A DIFFERENT SIDE
All of the characters in this story belong to BBC/Tiger Aspect and have appeared on the show Robin Hood (2006-2009). I do not own any of them.
The story takes place in Season 3, between Episode 9 ("A Dangerous Deal", which ends with Meg dying in Guy's arms) and Episode 10 ("Bad Blood", which opens with Guy alone in the woods, hunting). It also develops on a minor storyline from Season 1; I will not reference the specific episode at this point because I want the identity of the second character in the story to be as much a surprise to the reader as it is to Guy. This is not an original character but someone who actually appeared in an episode of the show. For more, see the notes at the end of the story.
My deep gratitude to Tango for the beta and the title suggestion (and for getting me hooked on Robin Hood). Also, many thanks to Elfrieda for the feedback and the encouragement. And, of course, to the creators of the show and to Richard Armitage for his amazing portrayal of Guy of Gisborne.
The first thing he feels as he returns to the world is that his body is stiff and aching all over. He is lying on the grass, on his stomach, his head at an angle that makes his neck hurt when he tries to move. His hair and clothes are damp, and he remembers that he took a long dip in the river, after –
After he'd finished burying the girl.
Now, the other kind of pain comes, and this one is much, much worse.
The girl … Meg. The silly, stubborn, brave, innocent girl who, for some unfathomable reason, had cared about him, and died for it. Not like Marian – no, never like Marian – but just as dead, and because of him. He closes his eyes and, in his mind, sees his hands covered with dirt and blood.
Something else nags briefly at his consciousness: the vague feeling that he's been roused from his stupor by a voice calling his name. But it couldn't be; he must have imagined it, or dreamed it.
With a groan, Guy starts to lift himself up. His aching muscles and tendons demand attention again, and added to all that is a gnawing hunger in the pit of his stomach. He cannot recall when he last ate. He makes an effort to focus, to appraise his situation. An outlaw, alone in the forest, without weapon or food, with plenty of people who want him dead – Isabella, Prince John, Hood and his gang – and not one who'd have any interest in keeping him alive. Except for himself, and that too is debatable.
There is no mistake this time. He sits up with a gasp, and sees –
A cloaked figure, face concealed by a hood, bathed in a strange golden glow that is clearly not of this world.
All the other sensations are forgotten for now because every inch of his skin tingles with terror and his heart seems to crash into his chest with every beat.
His mind reels. He's dreaming. Any moment now she will throw the cloak aside and reveal the dead rotting flesh where her pure loveliness once was; he's had this nightmare before. Or maybe she's a ghost come to haunt him at last. Or maybe he's dying and –
The woman steps forward, and he realizes that the glow he saw was merely the refracted light of the setting sun, shining through the trees. Her face remains hidden.
She speaks again. "Are you all right?"
Guy can breathe again, though the blood is still pounding hard in his ears. It's nothing like her, this voice with the unmistakable accent of the common folk, though there is a faint echo of familiarity in it. It also does not seem like something a ghost would say. He makes a sound that is meant to be a laugh but comes out as more of a snarl. Good God, he's not all right in so many ways it's not even funny.
"No." The hoarse, thuggish croak of his own voice startles him.
"You're wounded?" She takes a step closer, then stops, to his relief.
"I'm not." He pauses, trying to collect his thoughts. "Who are you?"
"Someone who wants to help."
This time, he actually does laugh. "Who'd want to do that?" The last one who did lies a few feet away, under a fresh mound of earth and a small makeshift cross, two sticks tied together with a strip of fabric torn off his sleeve. Better not think of that right now.
"I do," the woman says.
He looks up at her with a sneer. "So. What is the price on my head? I'm sure my dear sister would be more than generous."
An impatient head-shake. "I promise I will not turn you in!" She probably senses he's not convinced, and adds, "May Saint Mary the Holy Mother of God be my witness."
She walks toward him; he swallows hard and fights the urge to back away, still perhaps not entirely assured of her corporeal nature. She extends a hand and says simply, "Get up."
Whoever she is, he can't let her see how frightened he is. He takes her hand; it is very much alive, warm, slender but with a surprisingly strong grip as she pulls him to his feet. There is a half-formed thought that it feels strange to be touched by someone who does not – maybe does not want to either use him or kill him. But who the hell is she? He glimpses a lock of ash-blond hair under the hood; then she pulls her hand away and turns abruptly.
"Show me your face," he says.
There is a harsh note in her voice. "Not yet."
"Do I know you, then?"
A brief hesitation. "Perhaps you do."
He tenses. "Are you one of Hood's people?"
Again, she seems to ponder her answer. "I'm not. Though – I have met him."
She speaks in riddles and it unnerves him. Still stiff and hurting, Guy stretches his limbs, flexes his muscles, gingerly rubs his neck; the motion reminds him of his close encounter with the headsman, and he fights back a surge of sickness.
"Come with me," says the stranger, her back still turned to him.
"Does it matter? I can give you food and shelter for the night."
"You think I'm that stupid," he says. "You think I'd follow a stranger to God knows where – "
She snorts. "Fine. Stay here and starve then, unless the beasts get to you first, or the Sheriff's men. Be that stupid, Guy of Gisborne."
