A/N: Let me just say, that I was not the one who added the ridiculous witch to Prince of Thieves. But I can't pass up the opportunities.
The guards shoved him and sent Will tumbling down the last few steps to the dungeon floor. He crashed to the ground, his bound hands just barely reaching up in time to protect his face. The guards didn't give him a chance to recover; they dragged him over and chained him up with the other prisoners.
They formed a small semicircle in the cramped, lowest section of Nottingham's dungeon. Will drew his legs up and hugged his knees. He watched the last of the men be herded into the circle and chained up: Robin, Wulf, and Bull. Of course Robin would get his idiot self captured, but to top it off, Azeem was sitting in this cozy little prison party as well. It was perfect. Just perfect. So now it was up to John, the only man left at camp with a scrap of intelligence, to mount a rescue.
They were in for a long wait.
"Do you think they'll send for the Sheriff?" Wulf asked, trying and failing to conceal his fear.
Will rolled his eyes. If there was anything worse than getting captured with this pathetic lot, it was the fact they had been overpowered by the second string. The sheriff along with his personal best soldiers were up in London, trying to gain some political advantage and get some help dealing with Hood's merry band.
But apparently the Sheriff didn't need help. He just needed one of Locksley's brilliant plans to fail, all because he trusted Much and Bull to not screw things up.
The only bright spot? These soldiers hadn't recognized Locksley, a fact the men were trying desperately to keep hidden. Apparently the noble had become dirty and unkempt enough to pass as a normal peasant. Azeem's presence had made the soldiers suspicious, and they had unsuccessfully tried to trick the men into revealing Locksley, but so far not even Much had fallen for their attempts.
"Not a chance." Robin awkwardly tried to put an arm around Wulf, which was made difficult by his bound wrists.
"As long as the soldiers are uncertain of Christian's identity, their fear will keep them from contacting the Sheriff. His…intolerance for mistakes is too well-known."
"Which gives your father plenty of time to make a rescue," Robin finished. Bull punched Wulf lightly on the arm, and the two of them grinned at Robin's words.
Will rolled his eyes.
Bull saw the action and his face darkened. "Unless Scarlett here turns Robin in for the reward."
All eyes turned to Will. Then Much piped up, 'That's right, he was planning on turning Robin in a few months ago."
"And the reward's even higher now." The other men were beginning to mutter. Will's hands clenched.
Wulf leaned forward, sneering into Will's face; "If you turn Robin in my father will string you up the nearest tree!"
"Wulf! That's enough." Locksley stared hard at all his men. "No one is turning anybody in. All right?" Robin waited, bringing every ounce of his leadership to bear. Slowly the men visibly began to back down. "Now everybody settle down."
Will finally spoke. "You realize of course, that all they have to do is bring in the Lady Marian. She'll have to turn you in."
Robin frowned, that thought hadn't occurred to him. He considered it. "They wouldn't dare," he decided at last. "Marian's the cousin of the king. Nottingham could send for her, but these soldiers have no authority to do so."
Will snorted. "I hope you're right Locksley."
Robin chose to take the high road, mainly because he knew it would irritate Scarlett the most. "I hope I am too," he agreed with a self-deprecating smile. But oh how he wanted to smirk at Will's glare.
Azeem broke in. "The main thing Christian is they cannot find out who you are. You must not be so…"
"Authoritative," Azeem ignored Will, "or they'll know you're our leader. You must keep a low profile."
"In other words, he wants you to act like us dumb peasants."
It was time for some charm. "I would consider it an honor. All of you are brave, hardworking men. You provide for and defend your families; you fight against evil tyrants like Nottingham, who strip you of your freedom. You are all courageous, valiant men, and I would be proud to act like one of you." He was laying it on thick, but his men were beaming.
"Hear hear!" one of them toasted, and a small cheer went up.
Robin turned back to Will. This time he did smirk.
Will's jaw tightened, but he waited for the laughter and cheers to dwindle, a gleam in his eyes.
"Let's see it then."
Robin frowned. "What do you mean?"
"You just said you'd consider it an honor to stop being your rich, noble self and pretend to be a poor, simple peasant. So show us, sire, how you think men from the lower stations should act."
