Disclaimer: Robin Hood and his merry men are figures of legend, and as such I believe they are fair game. However these particular interpretations of the characters and certain elements of the storyline belong not to me but to the BBC, to whom I owe a great debt - without the awesomeness of BBC iPlayer, this story wouldn't be half as good.
Author's Note: For those who've been watching it on the BBC:
Everything up to Episode 5 in Series 3 is compatible with this story.
Unfortunately in the aforementioned Episode 5
Guy of Gisborne returned from Prince John's castle
and screwed up my scenario.
Oh, and I don't like Tuck. As a result he gets bashed repeatedly :)
So, read and enjoy!
Robin Hood leant his head back against the post to which he was chained and let out a very frustrated sigh as the prison door shut with a resounding clang. The lock clicked ominously loudly and the traditional toothless jailor made a traditional "enjoy your last night" joke. In a refreshing break from tradition, however, Robin was not locked in the dungeon of Nottingham castle, but the castle of Prince John himself. The unfamiliar location, heightened security and – Robin could only assume – a lack of self-important pre-execution preamble meant that his chances of escape were extremely slim.
Robin closed his eyes and bashed his head against the post, each time eliciting a soft but rather gratifying thump. "Stupid," he muttered angrily. And it had been immensely stupid. Prince John arrives in Nottingham, and what does the most wanted outlaw in England do? Lie low until the danger has passed? As if that had been an option for the famous Robin Hood. As Tuck had so helpfully pointed out, it was the perfect opportunity to show their people that all their bark of supporting King Richard had some real, tangible bite to it. Robin wouldn't have put it quite so gratuitously poetically, but if he could get one over on Prince John then he wasn't about to turn down the opportunity. And the plan had been pretty impressive, even by their standards, but perhaps a little too adventurous. For Prince John had been in Nottingham to collect his infamous taxes, and Robin Hood and his merry men had decided to steal those taxes from right under his nose. It had seemed like a noble and daring plan – until they managed to get surrounded by the Sherriff's guards, headed by Gisborne's latest replacement. To be more precise, Robin, Kate and Little John had managed to reach safety, but Much, Allan and Tuck had been trapped. The Sherriff, with Prince John looking on as though this whole scene was almost tedious, had given Robin an ultimatum – give himself up in exchange for the others' freedom, or run and condemn them to death. Predictably, Much had told him to save himself, Tuck had spouted some rubbish about the idea of Robin Hood being more precious than any three lives and Allan had earned a rather incredulous glare from Much when he interjected that really, he wouldn't mind being saved. But for Robin there was no choice. He had thrown down his bow and arrow – praying Little John would have the sense to take Kate and run first, help later – and raised his hands in surrender.
Immediately Prince John's guards had descended upon him, shackling his wrists and ankles and dragging him towards the prison carriage. The Sherriff had just smiled, making no effort to order the release of Much and the others, waving as if bidding farewell to a dear friend.
"You know, I really think I'm going to miss Hood," he had mused, to no one in particular, before giving a short, barking laugh.
And now Robin was stuck in a prison cell in Prince John's castle, set to be executed at 10 o'clock on the dot the next morning, a hundred miles or more away from Nottingham, with no chance of freeing himself, let alone rescuing his friends. The situation was dour indeed.
"Well, well, well," came a familiar drawl. "If it isn't Robin Hood."
"Gisborne," Robin answered, teeth gritted. "Long time no see."
Robin lowered his head and glared out of the corner of his eye at the shadowed corner of the prison cell. Shackled a little way away from him, and resting his head against the wall, Guy of Gisborne was looking at him with a wry, ironic – subtly triumphant – sneer. Robin assumed this must have been where his arch-enemy had been all these months, because Guy was certainly looking worse for wear. His cheeks were slightly gaunt, his face unwashed, and his hair was a good inch or two longer than it had been last time he'd laid eyes on him. Even the usual glitter of malice in Gisborne's eyes seemed somewhat deadened.
"Interesting place to take a holiday, Hood," Guy sneered, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "I would have thought the assassination of Prince John would be easier from outside a prison cell, but I'm sure you know best."
"You really are funny, Gisborne, you know that? You're wasted in the evil sidekick business, you should have become a jester," Robin retorted angrily. Now that he had gotten over the initial shock of seeing Gisborne, especially since rumours of his death had been floating around at ever-increasing volumes, the old eternal hatred was bubbling up inside him once more.
"Coming from you, who has a witty remark for every situation?" Guy snarled, apparently experiencing similar emotions. "If only your wit was as sharp as your aim."
Robin's brow deepened incredulously as he glared across at Gisborne's face, now contorted with anger. "My wit? I'm an outlaw and I managed to stay alive so far, you were the Sherriff's right hand man and even then you couldn't manage to stay out of prison, which of us do you think is the smarter?"
Guy didn't have a response for this and just stared at Robin, fuming, and then, with nothing to say, he stared sullenly out through the bars, his fists clenched tightly, shackled behind his back. Robin slowly drew his eyes away and bashed his head against the post again, raising angry eyes to the ceiling. They sat in furious silence for a moment, with nothing but the eerie echoes of the scratchings of rat claws against the stone floor reaching their ears. Robin looked down at his boots, thinking about fortune's unusual choice of cellmate.
"This is too much," he said, looking away from Gisborne. Gisborne turned his head slightly in Robin's direction.
"I'd have thought you were used to being locked in a cell by now."
"Yeah, but I'm not normally locked in a cell with my sworn enemy," Robin spat.
Gisborne's expression darkened. His gaze dropped to the floor, his matted hair swinging in front of his face, and after a moment, he spoke. "Hood," he began, throat uncharacteristically tight and looking as though Robin was the last person he wanted to have this conversation with, "I have a question for you."
Robin stared back sullenly and then averted his gaze, making no response. Whether Gisborne saw this as antagonism or invitation, he held his chin up, refusing to relinquish his pride.
"Do you believe in redemption?"
Robin clenched his fists in spite of himself as images of Marian flashed through his mind. His beautiful Marian, smiling, marrying him, dying in his arms. Dying because of Gisborne.
"For some people," he said venomously. "For some crimes."
Gisborne saw his meaning immediately. "But not for me," he spat angrily, glaring at Robin with an unreadable expression on his face. "Not for my crime!"
Robin couldn't believe that Gisborne could be indignant, as though he thought he deserved forgiveness. "You killed the woman you loved!" he shouted angrily. "The woman we both loved!"
"And I think about it every day!" Gisborne shouted back, his face contorted in anger. "It haunts me, every moment, every second, I see her face! Don't you think I know what I've done?" The sinews in his neck were standing out with the effort of his shouting. He seemed like he'd wanted to say all this for a long time. "The moment I did it, I regretted it, and I've regretted it every moment since. She was something so perfect, so pure, so good. She didn't deserve it. She was innocent, I know that. She was the only thing I had, that I have ever had, the only person who made my life worth living, and I took that away from myself. And I've been locked in here for months with no company except the rats and her ghost, tormenting me! I can't bear any more!"
Gisborne paused, breathing heavily, screwing his eyes up tight against the flood of his self-hate.
"I wish I was dead."
"You don't deserve to die," Robin said angrily, before he could stop himself.
"No," Gisborne said, turning his head ever so slightly towards Robin. "I deserve to live in hell, that's what you think, isn't it?"
"If you're expecting forgiveness then you're going to be waiting a long time," answered Robin coldly, his blood boiling under the surface.
"I lost everything I live for!" Guy cried, a pleading edge to his voice.
"I lost her too!" Robin shouted back, pulling at his restraints. "You took her from me!"
"You took her from me first!" Gisbourne yelled, and suddenly his deadened eyes glittered with what Robin was sure couldn't possibly be tears. He breathed heavily and his voice dropped to barely a croak. "She would have married me, but you came and stole her away. She was all I had!"
Robin's fists were clenched so hard that he could feel his nails digging into his palms. "As if you really cared about her."
"I loved her!" Gisborne bellowed at Robin, his chains clinking as he made a sudden convulsive movement as though to lunge at him. All of a sudden there was no mistaking the tracks of pearly light streaming down Guy's cheeks – as strange as it was to see, Gisborne was crying. Crying his heart out, as though aching to be understood. And by this strange twist of fate, the only person he could reach out to, the only person who could save him, was Robin.
"I loved her!" Guy repeated, practically sobbing. "Can't you understand that?"
Robin's anger recoiled so quickly that it made him feel physically sick with himself. He turned his head away from Gisborne's painful display of emotion. He didn't know what to think, or how to feel. Gisborne had murdered Marian; he was the reason she was dead. It had been so easy to hate Gisborne when he pretended that Gisborne didn't really care that she was dead, when he constructed Gisborne as a monster in his mind. But the Gisborne he was presently in the company of was painfully human, ripping his heart out and putting it on display, begging for a way out of his misery. He'd probably been punishing himself for months on end. And Robin was finding it very hard to stop himself from feeling sorry for him.