She stalks away – not toward Nottingham, which is a good start. His stomach clenches with hunger. He casts another glance at poor Meg's final resting place, and then strides after the girl. Catching up with her, he grabs her arm but she shakes him off and walks on.
"Listen to me! If you really are helping me – you know what'll happen to you if you get caught, don't you?"
"I'll take my chances," she says curtly.
"That's my business," is all she says, without slowing down. "Stop asking so many questions."
He curses under his breath. "What do you expect?"
She snaps her head toward him, face still unseen. "I expect you to keep quiet for a while."
He has very limited choices; and so he bites his tongue and follows.
~ x ~ x ~ x
By the time they emerge from the woods and onto a small winding country road, darkness has fallen. The girl seems unfazed by the long walk; not so Guy, who is dizzy from hunger, his mouth parched, his legs shaky. After a while it feels like every breath is ripping into his throat and lungs. A couple of times, the dark sky and the trees start to spin before his eyes and it's the girl who keeps him from falling. He grits his teeth, still aware enough for his pride to sting.
After a while, when he has long lost track of time and place, they enter a village. A short distance away, his eyes detect the hulking shape of a manor, with some of the windows lit. His companion steers him to a small cottage near the edge of the village, pushes the door open. Inside, he leans against the wall, fists clenched against the pain that he knows is about to flood his body now that he's actually made it and no further effort is required.
His rescuer, or whatever she is, lights a candle and says, "Come on," and Guy staggers after her to a room in the back, so tiny there's barely enough space to turn, with no furniture but a bed and a chair. She tells him to lie down, but by the time the words are out he's already collapsed on the bed. It's lumpy, and barely large enough for his frame, but at the moment it's more desirable than the most luxurious bed in a palace. The last thing he hears through the thick fog of drowsiness is her voice saying, "I'll be back with the food."
The creak of the door wakes him. Cautiously lifting an eyelid, he sees the mystery woman come in, still cloaked and hooded, carrying a bowl and a mug which she sets down on the chair. The smell of hot food makes his mouth water and his stomach spasm, but every ounce of willpower he has goes into staying focused on something else. He has to know who she is.
"Wake up," the girl says, coming near the bed. She leans forward, and there's his chance. Somehow, Guy musters enough energy to lunge and grab her wrist, and with his other hand to pull the hood off her head.
"Get your hands off me!" she hisses, quite needlessly because when he sees her face in the flickering reddish candlelight – her hair wild, her eyes blazing with anger – he jerks his hands back as if he's seized a deadly snake.
Finally regaining his voice, he rasps, "Sweet Jesus."
She stands up, tugs at the fastenings of the cloak. It drops to her feet, revealing a simple blouse and skirt underneath, and she kicks it aside.
"I wasn't sure you'd remember," she says viciously, looking past him, "what with all the other girls you must've bedded."
Oh, he remembers. Actually, he hasn't bedded that many; certainly none others who have held a knife to his neck before a crowd of onlookers. Or borne his child.
"Annie," he chokes out.
She spins around, nailing him with her too-intense stare. "You remember my name too. I should be flattered."
Guy manages to sit up and rubs his temples, fighting to hold on to what strength he has left, trying feverishly to think. Of course, it doesn't take much thinking to know that this is bad. The list of people who want him dead just got longer by one – one who, right now, has pretty much got him in her power.
"Eat your food," she says, her voice softening a bit. He shoots her a disbelieving look.
"Do you think me a fool or a madman? I'll starve before I eat whatever you put in that."
"You are a fool," she says scornfully. "You think I'd poison you in my own house?"
He's not sure about that, having never given much thought to the etiquette of poisonings. He has, however, seen a few of Vasey's victims die that way, and while he is profoundly convinced that he deserves the worst torments known to man, he is not volunteering for this one.
Annie sighs and shakes her head, then picks up the bowl and slowly, deliberately eats a spoonful; she takes a bite out of the bread-loaf, too, and a sip of the drink.
"There," she says. "Eat."
He grabs the bowl from her with an almost convulsive movement, his hands shaking. At this point, as long as it's not poison, it doesn't matter what he's eating; it doesn't even matter that the kitchen maid is watching him scrape the last bits of lentil stew off the sides of the wooden bowl like a starving beggar, or that when she offers more he gasps an undignified "Please."
When Guy is done with his second helping of stew, bread and ale, exhaustion begins to set in again. All of him, body and mind, yearns for sleep; yet he struggles to keep it at bay a while longer.
As the girl takes the dishes, he brings himself to look up at her. She avoids his eyes.
"Why are you doing this?"
"We have some unfinished business between us," she says, still looking away. Considering what their last encounter was like, that does not sound good.
"You mean, you never finished carving me up."
With an exasperated little huff, Annie turns and glares at him. "If I'd wanted to carve you up, Sir Guy" – she makes the words drip with mockery – "I'd have done so already. You had no more strength than a half-drowned cat when I found you back there in the woods."
This logic is not entirely reassuring, but it'll have to do. He is too tired to bristle at the wench's insolence, and in no position to object anyway.
"I just meant that we've got things to talk about," she says. He waits for more, but she shakes her head. "Tomorrow. Go to sleep."
