Disclaimer: Ropbin Hood POT does not belong to me, it is property of…Disney, I think.
A/N: I'm not sure what this will be yet exactly. I know it will be a series of kind of related one-shots but not in chronological order that will most likely revolve around Will as he grows up. This first one came to me as I was reading some reviews from my previous RH fics, one of which said I was inferring a relationship between Will and John etc that isn't actually there. So, in true fan author tradition, I wrote a story to make it be there. Regardless of the reasons, I think it makes for a nice family piece.
Ages (if anyone would care to know): Will is ten, Wulf is two or three, and John and Fanny are somewhere between twenty-four and thirty. It's set roughly ten years before the film.
Quick shout out to Ihni and Jemlou who read and gave feedback on this story for me before I decided whether to post it or not. Your help was invaluable, both of you! You are both lovely, helpful people and I'm very lucky to have you. Many thanks guys! X
John Little stopped in his tracks as he caught sight of the familiar curled up figure that was just visible in the flickering fire light coming from inside his home. Bidding the other men goodnight, he continued across the little village, coming to a stop by the door to his home and eyeing the unmoving form perturbedly. The boy sat with his arms folded about his drawn up knees, face buried in them and motionless except for the occasional shuddering breaths that wracked his small frame. John cleared his throat loudly. The boy sniffled once before drawing his sleeve across his nose and raising his face to peer hopefully at John. Taking in the bloodied nose and the way tear tracks still shone upon the otherwise grimy face, John huffed irritatedly. Perhaps sensing his irritation, the child lowered his face to his arms once more and hugged himself closer. Seeing this and hearing the stifled sobs coming from the shaking figure at his feet, John felt his ill will wane slightly. He raised his gaze to the window through which he could see his wife stirring broth of some kind over a crackling stove, her rounded belly tight against her patched dress. Beside her, he saw his infant son and daughter - the latter still in her first year - who were happily babbling to one another on the floor. He flicked his gaze back to the boy at his feet, then across the darkened road towards the boy's own home. The house was in total darkness, its ragged curtains flapping in the cold autumn breeze and silent except for the quiet, desperate keening noises from its lone inhabitant. The child gave a particularly harsh sob that became a cough and returned to his near silent weeping. John felt what little he had left of his annoyance wobble and collapse completely.
Cursing whatever lustful scoundrel had helped to conceive this pitiful bastard whom he clearly did not want, John returned his gaze to the child.
"Well," he said abruptly, "you coming in then, lad?"
The boy paused in his weeping to stare tearfully up at John. He held the man's gaze but did not move, continuing to blink hopefully up at him.
Sighing long-sufferingly, John pushed the door open, flooding the doorstep in flickering orange light. "William," he barked. "In or out?"
Fearing the offer would be retracted; the boy scrambled to his feet and darted inside the house just in front of John.
"Mercy me!" exclaimed Fanny who had turned to greet her husband as he opened the door. "What the devil have you been getting in to now, Will Scarlett?" She gazed horror-struck as she took in the bedraggled waif who had preceded her husband into the house.
Will took a hesitant step towards her before pausing and turning to look at John, who nodded once before sweeping past them towards his children. Having received John's permission, he rushed toward the woman and flung his short arms about her stomach, burying his face in her apron. Instinctively, Fanny's arms wrapped around the little boy, petting his mousy hair and rocking him slightly. Lifting both of his small children in his great arms, John turned to her and shook his head in mock despair. In truth, seeing her play mother to another man's son ought to have infuriated him – and to some extent, it did – but in that moment, seeing her in her element as a woman, swollen-bellied with one child and yet so full of care for another filled him with pride and he felt a huge swell of love for his wife.
Lowering his infant daughter to the bed, he stepped around his wife and her charge, lifting the lid from the pot and inhaling the scent of the simmering broth inside. Glancing at what meagre food his wife had been able to put together, he thanked the Lord that their little family was not yet so large that they could not spare a little for the poor starving son of a madwoman. Setting his son upon the floor, he began ladling himself a bowlful that was less than he would have liked but would have to suffice. He glanced at his wife again who had now settled herself and the boy upon the bed beside John's daughter. The boy sat with his head resting upon her bosom, his arms still around her waist while she had placed one arm around his small shoulders, the other smoothing his matted hair.
"There now," Fanny murmured when Will's crying had reduced to shuddering breaths. "What's all this then, my lad?"
Sniffling and dragging his sleeve across his face, Will sat back, staring moodily into his lap. John watched from the corner of his eye, slurping stew hungrily. The boy did not answer.
"William," Fanny prompted sternly, taking his face in one hand and beginning to wipe the grime and blood away with one corner of her apron. "What fight have you gotten into this time? More silly horseplay gone too far with that new lad?"