"I know it was no one's fault but my own," Gisbourne said, his voice heavy with remorse. "I hate myself more than you can ever imagine. You said it yourself, the pain that I'm feeling now will never fade away. I will never stop loving her." Robin turned to Gisborne, his conflicting feelings of righteous anger and pity still confusing him. "I'm sorry, Hood," he begged. "I'm sorry for what I've done. You have to believe me."
And as their eyes connected, Robin felt Gisborne's sincerity painfully clearly.
In the silence that followed, Gisborne let his gaze fall to the floor again. He nodded slightly, as if to say that he hadn't expected any forgiveness. One more solitary tear slid from his eye as he took a very ragged breath and Robin felt his heart ache in sympathy.
"Gisborne," he said softly, hearing it as though someone else was speaking. Gisborne looked up at Robin's expression, gentle in spite of his resolve to hate. "It's not my forgiveness you need. It's your own."
They stared at each other in the pregnant silence, Robin with kindness and Guy with disbelief. Robin, his mortal enemy, was prepared to forgive him, somehow, impossibly, against all the odds. And as he stared at that calming, always slightly cocky smile, Guy began to feel that maybe he could forgive himself too.
Robin, still slightly uncomfortable, suddenly looked down on the floor, twisting around as he searched. "Right now," he said to the floor, "you'd better pull yourself together, Gisborne, or we're never going to get out of here."
Gisborne shook his hair out of his face, already locking his emotions away. "You have a plan?"
"I have a plan," Robin replied, his smile more of a grimace as he continued to search.
"I've always wanted to witness the great escapes of the famous Robin Hood first hand," Gisborne said sardonically.
Robin suddenly paused in his search and looked up at Gisborne, his brow knitted in mild confusion. "You know you're coming with me, don't you?"
"What?" Gisborne cocked his head slightly as if he thought he'd misheard; that was the last thing he'd expected Robin to say. "Why?" he asked suspiciously.
Having at last found something suitable – a crooked nail – Robin shifted his weight and fumbled with his handcuffs. "Well," he started, his tongue sticking out through his teeth as he tried to concentrate on the makeshift lock-pick, "I don't know how much you can see from there..." He cursed as the nail tumbled to the floor with a resounding clang. He gave up and looked at the ceiling as though praying for patience. "...But unfortunately I'm not able to free myself."
"Time for a new plan then," Guy replied, one eyebrow raised.
"Absolutely right, Gisborne," Robin answered. "I'll have to free you first."
Gisborne stared at Robin sceptically for a moment, trying to work out if this was some kind of trick. Robin saw and shook his head, before looking Guy directly in the eye. "Get over here," Robin said, motioning with an inclination of his head, slightly amused by Gisborne's mistrust. When he still didn't move, he bashed his head against the post and laughed disbelievingly. "What have you got to lose, Gisborne? It's not like I can hit you like this!" He rattled his shackles for emphasis.
Giving up on trying to read Robin Hood, Guy managed with some difficulty to stand up and drag his chains across the floor to Robin. He turned his back to the other side of the post Robin was chained to so that Robin could reach his handcuffs. Robin stuck his tongue between his teeth, managed to find the nail on the floor again and began the rather slow and tedious job of trying to unlock Gisborne's chains.
"Why are you doing this?" Gisborne asked, resting his head against the post in much the same way that Robin was doing. His voice still carried a lot of resentment.
"I'd've thought that was obvious, Gisborne," Robin said detachedly, focussing more on the task at hand. Picking a lock that you couldn't even see was harder than he'd imagined. "I can't free myself, but I should be able to free you, and then you can free me."
"And what makes you think I'll do that?" Gisborne asked in spite of himself. He turned his head ever so slightly towards Robin. "What makes you think you can trust me?"
"Well, there are two reasons, Gisborne, one is that I really don't think you can get out of this castle on your own," Robin said, not really intending the implied insult, but not exactly sorry for it either. The lock clicked open and Robin let out a soft 'a-hah!' of success. Gisborne pulled his hands free of the shackles, his wrists feeling strangely light after being chained up for so long. Massaging his wrists, he stood up and turned to face Robin.
"And the other reason?" he asked suspiciously.
"And the other reason," Robin echoed, craning his neck to look up at Gisborne, "is that I'm pretty sure you're actually a decent person when it comes down to it."
Guy froze, staring down at Robin in disbelief. Robin just smiled that crooked smile and then looked back towards the bars, as though he didn't want to dwell on the subject too much. But Gisborne was still too shocked to do anything but gaze at Robin in confusion, comprehension beyond his grasp. Robin shook his head, impatient, and looked back up at Gisborne with eyebrows raised.
"Are you going to untie me or not?" he asked challengingly, although he knew the answer already.
"They should have chained me to a post as well," Gisborne commented as he knelt down behind Robin.
"To be honest, I don't think they expected us to work together," Robin said uncomfortably.
"I still don't like you," Gisborne said defiantly as he started to work at Robin's chains, head bowed and hair conveniently covering his flushed face.
"Don't worry," Robin said, a smile twitching at the edges of his mouth, "once we get out of here we can get right back to hating each other."
Gisborne wasn't very practised so it took quite a while, but at last the lock clicked open. Robin heard Gisborne give a triumphant half-laugh, proud of this uncharacteristic achievement. The thought made Robin suppress another smile as he got to his feet, rubbing his wrists as Gisborne had done.
"What now?" asked Gisborne, sounding slightly breathless, looking everywhere around the cell before looking at Robin, trying to anticipate the plan. To his great surprise, though, Robin crouched down next to a rat and asked, with deceptive seriousness, "Hello, little friend! And where did you come from?"
Gisborne stared with eyebrows raised, the wild thought flashing through his mind that Robin's secret for all his escapes was that he could talk to animals. But Robin turned, still resting on his heels, and looked up to Gisborne, one eye closed as if he still wasn't entirely used to looking at him without hatred. "Have you still got that nail?" he asked.
"Oh... here," Guy answered, holding it out at arm's length so that Robin could take it. He wasn't quite sure why he'd still been holding onto it. Folding his arms, he watched Robin with a slight frown as he took the nail and started scratching around one of the stone blocks.
"I'm sure this must seem like a painfully obvious question, Hood, but what is that going to achieve?"
It was clear from Gisborne's tone that he didn't think this plan likely to yield positive results. Robin paused in his scraping and leant back on one hand so that he could look up at Gisborne. He wished Gisborne would crouch down so he didn't get a rick in his neck every time he tried to talk to him. "The rat came out from behind this stone. That means there's a gap in the wall here."
Gisborne gave a little grunt of understanding. "That's how you escaped with that Irish bloke," he said, still smarting from that particular episode.
"Yeah, that's right," Robin answered. He turned round, tongue between his teeth as he teased Gisborne. "That's how we escaped that 'vault' of yours that's meant to be impossible to escape."
"Alright, alright, you've made your point," Gisborne said sourly, a wry smile pulling at his mouth.
Robin, grinning, returned to his digging. Gisborne continued to stare thoughtfully at him for a few moments, before he turned around and began scouring the floor. Eventually he found what he was looking for; he knelt down beside Robin and started to dig away at the other edge of the stone block.
Robin paused and looked at Gisborne, slightly impressed. "Thank you," he said, confused about what emotion to show.
"If I left it up to you, we'd never get out of here," Gisborne replied curtly, his curtain of hair hiding his expression. Fortunately the heat in his skin receded and Robin returned to scratching at the wall.
Eventually they managed to free the stone block and, with considerable effort, together they heaved it away from the wall. The hole it left was surprisingly large, and they could feel fresh air wafting up from below. They both lay down on their stomachs and stuck their heads through the hole to closer inspect their find.
Behind the wall was a thin, vertical drop.
"Well," Gisborne said fairly, "there's certainly a gap."
"Yeah," mused Robin, undeterred as he thought through the options. "We'll have to climb down. If we brace our backs against one wall and our hands and knees against the opposite wall, we should be able to get down okay."
"Where does it come out?" Gisborne asked, as though forgetting that Robin didn't know this castle.
Robin leaned forward and sniffed the air that was coming up from below. He pulled a face as he turned to Gisborne. "Sewers."
"Nice," said Gisborne, nodding and trying not to show his amusement.
"It's only wide enough for one abreast," Robin continued, "so one of us will have to go first and the other will follow above."
Gisborne looked resolutely into the chasm. "I'll go first."
"How very chivalrous of you, Gisborne," answer Robin with a wry smile. "I accept your kind offer, please lead on."
