The cold night air bit through the thin sleeves of Allan A Dale's shirt. He hugged himself tightly, trying to keep out the cold. Shuffling steps and sniffling behind him drew his attention. Tom dragged behind him. It was late and he really should be in bed. The green cloak swallowed his tiny frame and stood out in dark contrast to his tired, white face. Allan cast a quick sideways glance at their father before reaching out a hand to his younger brother.
"Keep up, Tom."
Tom ran up to his brother and seized his hand, his cold hand swallowed up in Allan's larger one.
"I'm so c-cold."
"I know. We're nearly there, Tommy."
"Shut up!" snarled Richard Dale.
The boys fell silent. The tavern was already in sight. Allan breathed deeply of the warmth and slight comfort of the building. The atmosphere was cheery, with laughing and singing—and food! His stomach rumbled as the smell hit him. Best of all, it was warm, and only his restraining arm on Tom and his fear of their father kept them from rushing to the nearest fire. A pretty young barmaid swirled up to them, holding a mug of ale in her hand.
"Richard! I was beginning to think you weren't coming." She held the mug up to him with a smile.
"A thousand blessings on you, Rosie!" Richard took a hearty gulp. He passed her a few coins. "Can you put the brats up somewhere?"
"I'm a barmaid, not a nursemaid, Richard." The woman said with a pout.
Allan stiffened. He did not like this woman. She was mean!
"Just shove them in a room somewhere. They can take care of themselves. Or else," he glared menacingly at his sons.
"Very well," Rosie sighed, "Come with me, you brats."
Tom's shoulders drooped and he sighed sadly as he realized they were neither getting food nor fire. Allan felt much the same, but pride kept his shoulders stiff. He glanced back—briefly—to see if their father even cared, but he was already calling loudly to men at one of the tables.
"Miss, do you think we could have some food?" Allan asked hopefully.
Allan played his cards carefully. He adopted the most pitiful look he could muster and spoke in as pathetic a tone as he could conjure.
"The boy hasn't eaten nothin' since breakfast. He's a growing boy, miss. Surely you wouldn't deprive a little boy a meal?"
The woman's face twitched. Allan A Dale knew the look well. She was clay in his hands.
"'Course if you can't, I'd understand. Wouldn't want you to lose your job, miss. Not such a fine woman as you."
He had her.
"I'll see what I can do." She opened a door and gestured for them to go in.
The room was small, with two beds and a table with a basin on it. There was no fireplace. Allan looked longingly downstairs. It was so much warmer...
"Stay here." She was gone in a whirl of colorful skirts.
She returned a few minutes later, bearing a tray of bread, cheese, and milk.
"'Ere you are, m'dear," Rosie set it down before Tom. The young boy's eyes widened. She watched as the small boy grabbed the hunk of bread and began to scarf it down. "Poor thing. 'E's starving."
She went away, smiling sympathetically. Allan hungrily snatched the chunk of cheese and bit into it. The boys finished eating a few minutes later, their hunger temporarily abated. Allan noted—to his relief— that a little color had returned to Tom's face. Now that they were fed, he could worry about the next thing. It was time to put Tom to bed.
"Time for bed, Tommy."
He turned down the sheets and helped his brother into bed. Allan took off Tom's shoes and tucked him in. He darted over to the other bed and removed the blanket. He placed the second blanket on top of his brother.
"That should keep you warm."
Tom yawned and rubbed his eyes.
Tom reached up his arms for a hug. Smiling, Allan hugged his little brother back.
"Go to sleep."
Allan waited for a few minutes until Tom fell asleep, then he snuck quietly out of the room. Allan hunkered in the corner of the upstairs balcony. He was fascinated by the noise, lights, and warmth below. There were so many people! He was so engrossed in the scene below that he did not see Tom quietly leave the room and sneak down the stairs. Allan was jarred from watching the scene at the sight of a small boy weaving his way through the crowd of people. Allan's heart was in his throat as he jumped to his feet. His stomach knotted with fear. The nine-year-old's fear of his father wrestled with his fear on his brother's behalf. He stumbled into half-drunk men and rickety wooden tables in his haste.
"Tom!" Allan gasped as he reached the little boy. "What are you doing?" He gripped Tom by the shoulders and shook him gently.
"It was dark," Tom's eyes filled with tears, "And cold. I called you and you didn't answer." The four-year-old looked up accusingly into Allan's face.
Allan sighed, but before he could reply he was interrupted by a bellow. Their father had caught sight of them. In drunken rage, he stumbled toward them.
"I told you to watch him!" Allan cringed at Richard's yell.
His father swung, smashing his fist into Allan's face before the boy even had time to duck. All the air left Allan's lungs in a whimpering cry that sounded like a dog shut in a door. He felt his nose snap and something warm and salty ran down his lip. Allan realized with horror that it was blood. Blinded by tears, Allan staggered to his feet, grabbed his brother and fled to the safety of upstairs.
Once inside the room, Allan dropped his crying brother onto his bed. Allan flung himself onto the other bed, curling up with his knees to his chest. Tears and blood ran down his face. A sound like a wounded animal filled the room. It took a minute for Allan to realize it was him.
He felt someone crawl onto the bed beside him. Small hands patted a blanket around him.
"Allan?" Tom's voice was cautious. "Are you hurted bad?"
Through blurry eyes, Allan turned slightly to look up into the face of his little brother. Tom had his hands on Allan's shoulder and was leaning over anxiously to peer into his older brother's face.
Tom's eyes welled with tears.
"I don't want you to be hurted!" wailed Tom, flinging his arms around his brother's waist.
Allan tugged his baby brother closer, taking comfort from his small arms around him.
Allan sat up with a shudder, sitting quickly as he woke from his dream. It was cold; it was dark, and worst of all—Tom was gone. Allan's stomach wrenched within him.
Tom was dead.
A tear ran down Allan's face and he shivered in the cold. He would do anything to go back to that night again, so far in the past. He may have had a broken nose, but a broken heart caused him far more pain. He lowered his head to the ground, shaking with silent sobs.
John stirred, not sure what had woken him. He glanced first to his left to see if Robin was well. Their leader was lost in peaceful slumber. John looked then towards Allan and felt his heart leap with worry and pity. Allan was shaking; his pale white hands grasped at the dirt as if it were the only solid thing he had to hold on to. John was at his side in a heartbeat, pulling the younger outlaw into his arms.
"Shh, Allan," He soothed.
"Why? Why? He must have been so terrified, waiting for a rescue that never came."
"He must have known you tried."
"Did he?" Allan's anguish was clear in his voice. John's heart broke for him. Certainly Tom and Allan had their falling outs, but they were brothers, and in the end, that conquered all.
"He knew, Allan," Robin's voice was quiet and soothing. He lifted Allan's chin until the man looked at him. "He knew."
Allan nodded weakly.
"I'm sorry." Will's words were simple, but heart-felt. He draped a blanket around his friend's shoulders, smiling comfortingly. Allan's smile gratefully in return.
"Here. Drink this." Djaq lifted a mug to his lips.
"It will help you sleep," Much explained.
As he sipped the concoction slowly, Allan looked around at each person. Their eyes were full of love and sympathy.
"Thank you," Allan croaked. The words were so inadequate, but he hoped they knew his heart.
Allan would always miss his brother, but he knew he had found a forever family in the rag-tag band of outlaws.
A/N: Well? What did you think? I tried hard to keep everyone on character. Did I succeed? Your opinion, please. :) Thanks for reading!