Author's Note: I know I said the previous chapter was the last one, but I decided to incorporate the second ending (I had two different ones right from the off) into the story – not just because it's a lot happier, but because it gives me the opportunity to tie up some loose ends and give a fuller ending. Thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed this story – it means a lot.

Chapter Twelve: Tapestries

"See you in your next life, when we'll fly away for good.

Stars in our own car, we can drive away from here.

Far away, so far away…"

"Next Life", Suede ("Suede", 1993)

It is cold. Dark and cold. As well as cramped. He can barely move and a bag made from some rough, irritating fabric is over his head. A lock clicks open, a door is released, but still no light enters Lucas's world; it is as dark as it ever was. Then, rough hands haul him to his unsteady feet, legs like jelly, they must hold him up or he'll just fall back down into the boot of the car he's just been hauled from. He cannot see Arkady Kachimov, but he can sense him on his right hand side. They lead him forwards a few steps and a hand – probably that of Kachimov – reaches out and pulls the bag off his head to reveal …

A wedding. The Church is small but packed full of peasants and villagers, tenants of the Bride and Groom. He recognises them both, but they cannot see him. He isn't really there. Robin and Marian are pronounced man and wife. She has flowers in her hair and her tears of happiness leave a diamante trail down her smiling face as she leans in to kiss her new husband. Robin's eyes are closed as he melts in her embrace and returns her kiss to the rapturous cheers of their friends and allies. King Richard stands in the place where the Bride's father should be – he has given her away. If the King is there, then the Sheriff is not. Lucas cannot imagine where he's gone, or what they did with him. All that matters is that he is gone and Robin is restored to what is rightfully his, with Marian at his side. That's all Lucas needs to see, it's all he needs to know.

He tries to look away, to intrude no further on the lives of his hosts. But the scene merely blurs and reforms in a grand manor house. He recognises this place, too. It was where Guy of Gisborne lived, but lives no more. The wedding feast is elaborate and the top table filled with the Outlaws – presumably Outlaws no more. They huddle together and raise their glasses away from the other guests, and drink a toast to Lucas North – the man who made it possible. He looks to Marian for the final time and, just for one fleeting moment, a shadow of sadness passes across her face as she raises her glass and speaks his name. They do not see him as he raises his hand in a gesture of farewell.

Outside, a car alarm wails. A sound most incongruous given the rustic settings. The scene darkens again; the car alarm getting louder and closer all the time. A brisk winds whips across his body and a woman screams shrilly, almost directly in his ear. Then the car alarm! His eyes snap open and a rush of reality hits him. He is face down on the now crumpled roof of a Vauxhall Astra. Something painful is pressing into his body and his shoulder is ablaze with pain, his arm hanging limp over the side of the car, dangling. He has dropped his phone. He rolls over slowly, careful not to fall over the side of the car and realises the laptop containing the Albany file is the painful something pressing into his stomach.

He sits up, dazed as he registers the looks on the faces of the people gathering around him. Agape and uncomprehending, they stare open mouthed at him.

"Harry Pearce!" he calls out to no one in particular. "Where is Harry Pearce?"

No one steps forward, but their muttering and humming voices pierce the alarm, an alarm joined then by the wail of an ambulance. The pain in his shoulder intensifies and he looks down to see the blood dripping from an open gunshot wound. Around his neck is a leather doggy tag with the image of a longbow seared into it. It happened. It all happened. Overwhelmed, the scene begins to spin, just like the first day he arrived in Sherwood. History repeats again, and he passes out cold as the ambulance screams to a halt.

"Six weeks, Harry. Six bloody weeks."

Ruth's voice emanates from the darkness. He can no longer feel any pain, but the bed he is in is soft and warm. Machines bleep happily in the distance of his ear-range, keeping him alive. He tries to move, but the darkness is a bond, keeping him securely in place. Has it really only been six weeks? It took more than that to get to the Holy Lands. But Lucas has given up trying to make sense of how time works. Lately, it has been playing some cruel tricks on him.

"He looks like he's been living in the wild. Just look at him!"

It is Harry who speaks now.

"He looks worse now than when he came back from Russia, and that's damn well saying something."

Silence. He thinks he's in a coma. He can hear everything going on around him, but he's a prisoner to the comforting darkness that surrounds him. In all honesty, he feels disinclined to try and make contact. He wants to stay there, wherever he is and just listen to the world passing him by.

Then, Harry breaks the silence again.

"I saw him fall, Ruth. Then his body turns up exactly where it should have been six bloody weeks later. He had the Albany file on him, too-"

"What did the Home Secretary say about that?" Ruth cuts across Harry.

A pause.

"Well, after Lucas jumped and vanished in a puff of invisible smoke, I told the Home Secretary that I had misread the situation. Lucas wasn't a traitor who'd given away a massive State Secret. Lucas had, in fact, faked his own death to chase the Albany File down to get it back after the Chinese had stolen it from us."

