A/N: This is set in and after the episode Parent Hood, s1ep4, and revolves around Marian losing her hair. Can I point out that it was written before the airing of s3ep10 Bad Blood, and so is not canonically accurate, sadly. I'd rewrite it, but it's better this way.
She didn't honestly think they would hang her. Even when she was marched up the stairs and stood below a vacant noose, she didn't believe Guy would have let her die with so little protest. Moreover, she retained a semblance of usefulness to the Sheriff, she knew. A pretty young woman at court presented a certain image that it was prudent for some guests to see. She added a touch of lightness to the otherwise midnight blackness of the castle, and she was not the only one who realised that and exploited it. Even beyond that, the Sheriff had claimed not to be listening to rumours of her treachery concerning a certain outlaw. That in itself proved that he wanted her around. No, it didn't make sense to hang her.
Still, she couldn't help but feel a twinge of fear as the Sheriff announced that she was to be punished; she couldn't help the slight intake of breath when the guard stepped up behind her. And though she hated herself for it, she couldn't help but wonder if he would come and save her.
When the shears were placed at her neck, she knew he would not.
It was odd, and perhaps she was just being stupid and fearful, but she thought she could feel the coldness of the blades without them ever touching her skin. Like a fire gives off heat, she thought she could sense the cold radiating from the harsh steel, too close for comfort. For a brief moment, Marian wondered why metal was so cold, and why it was so connected with heat: the fires of war, the warmth of a marriage ring. Perhaps, she concluded, metal only has what heat we give it. This knife was cold and cruel, like the calculated harm it was about to inflict.
The next thing she felt was a sharp tug on her thick, long hair. And then another. And then she heard a ragged, tearing noise behind her left ear. And then she understood.
As a lady of the nobility, Marian was used to having her hair done by maids who, however gentle they tried to be, would inevitably pull a bit. She herself had fought to gain control over her unruly curls after a windswept ride on horseback, or a particularly rough excursion with Robin and Much when she was young, or a venture as the Nightwatchman after they had left. As a result, her scalp was far less sensitive than that of a man who was unaccustomed to such daily pains and so while she felt the pulling of the knife and the guard's careless hands, it did not hurt her.
Despite this, her eyes moistened with furious tears, because she understood.
The Sheriff watched her with a triumphant, vindictive glint in his eye as more and more hair tumbled lightly to the ground, drifting lazily in the breeze. He had not ordered this to cause her pain; no, he had devised this to cause her humiliation. He himself was bald for a reason; there was to be no trace of softness about the person of the Sheriff of Nottingham. Sir Guy of Gisbourne wore his black hair long as a touch of vanity, to hide his too-large forehead, but also, she was sure, to give the impression of being personable or at the very least courteous.
Marian wore her hair long and loose on nine out of ten occasions for many reasons. The first was that it was what was done: eligible noblewomen wore their hair loose to show their unmarried and virtuous status and to flaunt their beauty. The second was that she personally liked to have her hair frame her face and fly about in the wind; she liked the freedom of it and also the freedom that her flowing hair betrayed: she was unmarried, and no man's property. Sometimes, it was a small, selfish delight to turn away from Guy or Robin and to flick her hair out behind her as a little reminder that she was her own person. She knew from past experience that Robin in particular loved her long hair, and it was satisfying to parade it in front of him, to remind him that he could have retained the right to run his hands through it and press his lips to it. The third reason was almost purely vanity; Marian appreciated the beauty of velvets and silks, and she prided herself on emphasising her own natural beauty, and doing it well. Her beauty was a trump card in her political and personal arsenal, and she played it to its fullest extent. Her beauty gave her power over men like Gisbourne in a world where he should have dominated her entirely, and she was grateful for that. The last reason was that her father, too, loved her hair. He said it reminded him of her mother, and he said it made her look like a dryad or a nymph, a creature of the wild, of the nature that she loved so much.
The Sheriff could not know all of this, but he was astute enough to know that women prized their hair as their crowning glory, and he was cunning enough to realise that a person's hair, or lack thereof, was part of their identity. And damn him, he was clever enough to know that he was torturing Marian without once causing her pain. It was at times like this that she truly hated the Sheriff.