He gestured melodramatically with a flourish of his hand and moved out of the way so that Gisborne could turn around and scramble backwards into the shaft. It wasn't easy, especially since Gisborne was so tall, but he managed to shimmy down half a dozen feet, trying not to feel revolted by the slimy walls. "Okay," he called up to Robin.
"I'm coming down then," Robin called back. Gisborne didn't think he liked how close his voice sounded in the tiny shaft.
"It's really quite comfortable in here," Guy said, shaking his hair out of his eyes with a flick of his head. His arms and legs were already aching from bracing against the wall but he daren't let go of it. He heard Robin give a short laugh and suppressed a smile.
"Thinking of moving in, Gisborne?" Robin responded, amusement still plain in his voice.
"Maybe," he said evasively.
"Gisborne," Robin asked, curiosity mixed with wonder in his voice: "Are you actually smiling?"
Gisborne grinned more broadly still, extremely glad that Robin couldn't see him in the pitch blackness of the shaft. "I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks."
A few scraps of moss and associated dirt rained down on Gisborne; Robin had successfully managed to climb into the chasm. They began the descent down, and it was hard work; Robin was more used to this kind of thing and so was much quicker, and had to wait every now and then for Gisborne to move down and give him enough space. Even then, Gisborne was having to use all his effort to keep up with Robin, trying not to be a hindrance.
After what felt like an hour, Gisborne suddenly felt his feet part company with the wall, and with a yell he was falling in the darkness, surely lost – except that his fall wasn't very far at all. Six feet, to be exact, and his legs crumpled beneath him as his feet plunged through a foot of water and hit stone floor. Surprised, he overbalanced, and ended up sitting in stagnant sewer water.
"Gisborne?" called out Robin's voice worriedly. Gisbourne glared up at the source of Robin's voice, mortified.
"Well I've found the bottom," he said sourly, too annoyed to make any effort to get up. Moments later, Robin dropped down into the sewer next to him, annoying Gisborne with his steady dismount. Robin suddenly grinned broadly as his eyes adjusted to the gloom.
"Well this is no time for a sit down, Gisborne!" Robin said jokingly, hands on hips as though telling him off, and Gisbourne looked away, fuming. "Come on," said Robin, his voice laughing but his eyes kind, and he extended a hand to Gisborne. Guy looked at it warily for a moment, then at Robin, and with more effort than was necessary heaved his arm up and took Robin's hand. Robin pulled him to his feet and for a moment they just stood there together, the most bizarre pair of comrades, Robin looking somewhat quizzically at Gisborne as the latter, neck bent slightly so as not to bash his head on the sewer ceiling, kept his eyes on the darkness. Eventually Gisborne sighed and looked at Robin.
"Are all your escapes this glamorous?" he asked wearily.
"No," Robin answered, grinning. "This one's especially for you."
"Thank you for that," Gisborne responded with mock-sincerity.
"Anytime, Gisborne," Robin said heartily, slapping him warmly on the shoulder. Again, as they headed towards the tiny glimmer of light at the end of the sewer, Gisborne was glad of the cloak of darkness to hide his unfamiliar smile.
Given their unusual escape route, Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne were able to walk in eerie, uninterrupted silence from the castle for at least an hour. They were both just starting to feel restless and on edge when Gisborne looked into the trees and saw something that made his stomach clench in resentment – sunlight reflecting off what could only be armour.
"We've got company," he growled angrily, turning bodily to face where he had seen the flash of light, squaring his back protectively to Robin's.
Robin squinted his eyes against the sun. "It was only a matter of time," he muttered. He leaned down and picked up a long, sturdy looking piece of wood and tested its weight in his hands.
Gisborne glanced at it once, looked back towards the woods and then looked quickly back at Robin again. There was a certain amount of concern mixed in with his disbelief as he said, "Hood – they have swords."
"So they do, Gisborne," Robin said, as if the thought had only just occurred to him. He held the stick over his shoulder for Gisborne to take, flashing him another cheeky smile. "Then I suppose you'll be wanting the stick."
Exasperated, Gisborne took it without complaint, although he had trouble not rolling his eyes. Two men, one unarmed and the other with a bit of wood for a weapon, against a group of highly trained elite guards? He shifted his grip on the stick nonetheless; he wasn't about to just roll over. They stood back to back, wary eyes darting around, seeking out their enemies. Robin guessed there must be about two dozen men, and he suspected more would be on their way, so they'd have to end this fight quickly and run.
The glinting armour came within the danger zone.
"Time to dance, Gisborne!" Robin shouted, and the first of the soldiers poured out of the forest and into the long grass.
They both stepped forward to meet their opponents, Gisborne knocking one and then another to the ground with sweeping strokes of the stick, striking the first in the jaw and the second in the shoulder. Robin ducked the swipe of a sword and kicked his attacker in the stomach. The soldier doubled up, clutching his chest, and his sword clattered to the floor. Robin had picked it up in an instant, kicking the man in the chin so that he tumbled over onto his back. Immediately another soldier was upon him, and Robin parried the strike with the sword, knocking the soldier's weapon out of his hand. A quick slash of his own sword and the soldier crumpled to his knees and keeled over in the grass.
"Gisborne!" Robin called out, as he picked up the spare sword. Gisborne punched his nearest assailant in the face before turning around to see what Robin wanted. Catching sight of the sword, he unceremoniously discarded the now very broken stick he'd been defending himself with and held his hands out, ready. "Catch!" Robin shouted unnecessarily, throwing the sword to Gisborne, who plucked it easily from the air and immediately tore the blade through his next opponent.
Robin's stomach clenched to see Gisborne dispose of lives so easily. He didn't have time to think about it though, as another soldier burst out of the long grass. Another block saved his arm and he rammed his shoulder into the man's chest, watching him stagger backwards for only a second before another assailant demanded his attention. He frowned with the effort as he was forced to thrust the sword through the gap in the soldier's armour.
These soldiers were no joke; it was taking all he had to keep them at bay, let alone defeat them. In between strokes, Robin chanced a glance across at Gisborne. Even with the sword, he wasn't faring much better. They were being steadily pushed into the trees where they would undoubtedly be separated and then they wouldn't stand a chance.
Robin parried another blow and took a deliberate sidestep, making sure he was once again within arm's length of Gisborne. Gisborne looked over his shoulder and saw Robin behind him, but it didn't give him much comfort. There were too many soldiers and they were too highly skilled. If they didn't get out of this fight soon, they would both wind up dead.
One of the soldiers, wrong-footed, fell to the ground at Gisborne's feet. His sword bounced out of his hand and skidded across the ground and his helmet rolled off his head, leaving him horribly exposed. The boy, who couldn't have been much more than fourteen, held up his hands in surrender. "No, please!" he begged, but Gisborne just smirked and placed his sword at the boy's throat.
But the boy's cry of protest had caught Robin's attention, and he spun around, sensing Gisborne's intent. "No, Gisborne!" he shouted angrily, holding his hand up for him to stop. "We don't kill unless we have to!"
"No...!" murmured Gisborne, turning pale, his gaze fixed at some point just over Robin's right shoulder.
"Behind you!" he bellowed, and as Robin started to turn around, Gisborne had already abandoned the boy, rushed forward and pushed Robin to the ground, falling with him, and the arrow that was intended for Robin's heart buried itself instead in Guy's shoulder.
Gisborne let out a great roar of pain, grimacing, his eyes screwed up tight. Robin could do nothing but blink in confusion, pinned to the ground as he was, his enemy's hands in the earth either side of his head. "What did you do that for?" he cried, irrationally angry, trying to search Gisborne's face through the curtain of matted hair.
Gisborne's heavy breathing steadied and he looked up at Robin through his hair. Inexplicably, perhaps surprised by his own action, he was smiling, a true smile that reached his eyes. His face only a few inches away from Robin's, he answered him warmly.
"Because I finally found something else worth living for."
A split-second later, Guy pushed himself up and away from Robin, reaching for his sword just in time to block a strike aimed where his head had been moments before. Robin frowned, eyes wide, confused beyond belief. But there was no time to dwell on it – a mace swung down towards his face, and Robin rolled to the side to avoid it, kicking the soldier's legs out from under him. He picked up his own sword and pressed his back against Gisborne's as they resumed the fight. Robin's only thought was to get them both out alive.
At last the gap that Robin had been praying for opened in the circle of soldiers. "Now, Gisborne!" he shouted, looking back just long enough to grab a fistful of Guy's sleeve. "Run!"
Gisborne didn't need telling twice. The arrow still lodged painfully in his shoulder, he abandoned the fight at once and they sprinted off into the forest, leaping over streams and fallen logs. Free of the dead-weight of chainmail, they soon managed to leave their enemies behind, but they kept running long past sunset.
"Alright, hold still."
