By: Lesera128
Rating: M

Standard Disclaimer: I am playing in the BBC's sandbox. I know it, and I promise to leave things mostly as I found them...

Summary: A few more glimpses into what Robin and Marian's life might be like if they tried to be... normal? Robin and Marian find out that normal is not so easy everyone thinks it will be. A/U Future fic. A sequel to OF THAT WHICH BINDS THEM. [Robin/Marian]

Author's Notes: Again, I have rated this story 'R' because it does contain some adult Robin/Marian interactions. Again, nothing too explicit, but just to be on the safe side and all...Be warned. This contains MAJOR SPOILERS for all of season 2, including the finale... but ignores all of the events for season 3. I think that's it for now... so enjoy.~

A baby's cry shattered the air causing Robin and Marian to look up from their bed. Flushed and covered with sweat, Robin laughed aloud fully as Marian scowled. She pushed him away from her and pointed. "I did warn you to be quiet. He's a very light sleeper, and once he's up, he's up."

"So?" Robin asked. "It'll be fun to play with him."

Marian sighed, "I thought you wanted to play with *me*."

Robin winked at her as she nodded and said, "Best bring him here."

"Why?" Robin said.

Marian sighed again. "Because when he wakes up, he's always hungry. And when he's hungry, he cries, and when he cries and doesn't get feed, I start to leak."

"Leak?" Robin asked incredulously. "What do you mean, 'leak'?"

Shrugging to herself, Marian got out of the bed and moved to the cradle. Grabbing the shrieking child, she brought him back to the bed and began to feed him. As the baby began to suckle, Marian looked over the child's head and nodded at her husband, "You didn't think I just magically expanded up here for nothing, did you?"

Robin frowned, "But, that's not fair. He's-"

Marian shook her head, "I am afraid, husband mine, at least for the next few weeks until he is weaned, these belong to him first and foremost." She scowled slightly as she frowned and said, "Next time, perhaps you will listen to me when I say be quiet and then you won't have to share me before you are ready to do so."

"You are a cruel, cruel woman, Marian Fitzwalter," Robin said with a half-laugh.

Narrowing an eyebrow, Marian said, "That's Marian of Locksley to you, you knave."

Robin smiled at her words, but was silent for a moment before he said, "So what happens next?"

"Next?" Marian said. She shrugged before she said, "Generally, Thomas gets changed and then I bring him down to the hall while I get ready for dinner. It's good to have him around people. It helps him learn more quickly, I think, listening and watching so many different things."

Robin chuckled softly. "No, not with him. I mean with us."

Marian nodded as she winced slightly and helped the baby begin to suckle on her other breast. "He's got a tooth coming in the front that hurts a bit much if he chomps down the wrong way."

Looking up, Marian saw that Robin was watching with interest. Remembering his question, Marian said, "I have to be honest. I don't really know."

"We've never really done 'normal' have we?" Robin asked.

Shaking her head, Marian said, "No, not really. But, after the past couple of years, I have to admit that doing 'normal' has a certain appeal."

"Oh?" Robin prompted.

Marian nodded. "But, it's just like anything else. You have to get used to it."

"Like how?" Robin asked.

"It happens a little bit each day," Marian said. "Small things add up to the big. When you first left, for example, I remember it took me forever to get used to being called 'Countess'. It's just so strange to hear someone introduce you as 'the Countess of Huntingdon' and then remember that first, the Countess of Huntingdon is married to the Earl of Huntingdon and that the Earl of Huntingdon is actually Robin of Locksley and that Robin of Locksley is really Robin Hood, the man to whom I now married and whose home and child I have to look after." Looking up, Marian shrugged, "It just takes time."

"And you're used to it by now?" Robin asked.

Marian nodded. "As much as I'll ever be, I suppose."

"And so I suppose it would be a bad time to tell you that now you have to add in one more title in there to get used to?" Robin asked.

Marian's eyebrows narrowed as she said, "Meaning?"

"Meaning, King Richard-"

"King Richard did what?" Marian said as she looked at him with eyes that had suddenly narrowed very quickly. The baby finished feeding and she grabbed a nearby rag and placed it on her shoulder before beginning to burp him without diverting her gaze from Robin.

"King Richard asked me-"

"Do not," Marian said in a calm voice that belayed the warning in her tone, "Do not tell me that the king wants you to go somewhere else with him. Where to now? The Orient?"

Robin smiled as he chuckled slightly. "No, not the Orient. A task much closer to home. He asked me to accept an appointment as sheriff of the shire."

Marian's eyebrows rose from narrowed suspicion to wide surprise. "King Richard wants you to be Sheriff of Nottingham?"

Robin shrugged, "There is a certain amount of irony in that, isn't there?"

Marian shook her head, "I am not moving back into that bloody castle."

Robin laughed. "I know. I had a feeling about that. There is no reason, I argued with the king, that I could not live here at Locksley Manor, as your father did at Knighton, and work in the castle. Vasay is the one who changed it after all."

"So you accepted the appointment?" Marian said.

Nodding, Robin said, "It will ensure that I can stay close to you, and have time enough to get used to the idea that if I want to sleep with you each and every night, I may to do so without interruption."

"What you really mean," Marian said with a laugh, "is that the appointment means that you can get to get used to the idea that you can sleep with me each and every night naked, don't you?"

"Countess!" Robin said in mock horror. "Nobles do not speak of such things."

"Perhaps they do not speak of them, but that does not mean they do not act on such ideas," Marian said as she slightly lifted the child who had just burped slightly. "He is living proof otherwise."

"Tell me more about my son," Robin said. He paused, and looked up at Marian as he added, "My son... I still don't think I'm used to it."

Marian laughed. "Well, what do you want to know?"

"Everything," Robin said.

Marian nodded once before she said, "I almost lost him when Gisbourne stabbed me."

Robin frowned, but said nothing as Marian continued.

"It was actually Djaq's mother who told me of my condition. I had no notion for such things. It was still so early yet when it happened. And the sickness that comes with most pregnancies hit me in the mid-months of the cycle, not the early months as is most common," Marian said.

"So you knew even as we came back from Acre?" Robin asked.

Marian nodded.

"And you didn't tell me," Robin said.

"Don't think I wasn't tempted to. You and your bloody ideas about honor made me have to resort to some very creative fantasies in order to deal with the fact that you were sleeping by my side each night for the weeks before you left and you wouldn't even touch me," Marian said.

Robin immediately protested, "What makes you think it was any easier for me?"

"Hmmppph," Marian said. "Anyway, once you left, I told Will and John. I think Will told Djaq because I don't know how else she would have known to come back to Locksley."

"She missed Will," Robin said. "That woman was looking for any excuse possible to get out of Acre."

"I would have asked her to stand as Thomas's godmother, if not for the issue of Djaq's..." Marian's voice trailed off.

"You mean, the bishop would have had a fit if he thought a Saracen was coming within ten miles of his church?" Robin said.

Marian nodded. "So instead I asked Will and John to stand as his godfathers and John's Alice to be his godmother."

"That makes sense," Robin said.

Marian nodded. "The baptism was some weeks after he was born. He was so tiny, Robin, even when I was finally well enough to see him. The delivery so difficult. I won't bore you will the details, but pushing out even something as small as he was is no easy task."

"That's more than I need to know," Robin protested. "Please, no more."

Marian laughed. "Such details of domesticity must be understood, my Lord earl, if 'an earl cannot willingly have just one son'," Marian parroted his words back to him.

"If we have more," Robin said tentatively, "does that mean I have to act the grown up?"

Marian laughed as she leaned over and placed a kiss on the tip of his nose, "No more than you already have, husband mine, as I fear such maturation as you have already achieved is all we can really hope for..."

Robin laughed as the baby finally burped. Marian cooed at the child who then turned his head and began to babble in gibberish.

"He's quite loud, isn't he?" Robin said. "I can see it now. He's going to be insanely verbose, just like his mother."

Marian sighed as she took the baby and placed him on his back between the two of them. "He's a good baby. He's just missed his father." She then nodded to the floor and said, "Hand me my shirt, will you?"

Robin absentmindedly reached for the garment and tossed it to Marian as she began to dress. Nodding at the baby, Robin noted, "He looked happy when he was playing with Will."

"Okay," Marian amended as she stuffed her head through the shirt's opening. "Then, perhaps it's his mother that has missed his father."

Robin looked up with a smile, "You missed me?"

It was Marian's turn to give Robin a very Robin-like smirk. "When you go for so long dealing with such an overwhelming and frustrating annoyance on a daily basis and then it suddenly disappears, yes, you can miss it. Habit and all."

"You missed me," Robin said leaning in towards Marian a bit more closely.

Reluctantly nodding, Marian said, "Yes, I did miss you. But, then, you already knew that."

"It is still nice to hear, nevertheless," Robin said. "But-"

"But?" questioned Marian.

"But," Robin continued, "We still haven't really answered my question. What happens next?"

Marian shrugged. "I suppose we just try and get used to having you back here. It took a certain amount of time for me to adjust and be incorporated into life here at Locksley. And with the baby, I would be lying if I said such changes weren't at times overwhelming, but then again, I did have to do it by myself."

"What was it like?" Robin asked.

Marian thought for a moment before she said, "Well, it's hard to know where to start. After the baby was born, I don't remember much of the first few weeks. It took me a long time to get to a point where I could even leave my bed. But, before he was born, for the first couple of months after you left and before I had the baby, it was simply strange. People didn't know what to make of all the changes. Suddenly, Gisbourne was gone and Will was in his place. But, I have to say that the villagers took it very well when they saw one of their own looking after things. And, then, there was the question of how John fit into things. He had been gone so long, people weren't used to him. I think a lot of people were worried about me, what I would do and what I would say, how I might changes things, but Will helped bridge the distance quite effectively. Every day, things would change just a bit - you know, one morning, one of the older men might come up to the manor house and ask about you - when you'd be back and if you'd be staying for good once you returned? They loved to reminisce when they found out I was having the baby. So many of them loved to tell stories about you and I when we were children, but more so of you. They talked of your mother and your father. Some of the older women took their cue from the men and then started to offer me advice about the baby."