Guy of Gisbourne watched her with an impassive face. For a brief moment, she hated him, too. Then he turned away, and she felt the hate dissipate slightly. He did love her; he just didn't show it in a conventional way. Or an attractive way. Nevertheless, she still felt just a little hate for him in that moment. He could have stopped this. And he was still a cruel man, a vindictive man to those he did not care for. He needed to be taught to care, but until then, Marian struggled not to hate him, just a little.
At last, the final doomed strand was sawn through and the guard stepped back, almost respectfully. The personnel in the castle did hold her in some degree of respect from her days as the sheriff's daughter, but it turned out that respect was easily transferred or forgotten in this traitorous county. Marian wouldn't trust any of them now as far as she could throw them, even those who had kept her entertained as a young child.
"So!" the Sheriff began happily. "Lady Marian, have you learned your lesson?"
"Yes," Marian replied in a clear, calm voice, not even giving a thought as to whether this was a lie or not. After all, at least half her life was a lie these days; what did one word more matter?
"Uh, yes what?" the wretched man prodded, cocking his head in a fair imitation of one of his caged pet birds.
"Yes, my lord," Marian answered dutifully, seething below the surface.
"Much better!" the Sheriff cried. "It would be terrible if you were getting rebellious already—we might have to arrange another impromptu trip to the hair stylist. Or, just to the gallows."
Marian didn't even blink.
"Ah well, you're free to go," the Sheriff said dismissively, and without further ado he wheeled about and headed inside his castle.
The crowd began to dissipate; Marian exhaled heavily and made her way down the wooden steps, where she was immediately met by Sir Guy of Gisbourne.
"Untie her," he snapped at the guard who had shorn her, and the man hastened to comply.
Marian sighed as the rope ceased biting into the soft skin at her wrists, but otherwise made no sign as to betray her discomfort. Her father was hurrying down from his place with the nobles now that the Sheriff had left. She smiled at him reassuringly, briefly, before returning her attention to the Sheriff's right hand man.
"Are you alright?" Guy asked her.
"Of course I am," she replied shortly. She was in no mood for word games with Guy.
He frowned. "Marian, you should take this as a serious warning," he said lowly.
Frustrated, Marian decided to let some of her feelings through. There were times when it suited her to look like a weak and feeble woman. "I know, and I do," she said, letting her voice break on the last word. "I'm just... Guy, I need to go home."
Her father reached them in time to hear her last words. "Yes, we must return."
Satisfied that she was suitably upset and seeing an opportunity to be in her good graces, Guy nodded. "I will accompany you."
"No, that's not necessary," Marian argued, but Guy cut across her.
"Marian, it is not safe to be riding about alone," he reprimanded her.
"I'm not carrying anything of value," she retorted.
"Marian—" her father began, but Guy cut across him.
"Nevertheless, a lady like yourself should not be riding about the countryside without a suitable escort," he ruled. "I will accompany you."
She could see that she wouldn't win this argument any time soon, despite the irony that she would most likely be safer without him, so she decided to let him win. She would rather get home sooner, where she could more easily shake him off.
"Alright," she conceded. And because she didn't want to give him a bad impression, she added a seemingly heartfelt, "thank you."
Guy nodded and bestowed a small smile on her. Then he snapped his fingers at some of his ever-present men who hurried off to fetch their horses. What followed was a tense silence during which Marian forced her fingers not to reach up and feel what was left of her hair. Her father obviously wanted to talk to her, but not with the younger man present. She avoided his well-meaning comforting gaze, knowing it was likely to make her break down for real. Guy was not brilliant at small talk, but she wished he would at least make some effort to distract her; such an exchange would force her to keep close control of her emotions. As it was, she focused forcefully on the thought of getting home to Knighton Hall, visualising the journey in her mind to prevent her thoughts straying.
The horses were brought trotting towards them and Marian mounted with haste. The sooner she escaped, the sooner she could let herself relax.
