The sun was setting over Sherwood forest as the gang settled in their new camp for the night. The permanent camp that Will had built was much more comfortable than their previous camps had been. While they only had a campfire before that they gathered around in the evenings and dragged their belongings from campsite to campsite, now they had something that was as close as possible to a house in the middle of the forest. It felt like home. Though that had as much to do with the fact that the people there felt like a family as it did the camp itself.
It had been a calm few days. There had not been many travelers, the sheriff had not arrested anyone or started any new plots, and overall things had been quiet and relaxed. The only work they had done was making a few deliveries to the poor. That left plenty of time to spend at the camp. Even Robin stayed close to the camp as he didn't dare visit Marian at her home so soon after she abandoned Guy of Gisborne at the altar on their wedding day. It was too risky. He knew Guy or the sheriff might be having Marian and her father watched for their open dissent. On this evening, they spent the time gathered around, simply talking to each other. The topic of conversation had turned to when Djaq first joined them.
She had changed much since then. Her hair was a bit longer, revealing soft curls that softened her once boyish face. She had begun to let down some of her walls around the men, revealing her gentle, musical tone of voice that replaced her earlier gruff, false bravado. She seemed to feel freer to be herself and these changes hadn't gone unnoticed by her friends. Even her clothes were a bit more feminine, as since the sheriff had already realized she was a woman, there was really no more reason for her to hide it.
"There's one thing I still haven't been able to figure out." Allan started, "'Cause I'm still not sure what happened after I ate that plant."
"That I told you not to swallow." Robin interrupted.
"Will was the one who told everyone you were a woman, right?" Allan asked Djaq who simply nodded in response before he turned his attention to Will. "Yeah, how did you know that exactly?" Allan asked him before admitting, "I couldn't tell. Not back then, anyway." He gave Djaq a quick glance up and down, acknowledging how much she'd changed in appearance.
Djaq and Will exchanged a look. Everyone noticed that Will was blushing and seemed uncertain how to answer. "Uhh…I-" he nervously began. Djaq laughed, causing everyone to look at her instead.
"Oh, so he never told you?" Djaq grinned mischievously as she noticed Will's wide-eyed look. He had been uncertain whether she would be embarrassed at the tale and hadn't wanted to do anything to upset her. Instead, she hadn't been bothered at all. In fact, she seemed to find humor in his embarrassment.
"Never told us what?" Robin asked. "You know, I was able to tell too. I wasn't certain, but I had my suspicions." Robin was never one to admit that he had been outdone or outsmarted by anyone.
"Sure, you did, master." Much quipped and rolled his eyes.
"I did!" Robin insisted. "I thought so, I just didn't want to say anything if Djaq didn't want us to know."
"Wait," Allan put his hand up at the bickering between Robin and Much. "How did Will know? What didn't you tell us?" For a moment, Will had been relieved, believing that Much and Robin had managed to change the subject. Now though he was turning even redder than before.
"Well," Djaq started. "Robin sent Will to tell us it was time to move forward with the plan. I was off on my own from the rest of the men. We were washing and praying, so I'm sure you can understand why. And…Will found me. He found me while I was still washing up and he…saw a little more than he thought he would, if you know what I mean." Djaq looked around at the other four outlaws who looked stunned at the revelation, eyes wide and jaws dropped.
"What?!" Allan exclaimed. "Will got to see you without your clothes on?" Poor Will hadn't taken his eyes off his hands laying in his lap since she began her explanation as he nervously fiddled with his fingers.
"Only without my shirt." Djaq clarified, teasing Allan and Will both with her provocative tone of voice. "He didn't get to see everything."
"I'm not bein' funny, but that isn't fair." Allan teased back. "You make us all stay away every time you bathe, always worried about us walkin' in on you, and Will got to see all that the first day you joined us?"
"Not fair?" Djaq asked him, smiling at his reaction. "How is it not fair?"
"Look, I'm just sayin' that…if Will got to see you with your shirt off, the rest of us should too." Allan teased. "It's only fair. Why should Will get to be the lucky one?"
"Allan…that's enough." Little John growled in disapproval.
"Oh, the rest of you should too, should you?" Djaq asked. "What about it being fair to me?"
"We can make it fair to you too, alright? We can all take our shirts off." Allan announced.
