Status: Complete

Robbin' the Rich

Chapter Seven

Sherwood Forest, England. Mid September

Marian rocked an infant back and forth; soothing the screaming, colicky babe they called Jordan. Jordan’s mother had been frantic when Marian had taken the little mite from her out of pity; with three children, one of which was the infant Marian held, and a pair of twins, two hell-bent three-year-olds, it was understandable that she would be feeling the weight of the world on her narrow shoulders. The children had finally broken down from the strain of running from their father’s abuse with their young mother in the middle of Sherwood. The mother, Alice, was a girl not much older than Marian herself, and she had looked as miserable as her children, lost deep in the forest, without food or money, when Will, Robin, and Little John had come across her. They had, naturally, helped her, no questions asked.

Now, two days later, they were relaxing a bit in the safety of Ard Darach. Little John and Much had taken themselves off to check the snares that Much was so proud of, as they knew little of babes, crying or otherwise. The other men had made themselves equally scarce. Maud and Anne were helping Alice bathe the twins, having successfully calmed them down, while Marian baby-watched.

Robin winced at the thin, angry wail he could hear from outside the camp. He was well aware of the situation, and he had sympathized with the girl enough to take Alice in for a few days, instead of sending her on her way immediately. Ard Darach was well used to passers-through. They would often help the beleaguered folks that found their way close enough; giving extra coin, food, blankets, or anything that could be spared. Occasionally the passers-through stayed, deciding that toughing it out with the outlaws was preferable to being elsewhere. As long as they passed Robin’s scrutiny, they were welcomed. Robin, they learned quickly, accepted no one lightly. It had been clear immediately that this group would not be among those that stayed.

Sighing, Robin walked in, thinking to have a talk with the young mother. A crying child’s noise could carry for miles, and the Sheriff had been fairly active recently—sending his men out more often and in force. Colic was colic, but there had to be some way of calming th— Robin paused, mid-thought, surprised that Marian was quieting the babe instead of Alice. Intrigued, he slipped into the camp as she turned away from him, still rocking the infant, and leaned against a nearby outcrop of rock, unable to keep from watching this Madonna his Marian made. Apparently she was doing a better job of calming Jordan, considering the child’s discomfort, than his pale, jittery mother could.

Wait a momen’. Jus’ when ha’ she become ‘mah’ Marian? He wondered, ill at ease with the possessive thought, before pushing it out of his mind for easier observations. If that made him a coward, so be it.

Damn it all, but she was stunning. She shouldn’t have been beautiful—not in men’s clothing, with dirt smudged on her face and leaves in her hair—but she was. He fought down the desire that, as usual, urged him to tug her close and keep her there. The babe she held merely made it worse. Marian may not have been Jordan’s mother, but obvious maternal instinct shown bright on her lovely face, giving her a warm, friendly glow. It was right, somehow, that the child magnified those qualities in her, qualities he knew her to embody. She’d tried to befriend him, despite his less than polite rebuttals, hadn’t she?

The babe was asleep in Marian’s arms when she finally felt the outlaw’s stare on her back. She turned slowly, so as not to wake the child in her arms. There was Robin, leaning casually against a boulder that helped make Ard Darach. She tried to fight down the blush that rose immediately to her face, and nearly succeeded. He was watching her with evident interest gleaming in his eyes.

She was too much an innocent to recognize the heat of lust from his gaze alone, not when he’d given no other sign of it.

The Scot kept his distance, as always. He never got too near her physically if he could help it, and rarely spoke more than a few sentences to her of his own volition. Robin wouldn’t even sleep in the shelter that the others used, sleeping instead in the boughs of the Great Oak—rain or shine. Damnably stubborn man.

She supposed he’d never really liked her, indulging a rare fit of melancholy; God knows how much trouble she had given him in her earliest days of outlawing. But still, wasn’t that taking it a bit far, to refuse to even share shelter with her? Not that she was reading too much into it or anything, she assured herself, but it irritated her, understandably, that he might be avoiding her to that degree. It also caused a curious ache to form under her breastbone, which in turn irritated her more.

Who was he, this rough outlaw, to command so much of her attention? He was nothing to her, merely an annoyance. Or so she tried to convince herself.

He was looking at her quite oddly today, she noted, forcing her thoughts onto a new route. He went without the disdainful mask today, allowing some of the warmth she knew he was capable of through. Probably curious as to why she was caring for Alice’s baby, Marian decided, shooting him another glance, trying to gauge his expression. He’d taken an immediate shine to the young children of hers.

