"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13
And One: Raid
"I haven't all day, Hood. We both know which decision you're going to make so you might as well make it." The Sheriff sounded crankier than usual, which meant he was itching for a fight. Well, good. Robin was itching for one, too.
There really was only one choice. There were men who had Locksley surrounded, poised next to bonfires so they could burn down the village. And then there was Much, looking oddly small on the gallows, bruises on his face and back standing stark against white, white skin.
Little explanation existed. They'd gone into the castle a week ago because it was due course – they ended up there once a week anyway. They'd gotten good at hiding and fighting their way out. But then Robin had been spotted and Much turned at the last second, jumping on the guard's back. "Run!"
What could Robin do? He ran, vowing over his shoulder that he would be back. Much shrugged, allowed himself to be dragged away. He knew Robin would save him. And Robin knew that no amount of torture would make Much give up their hiding spot.
"Why are you doing this?" Marian asked, materializing at Guy's side and glaring at the Sheriff. "Neither Much nor Locksley has done anything wrong."
"But Robin Hood has and he cares for both. I just like seeing him suffer." The Sheriff shrugged, eyes gleaming. "Now, Robin, let's get this straight. You choose your servant to live and you'll be killing at least a dozen other people. You choose the town, I give you my word -"
"I'm not being funny, but I don't think his word counts for much." Allan said, loud enough for his voice to carry across the courtyard. Even Much, standing with his neck nearly in the noose, cracked a smile.
"My word." The Sheriff repeated, "That you and the rest of your gang will leave Nottingham unharmed. For today." The Sherriff sighed, tapping his fingers impatiently against the rail. "This is a lesson, Hood. Those you love are going to suffer for your crimes. If I can't get to you any other way, at least I'll make people distrust you."
There was only one choice, just as the Sheriff had planned from the beginning. He couldn't condemn the people of Locksley to death, not when there may be women and children stuck in the houses that would burst into flame at a single order. But Much…
"Much…" Robin's voice cracked, broke right down the middle. Just like his heart. "Much…"
"We can get out of this, Robin." Little John was saying in his ear. "There's only fifteen men. I can take five, you can take four. If Will, Alan, and Djaq all took two…"
"No." Robin said, his voice still quivering. "No, he'll give the order to burn Locksley if we do anything."
"I hate to say it, Robin, you know I do." It was Will, piping up as the voice of reason, "But…you know…the good of the many outweighs the good of the few."
"Or the one." Djaq murmured.
"Tell that to Much." Robin snapped, fists clenching. He knew all that, he knew about being a commander and going down the path that killed the fewest people. But he'd known Much longer than he'd known anyone. Longer than Marian. Much had followed him into battle, had risked life and limb and flesh and body to save him from the brink of death. He'd followed Robin into the forest as an outlaw. He'd followed Robin into crusade after crusade against the Sheriff.
And now he was standing there, letting Robin kill him.
"I'm so sorry Much." Robin was across the courtyard, but that wasn't far enough away to miss the hurt, pain, betrayal that flickered across Much's face for an instant before it was smooth, almost serene.
"It's alright, Master." Much sighed, looking down at his bound hands before jerking his head up to meet Robin's gaze head-on. "I always knew you would kill me."
"That's not funny."
"You never thought I was funny, Master."
"Call me Robin, Much, I've been telling you that for a year."
"You'll always be my Master. You know that." Why was the banter so easy now? Why was it always at the last moment that people realize they had a hundred, a thousand things to say? "I never got my Bonchurch, you know."
Robin let out shaky, slightly deranged laughter. There were a thousand things he needed to tell Much, a thousand apologies to give, a thousand debts of gratitude to make up. And now…now tears were coming to his eyes at the thought that, in a few minutes, Much wouldn't be there anymore. Much was a part of Robin, a remnant of the old Locksley and the old ways before corruption became the natural course.
"You'll get your Bonchurch, Much. I can't think of anyone who deserves it more."
The Sheriff, who had, admittedly been quite patient throughout the tearful goodbyes, waved his hand now, cocking an eyebrow at Robin. "He's just a servant, man."
"He's not." There was steel in Robin's voice and his fists clenched. The Sheriff had no idea. None of them had any idea the lengths to which Much had gone for his master, for Robin, who was forever hurting him by putting him smack in the middle of dangerous situations. Like this one.
Now Much was seeking out another face in the crowd, just as the sack was about to be slipped over his head. His eyes alighted on Little John and he held the big man's gaze. "Look after him, John. He needs someone to take care of him."
"Mother hen." Robin said, crying in earnest now. The good of the many be damned, in a second he was going to call the whole thing off. Locksley may burn and it may not. Much would die. Period.
"Reckless idiot." Much's words were muffled by the bag, by the noose being tightened around his neck.
Allan pressed close to Robin. "Mate, we're not going to let him…I mean…it's Much…" For his part Allan A Dell's eyes were not wet, but they were bright with an animal need to move, to act, to do something. "We can cut him down like you did for us at the beginning."
"Allan." Will grabbed Allan's shoulder, shook him roughly and whispered words that Robin was obviously not supposed to hear. He heard, anyway. "Don't make this harder for him…"
For a moment, Robin contemplated turning around. The thought of facing Much's swinging body, of hearing that awful crack as the neck snapped, chilled Robin to his very core.
But he'd caused this. He'd led Much on so many dangerous escapades that one was bound to catch up to them. And Much had always warned, had always expressed his many valid concerns, poking holes all over Robin's dangerous plans. And Robin always went ahead with them anyway.
Here was his lesson, his cross to bear. He was Robin Hood, who'd saved the king in the Holy Lands, who'd become the hero of folk lore throughout all of England. He was Robin Hood, who let the most brave and noble man he'd ever met swing for his mistakes.
So he turned and watched, the tears now obscuring his vision so much it almost made it impossible to see. Almost. There was the familiar beat of the drums, the familiar, collective intake of breath from the crowd as the executioner reached for his terrible lever. In an instant it was pulled. And Robin did look away, but not before he saw the swinging body, heard the snap of the neck.
Then he locked eyes with the Sheriff. If his heart hadn't shattered into pieces just seconds earlier, he would have felt some sense of accomplishment when the Sheriff stumbled back from the venom, the hatred in his eyes. But now he just couldn't bring himself to care. The Sheriff had taken his Much from him.
The world was gray.
Okay, that was obviously AU (as Marian lives and Much does not. That's just wrong) but that was surprisingly fun to write. Happy Thanksgiving to all my US friends, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to the rest of the world.
And, for the last time, please review.