"Lone Wolf"

By: Lady Archerfan
(BBC owns the characters, ect, I own my imagination . . .)

This is my first fan fic, so . . . read and review!

This is inspired (and fueled) by one small part of Robin's costume, which suddenly disappeared; let's see if you can guess at it. Originally posted on the RH2006 fan forum.

It's a little angsty, some Robin and Marian, Robin and Much Friendship. There is some fighting, but nothing insane. It's pretty tame, as I wrote it like a filler episode for the item of inspiration . . .

*Set during season 1, between episodes 7 and 8*

The skirmish started just as dusk turned to night in Sherwood Forest. The gang was returning to their camp with the results of a successful hunting trip, when they ran into a small but well armed group of Gisborne's men.

The troop had been out in the forest, attempting to find the outlaws' ever changing camp sites, despite numerous past failures. However, Gisborne was determined to find and eliminate Hood one way or another. And now he finally found a competent man to do the job. This captain was a survivor of many of the clashes against the outlaws; he bore scars from many wounds, most of which had been inflicted by Robin himself. So, when the grizzled captain spotted the outlaws across a clearing, he immediately ordered a charge.

Hooves rattling over forest bracken alerted Robin to the danger, and he reacted instantly. Shrugging the haunch of of venison off his shoulder, he lifted his bow and fitted an arrow to the string without thought. A moment later, he loosed the arrow, sending a guard toppling.

Much turned in surprise to see Robin releasing the arrow and grabbing for a second. The next second he spotted the eight horsemen in Gisborne's colors galloping toward them.

"Master, what do we do?"

Robin swept his eyes around the forest, analyzing and discarding ideas as fast as they formed. "John, Allan, Djaq," he said suddenly, "take the venison to the long stone. Much, Will and I are going to give this rabble a good drubbing and meet you there."

His voice was quick and commanding, yet somehow retaining an undercurrent of youthful arrogance. It was his "I-have-a-plan-and-it-is-brilliant" tone. However, Much noticed an edge to Robin's tone that signaled uncertainties; "drubbing" this lot, then, would not be as easy as Robin was letting on.

Robin turned his attention back to the fast approaching guards, knowing the gang would follow his orders. Trying to look fierce, Much moved to Robin's right side, drawing his sword. Will stood on the other side, and his axe blade whistled though the air as he brandished it. John and Djaq headed into the forest with their share of the venison, knowing it was useless to argue about staying. Allan, with his share of the load on his shoulder, hesitated; he was tempted to disobey the order, and stay around for the "fun".

The sudden thought that he'd be less likely to be injured if he actually obeyed Robin suddenly hit him. "That'd be a first," he muttered as he ran after the other two outlaws.

As the horses pounded down on the remaining three outlaws, Robin lifted his bow again and fired. One man tumbled from his horse, swiftly followed by another. Robin tossed his bow aside even as the last arrow flew and drew his sword. The horsemen were practically on top of them.

The scarred captain had ordered his men into a V formation before the charge; the idea was to surround and crush the outlaws before they could make a good fight back. Robin recognized the maneuver and glanced at Will and Much; he nodded, received their ready nods in return, and they all tensed for sudden action.

Robin let a grin flash up on his face, taunting the guards.

Just as the riders surrounded them, but before the formation collapsed inward, Will and Much darted out past the leading riders on either side. The knocked the nearest guards from their horses, and then turned to causing as much havoc and damage with the rest as they could.

True to form, Robin sprang directly int the midst of the guards, aiming for the single man in the center - the scarred captain. His grin fading into a look of concentration, Robin suddenly darted to the left. Grabbing a guard by the arm, he pulled the man down and clubbed him with the flat of his Saracen sword. Then, he turned back to the captain, his infuriating grin flashing back into place.

That grin was a tool as well as a habit for Robin. The confidence it exuded bolstered his allies, but enraged his enemies to the point of carelessness.

Still grinning, Robin lifted his sword and charged.

Instead of racing to meet him, Gisborne's captain wheeled his horse and galloped away from the arrogant archer. Unfortunately for him, he rode straight into Will. The young man swung wildly in surprise, but managed to wound the captain's arm.

Seeing that most of Gisborne's men were lying on the ground dead or unconscious, Robin bellowed at his truncated gang.

"Scatter!"

