This is a sequel to another of my stories 'Too Much Christmas Spirit'. Reading that will be helpful but not necessary. Read on! Reviewing will be awarded with…and imaginary cookie. That'll have to do.
Much winced as more cloth was pushed roughly to the deep cut on his shoulder. Little John wasn't exactly delicate. Robin made a face, half wanting to help but considering his mission at the castle far more important. They needed to go now but he couldn't leave Much alone whilst injured. He turned to the others as John continued to slap on the damp cloths.
'We need someone to look after Much. We cannot take him with us like this.'
Djaq stood next to him creating a salve to go over Much's wound. 'The cut is not deep. He will be fine but he does need to rest.'
Robin looked at her, then to Will, then Allan and then back to Much who was complaining loudly at John's poor treatment of him.
'Aoife!' Allan said suddenly.
'What? Where?' Djaq was eagerly peering over Robin's shoulder for any sight of her only female friend.
'No!' Allan rolled his eyes. 'Not here. Why don't you take Much to Aoife's? He could rest there and no one would be any the wiser!'
Will frowned, concerned. 'What if she gets found out? We've put her in danger.'
Robin couldn't help but agree. He didn't want to risk one person's safety for another's. But what choice did he have? There was no where else for him to go. He nodded.
'Prepare the horses. We need to get to Aoife's house and then to the castle.'
Robin pulled the reins to stop his horse and the others followed. They had stopped in the tree next to Aoife's grand house and Robin breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that the closest village was some way in the distance. They had only been to Aoife's house once before and that had been in darkness. Aoife always found them and spent half her time in the forest and half at home. Normally Robin would object to such arrangements but it still appeared that Aoife was still on the side of the Sheriff and therefore could be a valuable informant to the gang. Besides, Much was prone to sulking when she wasn't there. He slid of his horse and he and John eased Much off his. Robin was alarmed to see that Much had become very pale and staggered a little when his feet reached the ground. He realised that Much must be in shock after the sudden attack by guards on the outskirts of the woods in which Much had gained his injury. Robin motioned for Much to lean against the others as he strode to Aoife's door, marveled at how grand the house looked in daylight and knocked the door. After a brief second of silence, it opened and Thom Grattan stood in the door and seemingly ready to go out. Robin smiled and felt a little more at ease; he knew Thom was a good man and was understanding of his daughter's relationship with the outlaws.
'Thom. Is it safe to talk?'
Thom waved a hand. 'Of course, of course! Come on in, Robin. You know all of you are welcome…' he trailed off when he saw Much staggering towards the house, his shirt bloody and torn. As they reached the doorway, he ushered them in and helped to sit Much down in a soft chair.
'Thom…' Robin began, unsure of how to ask for help without seeming like a burden. 'Are you going out?'
Thom looked awkward. 'Well, yes. I'm afraid I was just on my way to the market. But if you need me to stay…'
'Father! You have to hear this! Oh.'
They all turned to gaze at Aoife who was almost running down the stairs, rather scantily clad in a yellow low cut dress that had been ripped off the knee. Djaq smiled at her guts to wear such an odd piece of clothing. Aoife opened her mouth and was about to greet her friends when she saw the injured Much in the chair.
'Oh my God! What happened?' she rushed over to him and stroked his face.
'We were attacked by guards. Its not serious, he just needs cleaning up and a little rest but we have important business at the castle. I was wondering if I could leave him here and you could - '
'Of course.' Aoife replied without hesitation, not taking her eyes off the dozing Much. Djaq stepped forward holding a small jar.
'Here.' She said, pushing the jar into Aoife's hand. 'Take this salve. It'll help it heal and stay clean. Apply all of it.'
Aoife nodded but Robin still wasn't convinced.
'Aoife, are you sure we're not putting you in danger?'
She rolled her eyes, more at ease once she had learned that it wasn't serious. 'Of course I'm sure. Now go! I thought you had business at the castle.'
'I do. Yes. We must go. Thank you. Both of you.' He motioned to the others, and shared one last look with Aoife before leaving. There was along pause before Aoife decided to talk before he father felt anymore awkward.
'I thought you needed to go out, Father.'
'I do. I did. But now…' She put her hand on his shoulder. 'Go, Father. I can manage. You heard Djaq. It is not serious. It just needs to be cleaned and a little salve applied. And then rest.' He father made to speak again but she halted him. 'Go! I will send for someone if I need help.' She finished, knowing this would ease his mind. He smiled, pulled on his coat and left leaving an overwhelming silence. She stared at the closed door, unable to spring into life. She had been panic-stricken when she saw Much had been hurt, more than if had been any of the other outlaws. Aoife was confusing herself with her own behaviour. She did not like Much. Not at all. They were just friends and that was all she wanted. Yes, that was right. She went for big, muscular, brutish men who spent most of their time drinking or in fights. But what was it her mother always said? You never end up with your type.
She jumped. Much had stirred and was now staring, bleary eyed, around him. 'Where am I? What happened?'
She sighed, relieved he was awake. She gave him a radiant smile and told him to wait there and not to move until she returned with some water; some to clean his wound, some for him to drink. As she passed through the arch that led into the kitchen, she couldn't help but feel a little tingle in her stomach at the thought of looking after Much. She scowled, telling herself that it was just the shock.
Aoife was a lot gentler than John. She had been gently wiping his wound while he sipped at some water; Much could feel his head clearing. Aoife pulled back suddenly and sighed.
'I'm sorry, Much.' She said. 'I can't do this.'
He frowned. 'Why not?'
