The Fresh of the Dawn
The sun was creeping, sleepy but refreshed, over the grey horizon that morning, just beginning to leak liquid gold into the chilly, pre-dawn air.
Marian had not been asleep for more than two hours – she had returned from a particularly strenuous run as the Nightwatchman, and hadn’t even bothered to change out of her clothes before tumbling head first into bed and falling into the blissful black of a dreamless sleep.
So it’s understandable that she was stiff, tired and not best pleased when someone began hammering on her shuttered window and jerked her unpleasantly swiftly out of said dreamless sleep. She was very tempted to simply bury her head beneath the duvet and pretend it wasn’t happening. As far as she was concerned, England could be burning under the wrath of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, so long as she was allowed a few more hours of precious sleep.
Unfortunately, whoever was on the other side of the shutters wasn’t about to give up, and, resigned, Marian dragged herself reluctantly out of bed, limped across the floor in bare feet and opened the shutters.
“Can I come in?” Robin was perched on the other side of her window, looking hopeful.
Marian yawned and waved a hand in way that was meant to convey exhaustion, exasperation and extreme annoyance – but which Robin took as an invitation. He hopped nimbly over the window sill and stretched. Aside from the unusually high quantity of mud and grass in his hair and on his clothes, he looked none the worse for wear. In fact, he looked sickeningly bright and healthy. Marian glared at him balefully and pushed her hair, made unruly by her scant few hours of sleep, back off her face.
Robin grinned, “you are adorable when you are tired.”
Marian rolled her eyes, “what do you want, Robin?”
“Just to check,” Robin shrugged.
“Check what?” Marian lifted her eyebrows at him.
“Marian, I have nearly lost you twice this past week,” Robin pointed out, “forgive me my paranoia for a moment, will you?”
Marian was in no mood to forgive Robin anything at that precise point in time, and told him as much, “could you not have waited for a more convenient moment? I hardly sleep at all as it is.”
“Sorry,” Robin was doing his best to sound it, but the amused glint in his eyes was betraying him.
“No, you’re not,” Marian sighed and yawned again, “alright – you have checked – here I am, alive and unmarried – now go away. I’m tired.”
“As you wish, my lady,” Robin bowed mockingly and turned on his heal. He was about to hurl himself back out of her window (in fact, he got as far as jumping onto the sill) when he stopped and turned again, crouching down to scrutinise her, “Why are you still in your Nightwatchman clothes?”
Marian tugged self-consciously at her shirt. She had removed her mask, her hood, her boots and the leather over-shirt – but was still in her undershirt and breaches, mud, blood and all.
“I was running supplies to Locksley,” she hugged herself against the chill of the dawn creeping in from the window, “there’s a lot of need there now – I had to make several trips – and then Guy came after me like a hound after a rabbit and I had to run halfway to York before he gave up the chase. It took me… longer than normal to get back. When I finally did I was more interested in sleeping than changing into my nightdress.”
“I see,” Robin quirked his head, a smile touching the corners of his lips at the mental image – followed swiftly by a frown, “how is Locksley?”
“Not very well,” Marian informed him, bluntly, “their lord has hardly been in the best of moods lately. He takes it out on them – and you haven’t exactly been their guardian in all of this.”
“I can hardly be that!” Robin retorted, looking just a tad peeved, “the Sheriff has been hounding me and my men non-stop all over Sherwood. We don’t have time to breathe, let alone come to the aid of anyone else at the moment.”
“You did suspend him from the ceiling of his own court, Robin,” Marian pointed out, matter-of-factly. “Vaysey hardly strikes me as a man who takes humiliation well.”
“No,” Robin admitted, scratching his chin distractedly, “was pretty good though, wasn’t it? Flailing like a fish – I tell you, I’d do it again for the look on his face…” he trailed off, the thought accosting him temporarily and causing him to grin that particular, brilliant, boyish grin – the one that took delight in whatever total mayhem could be caused – that Marian had not seen on him since they were both children.
Marian shook her head, “You are dangerous, Robin Hood.”