"And he believed it?" Ruth sounds incredulous.

"What could I say, Ruth? My Section Chief had leapt from the top of the Enver Tower and then pooff! Vanished off the face of the earth? And now that Lucas has brought it back safely, it's made the story water-tight."

"But you already told the Home Secretary you gave the file to Lucas-"

"I told him that was the cover story," Harry corrected her. He heaved a sigh. "I've been in this business long enough to know how to talk my way out of even the deepest of shit."

Ruth laughs. "So, these proceedings against you?"


Ruth sighs with relief. "We've still got one problem left, Harry."

His eyes stay shut, but he doesn't need to sight to tell him that they're both looking directly at him, now. He struggles against the invisible bonds that hold him in place, desperately trying to wake up as his mind screams at him to do so. He focuses every ounce of his being into raising a hand, opening his mouth, anything to show that he is still alive and still with them. But he feels nothing. Then, a chair scrapes back.

"Harry! Harry! He just moved. His hand twitched, I saw it," Ruth calls out.

"Do you think he can hear us?"

"Lucas! Lucas!"

Gentle hands are pressed against his shoulders, as if Ruth is trying to physically drag him out of his coma. Then, it's like swimming up from the depths of a pool. A rush of blood in his ears as he suddenly breaks the surface of his own unconsciousness and sits bolt upright with a start and a panic. There's a breathing tube down his throat and pulling it out makes him gag.

"Nurse! Nurse!" Harry's voice bellows out from the corner of the room.

Lucas still cannot talk, his throat is tinder dry. Even as he tries, Ruth lowers him back into his bed, fussing over him just like Djaq used to back in his cave when he had suffered his nightmares. The last time he saw Ruth, he had injected her with a powerful sedative. Now, here she is, acting like a concerned mother. As always, he could not read Harry's expression as he made himself visible to Lucas. He was about to speak when the nurse came bustling in, and she shooed them both away.

His wounds are patched up in fresh dressings after he is given a bed bath with warm, clean water. He brushes his teeth using real toothpaste. He shaves, with proper razors and foam. He reacquaints himself with indoor plumbing. All the creature comforts he has missed so sorely; so much so he forgets that is yet to have his first proper talk with Harry. He doesn't know what he will say. He doesn't know what the future will hold. But he knows there's only one way to find out.

It happens that evening, after he is awoken from a nap by a smiling nurse. "Your Dad's here to see you, Mister North," she beams at him.

He looks towards the door, where Harry hovers just out of sight. The nurse turns away promptly, leaving them alone together. "You're much too young to be his Dad, I'm sure!" she jokes as she passes Harry. He winks in response; the old charmer that he is.

Lucas lies back against his freshly plumped pillows and turns to face Harry. "Well Dad, let me have it."

He's far from sure that this is the right moment for any form of joke. But Harry doesn't react angrily. He calmly takes a seat at Lucas's bedside and leans thoughtfully against the mattress.

"I'm not angry any more, Lucas," he says. "And God knows you're not the first of my colleagues to hold me at gunpoint. Tom Quinn even shot me, once. Then there was Ros and the whole Yalta business. That was before you came back to us, of course. But they all come back to me, in the end. I'll get you back, yet."

Lucas turns away as a rush of emotion sweeps over him. "Even now? After everything I did?"

There's a pause while Harry considers the point. "There's a lot about these events that simply cannot be explained," he says. "I told the people who found you on top of that car that you're a stuntman who's stunt on top of the Enver Tower was a job gone wrong. But you and I both know that's bollocks. In fact, they probably know it's bollocks. But they'll latch on to anything that explains the seemingly inexplicable. But you and I both know there was six weeks between your jump and your hitting that ground. You brought Albany back, but I found out five weeks ago that the Chinese said it had vanished on them. I'm not going to ask for a full explanation, Lucas. I'm just satisfied that you got it back and did the right thing by MI5 and the nation."

Lucas's voice is tremulous when he replies. "I was out of my mind, Harry," he states hoarsely. "I didn't know what I was doing, and I can't explain it properly."

"I know," replies Harry, placing a reassuring hand on Lucas's shoulder. "This time, you understand, I can't let you come back to work right away. You will need time to recover, to get your strength back and … well…"

Lucas raises a small smile. "Tring it is, then?"

"Only for a while; only until you're well again and you've stopped having delusions about some guy called John Bateman."

Lucas frowns. "What do you mean?"

"Men like Vaughn Edwards; they get inside your head. They make you believe all sorts of things, they fuck you up in ways complicated and uncomplicated. I do wish you had mentioned him earlier, Lucas. We could have sorted it out much, much sooner."

"But, Dakar?"