Robin had a strange look in his eyes as he said, "They talked to you about my mother?"

Marian nodded. "I have to admit I'd never heard anything about your mother before they started to speak of her."

Robin nodded, "It pained my father, I think, too much to listen to their memories of her, so no one ever had time to tell me stories when I was little. By the time I was older and my father was dead, I suppose people still remembered, but had no one to tell the stories to since I was gone..." Robin paused before he said, "What did they say about her?"

"That she had a good heart," Marian replied instantly. "She was kind and generous and..." Marian had a bit of a giggle in her voice before she continued, "And, apparently, she drove your father insane."

"Oh?" Robin asked.

Marian nodded. "Apparently they used to fight all the time," Marian said with a small smile. "Doesn't sound like anybody we know, hmmm?"

Ignoring her last comment, Robin shook his head. "My father fight with anyone? No, I can't believe that. He was the most even tempered man I ever knew besides your father."

"Maybe he didn't have anyone to fight with after your mother was gone," Marian said gently.

"Hmmm," Robin said as he rolled over on his back and matched his position to the baby's where the baby continued to squeal for attention. Marian reached down and tickled the baby once. Thomas squealed gleefully causing Robin to look up. "He's ticklish?" Robin asked.

Marian nodded. "Hmmm," Robin repeated. "Just like his mother?"

Marian grabbed the baby, and Thomas squealed again. Holding him as a type of shield, Marian said, "Don't you even think about it, Robin. I have a baby here, and I'm not afraid to use it."

Robin didn't move, but nodded at her, "Consider yourself on notice and duly warned, Countess." Throwing his legs over the edge of the bed, Robin stood and then reached down for his trousers. Beginning to dress, Robin said, "And I want it duly noted that the only reason I am not following up on that particular line of thought is not so much because of the baby, but because I am tired of you starting something you have no intention of finishing."

Marian opened her mouth in protest. "Me? I started? Oh, now, come on. Here I was sleeping peacefully by myself, behaving as a perfect angel and then who comes barging naked into my bed?"

Robin nodded, "My bed, you mean."

Marian moved towards the cradle to put the baby down for a moment so she could finishing dressing. "Mmm hmmm, nope, it's my bed now. You left. I have proprietary rights."

Robin laughed. "As the king's legal representative in this shire, I think my authority trumps any of your so-called proprietary rights."

"The power's going to your thick head already, hmmm?" Marian said as she moved through the archway and reached into her wardrobe for clean clothing. Sticking her head out of the archway, she nodded at him, "Either way, it was probably a good thing you did sneak up on me earlier. Otherwise, there is no way I would have let someone as smelly and dirty as you are into my nice and clean bed."

"I do not smell," Robin protested.

Shaking her head, Marian said, "Robin, you need a bath. Just admit it, and maybe after lunch, I'll have them set up the tub in here and help you myself."

Popping her head back through the archway, Robin had time to only grin in reply as he walked to the cradle and nodded down at the baby, "She drives a hard bargain, your mother does." The baby stared wide-eyed at his father, making no noise but seeming to nod in agreement.

Moving to bend down and take the baby, Robin was stopped mid-action by Marian's voice, "And don't you dare start picking up the baby and juggling him up and down. He'll spew up his milk if you do that, and I am not feeding him again until dinner."

Robin frowned, first at the baby and then at the archway. He opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off by Marian's voice as she said, "You can do what you want, Robin, but do remember what happened the last time when you didn't pay attention to me."

"Yeah," Robin said as he bent down and picked up the baby but did not bounce him. "I became clearly reacquainted with the reason as to why blue has been my favorite color since I met your mother."

Turning around, Robin was surprised to see Marian appear from the archway in a clean dress and boots. Her hair was hurriedly pushed back as she nodded and said, "You hungry?"

Robin nodded. "Although I have to admit that Much has probably eaten us out of house and home already."

Marian laughed. "Then let's go see what we can salvage, hmmm? Bring him down, will you?" Marian asked as she spun on her heel and opened the door before Robin could answer.

Instead, Robin looked down at the baby and said, "Awfully sure of herself, isn't she?"

The baby seemed to nod and then let forth a barrage of excited gibberish. Robin nodded, "Yes, I think so too."

Moving down the stairs, Robin started to notice the slight changes that had manifested themselves in his family's home. He could see Marian's influence in them all and had a slightly strange feeling wash over him as he realized, perhaps for the first time, that this was really his house, he really was the Earl of Huntingdon, Marian was his wife, and Thomas was his son.

Heading towards the kitchen, Robin followed Marian. He was somewhat unsurprised to see Much, Will, Djaq, and John relaxing at one of the trestle tables that usually was reserved for feasting days in the hall. Much immediately rushed to stand as Robin and Marian entered the kitchen.

"You look much rested, Master," Much said.

Robin narrowed his eyes as he handed Marian the baby. "Ahh, okay, Much-"

Walking over to a smaller cradle that sat to the right of the kitchen fireplace, Marian deposited her babbling son in it. She then walked over and gave Much a fierce hug. She whispered in his ear, "Thank you for bringing him back to me."

Much flushed as Marian pulled away with a smile. Robin watched in interest as he sat between Will and John. Reaching for a loaf of bread, Robin tore a large hunk away and began to drip honey all over it. Marian came forward with two tankards of cider which she placed next to Robin. Robin nodded his thanks with a full mouth and the lunch soon became a lively discussion of Robin's most recent adventures with Richard in Acre.

"He did want to know why we, or rather you, Marian, didn't consider naming the baby after him," Robin said with a grin.

Marian shook her head. "I'd rather name the baby John."

"That's what I told the king. I don't know if he believed me though," Robin said biting into an apple.

"So what happens now?" Will asked nonchalantly, his glance at Djaq betraying the false casualness of his inquiry.

Robin noticed it, and answered truthfully. "I don't really know, Will. We've never actually done this 'normal' thing, any of us, have we?"

"No, we haven't," Much said through a full mouth. "But, what's so wrong with normal?"

"Indeed," Marian said as she sat next to Djaq.

Nodding at Marian, Robin said, "We were talking about this while Marian fed the baby. I think it is just going to take some time to get used to things. We'll just take things one day at a time. But," Robin said as he looked at Will, "I do know I'm not going to change anything. Will, you've done a better job as steward of my lands than anyone else has in memory. If you're willing, I'd like you to keep the job. I know from having seen how little free time Marian's father had for Knighton that I am going to need all the help I can get once I take over the shire duties."

Will glanced to Djaq who nodded. Will then smiled, "I'd be honored, Robin."

"Good," Robin said. "Now," Robin said looking from Marian to Will to John, "Who wants to tell me whose idea the message about Thomas really was?"

The candles were burning low by the time that Robin carried a sleeping Thomas back up to their bedroom with Marian leading the way. Robin sighed as he said, "And remind me again why he has no nurse?"

"He doesn't have a nurse yet because I want to take care of him myself," Marian said. "Once he's weaned, then, maybe, just maybe I'll see if my old maid Sarah wants the job."

Robin nodded as he said, "He's not so fun when he's cranky."

Marian smiled as she watched Robin put the baby down. "Just like his father."

Robin frowned, but said nothing as Marian began to undress. Robin watched her as they continued their conversation from downstairs. "How long do you think that it will take Allan to finish the errand King Richard had for him?"

"I don't know," Robin said as he moved to sit on the bed. "I didn't want to tempt fate by asking."

Marian came through the archway clad in a cream linen nightgown. She had unfastened her hair and moved to her side of the bed. Blowing out the candles illuminating the room, Robin watched as she got into bed, but made no move to follow her example. Marian arched an eyebrow, "Aren't you tired?"

"Exhausted," Robin said. "But, I'm afraid of what'll happen if I get into bed with you again. Either the baby will start crying, or you'll do something to me, and I'll never get to sleep."

Marian stuck out her tongue, "Don't you just wish."

Robin grinned. "So I guess this is your way of telling me that we're done playing for today even though you're the one who had the nap earlier?"

Nodding, Marian patted the pillow next to hers. "Sleep good. Sleep make playing possible ater."

Robin sighed as he stood and undressed. Marian watched as he climbed into bed and lay on his back with his arms behind his head. Marian immediately snuggled into her favorite spot at his side with her head on his chest.

"I love you," Marian whispered.

Robin smiled and said, "Goodnight, Countess."

"Goodnight, outlaw o' my heart," Marian said as she closed her eyes and was soon fast asleep.

A few hours later, Marian's slumber was painfully disturbed. Both she and Robin had shifted in the night. She was now curled into a ball on her side of the bed while Robin lay on his side facing Marian. It took Marian only a few seconds to identify the two reasons her sleep had been disturbed. The first was that she was freezing, as the counterpane was wrapped completely around Robin's frame. The second was the rattling snores emanating from her husband.

Marian reached over and tugged for the blanket. Robin steadfastly refused to move. Marian frowned.

"Robin," she whispered.

His snores grew louder.

"Robin," Marian repeated in a bit louder voice.

The snores continued.

"ROBIN OF LOCKSLEY," Marian loudly whispered in his ear. This time, Robin did stop snoring for a moment as he rolled over onto his other side away from her and promptly resumed snoring.

Now, thoroughly awake, Marian jabbed Robin in the side as she said loudly, "Robin Hood!"

Robin bolted awake at the name, reaching instinctively for his sword. Finding there was no sword near his head, only a pillow, he took a moment to let the grogginess fall away. It took several precious seconds before Robin realized that he was in bed, in a warm bed, *his* own warm bed back at *his* own home. It took a further few seconds before he realized that he was not only in his bed back at Locksley, but that the was in bed with Marian, who was awake and apparently more than slightly angry.

"What did I do?" Robin said as Marian continued to glare at him.

She pointed. "You stole my blanket."

Robin looked down where the counterpane was wrapped around his body. With a bit of a sheepish grin, he shrugged before reaching down and tugging it out from underneath him. Lifting the corner of the blanket, Robin beckoned to her as he said, "If I said I'm sorry, would you stop looking at me like that?"

