A/N:This is an AU story taking place after Series 1. Allan has not left the gang. There will be very few similarities to Series 2.
Conversations and Revelations
As she sat perched on the trunk of a felled tree, staring out over the darkening stream and trying to ignore the cold, she attempted to steel herself for what she knew must come next. She had to come up with some idea for where she could go. Her stomach churned and she tried hard to steady her emotions...something that had recently become out of her control for the first time in her life.
Djaq had always known that she could not remain in England forever, but she had not expected to be leaving so soon. She had formed some real friendships here and that was something she would find it hard to learn to do without. She had been on her own before, of course, but this time would be completely different.
And she knew that it was not only friends that she was leaving behind. She would be leaving her heart too. She would be leaving the one man who had come to mean more to her than anyone else. The man whom she could no longer allow herself to love or dream of a future with. The man who must never know her true reasons for moving on. None of them could know. It would only complicate things further.
She knew that they did not understand why she had suddenly decided it was time to go. She knew that they probably felt hurt and abandoned. She could not really blame them. But she could not confide in them either. She simply couldn't. So earlier this evening, she had finally worked up the courage to make her announcement over dinner.
Much had signaled that the stew was ready and everyone grabbed a bowl and settled around the fire. Djaq, however, had no appetite. No one seemed to take much notice of this, though, considering that she had been 'ill' quite a bit this winter and there seemed no end in sight to her queasiness.
So everyone carried on as usual. Much complaining about the cold, Robin restlessly stringing and unstringing his bow, Allan teasing Much about the meal, John pretending not to notice any of it or care, and Will talking about repairs he wanted to make to the camp to add further protection from the cold.
They had all had way too much free time on their hands lately and the strain was beginning to show. The winter chill in the air kept many a forest-traveling Nobleman indoors and off the roads. So the gang, who was accustomed to dividing their time between making deliveries to the villages and robbing carts, were forced to find other ways to occupy big chunks of their days. This left them all rather on edge with one another.
On this night, Djaq waited until there was a lull in the mindless chatter and then cleared her throat and began the speech that she had mentally prepared.
"I have been wanting to tell all of you something." She began, trying to sound much more sure of herself than she felt. "I have decided that it is time for me to return home."
Silence. Five pairs of eyes stared at her blankly.
"I...well...I have been here for quite a while now, and I think that I have done a small amount of good during that time. And I am glad of that. But there are people at home who need my skills as a fighter and a physician as much as, if not more than, the villagers of Nottingham. So I will leave as soon as possible. I am sorry to leave you one man short. I hope that you will try to understand and respect my decision."
There. She'd done it. The hard part was finally over.
"W...What? No! How...What?" was the best that Much could manage at the moment. Surely she was joking! She couldn't leave! She wouldn't--
"What the hell are you talking about, Djaq? This is your home. You belong here, with us. And you do a damn site more than a small amount of good! You help loads of people. Why are you talking this way?" No no no! Allan wanted to grab her and shake her and tell her that he wouldn't let her go. She was one of the best friends...one of the only friends he'd ever had. Why would she leave him? He needed her. She kept him in line! She was...she was...she was Djaq!
"It is just as I have told you, Allan." She tried to sound just casual enough so that they would not press her for a deeper motive, but not so casual that they would underestimate her feelings for them. She had expected Much's reaction to be vocal and expressive, but she had been unsure of what to expect from the others. The hurt in Allan's voice as he attempted to assure her that she was needed was heart-breaking. She had to stay strong, though.
"Are you certain about this Djaq? Is this what you really want?" Robin asked in a concerned but supportive tone. He didn't want her to feel unwanted, but he knew how fiercely she valued her freedom and would do nothing to make her feel trapped. She was, after all, free to go if she so chose. But he wondered what could have happened to make her suddenly want to leave. He had, as they all had, noticed a change in her ever since that terrible night several weeks back. She just had not been herself. Maybe that was it. Maybe feeling that she had been so close to death in that cave had shifted her priorities. It made sense.
"Yes, Robin. I have given this a great deal of thought and, although I will miss all of you terribly, this is what I must do." Robin would accept her decision, she thought. Thank goodness. Maybe the others would follow their leader's example. He was a practical man in many ways...well, at least where Marian wasn't concerned...and he would surely respect her choice.
"Well, you know that we don't want to see you go, but if this is your decision then we must accept it. I'll help you arrange passage, but you may be in for an extra long voyage. Most of the ships out of port do not go directly to the Holy Land. You will have to make several stops along the way, I'm afraid." their leader added helpfully.
"No, Robin. I will make my own arrangements. Thank you, though."
"It's not going to be easy, Djaq. Being...well...a woman and a Saracen will make transport on an English vessel almost impossible. Let me help you. I have many friends who can be of service. I want you to be safe." He felt that he owed her at least that much for the time she had spent with them and the impact she had made on their lives.