If it hadn’t been so completely out of character for him, she would’ve thought there was a certain wistfulness to his appearance; but she wasn’t close enough to see his eyes clearly, and the sun was shining directly in her face, making it difficult to see details in the shadows. Besides, this was Reticent Robin, she thought spitefully. He wasn’t one for wistfulness.
Then she winced. That was more spiteful than she was comfortable with.

Swee’ Christ’s bones, Robin thought, his breath catching in his throat, while his heart took this chance to skip a beat, and then started to pound against his breastbone as though it would fight its way out of his chest. Heat pooled below his stomach, and a familiar ache returned. In response, his teeth clenched with suppressed need. She'd be the death of him, would Marian.

She had unknowingly walked into a beam of sunlight.

It fell around her like a golden mantle. She was like his mother’s pagan Goddess, Brigit; fire and fervor, all wrapped together in a warrior goddess’s body. The sun had turned her chestnut hair to molten copper with gold and bronze streaks flitting through it. The silky mass of it fell to her hips, bound back loosely with a tie that had slipped down so tendrils of hair curled around her face. Her eyes sparkled with some inner humor that Robin found irresistible.

She held the infant with gentle, secure arms—arms he knew could draw and hold an arrow on a bow with a forty pound pull for upwards of fifteen minutes. Marian was tall for a female, and the men’s clothing she wore only enhanced that, hugging her curves like a lover; with full, sensual lips, big sea-blue eyes had were framed with eyelashes that currently looked like flaming veils over cool depths…He shook himself mentally in disbelief. He was waxing poetic—and he didn’t even particularly like poetry. Besides, this was not the time to rhapsodize about her eyelashes—certainly not with exceptionally bad poetry, at that. When then, if no’ now? A nagging part of him wondered. Now was the perfect time, especially considering what Brigit was the matron of—song, fire, and women.

Aye, Robin decided, ignoring his self-directed jibe at her poetry-inspiring eyelashes, she was goddess-incarnate, at least for him. And with his ill luck, he’d would only get burnt by her…as if that weren’t enough, he was making a fool of himself, if a pounding heart and too-fast breathing was anything to go by. He once again thanked any listening gods for the fheilidh he wore, hiding embarrassing reactions from view. Her gaze was inquiring, a lifted eyebrow made him stand up straight and go to her.

Like a moth tae flame, he thought with a touch of bitterness, not exactly thrilled with his beautiful obsession.
The image that had haunted him for months now flashed before his mind’s eye, making him hiss in a sharp breath. Her having come across him at that damned waterfall had ceased to be even moderately amusing—now it was torture. Imagining her naked and wet (instead of merely naked, as he had before), as he had been doing at odd intervals ever since then certainly wasn’t helping cool his outrageous libido. He’d avoided the waterfall for a while after that, and would look for another as soon as possible. Certainly, he’d never think so innocently of waterfalls again.

“Ye like children, dinna ye?” Robin asked the obvious question, to force his mind from his earlier thoughts, knowing the answer was yes. No one could fake that look of utter wonder. She looked up at him; for all her height, he was still taller by a good half a head.

“Yes. They’re adorable,” she murmured. “Don’t you think so? So small and soft and they have the wisest eyes.” She was talking softly, not to wake the babe.

“Mm.” It was all he could say. The not-so-sudden urge to kiss her was far too great for any sort of clever reply. He forced himself to look at the babe, forced himself to ignore breasts just as full and soft as her lips with an effort that could be described only as Herculean.

Marian gazed up at Robin, memorizing his face as he looked down at the little boy. The outlaw had joined her in the sunlight, and his red hair blazed like fire. Even his eyelashes were a fiery red-gold. His eyes were the clear level blue that could cut right to one’s soul, if he chose. Yet she noticed with a sort of shock that there was pain there. Robin’s mouth was neither frowning nor smiling, but now that she’d noticed the ache that seemed to be simmering quietly beneath his calm façade, she couldn’t avoid seeing it. Robin’s blue eyes were deep, and they held several emotions. Longing, a closely leashed hunger, surprise, and…a kind of angry desolation.