They didn't speak on the journey home. Edward rode in a carriage behind the younger pair, but she didn't know why Guy didn't try to engage her in conversation; perhaps he thought she'd appreciate the silence more than his words, maybe he didn't know what to say. Either way, she didn't care. The passing trees and villages were enough to keep her mind off her head. For now.
Passing through Knighton was the hardest part. The villagers were out, going about their business on this very ordinary afternoon, and when she passed through the village, she would normally smile at them and possibly stop for a quick chat. Today, though, they saw that she was with the notorious Sir Guy of Gisbourne and neglected to smile and wave. Then they saw her hair, and they stopped and stared. She pretended not to notice, pretended that even if she had noticed that it didn't bother her, but even she had to avert her eyes when they finally reached the manor house and the stable lad, poor boy, would not stop gawping.
"Close your mouth and see to Lady Marian's horse!" Guy snapped at the boy, and Marian felt a surge of guilt when she was glad that he hastened to obey, scared of repercussions.
She turned to Guy, fixing a look of gratitude on her face. "Thank you, Guy."
He nodded brusquely. "I shall see you tomorrow."
Marian smiled, mentally dismissing his words. She had no desire to go to the castle tomorrow, and with any luck he would be busy enough not to visit, and if he did, she would arrange to be out. Perhaps she would avoid all human contact. Perhaps it would be better to tour the village, talk to those she would normally talk to, get the reactions to her boyish hair out of the way. Whichever, she would do her best to avoid Guy. He may have been well meaning, but she did not want his company at the moment, and the smile remained gracing her lips as he rode away. When he was out of sight, though, her face fell and it took her an unreasonable amount of effort to help her father down from his carriage.
"Marian!" her father said, seeing her face.
He had been worrying during the entire escapade, she knew. At his age, she worried about him whenever he was worried, but she could do little to abate his fears when she was fair near dragged off by half a battalion and he was told to follow to witness her unnamed punishment. Though he was still angry at her, he was her father, and he was protective before he was righteous.
She turned to him, wanting to say something reassuring, wanting to tell him that she was fine, but struggled when she saw his face. Something akin to disappointment resided there, along with the sympathy in his voice.
"I'm sorry," she said quickly, then sighed. "I'm going to my room to... sort it out," she told him.
"No, I'm sorry," he said softly, watching her with watery blue eyes.
"Don't be," she replied shortly, already moving away. "This was all my fault."
He didn't argue. "You will be more cautious?"
She turned to face him again. "I will be more careful," she promised.
He narrowed his eyes shrewdly. "But you won't stop."
She smiled faintly, and shook her head. Her father didn't know to what extent she was defying the Sheriff and the law, but he knew she was up to something, something more than she had been punished for. Her was her father; his job by definition was to know more about her than she would ideally like.
He sighed and closed his eyes, suddenly looking years older.
"Good day, father," she said.
"Good day, Marian."
She retreated to her room, closed the door and settled herself at her dressing table. She closed her eyes, and then felt for her hair.
Her fingers felt cheated when they were met only by empty air for too long. Her shoulders were already registering the loss of its weight; her neck had felt oddly chilled and vulnerable on her ride home. Now she realised the extent of the damage as her fingertips grazed the ragged ends of her hair. It was chopped unevenly, like a torn skirt or a piece of splintered wood. It fell awkwardly, not quite to her shoulders, tickling her neck. She could feel, too, that the strands were damaged: some were split at the ends where they had been hewn roughly through.
Her eyes threatened to sting, but she gritted her teeth and reached for her oft-neglected sewing scissors. With deft, certain movements, she set about straightening the ends, ordering the mess she now bore like a scar, a mark of her public humiliation, a mark of something lost, and something gained. She was battle-scarred before, emotionally, and not just the obvious occasion. Every time something else happened, she gained another degree of hardness, of bitterness, another scar. Every time something else happened, she lost another degree of innocence, another slice of belief in the world, in destiny, in love, in happiness. She lived now in constant fear that one day it would be too much and she would lose the last vestiges of emotion left to her, the last tiny bit of belief that everything had to work out, eventually. She would lose her happy ending, because she wouldn't believe in it to work towards it.
