Inspired by Season 2, Episode 2. Don't own, don't profit. Apologies for any over-the-top corniness.

The Dress

The dress hadn't bothered her until now.

Djaq fidgeted uncomfortably, crossing her arms over her chest and feeling suddenly exposed and vulnerable. The dress hadn't bothered her until this very moment, and now she wanted nothing more than to tear it off and see every last bit of gold flounce and silken cord burned.

When Robin had first declared it necessary that someone besides Marian and the Count be present at the gambling party in order for their heist to be a success, no one had considered Djaq. They had skulked outside the castle gates, discussing the possibilities of sending in Will disguised as a servant or Allan as a gambler. A line of peasant girls with tense postures but resolute expressions had moved past them, and were slowly ushered into the castle by leering guards. Djaq had grabbed Robin's arm.

"I could do it!" she had whispered to him, excitement blossoming at being stuck by such an idea, and the chance to be useful in a way she hardly had. The outlaws had all turned to her with puzzled expressions, and she had hastened to explain.

"Those girls," she said, "They're going into the castle specifically for the gambling party tonight. They've been hired to be there. It's perfect!"

Will, always one of the first to catch on, had gone pale and shook his head jerkily at Djaq. She'd tried to reassure him with a quick glance while remaining focussed on Robin, who appeared to be considering the idea.

"You want us to send you in there as. . . entertainment?" their leader had said at last, carefully polite even as distaste colored his voice.

"No," Djaq had answered, torn between and desire to laugh and to roll her eyes. "Those girls aren't hired for that Robin, look at them. Those kinds of girls would be much. . ." She had paused, searching for the right word.

"Better looking?" Allan had supplied with a smirk.

"These girls are hired help," Djaq had pressed on, though unable that time to suppress an eye roll. "Or coerced help, more likely. But there probably to serve food and drink, to clear the tables, to take cloaks." She had stayed focussed on Robin, though had been perfectly aware that Will's jaw remained clenched tight and his dark eyes hard. "I think those things I could manage, and then you would have your man on the inside."

"Well, woman, actually," Allan had said, but was ignored by all except for a dull thud and a small yelp that suggested Will had kicked him in the shin.

Robin had surveyed Djaq carefully, his eyes studying her face. "Are you sure?" he'd asked her softly.

She had nodded slowly, trying to discern the meaningbehind his intense gaze as Much had said, "It make sense. She's the least likely to be recognized as one of your men, especially if she's a. . ." he'd shrugged, slightly uncomfortable, "well. . . a she."

"Are you sure?" Robin had repeated, and Djaq had understood exactly all that he was asking her.

He hadn't simply been wondering if she was okay with entering the castle alone and in disguise in a potentially dangerous situation, he had also been asking if she was okay with that disguise being fully female.

It should have bothered her, Djaq thought, the idea of dressing so blatantly as a woman when she'd worked for years to be considered in every way possible as man. And yet the rules and lines she'd rigidly drawn for herself had been blurring a lot recently, especially when Djaq was with the other outlaws in their camp. In what she thought of as home.

The sheriff had discovered her gender some months previous, and as terrifying as that had been it seemed to have broken some of the rules Djaq had been adhering to. No longer needing to fear detection from him or Gisbourne as a woman, Djaq had allowed a few feminine aspects back into her personality. When she confirmed that the outlaws were going to treat her the same as they always did, she had allowed a few more, letting her hair grow a little and shedding the bulky clothing reminiscent of her time as a slave. She wasn't becoming Safiyah again— that person was dead and buried forever, back in her homeland alongside the corpses of her brother and father. But she wasn't sticking relentlessly to the ghost of her brother and his gender, either. The longer she spent in the happy family-like atmosphere of Robin's gang where, despite some teases from Allan or smoldering glances from Will, she was accepted without question as 'one of the lads', the more she thought it might be possible for a female Djaq to exist.

So when Robin had asked her if she was sure, she'd taken a chance, thinking it was as good of time as any to experiment with her new identity. "Yes," she'd answered. "I'm sure."

"I'm glad," Robin had said, his face breaking into his trademark grin.

Then within hours— despite Will protesting quietly but fervently against the plan— she had been in the castle and handed a dress. It was unlike anything she'd ever seen before.