Gisborne sat with his back to Robin, who had perched himself on a rock for better visibility. Luckily there was a full moon, so Robin was able to quite easily make out the wooden shaft as it disappeared into the leather of Gisborne's tunic. He put his left hand against Gisborne's back, palm braced and his thumb and index finger either side of the arrow, and with his right hand he gripped the arrow firmly.
"This is going to hurt," he warned, and pulled.
Gisborne cried out, having expected a longer pause between the warning and the pain. The arrow didn't budge, so Robin stopped pulling, not wanting to cause more pain than was necessary. Guy dropped his head and laughed.
"I'm beginning to think your lifestyle isn't as attractive as you make it out to be," he said, his muscles tensing automatically under Robin's fingers.
"You get used to it," Robin said, wiggling the arrow a little to try and loosen it up. Gisborne tried not to show the discomfort it was causing. Robin tugged hard again and Gisborne grunted.
"You can scream if you like, Gisborne," Robin teased, flexing his fingers as he prepared to pull again. "I won't tell anyone."
"Shut up," Gisborne retorted, but he was smiling. At that moment Robin gave an almighty heave, grunting himself with the effort, and the arrow ripped free. Taken again by surprise, Gisborne let out another roar of pain, which quickly became self-derisive laughter. He tried to turn around, but Robin pushed his shoulders back before ripping off a bit of his shirt. He wadded it up and pressed it firmly against the wound.
"We can't make a bandage," he explained, "so I'll just have to hold it in place until it stops bleeding."
Gisborne nodded his understanding and relaxed his shoulders, trying not to fight the pressure from Robin's hand. He stared into the night, expression calm and content although his mind was churning. Robin watched his profile with a slight frown before turning his attention back to the arrow-wound, checking whether it was still bleeding.
"This still feels weird," Gisborne said, his deep voice breaking the silence.
"Well you've got a hole in your back," Robin pointed out unnecessarily, replacing the bloodstained wad of cloth onto the wound. Gisborne laughed and Robin tensed as he felt the unfamiliar sound vibrate up through his arm.
"No, I meant..." Gisborne broke off for a moment, sobering. "To be treated with kindness. It still feels strange."
Slightly uncomfortable, Robin tried to lighten the conversation. "Aw, you mean the Sherriff never gave you a hug?" he said, trying to sound mock-dismayed.
"The Sherriff give me a hug," Gisbourne repeated, laughing, shaking his head at the ridiculousness of the idea. He wasn't sure he could think of anything much worse than being hugged by the Sherriff. He tried to make eye contact with Robin but he still couldn't turn around since Robin was still holding the makeshift poultice to his back. "No. Marian was the only person who had ever been kind to me."
Robin stiffened, unsure what to say, or even what to feel.
"She was the only person I ever had," said Gisborne quietly. He looked up at the sky, a mournful yet peaceful expression on his face as he gazed at the stars. The remorse from hours earlier was muted somehow, tamed, calmed.
After the few moments of silence, Gisborne lowered his gaze to the leaf-strewn ground, turning his head ever so slightly towards Robin. When he spoke, his voice was deeper, gentler and more heartfelt than ever.
"And now I have you."
"And now you have me," Robin echoed slowly, watching the back of Gisborne's head warily. He wasn't quite sure he knew what Gisborne was getting at but apparently he had said all he meant to say and didn't elaborate. He simply looked away and shifted his position uncomfortably, staring out into the darkness of the forest again.
Robin paused, deliberating. "For what it's worth," he said, although he could remember actually deciding to say it, "I think she really did care about you."
Gisborne gave a soft smile but said nothing in reply. Robin, feeling more awkward than ever, checked the wound again and saw that it had stopped bleeding. He tossed the cloth to one side and patted Gisborne on his unharmed shoulder.
"All done," he said, getting up and moving away from his unusual patient.
"Thank you," Guy replied, lifting himself up – with only the slightest grimace – onto the rock that Robin had just vacated.
"Anytime," Robin said, looking up at the night. "We'd better get some sleep, we're going to have to head off early tomorrow."
The night was silent for a moment before Gisbourne said, rather stiffly, "I suppose we have to go back to Nottingham?"
Robin sighed. "The Sherriff has three of my men, I can't just abandon them," he said pointedly. He considered offering Gisbourne the chance to part ways but for some reason, the words didn't make it out of his mouth.
"Understandable," Gisbourne said fairly. He looked at Robin with a suddenly quite savage expression and Robin felt almost disappointed to hear the familiar anger return to Gisborne's voice as he spoke, a dangerous smile playing at his lips. "I still have to thank the Sherriff for giving me up to Prince John."
Robin didn't speak for a while and Gisbourne shifted his position to break the silence.
"You get some sleep, Hood, I'll keep watch for a while," he said brusquely, adding out of defiant habit, "I won't be able to sleep on this shoulder anyway."
"Alright," Robin agreed, almost reluctantly. He stood and looked at Gisborne for a few moments before he turned and settled down against a tree, resting his head back against the bark. Gisbourne sat and watched the dark outline of his sworn enemy, shoulders rising and falling with each breath, leaving Robin wide awake under his closed eyes, wondering how the woman that had made them rivals could have brought them so close together.
The sun, high in the sky, was baking the earth with a scorching heat. Robin was carrying his over-tunic slung over one arm, the sword tucked into his belt, hitting his leg every time he took a step. Gisborne walked beside him in silence, his own sword held loosely in his hand. Every now and then he would absentmindedly slash it through the long grass either side of him, the severed tops drifting to the dusty ground. They'd been walking for several hours, ever since the first light of dawn, but at midday, something happened to break the peaceful monotony.
"I don't believe it," murmured Robin, and Guy looked across at him, tensing in anticipation of bad news. A broad smile was spreading across Robin's face and his eyes suddenly took on a renewed vibrancy. He was staring straight ahead and Gisborne followed his gaze a little warily. A long way ahead of them on the path were five figures, and one of them was pointing at Robin and Guy. Suddenly all five broke into a run.
Robin laughed and dropped his over-shirt unceremoniously to the ground as he ran forwards to greet his five friends. Gisborne, his heart sinking, picked up Robin's shirt for an excuse to hang back.
Reaching his friends, Robin embraced a stunned Much with a broad grin, slapping him on the back before turning to the other smiling faces in disbelief. "What are you doing here?" he asked them, hands on hips as he shook his head slightly.
"Rescuing you, of course!" Much answered, looking to Allan and the others for agreement.
"Yeah, what are you doing here?" Allan asked back to Robin, frowning in confusion.
"Rescuing you lot!" Robin laughed. "How d'you get out?"
"It was all Kate's idea," Much answered immediately, his eyes bright and wide as though trying to force Robin to realise how brilliant Kate had been.
"Come on, John helped too!" interjected Kate fairly, flicking her hair out of her eyes and glancing at Little John, who raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders modestly as though he didn't want to take her moment of glory.
As Much enthusiastically dived into his retelling of Kate's daring plan (and Robin exchanged vaguely despairing glances with Allan), Gisborne slowly approached them, not doing himself any favours by walking slightly stooped, like he was stalking prey, his eyes narrowed, grimacing, annoyed that their peace had been disturbed. Thus when Tuck caught sight of him and shouted to the others, it was no great surprise that Much, Allan and Kate immediately drew their swords, taking a step towards Gisborne, whilst Little John braced himself with the staff to protect Robin. Gisborne instinctively took a step back, throwing away his sword and raising both hands in surrender, but Much and Allan, their faces furious, continued to advance on him.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Robin cried out, ducking around Little John and rushing to stand between them, one hand extended to Gisborne and the other to Much and Allan, keeping them apart. They looked at Robin with expressions of horrified disbelief and he turned his back on Gisborne, putting a restraining hand on each of their chests. "It's alright," he told them, looking them warningly in the eyes, "he's with me."
"WHAT?" shouted Much, Allan and Little John all at once, looking at Robin as though he was crazy.
"Robin, this is your mortal enemy!" Tuck objected passionately.
Robin laughed and the others shared more concerned looks with each other. Eyes alight, Robin glanced back over his shoulder at Gisborne's unreadable expression. "I know, I know," he said, turning back to the others. "I know it's strange..."
"It's more than strange!" spluttered Much, unable to process things, "it's... it's... Gisborne!" He looked past Robin at Gisborne with obvious fear on his face. Gisborne raised annoyed eyes to the sky and tried to ignore him.
"Look, we can trust him, he helped me escape," Robin mediated, still holding a warning hand against Much's chest and keeping an eye on Allan, whose sword continued to glint threateningly in the sunlight. "We helped each other escape," Robin amended after a moment's thought.
"But... but he killed Marian!" Much implored, the sword he still held out shaking in anger. He looked over at Gisborne, who was staring at him menacingly, his chin held high in defiance. "And look at him!" Much cried, near-hysterical. "He's not even sorry!"