A very careful silence followed Will's challenge. Then, there was a half-concealed snicker, then another-even Bull was fighting a grin.
They were waiting for him to make a mistake, Robin realized. Worse, they were already enjoying watching him squirm. Oh, it wasn't malicious on their part. But with a few words, Will had united his band of peasants against the noble. All of his men enjoyed ganging up on the upper classes-just Robin usually had enough hero worship that shielded him from that tendency. Not now though. Right now the men were enjoying watching Will make the rich man squirm. Currently the men considered it harmless, lighthearted mocking, but if Robin said the wrong thing, he knew he risked alienating many of his men.
It could be a tense situation. But at least there was one thing Robin didn't lack. And that was courage. He answered Will.
"Well if I were to act like a 'poor, dumb peasant,' I guess I'd just follow your lead Scarlett."
The others didn't bother controlling themselves: they howled in delight.
Locksley immediately regretted his words. He knew his men were always eager to gang up on Scarlett; it seemed to be a natural part of Will's charm to irritate everyone around him. It didn't mean that Robin needed to lead them in it though, no matter how much Will did on the other end.
"I forget, what's the going price on your head these days?"
Robin couldn't help it; he laughed. Will was more than capable of holding his own in their fights. And besides, Will's last statement had almost had a touch of friendliness to it. Robin knew Will wouldn't turn him in for the reward. Somehow he just knew it.
There was the sound of footsteps on the stairs, then the door flew open and the ugliest, creepiest woman burst in. Her too-long too-white hair was tangled and matted around her sickly pale face. She stared at the men through her mismatched eyes. Her hands flew in the air, showcasing her disturbingly long finger-talons. As if her grotesque appearance wasn't enough she let out a piercing, screeching wail.
"The witch," Wulf whimpered and huddled closer to Robin.
"The painted man," the witch shrieked. She took a few steps back, seemingly horrified as she stared at Azeem. Then she…giggled. She rushed over.
Instantly Will struck out, jabbing his boot into her legs. She went down with a howl, landing on Locksley's feet. Locksley leaped on her, pinning her to the ground as he tried to find anything on her that they could use. Keys, a dagger, even a sewing needle would be better than nothing.
But the witch had nothing.
And she was back on her feet. As she leaned forward, hand poised to slap Locksley, Wulf decided to get in on the action. He spit in her face.
The witch…howled. Where had the sheriff gotten this maniac?
The commander and several guards finally swept into the dungeon. "What is going on here?"
The witch howled again. The soldiers shifted uneasily. They did not want to mess with the Sheriff's witch.
The commander took a breath. He was in charge while his superiors were in London; he could handle this. He had to handle this. He moved forward and tapped the howling woman on the shoulder.
Instantly she stopped. She whirled her attention back to Wulf: Robin quickly moved to shield him as much as possible. "Leave my son alone."
Robin saw the others' looks of approval and resisted the urge to smirk. Yes, he wasn't some idiotic noble; he knew how to hide his identity.
The commander gritted his teeth. "Ma'am, you're not allowed to be here. This is a restricted area."
"But it's the painted man," she insisted, her attention shifting back to Azeem.
"I know the painted man, very exciting, but we have bigger problems. Now this is a private area—"
"Sir, she could be able to help us," one of the soldiers hesitantly piped up. "She is the sheriff's witch after all."
"You might be right." The commander turned back to the hag. "Ma'am, can you identify Robin Hood?"
Finally a semblance of sanity appeared on her face. She cautiously ran her eye over every one; even she knew the risk of misidentifying Locksley. "It's difficult to say. I might…wait!" She flung her clawed hands dramatically up as inspiration struck. "Send some of your men to Locksley manor. The Lord Locksley should be buried there."
The guard looked at her curiously. "He is. Hood evidently buried him."
The witch beamed. "Dig up his grave and bring me some of his bones."
Robin bit his tongue. Hard.
None of the soldiers looked excited about that command. "I'm sorry, you want my men to do what?"
The witch smiled her crazy smile. "With the bones of his father I can brew a poison that will only affect Locksley. Give it to these men and we'll know for sure if he's here."