"Thank you. We will talk more about it later, if you do not mind. I am going to get some fresh air on my own. I will be back in a while." She knew that she would not win this argument with Robin.
She knew that he only wanted to help, and she did not know how to refuse his offer short of revealing that she was not really going 'home'. So she opted to postpone the rest of the talk about the voyage until she had had time to think of something plausible. She was not really looking forward to going back out into the cool night air, but she really wanted to be alone to think.
Much was still stomping around and muttering under his breath about families being split and physicians who did not even know enough to stay in out of the cold. John and Allan sat looking at the ground, seemingly at a loss for what to say. She had avoided looking at Will, and he had remained completely silent. His reaction was the one she had most feared. He would surely blame himself for this and she did not want that. But she knew that guilt was a far better fate for him than the alternative.
She stood up, setting her nearly-full dinner bowl down, and, grabbing her blanket off of her bunk to ward off at least some of the cold, headed out the door. She noticed that they did not even wait for her to be out of earshot before voicing their thoughts.
"You cannot be seriously considering letting her go!?! I mean, it's dangerous out there. Oh no. Absolutely not! No Master!"
"Much, Djaq is a grown woman and she-"
"We gotta convince her to stay. We can't just let her go. We gotta tell her that we can't get on without her. We need to-"
"Allan, we cannot force her to be here if it is not what she wishes. As much as we care for Djaq, she does not belong to us. She is free to do as she sees fit. Besides, try to remember, this is not her country and we are not her people. She has given well beyond what could be expected of anyone. If she feels she must move on, we cannot stop her." Robin tried to be the voice of reason, but he felt their disappointment...and their fears. He knew that she was a strong woman, but there were dangers out there that he feared she wasn't prepared for. Besides, he knew how much the lads cared for her and he wasn't sure how they would adjust to life in Sherwood without her.
"Sure, what do you care, Robin? It's just one less man to you. But Djaq is special. We need her!"
"That's hardly fair, Allan. Of course I care about....."
Their voices finally faded as she got further away from camp. She wanted to cry so badly that her throat ached. But she had shed far too many tears in coming to this decision and, now that she'd started on her plans, she would stay strong. After all, she was not responsible only for herself any longer. She had to remain in control. She used to be so good at it and now two lives depended on it.
So, over an hour after delivering her planned speech to the men, she sat by the stream and waited for night to fall completely before making her way back to camp. She would give them enough time to be talked into acceptance. Robin would be the practical voice and, hopefully, the others would eventually listen. Maybe, if she were lucky, they would all be in bed when she returned.
She whirled around to face a solemn Will. How long had he been back there? She had not heard him approach.
"Djaq. It's...I...Can I ...Can we talk? Please?" His voice was strained and he sounded like a man close to the breaking point.
"Will, please do not try to talk me out of my decision. My mind is made up. And, before you ask it, no, this has nothing to do with you. I have already told you that I do not blame you. I made the choice and I must live with the consequences--" Here her voice broke involuntarily and she tried to choke back the sob before he heard it. But he was at her side in an instant, kneeling down beside her and gazing into her face.
Will had never known Djaq to cry. She was always so strong. But the past couple of months, he knew better than anyone, had been hard for her. He wished so badly that he could take it all back. Everything. Make it so it had never happened. That he could give her back that piece of herself that she had lost that night in the cave. He hated what she was doing to herself and that he was the cause of it.
"You don't have to do this, Djaq. You don't have to leave. I don't care what you say to Robin and the others, I know why you're going. You're not going home just to help your own people. You want to run away. From me...from what happened. But you don't have to."
"Leave me alone, Will!" She snapped. She could not allow him to get too close now. Not while she was feeling vulnerable and helpless for the first time in her life. She could not let him in. "You do not understand."
"I understand more than you think. And if I don't completely understand, it's only because you won't talk to me. You keep shutting me out. We used to be friends. We can go back to that. I've told you that over and over. I'm willing to forget everything and go back. We can pretend it never happened. I've tried and tried, Djaq. Why won't you try? I know that you feel bad...that you...regret...things. And you'll never know how sorry I am...for everything. But you can't go. I'll leave, if you want. If you can't stay here while I'm here then I'll be the one to go. This is your home now. Please stay."
"This is your home, Will. Do not let me drive you away. You are needed here." She said in a gentler tone. The pain that he was trying to conceal nearly ripped her heart out. Why was he such an honorable man? It made this so much harder.
Although she knew that if he had been less honorable, if he had been any other man on earth, they would not be in this situation. She would never have done what she did. She was to blame for all of this confusion and pain. She had allowed her heart, rather than her head, to guide her for the first time in her life, and this is where it had gotten her.
It had all started about six weeks back......