A/N: This is an AU. I left details and circumstances intentionally vague, but I'm sure you'll be able to figure out the gist of things.


The manor was in chaos.

Broad daylight washed the house with dust. The floors were filthy – running red and black with blood old and new. She stepped carefully.

Thornton met her path, and exclaimed, "Milady!" while she stared at him, speechless, her eyes saying everything. The squire remembered to bow. It was a ridiculous gesture in the smoke that still hung in the air, in the stench and shouting. Thornton began to tell her about the fire, about the sheriff, but his words met her ears in a puzzle she couldn't sort out, until he mentioned the outlaws, and she blurted, "Robin is here?"

The squire nodded and glanced up. She walked past him, up the stairs, where the smoke was thicker and stole the moisture from her throat and eyes. She held a hand to her mouth. First landing, second set of stairs. Up and up.

Her feet led her to the bedchamber, to all the nights she would spend at her husband's side, feeling his eyes on her, hearing his careful words as he tried, so softly, to bind the old wounds he'd given her, the wounds she had long ago forgiven – the room was badly damaged. The linens were a half-charred mess, the ceiling blackened. She saw one of her burned dresses on the floor and picked it up to find that it was still warm to the touch. She began to cough, and dropped the dress to lean out the window, where she saw more ruin. Villagers were huddled on the grass, and she could see two bodies. A woman, a man. The keening wail of grief rose up to the window, and she pulled away, giving the room one last look before going back into the hall.

Her cough followed her. She struggled to swallow, and tried to call to Robin but his name came out a hoarse whisper. She searched the upper rooms until at last she saw him, kneeling there on the soot-covered floor, supporting himself with his bow. He was staring at something across the room, and turned to her when she entered.

She opened her mouth, and found she could only stare.

Robin caught her up in a tight embrace, half-turning her as he did so, but she fought it, and pushed until he let go.

She had seen the body in the corner. Black, black like the air and the walls.

"What -"

Her throat seized. She could say no more. She felt Robin move behind her.

"Marian. I'm sorry – Vasey set fire to the grain stores, and it spread so quickly...the villagers acted quickly, though. Most of the structures are still sound. We can -"

"How did he..." She turned her body toward Robin, but could not shift her gaze. "Why didn't he flee? He had to have seen the smoke, he would have heard the commotion and gone down to see. Why is he here?"

She was breathless. Her knees went weak and she stumbled to keep herself upright. One foot tried to take her to the body – the other refused to move. A hand came down on her shoulder.

"I came inside to make sure the house was clear of people. He saw me, and followed. I did what I had to."

She heard the flatness in his voice more than his words. She lifted a hand in a confused gesture, let it drift there in the space between herself and Robin, and finally had to look at him.

"He tried to kill you."

Robin's mouth was a hard line.

"No. But he was going to."

"Robin!" she cried, and her eyes filled so fiercely with tears that she couldn't begin to stop them from falling. He reared back in surprise. He gripped her by the arms.

"Marian, he had to be stopped! I was protecting you. I was saving you-"

His eyes bored into hers. She felt herself trembling, and felt her grief grow so heavy that it bowed her head and brought her to her knees.

Senseless words came to her lips – she was conscious only of the fire's heat that still ghosted the floor under her hands. Ash swept into her mouth with every shuddering gasp. She wept but still did not entirely believe. She struggled to her feet, and tripped and collapsed onto the body, which rolled under her weight.

Her husband's face was pale beneath all the soot. His eyes were half-open. She touched his cheek, the same careful touch she'd given him for nearly a year, a touch to persuade and convince and promise, the touch that always broke his anger, always softened his mouth and brought out a smile. The touch that he had learned to trust. She felt his skin beneath her fingertips. Cold.

A thousand denials sprung into her throat, but he heard none of them, he who had never refused her before.

She clung to him. Robin was forgotten.


She shook her head.

"Marian, I thought this was what you wanted. You are free. You are free."

She cried harder into the curve of her husband's neck, the place where she had learned contentment if not happiness. The place that now smelled of blood and smoke. The place she could not now abandon.

She wept.

The shadows lengthened. Robin had gone. Marian slowly, stiffly rose and went to the window where she watched the village men work at clearing out whatever the fire had damaged. She sat on the sill, exhausted, until the sun nearly touched the horizon.

Guy's body was at her back, a constant, aching presence. She turned. Hazy shadow blanketed his form. She went back to his side and gave in to the urge to hold his hand, and to press a kiss to that cold skin.

And though he did not stir, and though she knew he could not feel her touch, she wanted to assure him that she was there; for he had often feared of her leaving, and she did not want him to be afraid anymore.