"Allan!" Little John growled louder. Djaq laughed harder and put up a hand to John to signal that she wasn't bothered by Allan.
"Alright, fine, John. You don't have to, just me then." Allan kept it up.
"That sounds like some kind of torture dreamed up by the sheriff." She quipped.
"Allan, leave her alone." Robin told him, while smirking at her comment. Much was sniggering off to the side at her comeback while Allan feigned offense.
"Torture? Nah, I look good without my shirt on." He said as he rubbed his hands up and down his body. "I'll prove it to you. I'll show you my chest if you show me yours."
Will stewed in silent anger at Allan's obvious flirting. Joking or not, he felt that this was crossing a line, an unspoken agreement that everyone else knew not to cross. "It's not like I did it on purpose, Allan. I barely even saw anything, she covered herself up too quickly."
"But you saw enough to know." Allan countered, smirking all the while. "Lucky bugger."
"I don't think so, Allan." Djaq laughed. "But thank you for the offer."
"Nah?" he asked and shrugged. "Your loss then. You'll be missing out on all this." He said as he rubbed his hands down his chest again. Djaq just rolled her eyes at him and sighed.
"What am I going to do with you, Allan?" she said as she shook her head in mock disapproval.
"Guess I'll just have to 'accidentally' walk in on you too," Allan replied. "Like Will did."
At that comment, Djaq stopped smiling and seemed to show some genuine discomfort, wondering if he would actually go far enough to try that. It made her feel too exposed and vulnerable that she couldn't tell if he was still joking around or not. Before Allan could even register the change in her demeanor, Will shot out of his seat.
"It was an accident!" Will spat out, no longer silent in his frustration with Allan. "Are you accusing me of spying on her on purpose? I didn't even know she was a woman yet!"
"And you'll do no such thing." Robin added to Allan, becoming serious again.
"Or else." John threatened as he glared at Allan, balling his hand up into a fist. Djaq immediately felt secure again.
"Calm down, mates." Allan said as he threw his hands up in self-defense. "I was just jokin' around with her. Honest!" Djaq felt relieved at his statement, perhaps even a bit guilty for believing that he was serious, even for just a moment. Much finally stood up and broke the tension.
"Well, as fascinating as this conversation about Djaq's chest is," he rolled his eyes as he spoke, getting up to gather the plates from supper. "Someone has to clean up around here and I guess that's going to be me. Again."
The outlaws got up and began getting ready to go to sleep while Much cleaned up. Robin caught Djaq as she was exiting the camp, on her way to the woods to relieve herself before she laid down for the night.
"Djaq," he started, a bit awkwardly due to the nature of the comment he was about to make. "If Allan, or any of them, ever say or do something that bothers you, just let me know. Alright? I'll set them straight."
"Thank you, Robin." Djaq smiled at him. "I will." She assured him. "But I can handle Allan. He just gets carried away sometimes."
"He's Allan." Robin laughed. "Though if he ever gets too carried away, let me know. I'll put a stop to it." He touched his hand to her shoulder reassuringly before turning back to camp. Djaq could see John talking sternly to Allan in the corner and knew that he was probably being threatened with violence if he ever tried anything like he said he would. A few minutes later, when she was on her way back to the camp, she found Will waiting outside for her.
"Hey, Djaq." Will started, seeming a bit anxious about what he was about to tell her. "I just wanted to apologize for… that. For what happened. I realized tonight that I never really did."
"For what?" she asked him, genuinely confused. It was her that encouraged Allan earlier by sharing the full story of what had happened that day. She certainly knew that it wasn't Will's doing.
"For that day. For walking up to you when you were…in that state. I honestly didn't know. I didn't mean to spy on you…" He told her, remembering the accusation she had spat at him when she spun around to face him.
"Oh, Will." She smiled at him. "I know it was an accident. I just said that because you took me by surprise. You have nothing to apologize for." She reassured him and he sighed in relief. "You didn't really think that I believed you were spying on me on purpose, did you?"
Will hadn't known what to think. He had hoped that she didn't believe that. The thought that he may have caused her to feel so violated hurt him more than she knew. He never wanted to make her feel like that, ever. He wanted to make sure that she always felt safe with him.
"I just wanted to make sure you knew." Will replied. "I would never do something like that intentionally, no matter what Allan says."