"He is sorry," Robin insisted, forcing Much to look him in the eye. "I know he is, do you think I'd trust him otherwise?"
Much looked pleadingly into Robin's eyes, absolutely lost, and glanced a few times at Gisborne, now looking uncomfortably at the floor. Robin raised his eyebrows at Much challengingly, and Much, after a moment's unspoken begging, finally dropped his shoulders and sheathed his sword.
"Fine," he said sullenly, talking to Robin's knees. "I'm not saying I trust him–" he said loudly, jabbing his finger at Robin's chest, his eyes flicking for a second over to Gisborne before darting away fearfully, "–but he can stay. For now," he added, glaring threateningly at Guy.
Taking their cue from Much, Little John and Kate lowered their weapons, although they still looked mistrustfully at Gisborne. Tuck and Allan, however, seemed unconvinced.
"He threw you off a cliff, Robin!" Tuck said heatedly. Gisborne glared at him, more annoyed that he was right than anything else.
"To be fair, Tuck, I was trying to kill him too," Robin pointed out, his tongue between his teeth. Tuck watched Gisborne calculatingly before he, too, sighed and backed down.
"How do we know he won't betray us?" Allan said.
"I trust him," Robin said firmly, eyebrows raised. There was an air of finality about his words that stated clearly that there was no room for doubt in Robin's mind.
"But he could sell us out to the Sherriff at any time!" Allan cried disbelievingly.
"Just because you were prepared to sell your friends if you could get a decent price," Gisborne snarled resentfully, glaring at Allan with undisguised dislike. He took a step forward aggressively and Allan instinctively raised his sword a few inches.
Robin darted between them again, and this time his restraining hand reached Gisborne's shoulder. "Hey," he said warningly to Guy, "that's enough!"
Gisborne stared furiously at Robin for a moment before – with visible difficulty – he reluctantly forced his eyes to meet Allan's. "Sorry," he said shortly and very unconvincingly. He glared at Robin again as though cursing him for making such an unfamiliar word come out of his mouth.
"Apology accepted," Allan replied cautiously, sheathing his sword, although he still looked mistrustful.
"Right," Robin ploughed on before anyone else could raise objections, "Gisborne's going to be travelling with us until we get to Nottingham, so I want you all to play nicely, alright?" He ignored the dirty look Gisborne threw him.
"I think I'm going to regret helping you," Gisborne growled, humiliated.
Robin released Gisborne's shoulder as the group started to move off down the path. He looked at Gisborne with another crooked smile. "You need to lighten up, Gisborne!" he cried, taking a few steps backwards from him, with his arms spread wide and his grin even wider. Turning, he jogged a few steps, level with the others.
"Lighten up," Guy muttered, as though disgusted with the idea. He bent down and retrieved the sword and Robin's shirt. As he was tucking the former into his belt, he heard footsteps approaching and straightened up with a certain amount of dread.
Tuck stood before him, his hands tucked into his sleeves and an expression of infuriating benevolence on his face. He smiled kindly at Gisborne. "My son," he said, "you are welcome here, with us. There is more joy in heaven when one sinner repents than a thousand–"
"Oh, shut up," Guy said irritably, walking straight past him without looking at him. Tuck started, his eyes wide in surprise, and simply watched Guy's retreating back.
"You know what," Allan said as Gisborne walked past him too, a touch of unexpected admiration to his voice, "I think there might be advantages to having Gisborne around."
Finally, they reached Sherwood Forest. Guy was still a long way in front of the others; painfully aware that they still weren't confident having him around, he didn't want to give them any more reason to suspect him, and so walked in plain view so that they could see every move he made. Meanwhile he grew more and more irritated to hear Robin's cheerful voice as he chatted with his men, unintentionally excluding him from the group.
Preoccupied with being annoyed, he didn't notice Little John until his heavy footfalls were right beside him. He looked across, expecting John to say something, but he just smiled a little uncomfortably and shifted his staff in his hand.
After a few moments, Gisborne said resentfully, "Send you to keep an eye on me, did they?"
"No!" said Little John quickly, surprised. Gisborne glanced at him shrewdly as if to see if he was telling the truth; apparently John passed the test. "You just looked a bit lonely, that's all."
"I don't get lonely," said Gisborne stubbornly, more antagonism in his voice than was necessary. He would never admit that he actually appreciated the company.
Little John smiled and nodded understandingly. He smiled a warm smile that reached up into his black-beetle eyes. "I always thought there was something that didn't add up with you," he said happily.
Gisborne slowed down a fraction. "Don't people normally say that when they discover something bad about someone?" he asked, unintentionally glowering up into Little John's face.
"Eh, not this time," remarked Little John, cocking his head to one side. He took a few more steps in silence before looking down at Gisborne, suddenly solemn and serious. "I just hope that Robin's right about you."
At that moment Robin called out to them, and Little John gave Gisborne a very small apologetic smile and jogged back to Robin. Gisborne stared, fists clenched, at the spot where Little John had been, feeling that he was never going to be able to earn their trust. It almost surprised him that he wanted it so much. He looked back down the hill at where the others were gathered together and, with a sigh, went back down to meet them.
Robin was knelt on the floor, one arm resting on his raised knee and the other extended to the ground. The others were leaning over, hands on their knees, to look at the floor in front of him. As Gisborne approached, he realised that Robin had drawn some sort of map on the ground, and evidently they were planning their route back to their camp.
"So we take this road–" Robin was saying, stabbing one of the roads with his stick.
"Don't take that road," interrupted Gisborne before he could stop himself. They all turned around and looked up at him, some of them looked extremely indignant that he could dare to interrupt Robin. He shifted uncomfortably under their stares.
"Why not?" Robin asked calmly, sending a silencing look Much's way.
"The Sherriff knows you like to use that route," Gisborne explained, one arm crossed defensively across his chest. "He's going to expect you to use your quickest route back so that you can regroup. And he'll know you're coming, Prince John will have sent messengers to Nottingham to tell him we've escaped, and he'll leap at the chance to catch what Prince John let slip."
Robin met his gaze for a long while, nodding slightly. "Okay," he said, "if we take Gisborne's theory–"
"Then we go via the castle road!" Tuck said suddenly, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"I don't think–" Gisborne tried to interrupt, but the others seemed enthusiastic about Tuck's plan.
"It's the last thing the Sherriff will expect!" said Much enthusiastically.
"He'll probably have put so many guards on the secret roads, he won't have any left for the main one," Allan continued, a boyish grin spreading across his face.
Under the general consensus that it was the best plan, they set off down the castle road with Robin striding out boldly in the lead. Gisborne remained where he was for a few moments, frozen, certain that they were going the wrong way but uncertain what he should do about it. Gritting his teeth he ran up to the front of the group, grabbing Robin's arm.
"Robin, I really don't think–" he began, but Robin cut across him.
"Gisborne, stop worrying!" he said laughingly, pulling his arm free. "We'll be fine, you'll see."
Gisborne stared at Robin for a moment, unable to shake the feeling. "Shouldn't the group at least split up?" he demanded. "In case one of the roads is being watched, the others–"
"Gisborne," Robin said, turning to Gisborne with a mock-serious face, "I know you want to be alone with me, but you're just going to have to be patient."
"Listen to me!" Gisborne shouted angrily, trying to grab Robin's shoulders and force him to take him seriously. But suddenly, in the woods behind Robin, he saw a glint of metal, and his stomach lurched.
"Oh, no," he murmured, making a quick scan of the area and spotting several more soldiers in the trees. "Ambush!" he shouted, his face contorted with fury, as he drew his sword and stepped back instinctively against Robin, his only thoughts of protection. Around him, he heard the singing of unsheathed swords, and glancing over his shoulder he realised that the others were shielding Robin in the same way that he was.
The enemy soldiers suddenly poured out of the woods either side, surrounding them completely. They didn't attack, but merely stood there, a massive wall of shields, their spears resting threateningly against the swords of Robin's group; and Gisborne, his stomach plummeting, saw a horribly familiar figure approaching him on horseback.
"Oh, well done, well done, Gisborne, you've really outdone yourself this time!" cried the Sherriff gleefully, perched on top of his white horse and surrounded by yet more guards. "I send you away to Prince John to die and instead you bring me back Robin Hood! And not only that, but you managed to round up all of his men at once! Oh well done, Gisborne, really I'm impressed."
Robin tightened his grip on his sword and moved out from behind Gisborne. "That's what you think," he taunted, glaring at the Sherriff. He leered as he rested his elbow up on Gisborne's shoulder. Gisborne glanced at him without expression before returning his gaze to the Sherriff. "But Gisborne's one of us now, aren't you Gisborne?"
Guy looked away and said nothing.