She cursed herself for caring so much; it was only hair. But it wasn't. And she hated every lost lock for being something more.
She answered him so casually when he remarked on her hair, but she knew him well enough to see in his eyes the lingering confusion and the concern. And she knew he knew her well enough that he wouldn't believe her practised shrug and claim that it had been a nuisance to wash. For one thing, it wasn't. Yes, it took less time now, but it was far less practical to have it short: she couldn't do anything with it anymore; it was too short for plaits and twists and even the Nightwatchman's trademark pony tail, but too long to simply leave be. He wouldn't appreciate those problems, but he would see the lie in her blasé tone and her too-bright eyes, and being Robin Hood, he would find out the truth.
It was after a tumultuous few days that Marian was once again sitting at her dressing table, this time brushing through her hair. Automatically, she reached for a ribbon to tie it back into a plait for sleeping, then caught herself and withdrew her hand.
"Stupid, stupid hair," she muttered, annoyed.
"Oh, I don't know." The voice from the window made her whirl around. "Easier to wash, didn't you say?"
Robin of Locksley jumped down from her windowsill into her chamber and leaned casually against one of her bedposts.
"Good evening," she greeted him courteously.
He glanced out the window. "I'd say it was night, wouldn't you?"
She couldn't resist a smirk as she was handed this gift of an opportunity. "Very well. Goodnight."
And with that she turned back to her dresser and picked up her hairbrush again.
"Very funny," he said dryly, and moved to lean against the dresser so she couldn't ignore him.
She sighed. "So to what do I owe this very late pleasure?" she asked, ignoring studiously nonetheless.
"I have to have a reason to come and see you?" he asked, affronted.
"You usually do," she noted. "So what is it?"
Confronted with her direct questioning, he relented. "I heard about your... punishment."
Her face changed not at all. "Oh."
"Marian," he said, softly exasperated. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I fail to see how it is any of your business," she retorted icily.
"Excuse me? What have you been doing wrong except fraternising with outlaws? I think that makes it my business."
"It wasn't that, and even if it was, I was the one doing the 'fraternising'," she pointed out. "It's my fault."
"Your fault? You haven't done anything wrong!"
"In the eyes of the law, I have. I went against the Sheriff's authority. So I was punished."
"But you shouldn't have been."
"But I was!" she exclaimed. "You and I both know that what should be is very different in this world to what is. And for now, we can't do anything about that, so just forget it. It's only hair."
He snorted. "No, it isn't."
Her eyes narrowed dangerously. He was too close to her own train of thought. "What do you mean by that?"
She was daring him to elaborate. So he did.
"It's not just hair. I remember when we were children, mucking about round Locksley or Knighton or Nottingham, you didn't care if you got your dresses a little bit dirty or a tiny bit torn, not if it meant you could keep up with us boys, because they could be washed and mended. But that time you fell from a tree and pulled out half your hair when you grabbed onto it as well as a branch, you screamed like you were dying. I was terrified, do you remember? And then you told me it didn't hurt. You were just upset, no, distraught, because you lost some of your precious hair. I laughed at you so much that day."
"I remember," she said curtly, but not with quite as much force as she would have liked.
"My mother came out and found us," he continued. "She took you inside and spent an absolute age talking to you. I went off with Much to practise archery."
"She told me that it would grow back, and anyway it wasn't too noticeable," Marian said, lulled into the rhythm of reminiscence. "Then she sat with me and showed me how to tie it up with her ribbons, to keep it out of the way but still to look pretty. And she told me you were a silly little boy who didn't understand," she added.
He smiled. "She gave me a lecture on the importance of appearance when you'd gone home. She taught me that a gentleman never criticised a lady's looks, or how she dealt with them, and she taught me that there was always a reason for vanity, and that caring for how one looked was instrumental in caring for how one felt."
"And you remembered this?"
"I have been known to pay attention occasionally," he defended himself.