Weariness gets the better of him; his eyes won't stay open, and his limbs feel so heavy that it takes an effort even to kick off his boots. He stretches out on the bed, still not too certain in what condition he'll wake up, and mutters a groggy "Thank you." For now, he has no choice but to trust her.
~ x ~ x ~ x
When he opens his eyes and blinks at the daylight coming in through the tiny window, it is a few moments before he remembers where he is and what happened. The wench has neither taken a knife to him nor tied him up; so far, so good. Guy isn't sure how long he has slept. He stands up and stretches, as much as he can in this tiny room where his head almost touches the ceiling. A trace of yesterday's aches and pains still lingers in his joints and muscles, but he feels strong again.
Cautiously, he pushes the door open into the main room of the cottage. The girl – Annie – is fussing at the stove; she glances toward him and says, "Good morning," her tone neither friendly nor hostile, which is unsettling because he has no idea what to expect.
"Don't stay out here too long," she says. "It's safer for you in the back. I'll bring your food. You can wash up here – " she nods toward a pitcher and a basin on a washstand, then adds briskly, "The privy's behind the house; just make sure no one sees you."
Back in the bedroom, if it can be called that, Guy sits down and tries to think. He has to get out of here, of course; but what for? What has he to accomplish by surviving, save for revenge which at the moment seems ridiculously unattainable? Is there a reason he has been given another chance to live the other day when he was resigned to dying? His mouth twists in a sneer; he of all people should know that things do not happen for a reason.
The girl comes in with his breakfast – porridge and cider – and makes to taste it again but he shakes his head no. She says nothing, just sets the bowl and the mug down on the chair and stands back leaning against the wall, arms folded on her chest. He can feel her staring at him while he eats, and wishes she wouldn't.
He finishes the food and raises his head to thank her – and then her eyes are boring into his and her voice is like a lash on his face.
"Why did you do it?"
His heart drops and his shirt is instantly soaked in a cold sweat. It is a moment, a very long and hideous moment, before his mind registers that she isn't asking about that.
"Annie – " he stammers hoarsely.
She lurches toward him. "I thought you were different! I thought I'd seen a side of you that was – kind and gentle and caring – and good – and – " Her voice trembles on the edge of hysteria.
"Annie," he says again.
" – and you left my baby – our baby – in the woods to die!" Her eyes sparkle with angry tears. "I want you to look at me and tell me why!"
"I did not."
"Liar!" She slaps him hard across the mouth. "Robin Hood – "
In the next instant Guy is on his feet, towering over her. The taste of blood on his lip, and the mention of Robin Hood, looses something dark and savage inside him. His hands clench on the girl's arms and he pushes her against the wall, bellowing, "Do not speak to me of Hood!"
"Why shouldn't I?" she shouts, too furious to be frightened of him. "He saved my child! An innocent baby who almost died because of you!" With that, she spits in his face. "Murderer!"
Murderer. Drained, he lets go of her and slumps on the bed, dropping his head into his hands. When he finally speaks, his voice is low and hollow.
"I didn't leave it," he says.
"Do you expect me – "
"Let me finish. I gave the child to one of my men. I told him to take it to Kirklees Abbey." He looks up at her. "The next thing I knew, the outlaws had it. That's all. I swear it's the truth."
Of course, he knows that it isn't quite the whole truth. He hasn't, for instance, told the girl that when he saw the infant in Hood's arms, he did not order his men to halt the attack – indeed, gladly took advantage of the fact that the outlaws' find would slow them down. Wisely, he also does not tell her that he was eager to wash his hands of the matter because, obsessed as he was with the honor of the Gisborne name, he did not like to think of himself as the sort of man who fathers bastards off kitchen maids. Still, what he has told her is true as far as it goes.
"You think I'm going to believe that?" Annie snaps, but he can tell she's starting to waver. "That one of your men would dare do that to your own child?"
He sighs. "I didn't tell him that – I had anything to do with it."
The girl gives him a cutting look. "Why? You were ashamed?"
She looks at him, hesitating, her hands nervously twisting the front of her skirt. "Swear to me," she says at last, gravely. "Swear that what you've told me is the truth, Sir Guy. By the salvation of your immortal soul."
He laughs, startling her. "I could hardly swear more worthless an oath," he says, and on impulse adds, "Annie – I swear it is true, on my mother's memory." At once he is taken aback by his own words; it is not a false oath, but somehow it still feels like he's sullying the memory of his mother by bringing her into this sordid business. Yet, evidently, it does appease the girl, who nods slowly and lets out a long breath. Without another word, she goes out of the room and comes back with a piece of cloth soaked in some sort of liquid.
"Here," she says, tossing it to him. "Put that on your lip."
The all-too-fresh memory of Isabella's damnable trick makes him flinch; Annie notices and shakes her head in reproach.
"Do you still think I'd poison you?"
"No," he says. He brings the cloth to his face – it's vinegar – and presses it to his split lip, wincing at the sting.
Annie sits down on the chair next to the bed. When he turns and their eyes meet, her face lights up with a small smile.
"Thank you," she says.
Puzzled, he asks, "What for?"