Much jerked a guard off a horse and scrambled up himself. Will, axe still at the ready, loped off on foot into the forest. Stooping at a jog, Robin recovered his bow and slapped a guard across the face with it as he straightened. He grabbed the reins of a bay stallion and mounted easily. An unhorsed guard fell to his sword as the man reached to stop the horse.

Seeing that Much was waiting for him, Robin shouted, "Go! Scatter!"

With an agonized and long suffering look, Much turned his horse into the trees.

As the sounds of Much's organized retreat, Robin wheeled his horse away from the guards and trotted away from the skirmish site. He wanted to find that scarred captain. He had a gut feeling that as long as Gisborne had that particular man, the outlaws would not be safe.

After riding for a few minutes, Robin saw the captain's horse - a distinctive red chestnut with a wide blaze - straying rider less in the trees. He rode up to it, and saw a splash of blood on the saddle. The captain must have fallen off in pain, Robin concluded; where the man had fallen off, nevertheless, was not so easy to conclude.

Leaving the horse, he turned his own mount, struggling to find a trail that would lead him to Gisborne's dangerous captain.

Robin rode for some time, guessing how the horse may have wandered. The darkness under the trees was nearly impenetrable at times, but shafts of moonlight would should occasional hoof prints.

Something caught his eye and he reined his horse to a stop. A splash of very fresh blood glistened in the moonlight. He dismounted and walked closer. Undoubtedly, there would be more tracks, and they would be easier to follow on foot.

As Robin stepped next to the blood, a soft pained breath was all the warning he received before a sword jammed into his side.

Fire ripped through the fleshy section of his torso between the ribs and the hip. He cried out in pain, but somehow remained standing, blackness creeping up on the edges of his vision.

Suddenly, the blade pulled free. Swift and sure as an arrow from his own bow, Robin spun and drove his dagger into the scarred captain's chest. The man collapsed immediately; his threat to the outlaw gang had been removed. However, Robin was perilously close to being dealt a similar fate, only slower.

As the man breathed his last, Robin fell to his knees, gasping. Consciousness slipped away, and for a brief time he remembered nothing except a terrifyingly familiar darkness and the faint scent of forest dirt.

He awoke only a few minutes later, now covered in a sheet of silver moonlight. Sitting up slowly, he tried to inspect the wound. The slight twisting of his torso, however, sent bolts of white hot agony through his entire body. He sat still then, gritting his teeth and steadying his breathing.

So much for his brilliant, half-a-plan to hunt down and what? Capture or kill the scarred captain? And now he was wounded and possibly bleeding to death. Alone.

Robin shook his head once, sharply, to clear his mind. Grunting in pain, he pulled off his distinctive hooded tunic. Folding it, he pressed it against the wound and tied it tightly with the arms to stanch the bleeding. Then he stood and began walking into the forest.

The moonlight faded as he walked deeper into the forest. He was long in the benighted forest, miles away from the long stone and his gang. A hint of bleak despair rolled over him, but he pushed it away.

His energy and focus had to be on getting to his gang.

At the long stone, the night was wearing away and Much was wearing the gang's nerves and patience thin.

"Where could he be?" Much demanded for the fifth time in as many minutes. He was pacing about without thought, and consequently, he barged into everyone else's space.

As Much tromped on his feet once again, John had to seriously squash down the urge to trip the other man with his staff. He gave a grumble that sounded more like a growl. Robin's absence worried him as well, but he refused to admit it out loud.

Much stopped pacing and peered into the forest again. "Where is he?" he muttered.

"If we know, we'd told you a long time ago to shut you up!" Allan snapped. He and Much never had a lot of patience with each other, and by this point, Allan's quota was filled for the week.

Much turned to rail at Allan, but Will broke into to stop the pointless and inevitable argument.

"Robin probably wants to draw the rest of the guards as far away as he can before coming back himself. He might even be laying false trails and backtracking to confuse them if they try to come after us in the morning."

Much turned to Will and nearly exploded. "That was three hours ago! Surely, he would spend that much time backtracking! Not Robin . . ."

Much knew that Robin's common sense and military logic were often trumped by his flair for the dramatic and heroic. It had given the gang more headaches than Much wanted to count. Nothing was ever simple with Robin.

"Where can he be?"

Djaq was tired from the hunting and her nerves were getting dangerously thin from the worry Much was spreading like the plague. She finally threw her hands into the air.

