sheriff. Will had held tight to the little brother he had stolen for, held him in the darkness of the dungeon and told him to stay strong, while Allan could see in Will's startlingly dark eyes that he himself was terrified. He had stood up to the guards with quiet dignity and received a mailed fist to the face. When the noose was placed around his neck he held himself with resigned acceptance, eyes shut save for one last glance at his brother and father against the homeland that had betrayed him.
This is a man who does not deserve to die, Allan had thought then, suddenly wishing he put more belief in God so he could utter him a fervent prayer to somehow, somehow let the young carpenter live. Honor-less thieves like Allan who fought death every inch of way— they deserved to die if it meant keeping valiant innocents like Will alive. Allan deserved to die if it meant keeping Will alive.
Yet Robin had come, had freed them all and they had both joined Robin's gang and become friends. Best friends. It was an easier thing to understand when Allan was teaching Will some new skill, like sword-fighting or how to sneak past castle guards, or when Robin assigned them a specific task and they worked together seamlessly, like a mill with every cog in perfect alignment. It was times like that when Allan could think of his friendship with Will as that between brothers, Will honest but ignorant, Allan wiser but prone to stray.
It was the times when Will stopped looking like a boy and started acting like a man that became confusing, times when Will would reprimand Allan for doing something stupid, or cajole him into doing something right. Times when there was a grim depth to Will's all-seeing eyes, and Allan would feel sure that Will knew the truth: that Allan was beneath him. And yet Will would still turn to him, still smile his small, hidden smile that said he liked Allan, he cared for him. Worse, it said he trusted him.
When Will looked at him like that, it made no sense to Allan.
And then there was Djaq.
Djaq was the least likely friend Allan could have imagined.
When Allan first met Djaq, he had thought her smart, courageous, assertive, and slightly terrifying. Then when Will revealed her gender to the group Allan's perception of her had changed. He thought her smart, courageous, assertive, and a woman. Which was very terrifying.
Allan knew of only one way to treat women, and that was as women, as beautiful, soft, curving objects of praise and desire. And yet everything about Djaq's manner said that if Allan treated her like that, she'd be likely to run a sword through his face. He'd been unable to help himself at first, offering a few comments that earned him heavy glares from all around. It wasn't even that he found Djaq particularly attractive then— though when her hair grew out a little and she shed some of her bulky clothing, Allan was hard pressed not to notice just how attractive she was— he simply didn't know how else to treat her. It made for a very awkward few weeks until one day when Allan realized Djaq had ceased to be just a woman to him and had become a comrade instead.
It wasn't any particularly special day in the lives of the outlaws. They'd gone to Nottingham in some ill-staged tax-money rescue which ended up landing Allan with a nasty gash down one arm. Djaq had offered to look at it for him and Allan had gratefully accepted, holding out his arm as Will sat down near by, cleaning his own wounds and stating quietly that he could make Djaq a needle if she needed to do any stitching.
"No," Djaq had replied, prodding the wound and smiling reassuringly at Allan's yelp of pain. "A bandage will do just fine."
And that was when Allan realized. Had Djaq been any other woman— had she been Marian or a servant or one of the women from town— Allan would have been either putting on a brave face or else milking the injury for all he was worth. He would not be leaning his head back against the tree behind him, eyes nearly closed as he watched Will wind cloth around a blistered hand, swearing occasionally as Djaq dressed his wound with a cooly detached physician's touch. Despite Djaq's warm body so near to his, despite her large eyes and obvious female gender, Allan felt as comfortable around her as he did around any of the other lads. And as little sense as it made for Will to trust Allan, it made even less sense that Allan now trusted Djaq.
A week later when his brother died and Djaq held his hand in a dank alley and talked about her past and Will lay near him that night and touched his shoulder even as he pretended he couldn't hear Allan cry, that was when Allan knew he was in love with them.
And didn't that make the least fucking sense of it all?
Allan A Dale, consummate thief, self-proclaimed loner, practiced cheater, liar, and criminal, was in love with his two perfect best friends. Well maybe not perfect, because Will could often be quite sulky when he was offended and Djaq sometimes had difficulty making compromises; Will was prone to turn to self-doubt when things went wrong, Djaq made quick judgments that weren't always correct, but still both of them were far better people than Allan could ever hope to be. And that was why he loved them.
That's why he craved them.
There were times when Allan imagined the feel of Djaq's full lips on his own, or dreamt of enfolding Will's taut body in his arms, but he knew his attraction went far deeper than that. He was attracted to their minds and their hearts and their souls, not just their bodies. And it was the both of them together thatreally got to him. Alone, they could easily be just objects of lust, Will with his long limbs of toned muscles and almost sinfully expressive eyes, Djaq with her rich lilting voice and enticingly confident swagger, but together, together as WillandDjaq, they made something Allan simply couldn't resist.