"Oh! Oh, now this is an interesting development!" commented the Sherriff, leaning forwards onto his horse's neck. "Does Robin Hood actually believe in our little Guy of Gisbourne?"
Gisborne glared up at him with obvious hatred. "It's not going to work," Robin said, shaking his head in defiance, but Gisborne noticed that the elbow on his shoulder shook slightly, and then Robin removed it completely. "Gisborne's on our side."
"Honestly, I had no idea you were such a good actor, Gisborne," barked the Sherriff, sounding slightly impatient now, "but let's put the poor little outlaw out of his misery, shall we, hmm?" He stared down at Gisborne.
"Come here, Gisborne."
"You're lying," Robin said, shaking his head, although he didn't look as convinced as his words implied. "He won't come to you." He turned to Gisborne, who was still stood stock still, staring at the Sherriff. "Tell him, Gisborne," Robin demanded, shifting his grip on the sword. His eyes widened desperately. "Gisborne, tell him!"
Still Gisborne didn't move, and the Sherriff rolled his eyes.
"I won't tell you again, Gisborne, come here and leave the poor outlaws to their long and painful deaths, come here!"
And Gisborne lowered his gaze to the floor and took a step forward.
"No..." Robin moaned, despair welling up inside him. "No..." he repeated, more pleading this time. He shook his head, looking like his world was falling apart. "No!" he shouted.
"What did I tell you, he can't be trusted!" shouted Allan angrily, shaking his sword.
"You traitorous scum!" yelled Much. He launched himself forward to attack Gisborne, but Little John, looking almost as hurt as Robin, grabbed him round the chest, holding him back. Gisborne just kept walking towards the Sherriff, not looking at anyone, and came to a halt just beside the Sherriff. He kept his back to Robin and the others, but raised his chin to glare defiantly at the Sherriff.
"That's better, Gisborne," said the Sherriff with satisfaction. He looked across at the outlaws and clucked his tongue sympathetically. "Aw, look, you've really gone and upset Robin Hood, how could you?"
"I trusted you!" Robin yelled as four guards grabbed his arms and held him back. His face was contorted with pain and anger, all thoughts of fighting the guards gone from his mind. "I trusted you, and you betrayed me!"
Guy closed his eyes, trying to block out Robin's shouts and the stabbing pain in his chest. He could hear shouts and the clash of metal upon metal as the others fought valiantly, trying in vain to keep back the flood of soldiers. Much kept calling out to Robin for instructions in increasingly panicked tones but his pleas for aid fell on deaf ears.
"I trusted you!" roared Robin again, and Gisborne snapped.
He rounded on Robin, taking three strides towards him so that their faces were mere inches apart. "Well that was your mistake, wasn't it?" he roared back, his own face distorted by rage and pain of a different kind. Robin pulled violently at the guards holding him back, but all he could do was glare furiously at Gisborne. Guy grabbed the front of Robin's shirt in his fist and pulled him so that their faces were even closer. "I helped you," he said, cruelly cold, "because it benefitted me. All I want is position and power, and your death will help me in that aim."
"Then you should have just let me die," Robin snarled.
"As much pleasure as that would give me," Guy said with a smirk that shot straight through Robin's heat, "I had to make sure that people knew Robin Hood died because of me. I couldn't have you dying too early, now, could I?"
"I hope you rot in hell," Robin spat, with as much hatred as he could muster.
"Mmm, I'll see you there." With a last triumphant smirk, Guy straightened up and turned on his heel, walking back to his position beside the Sherriff's horse.
"Yes, yes, this is all very heart-warming," said the Sherriff impatiently, "but it's getting a bit tedious now. Guards, take them back to the castle."
One of the guards struck Much with a finishing punch, and the last outlaw standing slumped to the ground. Struggling but restrained, Robin's men were dragged up towards the castle, Robin still screaming Gisborne's name in furious rage. Gisborne closed his eyes again, turning his head away from the sound of Robin's voice. The voices receded and the horses trotted after them down the path, and he opened his eyes.
He took a few deep, ragged breaths and then, roaring with anger, he kicked the nearest tree.
"Oh, well done, Gisborne, you really showed that tree who's boss," came the Sherriff's voice, mock-admiring. "Run along now, you don't want to miss all the excitement, do you?" He cackled and turned his horse round, and as he followed the guards up to the castle, Gisborne glared at him with the utmost loathing.
Candlelight flickered, illuminating the castle chapel just enough to make out the figure of Guy of Gisborne, knelt before the altar, hands clasped and resting on the rail, his eyes tight shut. He wasn't praying so much as ordering his thoughts, trying to decide what to do. His tortured expression tightened as he heard footsteps, and he opened his eyes carefully.
The intruder was unwelcome indeed. The Sherriff walked jovially up the isle, coming to stand beside Guy. He smiled his usual toothy smile, and opened his arms like a father embracing his favourite son. Gisborne only glared up at him coldly, still kneeling, and the Sherriff lowered his arms, an edge of disappointment in his movements.
"You're not celebrating, Gisborne," he said, perturbed.
"I'll celebrate when Hood and his men are dead," Gisborne said callously, almost spitting out the last word.
The Sherriff crouched down so that his face was level with Gisborne's, and altogether too close for comfort. Gisborne edged the slightest bit away.
"You're still not happy with me, are you, Gisborne?" the Sherriff said, in his mock-sympathetic voice again.
"With respect, my lord," Gisborne replied, unable to keep the shake of anger from his voice, "you sent me to Prince John with full knowledge that I would probably die at his hands."
"Oh... well," said the Sherriff, straightening and shrugging his shoulders. "You're here now anyway Gisborne, so pull yourself together. When Hood dies tomorrow Prince John will reward us above all his other favourites, don't you understand that? Really you should be grateful to me for sending you to the Prince, or neither of us would have the privilege of doing away with Hood."
"Grateful?" cried Gisborne incredulously, almost forgetting his fury in the midst of his indignance. "It was pure luck that I ended up in the same cell as Hood, you gave me up to save your own skin and you know it!"
"Yes, well... Let bygones be bygones, eh?" said the Sherriff, waving his hands as though wafting away the past. He sat down on a pew, resting his boots irreverently on the seat in front. "You," he said deliciously, pointing at Gisborne, "still haven't told me how you managed to trick Hood into trusting you, which I'm most intrigued to know, since I don't trust you, and you never murdered any of my wives."
Gisborne tried to ignore the boiling in his blood at the indirect mention of Marian. "Tricking someone is easy once you know their weaknesses," he said harshly, straightening up so that he towered over the Sherriff.
"And?" the Sherriff prompted. "What's Hood's weakness?"
"His kindness," Gisborne said simply, his lip twitching unpleasantly. He inclined his head the slightest amount to the Sherriff and turned to leave, wanting to be in nobody's company less. He made it all three strides to reach the door before the Sherriff called out another question to him.
"And what's your weakness?"
Gisborne froze with his hand on the doorknob. An unwelcome image filled his mind and his heart burned to see that kind, gentle smile. He swallowed his answer, closing his eyes as he waited, patient but trembling, for the Sherriff to let him go.
The Sherriff made a non-committal grunt and said, "I thought as much. No matter. Off you trot."
Without another word, Gisborne wrenched the door open and stormed out of the chapel, emotions raging through him. The Sherriff, who had been looking over his shoulder, watching Gisborne leave, turned back to the altar and stared at the crucifix with distaste before cackling to himself.
"Sweet dreams, Gisborne..."
And so Robin Hood found himself back in the very same vault that he'd escaped from all those months ago, except that this time the escape route had been deliberately sealed and reinforced. In near pitch-black darkness, Robin sat in the middle of the room, his knees drawn up towards his chest and his head in his hands, fingers clenched in his hair as he wrestled with his grief. The others stood a little way away from him; whether out of respect or fear he neither knew nor cared.
"I'm getting a bit sick of these dungeons," Much said miserably.
"I just don't believe it," Kate said, shaking her head and looking around the others. "Robin seemed so sure!"
"The devil is a practised trickster," Tuck said sagely, as though it closed the matter. Little John closed his eyes and hung his head.
"Well, I told you all not to trust him!" Allan said loudly. "But, as per usual, did anyone listen to me? No! I told you he was scum and–"
"Look, just shut up!" Robin shouted suddenly, making them all jump. He lifted his head up and turned to Allan fiercely. "Just shut up! I know I was stupid to believe him, alright? Stupid, gullible Robin Hood–!"
"No, Robin!" Much cried desperately, dismayed. He fell to his knees beside Robin, a little too intimidated to get too close. "You're too kind, maybe, Robin, but never stupid! Never!"
"And kindness is not a weakness, Robin," Tuck said sincerely. "It is a strength."