"Stop worrying Much!" she ordered. "Robin can take care of himself."

Affronted and huffy, Much declared, "Well, maybe so! But if he isn't back in -"

"The morning," John said firmly. "In the morning, we will search for him. Not before."

"Yeah," Allan yawned. "We'll probably meet him riding in, full of himself over how he fooled all of Gisborne's men single handedly!" He yawned again. "Let's get some sleep."

Much conceded, but not gracefully. "Very well then; you all sleep - but I will stay on watch."

Allan rolled his eyes, and the gesture was copied by the rest of the gang. They all knew that Much could rarely stay awake on watch.

Silence descended over the camp, broken only by the sounds of the slumbering outlaws. Yet, Much remained awake. Robin had been his master and best friend from their childhood in Locksley, and that bond had only been strengthened in the Holy Land. A sixth sense was warning Much that something was not right with Robin.

He'd had a similar feeling one night in the Holy Land. While Robin had been stricken down with the fevered wound, he wandered out into the desert in his delirium. Somehow avoiding the picket guards, he had made it nearly a mile before collapsing. Much had woken some time later, for a unknown reason, dread darkening his mind. It was then that he realized that Robin was missing from the slumbering camp.

He was feeling that same darkness now. Something bad had happened to Robin.

Robin staggered against a tree and stood struggling for breath. The wind was picking up and he shivered; without his tunic the night was very cold.

He was so tired, and now walking was an agony in itself. The sword strapped to his waist became unbearably heavy; leaning against the ancient oak, he unbuckled the belt and let it fall. The Saracen bow and quiver had been abandoned long before.

With another shiver, he pushed himself from the tree and began walking again. The wind gusted, howling through the trees.

Howling.
Howling like a wolf.

Robin's head snapped up in fear, his eyes scanning the forest for low, slinking gray shadows. Then he dropped his gaze and relaxed. There were no wolves here; the last wolves had been eradicated from Sherwood when he was a baby, far too young to remember clearly.

But he did remember. It was a dim memory, of the moon pouring silver light through his window, and a long plaintive, haunting cry. The sound had made him shudder in fear. His child's curiosity was sparked, however, and he asked his grandfather about the cry; he was so young he could barely form the words.

"That? That was the lone wolf. He's the last in Sherwood - he's lost his family and his friends. He is alone and afraid, now, but not for long. He has beens stealing sheep and calves - and he'd steal you if you don't get to bed soon!" His grandfather had growled so furiously that young Robin had run, laughing and shrieking in mock fear, for his bed.

The chuckle that the memory brought to Robin pulled him out of his mental wanderings. Pain from the humor induced spasm wracked his side.

"No more talk," he reprimanded himself. "Just walk and get back."

Before long, pain and weariness combined, and Robin sat down, huddling at the base of a tree. He would rest for a bit, then continue. Just a five minute breather was all he needed.

As he tried to relax, he found himself fingering the wolf fang necklace he wore about his neck. It was the lone wolf's tooth.

Robin's grandfather, as lord of Locksley, had hunted down that last wolf to protect his people and their livestock. He, a veteran of many wolf hunts, had been challenged to the hilt by this particular wolf.

Despite being alone and undoubtedly depressed for it, the wolf was canny beyond the normal scope. It took Robin's grandfather nearly three months to corner and dispatch the animal.

"The old thing somehow retained his dignity as he died, as no other animal I've ever seen," Robin recalled his grandfather saying. "He did not cry or rage as many other wolves do. No, he simply fought, cool and calm, until he could not. Took four of my best hounds with him! He had two spears in him as well before someone found his heart."

A fang had been taken as a trophy, as well as a reminder of how a pack animal had defied all odds even when he was alone. Robin's grandfather was fond of the story to demonstrate how even a single person could stand strong for their rights. The old Lord had declared that if there had been a pack of such wolves, Sherwood would still ring with howls. So, the fang had passed from father to son until Robin received it. The wolf's tooth and everything it represented had hung around his throat continuously since then.

Robin realized he was shivering with the cold. He curled himself as best he could at the base of the tree, shifting carefully to find a position that didn't send splinters of fire out from his side.

His mind wandered again.

It was cold at night in the forest. It was cold at night there, too. In the Holy Land. It was thin and cold at night, like the blade of a knife in the dark, but the day was searing and brutal, a sword blade in a noontide battle.

