By Your Side, Your Hand In MiineLater in the evening...
- Chapitre 2 : Alone No More -
They had made it through another day. But what a day it had been.
An attempted assassination. The constant bickering. Disobeying orders. Saving Robin's life. Kissing Gisborne…to save Robin's life. Again.
Marian shivered at the thought though she was sitting by the fire. She looked around her at the gang. They seemed unaffected. Each was employed with their own specialized task. Djaq was mixing herbs. Will was carving. Little John was splitting wood with little effort. Much was cooking. And Robin…
Robin stood in the center of it all, hands on his hips and a smile playing over his expression. She loved that smile. It was a smile of contentment and rare peace. It was the smile that said, "This is good. All is right with the world."
But all wasn't right with the world.
At least not her world.
The Sherriff was still in power. The King had not yet returned.
And her father was dead.
She hadn't even had the chance to burry him. To grieve properly. As so much that had happened in her life, the unexpected came swift and powerful and mercilessly tilted her world out of control, leaving her time only to react, never to think or feel.
In the space of a heartbeat, she had become an orphan, changed her residence and officially cast her lot with outlaws. Now, the shock of it all was hitting her like ice water.
And she wasn't at all sure where she belonged.
She meant what she said to Robin. She did want to be part of his gang. Had wanted to be part of it for so long. To openly fight by his side. To be part of the legend he was.
But she also meant what she said to Little John. She had expected things to be different living in the forest. She'd expected to finally feel free. She'd expected…
To not feel so alone.
At that precise moment, Robin's gaze met hers and held. Volumes were spoken in the silent look. As if answering her unspoken call, he came to sit by her side and gathered her hand in his. The warmth that spread through her was almost painful.
For the next few hours, he did exactly what he said he would not—he mollycoddled her. It was the little things. Making sure she had the spot closest to the fire. Getting her plate for her. Little touches, here and there. Her hand in his, releasing it only when necessary, which meant the dinner they were currently eating was with his left hand.
It did not go un-noticed by the gang. And the gang's exchanged looks didn't go un-noticed by Marian. A subtle tension hung in the air. Topics of conversation were surface, trifling. Even Much was quieter than usual. She unconsciously sank into the shadows as their light banter bounced back and forth around her, but did not include her.
An outsider. A distraction. A risk.
That's what she'd always been.
In those moments when Robin's focus was on her safety, not the mission. At those times when he'd turned his back on them in exchange for a few stolen minutes. For that one day when his struggle with her choice of a traitor had changed him into a man they did not know.
Her gaze flickered from one familiar face to the next. Djac, the tough healer. Will, the quiet builder. Little John, the gentle mountain. And Much, the loyal friend. Each had a role to play. Each held a special place in Robin's life. Each was, no doubt, wondering how Marian's move to the forest would change the fundamental dynamics of the gang.
Especially with Robin's edict that she not be seen with them. It seemed even in her allegiance to him, she was not to be tainted. Not to be branded an outlaw. Not to suffer the consequences should they fall.
Part of them, yet separate. Beyond loved…worshipped. Robin would risk anything for any of his men. For Marian, he would die.
And they all knew it. She could see it in their eyes.
An outsider. A distraction. A risk.
Perhaps that's what she'd always be. To them.
Marian glanced at Robin. He sent her a playful wink, blissfully unaware of the storm brewing before him. She sighed, her decision made. She squared her shoulders, her mind set. She could not, would not, come between the man she loved and the family he needed.
Even if it meant certain rejection.
As the gang began to disperse and Much picked up the plates, there was a lull in conversation. Marian cleared her throat and spoke for the first time in hours. "I have something to say."
Everyone froze where they were and turned curious but wary eyes her direction. Her gaze met each of theirs before she attempted to address them. She swallowed hard. Now that she had their attention, the words seemed to be stuck in her throat.
Marian felt the gentle, reassuring squeeze of Robin's hand. It was enough to give her strength."I'm sorry."