"I was *freezing*," Marian said, pouting slightly.

Robin smiled. "Come on, now, it can't of bed that bad."

"How would you know?" Marian asked. "You weren't the one that was cold."

"Come on," Robin repeated.

Marian pouted a bit more before she pointed at him and said, "And you were snoring."

Robin bit his lip for a moment before he shrugged. "Sorry. Didn't know I did that."

"I didn't know that you did either," Marian said. "I don't remember you doing that in the forest."

Robin shrugged again. "Much says I sometimes do it when I'm not sleeping deeply, but I've never believed him."

"Well you should. I heard you plain and clear," Marian said. Turning her back to him, Marian gave the counterpane a sharp tug and Robin rolled closer to her back, somewhat unexpectedly yelping in protest. Marian smirked as she looked over her shoulder. "I'm not forgiving you, by the way. I'm just tired."

"And I'm not?" Robin said with a laugh.

"The baby will be up in a few hours. When he's up, I have to get up or he doesn't get fed. You can stay in bed then, if you want," Marian said.

Robin laughed again. "Somehow I doubt very seriously that you'll let me do that."

"Hmmphh," Marian said.

Reaching over, Robin pulled Marian to him. She put up a minor type of resistance before she allowed herself to be pulled into his arms. "Forgive me?" Robin whispered.

Marian yawned, "I suppose."

Robin gave her a kiss on the cheek before he leaned back into his pillow. "I guess it's just going to take some time to get used to sharing a bed?" He then looked over to Marian who was already falling back asleep. "For both of us, I suppose," Robin said before he too closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

The shrill cry of the baby jolted Robin awake for a second time in what was turning out to be a very short night. Marian opened one eye halfway before she murmured, "Robin?"

Robin looked at Marian, being more awake than she and said, "What do you want me to do?"

Marian frowned as she said through a sleepy haze, "Bring him over here."

Robin sighed in protest, but said nothing as he went to the cradle. His nose immediately crinkled as he called out, "Marian, what is that smell?"

A few weeks later, Robin said on a patch of grass at the edge of Sherwood Forest with his bow and quiver of arrows laid at his feet, as he looked down absentmindedly on the village of Locksley. He only looked up as he saw Will Scarlett approach him with a nod.

"Robin?" Will asked. "What are you doing up here?"

Robin sighed as he said honestly, "Thinking about running away."

If it had been anyone other than Will, no doubt they would have thought Robin was joking. Instead, sensing the seriousness in his friend's voice, the carpenter sat down on the grass next to Robin. He looked in the direction of the forest as he said, "Don't think I haven't been tempted myself."

Robin looked up again as he nodded, "You?"

Will nodded, but said nothing.

"But why?" Robin prompted in disbelief. "I've never known you to give up on anything in your life."

Will shrugged, "In some ways, only having to worry about not being caught by the Sheriff and Gisbourne while bringing food and money to the villagers in order to protect the king seems to have been a lot easier a way to live than life in Locksley."

Robin sighed, realizing that Will shared his frustrations. "You too?"

"It's very hard, Djaq has told me, when you are running from something for so long and then suddenly not only do you not have to run anymore, but you are actually expected to slow down and do what is expected of you," Will said.

"You mean being a steward?" Robin asked. "Because if I knew then what I know now in regards to how much responsibility I heaved on you when I asked you take over Thornton's job when he passed away, I don't think I would have been cruel enough to ask such a responsibility of you."

Will shrugged, "Being a steward, or a husband, or a father. Even being an earl, I'd guess."

Robin frowned, "Don't get me wrong. I love my wife, and I love my son, and I love Locksley-"

"But," Will said.

"But," Robin said. "It's so overwhelming… and so exhausting."

"It's a lot to take on at once, Robin," Will said. "It's a lot to try and take care of... You've always had to put people before your own needs before, so that's nothing new..."

"-But, putting the *specific* needs of *specific* people before my own," Robin said, "It's much more difficult than the concept it used to be when it was more… abstract."

"You seem to be managing," Will said. "Everyone knew there would be a period of adjustment."

Robin shook his head. "No, I'm not managing... I'm just trying to stay out of the way. Marian... now, Marian is the one who is adjusting. I've been home almost two months, and I find it amazing that Marian hasn't killed me yet."

"She's a very patient woman," Will said. "And she loves you."

Robin stood and began to pace in frustration. "That's just it. Her loving me and me loving her isn't the issue. If anything, the loving part is the easiest thing I've adjusted to- It's everything else."

"Everything else-?" Will prompted again.

"Everything else," Robin said. "Everything she warned me about. The baby being cranky or Marian throwing up the contents of her stomach both before breakfast and after dinner. And she's always so tired and that makes *her* irritable. And that's when I do see her. Most days, the manor court drags on and on and on... The work in the castle seeming as if it is never going to be completed..."

"Well," Will said. "I don't think I can help with the baby or Marian throwing up, but I seem to remember when Sir Edward would bring Marian to Locksley when we were all children, and Sir Edward would speak with your father, and Sir Edward would tell him the same things you're telling me about what it's like to be sheriff of the shire," Will said.

Robin nodded as he waved off his friend. "It's not even the shire business that's really boring me although it can be interminably dull. It's just-"

"Marian?" Will asked.

Robin nodded again, "And, it's not like she didn't warn me about it. But, being warned about something and then being faced with it are two very different things."

"So are the responsibilities of adulthood," Will said.

"I think I don't want to grow up anymore," Robin said.

Will laughed. "Don't we all?"

"No," Robin said, "That's just it. Marian... Well, Marian is in her element. She revels in the 'responsibilities of adulthood', as you put it."

"Are you sure?" Will said.

"Of course," Robin said. "There is no way she could be as thorough and effective as she is if she didn't like what she was doing - except for maybe the throwing up part."

Will nodded as he paused for a moment. Robin stopped his pacing when he looked down at the quiet carpenter-turned steward. Will then looked at Robin and said, "Let me ask you this, Robin. How well does Marian know you?"

"As well as anybody has my whole life?" Robin said instantly and without thinking.

"And how well do you know her?" Will asked.

Robin was not so quick to answer this question. He paused for another moment before he nodded at Will, and said a tad defensively, "I know her."

Will raised a hand in supplication, "I never meant to insinuate anything else, Robin. All I am saying is this. The two of you went from being betrothed to you disappearing for almost five years. When you came back, you had about ten seconds to get to know her again before you were outlawed. Then, the next year was spent dealing with Vasay and Gisbourne and the plots to save the king. And then, before either of you knew what had happened, you found yourselves married, Marian was pregnant and living at Locksley, and you were back off to Acre... with a couple or three of near death experiences thrown in for good measure."

"Go on," Robin said.

"What I'm saying, Robin, is that you two have never really had a chance to get to know each other until now, and that's what you've been doing for the past two months," Will said.

"You mean me finding out that she hates it when I steal the blankets at night?" Robin said, reflecting on an earlier incident.

Will laughed. "I'm sure, among other things."

"And now," Robin said. "Now, that I'm faced with the real work of the situation, I'm trying to run away from it and her and, Lord-" Robin's voice trailed off as realization dawned on him. "No wonder she's so bloody livid with me." He looked once at the forest and then back at Locksley before he said, "She doesn't think I'd leave her again, does she?"

Shrugging, Will said, "I don't know. The Lady Marian doesn't share such thoughts with me."

"But," Robin said.

"But," Will finished. "You said it yourself, Robin. She knows you better than anyone. And so she also knows that when you get afraid-"

"I tend to panic and run," Robin finished.

Will nodded. "Be it to the Holy Land as a crusader, Sherwood Forest as an outlaw, or Nottingham Castle as the sheriff, I think Lady Marian is smart enough to have probably contemplated such a happenstance."

Robin sighed. "I can't help being afraid, Will. She's- she's everything to me. And I don't know what I would do if something ever happened to her or Thomas."

"Nothing is guaranteed, Robin," Will said. "But if you're always waiting for the bottom to drop out, you're going to miss some incredible things during the waiting because, I have to tell you, it's much easier to be a soldier or even an outlaw than it is to sit up nights with a cranky baby and a sick wife."

Nodding, Robin said, "I know, Will, I know. I just don't know what to do."

"Try to be there for her," Will said. "And maybe take some time to remind her that you don't love her because she's your countess or your wife, or even the mother of your son. Try to remind her that you love her because she's *her*."

Robin bit his lip as he looked away, "All I can do is try, Will. I don't know if it'll actually do any good, but I will try."

Smiling, Will stood and nodded as he turned towards the village, "Then you'll be all right."

Robin nodded as he turned and fell into pace with Will. "You know, I've been thinking that maybe next month when Easter court is held since it's going to be in London, it might be a nice thing for Marian and I to go alone."

Will frowned. "You'd be better off kidnapping her to Knighton for a day. Show her how the rebuilding is progressing."

Robin pursed his lips in thought before he looked up and clapped Will on the back. "Thank you, Will."

Nodding, Will said, "So does this mean I am forgiven for that message business with Thomas?"

Robin narrowed his eyes before nodding slowly as a smile played at the edges of his lips. "I suppose so."

Will then smiled a truly rare smile as the pair continued onwards towards home.

Robin left Will at the entrance to the manor house. He noted that Thomas' nurse, Sarah, sat in front of the hall's fireplace on a blanket as she played with the baby. Moving towards the kitchen, Robin found it empty. Realizing that the kitchen's emptiness left only one place for Marian to be, he climbed the stairs to the upper level of the house. Entering their bedroom, Robin immediately began to cringe as he heard unpleasant sounds of retching coming from the archway that connected their sleeping chamber to the room Marian had taken over as a dressing chamber.

Moving quickly towards the archway, Robin was momentarily put off when he saw Marian seated on the ground with her back against the wall. She clutched a wooden bucket at her side, when she suddenly doubled over into again as dry heaves began to wrack her body. After a couple of minutes, Marian, pale and sweaty, closed her eyes and leaned back against the wall. Robin frowned as he reached for a damp cloth that lay on Marian's dressing table. Moving forward, Robin bent down and touched the cool cloth to Marian's brow. Her eyes snapping open, Marian began to protest as she weakly swatted a hand at Robin's efforts to cool her forehead.