"I know." She smiled at him. "Allan knows too. He was just teasing you. I think he could tell you were a bit…embarrassed by the whole thing." Will flushed red again.
"Yeah, well…Allan needs to know when to drop it." Will muttered.
"He'll learn." She smirked. "Or else John will be the one to teach him." The two headed into the camp together, planning on going to sleep, but Djaq had one more interruption to face before she could lay down for the night.
"Djaq, can I talk to you for a minute?" Allan asked as he led her right back outside. She rolled her eyes and laughed.
"Oh no, not you too. Everyone is treating me like I am made of glass tonight. I am not so easily offended, you know."
"Well, I know." Allan laughed. "But I just got an earful from everybody else. 'Specially John." Djaq smiled at the thought of John defending her honor, completely unsurprised at how protective he was over something so little. He'd become almost like a second father to her since she joined the gang, to all of them really in some ways.
"So, he made you come out here to apologize to me?" Djaq asked.
"I just wanted to say that, you know, I wouldn't actually try to spy on you. You know that, right?" Allan asked her.
"I know." She told him. She hadn't been certain before, but she knew now. Whatever else these men were, they had always treated her with respect. She no longer had any doubts that she would be safe with them.
"And if I'm ever crossing a line, when I'm joking around like that…if it bothers you, just tell me and I'll knock it off. I swear." Allan promised her.
"Don't worry," Djaq assured him, "I will." He nodded at her, seemingly ready to settle things and head back inside before turning back to her once more.
"Though if I'm bein' honest, I wouldn't mind if I did catch a glimpse someday. Only if it really was an accident…or if you decide to take me up on my offer." He grinned mischievously, raising his eyebrow at her. She shook her head in response. He was over the top and sometimes he toed the line, but that's what made Allan who he was. She had to admit to herself, if it wasn't for all of his teasing and flirting, he probably wouldn't be as much fun to be around.
"Well, if I'm being honest…" she started a bit timidly, "I suppose it wouldn't actually be torture to see you without your shirt on either." She admitted as she took a quick glance down his body, hoping he wouldn't notice.
"Yeah?" His eyebrows shot up and his grin spread across his face. He relished in this game they played, flirting back and forth, always approaching the line but never quite crossing it. "Well, the offer still stands, you know." He leaned down a bit to whisper in her ear. "I'll show you mine, if you show me yours."
With that, they finally did head into camp to go to sleep. The other outlaws were already down for the night as Djaq laid down in her bunk. She thought to herself at how far she had come from that day. She had felt so scared, so on edge, and so alone with her guard always up around everyone. She had tried so hard to actually be Djaq, to truly become her brother inside and out, before she realized that she never really could. Try as she might, Djaq was the one that was gone and whether she liked it or not, she was still Saffiya no matter what name she went by. That side of her seemed to be coming out more and more with each passing day. She was finally starting to accept it and though she didn't want to admit it, even to herself, she was starting to make peace with the idea of letting Djaq go. She was slowly moving on, despite herself, while struggling to still carry her brother's memory on inside her.
She would have never guessed back then, when she first cut her hair, put on her brother's clothes, and took his name to join the fight against the Crusaders, that one day she would end up living among two of them. She could have never predicted that she would one day find herself in the forests of England calling a band of filthy, Christian, English outlaws her family, but she knew now without a doubt that that's exactly what they were. Though part of her had begun to realize that when it came to two of those outlaws, her feelings toward them had grown to be not quite so familial. She chastised that part of her heart, the part that still so obviously belonged to Saffiya, for finding herself in this situation.
She knew it was impossible for her to be with even one Christian man, so the thought of developing feelings for two of them was far more than she could handle. She couldn't even admit it to herself, not after she had tried so hard to just be "one of the guys" with the rest of the gang. She rationalized it instead. It wasn't wrong to feel flattered by Allan's flirting, to feel special when Will looked at her like that. No, she could allow herself to feel these things as long as she never acted on them. She was still Saffiya, after all. There was nothing wrong with it. And if she wasn't ready to admit to herself yet that there was any more to her feelings than that, then maybe in time those feelings would fade. Maybe she would never have to.
All she knew was that for the first time since her brother died, she was finally happy. She had finally found a family again. This was home.