"Giving me a chance to stop hating you… Two years was enough. For two years, I told myself the goodness I thought I'd seen in you was all a lie. I wanted – " she falters, averts her eyes, then looks at him again and blurts out, "I wanted to watch you die. I heard they were going to cut your head off, for trying to kill Prince John and the new Sheriff. So I asked for leave from my job and went to Nottingham. I thought I'd see you get what was coming to you and that would make it all better." She shivers and hugs her shoulders. "Then I saw you on the block, pleading for that poor girl's life and not for yourself. So I thought that maybe I hadn't been wrong to see good in you. Maybe I didn't know who you really were. And I had to know. That's why…" She trails off. After a brief silence she adds, "It was still wrong, what you did then. But – you're not a monster."
He knows better than that, but he lets it pass. There is something more important; her mention of Meg has reminded him that women who see goodness in him have a way of meeting a very bad end. He won't let it happen again.
"Annie, I can't stay here," he says brusquely. "I won't have you hang for me. God knows I have enough on my conscience."
She gives him a worried look. He wonders if, until now, she has been so preoccupied with their unfinished business that she hasn't given proper thought to the consequences of aiding him.
"You can leave after sundown," she says, and he nods.
They sit together in a tense silence. Finally Guy asks, awkwardly, "So … you've been well?"
"Oh yes. I work in the kitchens at the manor. I lived in the servants' quarter the first year. Then old Ben Walston, the steward, let me have this house after his wife died – he didn't want to stay here alone and went to live at the manor. He lost his only daughter years ago and he says Seth and I are like grandchild and daughter to him. And Lady Glasson's a kind mistress."
He's glad she's mentioned the child's name; he couldn't have remembered it to save his life. After another silence he manages a strained, "And how is – the boy?"
Annie beams. "He's truly my pride and joy. You know I wasn't so keen on raising him myself when I had him. But now…" She shakes her head. "I can't imagine living without him. He's at the manor right now, I left him with one of the girls when I went off to Nottingham..." Then, struck by a new thought, she gives Guy a wide-eyed, rather shy look; it reminds him of the way she used to look at him long ago, when he first took her to his bed. "You want to see him?"
Dear God, no. He groans inwardly. Not a father-child reunion; not with this child for whom he has not spared one thought until today – not when the idea that this is his child has no reality for him whatsoever. It occurs to him that perhaps, considering his rather woeful odds of survival, he should feel some satisfaction at the thought of leaving behind a child of his own flesh and blood, legitimate or not – but he feels none. What legacy has he to pass on to any offspring except misery and shame?
He shakes his head and speaks as gently as he can. "Annie, you know I cannot be a father to your child…" (even if I wanted to be, he adds in his head). "I am an outlaw, a dead man; far worse than no father at all. 'Tis better if I don't."
The girl nods and quirks her lips, looking for a moment as though she were about to cry. Maybe she thinks he doesn't want to see the boy because, if he did, it would hurt too much to leave. He's not going to disabuse her of that.
"He looks just like you, too," Annie says. "He's got your hair, and beautiful blue eyes – " She laughs but there's a catch in her voice, and her eyes are bright with tears. "It's a terrible thing, to hate someone who looks so much like the one thing you love most in all the world."
He has no idea what to say to that; he knows only that the girl is starting to give him rather warm looks, much to his alarm.
"Annie," he says, his voice harsh. "Do not deceive yourself about me. I am not a good man."
"You're not an evil one!" she exclaims. "These last years, I hated you so much I was willing to believe the most horrible rumors, the worst things I heard – "
"Then you were right."
"No," she says. "No, you don't know what wicked tales people tell. Why, they even had me believing you murdered – "
He knows exactly what's coming, but it still slices into his gut; and the words "the Lady Marian" die on the girl's lips, because his face tells her everything. She gasps and clamps a hand over her mouth.
Guy leans against the wall, shuts his eyes, and settles back into his private hell.
The girl is crying. "It was the Lady Marian who got me this job," she says, between sobs. "She was an angel."
From hell, he hears the sound of his own dead voice. "She was."
The crying stops. "Why?" she asks. "Why did you do it?"
"I…" He swallows. "There is no why. I make no excuses."
The silence between them is now heavy with the enormity of what he has done. Into this silence, he says, "I loved her as much as a man can love…"
The silence taunts him, makes his words empty and worthless. He tries, "I'd gladly give my life …" and trails off.
He has almost forgotten about the girl's presence when she whispers, "God help you."
Guy chuckles bitterly. "He won't."
She sniffles again; then he hears her rise, push the chair aside, and leave the room. Maybe, now that she knows what he is, she'll turn him over to the law and to the tender mercies of Isabella. So be it.
After a while Annie pushes the door open and says, "Sir Guy," in that same flat, neutral tone in which she spoke to him earlier. He sits up on the bed; she is, once again, avoiding his eyes as she continues, "I've got to go for a while. I'm due at the manor by noon. I'll try to be back soon."
He nods and grunts assent. After she leaves the house, Guy weighs his options. He has no cause to believe she's gone to turn him in, but if she has… He could make a run for it while she's out. Except that, in the daylight, he'd be liable to get caught – and she would most likely share his fate. Like Meg.
He comes out into the main room and looks around until his eyes fall on a small axe propped up by the wall. He picks it up, runs a finger along the blade; it's sharp enough to draw blood. Cradling it in his hands, he goes back to the small room and stretches out on the bed, leaving the axe on the floor where he can reach it at once. If they do come, he won't be taken alive this time.