"Oh, really?" said Robin venomously. "We'll see if you still feel the same way tomorrow when my kindness gets your head cut off, shall we?"
"Robin, you can't blame yourself!" Kate said, crouching down next to Much and grabbing Robin's shoulders. He looked up and saw that her eyes were glittering with the beginnings of tears. "He had us all taken in, we all thought we could trust him!"
"I didn't!" Allan said indignantly, and they all turned to glare at him. "What?" he asked, raising his eyebrows in surprise.
"I trusted him too, Robin," Little John said gently. "I thought I saw something kind in him. You weren't the only one."
Robin smiled weakly, the pain making it almost impossible and the low light making it almost pointless. "Thank you," he said, to everyone and no one in particular.
Much stood up abruptly, wiping at his face. He looked around the room, his eyes wide and staring. "What we've got to do now is escape, right, Robin?" he said, attempting cheeriness. "What's the plan?"
"There isn't one," Robin said quietly, lowering his gaze to the floor.
Much faltered, and they exchanged concerned looks, but then Much ploughed on, undeterred. "Well, that doesn't matter. You're Robin Hood! We can come up with one."
"If you can come up with one then you're welcome to it," Robin said, resigned. "I'm done."
"You're giving up?" said Little John in disbelief.
"But you can't, what about us?" Allan demanded.
"He doesn't mean it," said Much, shaking his head, eyes wide as he stared at Robin.
"I do mean it!" Robin said forcefully. "I'm tired, Much! I'm sick of running, I'm sick of not knowing who I can trust, I'm sick of losing the people I care for most!" He stared up at Much, his face crumbling. "I can't do it anymore," he pleaded.
"It's alright, Robin," Much said bravely, his lip trembling. He sat down next to Robin, who leaned over and rested his shoulder against Much briefly in silent appreciation of his support. "We'll stay with you. That's what we promised, and that's what we'll do."
"We'll all stay," said Kate pointedly.
They all turned to look at Allan, who raised his eyebrows. "Well, I love how I get a choice about this!" he protested. As they continued to glare at him, he hurried on, "Alright, alright! Of course I'm staying. Like Much said, it's what we promised. Where Robin goes, we go."
"Robin Hood and his merry men," said Little John with a little smile.
Robin laughed emptily. "Not so merry now, eh?"
A soft comforting smile tried to form at the side of Kate's mouth, but she didn't quite manage it. Much, taking in a deep, steadying breath, put his arm around Robin and pulled him closer, rubbing his shoulder, as if trying to convince himself that everything was going to be alright.
Locked away in the dark as they were, Robin and his men began to lose all sense of time. All too soon they heard the rattle of keys and the resounding clang of the lock. As the door ground slowly open, Much rose to his feet, raising his chin defiantly and ignoring his trembling, trying to look braver than he felt. Little John and Tuck also straightened up, facing death with dignity; Allan, leaning on the wall in a shadowy corner with his arms crossed, merely looked up at the doorway with an air of resignation. Kate crouched down behind Robin and shook his shoulders, forcing him to stand up. "Come on, Robin!" she said forcefully, and Robin didn't fight her. He stood up slowly, emotionally exhausted, and it was Much who lead them out of the vault.
The execution apparatus was certainly more inventive than usual, Robin thought detachedly. As the guards tied him and his friends to their own individual posts in the courtyard, he took in the strange contraption, a residual habits from endless planned escapes. In front of each post was a rather cruel looking harpoon, its point made up of several sharp blades. The whole thing was pulled back by a taught rope, such that when released it would fly towards him at extremely high velocity. Presumably, Robin thought, the idea was that the blades pierced the body but avoided vital organs, so that the victim would die slowly and painfully from blood loss. He doubted it would be accurate enough to actually achieve such an end, but if he was going to die anyway, he supposed it really didn't matter.
He heard Much whimper beside him and felt a stab of guilt; he had no words of comfort to offer him.
"Worry not, my brethren," Robin heard Tuck saying somewhere behind him. "The Kingdom of Heaven will greet us with open arms!"
"Oh, enough of that mumbo-jumbo," came the coarse voice of the Sherriff and Robin looked up. At the top of the steps before the castle doors stood the Sherriff and, beside him, Gisborne. Robin dropped his gaze, unable to look at him. "Let's get on with it, shall we? This has been a long time coming, Hood, so you'll excuse me if I don't waste my breath on lengthy farewells. Fire one," he added to the guard beside him, cackling. The guard moved forward with his sword raised to cut the rope restraining the first harpoon, and Robin flinched.
"No!" cried Gisborne, and Robin, hardly daring to hope, slowly raised his head.
Gisborne had rushed to stand in front of the Sherriff. He was a few steps down so he had to raise his head to look at the Sherriff. "My lord," he said, his voice too calm to read, "since I have grievances of a personal nature against Hood, I beg that you will give me the honour of executing him myself."
Robin screwed up his eyes. He couldn't believe he'd let himself hope...
The Sherriff pursed his lips for a moment, considering. "Alright," he said suddenly, and the guard backed away with a bow. "You did apprehend them after all, Gisborne. Do as you wish. Just make sure it's entertaining," he added with a cackle.
"Thank you, my lord," Gisborne answered, bowing low, glaring at the Sherriff as he rose. He turned and marched purposefully down to where Robin was tied to the post. Robin clenched his fists as Gisborne stopped before him, their bodies altogether too close. He could feel Gisborne's breath on his neck and his stomach lurched, but he kept his gaze resolutely on the stone floor at his feet.
"I'm going to enjoy this," breathed Gisborne malevolently, a smirk forming at his lips. "Prepare to die, Robin."
Gisborne raised his dagger high in the air, glinting in the sunlight.
Maybe it was the fact that he'd said Robin's first name only, or simply the way he'd said it, so heavy and warm with unnecessary emotion, that Robin looked up in spite of himself, looked up into Gisborne's face. As their eyes met he saw that unmistakeable gentleness and Robin realised what Gisborne was going to do a fraction before he did it.
"No, Gisborne!" he cried, pulling at his restraints for the first time.
Guy turned and with all the strength he could muster, threw the dagger through the air at the Sherriff.
The Sherriff and his guards, caught by surprise, took a moment too long to react, and the dagger buried itself in the Sherriff's shoulder, penetrating so deep that it pinned him against the door. He gave a great roar of pain, tried to pull it out and roared even louder, letting go of its handle immediately.
Gisborne had already drawn his sword and knocked down three guards. "Turn around!" he shouted to Robin. He didn't need telling twice; he shimmied around the post and pulled his wrists as far apart as he could, grimacing and praying that Gisborne would cut the rope and not his hands. He heard a soft thunk and breathed a sigh of relief as his hands sprung apart, unharmed.
He spun round and saw that Gisborne was holding a sword out for him. "I thought you were going to kill him," he said, confused, indicating the Sherriff with a tilt of his head.
"You told me not to kill unless we have to," Gisborne said simply. He shook the sword slightly to redirect Robin's attention. He took it quickly and Gisborne had just enough time to give him a warm smile before blocking and counter-attacking his closest assailant.
Robin parried an attack and darted around, untying the others as quickly as he could. "Draw them out of the courtyard!" he yelled to them as Little John smacked one of the guards around the face with a spare bit of plywood. Much nodded his understanding and they all launched into the battle, Robin turning his attention back to Gisborne.
Guy had made it all the way up to the top of the steps and was standing in front of the Sherriff, clearly enjoying his position of revenge.
"You really are a good actor," the Sherriff panted, trying to smirk and failing miserably. The pain in his shoulder was making him weak at the knees, but if he didn't support his weight properly, the dagger only dug in more painfully, so he was reduced to scuffling pathetically in an attempt to stay upright.
"You really shouldn't have sold me out to Prince John," Gisborne snarled with a vindictive kind of pleasure. "I told you I wouldn't forget it."
The Sherriff narrowed his eyes and tried to keep them focussed. "So what are you going to do now, Gisborne?" he spat. "Run with the enemy?"
Gisborne leant forward, his face inches from the Sherriff's. "I'm going to make sure you never touch Robin Hood again," he whispered threateningly.
"Going to cut off my fingers, are you?" the Sherriff spluttered distractedly, one hand fumbling at the door for any kind of handhold to release the pressure on his shoulder.
"If I have to," answered Gisborne, withdrawing and straightening up. He looked down at the Sherriff, sneering in disgust. "For now, though, I have a few gifts for you."
"Oh yes?" coughed the Sherriff, hardly hearing him anymore.
"Yeah," said Gisborne savagely.
"This one's from Marian–"
He punched the Sherriff in the stomach and he spluttered, taken by surprise.
"This one's from Robin–!"
He rammed his knee into the Sherriff's crotch and his eyes popped, his mouth forming a silent 'o'.