Why? She wondered. What was it that had put such an expression in his eyes?
He looked up for a second, noticing her scrutiny. His eyebrows knit, then he turned away, standing so his shoulder was to her, muttering to himself in Gaelic. Robin frowned at the ground, rather like one of the twins after a scolding, she thought, frustrated and angry. At her? she wondered. Or was she simply a convenient target?

Whatever he was thinking, he was giving her an excellent view of his profile—and she was woman enough to appreciate what a nice profile it was. Robin’s bone structure was enough to make any master sculptor weep for joy, with his high cheekbones and narrow face; his skin was smooth, except for his chin, with its short growth of whiskers on it and a thin, crescent shaped scar on his jaw. Robin had a nice body as well; one that was lean, slender yet strong, without an ounce of extra flesh anywhere, and sinews that stood out powerfully on his archer’s hands. As if that weren’t enough, he exuded a purely male aura of confidence that had others looking to him for answers.

If his manner was in the least child-like, his body was most assuredly not.

She hefted the baby carefully for a more comfortable grip. Jordan was small, but grew heavy after a while, especially when he fussed. Robin turned back to her without a word, and took him easily, plucking the boy from her arms while she stood frozen, as though lightening struck. He moved with the sure grace of someone who knew what they were doing, and supported the tiny being’s entire body with his hand and forearm, tucking him carefully against his ribs, bringing the other hand up to guard against him rolling away unexpectedly.

“Ah’ll hold ‘im fer a bit, if ye like,” the thief told her while she gaped at him.

“I…” She could only blink at him for a moment. Then, finally, she snapped out of her Robin-induced stupor. “If you wouldn’t mind—I’ll be right back, I promise,” She said, dashing away. She’d needed to escape to the privy all morning, and at the moment, she needed to escape him.

Robin stared after her retreating form with an expression on his face that would’ve surprised anyone who knew him, and would have horrified him if he’d known how full of longing it was.

She was undoubtedly the most beautiful person he’d ever met. Robin found himself almost wishing that she had not stumbled upon him, that he needn’t have known that such a woman existed. It would be that much more painful when she left his life again, and he would not—could not?—let her be hurt, by him or anyone else.

With a shake of his head, he put it from his mind, and looked down at the baby in his arms, who was squirming uncomfortably. His small face was twisting…he was waking up, which meant that a wail was forming itself in the babe’s over-adequate lungs. There was no help for it, then, he mused. Robin just hoped that the one lullaby he could remember would keep the babe quiet. He didn’t know what else would keep the babe quiet—they had collectively tried and failed with everything else.

—and close the een heavy and weary. Closed are the weary een rest ye are takin'. Sound be yer sleepin'; and bright be yer wakin'. Hush ye, mah bairnie, bonnie wee laddie. When yer a man ye shall follow yer daddie.

He rocked the child, pacing, in a method any midwife or mother would have recognized. Sure enough, it was starting to work, for the infant was starting to settle.

Lift me a cow, an’ a goat an’ a wether. Bringin’ them home tae yer minnie tegither.

The child had quieted half way through the lullaby, and was asleep again by the end. Marian had come back when the lad was just drifting off, but paused at the camp’s entrance. Robin continued to hum softly, albeit tunelessly, when the song had been finished, searching his mind for any others that could work, cradling the babe carefully. He stopped pacing once he was sure the little one was asleep and would stay that way.

She watched man and child, noticing that the distinct burr that Robin talked in, usually rougher sounding than Nottinghamshire’s accent, gave the lullaby a down-to-earth sense of safety and contentment, though the tune was entirely off-key. The Scot had many accomplishments to his name—apparently; song was not one of them. Finally, she almost thought, before stifling the nasty observation, something he wasn’t good at.

Yes, there was definitely a promise of safety in his long, powerful hands, Marian reflected, staring at them. That baby would probably never again be as perfectly safe as he was now. The man in front of her would make a wonderful father some day. If Robin wasn’t an outlaw, he’d have already had some children of his own. If he hasn’t already, she chastised herself. For all she knew, he did have a wife and children stashed away somewhere. Scotland, perhaps.

Immediately the idea was discarded. Marian knew without asking that Robin would never leave a responsibility, especially not one like that. Shaking her head to remove such speculations, she crossed the small clearing that she’d come to call home.

“I’m back. I can take him,” Marian offered, but made no move to push the man into giving her the boy. She loved children, but she didn’t like the feeling—that her arms were being pulled out—that came from holding them for long periods brought. Something of this sentiment must have showed on her face.