The moment was lost; his insolence was maddening. Of course, she had provoked it. She always did.
"Anyway, as I said, I can't do anything about it," she repeated.
"No," he agreed.
Then came one of those brief pauses which could never decide whether they were comfortable or awkward. Robin still had more to say, and both of them knew it, but neither wanted to spoil their rare moment of being in complete accordance with the other, no matter how trivial the issue that they agreed over. Such moments, though, are doomed to pass with undue haste, especially between a man and a woman, and even more so between old lovers. Above all between those who are determined not to agree. After all, everything we do is a choice, and every different direction taken means a mutual route has been discarded.
"Marian, are you safe? No, don't interrupt," he added when she made to speak over him indignantly. "I know you can take care of yourself and I'm not trying to take that away from you. But if this was just a warning for a political transgression, and I'm making life dangerous for you—"
"No," she said fiercely. "If anything you've making life safer for me. I'm doing less as the Nightwatchman now—I can actually sleep at nights."
"So why is it now that you're being punished?" Robin asked.
"Because I'm doing more as Marian!" she snapped. "I proved that the pestilence was gone, as myself. I got public recognition as to that fact, something I couldn't do as the Nightwatchman. That's why the Sheriff organised this—" her face screwed up in disgust "—this punishment, because I clashed with him politically, not because he saw me with you or Much or someone. I'm doing what Father used to do."
His eyes widened in understanding.
"So this has nothing to do with you and you can't protect me from it, so don't even try," she finished.
He pushed away from the dresser and began pacing her room.
"And I'll thank you not to wear out my floorboards."
With a sigh, he sat on her bed, and Marian felt a little smug that he had complied with her wishes without any fuss.
"Why do you visit so late?" she asked, partly to distract him and partly from curiosity.
"I wait for Much to go to sleep," he admitted, still frowning. "He worries about me so much."
"And the others?"
"Are not like a mix between a twin brother and a wife, and did not spend five years wondering whether I would be alive at the end of the day."
She was a little shocked that he would reference the Holy Wars so freely, but if she expressed that, he would never do it again. Therefore, she ignored it. "Much is like a wife?"
He smiled and looked up at her, and she relaxed a little. "Everyone has said it at least once."
"And what does that make you?" she teased.
"His husband," he conceded immediately, and Marian was left with the feeling that she had not quite won this miniature episode of their constant competition.
"Speaking of which, ought you not be getting back to him?" she asked, glancing out at the star-speckled sky. "I am rather tired."
"I suppose," he said grudgingly, but he made no attempt to move.
"Am I such scintillating company that you cannot bear to leave?" she asked sarcastically, then immediately regretted her words. Had she not asked the exact opposite before he went away to war? Am I such terrible company that you cannot bear to stay?
Thankfully, if he noticed he concealed it well. "I don't like the nights," he confessed. He sighed. "I dream, and then I wake up and don't sleep again."
"Don't or won't?"
He met her eye. "A mixture of both, I think."
"You should try to sleep anyway," she advised him. "The more tired you are the worse it gets."
It was the closest she would come to admitting that she too had nightmares of him being in the Holy Wars. She held his probing gaze for a moment, then turned away. "You should go."
This time he rose without complaint, but he didn't go to her window. He moved back to where she was still sitting by her dresser and waited until she looked up at him. "What?"
"Just for the record, I like your new hairstyle," he said cheekily, and just like that they were back to where they had been when he had first entered unannounced.
"You told me not ten minutes ago that your mother taught you never to criticise a lady's looks."
"Yes, I did," he agreed heartily.
He moved back to the window and half climbed out, so his legs were dangling precariously out and his weight was held on his hands. "But I didn't tell you that she also taught me never to compliment a lady unless I meant it." He grinned. "Goodnight, my Lady Marian."
With that, he dropped out of sight and hurried away in silence, back to the wilderness he called home.
"Goodnight, my Lord Robin," she murmured, but of course there was no one there to hear her.
Beneath her window, suspended by his fingertips, a handsome young outlaw grinned again, and then let go.