He had given up trying to fight it. A few hours after his initial realization that he was in love with them he had come to the conclusion that trying to fight it would be futile. Like a moth to a flame, he thought, eyes on Djaq as she titled her fire glass to catch the last rays of the sun, his gaze shifting to Will, kneeling next to her. They were flames, the two of them, beautiful and bright and blazing. And like a moth, Allan was sure to get burned.
It would have been so easy, back in the beginning, for Allan to leave. Back in the first days of Robin's gang, even following Djaq's arrival, Allan could have picked up— and picked off quite a few of the other outlaw's belongings to help him on his way— and left if he had had to. It would have hurt, and he probably would have felt some of the emotion he hated almost more than any other; regret, but he could have gone, and not looked back.
Then a lot of little events and a few large ones had spun by, and before Allan knew it he was tied and trapped in an intimate and powerful web of memories and emotions. Dark warm nights in the forest; Robin willing to die for England and for his outlaws with equal passion; sunlight through green leaves; his brother's death and the outlaws' attempts to stop it; loud laughter under cloudless skies; Djaq's capture and he and Will becoming a frantic, desperate united front to ensure she came back to them safely; meals that not only tasted like but exemplified every bit of the phrase 'home-cooked'; Will's eyes; Djaq's smile. Fear and insecurity and left-over instincts of thieving that said it was far better to split treasure three or two ways sometimes made Allan itch to take off running again, but he knew if he did that now he'd be leaving an irreplaceable part of him behind. Sometimes, when he found himself collecting pieces of wood as they traveled through the forest that he knew Will would like to carve, or watching Djaq sleep at night and counting her breaths, he thought it would probably be the practical thing to do.
They didn't belong to him.
As much as Allan desired them, he knew he could never have them. Not only were they heartwrenchingly, cosmically suited for one another, but both Will and Djaq— despite their pasts and their outlaw lives, despite the hard edge to Djaq's voice when she spoke of dispatching a castle guard or the coldly familiar way Will handled his axe—were pure. Untainted. They belonged, Allan thought, watching as Djaq laughed good-naturedly at Will's well-intentioned but hopelessly amateur attempts to help with the cooking, in the light. Allan was none of the things they were; he was not pure, certainly not untainted, and he didn't belong in the light. He belonged in the shadows where he'd spent so much of his life, living in them to avoid responsibility, hiding in them when he stole, retreating into them when found the light too much to handle.
As he was doing now, sitting against the tree, a few feet out of the circle of firelight and warmth and low chatter the rest of the outlaws were creating; John returning from the forest with a buck slung across his back, Much crowing in delight and reaching for his utensils, Robin laughing at his eagerness as he pounded new heads for his arrows, Will and Djaq still tending the fire and cutting herbs, exchanging soft words and softer smiles.
And yet, the shadows weren't the same to Allan as they had been before.
Robin had saved his life in more ways than one that day he cut Allan from the gallows and accepted him into his band of outlaws. He had given him the chance to do something and be someone in a way Allan had never even considered before. He had helped him change from a shiftless, conscious-less thief into a person with meaning and purpose, a person who could help others rather than just himself. Robin had given Allan a choice on how to live his life. He had given him direction, and freedom, and power. He had given him Will and Djaq.
And they, in turn, had given him light.
But it couldn't last. Though it nearly broke his heart, Allan knew that. He couldn't stay in the light forever. He didn't belong there, and he couldn't go on pretending indefinitely. He was a thief, a rogue, a liar, a selfish man. He was the moth, flying too close to the seductive flames. He was made of the shadows, and he would have to return to them. Sooner or later Will or Djaq would realize he was not the man he pretended to be, and they would stop trusting him, stop accepting them into their world of firelight and smiles, and he would be left rejected, in the dark and the cold.
The smartest thing to do would be to leave before that could happen. The safest thing to do would be to leave. The most practical thing to do would be to leave. And Allan was a practical man. Yet over this he had no control.
He said nothing when Djaq turned her smoldering gaze on him and demanded to know why he was sitting all by himself away from the group. He did nothing when Will walked over to him and spoke his name in that low, soft voice of his that sent shivers down Allan's spine. He put up absolutely no resistance when Will took him by one arm and Djaq took the other, and together they brought him without hesitation into the circle of firelight, into the warmth of their world and the caress of their smiles and the simple joy of the evening, stretching languidly under a star-speckled sky.
Allan belonged in the shadows, but the shadows couldn't exist without the light.
Once I started writing this I found Allan a much more interesting character than I'd thought before. I hope I got him right. As always, please review, if you wouldn't mind.