“Nay, give yerself a rest, Marian. Ah’ll ‘old ‘im a while longer.” Robin said, a tiny spark of humor showing itself in his voice. Marian’s traitorous heart leapt at the prospect of hearing him laugh again. “Ah nay mind ‘im.”

The statement nearly floored her.

Well, she thought, startled and flustered. She had never thought she’d hear a man say that he didn’t mind taking care of a child for longer than he was forced to—weren’t they supposed to be mostly ignorant of babies? Her step-mother had always alleged that men hated children—little children, anyway.

Of course, she thought with a frown, that was before her step-mother had thought that Marian would sit quietly at home and allow herself to be sold off into marriage to an utter lout. After that, Marian had had considerably less respect for the woman. Perhaps this was another thing the evil woman had been mistaken about.

“A penny fer yer thoughts, lass,” Robin offered, wondering just what she had been thinking to bring so many emotions across her face in so short a period of time. Shock, amazement, anger, and then something close to amusement had flashed through her eyes, in less time than it took draw a bow. It was something that readily endeared her to him—that he could see what she was feeling just by looking at her. He wasn’t sure what to make of the attraction he could sometimes read on her face—it was almost disheartening, because it meant he needed to put distance between them. He couldn’t allow any kind of relationship to form past a wary sort of camaraderie.

She looked up, startled. “What?”

His lips twitched into a fleeting grin. “A shilling, then, fer woteva was on yore mind. ‘Tis clear a penny would’na do ‘em justice.”

“I—I wouldn’t want to cheat you out of a shilling,” Marian stammered, half-worried by the thought that her Norman origins, despicable as most of them were, would make him think even worse of her.

She didn’t know that he already knew something of her past; or that Robin had been concerned that despite appearances, she was unhappy in his camp. One of his eyebrows quirked upward a tiny bit and the grin that had hidden itself in his eyes was abruptly extinguished. Secrets were a way of life in the camp, but…

“Ah doubt it’d be a waste, lass. But Ah’ll no’ pry intae yore business,” he half-shrugged, feigning indifference. They stood in a somewhat uncomfortable silence. Deprived of the child to care for, she had nothing to do—or say, for that matter.

Perhaps sensing her distress, he offered the tiny body back to her. Robin’s face was indifferent, but once again she saw the tiny flash of longing in his clear blue eyes. She took the lad gently, which made Robin take a step closer to insure that she wouldn’t drop the babe.

“Careful, there—”

Too close, as it turned out. It was a shock to the both of them when his hand accidentally brushed across Marian’s breast. The caress had been completely accidental, yet incredibly intimate at the same time, almost frighteningly so for the two who were so obviously sensitized to each other. Robin’s head jerked up as he sucked air in through his teeth, and he stepped back, having deposited the child safely into her arms.

Rather than attempt to speak, he gave her a quick, curt nod in farewell, and fled quickly, tension showing clearly across his shoulders. The outlaw’s thoughts, most ruthlessly directed toward himself—particularly to the feelings that would have him waking up hard and aching tomorrow morn—would have turned the air blue, had he verbalized them.

Marian stared after him, her body beginning to tingle in a way that wasn’t entirely unpleasant. Her knees felt suspiciously weak, her insides too fluid and too hot for comfort. She could have cursed him for making her react like that—again, drat him—and not caring. It wasn’t fair, she knew, but that didn’t stop her from wishing equal discomfort on him.
She would have laughed, had she known that he too suffered.

* * *

Robin woke cursing fluently, hot and bothered despite the slight chill of the autumn evening. For the fifth night since Alice and her children had moved on to a new life, he couldn’t get his mind off that afternoon. The thief was sleeping badly—when he slept at all. Damn her! No, damn him, for being unable to keep his damn mind out the self-dug gutter. His imagination had taken that afternoon—that evening at the waterfall, too—and run wild. Wilder than usual.

Godsdamnit, he growled to himself. If he wasn’t having nightmares, he was fantasizing about Marian—in every way possible; not just about sex. That was bad enough, but it was when he dreamed of the cottage…that was the worst.