"I can do it," Marian murmured.

"Let me," Robin said.

Marian licked her lips and then frowned. "Water?" she whispered.

Robin stood and brought back a wooden cup. Marian sipped it slowly. Robin sat down next to her and nodded, "It's bad today."

Marian nodded. "This makes three, and we haven't even gotten to dinner yet."

"And you're sure this is normal?" Robin asked with concern. "I mean, you said the last time the retching wasn't this bad… or this frequent, right? And I know you weren't this tired all the time with Thomas…."

Marian looked up and was about to chastise him when she saw concern evident in his eyes. She then bit her tongue before she nodded and said, "I think it must just be the heat. It's so warm for February."

Robin looked at her for a few seconds before he decided not to push the issue further. Looking to Marian, he said, "Can you stand?"

Marian took a moment to assess her situation before she nodded. "If you help me, yes."

"To the bed?" Robin asked.

Marian nodded. "I'll be closer to the bucket that way."

A few moments later, Marian lying on the bed as Robin stroked her hair; the pair were quiet and said nothing. At last, Robin broke the silence as he said, "I'm sorry."

Already starting to feel better, Marian said, "What did you do now?"

His voice still serious, Robin replied, "For not paying attention to you."

Marian waved her hand away as she said, "It's just queasiness, Robin. It's part and parcel of the package. Inconvenient? Yes. Life-threatening? No. I'll live. The worst should pass in another few weeks."

"But, I still was the one-" Robin began.

Marian immediately cut him off as she said, "-you are not solely responsible for my predicament, Robin Hood, so kindly stop acting the martyr and tell me what you're really feeling guilty about."

"I have always wanted to do right by you," Robin said, "and ever since I've been home, I've felt that I've done anything but..."

Marian shook her head with a laugh, "Robin, stop feeling guilty. By simple virtue of the fact that you *have* been here these past months, you've done right by me. Everything else, well, it'll come in time."

"So you keep saying," Robin said.

Marian shrugged before she said, "If you are still feeling guilty, instead of just brooding, why don't you take pity on your poor, tired wife and-?"

Marian's voice trailed off, but Robin nodded as he took her meaning. "Neck or foot?"

"Neck," Marian said, as she turned to Robin who began to rub his wife's tense neck muscles with Marian sighing in quiet contentment.

Robin had been home for almost four months and was beginning to worry. He had had no word from Allan-a-Dale or from King Richard when both should have returned to England long before the current point in time. However, as his duties as Sheriff of Nottingham came to demand more and more of his attention in the late spring and early summer months, more and more time was spent at the castle, less at the manor with his family, and Robin began to lose track of the passage of time.

As she had promised, once Marian had completed the third month of her confinement, her retching had lessened. She continued to gain weight and generally 'incessantly glow' as Much had noted. Marian also began to feel less fatigued, and in general, was in a better mood than she had been for some time. With her newly restored positive attitude, Marian began to notice her husband's frequently absences more keenly and resolved to pay more attention to her husband no matter what.

Deciding after Robin had been absent from the manor house for three straight evenings that direct action was necessary, Marian went to her wardrobe and pulled out one of her lesser used but more ornate dresses and cloaks. Taking her time, Marian styled her hair as befitted the daughter of the former sheriff of the shire and as befitted the wife of the current sheriff. Dressing in a burgundy gown that flattered her coloring, Marian only frowned when she tried to fasten the dress and realized that it was a bit snug. Cursing to herself, Marian decided that she would have to be more careful about her weight gain lest she blow up so much that Robin would have good cause to never look at her again with that look of his that gave her shivers.

Biting her lip as Marian looked in the mirror of polished silver, she saw that Lady Marian was reflected in the looking glass. Satisfied with her efforts, Marian went to the stables and saddled her horse. A short time later, she entered Nottingham Castle and inquired about the Earl of Huntingdon, as she still could not quite bring herself to refer to Robin as 'the sheriff'.

One of the pages directed her to the Great Hall. Marian, who was more familiar with the castle than most people, took a circuitous route so that she emerged on a secluded balcony from which she could look down into the hall. She immediately heard Robin's loud voice causing her to smile.

"-My lord bishop, surely you must see that extracting an extra tenth tithing from the villages of Nettlethorpe, Knighton, and Tomsett-" Robin said.

"I should hardly understand," Bishop Henry interrupted, "Why you should protest these leverages when your own lands in Locksley have been spared the extra tithing."

"Because," Robin said instantaneously, "It is not my job to look after just the people of Locksley. The welfare of the whole shire was placed before me as a duty by King Richard himself. And, I tell you, Your Grace, that these tithings are excessive and will cause great harm to the people in those villages if we try to collect them."

"Now, my Lord Earl, you and I have discussed this plainly many times before. The Church has extra need of funds to continue praying its masses for the victory of our great and righteous King Richard. And, as you also know, my Lord Earl, Prince John has agreed with me that-"

Robin had to fight hard to control his temper as he said, "-As much as Prince John may wish it, he is not king of this realm yet. And, furthermore, King Richard's fighting in Acre officially ended the crusade four months ago, as I have often explained to you on more than one occasion, Your Grace."

Bishop Henry sighed. "There has still been no patent under the royal seal making an announcement to that effect, my Lord Earl. And, until such notification is sent to the shires, the position of the Holy Mother Church is that the crusade is still being fought against the heretic infidel Saracens. Thus, the king and his men have desperate need of our prayers… hence the grave need of the increased tithing."

"Enough!" Robin said. "We have debated this issue far longer than was necessary, and now we are talking in circles. The bottom line is that I have the king's authority in this shire, signed and attested under his seal as well of that of his regent, Your Grace."

"Prince John-" Bishop Henry began.

"Prince John," Robin interrupted, "is not, nor has he ever been, the king's regent." Looking up at the bishop, Robin continued, "It would behoove Your Grace to remember that the king's lady mother, the Queen Eleanor, is, and has ever been, the king's most trusted and loyal regent in the kingdom of England." Reaching down to the table, Robin selected a particular scroll of parchment before he tossed it in front of where the Bishop sat. "Should you have any complaints about how I am administering things in this shire, you may take it up with *her*, although I doubt such complaints would do much good seeing as how that scroll is a confirmation and revalidation of King Richard's appointment of me to the position of Sheriff of Nottingham signed and sealed by the Queen's own hand."

Marian smiled as she realized that although he may have had no love for statecraft, Robin had a unique talent for shire politics. Stopping another page as she left the balcony, Marian asked, "Where does the Earl of Huntingdon lodge when the council is not in session?"

The page, noticing Marian's dress and pretty face, eagerly volunteered to take Marian to the proper chamber. Marian smiled as she reached into the purse she kept at her waist. Withdrawing a coin, she pressed it into the boy's hand and followed with a smile.

A few moments later, Marian had to refrain from bursting into laughter as the page stopped in front of a very familiar door. Nodding her thanks to the boy, she entered the room that had once been her very own while in residence at the castle.

Entering the room quietly, so as not to attract unwanted attention, Marian only breathed a sigh of relief once the door was swiftly shut behind her. Pulling her cloak back, Marian looked around the room and noticed that, in many ways, the current state of the room immediately reminded her more of Robin than their own shared bedchamber at Locksley. His clothing lay strewn over the floor, and Marian groaned when she saw a very plain and worn, but exceedingly familiar coverlet of dark blue on an unmade bed. Touching the edge of the blanket absentmindedly, Marian murmured, "I thought he got rid of this years ago."

Turning around, Marian fully removed her cloak and laid it on a chair. She then selected the perfect position and began to wait.

Robin was exhausted as he called the morning council session (which had bled over into early afternoon) into recess. Deciding that he would forgo lunch in exchange for a nap, Robin trudged to the chamber he had been using while conducting so much business at the castle. Realizing how long he had been absent from Locksley, Robin resolved to send a messenger and proper gift to Marian after he awoke. He also made a note to stop in the castle gardens before going home so that he came armed to face Marian's wrath with a proper bouquet of her favorite flowers.

Trudging through the door and slamming it resoundedly shut behind him, Robin kicked off his boots and then collapsed on the bed without so much as a second glance around the room. He fell asleep almost instantaneously as soon as his head hit the pillow.

Marian watched from the shadows, worry slightly clouding her resolve. Moving forward only after she was certain Robin slept, Marian debated with herself whether to amend her plan or not. At last, she decided that perhaps the same end goals could be achieved with a bit more gentle delivery. For a while, Marian moved to the bed and sat on its edge. She watched her husband's chest rhythmically rise and fall as he slept. Her mind wandered as she began to recall things she had forgotten about him - perhaps the most important of which related to the fact that it seemed to her, upon reflection, it had been quite a long time since she had actually thought of him as just Robin. Not her husband, not her lover, not the father of her child, not the Earl of Huntingdon, not the lord of Locksley, and certainly not the Sheriff of Nottingham - just as Robin, her Robin.

Smiling, after Marian calculated that Robin had slept for perhaps half an hour, she leaned over and brushed a lock of hair (the same one that was forever falling into Robin's eyes) off his forehead. She gently caressed the side of his face before touching his cheek with the back of her hand. Robin's sleepy eyes blinked open. He smiled as he felt Marian's touch and her loving gaze focus on him.

"I was dreaming about you," Robin said quietly.

"Maybe you still are dreaming," Marian said.

Robin smiled and shook his head as he said, "No. In the dream you weren't wearing nearly so much clothing."

Marian laughed. "That is an issue easily remedied, outlaw o' my heart."

"What's wrong?" Robin said, a touch of playfulness dulling the seriousness of his voice.

"What do you mean, what's wrong?" Marian asked.

Robin nodded at her. "You only call me 'outlaw o' your heart' when you want me to do something."

Marian chuckled, "Hmmm, I hadn't realized that."

"So what is it?" Robin asked.

"Hmmm?" Marian asked. Robin nodded. Marian then said, "Oh, it's not what you think."