“Yes, I am, thank you,” Robin winked at her, then hopped back into the room, “but what I wanted to know, actually, while we’re here – ”
“Oh, Robin, please…” Marian moaned, “I want to go back to bed and I have a very long day ahead of me – the Sheriff isn’t exactly making court life easy at the moment and father has his cough again and I am very, very tired…”
“This will only take a moment,” Robin promised, “please, Marian…”
There was something in his tone that caught Marian’s attention – a little something beneath the playfulness that made her roll her eyes and turn back to him. He was (sure enough) doing his best puppy dog express – and, Mother Mary help her, if she wasn’t helpless to that look.
“What do you want?” She sighed, heavily.
Robin bounced forward, then hesitated, “can I see – ” he broke off and pointed mutely at her side, as if words weren’t going to quite cover what lurked there.
“You want to see my stab wound?” Marian was sceptical. “Why?”
Robin steepled his fingers, “humour me, Marian – please, just… let me see. I shan’t sleep well again until I see.”
“You are a man of odd enthusiasms,” Marian shook her head, “But, if you must – ”
“I must,” Robin nodded, firmly.
Marian sighed, “fine.”
Gingerly, she pulled up the hem of her under shirt, revealing pale flesh and layers of muslin bandages, the top most of which now carried a worrying reddish stain, fading out to a sickly yellow around its edges.
“Well?” She asked, as Robin dropped to a crouch in front of her to inspect it. He gave the bandages a gentle tug – Marian flinched, “what are you doing?”
“I have to see,” Robin looked up at her, pleadingly.
“You want me to take the bandages off?” Marian raised her eyebrows, “Robin, you said this would be quick – ”
“You need to change these anyway,” Robin pointed out, lifting one hand to rest it on her leg, “Marian, please, just let me see.”
“Fine,” Marian stepped away from his touch – he was right, at least. She needed to change the dressing on the stab wound. She’d put a fresh one on before going out the night before but such strenuous activity had clearly caused the rent in her flesh to bleed again, and the longer she left the old bandage on now, the greater her risk of infection.
Robin watched her anxiously as she retrieved the wooden box in which she kept her medical supplies, from clean strips of linen to needles and a spool of fishing thread.
“You are making me nervous,” she told him, setting the box on the bed.
“Sorry,” Robin murmured, coming over to help her.
He took the knife she handed to him and carefully sliced away the dressing, crouching down again to watch as Marian reluctantly peeled the material away from her skin. She gritted her teethe and hissed softly as it came off her wound, taking a layer of blood and skin with it.
Robin bit his lip. The gash wasn’t particularly long, but it was deep red, an almost demonic looking slit of an eye, still wet and sticky with fluid beneath a row of Djaq’s wicked looking stitches. The skin around it was irritated looking – not enough (thank God) to signal an infection, but enough to make it clear that the flesh was tender. A bruise had appeared around it too, dark, purplish and not yet fading – proof of the internal damage done by Gisborne’s knife.
Marian watched him curiously as he scrutinised her injury. He was close enough to her that she could feel his breath, warm, against the skin of her abdomen, and when he placed one cool hand onto the bare flesh of her side she jumped, shocked. She could feel an old, familiar flush creeping up the back of her neck – the last thing she needed was for Robin to start being able to make her feel like that again.
“Sorry,” Robin looked up at her, “my hands are cold.”
“It’s alright,” Marian told him, trying to stop her voice trembling. It might just have been the sleep-deprivation, but she suddenly wanted very much to feel those hands of his roaming elsewhere over her skin. She waited a few more seconds, until she really couldn’t bear it any more, and then drew another breath, “satisfied?”
Robin sat back on his heals and nodded grimly, “as I’ll ever be,” he looked up at her, and she spotted something like genuine worry on his features.
“I am fine, Robin,” she assured, him softly.
“I know,” Robin smiled, weakly, “But you weren’t.” He paused for a second, frowning again, then nodded to himself, as if trying to shake away the ghost of some half-forgotten nightmare. Without warning, he leant forward and pressed his lips to the skin next to her wound, like some mythical fairy tale prince, healing her with a kiss.