It was always the same. There was always a little whitewashed cottage, with two or three rooms at most. It was in a small clearing, not terribly far from the town—which town, he didn’t know. Outside, there were three children, playing. The eldest, a girl, was about six, the twins were four or five. Marian sat outside with them, watching them play. Her sewing had been set aside; a baby was in her lap. She was laughing. The children were laughing.
Occasionally there was a dog, a big wolfhound bitch. They all looked so happy…and the children were redheads, the look of the Celts clear on them; the lad almost Robin’s twin in miniature, and the lasses were a pretty mixture of their mother and father. They all had their mother’s distinctive sea-blue eyes, though.

The outlaw leader was still cursing when his boots silently hit the ground, having run out of English curses and moved on to Gaelic, and then Latin. There would be no more sleep tonight, though that didn’t bother Robin much. He was still sleeping in the Great Oak, unable to stand the thought of Marian sleeping so close without acting on it. It was decidedly uncomfortable in the tree, and he tried to avoid staying up there when he wasn’t asleep. It was too cold to dowse himself in the stream, and conjugating Latin did only so much to kill an insistent erection. He walked over to the banked fire, stirring it a bit with a stick, and sat nearby enough to enjoy its warmth—its light was minimal, to say the least. Robin drew a knife, and picked up the block of wood he’d been whittling at for a couple evenings. It would be a spoon, because they needed more spoons—they always needed more spoons. His hands knew the shape of both, so he wouldn’t cut himself, at least—and the knowledge of that did little to ease the black mood that had settled on him.

The second watch would be coming in soon. The Scot would go out with the third, taking his second watch of the evening. Why ask another to give up sleep when he could spare them that? There would be no more sleep tonight for him.

Gabe cautiously left the sleeping shelter, picking his way around the other occupants, and ducking to avoid the low overhang. Half blind, he made his way over to the fire, still sleep-dazed. He’d woken for some unknown reason, the same nagging feeling dragging him from his pallet.

Gabe had joined the outlaw band only three weeks ago at the beginning of autumn, and barely knew his leader. He could see Robin now, whittling again. It was quite late and Robin should have been asleep, like any other sane person.
Well, perhaps not. Robin was…well, Robin, after all. He never seemed to sleep—indeed, the Scot didn’t seem to be governed by the same laws the rest of them. Gabe had come back late at night from long watches numerous times to see the redhead slip into the camp, and woke in the mornings to see him at the hearth, looking bright-eyed and alert.
He went over to the fire, stumbling slightly over a patch of uneven ground. Robin never looked up, but had obviously heard him, despite his lack of comment. Gabe stood uncertainly, wondering if he was intruding.

“’Tis late, lad. Ye should be asleep.” Robin still hadn’t looked up, though his voice was welcoming. The outlaw’s knife never faltered on the wood of the cup.

“So should you,” Gabe retorted sleepily, before realizing that he’d been quite rude. He flushed—this was precisely the behavior that had angered his father for years—and berated himself.

Idiot! That’s right, make the man responsible for allowing you to stay angry! But he saw an amused smile tug at his leader’s lips, and his stuttered apology was shrugged off.

“Nay, dinna apologize. ‘Tis true enough. Nae-one should be awake at this time o’ the night fer no gud reason.” Robin still didn’t look up. “Ye’re welcome tae a seat. Mah bite is none so painful tae lads up past their bedtimes.”

Gabe sat. Silence reined for a while, broken only by the rasp of good, sharp steel over wood and the crackle of the fire. Gabe wasn’t sure if Robin could even see the cup, the fire’s light was so sadly lacking. Apparently, one could add the eyes of a cat to the list of Robin’s amazing feats.

“Why are you awake?” Gabe finally blurted. The knife paused, apparently snagged on a stubborn knot. There was another minute’s silence as Robin considered answering.

“Mah…dreams have seen fit tae keep me awake tonight,” was the answer he finally got, dragged reluctantly from Robin. The knot gave in, and the knife resumed its work. “An’ ye?”

“I don’t know. I just kind of woke up, I suppose. A feeling, I guess.” Gabe told the older man, who nodded slightly in appreciation.

“Dinna ignore yore feelin’s, lad. Ah’ve ‘eard ‘t called intuition, instinct, the Sight, but woteva ‘t is, ye kin hardly find a better ally on a dark night. T’will probably save yore life, them feelin’s,” Robin advised. He sounded as though he spoke from long experience—he probably did. “Wot’s got ‘em twangin’, then?”