~ x ~ x ~ x
He stands under the gallows, his hands bound, forced to watch as soldiers drag a screaming, struggling Annie up the steps of the scaffold. There is a jeering crowd, and Isabella and Hood sitting side by side on a platform in front of him, laughing. Then, as the noose is placed around the girl's neck, it's no longer Annie but her, in a white dress stained with blood. He screams, "Marian!" and wakes up.
As Guy bolts upright, gulping for air, he sees Annie standing in the doorway and almost jumps.
"You're back," he says, his voice raspy from sleep and shock.
She nods. "I've asked for the afternoon off. Told the head cook I've got my cousin visiting from Nottingham."
"For God's sake, Annie – you've got to be more careful. She'll suspect – "
"She'll suspect I've got a lover; so let her. She's got one herself," the girl adds, smiling a little. Then she frowns and points to the axe on the floor.
"What are you doing with that?"
A string of curses races through Guy's mind. "Look, I thought that if the soldiers came – "
"Wait." She narrows her eyes at him. "You thought I might lead them here?"
He didn't expect her to be so quick-witted; caught off-guard, he's left stammering something not very coherent. Annie shakes her head.
"Because of…" Mercifully, she doesn't finish, only shakes her head again. "I would not do that to you," she says quietly, then looks down, clasping and unclasping her hands, smoothing her skirt. There is obviously something else that she cannot get out, and it's making him want to jump out of his skin. She comes closer and finally speaks.
"Sir Guy… I know it's not my place to forgive you for your sins against – anyone else. That is for God alone. But I wanted to tell you I've forgiven you for any wrongs you may have done me. And…" she looks down, blushing a little. "I do not believe you are a wicked man. I have faith in you."
So did she. He does not say it out loud; his throat is too tight to say anything.
"I know this cannot mean very much to you," she continues. "But – "
"It does," he says. "It means very much," and, in a rush of gratitude, he takes her hand and kisses it. "Thank you, Annie."
She looks flustered, obviously not used to such gallantries. And then something else happens: her fingers are curling around his and squeezing lightly.
He is much too shocked to ask her what she thinks she's doing. What she's doing, actually, is lifting his hand to her mouth and kissing his palm. He feels the warm softness of her lips on his skin, the wet flick of her tongue; that finally snaps him out of it, and he pulls his hand back as if bitten.
"Annie – what in the – "
The girl silences him with a finger at his lips and moves still closer, standing between his knees, leaving him no route of escape whatsoever. She strokes his face and sinks her fingers into his hair, and murmurs softly, "It must be a long time since you've felt a woman's touch."
Suddenly, he has a vivid memory of her standing between his knees like this, her fingers laced through his hair – both of them naked in his bedchamber at Nottingham Castle, his mouth on her breasts and his hands on her bottom, Annie gasping and telling him to stop or he'd make her late for work at the kitchen. Unfortunately, her well-meaning words also evoke far more recent things: Marian's kisses, Meg dying in his arms – and, from the realm of the unspeakable, the last time he was actually in bed with a woman. It was soon after Acre, when Vasey thrust a red-headed little whore at him to take upstairs ("Oh, do quit moping, Gisborne! Go have some fun, unless you've gone limp and useless in even more ways than I thought"); he'd had quite a bit of drink in him by then, and after the whore gave up her vain attempts to rouse him to life he capped this disaster by leaning over the side of the bed and vomiting.
He shudders at the thought of that, and Annie asks, sliding her palm over his cheek, "What's the matter?"
He clasps her wrists, holding her hands in place. "This isn't right."
"I do not love you, for one."
"I know," she says. "I'm not asking you to marry me."
"Annie," he says again, but she leans down and cuts him off with a kiss.
To his shock, his body responds to her. Ever since that day, carnal desires have been the stuff of dreams – dreams in which Marian's warm supple body turns into a bleeding broken corpse in his arms, or half-decayed worm-eaten flesh; the sort of thing that would turn the most dissipated rake into a monk. But now, as the girl's tongue moves softly between his lips and inside his mouth, he finds himself moaning into her kiss, his breath quickening at the hot stab of an almost forgotten ache. She pulls away and looks at him; the late afternoon sun is shining in her hair, and her pretty but ordinary face could almost be beautiful now, transformed as it is by tenderness.
He clears his throat. "Annie – we cannot do this."
The girl lowers herself until she is straddling his knees, winds her arms around his neck. "It isn't anything we haven't done before," she says. "It was nice, what we had, wasn't it?"
What did they have? She was very willing, once she got past her shyness, very keen to please, and very much in awe of him; and perhaps, apart from the basic business of bedding a woman, her affectionate ways and her artless delight in the smallest kindnesses on his part occasionally made things a little more tolerable at the end of the day.
None of that matters now. He's not sure he can explain that this would be a final betrayal of Marian, not just a common infidelity but far worse, taking his pleasure with a woman after he has destroyed the one he loved. Instead he says, moving away from her kiss, "How can you want to lie with me when you know what things I have done?"
Her breath is warm on his lips. "You're the father of my child. How do you think I would feel – if you were someone whose touch should disgust me?"