"And this one's from me," Gisborne finished malevolently, and he punched the Sherriff as hard as he could in the face. The Sherriff's head bounced off the wooden door, and he gazed up at Gisborne, dazed, uncomprehending. Gisborne wrenched the dagger from his shoulder just as the Sherriff fainted, collapsing on the floor in an inelegant heap.
Gisborne raised his hand and let the bloodied knife clatter to the stone floor. "Sweet dreams," he snarled, victorious at last.
"That's three times you've saved my life," he heard Robin say, and the hate left his expression at once as he turned around to face his sworn enemy.
Robin was stood at the bottom of the steps, rubbing his wrists slightly and squinting up into the sunlight, not looking at Gisborne just yet. While he'd been preoccupied with the Sherriff, the other outlaws must have successfully dragged the fight out of the main courtyard, because it was completely empty but for the two of them. Infinite possibilities burst into Guy's mind and it was suddenly very hard to restrain his smile.
"I hope you're not going to hold it against me," Robin continued, putting his hands in his pockets and looking up at Gisborne with that warm, gentle smile of his.
"Don't knights normally get some kind of reward for saving damsels in distress?" Guy said, attempting to sound casual as he descending the steps towards Robin.
"So that's how it is," said Robin, smiling his crooked smile. "Anything in particular you're after, Gisborne?" he asked, as Guy came to a halt in front of him.
"A kiss is traditional, isn't it?" Guy said indifferently, as though he was discussing the weather. He unconsciously mirrored Robin's earlier position, squinting into the sunlight. After a moment's silence, though, he lost his nerve and looked down fearfully, sure he would see Robin's face filled with horror and rejection. But Robin, against all rational expectation, was smiling broadly.
"And here I thought you were never going to ask," he said softly, leaning forward. He placed one hand at the back of Guy's neck and pulled him the short distance down towards him, and kissed him.
Instantly Guy's arms were around his waist, pulling him closer, almost independent of their owner's will. He kissed Robin deeply and desperately, all the emotions he'd ever suppressed flooding into the embrace. With Guy pressed against him, Robin felt an unfamiliar swooping in his stomach and clutched his hands more tightly into Gisborne's hair. He didn't know how hatred could turn into love so quickly, and didn't want to find out; for now it was enough that he trusted Gisborne with his life.
He felt something that couldn't possibly be a tear fall on his face and his eyes snapped open, surprised. He tried to break the kiss but Gisborne just pulled him back to him. "Ignore it," he growled warningly, his eyes still tight shut and Robin suppressed a smile at Gisborne's stubbornness. He resumed the kiss, but more gently this time. Gisborne relaxed his death-grip on Robin's waist a little, and although he kissed him with just as much passion, he kissed him a great deal more lovingly. He ran a hand across Robin's cheek, opening his eyes as they broke the kiss and staring at Robin with wonder.
Robin suddenly started to laugh, still not really able to believe what was happening to them. He gazed at Gisborne, shaking his head in amazement as he bit his lip. Their solitude wavering, they heard the others approaching and Gisborne reluctantly let Robin go, his broad grin still spread across his cheeks.
Much and Allan clattered into the courtyard, looking out of breath and very indignant.
"Come on, Robin, we've got to go!" said Much, bewildered that he'd had to come back to fetch Robin.
"Alright, alright, we're coming," grinned Robin, beckoning for Gisborne to follow him, his gentle eyes making Gisborne smile even more.
"Hang on a minute," said Allan warily, with the air of a man trying to piece something together. He held out a hand as though to hold them back. "Something's not right, I've never seen him smile like that before!" he objected, ostensibly addressing Robin but staring mistrustfully at Gisborne. Robin laughed and shook his head, taking Much by the arm and leading them out. Gisborne merely turned his unnerving smile to Allan and inclined his head slight as he passed him.
"Then you'll just have to get used to it, won't you?" he said cryptically, enjoying his silence as Allan followed him out of the castle, his confused questions falling on deaf ears.
"So are we all agreed?" Robin demanded. "Gisborne can stay with us?"
Afternoon light was trickling through the leaves. The merry men were gathered in a clearing some way into Sherwood Forest, Robin with his hands on his waist, staring around the group challengingly. Little John was looking diligently at the floor, his arms crossed, kicking the odd leaf; Much scratched his head nervously. Guy sat a good few yards apart from them, his back against a tree trunk. He rested his wrists on his knees, head bent so that his hair obstructed his face, although making sure he could hear every word they were saying.
Robin's question faded into the silence. "Come on!" he coughed disbelievingly. "He saved all our lives!"
"We wouldn't have been caught in the first place if it wasn't for him!" Allan protested.
"No," Robin said with a shake of his head. "That was my fault, Guy tried to tell me it was the wrong way to go and I didn't take him seriously." Allan raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders as if to take back his mistrust.
"Robin, I think we need to know why you trust him," Kate said strongly, her voice fair and curious rather than mistrustful. "After all he's done? After what the others have told me... how can you trust him?"
"Because...!" laughed Robin evasively, shifting on his feet as he looked around the group. His gaze fell on Gisborne and he smiled to himself before addressing the others again.
"Because, I love him," he said simply.
The silence that followed this statement seemed to stretch out infinitely and Gisborne thanked the gods that he was too far away for them to notice him blushing so fiercely.
The others stared at Robin blankly for a few moments, exchanging fearful glances with each other.
"But Robin..." started Little John, glancing across at Gisborne, "he's a man!"
"Yeah, I'd noticed that," Robin said, rubbing his nose with his thumb and trying not to smile too much.
"Robin, it's against the law of God!" Tuck objected.
The opportunity was too good to resist. Gisborne grinned crookedly as he raised his head to look at the others. "Even God can't be right about everything."
He almost laughed at the appalled looks on Tuck's and Little John's faces, and Much's eyes flickered fearfully between him and Robin. Robin pointed a finger at Guy in warning, apparently under the impression that he was successfully hiding his amusement. "Oi!" he said. "Behave yourself!"
"But Robin, between two men, it's..." Little John continued, more concern than condemnation in his voice. But Robin cut across him impatiently.
"What does it matter if we're both men?" he demanded fiercely. "Since when was love for your fellow man a sin?"
"I don't think that's quite the love for your fellow man that God had in mind," Tuck said belligerently.
Robin opened his arms, physically making himself vulnerable, and turned to the whole group, a determined expression on his face. "Do you really believe that I'm now evil just because I'm in love with him?" he asked firmly.
Another silence filled the clearing, as Robin looked to each of his men in turn, who one by one sagged their shoulders and looked away, knowing Robin was too stubborn to be swayed and feeling slightly guilty for doubting him. Much, however, straightened up, shaking slightly, and took a few brave steps towards Gisborne.
"Well," he announced boldly, although his voice sounded a little strangled, "if you're good enough for Robin," – he nodded to Robin before raising his eyes fearfully to look Guy in the eye – "then you're good enough for me. Not," he continued quickly, holding his hands out before him, eyes wide with horror as he realised just what he'd said, "not that I want you in – in the same way that – Robin does." Robin looked across at Gisborne and saw that he was grinning at him, almost laughing. The sight made Robin's stomach swoop again.
"Not that – I wouldn't want you – if I was... that way inclined," Much continued to blubber, desperately trying to dig himself out of the hole. "I can see that... you're an attractive man..." Gisborne raised an eyebrow. "What I mean is–"
"I think what Much is trying to say," Allan said loudly, coming up beside Much and resting a silencing elbow on his shoulder, "is welcome to the group." He smiled at Gisborne and then winked across at Robin, and Much nodded, gesturing at Allan.
"Yeah, that's – that's what I meant..." he said weakly, letting his words fade into silence and scratching the back of his head. Little John grunted his assent and nodded, his eyes twinkling kindly, and Kate beamed. Robin glanced back at Gisborne, and for the first time Guy allowed himself to properly smile.
"It's going to be a while before that stops freaking me out, though," Allan said to Much.
Gradually they started to move out, heading back to camp. They all nodded warmly to Gisborne, who thought personally that it was going to be a while before he stopped feeling slightly freaked out by all this. He started to follow them, but Robin caught the crook of his arm, holding him back.
Gisborne turned, his expression mildly curious, and he saw that Robin was holding out a little string necklace with a bow and arrow carved into the little rectangle of wood that hung from it.
"This is for you," said Robin gently. "You're one of us now."
"Thank you," said Gisborne warmly, taking care to brush his fingers against Robin's as he took the pendant from him. He looked at the emblem for a moment before raising his eyes to meet Robin's gaze. "Thank you for everything."
Robin smiled at him gently. He raised his hand to Guy's neck and pulled him down into another brief, delicious kiss. That particular aspect of life as one of Robin Hood's outlaws, thought Guy, he really wasn't going to mind getting used to.