Gabe pondered it. “I—I don’t think we’re in any danger…just—I don’t know. It’s like the feeling you get when a healer comes out of a sick room, you know, and you can tell something’s wrong?” he shrugged, obviously frustrated. “Only, it’s less than that, like someone’s in a bad mood, and you can just tell? But…it’s not from around here, either. I’m not making any sense, am I?”

“Nay, Ah ken wot ye mean, lad. The liddle things kin nag the worst, sometimes.” More silence. It was longer this time, and Gabe could feel the bout of intuition settling down. He was still drowsy, and the feeling that had woken him was leaving, eased by the sharing of the knowledge. He was sinking further into sleep, half aware that he should go back to the shelter…

Robin looked up, and reached over in time to catch the youth by the shoulder before he slid forward into the fire in his sleep.

‘Interestin’. Who ‘ave guessed tha’ Gabe would ‘ave ‘t tae?’ Robin had a Celt’s respect and easy acceptance for things beyond the world of the living, however at odds it was with the Catholisim he'd been raised with, supported by his own often-active sixth sense. Setting down the wood that would be a spoon and the knife, he lifted the skinny lad, and walked over to the shelter were the outlaws slept, ducking down to avoid braining himself on the low ceiling. Avoiding the bodies that lay tightly clustered for warmth, he put the lad down, and covered him with his blanket, wondering unconcernedly if Gabe was planning to inform anyone that he was a she in disguise. The lies that had been told didn’t bother him much.

Everyone has secrets, Robin supposed, and if this was the lassie’s worst—well, it wasn’t too bad. The Scot had seen far darker secrets come to light, and this certainly wasn’t the newest of deceptions—there had even been these ‘men’ in Jerusalem with the Lionheart.
He’d let Maud know, so that she could help the lass with whatever it was that women did, if the lass needed it, and leave her to her deception.

He turned back toward the entrance, and immediately caught sight of Marian in the low light. Warmth spread through him, searing him with the suddenness and the intensity of it. She’d somehow managed to kick her blanket to the end of her pallet, tangling it around her ankles. Now she shivered mightily in the chill evening, rousing in him twin instincts to provide and protect. He knelt again, and untangled her ankles from the blanket, spreading it over her. It was no feather bed, but she seemed to prefer this life to the one she’d led earlier.

She curled under his light touch like a cat, and lighting flashed from his fingertips down to his toes, encouraging his pulse to abandon its usual rhythm once again. He leaned forward slowly, like one entranced; unsure of what he was doing until he felt her lips soft beneath his. An ill-timed snore from one of the men jerked him back to his senses; his heart and body instantly crying out for more. In direct disobedience to their needs, he stood, hitting his head with a half-hearted curse, and left the shelter, hitting his head again on the low entrance, cursing once again.

It had transcended mere desire, he knew now, alarmed and angry and grieving for what couldn’t be. He loved her. Damn it. Trying to deny it—to himself, anyhow, for he’d not willingly tell her—any longer would be like trying to stop the sun from rising. Twice an' thrice damn 't.

He continued past the fire, out of the camp and into the safety and privacy the forest offered, instinctively grabbing his bow and quiver. He moved more or less blindly through the dark forest, the only light coming from the waning moon, often obscured by the trees. It didn’t matter much; he knew the forest well enough to keep from getting lost or badly hurt. Once he was out of sight of the camp, he groaned a low curse; his head ached badly where he’d whacked it on the cave’s entrance, and it had naught on the pain in his chest.

It was all too much right now—too many responsibilities to too many different people, with too many conflicting emotions. And there was Marian, smack in the middle of it all, fooling with his emotions and twisting him into a knot of pent-up desire. For now, he would allow himself a moment’s despair in private, and that would have to suffice. Perhaps, with time, it could.

Robin leaned back against a tree, head bowed, wanting nothing more than Marian in his arms. His hands were unsteady, and he felt ill. He slid down the tree, sitting down hard on the ground at the elm’s roots. It hurt more than any physical wound had ever plagued him, this nasty unfulfilled ache—only intensified by the stolen kiss. It gave rise to a despair he’d never felt the like of before. He couldn’t have her. She, he thought with a certain bitter savagery, was as far out of his league as the Queen of the Faeries.

Marian did not return his feelings, he knew—she didn’t even know of them. She desired him, and perhaps knew that he returned the desire, but she didn’t love him. That was how it would have to remain.