He remembered vaguely the fever that had plagued him after he'd been stabbed in the Saracen night attack. Night had never been cold enough to ease the fever's fire, and day was an agony straight out of hell. Worse than the pain were the faces that haunted his delirious dreams. The dreams had forced him further from reality, as he sought forgiveness from those he had loved and lost.

Father
Mother
Marian

"Marian," he murmured, but she had not been there in the Holy Land to hear his call, nor was she with him now.

Robin shivered and tried to curl tighter against the tree, but was rewarded only with pain. A few more minutes passed, and he slipped toward sleep despite the pain and his desire to move on. A strangled whimper broke from his throat as he tried to make himself move.

Silence met him. There was no clumsy ministrations, no simple but heartfelt reassurances.

Where was Much?

He was always around, bumbling, loyal Much. He had stayed loyal through the horrors of war, through the trials of being an outlaw, a constant presence in Robin's life.

But he was not here now.

Sleep finally took Robin to a place where his wound had little power to trouble him. Yet the respite was not without a price. Familiar dreams started to reappear, and the empty space around him echoed with the absence of his gang.

The wind howled through the forest with the ghost voice of the lone wolf, and an echo resounded from Robin's heart.

"Get up, everybody!" Much shouted.

Dawn barely colored the eastern horizon, but Much was waiting no longer to search for his master. Robin obviously had not returned and the dark feeling had not abated.

Allan sat up slowly under Much's verbal barrage. "Oh, shut it!" he growled.

"It's not even light out yet," Djaq pointed out, deflecting Much's attention from Allan. "Let us wake up a moment before we trot off into the forest." She, however, looked wide awake and alert.

John rolled out of his blanket, looking like a bear coming out of hibernation. "We go now," he declared.

Much stuttered in surprise at John's agreement, but he recovered quickly. "Yes, we're going now." He headed off. "No waiting for breakfast either!"

Allan groaned but then tapped Will on the shoulder and pointed.

There was a hunk of venison missing from the supper leftovers, and most of the bread was gone. The both grinned. It was probably better for the rest of the gang that Much had eaten; he had stayed up the entire night on watch, and he was Much. At least he wouldn't be complaining of hunger.

Much led them back to the skirmish site, where they hoped to pick up Robin's trail, if they didn't met him on the way. With is chin up and shoulders back, the former servant attempted to look like a leader. However, his constant stumbling over roots and uneven ground inspired humor rather than respect. The firm set of his mouth and the determined glint in his eyes kept the others from even smiling.

They reached the battle site in short order and cast about for Robin's trail.

Much was out of his depth here. The clearing was a confused mess of hoof prints and scuffed dirt to him. Luckily for the gang, John's tracking skills were quite keen. Living as a "dead man" for years necessitated and honed certain woodland skills. Unfortunately for the rest of them, John's succinct manner of speech did little to illuminate the story of the tracks for them; communication was not one of the skills John had honed in the forest.

"Here!" John called. He pointed with his staff at a line of hoof prints leading into the forest. "Robin went this way."

"I'm not being funny, but how do you know that was Robin's horse? I mean, they're not marked with his name . . ." Allan shrugged as the others glared at him. "What? You're all thinkin' it too!"

John snorted and began walking. "They're shallow."

Much opened his mouth to demand further explanation, but Will cut in.

"Robin wasn't wearing any armor like Gisborne's men were - his tracks won't be as deep."

"Oh."

John led the way into the forest again, following the faint hoof prints. They eventually found the scarred captain's corpse, Robin's knife still in his chest.

"If Robin stabbed the captain, why didn't he just come and meet us at the long stone?" Much wondered outloud.

"I think because he got stabbed himself." Will pointed to the captain's bloodied sword, and a small blood stain quite separate from the body.

"How badly do you think he was wounded?" Djaq asked.

Will shrugged uncertainly. "There isn't a big puddle, but it's hard to say how much just soaked into the ground."

John carefully studied the ground around the blood, frowning where Will's boots had smudged the older marks.

"This I do not like," he declared finally. Without another word he stalked off into the forest, head bent to the faint trail.

The others stood for a moment longer, looking at each other, seeing fear and worry reflected on every face. Silently, they followed the gang's gentle giant further into Sherwood.

Robin woke to the throbbing pain in his side. Leaning his head against the tree, he sat gasping.