Robin couldn't hold his fury and horror in any longer. He was about to leap to his feet when he saw Will. Robin could see the demand in his eyes, the demand for Robin to stay put and keep quiet. That alone would not have stopped him; he was past caring about his identity or safety now. But there was something else in Will's eyes that made him stop. He drew strength from the shared horror reflected back to him.
The commander ordered some of the soldiers to go out to dig up Locksley's bones. Cackling, the witch left to begin her potion. But a couple of soldiers stayed, making actual conversation among the prisoners impossible.
For Robin's part, he couldn't think, couldn't process what the witch was about to do to his father. He pulled Wulf in close, drawing comfort himself as he tried to encourage his friend's son. He glanced at Azeem who quietly showed his approval of Robin's actions (or lack thereof) and his sympathy. It wasn't enough though. He turned back to Will.
Will met his eyes again, but this time there was a tinge of fear in his gaze. Robin watched as the wheels started turning in his head. It gave him hope; he couldn't come up with a plan himself right now, but oddly enough he found that he trusted Scarlett to do so.
Will turned to Much sitting next to him and murmured in his ear. Much looked at him in confusion. Will closed his eyes for a moment then began whispering again. Robin could almost hear Will's thoughts: this was the same man that had gotten them captured in the first place and now Will was trying to entrust a new plan to him. But finally Much's eyes lit up in understanding and he nodded. Will slowly turned his head and murmured to his other neighbor. Adam got it much faster; he nodded and turned to the prisoner next to him, but the guards finally caught on and stepped forward, silencing them.
Will turned back to Robin and one corner of his mouth lifted up in an attempt at a smile. Will was actually trying to lift his spirits. Could this day get any more bizarre?
The hours passed slowly. Will wasn't meeting his eyes anymore.
Then all too soon the witch returned with a small, steaming cauldron. She gave the ladle to the nearest guard. He sniffed the brew and started coughing and spluttering.
"Wow, now that's quite a potion. Looks like Robin Hood's already been found," Will mocked. "It's funny, you don't look like a noble."
Much and Adam snickered. The guard glared at all of them.
"You shut your mouth you disgusting, stinking peasant."
"Or you'll cough all over me?"
The guard punched him. He snatched the pot out of the witch's hands and forcefully poured it into Will's mouth. The steaming liquid scoured his throat, leaving him gasping and choking pitifully.
The guard took a moment to laugh at Will's pain, then he turned his ministrations to the others. Through the pain and the choking, Will bided his time.
The witch and the other guards were watching in eager anticipation, their eyes bright with the gleam of a thousand future gold pieces.
The guard had succeeded in getting Adam to swallow the vile liquid. He turned to Much who was much easier to subdue. Quickly the guard finished with Much and started on the next. Will nodded…
And Adam screamed in agony and collapsed.
The witch screamed along in delight. "I knew it! Robin of the Hood! I have found him out!"
And then Will screamed and collapsed.
And with a howl Much fell forward, clutching his stomach.
"All three of them are Robin Hood?" one of the other guards muttered.
The rest of the group understood quickly and in a few moments every prisoner was moaning and doubled over in theatrical agony.
"This is pointless," the commander muttered in disgust. He grabbed the witch and hauled her out of the dungeon, his guards following.
Pretty soon the men stopped their groaning and sat up, grinning.
"That was a brilliant idea Adam," one of the others congratulated the first 'victim.'
Adam beamed. "It was. But it was Scarlett's idea not mine."
Will was still hunched over. When he heard his name he sat up and leaned against the wall. Every movement was slow and deliberate.
"That was good thinking Will. Thanks."
Will rubbed his aching eyes. "Don't mention it." He wasn't able to do any cleverer repartee than that.
The others continued to congratulate one another on their success, but Robin watched Will. He still had his eyes clenched shut, and he was starting to tremble.
It hurt. He pulled his legs up.
"Nothing rich boy," he grit out. His head was pounding.
He couldn't show them he was in pain. He knew that was important, he just couldn't remember why. His body was on fire, but he felt so cold. That didn't make sense. He heard voices but he couldn't understand, he tried to turn his head to focus, but that simple movement threw off his balance and he was falling.
Robin surged forward as Will collapsed to the ground, but the chains brought him up short.
"What's wrong with him?" Locksley demanded as the others just stared at Will's prone form. Much timidly reached out a hand.