The question in their eyes prompted her to explain. "My actions these past few days have been impulsive and reckless. Instead of listening to Robin, I put you all in danger. And I'm sorry you've had to endure my outbursts. I know my presence here was a decision made between Robin and myself and that none of you had a say in the matter."
Robin stiffened next to her. "Marian…"
She turned to him and stilled his protest with a look. "Robin, you were right. This is a team. And in our desire to be together, we've forgotten that the decisions we take affect more than ourselves."
Her large blue eyes were pleading. "I need to say this. Please."
He nodded his assent and covered their entwined hands with his, lending his silent support in a tangible way.
She turned back to the group. "I'm not used to this. Following orders. Being responsible to anyone. Being part of anything larger than myself."
A pain that was unmistakable flickered through her eyes. "I've always been alone."
She continued, her voice softening with remembrance. "My mother died when I was still a young girl and my fath…"
She paused, a lump tightened in her throat. A warm arm wrapped around her shoulders and the gentle pressure of his hand in hers gave her the courage to continue.
She cleared her throat. "In grief, my father threw himself into his work. I was left in the care of servants which meant I was free to entertain myself or…"
She glanced at Robin with a knowing smile. "…risk my life on foolish adventures with foolish neighborhood boys.""With the Crusades came changes that isolated me even more."
Her heart twisted at the way Robin's expression tightened. The way his gaze lowered shamefully. A wound would need to be healed, later. Alone. But for now, her focus was to not cause further injury to the whole.
A flash of the steely determination that had kept her going through the years, filtered through her voice. "The battle between power and weakness, wealth and poverty began, and I was stuck in the middle. Unable to declare my devotion to the one knowing lives would be lost to the other."
She paused, her reflection honest and deep. "So, I fought the only way I knew how."
Her gaze met theirs. "Alone."
A slight smile flitted across her expression. "Then Robin returned. And you all joined him. And I wasn't so alone anymore. And now, all the ties that bound me to the castle have been cut. I am free to choose my own way. And I choose Robin. I choose you.""Even so, that isn't enough."
She paused, steeling herself. "I want to know, need to know, if you are willing to choose me back and accept me into your gang. Not as the woman Robin loves, but as one of you. Another fighter. An equal partner. A true member of Robin Hood."
As her speech ended, silence hung like a heavy blanket over the forest.
The gang exchanged looks again and a message was given and received. Will Scarlett was the chosen spokesperson. He stepped forward."Marian, we had something to give to you earlier, but…"
He paused searching for a delicate way to phrase his explanation. In the end, he chose brutal honesty. "Well, we weren't sure if you and Robin were going to kill each other before we got a chance to present it."
Robin's soft chuckle beside her died as Will held something out to Marian. She could hear Robin's hard swallow."You're already part of the gang, Marian."
Will stated simply."You always have been."
Supplied Little John.
Much piped up. "And not just because it was obvious Robin couldn't leave you alone.""But because you're…"
Much like the night they'd gathered around her corpse, they paid homage to her."Noble."
Will Scarlett."And brave."
The note of admiration in the Saracen's voice matched the others."You complete us."
Robin finished for them softly. Tears to spring to her eyes as a lump lodged in her throat.
Will took another step forward and knelt before her. "We are so sorry for your loss. If you can, if you will, please let us be your family now."
Tears were slowly slipping down her cheeks as she silently bobbed her head in agreement. She tried blinking them back but they only increased when Will took her hand in his and lowered the wooden tag into her hand.
A sign of their unity. The mark of their loyalty. The symbol of their family."Well, lads?"
Robin's cheery voice suddenly boomed through the silence like a call to action. "What do you say?""Her, we like."
Will Scarlett answered softly."Her…"
The rest joined in. "…we accept."
Robin's arm slipped around her shoulder, drawing her in to his body. His lips brushed her hair in a gentle kiss as his warm words whispered through her like sunshine."Her, we love."
With that, her inclusion into Robin Hood's gang was complete.
And Marian was no longer alone.