"Oh?" Robin said. Glancing at Marian's clothes he nodded and said, "Then why come all the way to the castle dressed like that if it's not what I think?"

Smiling, Marian leaned down and kissed the tip of Robin's nose. "I was just thinking," Marian said, "It had been a very long time, it seemed, since I had seen you."

Robin immediately began to apologize. "I was going to send a messenger when I woke up, I swear," Robin said.

Marian pulled back slightly, shrugging him off. "No, don't apologize."

"But-" Robin began in confusion.

Marian laughed again, her laughter confusing Robin even more.

"You're not angry?" Robin asked.

Marian shook her head. "No, I'm not."

"Then-" Robin's voice trailed off again as his confusion grew.

Marian laughed again and leaned her head down close to Robin's ear. "It's just that-" Marian said as she kissed his ear lobe and then began to nibble his neck, "I've come to the conclusion that I haven't been completely fair to you these last few weeks, and wanting to make amends, I thought it might be fun to play outlaw sneaks into the sheriff's daughter's chamber in the castle."

"You, ahh, noticed that, did you?" Robin said as he flushed at Marian's kisses.

Marian pulled back slightly and nodded with a wicked grin on her face. "I was thinking that it might be interesting to see what happens this time if you jump into my bed and hide under the covers."

"So that makes me the outlaw?" Robin asked as Marian's hands snaked inside his doublet.

Leaning down, Marian brought her lips close to Robin's ear again as she said, "I didn't bring the Nightwatchman outfit, but I am sure I could send a messenger back to Locksley if that would make your day."

Robin laughed as Marian then began to tickle him. "Hey! I thought we agreed no tickling."

Marian smiled, "That was after we were married. Agreements made post-marriage don't count now."

"Oh?" Robin said, starting to feel more awake than he had in days.

Marian nodded, "Remember, I am just the virtuous and helpless former sheriff's daughter resting in my chamber before the afternoon session of the Noble's Council."

Robin sat up as his hands went to the laces at Marian's bodice, "I suppose that explains the dress."

"How else would Edward Fitzwalter's daughter dress?" Marian asked, as Robin leaned forward and began to trail a light series of kisses across her jaw.

"Does this mean," Robin said between kisses, "that your father or the Sheriff's guards or that pig Gisbourne could burst through the doors at any moment?"

"Uh huh," Marian said, arching slightly as Robin pushed her dress off her shoulders leaving her skin completely bare to the naval. Pushing against her, Robin embraced her tightly before he ran his hands up and down her back. He stopped slightly as his hands went to her head and saw her hair styled so ornately that he didn't know where to begin.

Marian laughed. "Don't recognize the hair pins, do you?"

Robin shook his head, "Should I?"

Laughing again, Marian pulled one loose almost instantaneously as she then aimed it at the chamber door. The hair pin made contact with a resounding CRACK causing Robin's smile to widen. "Now, those, I remember."

Marian smiled herself as she leaned in for another kiss. "Good," she breathed.

"So," Robin said through kisses, "Since your father and the guards and Gisbourne could be here at any minute, does that mean I should hurry?"

Standing up on her knees, Marian pushed Robin down onto his back as she smiled and climbed on top of him with her legs astride. Reaching down, Marian pulled the dress from where it lay gathered at her waist and tugged it above her head. Robin watched in interest, but did nothing as Marian tossed the garment over her shoulders and onto the floor. She smiled as she then leaned forward and covered Robin's torso with her body. Their lips met in an aching kiss that began to betray just a bit of Robin's impatience. Marian matched his movements with an excruciating exactness as their tongues dueled. She tasted so sweet and so overwhelming that Robin was soon struggling for breath as he reluctantly pulled away.

Pulling a bit further back herself, Marian smiled as she said, "You know, if you hadn't looked so tired after you were arguing with Bishop Henry, I wouldn't have been so nice when I woke you. I had planned to... How did you put it...? Oh, yes… run you down, jump on top of you, and have you stripped of your clothing before you knew what in the bloody hell was happening."

"I'm still not opposed to that idea," Robin said with a cheeky grin.

Marian smirked. "Too late."

Robin shook his head. "I don't see why as I've still got my clothes on..."

"Something I was planning on remedying in short order," Marian said. "But, first-"

"First?" Robin asked.

Marian nodded. "It occurred to me that I needed to return a favor to you."

"Oh?" Robin said with genuine curiosity present in his voice.

Marian nodded again.

"What's that?"

"Lean back," Marian said. "And close your eyes."

"Haa!" Robin said. "I'm not falling for that one."

Marian pouted playfully as she said, "Please?"

"What for?"

"It's a surprise," Marian said seductively.

Robin frowned before he said, "I don't know..."

"Come on," Marian said as she leaned in to kiss him again. "Don't you trust me?"

"Hmmm," Robin said.

"Come on," Marian prompted again. "I promise you'll like it."

"So said Eve to Adam," Robin laughed. Marian stared at him with a pleading look. Robin waited another few seconds before he resignedly did as he was asked, although he did say before he closed his eyes, "But, I swear to God, Marian, you so much as make one move to start tickling me…."

"I won't," Marian chuckled. "Now lay back and close your eyes."

Robin, somewhat warily, leaned back and did what he was told. Marian reached behind her and pulled a coverlet over herself and Robin, covering Robin to the chin as she remained hidden under the blanket.

"No peeking," Marian breathed, trying to hide the hesitation that had suddenly crept into her bearing, as she now doubted the wisdom of her planned actions.

"I promise," Robin said as Marian moved and began to somewhat hesitantly pull at Robin's trousers.

After a couple of minutes of Marian's mutterings, Robin said, "Marian? I can help with that, you know?"

"No!" Marian said in a muffled voice. "I've got it."

"And yet again I remember why blue is my favorite color," Robin muttered, not loudly enough so that he thought Marian could hear it.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately as the case would later be), Marian had heard it at almost the precise moment she accomplished her task and breathed to herself, "Not today."

Robin remained somewhat relaxed with his eyes closed before he felt a strange sensation wash over him. A breath of warm moistness was then replaced with an overwhelming sense of pressure and attention. Completely unprepared and unexpecting to feel such a thing, Robin was immediately caught off guard. His legs jerked slightly, causing Marian to be jostled. Robin hissed as Marian's efforts were deflected, and she bit down when she shouldn't have... Robin immediately cried out, and not in a positive or pleasurable sense. Marian winced and frowned as she immediately stopped what she was doing.

"Sorry, oh, God, I'm sorry, Robin," Marian said, her head sticking up out of the coverlet.

Robin winced, opening his eyes and nodding, "What are you trying to do?"

Marian flushed a pale pink as she looked away, "I wanted... I wanted-" Marian flushed an even brighter red as she realized Robin was not immediately taking her meaning. "I wanted to please you," Marian muttered at last.

Robin bit a lip before he said, "You don't have to do that, Marian, to please me."

"I know," Marian said instantly. "It's just that since you've been home our couplings have been so hurried and so... routine."

Robin frowned as he said quietly, "I'm sorry if I've not pleased you, Marian."

Marian immediately shook her head vehemently. "No, that's not it at all." Robin looked at her in confusion as Marian said in a softer voice, "I was afraid I've not pleased you, Robin. That you've had little pleasure from me, especially in the past few weeks while I've been sick."

Robin laughed as he pulled Marian to him. "Oh, Marian," Robin said. "Routine with you is more than pleasing to me."

"But, it's not exciting at all," Marian frowned. "I know things used to be much more exciting before we married."

Robin laughed at this. "Exciting, perhaps. Fulfilling? Not at all."

Marian sat back on Robin's legs as he nodded and said, "Do you know how much pleasure I get just from seeing you like that?"

"Like what?" Marian said. "Fat and ugly in bed?"

"You are not fat," Robin said. "And you are most assuredly not too ugly."

"Robin!" Marian said as she reached to jab him in the stomach. Robin dodged her grasp as he twisted away, unwittingly taking Marian with him.

Crashing down on his prone body, Robin recovered first and pulled her to him in a tight embrace. "If this is routine," Robin said with a whisper, "if me getting to look at you and hold you and feel you like this is routine, then it's all I'll ever want."

"But-" Marian protested.

"But," Robin said, "take my word. I infinitely prefer this 'routineness' as you call it to having the excitement of being chased out of the barn at Knighton or being afraid Much or Djaq or Allan will stumble on us kissing in the forest because back then, the only relief I ever had was a cold dip in a stream or some very lonely hand exertions."

Marian colored once more as Robin grinned. "Well, I'm being honest here."

"Having you jump in and out of my window was not exactly fulfilling for me either, you know," Marian said. "Especially when it is not so easy for a girl as it is for a boy to achieve relief."

Robin frowned, "You never had to worry about whether I would show up dressed as the Lady Marian or the Nightwatchman. Your multiple personas gave me multiple fantasies, you know."

Marian smiled at this. "Really?"

Robin nodded. "Of course."

"Like what?" Marian said, a bit of her shyness disappearing.

Robin shook his head. "I'm not telling quite yet."

Marian pouted again as Robin reached up and caressed her cheek, "Suffice to say, they all ultimately ended with me seeing to my own needs instead of having you as an option."

"Fortunately," Marian said as she leaned back a bit, giving Robin an excellent view of her physical attributes. "That is not a problem today."

"No," Robin agreed. "It is not a problem unless a bloody page comes knocking to tell me council has resumed."

"They can't resume without the sheriff," Marian nodded, leaning down to kiss Robin.

"Doesn't mean they won't try," Robin said as his hand came up and cupped one of Marian's breasts. "I know I said this before, but is it just me or are they-?"

"They are a bit larger," Marian said. "Weaning Thomas shrunk them and the new babe has enlarged them again."

Robin grinned, "No leaking this time?"

Marian laughed, "Not so far as I know."

"Good," Robin said with a glint of something in his eye. Leaning his head up, Robin's hands dropped away to be replaced with his mouth.

Marian closed her eyes and murmured, "But have a care, Robin, they're very tender in the early months."

"How tender?" Robin breathed.