"He's burning up."
Robin couldn't help but smile as Will clumsily slapped the hand away. But it disappeared as Will curled in on himself, trembling even more violently.
Robin pulled at his restraints, but they wouldn't let him get any closer. He could only watch, useless to help the man who had probably just saved his life.
Will Scarlett. The man who was always challenging his orders, insulting him, trying to get the others to turn against him. He shouldn't – didn't like Will.
So why did it seem like he was the only one who cared that he was dying?
More hours had passed, with only Will's pained breathing breaking the quiet that had descended on the group.
Robin pulled at his chains again. His wrists were beginning to bleed from his attempts.
"You cannot help him Christian."
Robin glanced at him. They were back to where they started, him and Azeem. Imprisoned in a dungeon and helpless to keep a fr- a companion from dying. A companion who once again sacrificed himself for Robin.
Robin yanked on the chains. Why? Why did he do it? Will didn't like him.
He didn't even hear the cell door open and the soldiers come in, until Wulf was exclaiming, "Father!"
John had rescued them.
As soon as the cuffs were off him, Robin was at Will's side. He couldn't help the satisfaction he felt when Will curled in on him. He squeezed Will's neck in silent support.
Gently he raised Will's hands so that John could unlock him from his own chains.
"Will? Listen, we're about to get out of here. I know you're hurting, but you have to be very quiet."
"Not an idiot," Will mumbled.
"I'll help you."
"I can walk," the voice was weak but still snappish.
"No arguments Will," he chuckled as he pulled him to his feet. And physically there weren't any. As soon as Will straightened he buried his face in Robin's shoulder to stifle his cry of pain. Robin stroked Will's head. "Just a little while longer."
One by one they slipped out into the pitch-dark hallway, leaving the guards the rescuers had jumped locked and gagged in the dungeon. Even in Nottingham castle at the dead of night the torches were few and far between, leaving perfect cover for the prisoners to tiptoe their way to freedom.
Robin clutched Will to him the entire time, supporting him as they miraculously made their way to the gate, where more of John's men stood guard. Then they were clambering into the wagon and hightailing it back to Sherwood.
"Hang on Will."
The instant they were back in camp, he hauled Will into his own quarters and laid him gently on the bed. Will was out of it, just quietly moaning. He rolled up his sleeves as Azeem joined him.
"So what do you need?"
"Tell me what you need me to do," he clarified. "Boil water, roll bandages -"
"He was not wounded."
"make broth, grab more blankets, find some leeches." Robin's grin faded as Azeem continued to stare at him. "Come on this should be easy, you saved Fanny and her baby."
"That was a problem I had seen many times. I regret I am not as familiar with the potions of your English witches."
"You're not familiar? Look at him. He's practically screaming in pain, his blood's boiling, his head's killing him and he's shivering nonstop. Even I know some ways to help these things. You know what, just go. I'll take care of this my—"
"I can and will treat the symptoms, but the poison is in him, and I cannot cure that. I can't. I do not know what she gave him."
The fight seemed to leave Robin then; he slumped into his chair. He took Will's hand as a quiet sob of pain escaped.
He drew a breath. "So are you going to fix these symptoms or not oh Great One?"
Azeem nodded. Blankets were thrown on Will, the fire was stoked, wet rags were applied, mint-laden broths were cooked. Robin couldn't help but wince as Will fought from being forced to swallow another potion, even one meant to quiet the pain. He rubbed soothing circles on the back of Will's hand.
Azeem's ministrations finally stilled. He considered what else to say to the miserable man.
He softened his tone. "This is not an illness Christian. It is not something I can fix. …. But I do not believe the witch meant to kill you. It could be that Will Scarlett is in no mortal danger."
"Yes but it wasn't supposed to hurt any of the others, so something must have gone wrong with…with her recipe," he viciously spat out the last.
"That is a possibility," Azeem allowed.
Robin frowned. His mind was beginning to clear, finally shaking off the fog of fear and panic. And the events were not adding up well.
"Are any of the others feeling sick?" he asked casually, not looking up.
He could feel Azeem's gaze. "No one."
Locksley's jaw tightened. The potion had been meant for him, but four others had taken it. And only Will Scarlett was writhing in pain.