The move was so unexpected, the contact so strange, that Marian had to laugh, shaking her head, “Robin…”
He looked up at her, his grin suddenly genuine, something like his old good humour shining in his eyes, “what?” He enquired, innocently – as if kissing the abdomen of your former childhood sweetheart at daybreak of a morning was a perfectly normal and every-day activity that was in no way massively indecent or inappropriate. Almost to prove his point, he kissed her again, next to her belly button, then stood up, looking entirely too pleased with himself.
Marian shook her head in disbelief, amused by his sudden whimsy. Robin stayed close to her as he stood, wrapping his arms about her waist (being careful to avoid her wound as he did so), and planting a gentle, chaste kiss to her lips. Marian almost stiffened – reflexively, really – then remembered that he had, at least in part, earned his redemption recently, and kissed him back. It was surprisingly easy to relax into his embrace as he held her, resting his cheek on her shoulder and stroking her hair. This sudden show of physical affection was strange – familiar, yet not so. The taste of something long forgotten.
It occurred to her that they hadn’t really touched since he had returned. Discounting that one time after Lambert’s death when he had impulsively (reflexively) taken her into his arms, (an unexpected echo of what was still between them at a time when both were starting to think it might be dying), they had not actually had proper, affectionate physical contact in at least five years. The sweet, spontaneous closeness that had become almost second nature to them during their teenage years had completely evaporated from the thorny, stand-offish relationship that had struggled back into existence between them of late. She hadn’t realised how much she had missed it.
“I love you,” Robin whispered, into her hair, and Marian felt her heart simultaneously freeze and melt – something… warm ignited in the pit of her stomach and crept slowly upwards, inflating in her lungs and dispersing into her blood stream until she felt it might fill her utterly, drown her from the inside. The feeling was oddly unfamiliar – a little something new blossoming out of the rubble of what had been.
Not that she had ever really doubted how he thought he felt – but whether he actually did love her, (whether he ever had), she had been forced to doubt ever since his departure five years ago. Even on the more recent occasions when she had, almost automatically, allowed herself to fall into those old, playful patterns of flirtation and childish affection, it had been more out of a sense of nostalgia than a genuine hope that there was still something there worth salvaging. Now… somehow… the soft sincerity in his voice was finally becoming convincing, the words actually coming out of his mouth rang true. No bravado or arrogance or expectation – a simple, quiet truth, spoken into her hair as if it were no more than a promise or a statement about the weather.
Experimentally, Marian pressed her nose to Robin’s chest and inhaled, deeply. It was a different smell than she remembered, certainly. He had once smelled mostly of sweat and vaguely or rose petals or lavender – whichever he had been forced to wash in the night before. What most high-born boys smelled of. Now… well, he still smelled mostly of sweat, but without the slightly sickly smell of rose petals trying (and failing) to drown it. And beneath that… there was the distinctive tang of blood, and… and… mud – fresh air. The forest; dead leaves and wet earth and the wind and the rain.
“What are you doing?” Robin enquired, amused. He held her away from him a little, sliding his hands up her sides to just beneath where her arms met her shoulders and gently pressing his thumbs in, rubbing – the way he used to.
“You smell different,” Marian told him, matter-of-factly.
Robin snorted, “I am sorry if I have not exactly had the time to bathe as regularly as you would find preferable, my lady.”
Marian shook her head, “I didn’t say you smelled terrible, Robin…” she leaned into him again, “Well – I mean, you do, but that is besides the point.”
Robin laughed – like he always used to laugh, but deeper. She could hear it in his chest. Warmer. Richer than she ever thought it could have been. A more truthful sound, somehow.
“Mm – this is strange,” Marian remarked, into the peaceable silence that had settled so sweetly over the room.
“Is it?” Robin didn’t let go of her.
“Well,” Marian began, attempting to sound analytical, “it’s not just that you smell horrific, Robin. I mean, the last time I got a hug out of you, I am fairly sure that you were at least an inch shorter.”
Robin snorted, “that’s not unlikely.”
“And,” Marian continued, tightening her hold on him to illustrate her point, “Your shoulders are not so bony.”
“My shoulders were never bony!” Robin protested.
“Yes they were!” Marian gave him a gentle poke, “you were one of the boniest boys I knew – my nurse was always trying to feed you things because you were so thin, remember?”