Marian took a swift intake of breath as warmth shot through her torso and downwards. "Very tender and very sensitive."

Robin chuckled with an evil tinge to his response as he grinned, but said nothing. Marian looked at him in exasperation for but the briefest of moments before letting herself solely enjoy his ministrations.

Marian let him do what he would for a few moments before she reluctantly pulled away and said, "Robin, no-"

"What's wrong?" Robin said, concern present in his voice.

Marian frowned. "Today was supposed to be about me pleasuring you, not the other way around."

Robin grinned. "Stop worrying, Marian. I promise you I won't go unattended."

"But," Marian protested.

"Marian, stop worrying," Robin said.

"No," Marian insisted. "This is about you, today, not me." She leaned down, pleading evident in her eyes. "Please?"

Robin sighed before he smiled and nodded. "All right, but it won't be nearly as much fun for you."

"Humor me," Marian said.

"There isn't that much to it for me, Marian," Robin said. "I look at you, and I'm already half way there."

"Only halfway?" Marian said as she leaned down and kissed Robin again.

"Mmm hmm," Robin said. "The other half comes when you're doing that thing that you're doing now?"

"What?" Marian said as she licked her lip unconsciously. Robin nodded in her general direction as desire heavily clouded his eyes.

"That," Robin pointed.

It took Marian a moment to realize what he meant before she smiled, "That's all it takes?"

Robin nodded, "Now you know one of my most closely-guarded secrets."

"Excellent," Marian said as she pulled Robin forward at the same time he shrugged out of his doublet and tunic. "Then now you may attend me."

Robin genuinely grinned, that certain look which Marian had been picturing in her mind for days at last causing butterflies to make their presence known in her stomach. Marian smiled as she leaned down and kissed Robin again. When they pulled a part, Robin caressed Marian's stomach. A small, almost imperceptible knot could be felt when Robin traced his fingers over her belly. "Is that-?" Robin asked.

Marian nodded.

"And you're sure we should be doing this?" Robin asked, a bit concerned.

Marian laughed. "It's fine, Robin."

"Because I don't want to hurt you or-" Robin nodded at the knot wordlessly.

Marian shook her head. "If you're that worried, we don't have to do it-"

"Oh…." Robin said as he breathed a sigh of relief mixed with half-hearted wistfulness..

Marian laughed at his disappointment and then took pity on him as she amended her words, "-we don't have to do this like we normally do."

Robin's eyes narrowed. "Meaning?"

"Meaning," Marian said as she reached down and gently touched a very delicate portion of Robin's anatomy, "I'm already up here so-"

Robin laughed, "I wish I had thought of that before now."

Marian grinned, "You'll have to help me. Lift up when you feel me coming down."

Robin nodded as Marian adjusted herself. She bit her lip as she clasped one of Robin's hands in each of her own. The pair began to move slowly with Marian moving up and down and Robin doing his best to match her pace.

"A bit faster now," Marian whispered, looking into Robin's eyes.

Merely nodding by way of reply, the pair began to move faster with sweat beginning to collect on Marian's brow. Robin heart rate increased as he tried to arch himself deeper and deeper into Marian, only succeeding when she wished him to... And ultimately, it was, as Robin had hoped, Marian who called out his name first. She took only a few seconds before leaning back against his legs and beginning to move again. She smiled a radiant smile as she nodded and said, "Not fair, Robin Hood."

Robin grinned before a few last upward thrusts brought him to fulfillment. Calling out her name, Robin felt a sense of relief wash over him as Marian leaned down and covered his body with hers.

"I love you," Marian whispered.

Robin nodded, "I know."

Marian shook her head, "No, you don't. I love you, Robin. And I love just *Robin*. Not the earl, not the sheriff, not even the outlaw. I love just *Robin*, I want you to remember that."

Smiling, Robin took a deep breath before lifting his head up to kiss her. "My beautiful Marian."

Marian felt goose bumps prickle her skin at his achingly tender words. Marian pulled back and kissed him again. "Always yours, Robin. Always."

Robin kissed her again before he heard a loud banging on the chamber door. "It's midday, Sheriff," a muffled page's voice came through the door.

Nodding at the door, Robin laughed, "See? I told you."

Marian smiled as she lifted one leg away from Robin and rolled over to her side of the bed. "Well," Marian said, "at least we have a bit better timing then when Thomas decided to interrupt us."

Robin sighed as he yelled, "Tell them I'll be there directly."

"Yes, Your Grace," the page said before disappearing.

"No rest for the weary," Robin said as he smiled once and got out of bed, reaching for his clothing as he began to dress.

"No rest for the wicked, more like," Marian said.

Watching him dress, Marian remained lounging in bed. Robin sat on the bed to pull his boots on, looking at Marian the whole time. At last, he leaned over and said, "Wait for me here?"

"To go home or not?"

"I can't go back to Locksley today, but after tomorrow morning's session, I promise," Robin said.

Marian frowned. "I only have my one dress."

"Stay in bed then," Robin said. "None will disturb you, and it will make my work a lot easier tonight."

Marian grinned. "I'll stay on one condition."

"Name it," Robin said.

"Tomorrow morning, I get to go to council with you," Marian said.

Robin groaned.

Marian immediately frowned as she said, "Robin, I am just as entitled to attend the council in right of my lands at Knighton. I should have started attending long before now, but I had little incentive to do so..."

"And now, what's changed?" Robin asked suspiciously.

Marian grinned again. "Now there's a sheriff worth looking at who's running the council meetings." She pulled him towards her and whispered, "Make sure there's a table tomorrow morning instead of individual seating, and I'll make it worth your while."

"Promises, promises," Robin laughed.

"Do we have a deal?" Marian said.

Robin laughed again with a brief nod. "I suppose so, lady of my heart."

"Good," Marian said as she leaned over and kissed him. "Then get going."

Robin stood and bowed slightly, "Your every wish is my command, my lady."

Marian smirked, "We'll just have to see about that tonight, won't we?"

Going to the door, Robin turned his head and called out over his shoulder, "Promises, promises." He then winked at Marian before shutting the door behind him, for once cutting off his wife's ability to have the last word.

"Robin-" a voice whispered, a voice that sounded very different from Marian's bedtime murmurings. "Robin, wake up."

For a brief second, Robin had a distinct sense of déjà vu fall over him as he cracked open an eye and thought he was back in the forest. Seeing a face out of the shadows, Robin blinked a second time as the candle light from the taper his visitor carried flooded his field of vision. Robin moved to sit up and immediately heard a groan of protest. Looking down to see where the weight on his chest was coming from, Robin saw Marian still asleep and curled around him.

Looking back at the source of the candlelight, Robin whispered, "What is it?"

"Robin, you've got to get up and quickly," the voice came again, somewhat urgent in its pleading.

The grogginess of his brain falling away, Robin at last determined why he was having such a sense of déjà vu. "Allan?" Robin whispered.

Lowering the candle, Allan-a-Dale's face came closer to Robin as he nodded. "Yeah, it's me."

"Where have you been?" Robin said as loudly as he dared. Looking in the direction of the chamber's window, and seeing darkness, Robin then said, "And why are you in my bedchamber in the middle of the night?"

Allan grinned as he looked from Robin to Marian and said cheekily, "Sorry about that, but this couldn't wait."

Robin frowned as he pulled the coverlet up closer to Marian. "What is it?"

"She's waiting, Robin, and she doesn't like to be kept waiting. I ran ahead of them to try and keep them from surprising you and giving you a bit of time to make yourself presentable. It wasn't easy, either, I can tell you, outrunning her guards. They're like the Sheriff's men used to be, only competent," Allan said. He then stopped and looked around at the chamber as he said, "What are you doing in Lady Marian's room anyway? You're going to get into trouble."

"With who? Her husband?" Robin whispered back.

Allan lifted an eyebrow before he looked to where Robin pointed at Marian's left hand. King Richard's ruby ring glittered in the candlelight. Allan shrugged, "Oh, yeah, right. I keep forgetting about that. But, it still doesn't explain why you're in the castle."

"The Noble's Council meeting ran late today, and Marian and I are attending the morning session tomorrow so we decided not to go back to Locksley tonight-," Robin stopped mid-sentence. "Wait, why am I telling you all of this? And who is coming with what men?"

"*Her*," Allan said. "And time's running out. Hurry up. You've got to get up and get dressed and come with me. She wants to see you."

"But who is she, and where is King Richard? You and he were supposed to be back home *months* ago, Allan," Robin said.

"Yeah, I know about that," Allan said as he shrugged, "we ran into a bit of trouble once we left Acre."

Lifting an eyebrow, Robin said, "How?"

Allan shrugged. "Much as I would love to tell it, *she* made me promise to wait until she got here."

"For the love of all that is holy, Allan, who is *she*? Robin pleading, his animated tone finally awaking Marian as she began to stir.

Looking up, she blinked as she saw that Robin was awake, their room was aglow in candlelight, and Allan-a-Dale was standing next to their bed in animated conversation with her husband.

"Robin?" Marian said, wiping the sleep from her eyes. "And… Allan? What are you doing here?"

"I told Robin, I need to speak to him," Allan said.

"In the middle of the night?" Marian protested, just as her husband had. "Can't it wait until morning? I'm happy that you're home, but we're sleepy." Marian then looked to Robin and questioned, "Well?"

Robin shrugged, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you up, but you were using my chest as a pillow."

"And whose fault is that?" Marian said. "*My* pillow is back in Locksley."

"Robin," Allan pleaded again. "We really can't keep her waiting."

"For the last time, Allan, before I really get annoyed, who is 'her'?" Robin said.

Allan opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by the chamber door opening once again. Robin turned a weary eye to it as a cloaked figure swept into the room and boomed, "'Her' is me, Robin of Locksley."

Robin immediately felt his eyes widen as Allan fell to his feet.

The cloaked figure stopped in front of the bed and nodded as she pulled the cloak back from her head.

Robin was caught off guard, hesitantly recognizing the cultured voice as being able to come from only one woman, but he immediately questioned, "Your Majesty?"