She kisses him again, and Guy cannot help but kiss her back and slide his arms around her. He tries to protest, but she says, "Be quiet," and presses down until she has him on his back. He is still thinking that he needs to stop this when she pushes his shirt open, and bloody hell, she is stroking his chest and sucking on his nipple and it feels so good, so goddamned good, so much better than he has any right to feel.
"Oh, you are such a beautiful man," Annie mutters, kissing his chest, diving down to kiss his stomach. Half-stifling a moan, he bucks toward her and clutches at her hair; this is wrong, wrong, wrong, but his body stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that. Small tendrils of fire are snaking under his skin. He is so hard that it hurts, and when the girl makes to unfasten his breeches he hisses with relief.
She reaches up again to kiss his mouth, then cups his face and covers it with small warm kisses, nuzzles his neck, nips lightly on his earlobe. The fight lost, he is no longer resisting the sensations this sets off. He kicks his pants to the floor, helps Annie peel off her blouse and skirt and the white shift underneath, greedily caresses her bared breasts with hands and mouth. The girl is mewling with pleasure, squirming and rocking back and forth; he slides a hand between her thighs to stroke her there, and she is already in such a state that she cries out and convulses against him almost at once.
His body craves release, and at the touch of her hand he is again lost to sensation; but when Annie straddles him with very obvious intent, he recovers his wits enough to hold her back.
"Annie. Annie, wait," he says, gritting his teeth. "Annie. I cannot – goddamn it, I would not get you with child again – "
"You would not," she says; "'tis a safe time of the moon for me."
He does not quite share her confidence, though he has little knowledge of these things. His own need, however, is too urgent, and she is hot and wet and it's too much; he shudders and makes a guttural sound as the girl slides down, taking him inside her. She leans forward, her breasts brushing over his chest, and wrapping his arms around her he groans, "Sweet God in heaven – Annie – you are so good to me – "
She is moving on top of him, her inner muscles clenching around him, and the aching heat starts to spiral outward, spreading to his limbs, searing his skin. It is sheer bliss; and yet with it there is something else, a fear that stirs slowly inside him and starts to rise and grow. For he is quickly losing control; it feels as if there were something coming apart inside him, some wall breaking down, and there is safety in walls. He feels helpless. That the girl is being so tender as she kisses his lips and cradles his face, and mutters gentle endearments, makes it worse.
"Stop." His voice is gruff from the effort, his body shuddering with tension as his hands close around her wrists.
"What's wrong?" she breathes out. Without another word, he flips her over so that he's on top of her, pinning her arms over her head as he thrusts inside her, grunting, his eyes screwed shut.
"Guy," she whimpers. "Guy."
He flinches and opens his eyes and sees her under him, her eyes wide and scared and brimming with tears. "Guy, you're hurting me."
He is not sure if she means his grip on her wrists, or the way he's slamming into her, or both; all he knows is that shame knots in his chest and becomes a hard lump in his throat. He lets go of her arms and starts to raise himself up.
"I told you we should not have done this," he says, his breath ragged. Yet, as he makes to pull away, the girl shakes her head and locks her legs around him.
"No," she says. "No, go on."
"Annie – "
"Please." She runs her hands over his back, tangles her fingers in his hair. "I know you didn't mean to. It's all right, it is." She reaches up to kiss him. "Please," she says, and arches her hips into him, driving him deeper inside. She lifts a hand to his cheek, wipes beads of sweat off his forehead, smiling even though tears still glitter in her eyes.
The fever in him is rising again, higher and hotter and past all self-possession, and the wall does break; the sounds forced from his throat are now more like sobs than groans of pleasure, and as long spasms start to rack his body he touches the girl's face and kisses her with such abandon as if she were his beloved. Afterwards, he buries his face in her hair and whispers, his shoulders shaking, "God, I am so sorry… I am so sorry…"
~ x ~ x ~ x
This time, Marian is alive and smiling and Acre was just a dream; except that, even as it happens, he knows this is the dream and the other thing is real.
When he opens his eyes, Annie is watching him, and he wonders uneasily what he has said in his sleep. Her eyes are bright, her lips swollen from his kisses. She leans in to kiss him again with that shy, sweet smile of hers, and he absently puts an arm around her shoulders. She is sprawled half on top of him, in a bed that is definitely too small for two; the woolen blanket she's pulled over them prickles, and their bodies are sticky with sweat. This, Guy reflects with an odd calm, is very likely the last time he lies with a woman.
"You know what I think?" the girl says, running an idle fingertip over his chest.
He snorts softly. "I am not very good at knowing what people think."
"You know – I'm sure that – the Lady Marian has forgiven you t- "
She is cut off in mid-word when he turns his head and looks at her. His temples are throbbing; his impulse is to crush her face between his hands and yell, Do not EVER speak her name to me again! It is only the memory of the girl's hurt and frightened look before that makes him hold himself in check. All he says, quietly, is, "Do not speak of this."
She still looks hurt, and does not speak a word as she rolls off the bed and starts slipping on her shift. Guy drops back on the pillow and stares into the low grimy ceiling. It would be easier to go completely mad. In the next instant he realizes he has muttered it out loud.