Heavy, shimmery, and gold, it looked much more suitable for some sort of elaborate alter-draping than clothing. Djaq had felt a moment of pure panic as she stared at it, realizing she had no idea of how to put it on. Luckily, all the peasant girls who were going to be working there that night had been brought to the same room, and Djaq had been able to surreptitiously observe them and mimic them enough to
arrange the soft layers around her body in a somewhat acceptable manner. Seeing the other peasants asking one another for help, she'd then turned to a small, mousy-haired girl to assist her in tying what Djaq considered to be an utterly ridiculous length of gold cloth around her shoulders and midsection. Someone else had offered to a pin a flower in her hair, while still another was passing around rouge. The room had suddenly erupted into a flurry of activity; twittering voices and high-pitched giggling that had made Djaq feel claustrophobic and jumpy. Her head had started to spin and she'd stumbled away from the main cluster of girlish preparation and found herself looking straight into a mirror.

A stranger had looked back at her.

Gold fabric clung to slight but soft curves, long expanses of bronze skin gleamed in the firelight, dark hair curled around a slightly painted face, eyes wide and lips parted with nervous energy. Djaq had stared at this strange creature, trying to make sense of it. Had the dress been anything similar to what Safiyah had worn that lifetime ago, Djaq may have felt wretchedly uncomfortable and upset. And yet, looking at the unknown woman in the gold dress, she had only felt confused, vulnerable and then— as the guard threw open the door and ordered them into the great hall without once taking his eyes off her— powerful.

She had led the way to the hall, faltering a little as she had tried to adapt her long-practiced swagger to the delicate swaying of the other girls, but holding her head high. Panic had returned in almost crippling intensity when Gisbourne had grabbed her arm, Djaq fearing for herself not only as an outlaw, but also unfamiliarly as a woman. Then Gisbourne had barked an order and turned away, and Djaq's feeling of power had returned. She'd sashayed into the great hall, made brief contact with Marian as had been planned, then served drinks and flashed smiles and waited for an opportunity to slip out and let the rest of the outlaws in.

The eyes of men had followed her as she moved about, and she had had to work hard to fight the feeling that this was something to dread and put a stop to as quickly as possible. The longer she'd worked, however, watching Marian and the other peasant girls, the easier she had found it. While her survival instincts were still running on high, and it had been a struggle every time a man called her "sweetheart" not to turn around and punch him in the face, she had begun to think of one man in particular and what his dark eyes would make of her attire. Her thoughts had started spinning in directions she wouldn't admit even to herself, and she had hastened to let the outlaws in with more than necessary excitement.

John had been the first through the chosen entry point, and had given her a look so reminiscent of her father when she used to run around without her veil on that Djaq had nearly burst out laughing, ignoring the sharp pain as she realized perhaps this new identity wasn't entirely different from what Safiyah's had been. Much had fumbled his way out next, took one look at her, smiled in his endearingly guileless way, cheerfully declared "I almost didn't recognize you" and gone to stand watch. And then Will had emerged, and given her that look.

That look that was now responsible for Djaq tugging at her dress and crossing her arms, wishing she had a sword or a dagger strapped beneath the utterly impractical skirt, or that she at least had a cloak to thrown on as she accompanied the others down to the store room. That look that had made her feel burningly, shamefully ridiculous, like a pigeon that was painfully apparent for all it had tried to disguise itself as a peacock. That look that made her wish she'd never thought of this stupid plan.

Unlike Much, Will had certainly taken great note of her attire, but he hadn't looked admiring and appreciative like Allan or even proudly pleased like Robin. No, he had looked downright angry as his gaze had flicked up and down her gold-garbed form. In fact, with his narrowed eyes and tightly set lips, he had looked almost. . . disgusted.

Unbidden, an angry "What?" had erupted from Djaq's mouth as Will stood there surveying her with such a look of apparent revulsion on his face.

"Nothing," he'd replied in clipped tones, turning away from her to make room for Allan.

The rejection stung more than Djaq would ever admit. If not for years of practice in hiding her emotions, she was sure tears would have filled her eyes. Instead, she reverted back to Djaq-the-boy mode, allowing anger to fill her instead of tears; anger at herself for falling into the trap of feminine accouterment, anger at Robin for insisting they rob the store room and letting her go through with her imbecilic plan, and most of all anger at this stupid, gaudy, ridiculous, repulsive dress. It hadn't bothered her until now. Now, she couldn't stand the sight of it.