"He called my mother a whore," he whispered angrily, wrenching his chin out of Fanny's grasp and scowling at nothing.
"Who did?" Fanny asked, surprised that a newcomer would have the guts to voice aloud what even some of the local lads were too afraid to say to the fierce little urchin in front of her.
"Luke," Will spat.
Fanny's alarmed gaze met John's shocked one. "Luke?"
Will nodded. "Luke, the smithy's boy?" He started to nod again but flinched and cried out as Fanny's hand slapped him upside the head. His hurt look had no effect on either of the Littles. "Don't you give me that look, William Scarlett," Fanny ordered furiously, smacking him several times on the arm. "You had no business picking a fight with him – that boy is twice your age!"
"Ain't you got the good sense God gave you?" John added loudly from the table, thinking of the boy (who was no more than eleven) trying to hold his own against a young man of near twenty. It was no wonder the boy had looked so roughed up.
"I hope he thrashed you good and hard," Fanny continued under her breath, resuming her ministrations none too gently this time. "Or I might just see to it myself." John silently thought that somebody ought to.
"No! He call– " Will began beseechingly.
"William," Fanny interrupted firmly, ignoring the mutinous glare being sent her way by Will. "D'you think I want my boy, or daughter, or this one in here," she placed her hand over her stomach, "growing up picking fights with people twice their age?" Will shook his head. "So don't you go doing it neither, right?" Will raised his eyebrows and shrugged arrogantly, not meeting her gaze. "William?" she prompted warningly.
"YES!" Will finally snapped angrily.
"Good lad," Fanny praised, reaching out and wiping away a few furious tears that had been making their way down the boy's face, tucking his hair behind his ear as she did so. "Here," she said rising from the bed and plucking her son from the floor and placing him in Will's arms. "Take Wulf for a minute – I can't get a moments peace with him around."
Whether to prove her point, or because he enjoyed being given a new playmate, Wulf began chattering incessantly to himself and Will. Will scowled dubiously at the little boy before relenting and settling down on the floor to half-heartedly play with him.
Rising from his chair, John moved to stand behind his wife who stood at the stove once more. Wrapping his enormous arms around her, he could feel her trembling slightly. She reached one hand up to squeeze his where it rested over her stomach. She raised her other hand to her face and turned into him slightly. Though muffled by his own body, he heard her mutter something about 'setting a bad example' and 'twice his age, John!' Feeling a wave of fury wash over him, he glared at the young boy who was wincing as Wulf climbed over him to get to a toy he had hidden behind his back. Seeing him sat there, innocently playing with their son, John could hardly believe the boy could have aroused such distress in his wife.
Dishing up two bowlfuls of stew, Fanny turned and called Will over. Having been momentarily distracted, Will yelped when Wulf suddenly pulled his hair particularly hard. Will gave Wulf an indignant shove that made the infant hiccup in surprise before letting loose some earsplittingly loud wails. Incensed, John advanced on Will, yanking him up by one arm and sending him over to Fanny with several almighty wallops across his backside.
Fanny set a bowl down in front of a once more sniffling Will, adding a light smack of her own to the back of his head as he sat down. Glancing at John, who had snatched Wulf up from the ground and was tossing him in the air before catching him once more, she caressed the patch of hair she had struck.
"Eat up," she commanded quietly, "then you can go to bed and be home by dawn – before your mother ever knows you've been gone." She silently thought that Anne very rarely noticed if Will was gone or not but she thought it best not to say it aloud.
Will smiled shyly up at her, slurping loudly and hungrily as if someone might take it away again.
"Say your prayers now, Will."
Will obediently recited a passage of the Bible in Latin, having no clue as to what it meant, and looked to Fanny for her approval before settling down on to the pile of rags and old blankets that would serve as his bed for the night. Laying the final blanket over Will's scarcely waking body, Fanny turned to find Wulf at her feet for the umpteenth time since it became clear to him that Will was staying there for the night. Frowning indulgently, she looked a question at Will who shrugged, too tired to do anything else. Raising the blanket and laying Wulf upon Will's makeshift bed too, she retired to her own bed.
John finished putting out the flames and blew out the candle, smiling as his son's high voice broke the silence as he bade his father goodnight.
"Goodnight, my lad", John murmured, pausing by the curtain that separated their bed from the rest of the house. Then – almost as an afterthought – he grunted "G'night, William."
Receiving no answer, he turned to see if Will was already asleep. He was not. John turned just in time to catch the way the boy squished his eyes shut tightly but not before John had seen the dying light from the fire glinting in the boy's eyes, which were awake and fixed upon him. Unsure what to make of the strange, fierce, little scrapper gracing their house, John climbed into his own bed where his wife was waiting for him with their daughter.
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