He considered the possibilities.
He let go of Will's hand.
"I - I need to see how the camp is doing."
Azeem watched him go with a frown. He'd come to hope for more from his Christian. But then again he understood the implications as well as Locksley. And by his reaction, there seemed to be some possibility of them being true. His reaction was understandable. Azeem sighed. Still. It was disappointing.
But an hour later he returned. And Azeem's heart swelled as Christian quietly resumed his vigil.
Will opened his eyes.
Robin sucked in a breath. They had concluded he was out of danger some time earlier, but it was still a relief to see Will conscious. "Good morning," was all he said. Controlled. And chipper, just because it always annoyed the younger man. Old habits die hard and all.
Will blinked, taking in Robin's hut.
"Yeah, John was able to rescue us last night. Not surprised you don't remember. You were kind of out of it."
Will snorted at the understatement then winced at the lingering pain.
"Will I need to ask you something."
It took some moments for the younger man to process what Robin had said. Then Scarlett was rolling over, stumbling to his feet, and walking. Out the door.
"Will! Hold on!" He stepped in front of the other man, grabbed hold of his arm. "We need to talk about this." And slow down, because you almost died you stubborn little -
"About what? About the fact that your carelessness got us caught? No we don't need to talk about it. I think it's pretty obvious." He was already talking fast, defensive and edgy.
"You drank the potion that was meant for me."
"Yeah you're welcome." He shook off Robin's arm, brushed past him. But Robin stuck to his heels.
"You saved my life."
"I already said you're welcome. Leave me alone."
"You drank the potion meant for me and it affected you."
"That doesn't - I didn't," Will stopped. Huffed a laugh. "Locksley look, I'd already been sick for a few days, and that witch's brew was - ask any of the others. It was disgusting. And that just-just brought it all up. That's all."
Will walked off.
"Do you truly expect me to believe that?"
"I don't care what you –" Will stumbled. "what you believe," he finished in a wheeze. His strength was fading fast. He didn't even fight as Robin took hold of his arm and eased him down onto the ground.
"How old are you Will?"
Will flinched at the whisper and jerked Robin's hands off of him. He snarled at Robin's knowing gaze.
"You said it yourself rich boy, I saved your life. The least you could do is leave me alone."
Irritation rose. "I seem to recall you also tried to knife me in the back one time, so I'd say you're just breaking even on that front," Robin replied.
"So what then you want me gone? Fine."
"What? No. No!" He rushed to correct the younger man. "No."
He settled down next to Will with a sigh. This wasn't going well. Will was too defensive and—afraid.
"You're right Will. You saved my life. The rest of it, it doesn't matter." Will didn't look up, but Robin could tell he was listening. "I'm sorry."
He left the matter alone, content just to rest. Will still hadn't acknowledged Robin's words, but the tension was slowly dissipating. He hoped Will was realizing he wasn't going to throw him out of the camp. It shamed him more than he could say that Will had feared that, because he couldn't honestly say it hadn't crossed his mind in the first moments he had realized the truth.
"We need to strike back hard at Nottingham. Can't let this…fiasco give them any momentum."
"Don't look at me. I'm not trusting any of your plans ever again. "
"That's not fair. Most of my plans succeed."
"Just not the ones that include Much."
"There does seem to be a pattern developing." Robin could tell Will was calming with the return to normalcy. But he just couldn't let it all go.
"I am sorry for badgering you Will." He pressed on before Will could cut him off. "It just got me thinking, and Azeem and I were talking, and well, I was just hoping."
He could tell Will was fighting the urge to ask, knowing that had been Robin's intention, but finally he broke. "For what?"
"Well, Wulf's always talking about what it's like being an older brother. And Peter took it so seriously." Robin shrugged. "I guess I was just hoping for the chance."
Will was very still. Robin waited, letting his words sink in.
"Locksley I was just sick." He turned, regret in his eyes. "I was just sick."
Robin closed his eyes. "Okay," was all he said. "Okay."
Will wasn't going to admit to the truth. Couldn't trust Robin that far. But neither of them made a move to leave. They just sat there, shoulders lightly brushing, not wanting to end…whatever this was. It gave Robin hope. They might not be speaking the truth out loud, but…
Well. Maybe one day they could.