“That, I do remember,” Robin admitted, “not that I was adverse to such treatment – I don’t think I ever ate as much honeyed bread as when I was visiting you.” He paused, feeling Marian begin to giggle into his chest, “anyway – I am not so bony now, am I?”
“No,” Marian answered, her voice gently mocking, “you are manly – with manly shoulders.”
“I should hope so,” Robin replied, and kissed the top of her head as if to draw a line beneath the subject.
Marian closed her eyes, and listened to Robin’s breath whirling in his chest – did he still carry the air of the Holy Lands in there? The dust and the heat of that place, held somewhere inside of him? Would he breathe it out every now and again? Would she be able to taste it on his breath if he kissed her? She couldn’t remember the taste of him when he had kissed her the week before – half falling off his horse as he did so, in the midst of the whirlwind-ride that day had been. She only remembered the colour of his eyes, and the warmth of him, and the desperate, fantastic hysteria of the moment. The making of all good kisses, she supposed.
Robin was kissing her – the top of her head, anyway – over and over, along her hair line and her ears, what was left of her parting and on each temple. Marian could feel them, feather light, his lips warm and just a little damp, falling atop her head like snowfall.
“What are you doing?” She asked, quietly, hardly wanted to disturb him.
Robin’s breath seemed shaky with something that was either tears or laughter, and he reached with gentle fingers to stroke her hair, “I had a – a dream, last… well, the last time I got any sleep, which could have been any number of days ago… but this dream was – a little… a little close to the bone, considering the past week’s events, and I dreamt of losing you again – worse than before – and I just had to check, Marian, do you understand?”
“I understand,” Marian murmured, reaching round to rub his back as softly and soothingly as she knew how. “Robin, I – ” and she was about to tell him I need to go back to bed, I need to sleep, father is ill and the sheriff is irate and I must rest – but what came out was only, “I have missed you.”
Robin loosed a short, half laugh into the room, “I have missed you too.”
Marian tipped her head back to look up at him – and found that Robin seemed to be scrutinising his feet, a little self-consciously. Somewhere inside of her, Marian’s inner thirteen year old ducked her head behind her hands, bashful and coy. But Marian knew better than that now – the seven years between her past and present self had been long and difficult but they had not been for nothing, even if so many of them had been without Robin there to hold her hand.
With two, firm fingers, she lifted Robin’s chin and forced him to meat her gaze, lifting her eyebrows a little in expectation.
He had that old, boyish smirk on his face – though it was more of an ironic nod to the original article than the article itself. There was something altogether more grown up sitting brightly behind his eyes; stars and shadows; the ghosts of a darker world, and the secrets of a more brilliant one – a deeper comprehension of what they had.
And then he kissed her. And he did so as if he had been meaning to do so from the moment he had arrived in her room that morning; from the moment he set foot upon English soil after returning from the Holy Land; from the moment that he had met her; from the moment that he had been born. As if there could be nothing more meaningful or more wholesome or more wonderful than kissing her, there, at that moment. As if the feel of her beneath his fingertips was enough to make him finally whole; as if he would never leave her side again.
Marian wondered if she could taste the Holy Lands (those ruined places) upon his breath, then swiftly decided that she didn’t care, as she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him closer. The touch of his tongue against her own was enough to make her lose all thought of anything beyond that moment. He felt good pressed against her, there – firm and real and warm and safe and just (just) dangerous enough to make her toes curl with a childish delight. Because this was going to cause serious trouble, one way or another (though when, in the past few months, had she been anywhere less than up to her neck in it?)
She was jerked unpleasantly out of the moment by a bolt of white hot pain up her side and yelped – Robin had accidentally placed his hand directly on top of her stab wound, which she had, of course, completely forgotten to re-bandage.
“Sorry!” Robin hastily drew away from her.
“It’s okay – it’s okay,” Marian hopped up and down in a rather unladylike manner, “it just – ow – I’m alright.”
“No, you’re not, come on, sit down,” Robin quickly drew her over to the bed. “I think now would be a good time to patch you up again.”
“Yes, probably,” Marian agreed, a little sheepishly. “I can do it, Robin, you don’t have to – ”
“What, you don’t trust me with a bandage?” Robin picked up a strip of clean white linen from Marian’s box of medical supplies, “I kept my fair share of soldiers alive on less suitable material than this in the Holy Lands, you know.”
