Disclaimer: What's that I hear? These characters don't belong to me, you say? Well I must admit, that is shocking to me. Well played, rich Hollywood people, well played (though technically only Wulf and Fanny belong to you so nyah-nyah!)
A/N: So this is a sort of related piece to my multi-chapter RH fic whose title shall not be mentioned here because I intend to change it just as soon as I come up with a better one. If you're reading this, chances are you've already seen the one I mean (Okay, it's called 'Daring To Believe' but I need a new title for it cos it doesn't really fit). It was intended to be a short one-shot relating to a line in chapter 5 of that fic but you don't by any means need to have read it to understand. In fact, the reference to DTB is so minimal that you'll probably miss it. It was honestly just going to be about that one line but then I started writing it and it turned into this instead, the reference is still there, just with a lot of other stuff too. I know a few people have commented to me that Will and Wulf aren't friends in the movie, which is a fair point but I like to think they are/were at some point and hopefully it's believable the way I write it – I'm not saying they were BFF or anything, but as far as I can tell, Will seems the closest in age to Wulf so it does kind of fit they'd get along better than Wulf and the others. As with chapter 5 of DTB, I'm not sure whether Wulf is maybe a bit young for his age in this, I actually think he comes across as too young AND too old in it so apologies for that but I really tried! I may have screwed with Will and John's relationship too. Oops.
So this is the bit that is actually related to the story (if you read all that stuff above), this is set before Robin joins them. My thinking is that this is set not long after Wulf joins the Men of the Woods, so he's 10 or 11(ish). Also for anyone who feels that Will is OOC in his view of their life at the end because he's so set against trying to change it in the movie, I thought I'd add just that little bit more inner conflict Will's feelings for Robin (i.e. Robin is doing what Will wants to be done, but he can't be happy about it because it's Robin.)
"Did Father thrash you?"
"What?" It came out harsher than he had meant it to. The little boy didn't seem to mind though; he scrambled down the muddy bank and sat down next to Will. Will's eyes shifted to the boy's reflection in the eddying water at his feet, took note of the bloody rag tied about his hand and the dried blood in his hair. For a few moments there was quiet, broken only by soft splashes from the boy's occasionally throwing stones into the water. "Yes." He muttered finally.
"Why?" Wulf paused in his skimming rocks off the water and turned to face the man. Will paused, biting back the harsh comment that would tell the boy to mind his own business. Apparently, he paused a little too long as Wulf continued in a smaller voice: "Was it because I nearly got caught?"
Will scoffed darkly. "Nearly?" Raising his eyes from the stream, he finally met the boy's gaze. "Nearly? Wulf, it was not nearly! You did get caught! You could have been killed. You could have been killed and I, we –" He broke off, his jaw clenching angrily and glared unseeingly into the waters.
"Why didn't you just do as you were told? Just…just stay put and hide!"
"Will, I was just trying to help!"
"Well, you DIDN'T!"
They both stopped, Wulf's face flushed angrily and his eyes welled with tears; Will looked pale and drawn underneath purpling bruises and blood-matted hair. Wulf slumped down onto the rock again, looking utterly miserable. Again, an uncomfortable silence ensued, Will's anger seemed to radiate off him as his jaw continued to work furiously. He returned to his original task of attempting to wash the blood off his face, wincing as he caught a particularly painful bruise ('Thank you, John.') Wulf sniffled quietly and peered at him from behind matted bangs every now and then.
"I know." Will murmured quietly, when he had managed to slough most of the blood and grime from his face. Wulf peered up at him, smiling hopefully and Will found himself grinning ruefully back and ruffling the boy's hair. He truly did know. Even if Wulf had stayed put, with as many soldiers as there had been, he most likely would have been caught or trampled underfoot anyway. And he had been trying to help; scaring the deer from its hiding place would have saved time if it hadn't also attracted the attention of Gisbourne and his men. Will and the other men had been wrong when they'd assumed the soldiers' fear of the forest 'ghosts' outweighed their fear of Gisbourne and his cousin.