"I think you've paid the price for that, don't you?" Harry replies, firmly, making it clear this subject is almost closed. "I think you'll go on paying the price for that through providing outstanding services to the protection of this great nation of ours. Once you're feeling better of course."

Lucas vision blurs again and he turns away.

"I can see you're tired," Harry says, getting up to leave. "But don't mind Ruth coming in after me. She wants to speak with you."

He doesn't object. However, while Harry is leaving, Lucas hastily wipes his eye on the corner of his bed sheet. When Ruth enters the room just as Harry is leaving, he is able to look up at her and give her a clear eyed smile.

"Sorry I almost poisoned you," he says. "I would never have let you die, though. Not even at my craziest."

Ruth gives short laugh. "I know, Lucas. I know."

She pauses for a moment, fussing over his bedclothes and he hopes she doesn't notice the still damp tear stains on his sheet. However, she continues talking as though she had seen nothing.

"Strange thing, the Albany File," she says, sitting back in her seat. "I don't think it was ever tested properly. All sorts of coding went into it, so it most definitely does something. Just, not what it was intended to do." She pauses and shrugs. "Who knows! All that matters is that we have it, and you, back. I tell you what else is funny. History. The way I look at History is, it's a big tapestry that tells a story. Whether it's true or not, it doesn't matter. But, let's use the Beyeaux Tapestry as an example: if you changed just one thread stitched into that Tapestry, you alter the rest of the picture along with it. Say you unpick the arrow from Harold Godwinson's eye, then there would be no William of Normandy. And because there's no William of Normandy, it resonates down the centuries. It changes everything. The whole Royal Family that we have today would be totally different, and it all spreads out from there."

Lucas is listening intently. Ruth is the most intelligent person he has ever met. Some found her dull as a consequence, but he always found her enthralling and, when he felt able to add to what she said, he always felt like a schoolboy trying to win the approval of his favourite teacher. This is another such occasion.

"So, let's just say I saw another tapestry and I had to unpick the threads that showed a girl dying from a sword in her stomach, put there by a man who said he loved her."

"Yes, that's sort of right. But would be easier to unpick him, then there would be no sword and the girl would live on, she's the ripple effect that brings on the great changes to the bigger picture," she adds.

Lucas sighs with relief. "Yes, that's what I would do. I would unpick his threads from the tapestry."

Ruth gives herself a shake and blushes. "I'm so sorry Lucas, I went off at a complete tangent there," she says, looking embarrassed still. "You know what I'm like! But anyway, I like that necklace. I didn't know you were into arts and crafts. It looks hand made."

He touches the doggy tag at his neck. "An old friend gave it to me," he explains with a grin.

Ruth nods her approval. "By the way, I had to look through your phone. Harry's orders, you understand," she says, blushing a little deeper.

"Naturally," he replies, frowning again. "It's not your fault. You'd have to have done the same for anyone in my situation."

Ruth nods. "Yes, yes," she replies. "But, one of the video files I found on there…" her voice trails off, and this time it is Lucas who turns scarlet with embarrassment. He can guess what's coming next. "What is it, Lucas? Some sort of role play? I mean, don't be embarrassed: whatever get's you through the night. It must be wonderful escapism, especially after your ordeal."

"It's not what you think, I promise-"

She cuts him off, though.

"No, it was so authentic! The man playing the Sheriff was wickedly funny and you looked-" she suddenly stops herself and her colour deepens even further. "Well, the black leather really suited you, Lucas. Really, quite the lady killer.." her voice trails off as she realises just how much she's embarrassing them both. "I'll stop talking now, shall I? But don't worry, your secret's safe with me."

Lucas forces himself to smile as Ruth hands back the phone. It must have been handed to her after he dropped it in the city, by the Vauxhall. They bid each other an awkward farewell, both dying of embarrassment for entirely different reasons. As she reaches the door, however, he pulls himself together.

"Ruth!" he calls after her. "I meant what I said back there: you should marry him."

She looks back at him from the doorway, confusion briefly in her eyes. Then she realises he's talking about Harry. Her face lights up in a smile.

"Who knows, Lucas," she replies, wrapping her coat around her. "Who knows."

After she has gone, he watched the spot where she stood as though she were still there for several minutes. Then, he laughs to himself as he flips open the phone and watches it sparking into life. Its battery has been fully recharged. God alone knows what Ruth must make of him now, but it doesn't matter. She won' t tell anyone about his moonlighting as Guy of Gisborne.

Lucas scrolls through the video files until he finds the meeting of the Black Knights and watches it one more time. Marian is there, with Guy and the Sheriff. It finishes, and the screen goes dark. He clicks on the file again, and deletes it, picking away another thread from the tapestry of his own, personal, history.

~the end~

Now the story is definitely over! Once again, thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed this. It's been a joy and you're all fabulous!