At least the waking agony was a respite from the dreams. The feverish images had flooded his head while he slept. Those he had loved and lost he lost again in myriad ways, each more horrible than the last. Every time a dream ended, he was left with the knowledge that he could have prevented the death, the loss, the betrayal - yet he had been unable to act.

He pulled himself up from the ground. The sun had warmed the forest now, and he stopped shivering from the cold. His side was still on fire, but it was tolerable. As the day grew stronger, Robin began walking in the direction of he thought the outlaws' camp lay.

The gang followed Robin's wandering trail through most of the day. Although Robin was wounded and unable to walk very quickly, the gang was even slower. The thick forest duff often stumped even John's skill as they struggled to follow the staggering foot prints. The recovery of Robin's abandoned weapons and the occasional blood drops would point out the trail when the footprints were almost indistinguishable.

However, the hope brought by the recovery of the trail was severely dampened by the fear that they would be too late in finding Robin.

Djaq frowned as the blood drops turned into wide spaced splashes of crimson. "Robin must have dressed the wound somehow, but he's still lost a lot of blood."

"And covered miles for it," Will pointed out.

They stopped as John searched for the trail again. It was nearly noon.

Much frowned and muttered, "Sometimes I wish he wasn't so . . . so proud, and tough! It's landed him - and us! - into a lot of trouble!"

"Those qualities have gotten us out of a lot of trouble, too," Djaq reminded him gently.

"Yes, but he usually put us there in the first place!" Much declared. "It was like that in the Holy Land, too. He got himself into a mess; then he pulled himself out again."

"What do you mean?" Allan asked.

John signaled them and Much explained as they walked.

"After he was stabbed in that night attack, he refused to rest. Oh, yes, he sat for a few days, but then demanded to be allowed back on patrols and guard duty again. Of course, he gave as little thought to the wound as he could! He didn't keep it as clean as he should have, what with sweating and galloping about in the desert dressed in chain mail all day long. The wound became infected, and he ignored it one day too long. We were on a mounted patrol and he collapsed. I got him back to camp, but by night, a fever had set in hard. The King had to move on, and Robin and I were given orders to return to England if - they didn't even say when , like they had no hope whatsoever!- he was fit! So, we came back . . ."

There was a deep throated shout from in front of them. John was standing next to an old oak that had a hollow formed by high roots and a depression in the trunk. They hurried forward.

"Robin spent the night here, but left an hour after sunrise," John reported. Without explaining further, he took off again.

Much ripped off his cap and ran his fingers through his hair, frustration filling every movement. "How is he still moving? Why am I asking myself this? He's Robin, that's why!"

Will shook his head in confusion. "Why is he heading away from the long stone? He can't still think he's being followed?"

"Blood loss and pain can do strange things to a person's mind. Especially if the person is alone," Djaq said.

Much hurried after John. "Well, he can't be moving very fast anymore! We'll probably catch up with him soon!"

Robin, as usual, defied all expectations. The gang had fully expected to catch up with him by early afternoon, but still the trail wove through the trees. John assured them that the tracks were fresh. He was unsure, however, if they were an hour or a half hour old. So, the gang pressed on, always drawing closer but not close enough to find their wounded, tenacious leader.

Robin collapsed. The shadows were very long, but he had no sense of time. Walking had kept the pain and the sordid, terrifying dreams at bay for most of the day. Now, his reserves of energy and control were nearly spent. A bitter, lonely agony spread through him as night spread through the void left by day.

The hollowness inside him reverberated with unspoken sobs of loneliness and pain. He clamped his mouth shut around the sounds and crawled under a tree's sheltering branches.

Above him, the leaves and wind whimpered together, recalling the lone wolf to his mind again. The wolf's howl and his soul's cries seemed to be in accord with each other.

Where was his pack, his gang? Was he doomed to the lone wolf's fate, without the dignity of a fighting death?

With a groan as his side burned into a new form of pain, Robin fell into a stupor, knowing full well that the dreams would come, and that he would be alone with them.

In the lavander and soft green hour between day and night, John found a hopeful but dreadful sign. Kneeling in the leaves, he held up his hand to the gang. Wet blood glistened on his fingers. "He's been falling; the bleeding started again. . . "

"He can't be far away!" Much cried. "Come on, hurry!"