He jumped—Dolt! He hadn’t even heard someone approaching!—regaining his feet like a startled deer, struck dumb as he saw who’d snuck up on him.


Robin would have taken an arrow to the heart more easily than see her right at this moment, when he was in so much turmoil.

“Robin? Are you alright?”

He nearly fled, he nearly snatched her against him; he wanted her so badly. Instead, he grabbed for his defenses. “Aye. Ah’m fine.” His voice was strangled, hoarse with emotion, but it was the best he could do at the moment.

“Are you certain?” He could hear the concern in her voice, could picture the endearing little frown that would be on her face.

“Aye, l-lass, Ah’m fine.” He wasn’t. Robin wanted a hole to open up in the ground and swallow him, or something of the sort. “Ye should be asleep.” Wit’ me, some stubborn part of him begged, the idea of waking up next to Marian—not even after a…a busy night—was the single most satisfying thing he could think of right now. The Scot forced that particular need down with vicious ruthlessness.

“If you say so.” He couldn’t see the expression on her face, but confusion could be heard in her voice now, as well as stung pride. He hadn’t wanted to hurt her…perhaps this was best, though. Marian could think he hated her—he wouldn’t try to disabuse her of that notion, even if it killed him. She turned on her heel and went back to the camp, leaving him staring after her. Robin’s body was tense, as though he would go after her, but he stayed still, barely breathing.

If he had thought he’d been suffering earlier, he’d been wrong. It was so much worse now, watching her walk away. It very well might kill him, he mused, letting her think he hated her.

She had woken feeling prickly and uncomfortable—like someone had been close enough to disturb the air around her. Her lips felt odd, too. Then there were the two sounds, like someone hitting their head hard against the dirt ceiling and root-lined entrance, and a muffled curse.

Restless, she’d gotten up, and barely caught sight of Robin, slipping out of the camp. Where’s he going?

She didn’t hesitate in following him—he wasn’t heading toward the privy, nor would he be going on watch yet, and he was moving fast, as though something were the matter. They travelled, with some score of feet between them, to a point just outside of the camp’s range of sight. Several times she’d nearly lost Robin, he was still far better at slipping through the forest. When she caught up with the outlaw again, she was in time to hear a small noise of pain, and see him slide to the ground, leaning back on a young elm tree. His head was in his hands, as though he was trying to stave off a headache.

It was surprising how the prickly, irritable outlaw could look so vulnerable, seated on the ground, head in hands.

“Robin?” His head jerked up as though she’d kicked him, and he jumped to his feet. His back to the wane light of a crescent moon, making it even more impossible to see his expression.

“Robin? Are you alright?” Marian inquired again, getting the feeling that he was in pain.

“Aye. Ah’m fine.” Well, he certainly didn’t sound fine. He definitely sounded as though he was hurting.

“Are you certain?” If he still didn’t want her help after this, she’d just leave him alone. He disliked her anyway, so he probably didn’t want her near him when he didn’t feel well.

“Aye, l-lass, Ah’m fine. Ye should be asleep.” His last sentence sounded rather like an accusation, as though she had infringed on some secret rite, instead of a developing headache.

Stung, she replied with a rather biting “If you say so,” and turned on her heel, marching back to camp and bed.

She’d only been worried! Goodness, if Robin hated her so much, why had he let her stay? Was it so wrong of her to worry about him? Grumbling, she reentered the camp, and returned to her corner, wrapping herself in the blanket that she’d been given—originally Robin’s, and burying her face in the cloth. It no longer bore the faint trace of his scent—wool, wood-smoke and man—and she mourned the loss.

What had she done to make him hate her? She couldn’t remember doing anything that made him angry; he just always seemed irritated when she was around. The thought brought back its usual ache. Why did she have to love a man that hated her guts so badly that he barely looked at her? Ever since that day in the camp with Alice’s baby, he’d been more aggravated than ever, proving that she really did disgust him.

No! She nearly snarled it aloud, dashing the wetness away from her face. She wouldn’t cry! Not over Robin Hood! Angry with herself and with him, she pushed the tears back and laid quietly, her body aching with a tingling emptiness.
♠ ♠ ♠
Yay! Sexual tension! ^_^

Thanks and assorted cyber baked goods to Airheart.101 for the comment--this is what happens, btw, when i get a comment. Updates and cyber goodies. ^_^

Comments are welcome and make me 'a verra 'appy lassie' as Robin would put it. ^_^