She didn't speak to Will again either— though she told herself she was not angry at him because she had no reason to be— not even when she'd nearly had a heart attack at seeing an arrow fly straight at his neck, and the thought of what would have happened had his skin been bare made her break out in cold sweats for the rest of the night. When Robin ordered her to go tell Marian they were in, she went gladly, wrenching her skirt up with her hands and stridently denying the possibility that Will could be hurt by another new danger while she was gone. Then they'd met up again at Fredrich's coach, stuffing the bags of gold in and pulling the borrowed cloaks and hats out. Djaq again had said nothing to Will, and after a quick glance to make sure he'd sustained no further damage, even turned her back on him. It was childish, she knew, but she also knew that if she let go of the anger still seething through her, it would be replaced by something far worse. Like doubt. Like betrayal. Like hurt.

A gentle hand on her shoulder and a gruff voice nearly made her jump, and she spun around to see Will holding one of the cloaks from Fredrich's men out to her.

"Put this on," he commanded. He kept his eyes averted from her, and that filled her with rage more than anything else had that night.

"If I look so terrible in a dress," she snapped, ripping the cloak from his hands, "Then perhaps you should have been the one to wear it!"

Will's gaze flashed to her face finally at those words, his eyes widened in surprise. Yet Djaq was unable to take vindictive pleasure in his discomfort, once again fighting tears that threatened to spill out. She turned her attention to the cloak, viciously shaking the folds, trying desperately to straighten it and ending up making it that much more tangled. A pair of large hands settled over her own, stilling her furious movements.

"You don't look terrible," Will said softly, his face flushed but his eyes earnest. Djaq met his gaze with a glare, but she didn't pull her hands away. She lifted one eyebrow, waiting— almost daring— him to explain.

Will ducked his head, flushing deeper, then tugged the cloak gently from her grasp.

"You look beautiful," he whispered as he wrapped the silken fabric around her shoulders, tucking it securely around her body and hiding almost all of the gold dress. "You look. . . too beautiful."

He took a small step back and brought his dark eyes back up to stare scorchingly into hers. He stuttered over his words as they tumbled out. "I don't like. . . I'm not used to everyone else noticing."

In an instant, with those bottomless eyes fastened on her own, every ounce of Djaq's anger evaporated, though the threat of tears remained. She had no answer to Will but was spared having to give one as Marian urgently called her name. Silently, the young carpenter handed her a striped silk hat and she took it without a word. Their fingers touched and for a moment neither of them moved. Then a glint of mischief lit Djaq's eyes and her lips curved up in a smile.

"I still think you could have worn the dress," she said to Will as she pulled the hat over her hair.

"Gold isn't really my color," he replied solemnly, an answering smile in his eyes.

They both knew Robin would chastise them later for laughing in such a serious situation, but neither of really cared.


In the end, Djaq decided not to burn the dress. Much suggested selling it, but Robin immediately vetoed that idea, claiming no village woman should have to pay for it, and that no noble woman would. John suggested it be given away, Allan suggested they make themselves some fancy new shirts and hit the taverns in disguise. Eventually it was decided they would keep it, as with their new permanent camp it wouldn't be too much of a bother to store and who knew when they might need it for something again.

Will stood behind Djaq as she packed it away, feeling wonderfully more comfortable than she ever would have guessed dressed once again in her outlaw clothes, her hair pushed back normally and her face clean. The boundaries of Djaq-the-female had been pushed, and while she didn't regret it, the return to the familiar identity of Djaq-the-outlaw was more than welcome. And yet there was still Will, with whom things felt the same and utterly different. She turned to face him, slightly mocking yet slightly anxious.

"Better?" she challenged with a careless gesture at her clothes, the smirk on her face not quite disguising the genuine question in her voice.

Will took a step forward and Djaq couldn't help but reach out and touch the spot on his neck where the arrow had nearly pierced. A smile touched his lips and warmed the deep brown of his eyes.

"I hardly notice a difference," he replied.

Djaq smiled too, though her nervousness wasn't entirely gone. The piercing sensation she'd felt when Will's eyes had flicked despairingly away from her was not forgotten. "In a good way?" she asked quietly.

"Yes," Will said, leading her towards the sounds of the other outlaws where they raucously celebrated their latest victory. "Always. See. . ." he looked away, mumbling into his next words into his shoulder. "You're always beautiful."

Djaq smiled again, the sharp sensation replaced by one of glorious, swelling warmth, and together they joined the rest of the lads.



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