John stood and lumbered away, eyes straining to find the trail in the dark. The others followed, struggling to keep behind John as nervous energy threatened to propell them into a full out gallop.

A few minutes later they stopped, panted for breath and at a complete loss. The trail ended on a broad outcropping of rock. Such patches were common in that part of the forest. Covered by only a some dirt and a few leaves, a trail was nearly impossibe to find on the rock's surface. John could find no sign in the surrounding forest duff, either. The outlaws were at a dead end and night was fast approaching.

Much begain pacing in adjitation, hardly noticing that his movements could erase any possible trail for John to find. Will, Allan, and Djag stoo uncertainly, looking at John. The big man leaned on his staff, dispare written clearly on his beared face.

A silence fell over the forest. It was so complete and enfolding that even Much stopped his worried muttering and stood still.

Then, a wavering cry split the pernatural quiet. It sent shivers down the outlaws' spines, raising instintive fears and tugging heart strings with its bitter lonliness. Djaq blinked away sudden tears; the sound had reminded her of a lost child.

"What was that?" Will demanded, clutching his axe for reassurance.

"A wolf," John declared.

Allan scoffed nervously. "I'm not being funny, but wolves don't live in Sherwood anymore!" He paused, then added, "Do they?"

"Not a wolf . . ." Much said, almost to himself. He suddenly ran off into the forest towards the sound. "Master!"

The other took off after him, but were uncertain; the cry had hardly sounded human. Nevertheless, hope had spread her wings in their hearts, so they raced through the trees.

Night quickly cloaked the forest in black, but Much refused to slow down. Robin was somewhere near, he knew it. If only he could see to find him, all of this would be so much easier!

Allan, Will, John and Djaq caught up with Much in a few moments. The hope that had lit their hearts was fading as swiftly as the day.

"Are you sure -" Allan panted.

A groan issued from the base of the tree to their left.

Much sprang towards the familiar voice, and Allan shrugged and said, "Never mind."

Robin was huddled against the tree, eyes closed and breathing raggedly. He groaned again as Much shook his shoulder, but he did not regain consciousness. Then Djaq gently pushed Much aside to examine Robin.

Her light but probing fingers drew aside the bloodied tunic. The wound was bleeding again, a slow welling of red, but she could not determine more without proper light.

Djaq told the gang as much while she placed her hand on Robin's forehead. "He's cold from exposure," she continued, "and he could take a chill or a fever if we don't get him back and properly treated soon."

While Djaq and Much continued their ministrations, the other outlaws set about to making a litter to carry their wounded leader on.

In a poor attempt to lighten the mood, Allan began recalling a story he'd heard the last time he'd been to a tavern. It was about a man who had romanced twin sisters, both practically at the same time, and had been caught. . .

John didn't even dignify the story with a response.

Will shot Allan a severe look and shook his head.

"What?" Allan demanded, but fell silent after another look from Will.

It was fully dark before they were ready to move Robin. They placed him on the litter of woven branches and cloaks, throwing another one over him for a cover. With John and Much manning one end of the litter, Will and Allan the other, the gang moved off into the benighted forest.

The gang made it back to the long stone without incident, but the fear had not left them. Robin had not regain consciousness, but Djaq assured them that he was not in a critical condition.

"He's just exhausted and weak from exposure and blood loss, Much!" she explained for the tenth time to the harried former servant.

As the men set the litter and its occupant down, Will observed, "It's a good thing that we camped here; most of our supplies are stored here."

"Good," Djaq declared. She turned to the others of the gang started giving orders.

"Will, I need you to find a needle, thread, and bandages. Make some from some cloth or clothes we can spare if we don't have any. John and Allan, I need light. Find any lanterns, candles, torches stored here."

"What can I do?" Much asked. Djaq's calm and authoritative demeanor did little to assuage his fears.

"Heat some water. The wound needs to be washed."

Much nodded and hurried off. "Right! Of course . . . can someone start a fire while I try to find a pot?"

Will traded the medical supplies he'd found for flint and steel. Without any ado, he set about to making a good sized fire.

With everyone in motion, Djaq turned her attention back to Robin. He still lay on the makeshift litter, unconscious and now muttering. Sitting next to him, Djaq put her hand on his forehead and gave a satisfied nod. He was no longer cold, but he wasn't feverish, either.