It was lucky that there had been so many others out with them, Will and Bull would never have been able to defeat so many of Gisbourne's soldiers alone and Wulf would have been lost. As it was, Wulf had been grabbed up by one of the men before Will and the others even realised they were there. They were equally fortunate that Gisbourne had decided to try to take them alive that day, had the soldiers been fighting to kill, Will doubted any of them would have come back at all. As it was, they had all made it back - battered, bruised and without their prize - but at least they were alive and that was something in itself! Upon seeing the state his son was in though, John had not been so enthusiastic.
It had been a long while since Will recalled seeing John in such a fury, particularly directed at him. He noted dejectedly that, man as he was, John could still bat away any move Will made to defend himself against the onslaught of fists and sticks as if he were no bigger than Wulf. It didn't frighten him exactly, but it was…humbling, especially in front of the other men, not to mention Wulf. It hadn't been the most painful thrashing he had ever experienced (and he had experienced many) but the suddenness and unexpected violence of it had certainly left an impression. More than one, he thought woefully as his lip began to bleed again. John had made it clear (as if Will had ever been in any doubt) that whenever Wulf went out with the men without John, it was Will's responsibility to keep him as safe as possible. So he had expected the irate reprimand but not the starry-vision inducing beating that accompanied it. It had been a while since Will Scarlett had found himself helpless in a fight.
Attempting to shrug off the foul mood threatening to descend upon him, Will leant forward as if to wash his face, instead throwing a handful of water at his young friend's face. Shrieking indignantly, Wulf retaliated and a brief but vicious water fight ensued, ending with Will throwing Wulf over his shoulder and dumping him unceremoniously into the stream. Grinning at the sputtering child, Will reached out a calloused hand to pull him up.
"My, but you are a sight, Wulf Little." He commented teasingly, chuckling pitilessly as the boy shot him a glare. "What would your mother say?" Taking the proffered hand, Wulf smirked wickedly.
"Maybe you should worry about what my father will say." The effect upon his friend was instantaneous. Will's face hardened at once and he released Wulf's hand, watching him fall hard back into the water with a surprised "Ah!"
More men joined them that evening; they hadn't come from their own village but were still known to a few of the other men. Wulf listened proudly from his perch in a tree as his father told the newcomers of their lives in the woods, how it was to be away from the taxman and the Sherriff. He had heard the speech umpteen times now but hearing it still comforted him, as it seemed to do with all the other men. He noticed Will sauntering up to the assembled group, jerking his head in greeting when John glanced his way, John returning the gesture. He wondered whether his father and Will had spoken to one another since they had returned to the camp. Although they returned separately, (Will had strode on ahead, apparently not caring whether Wulf was with him or not), Wulf had noticed that Will made himself scarce when John began questioning his son over his soaking wet state. He hadn't exactly lied, when he said he fell in the stream; and it wasn't so much because he didn't want his father to wallop Will for turning on him like that but he was bored back at camp and he didn't want his friend to be mad at him any longer. And maybe he did feel a little guilty for teasing his proud friend who, in all fairness, could stand against any other man in camp except Wulf's father. Wulf had never met anyone who could beat his father. He imagined that losing to John in front of so many other men must have left Will sore in more ways than one.
Will eased himself down onto a log across the fire from Wulf's perch slowly and with exaggerated care. Wulf wondered if it was from pain or the desire to draw as little attention to himself as possible. He didn't speak, just sat and listened as John and the others boasted the delights of living in Sherwood, it wasn't unusual but Wulf thought his friend looked troubled, not upset or angry exactly, just…troubled, every so often he'd dart reproachful looks at the speakers, occasionally a concerned one to Wulf. After a while, Wulf captured his glance and his eyes lingered on him, holding his gaze. Encouraged, Wulf grinned and stuck his tongue out. Will's eyebrow quirked arrogantly, the effect ruined by the resigned smile working its way across his face. Fight resolved, Will's attention turned back to the conversation and Wulf's to people watching.
Later that night, John called for mead to be shared around, to the gleeful shouts of the men. Much brought forth two flagons, raised triumphantly in the air. He lowered one to Bull then turned his eyes on John in silent question. John flicked his eyes and cocked his head pointedly at Will, who sat looking unseeingly into the fire. He sniggered good-naturedly as Much shoved the bottle into Will's hands almost knocking him off his seat. Will turned startled eyes upon the bottle, then Much and finally upon John who nodded at him once. Will seemed to consider for a moment, then smiled ruefully back before upending the bottle and downing his share in one to whoops and cheers of approval from the others.