Marian pilled up the hem of her shirt to expose the wound once more, “be gentle, Robin.”
“As always,” Robin grinned, and knelt down to work.
Between them, they got a new set of bandages onto the wound. Robin was gentle, much to Marian’s surprise. His movements were deft and precise, a slight frown of concentration on his features as he tied careful knots and tucked the bandages about each other so that they would not come loose.
“It’s going to scar quite badly, isn’t it?” Marian didn’t sound at all regretful (in fact, she seemed to be taking a kind of bitter pleasure form the idea).
“It will certainly leave a mark,” Robin admitted, pausing to look up at her. “We’ll match, you realise.”
“What?” Marian blinked.
Robin grinned and sat back on his heals, pulling up his shirt to show her the scar in his side, that she herself had seen whilst sewing up the arrow wound in his arm. “Djaq reckons he did it with the same weapon as he got you with.”
Marian raised her eyebrows, “really?”
“She compared the wound tracks,” Robin shrugged, “she says mine looks about the same depth and length, and it would make sense that I took a fever so quickly if I had the same sort of damage done to me as you did.”
Marian smiled, dryly, “Guy would not like to know that he has given us one more thing in common.”
“No,” Robin agreed, looking entirely too pleased with the idea.
Marian rolled her eyes, “do not look so smug about it, Robin.”
“I am not smug,” Robin assured her, grinning.
“There,” he remarked, finally standing up, “looks fine to me.”
Marian inspected his handy work, “thank you.”
“Welcome,” Robin bowed.
Marian smirked, looked up at him again, and saw the weary good humour in his eyes. She reached out a tentative hand and stroked his cheek. He really looked tired, she realised, and wondered how long it was since he’d been allowed to sleep. Robin kissed the palm of her hand and pulled her into a tight embrace – she didn’t protest. There was trust starting to grow here, somewhere amongst the confusion of nostalgia and desire.
“I should be going back to bed,” Marian murmured, not meeting Robin’s gaze, “and you should be going, before the sheriff’s guards remember what they are supposed to be doing and wake themselves from their slumbers.”
“Yes,” Robin agreed, not moving.
Reluctantly, Marian pulled herself away from his grip, turning her back on him and drawing breath, as she went to her wardrobe to retrieve her night dress. She needed to change and get the worst of the mud and the blood off any exposed skin and out of her hair before her father saw her. Robin touched his lips with the back of his hand, and backed away, to sit in the window.
Marian rolled her eyes, “you are not watching me change, Robin.”
Robin grinned, “I’m not watching,” and covered his eyes.
Shaking her head, Marian opened the door of her wardrobe to provide a temporarily barrier between herself and the gaze of the admiring outlaw, and swiftly stripped out of the last of her nightwatchman clothes, yanking her night dress down over her head as she did so. Robin was craning his neck, watching her ankles (the only part which could be seen from where he was sitting) with rather too keen an interest when she re-emerged.
He smiled roguishly at her and raised his eyebrows.
“Do not get any ideas, Robin,” Marian warned him, firmly, and went over to her wash stand to dunk her arms and face into the bowl of (unfortunately cold) water that was kept there for such purposes.
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Robin promised, deeply amused, “your ankles have mud on them.”
“I know,” Marian sighed, taking a cloth to the offending areas, “you wouldn’t think wet earth could become quite that adept at getting everywhere – and yet, here we are. Muddy ankles, and I was wearing boots that go up to my knees.”
Robin grinned, and drew his own knees up to his chest, watching her with a great deal of affection.
“What?” Marian lifted her eyebrows at him, rinsing dried earth off her elbows.
Robin shook his head, “I really have missed you, Marian.”
Marian’s expression softened, momentarily – then she picked up her cloth and came to sit next to him in the window.
“What are we going to do, Robin?”
Robin shrugged, “I was going to suggest that we elope, but that probably wouldn’t solve many of the country’s wider problems.”
“No,” Marian agreed, sensibly, “it wouldn’t. And I’m not going to elope anywhere with anyone, Robin – I don’t want to get married for the moment, thank you.”