'You're going to have to take your shirt off.'
He stared at her, aghast. Surely not?
She threw her head back and laughed. 'There's no need to look so shocked! I've seen many a man's torso. In fact, I've probably seen more of a man's body than you have.'
Much stared at her, glowing deep red and not quite knowing what to say.
She rolled her eyes but still had a smile on her face. 'I'm not joking, Much. You are going to have to take your shirt off. I can't clean this properly otherwise.'
He swallowed and pulled his shirt off over his head, turning an even deeper red.
'You see? That wasn't so hard, was it?'
She smirked at his shyness, not the least bit embarrassed herself. She dipped the cloth into the water and continued cleaning the wound. Much didn't know where to look as she bent over to see to his injury. His mind told him to look around the room and admire the wonder of the Grattan household but his eyes – to his shame – kept flickering back to Aoife's breasts. He flushed, shook himself and told himself that it was the shock.
'Much, are you alright? Why did you shake then? Are you cold?'
'No! No, I just…haven't you finished yet? Surely it's clean by now.' For a moment, Much was almost certain he saw her cheeks redden before she turned away to fetch the salve and some bandages from upstairs.
With a despairing moan, Aoife slumped onto her bed. Much was still downstairs and was waiting for her to go back down with bandages. Much's wound was clean. It had been clean way before he had said anything about it. And she had blushed. Blushed! Aoife never blushed! But his torso…oh, that torso had been so lovely. It wasn't the most muscular she had ever seen but…well, it had been so unexpected. She had never thought about Much having a toned body but surely, she reasoned, he would have after all those years fighting in the Holy Land. She flushed again and buried her head in her hands, thoroughly ashamed of her behaviour. She was about to stand and gather herself when she heard footsteps climbing up the stairs and along the corridor to her room. Much's head poked around the door.
'Wow.' He said simply. For one moment – which Aoife was immensely ashamed of – she thought he meant her but then she realised he must be talking about the house.
'Oh. Yes.' She looked around at her room as though she had never seen it before. 'My parents bought this house just over a year ago.'
He sat down beside her. 'No. I meant you.' She gazed at him. 'Your - your dress, I mean.'
She smiled. His shyness always made her smile. She needed to get a grip. She stood and brushed down her half-dress. 'I'll go and get those bandages. Can you apply the salve?'
Why had he said that? Why? Why? Why did he do that? He'd embarrassed himself. It was obvious Aoife would never think of him in that way. He didn't want her to. No, he definitely didn't. She was promiscuous and that was never good in a woman. Never. Yes, that's right. He liked woman who were quiet and strong and held their ground. Not loud, brassy women like Aoife. When she returned, Much said nothing. He just let her get on with cleaning him up so he could go back to camp and pretend this whole sorry affair never happened. Aoife said nothing, either. That was it, Much decided. Their friendship was over. He had ruined it for both of them; Aoife obviously felt awkward now. Just before she was about to put on the bandage, she spoke.
'Much, have you put the salve on?'
He showed her the empty jar and nodded, continuing with the bandage. After a minute or so she was finished. She stood and admired her work before realising her might think she had been looking at his bare chest. Feeling flustered, she went to find one of her father's shirts for him to wear. She never felt flustered. Why was she now? She had spent loads of time with Much. She slept in the same bed as him some nights! Perhaps the thought of losing him had triggered something. She stopped and imagined what it would be like if she did lose him. It would be unbearable. As she walked back to her room, she could feel all of the grief and sorrow well up inside her. She knew he was fine but the thought of it…
'You have a lovely view from here.'
When she didn't answer he turned and saw something he never thought he'd see. Aoife was crying.
'Oh! Umm…' he wasn't sure of what to do. She bridged the gap between them and threw her arms around him. He gingerly put his arms around her as she sobbed. Gingerly because: one – he didn't want to cause any unnecessary pain to his shoulder and two – he never understood women, let alone crying ones. But it was Aoife. He let her soft form rest against his and guided her back to the bed and sat her down. After a couple of minutes, her tears subsided and she apologised.
'That's fine.' He nodded and the both looked directly ahead of them awkwardly.
'Are we going to forget about this when we get back into the forest?'
He paused. 'Yes.' He said, knowing he would never forget it; he would just not talk about it.
'Good.' They sat in silence for a moment longer before she spoke again. 'We're definitely going to forget about what happens here? What happens now?'
With that she turned and kissed him. His eyes opened wide in shock before closing slowly; he realised he was enjoying it. He was enjoying it a lot. Her lips were so soft and smooth and her tongue…my God! Her tongue? What was he doing? How had it got to that? He'd never…he'd never kissed anyone like this before. Her face was in his hands and her arms were around his neck, not wanting to let go.
Aoife couldn't control herself. She just had to kiss him. She'd never forget this. She'd just never talk about it.
'And you are fully recovered?' Robin asked his manservant.
'Yes, Master. Fully.'
He smiled and clapped him on the back. 'Good.'
Robin caught up with Little John ahead while Much lingered with Allan and Will; Aoife and Djaq talking and laughing behind them.
'So.' Allan raised his eyebrows. 'You and Aoife were alone, eh? In her room? She looked nice in her dress, didn't she? What did you reckon. Much?
Much thrust his nose in the air. 'I think she was a little underdressed.'
Allan scoffed. 'You loved it! I can tell! So what did you do?'
'We…we discussed cooking techniques.'
And with that, he ran to catch up with his master; leaving an incredulous Allan and Will in his wake. Allan looked back at Aoife and then to Will.
'That better not be a euphemism.'