Eleanor of Aquitaine, Dowager Queen of England and Regent for her son, King Richard, surveyed the situation. She looked first at Robin and Marian and nodded, "You're excused from bowing this time, Locksley. I'm far too old to need to see anything so exciting as your most handsome physique and-"

The queen's voice stopped as she glanced at Marian. "-and, although I've heard much about you, I don't think we've met. I assume you are the Countess?"

"Marian," she whispered.

Eleanor nodded in approval at Robin. "Most admirable, my Lord Earl, most admirable." She nodded at Marian as she said, "I can't tell you both how many bed chambers I've entered in the middle of the night, including my own dearly departed husband's, only to find all manner of bedmates from whores to sheep.. Almost everyone but the man's wife. It's quite refreshing to find a lord actually bedding his lady."

Marian flushed.

Eleanor nodded again. "It's the secret to a happy marriage, my dear, never forget it."

Marian paled as she grabbed her stomach and shook her head.

Robin noticed and said, "What is it?"

Marian pursed her lips as she shook her head and said, "I think I'm going to be sick."

"Sick? Now?" Robin said in disbelief. "But I thought you told me that part was over."

"Move!" Marian said as she grabbed the coverlet around her and got out of bed, racing towards the garderobe.

Robin frowned as he reached for a pillow to cover himself. The queen, watching Marian's hasty departure, grinned as she turned around. "Why don't you make yourself presentable, Sheriff, while I explain to you while I'm here."

Robin looked at Allan, frowning. Allan shrugged. "Don't say I didn't try and warn you."

Robin nodded. "Get out, Allan."

"Oi," Allan said in protest.

"Allan, now, please," Robin said as he nodded at the door.

Allan sighed. "Fine." He then grinned as he said, "Maybe I'll go find Lady Marian."

"Don't you dare," Robin said as he watched Allan go out the door with an evil grin still rapt on his face.

Shutting the door behind him, Allan left Robin and Eleanor alone. True to her word, Eleanor kept her back turned from Robin as he dressed.

Making small talk, Eleanor said, "I was unaware that your Countess was enceinte."

Robin, pulling on his trousers, said, "It's early yet."

"Nevertheless," Eleanor said. "You've only been home from Acre what... Two months? Three?"

"Four," Robin said.

"Ahh, four then," Eleanor said. "Remarkable quickness. Remarkable potency," Eleanor said with her voice trailing off before she continued. "My Henry was like that. He was around me just a few days, spilled his seed in me once or twice, and nine months later I was turning out a beautiful Plantagenet prince or princess. I had eight of them you know, plus the two girls that Louis kept. Richard's just the eldest that's still alive - "

"I know, Your Majesty," Robin said as he pulled on a tunic.

"You've done a great service to my Richard," Eleanor said. "Don't think I've forgotten that, Locksley."

"You're too kind, Your Majesty," Robin said.

"Nevertheless," Eleanor said as she spun on her heel to face Robin, somewhat startling him. He was just fastening the last tie on his doublet as Eleanor looked at him up and down. Nodding in approval, Eleanor continued, "You may tell your Countess that as a reward to you both, I shall stand as godmother to your child when it is born."

Robin was speechless for a moment before nodding slowly, "We can never thank you enough, Your Majesty."

Eleanor narrowed her eyes as she said, "Perhaps. Perhaps not. Let us sit for a moment to discuss such possibilities once you've built up the fire, hmmm? And perhaps share a bit of wine?"

"Of course, Your Majesty," Robin said. Gesturing to a chair that sat before the fire, Robin waited for the queen to sit before he bent low and stoked the glowing embers into a large blaze.

Nodding her approval once again, Eleanor pointed at the other chair. "Good, now sit."

Doing as he was bade, Robin reached for a serving ewer on the small circular table that sat between them and poured the queen a cup of wine. Handing it to her, Robin watched Eleanor sip it. He frowned when she looked up at him with her brow slightly wrinkled. Understanding her cue, Robin looked down in slight embarrassment. "I am afraid it is probably not as good a vintage as you are used to, Your Majesty, but I can send to the kitchens for something more palatable."

Eleanor waved him off as she set the goblet down. "No need. Anyone who knows anything about wine knows that you can't get a decent vintage outside of Poitiers unless you bring it along with you wherever you go."

Robin chuckled. Eleanor raised any eyebrow up at her as she waited for an explanation. Robin said, "His Majesty, the king, always traveled in Acre with a constant supply of the Bordeaux Red, as he called it. I didn't know why until just now."

Eleanor nodded. "He was brought up right. Unlike that dunce of a youngest son of mine who would drink swill from the Thames and think it an excellent vintage, Richard knows quality."

"Yes, Your Majesty," Robin said.

Narrowing her eyes, "You don't like my John, do you, Robin of Locksley?"

Robin was silent for a moment before he said, "I like no one who works against King Richard's interests, including any member of the royal family who would do the king harm."

Eleanor unexpectedly clapped her hands in delight as she said, "Ahh, now there's the rub. A diplomat completely loyal to my Richard. Careful not to be too insulting to John in case the young snake is your next king, but tempered just enough to let the young snake's mother know that your allegiance is to first and foremost to Richard."

"*He* is my king, Your Majesty," Robin said quietly

Eleanor nodded, the mocking frivolity in her voice disappearing instantaneously to be replaced with dead seriousness. "And your king, Robin of Locksley, needs your help."

"Majesty?" Robin asked.

Eleanor nodded. "You, and many others, I am sure, have wondered why Richard has not returned home nor even put out a royal patent announcing the end of the crusade?"

Nodding, Robin said, "I had wondered, Your Majesty."

Eleanor nodded again. "The reason that answers both questions has to do with what the little snake has been up to in Richard's absence."

"Prince John, Your Majesty?" Robin asked.

Eleanor nodded once more. "My lovable but treacherous cur of a son has paid off the Holy Roman Emperor to kidnap Richard and hold him prisoner in Germany."

Robin's eyes widened. "The king is captured?"

"'Ransomed' Philip of France tells me, although I know good as I can tell a good vintage of wine that John paid of Philip to broker the deal with the Holy Roman Emperor," Eleanor said.

"This is most unsettling news, Your Majesty," Robin said. "How may I be of help?"

Eleanor smiled. "I'll speak bluntly, Robin of Locksley. I want you to go to Germany to rescue my Richard."

Robin's eyes fell as he heard the Queen's words.

Eleanor watched Robin as she continued to speak. "If anyone can ensure that my son is freed from Emperor Henry and returns alive to retake his throne, it is you, Locksley. I will give you all the money and men you will need to do it."

Robin opened his mouth to speak, but Eleanor silenced him with a glance before she added. "Keep in mind, Locksley, that when my Richard returns home, he will have a second coronation to reinforce the fact that *he* is king of England, and not John, despite the backstabbing sod's best efforts to the contrary. And when Richard returns home, those who have been loyal to him will be rewarded - especially seeing as how, though my Richard may be lax in rewarding his supporters appropriately, I am not."

"Your Majesty?" Robin asked, knowing there was more to Eleanor's words.

"I won't lie to you and say that my normal solution to this wouldn't be the bestowal of a dukedom and a very generous cash payoff in gold," Eleanor said. "And I won't lie to you further by saying that when you bring my Richard home, in the coronation festivities, I will see that patents are drawn creating you the first Duke of Nottingham with the lands and money that go with such a title with a corresponding place on the king's council."

"Your Majesty,-"

"And," Eleanor said. "I will not lead you on by letting you know that I plan to issue an edict reconfirming the bestowal of the lands of Lady Marian's late father at Knighton to your eldest son."

Robin was silent before he looked up and said, "And, yet, even all of that would not be enough to get me to leave my home and family. There is something more you have to tempt me, so speak."

Eleanor laughed, "Oh, you're very good."

Robin frowned as Eleanor continued. "You may recall a young girl who used to work here in the kitchens at Nottingham Castle approximately two and a half years ago. Her name, I believe, was Annie."

Robin frowned before he shook his head, "I don't-"

"While this Annie who was a scullery maid of some kind is not all that important, her son, whom I believe she named Seth, is important... because of whom his father was," Eleanor said.

"Seth?" Robin said softly. "I recall a child named Seth that was abandoned in Sherwood Forest, but-"

"His father abandoned him to die in the forest because he was ashamed of his bastard child being discovered when he hoped to marry Edward Fitzwalter's daughter," Eleanor said.

Suddenly realizing that playing anything with Eleanor would be more apt to insult her than to appease her, Robin sighed with a grimace, admitting that he knew of that which the queen spoke. At last, he said grimly, "Gisbourne."

Eleanor nodded. "Gisbourne."

"I still don't understand what Gisbourne's infant son, who must surely no longer be an infant, has to do with me," Robin said. Looking up at Eleanor he added, "Or, my wife."

Eleanor shrugged, "I have been told that after you helped the girl and the child 'start a new life' in York, one of Gisbourne's 'family friends' happened upon them."

"Gisbourne had no family, and certainly, he had no family friends," Robin said.

Eleanor shrugged again, "And yet Stephen de Beauchamp petitioned for and was granted the guardianship of Seth de Gisbourne."

"De Gisbourne?" Robin said in disgust. "You cannot be serious."

"Well," Eleanor said as her finger traced the edge of the table, "It's not like the boy's father could claim him, bastard or no, now, could he?"

Robin's eyes widened.

Eleanor smiled as comprehension dawned. "I can be a powerful friend and advocate to those whom I chose to support, Robin of Locksley. I believe I have also just demonstrated to you how well I am informed."

"Indeed, Your Majesty," Robin admitted.

Eleanor continued, "And as Richard's regent, I have the power to grant universal pardons for any past crimes committed in the king's name."

"King Richard already issued a pardon to me and my men overturning the outlawing that Vasay pushed through a dummy court," Robin said quietly.

"True," Eleanor said. "But, Richard's pardon only applied to your outlaw status now, didn't it?"

Robin's eyes widened as the Queen shook her head, "Poor Richard has yet to learn that you must be thorough in such matters - every eventuality must be anticipated, if at all possible. Fortunately, for you, Locksley, I am more thorough than my son, as my pardons can legally make charges of murder go away."