With a sigh, he gets out of bed and pulls on his breeches. Annie still has her back to him as she fastens her skirt; he comes up behind her and puts his hands on her bare arms.
"Annie. I did not mean to treat you ill."
"No matter." She steps away, bends down to pick up her blouse and briskly slaps some dirt off the embroidered fabric. "I should've remembered men of your position owe no courtesies to girls like me."
"My position?" he says with bitter amusement. "I am an outlaw. I think that yours is the higher position at present."
The girl huffs ungraciously and shrugs into her blouse, but when she turns around her expression has softened.
"We shouldn't be quarreling," she says, taking Guy's hands, her fingers twining with his. The rush of gratitude he felt before wells up once more; cupping her face, he traces his thumb over her cheek and then brings his mouth down to hers and kisses her slowly and tenderly. When he breaks away and Annie's eyes flutter open, there is a trace of the old, almost worshipful adoration in her gaze. It twists at his heart, not in a good way. It is worse yet when she murmurs, "Will you stay the night?"
He slides his hands down to her shoulders and shakes his head. "You know I cannot. The danger is too great; you've taken enough risks already."
He glances at the window. The sun is low, the sky streaked with wisps of clouds and painted in soft blue and pink.
"It will be nightfall soon," he says.
~ x ~ x ~ x
It turns out that Annie has brought back more food from the manor – smoked beef, bread, cheese, some pies, fruit, a flagon of wine, a veritable feast compared to what he's had the last few days. Guy asks her to eat with him, but she grabs only an apple and excuses herself for another run to the mistress's house, first making him promise not to leave before she's back. Much as he relishes the food and drink, the girl's comings and goings still nudge awake a lingering unease. He isn't sure what frightens him more, her apparent devotion or the not-quite-forgotten risk of betrayal.
When he hears her step and the creaking of the front door, he suddenly knows exactly why she went out, and punches his palm in exasperation. And sure enough, when she pushes open the door into his room, she is carrying in her arms a small dark-haired child in a blue shirt.
"This is Seth." She smiles timidly. "Don't be angry. I know what you said. I just didn't think it was right, for you to leave like that without – "
"It's all right."
She comes closer and sits on the chair, holding the boy in her lap. He stirs and rubs his eyes with balled-up little fists. "He was napping," Annie explains, "tired from running around with the other kids in the yard at the manor all day." She strokes the boy's curly hair, bends down to kiss his forehead. "Come on, Seth. Say hello."
The boy turns and looks at him with big grave eyes; blue, she said, though they look gray in the falling dusk. Guy tries to feel something; under the circumstances, feeling something is probably not a good idea, but still, he tries. There is nothing. My son, he says in his head, repeats it twice more. Nothing.
The boy cocks his head curiously and says, "Daddy?"
Now he feels something; he feels as if he's been punched very hard in the stomach, then dumped into an ice-cold bath followed by a blast from a furnace. As he tries to recover his breath, the girl stammers, "Oh, Lord Jesus. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I should have – " she rubs her face and shakes her head in what looks like sincere dismay. "He's said that to other men too, thinking they might be his daddy."
Luckily, Guy's state of speechless shock gives him enough time to bite back the first words that spring to his mind: You mean, other men he finds on his mother's bed. There really isn't any reason he should care, and yet, foolishly, he wants to believe that what happened between them here is not something she does with any man who'll bother to tumble her. Perhaps guessing his thoughts, Annie gives him a blushing look. "He said it to a peddler that was passing through last week, and before that to the physician Lady Glasson sent over when he took ill." Then, to the boy, "This is a friend."
The boy mutters a hello, and something that sounds like "pleasant"; Annie taps him on the wrist with her finger. "He didn't bring you a present, you naughty boy; you know it isn't nice to ask." To Guy, she says uncertainly, "Would you like to hold him?"
No, he wouldn't like to hold him at all, but it won't do to say no, and so the child is transferred to Guy's lap and he gingerly puts his hands on the small body, as if holding something either very fragile or very dangerous. Maybe "dangerous" is right, because at once he is ducking a finger about to jab him in the eye, and then two little hands clutch at his hair and yank hard enough to make him draw in a sharp breath. He still feels nothing, other than the sting in his scalp and irritation at being so manhandled, and the aftershock of the child's first salutation.
"Be nice," Annie says, and the boy settles down and directs his attention to the collar of Guy's shirt, wriggling his fingers through the buttonholes. Guy wonders how much longer he'll have to submit to this. Then, the child looks up and gives him a big grin; and, at that angle and in that fading light, something about that smile, those eyes, that face makes him see his sister as she was about that age. Blast it all to hell, thoughts of Isabella in any shape or form should be the last thing to make him feel sentimental right now. And yet – and yet, his heart is beating faster and the breath catches in his throat.
"Come on," Annie says, lightly poking the boy in the side, "give our friend a kiss." The child stands up, still clutching at Guy's collar, leans forward awkwardly and smacks his mouth a hair's breadth away from Guy's cheek, then bumps his puckered lips against the stubbly skin. Annie laughs and pats his back. "'That's how he does it; he hasn't learned to kiss properly yet."
Guy makes an inarticulate sound of assent; at last, he works up the courage to wind an arm around the child and draw him close. With his free hand he strokes the dark curly head. Then he presses his lips to the boy's forehead, with such trepidation as if it might sprout a pair of horns at his touch. He glances at Annie; she is smiling, and he tries to smile back.