"You shouldn't do that, John," Will declared confidently, sitting down rather more heavily than he intended and reaching out an arm to John's shoulder to steady himself. John made no answer, knowing the young man was either about to pick a fight or pass out and would need no assistance from him to do either. As he suspected, Will continued haltingly, his words slightly slurred. "You…you should not tell them, that it's like that…because, because it's not!" There was a pause, where John turned to him and Will confidently looked at…something over John's shoulder. "Living out here." Will supplied suddenly, in case John was unaware of the subject of their conversation. John raised his brows expectantly, inviting him to continue. Scarlett's confident façade seemed to falter as he realised John expected him to justify his claims. His eyes darted about, looking for inspiration. Gesturing around them, the boy continued. "It isn't always like this, drinking and eating good meat…and, and laughing and drinking! It is not always warm like this. We don't always all escape when…when Gisbourne's men come after us." Here, John scowled and Will had the good sense to look away guiltily. There was a long pause before Will spoke again, sounding more alert and less slurred. "I would always have saved him, John…I would." Quiet. Determined. Ruined quite a bit by the way the young man suddenly lurched forward and started retching.
"I know." John didn't know. He was fairly certain he'd try, but at times Will displayed an alarming attitude of 'every man for himself' that didn't bode well for the men as a group. But, the young man was clearly drunk and John didn't like to think of what Fanny would say to his having fought with Will once, let alone twice in one day. So challenging him now would do no good, no matter how much he doubted the words. Will coughed and heaved for a few minutes, nothing much came up but he stayed down just in case whilst John thumped him on the back rather harder than he thought necessary.
Sitting up and dragging his sleeve across his mouth, Will faced John again. His look was less clouded by alcohol now but his drunken confidence was still there. Will breathed heavily for a few more moments before continuing as if he had never been interrupted. John resigned himself to one of Scarlett's rants, sitting back and listening. Having heard them very often, especially after the mead had made its rounds, John didn't listen too carefully but he made out the usual complaints – the squires ought to try to help the people, not punish them; it wasn't fair (there were a lot of those); they didn't deserve to be out there; what they had was nothing so what did they have to lose?
"What we have here is a sanctuary, William." Will looked both startled and indignant at John's interruption to his tirade and the use of his full name. He opened his mouth to object but John's look quelled him. "Every man 'ere would hang if 'e so much as set foot at home again. Even my boy. You know that, you know that or you'd go." Will glowered. "We may not live like kings, Will, but at least out here we're free – "
"FREE? We are none of us free, John! We are outlaws, John – criminals! Even out here! There are prices upon our heads; and the more of us that come, the more they hunt us down like animals! You would call that freedom?"
"I call it a life, boy. P'raps it's not what we should 'ave. But we're alive, and we are free, for now at least. There are others who can't say so much."
Both men fell silent, thinking of the 'others' John mentioned. Will's snide murmur broke through the silence. "And would you wish this freedom upon Fanny, John?" John raised his eyes slowly, taking in the defiantly set jaw and the deliberately averted gaze. If it were any other man or, if Will were not so clearly inebriated and therefore lacking in what little good judgment he usually showed, John would have knocked him to the ground, injuries and all.
"You'd better watch that mouth, lad. Before it gets you in trouble." The comment was dangerously light, said with a smirk that promised the trouble it was threatening. He turned smouldering eyes to the younger man, daring him to continue. Will's eyes narrowed, taking in the crowd of men around them before meeting the taunting face. John raised both eyebrows and spread his hands in a mock invitation. Will held his look for a moment, considering the larger man. Even sober and well rested, he was no match for John but half-drunk and wounded he hadn't any chance at all.
Scoffing contemptuously, Will inclined his head in a mocking bow, leaping up and back as John's hand shot out towards him. Shooting him one last mutinous glare, he turned on his heel and stormed away into the dark woods. John's eyes darted to Wulf who was watching Scarlett's retreating back and fidgeting restlessly. His son waited perhaps thirty seconds before leaping to his feet and dashing after the young man before he could disappear into the darkness.