“I know,” Robin smiled, peaceably.
“You’re still muddy,” Marian shook her head, “here – let me – ” and she took the cloth to his face with the same deftness that she had shown when she had stitched up his arm, all those months before.
Robin laughed, shutting his eyes against the onslaught, “you are acting like Much.”
“Good,” Marian retorted, “at least somebody in your gang is taking care of you.”
“Marian,” Robin spoke while she continued to scrub his nose, “some day – if you ever change your mind about getting married – and if the country ever sees stability again, and when we get rid of the Sheriff, and king Richard has returned and all this is set to rights – I mean, would you marry me then?”
Marian raised her eyebrows, “is that a proposal, my dear Robin of Locksley?”
“Well…” Robin scratched his ear, “if you want it to be – or it could be… a matter of curiosity on my part.”
Marian smiled, and, satisfied that his face was now cleaner than it had been in several days, put her cloth down, “I would consider it,” she told him, quietly, “once the sheriff is gone and the king has returned and father is in better health and things are… better – between us, Robin, I mean… we were apart for five years! You barely know who I am any more – or, you certainly didn’t when you first came home…”
“But I may have a better idea now,” Robin pointed out, truthfully enough.
“Yes,” Marian agreed, glancing up at him, “you do. But there are days when I am not sure that I know you as well as I would like to, either, Robin.”
Robin raised his eyebrows, “you seem to know me inside and out, Marian, as far as I can tell…”
“Mm,” Marian knitted her brows, “but sometimes you surprise me. I think you have shifted, somewhere, down inside. Outside, close to the surface, you are almost exactly as you always were – but something about your soul has gotten older, I think.”
Robin quirked his head at her, “you could always see into my soul, Marian.”
Marian smirked, “or so you claimed, when you were trying to charm me out of hitting you for being insolent.”
“That too,” Robin agreed. He paused, bit his lip, “I don’t dislike who you have become, Marian. This creature who is Marian Fitzwalter – she’s an extremely admirable woman. I mean, I always found her admirable, but… more so, now. I just wish I’d been here to see her change – see what happened to that girl I left behind.”
Marian reached over and rested her hand on the side of his head, stroking the hair at his temple with gentle fingers. “I think we’ve grown up, Robin.”
“Just a little,” Robin agreed, sounding oddly wistful about it.
“It’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Marian pointed out, still stroking his hair, “grown ups can do some very interesting things that children can’t.”
Robin grinned at her mischievously, took the hand that was stroking his hair and kissed it, “well, that really depends on what you have in mind, my lady.”
Marian snorted and stood up, “that warning about ideas and not getting any, Robin, remember?”
“I know,” Robin followed her, pulled her close and kissed her, briefly, “the problem with ideas, Marian, is that they tend to occur without me being able to do very much to stop them.”
Marian pushed him away, laughing, “go, Robin! Get out before I scream and my father sends the guards after you!”
“My lady, you wound me!” Robin moaned, clutching his chest in a pantomime of mortal injury.
“Out!” Marian waved a hand, and climbed onto her bed, drawing the blankets up to her chin, “and close the shutters behind you – I’d like to pretend it’s still night time and I have at least a few hours in which to sleep…”
“As you wish,” Robin bowed, mockingly, and turned toward the window – then, changing his mind, bounced back over to her bed.
“Robin…” Marian moaned, “I’m tired.”
“I know,” Robin said, “one last thing, though, my lady.” And he kissed her, very gently, and wrapped his arms tight about her, “goodnight, Marian.”
“Good night, Robin,” Marian sighed, “and good morning, I suppose it is now.”
“That sun in the sky would suggest that, yes,” Robin agreed, affectionately.
Marian sighed, “I’d damn you for waking me up, but I’m not entirely sure I’m sorry.”
“I’m not,” Robin told her.
Marian hugged him tight, listening to his heart beat steadily in his chest.
“Be careful, Robin.”
“I will be.”
And he left her, climbed out of the window and pulled the shutters closed behind him, waving at her as he did so. Marian yawned and waved back in farewell, then lay down, drew the covers over her head and tried to find sleep once more.
She had been successful for less than ten minutes when her father came knocking on her door, enquiring about breakfast.