Disclaimer: Not mine, of course, but the BBC's.

Rating: PG

Warnings: Spoilers for the 3rd series finale

Summary: A portrait of Much, ten years after 3x13...

The Cuckoo

By NorthernStar

The winter was very harsh. The coldest that Much could remember and some of those in Sherwood had been so very bitter. Back then he didn't have the manor walls to protect him from the elements, nor the cocoon of a proper bed and loving arms, but he did not believe it had ever been this cold.

John had laughed and clapped on the shoulder and told him he was simply getting old.

But as Much walked through Locksley, smiling at the people who greeted him, it didn't feel all that long since he and Robin returned here from the Holy Land.

It didn't feel all that long since Robin died.

Had it really been the ten years Tuck said it was?

Ten years ago today, he had told Much solemnly. And it had been then that cold had bitten the most deeply and his cough had torn his chest even more.

And, he supposed, that meant he'd been a usurper for almost as long, a cuckoo in Robin's nest..

The manor had fallen under Much's guardianship, mostly unbidden, following the outlaws pardon from King Richard. His opinion had been sought, in the early days, as a kind of proxy for Robin and since his needs were for very simple things – everyone must eat, everyone was free – the people had been happy to listen until it seemed that no one remembered that Much wasn't really in charge.

The manor became his house and Locksley prospered...

But not a day had passed when he hadn't felt as if he'd stolen the life Robin should have had.

It had been better when Eve joined him and so many things happened seemingly at once. Their marriage, their son's arrival – Eve had been carrying more than a poesy of flowers when they'd stood before Tuck and taken their vows – the King's death...

And life had passed so quickly then. Little Robin had grown strong and had been joined by his sisters, Rebecca and Sarah, and Much loved them all so dearly.

Ten years...

He wondered what Robin thought of them, making merry in his home, if he could see them from the Heaven that Tuck absolutely believed in and Much had come to doubt in the Holy Land.

What am I going to be without you? He had asked his master that terrible day.

Would Robin approve of the answer?

Eve kissed him when he returned to the manor, leaning over her enormous belly to bump her lips against his as she scolded him for staying out so long in such bitter winds when his chest was so bad. His hand lingered on her stomach and he tried to hide the fear he felt from his eyes.

They had a stillbirth last winter, a second son, and Tuck had christened him Adam and promised that God would welcome him. And most of time that brought him comfort, because he dreams sometimes of Robin in a Heaven made of Sherwood and he knows, even if he doesn't see them, that Marion and Adam are with him too, safe and loved under his protection.

But sometimes he dreams of the Holy Land and the blood and the destruction; every horror that they saw and felt and even, God forgive them, did and...

And it is all so real that it's Heaven that's the dream.

The children chatter excitedly around him, pulling his thoughts back to his family. Tuck has been telling them stories of Robin and as always they are eager to hear their father's remembrances.

But he is too cold, too lost and his chest hurts too much and he can't do this today. Their faces fall when he snaps at them to go to bed, so unused to hearing harsh words from their father.

Eve shushed them, rounded them up and disappeared with them all.

Alone in the blessed silence, Much sat by the fire in the old beaten chair that had once graced the servants quarters. He had never, in all these years, used the masters seat. Eve had encouraged him during those first few months of their marriage, but she had long since given up. And the chair was a great favourite of Rebecca's so it did not go to waste.

He coughed deeply and wiped the debris into an old rag, tasting blood as he did so.

He sighed. Maybe Little John was right. Maybe he was getting old.

The heat from the fire was distant, unnoticed. He coughed deeply again and it made the constant wet rattle of his breathing sound even louder.

Eve returned some time later, with a cup of mead and a fur.

"Ten years." He whispered to her as she tucked the skin around him.

She kissed his forehead silently, frowning slightly and he realised from the coolness of her lips that he had a fever. Then she retreated, leaving him to the comfort of their hearth.

Much watched the flames jump and dance, listening to the crackle of the fire and the terrible wheezing in his chest. The world began to lose focus and a strangeness seemed to settle over him, a muffled numbness that ought to frighten him yet didn't.

It was not like falling asleep, but he knew he must have done because...

Because he could see Robin there in front of him, looking as young and whole as...as the day they left for the Holy Land.

"Master..." But the word comes out so strangled by unshed tears that it is barely legible.

"Old friend." Robin smiled and laid a hand on his shoulder, so solid, so real...

"I...I..." have missed you. But the words do not come. The only sound he makes is a sob.

But Robin understood all the same and pulled him up into his embrace. "And I have missed you." He said, words slightly muffled against Much's shoulder. "And I look forward to the day we'll be together again." He pulled back so he could look Much in the eye. "But Much...today is not that day."

And something about that made Much look down at the chair. He could see himself, his head had fallen onto his chest and the terrible rattle of his breathing filled the air around him. And Much realised that the sound was slowly fading...

...along with the will he had that day to keep pulling breath in.

"I...my place..." Much struggled. "It is at your side, master."

"That was true once. And you served me better than I deserved." Robin told him. "But now you're place is here, Much. In Locksley."

"Locksley...it is yours."

"And you honour me by ensuring its prosperity."

"It is not just a duty." Much said. "It is a privilege."

"Of which no other man is more worthy." Robin cupped Much's chin in his hand. "You need to take care of your family. " His smile turns wistful. "And of Locksley. They need you now more than I."

And Much can suddenly feel the chair beneath him and the softness of the fur over him and he forces his head up.

Robin is still there, but faint and Much has to concentrate to see him. He sat forward, cough racking his chest, he wanted to say so much but the only word he could force out is "Adam..."

He flopped back in the chair, eyes closed, but he knew his breathing was easier now and that his fever had passed.

He doesn't expect an answer. Not now he is awake.

Much opened his eyes.

Robin is so far away but Much's heart leaps to see him. And at his side is Marian and Allan and...

...and in his arms is a small blonde haired boy.

Then he blinked and they were gone and all he could see was the fire...

And he knows, at last, he really is home.