"Go back, Wulf." He knew that tone; it screamed 'stay away' and was enough to make the boy stop in his tracks. Will stood ahead of him, leaning his head against a tree and breathing heavily. He edged closer, making sure to stay out of arms reach. "I said go back, boy." Will murmured dangerously, still not looking at him. Wulf stopped but did not retreat. Neither of them moved for several minutes until finally, Will turned and slumped down at the foot of the tree, resting his head back and closing his eyes. Since Will had made no move to bodily remove him from the vicinity, Wulf followed suit, sitting down and crossing his legs about six feet away from the man. Will's breathing seemed to calm, his body relaxed and Wulf was beginning to wonder if he had fallen asleep when suddenly he spoke. "What do you want, Wulf?" He didn't sound angry, or dangerous, or even particularly drunk. He didn't sound particularly friendly either. Wulf thought he sounded very tired and sad.
"I like it out here." Will opened one eye, regarded him for a moment, closed it. "It's not as bad as you made it sound." Snort from Will. "It's not! You shouldn't talk like that, it scares the others." Though it remained unspoken, the implied 'It scares me' was obvious. Silence from Will. Wulf was beginning to think Will was not going to contribute anything to this conversation. He started to consider just doing as he had been told and going back to camp.
"You should not have listened in on talks that did not concern you."
"Everyone else was!" Wulf scowled indignantly. Will's cheeks flamed, wondering how many had heard John threaten him and seen him back down.
"Doesn't make it right." He fell back on what he had been told for as long as he could recall by both his own mother and Wulf's. He could almost hear the boy sulking. It made him smile. Sobering, he opened his eyes and observed the boy. Cocking his head to one side, he said softly "It's no life you know, Wulf." Wulf's eyes flicked to his, held them. "I know it may seem like it, but it's not." Wulf frowned slightly as Will sat up straighter, still watching him intently. "It seems fun now, I know. Now that the danger has passed, and when the only life in your hands is your own. But this isn't fair, and this isn't right. You'll understand it one day."
"I understand it n–"
"No, you don't. Not really. It's all a game, Wulf. That's all it is to you right now. This morning was just the beginning, Wulf. This morning was just a game to them too; it wasn't about punishing people who break the law. It was about hurting people who can't defend themselves, because Gisbourne and the Sherriff enjoy it and because there's nobody who will stand against it."
"Not even you?" Will smiled grimly.
"Not even me." His eyes took on a faraway look, lost in something only he could see. He paused between each sentence, eyes flicking to Wulf after each one. "You think you know hunger, boy? Or what it truly is to fear for your life? We won't always be there when you get caught. We might not always be here when you come back." Wulf's eyes widened as if he had not truly thought of that, it was true that he had seen people taken from the village, non-payment of taxes and other trivial crimes. He had never seen someone taken by soldiers out here in their 'sanctuary'. He had seen (and as of that morning been part of) fights with Gisbourne's men when their hunting parties ran into groups of soldiers but so far, everyone had returned.
"If anyone tried to take me, I'd….I'd kill 'em!" Will's eyes had drifted shut again but his mouth twitched at the boy's false bravado.
"Two wrongs do not make a right, boy."
Wulf suddenly found that he felt very cold, here in the darkness away from the fire and his father. There, this way of life seemed exciting and adventurous; out here with his melancholic friend, it seemed frightening and dangerous. He could hear a few of the men still awake, his father's laugh booming out through the forest. He got to his feet; Will remained with his back against the tree, chin resting on his chest.
"It's not that bad out here." The boy muttered, though it lacked the confidence of his original assertions. Taking a last glance at his seemingly comatose friend, Wulf started walking back. He barely heard the soft retort directed at his retreating back.
"It's no life."
Wulf froze, fists clenching and biting his lip.
"Wulf!" Looking up, he started running towards that voice. The one that assured him that it really wasn't so bad out here and that he was safe, for now at least.
"I'm coming, Father!"
So love it? Hate it? Feel pretty 'meh' about it? Please review!
So there we go, in my head, drunk Will = super introspective, super sad Will. Ah well. Also, whilst reading it through, it occurred to me that I kind of made it seem like John is abusing Will (or even that he has the sort of relationship where he can abuse him)…which is not what I was going for at all so if it does come across that way then my apologies. To clarify, John is assaulting Will, not abusing him...that doesn't sound as important or flattering a distinction as I thought.