"Murder?" Robin said incredulously. "It was no murder. He tried to kill my wife."

"And yet he is dead and she is not," Eleanor said.

"He ran her through with a sword," Robin said, a glint of something wild coming into his eyes.

"And you returned the favor?" Eleanor said.

"In honorable combat," Robin said. "Gisbourne was challenged and lost."

Eleanor shrugged. "Perhaps, but either way, de Beauchamp plans to press the issue in the king's court where it just so happens that my son John is currently presiding in an attempt to keep him out of trouble... hence why I should think my offer might be more attractive than you originally thought."

"Why?" Robin said, anger creeping into his voice. "Why does de Beauchamp do this? I have never even met the man and he seeks to destroy my family?"

Eleanor laughed. "I should think that obvious, Locksley. He wants Gisbourne's lands."

"Which were mine to begin with!" Robin said, a bit more loudly than he had intended.

Eleanor shrugged. "Either way, my pardon makes any chance John has to rule against you disappear like rain in Acre during the summer. There is no need to take that chance now, is there?"

"And the cost of the pardon…." Robin began.

"And perhaps even being granted young Seth's wardship yourself," Eleanor added thoughtfully.

"is me leaving my wife and home," Robin continued warily.

Eleanor frowned, "Home yes, wife, not necessarily." Robin looked up questioningly. Eleanor nodded, "Take her with you. As I said, I will provide enough resources to keep you both comfortable. But, the price of my assistance in making de Beauchamp and little Seth de Gisbourne's claims go away is the safe return of my son."

Robin sighed, "She will not like this."

"There are worse things in life than mere displeasure," Eleanor said before she paused and looked up at Robin. "Tell me, Locksley, has she ever been to Germany?" Eleanor asked.

Robin shook his head.

Eleanor smiled, "Germany is a lovely country, so my Henry's mother was so found of telling me. She was Empress of that country, you know, once upon a time. But, as for you and the problem of your Countess, consider the journey the honeymoon you've never had. Go to Germany, save my son, come home, get the pardon, become a duke, and we'll celebrate your child's christening in one stupendous celebration with the exchequer paying the bill." Eleanor paused before she nodded and said, "Besides, getting out of England for a bit would perhaps do Lady Marian some good. I've birthed ten children, and to date, I've never experienced such sudden sickness at the appearance of a queen unless that woman was doing something ignominious with my Henry."

Robin looked up at the queen. They were quiet for a moment before she broke the silence. Nodding, she said, "Now, your answer, Lord Locksley?"

Robin looked down as he said softly, "I think you already know."

Eleanor smiled a very bright smile that brought chills to Robin's spine. She nodded and said, "My man Bernart will be in contact. Safe journeys, Locksley. I'll see you when you return."

Eleanor moved to the door and turned before she left, "And when you see my son, tell him that I love him and have missed him... and eagerly await his quick return home."

Nodding, Robin said nothing more as the queen quietly shut the door behind her.

The queen had been gone for some time when Marian quietly opened the door and entered the chamber. Robin sat before the fire, starring into the flames, not even looking up to acknowledge Marian's arrival. His wife slightly concerned at Robin's thoughtfulness, Marian only gained his attention when she touched her hand to his shoulder.

Somewhat startled, Robin looked up with concern evident in his eyes as he nodded at Marian. "How do you feel?"

Marian shrugged as she came forward as she allowed Robin to pull her in his lap. "Better," she said. "Allan found me and went all the way to the kitchens for some biscuits. We munched on them in the halls. It was a bit drafty, but the biscuits settled my stomach almost instantly."

"Good," Robin said as he began to rub Marian's back. He said nothing, Robin's silence prompting Marian to speak.

"The queen has gone?"

Robin nodded.

Marian was careful at choosing her words as she said, "Allan told me about the king."

Robin nodded again, "He's being held prisoner by the Holy Roman Emperor."

Marian nodded herself. "And the queen wants you to go and rescue him?"

Robin looked up, somewhat surprised as Marian as he said, "Did Allan tell you that?"

Shaking her head, Marian said, "No."

"Then how-?"

Marian shrugged, "If I were in the queen's place, and King Richard were my son, who do you think I would ask to lead the rescue mission?"

Robin nodded with a long sigh.

Marian was quiet for a moment before she said, "When do you and Allan leave?"

Looking up, Robin's eyebrows arched in surprise as he said, "What makes you think that I'm going anywhere?"

At Robin's words, Marian laughed. "Robin," Marian said as she caught her breath. "Really, what else could you do *but* rescue the king?"

Robin was silent again before he looked away and said, "You know I have no choice in this?"

Marian frowned as she said, "What did the queen say to you?"

Robin sighed. "There is a man in York, a man named Stephen de Beauchamp who has been awarded the guardianship of a young child named Seth de Gisbourne."

Marian gasped slightly at Robin's words, but she said nothing as he continued.

"De Beauchamp, according to the queen's sources, plans to file charges against the man he believes murdered young Seth's father. If I help ensure the king's safe return to England, Queen Eleanor has promised that such charges would disappear under the umbrella of a royal pardon that even Prince John's royal court could not sway."

Standing, Marian got under and sat on the bed. She was silent for a moment before she nodded at Robin and said, "I know we had an unspoken agreement that we would never mention what happened in Acre, Robin, but there is a question I must ask you."

"You want to know if de Beauchamp's accusation has possible validity?" Robin said, leaning forward in his chair.

Marian shook her head, "We have never spoken of what happened to Gisbourne in the time between when he fled after he stabbed me in Acre and when Djaq and Will brought me to you in near Portsmouth."

Robin stood and began to pace in front of the fire. He did not look at Marian as he slowly began to tell his tale.

"You have to understand," Robin said, not making eye contact with Marian lest, he lose his resolve, "We I left Acre, I thought you were dead and buried. I thought everything I ever loved in this world had been taken away, and I thought the person who was to blame for all of it - all the pain and emptiness I was feeling was Guy of Gisbourne."

Looking up to gauge her reaction, Marian merely nodded in hopes Robin would continue.

Turning from her again, Robin continued to pace as he said, "By the time Djaq and Will realized that you were still alive, my ship had sailed. I wanted to get as far away from Acre as possible." He paused again, as if straining to recall the details of his story, "I don't remember a lot of the journey back to England. After the fact, Much told me that he and John were my constant companions to make sure I ate and slept and didn't jump off the boat into the sea."

"Much was afraid you were going to kill yourself?" Marian asked quietly.

Robin shrugged, "What he didn't realize was that there were actually two choices as to how I could handle your death - kill myself or kill someone else. Much didn't know until we had landed in Portsmouth that I had chosen to kill someone else."

"Gisbourne?" Marian asked.

Robin nodded. "Gisbourne."

Silent for a moment, Robin said, "It was fairly easy finding him and Vasay once they returned to England... They headed straight for Prince John's castle at Longchamp. I waited for them and intercepted them one day when the pair were planning to return to Nottingham. I had John and Much and Allan take Vasay to London so that the Bishop of Ely could imprison Vasay in the Tower until Queen Eleanor could pass judgment on him in the royal court."

"And Guy?" Marian asked.

Robin's eyes hardened as he looked up at Marian's use of Gisbourne's first name. He shook his head, "Gisbourne did not go with Vasay to the Tower."

Marian moved forward and touched Robin's arm. She nodded at him as she said, "Please understand that I ask this not out of pity for, or even interest in, Guy of Gisbourne's fate, Robin. Know that it is you and only you whom I have ever loved."

Robin nodded, "Ask your question."

"What happened to him?" Marian said softly.

"I made him pay," Robin said, the darkness of his tone unsettling Marian. "I thought he had taken from me everything I ever loved, and so I wanted to make him feel as empty and as lost as I did. I wanted to make him hurt, I wanted to make him pay."

Marian bit her lip but said nothing as Robin nodded and said, "Surely you knew that, Marian. I thought he had killed you and so I killed him?"

"And yet surely it wasn't murder, Robin," Marian said softly.

Robin raised an eyebrow, "But wasn't it?"

Marian looked away and heaved a heavy sigh of breath. "Even now Gisbourne tries to take you away from me." She nodded before she looked up and said, "So be it. Tell me, Robin, what happened."

Robin was silent for a moment before he said, "I killed him. I shot him with an arrow in the right hand, the same hand he used to stab you, and then I took my sword and killed him."

"And there is no way," Marian said, "that it could not be considered trial by combat?"

Robin shrugged, "The queen said it herself. You are alive, and he is not."

"But you thought-"

"My mindset does not matter, only the facts of what happened matter in the king's court of law, Marian," Robin said.

"There is no proof it was not trial by combat," Marian said tentatively.

Robin shook his head. "The only witness is dead and buried in Sherwood Forest."

"Then there is no proof that it was not trial by combat," Marian said more definitively.

Robin shrugged, "Either way, I cannot take a chance that Prince John would try to hurt our family in retribution for my loyalty to King Richard and so I must go to Germany."

Marian nodded softly with a smile amending his statement, "Then *we* must go to Germany?"

Robin eyed Marian as he said, "I did not think you would want to leave England."

"Germany is not the Holy Land," Marian said. "I will come... unless you still don't think I'll name the baby Robert?"

Robin laughed, some of the gloom dissipating from the heaviness of the air. "I put nothing past you, Lady Marian."

"Good," Marian said, pulling Robin into a tight embrace. "So, when do we leave?"

Three weeks later, Marian sat in front of Robin on a horse as he guided the animal during their journey. Much rode beside them on their right side while Allan-a-Dale rode on their left side. Dressed all in black, Robin looked more like an assassin than the head of a rescue party sent to Germany by Queen Eleanor. Leaning into his warmth, Marian felt Robin pull her more tightly too him as they headed deeper and deeper into the territory of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, in search of their king.

"I love you," Marian murmured to Robin as she snuggled into his embrace. Robin smiled, "You're still not using me as a pillow again tonight, Marian."

Marian chuckled. "We'll just see about that now, won't we?"

~The End~