The boy burbles something Guy can't quite make out. "He asks if you'll play with him," Annie explains. "No, he cannot play with you" – she picks up the boy and rises from the chair with an "oof" of exertion – "he must leave and you must sleep. You're played out enough for today. Say goodnight. I'll just put him down on the cot in the other room and be back."
The boy waves his hand with a mumbled "'night," and Annie walks off, leaving Guy to deal with the jumble that is his mind. He rises from the bed; his instinct is to pace, but there is no room for that here, and all he can do is rub the bridge of his nose as if it will help sort things out inside his head. The idea of his son suddenly feels more real, though he still hasn't the foggiest notion of what to do with this idea.
The girl returns carrying something long wrapped in burlap cloth, and when she unwraps it Guy gets his second shock of the evening. It's a sword, with a sheath and a strap; not a particularly elegant one, more something that a common soldier would carry, but a sword nonetheless.
He grabs her arm so roughly that she squeaks. "Goddamn it, do not tell me you stole this for me!"
"I didn't want you going out there unarmed," she says in a bright half-whisper. "I didn't steal it. Remember my friend – Ben Walston, the old steward? Well, he went to war with the late master years ago, and this used to be his – "
"And you expect me to believe he simply gave it to you."
"I told him I've got a cousin who wants to go to war in the Holy Land and hasn't got the money for a sword," she says matter-of-factly.
"Annie!" Guy clenches his fists and groans. "Are you trying to get yourself hanged?"
"You shouldn't worry so much," the girl says. "Ben wouldn't give me away even if he knew. I told you, I'm like a daughter to that man. And besides," she adds, "when he heard of what you did in the church, he said it was a pity you didn't have better aim."
"There is nothing wrong with my aim!" Guy says hotly. "If my sister and Hood had not gotten in the way – "
He sees amusement in her eyes at his affronted look and stops, feeling foolish. Then he takes the sword from her with a curt murmur of thanks. Anything that raises his odds of survival has to be a good thing.
~ x ~ x ~ x
When night has blanketed the village, Annie shows Guy out of the house. The sword is at his side, and she has pressed into his hands a small satchel with food. Already at the door, he pauses to glance at the sleeping form of the boy who lies curled up on a tiny cot by the wall.
In the weak light of a clouded half-moon, they soon reach the path that brought them here. Annie has already explained the best way to get to Sherwood Forest; she repeats it again in an agitated whisper.
Guy stops by the edge of some trees and puts his hands on Annie's arms. "You must go back." She nods silently, and he adds, "I can never thank you enough." It is usually an empty phrase, but never truer than now.
"Just be careful." After a pause, she asks, her voice suddenly ringing with emotion, "What will you do?"
"I don't know yet." Then he says, more emphatically, "Annie, do not ever try to find out anything about me. You have not seen me or talked to me since you left Nottingham Castle two years ago. Remember."
"I know." Her voice quavers with tears.
"Take good care of – Seth."
They kiss good-bye. The girl's face is damp and her lips have a salty taste. A part of him wonders if she'll weep for him when he is dead, not so much a thought as a flicker somewhere on the edge of awareness.
"May God and his angels watch over you," she says.
Guy is fairly convinced that God and his angels have better things to do, but he says only, "Thank you," and, touching his lips to hers one last time, turns and starts to walk away.
He has walked no more than fifty paces when something stops him in his tracks. He spins around, peering into the night; but the moon is almost gone, and he cannot tell whether she is still under the trees or not.
"Annie!" he shouts at the top of his voice. He is walking back, then running and nearly falling as he trips on a large pebble. "Annie!"
She steps out of the deep shadows and he barely avoids crashing into her.
"What's the matter?" She sounds worried but, perhaps, also a little glad. He clutches her shoulders, breathing hard.
"Annie – listen to me – "
"Yes?" He can only see the contours of her face in the darkness, and the faint glimmer of her eyes.
"If I am somehow able to set this right – I mean that if I get out of it alive, and clear my name – there isn't much hope of that, but if it should happen – I promise I will do it."
"Do what?" she asks, puzzled; in his agitation, he has left out the most important part.
"I will acknowledge Seth," Guy blurts out, and then adds, "as my son," as though there were other options. "And I'll provide for him. For you – for both of you. It isn't much of a chance, Annie. But it is a promise."
Annie nods. "You are very kind."
She holds his hands between hers for a moment, then lets go; and this time, when Guy walks away toward Sherwood Forest, he does not look back.
Notes: I was inspired to write this story after watching Episode 4 of Season 1, "Parent Hood," which features the incident with Annie and the baby. By then I had already seen most of Season 3 and Guy of Gisborne's redemption arc, and I thought it would be interesting to fit Annie and Guy's son into that. My curiosity was piqued, in particular, by the fact that while Guy is not a nice person at all in 1 x 04, Annie does say that "he has a different side" – in fact, she is the first person to mention this fact. I also found it hard to believe that Guy actually knowingly left the baby in the woods to die; while Guy does some pretty cruel things over the course of the show, this just doesn't seem like him. From all these reflections, "A Different Side" was born.