"No . . ." Robin suddenly whispered. "Not my gang . . . don't . . . alone . . ." He shuddered and fell silent.

Djaq brushed his hair off his forehead, wondering at the delirious words. She'd been around enough battlefields to have heard the wounded's feverish ramblings. Most called for their mothers, wives, lovers, while others were forced to relive their wounding in memory. Yet, Robin seemed to be pleading with someone or something to spare them, the gang.

She sighed slightly as she mused, waiting for the men to finish their various tasks. It was not surprising; Robin had been determined to keep the gang from the brunt of the Sheriff's and Gisborne's enmity for as long as she'd been with the outlaws.

Allan coughed, and Djaq turned to the outlaws. "Are we ready?"

"We?" Allan demanded, a look of surprise and suspicion flicking over his face.

"Well, I can't stitch him and hold him down at the same time!"

Much shot Allan an annoyed glance and said, "I'll do it."

"Well, if he remains unconscious, it shouldn't be too hard; it's just if he wakes up," Djaq warned. "He might be delirious, and fight for no reason."

"I was in the Holy Land," Much muttered. "I've seen . . ."

He broke off and turned to the fire and his pot of water. "The water's hot!" he announced, banishing shadows of the past as much as he could.

Djaq had Robin moved to a makeshift operating table and examined the wound by the light of a lantern, five candles and two torches, which flickered in the wind.

"The wound is clean edged," Djaq told the gang as she washed the blood away. "There is an entrance and exit wound, but it is not deep; nothing but skin and muscle was hit. I will easily stitch it up, and he'll be fine."

As she started the first stitch, Robin jerked and cried out.

"Marian!" He shuddered and whimpered. "Marian, please . . ."

The blood ran out of Much's face as memories of the Holy Land came rushing back. A frightening episode of deja vu threatened to destroy the order he had created in his life.

Djaq glanced up at him and smiled softly. "Don't worry Much; I won't let him take a fever."

Much smiled back weakly. Dispute her reassurances, he could not entirely banish the demons of worry that plagued him. He gulped and forced himself to focus.

Robin groaned once more as Djaq closed the wound, but he slipped further into unconsciousness and did not struggle.

When Djaq was finished, she sent the gang to their beds.

"You all need your sleep - once Robin wakes up, it's going to take all of us to keep him still while he heals!" she declared.

While she hadn't been with the gang very long, she had learned that much about Robin!

"I'd rather sit up on watch," Much started but Djaq cut him off.

"Much, Robin just needs sleep now, and so do you! Go to sleep - you were up all last night."

Much opened his mouth to argue but yawned instead. "Good night, then," he said. "But wake me if you need help, you know, if Robin wakes . . ."

"Just go to sleep."

"All right, but -"

"Much!"

"Good night."

Robin woke some time just before dawn. He lay still, staring up at the wind tossed branches and the gaps of sky between the leaves. One section of the forest looked very much the same as another from his current perspective, but he dimly recalled being moved . . . walking . . .

He suddenly registered two sensations: stitches pulled against bandages on his side, and the sounds of the sleeping gang mixed in with the wind's whispering.

A weary but brilliant smile lit Robin's face. He was no longer alone; he was with his gang again.

He made a wary movement to sit up, and felt the wolf's fang shift against his neck. Silent and thoughtful, he sat still and fingered it for a few minutes. Then he reached for his cloak.

After a short walk into the forest, he stopped and knelt. Reverently, he pulled the the necklace off and gazed at it for a moment.

"You were right, Grandfather," Robin whispered, "about a lone wolf not being weakened, but how a pack of such wolves could do wonders together. Well . . ." a wry smile pulled at his lips as he continued, "this wolf is no longer alone, and he has no need to be alone; the pack is thriving and doing wonders!"

Robin scooped a small hole into the forest floor and buried the fang. It belonged to the forest again, as the spirit it represented was living now in the hearts and minds of the outlaws.

He returned to the camp as the gang woke for the day; the grinned at their astonished and confused looks.

Much just rolled his eyes and muttered, "Typical."

Djaq ran a physician's eyes over the gang's too resilient leader. "How do you feel?"

Robin's grin sparkled brightly in his eyes. "Never better - I'm with my gang."

As he spoke, the ever present whimpering wind fell into silence.

The howl of the lone wolf disappeared from the forest and took Robin's hollow loneliness with it.



Fin.