Length: 1,506 words
Warnings: Just a hint of slash.
Pairings/Characters: Robin/Much, mentions of Robin/Marian
Summary: Much gives Robin an Ultimatum. I found a little more upbeat way to handle 'the brand' Much is not dying from it but boy is he pissed!
Written for the Treat Much Right Lent Ficathon.
Made it just under the wire...phew! Betaed by the fantastic robinfanatic who beat me like a packmule to get me to finish the ending.
Much had long since moved his bedroll across the camp from Robin's. At night he would hear the other man's piteous cries as he was taken by nightmares of the Holy Land. Sometimes he would pull his cap down tighter over his ears so he wouldn't hear the whimpered cries of his former master across the dying campfire.
Robin said nothing at the obvious distancing of his former servant. Ever since that bitter day in the sand, things lay broken between them. Even if he cared to mend their friendship he wouldn't know where to start or how. His latest crusade against his mortal enemy only seemed to drive the wedge further between him and the people he loved.
He thought the healing started when he asked forgiveness from the gang for his actions but his former servant's eyes cast another truth. Robin wanted to make things right with his friend. He saw his opportunity as Much set out in the forest to gather kindling for the fires and the other members of the gang were off on rounds to the poor. He approached the former manservant from behind and encircled him in his arms.
His hand brushed under the other man's jumper and Much suddenly went rigid from pain. Robin flinched as well as the soft skin under his finger tips gave way to the jagged wound, so hot under his touch.
He handled the ravaged skin gingerly. The brand under his fingers had barely started to heal. He knew the nightmares of torture in the blond outlaw’s mind were still fresh. Where there was once tender response to his embrace, he found coldness. "Oh, Much, why didn't you tell me."
"You had other problems." Like the brand on his side, the words uttered were sharp and curt against the softness of Much's voice.
"I caused this," Robin stated flatly. He nuzzled Much’s neck in a meek request for forgiveness. He got no response as Much pulled away and walked back to the cooking fires, leaving him alone. He watched with moist eyes as his friend went back to tending the stew without looking back. The archer's mind was not the only one in dark places now. Feeling helpless to say anything more to ease his friend's pain, the archer turned to walk away.
"I can't go on like this." The soft, almost whispered voice reached Robin's ears and tore at him like Gisbourne's dagger in the Holy Land.
"I never meant for any of this to happen, Much. . ."
"No, hear me!" He sighed, his face still turned from the outlaw leader. "It is a cruel fate that allows me to share the same troubles that you cannot. I know that now. But master...Robin, I need you to understand. The loneliness, the frustration, the anger, all of it -- I share your troubles now more than ever. If I have to bear the scars of war for both of us then you must share something with me."
"And what is that, Much?" Robin was taken aback at his former servants new assertiveness. He walked back over and sat next to him as he looked into the flames.
"That I am more than just one of your merry outlaws. That should I die...should anything happen to me, that the one man I consider above every one else to be a friend would mourn me." He wiped his eyes on his sleeve and turned his face from the archer. "I almost died trying to save you again yesterday. Even after you pushed me away and called me a leech I cried in that dungeon. When the sheriff did this!" He hoisted his tunic showing the reddened, welted skin of the brand. "All I thought about, as I stood there screaming, was you! Cos, I knew it was anger that made you say those things to me and that you had died without asking my forgiveness..."
"It was, Much you know..."
"I said hear me!" Blue eyes flickered in the dim firelight as his jaw tensed and he closed his eyes, "I know how you feel about me, Robin. But I cannot go on one more day by your side until I hear it. Call me a fool, but I need to hear you say you think more of me than as a servant, or a leech, or a pox under your skin. I know you meant none of those things you said and when you apologised I accepted. But I just cannot take anymore of this without hearing something other than insults from you." His mouth went dry and his heart ached at the words, "Say what you really feel for me or I will leave you on the morrow and you will continue this insane fight alone."
Robin was the one with jaw set firm now. A million words ran through his mind as he summed up the man before him. How many times had he had taken their friendship for granted only to come so close to losing it in his next breath?
"I love you." He grasped the other man's shoulder in desperation. The silence after was cut by the wind in the trees and the gentle sounds of the night.
Much bit his lip and held back tears. When the archer grabbed him by the nape, pulled him in and their lips connected, the words echoed in his head. Robin stifled sobs as they separated, "Please...please, Much, do not leave me. I do not think I could handle one more person I loved leaving me now."
"Robin, when will you ever learn," the cook said with an odd little nod as he looked deep into his friend's green eyes. "We never leave you. You just push us away. It is the way you have always been and will always be." He smiled wistfully, "Still, it is nice to hear that you do care for me. It makes all the names and the harsh words easier to bear."
"You do not deserve to be treated like that. I promised to do better." Robin looked up to the sky. "I promised her I would do better toward you. Marian loved you so."
"She had to. I kept you out of trouble," the blond outlaw supplied flatly. His eyes glistened as he stared into the fire and remembered all the months ago as the woman they both adored lay dying under the impossibly hot sun. "When she died I watched you die with her. I mourned for you both on the trip home. I watched your soul wither and your heart become small as you lost all care for those around you. It was as if I died myself." He looked up at Robin as tears streamed down his face. "You do not understand. It is not you who should request I should stay, it is I who should beg you not to leave again." He pouted as his lip quivered and he shook slightly with emotion. "Cos, I cannot stand it Robin, not one more minute if I have to live with your ghost again."
The outlaw leader blinked in silence as he summed up the man in his arms and smiled, "Then we must mutually agree never to leave each other again."
Much smiled and wiped his eyes on his sleeve. "That is better than any apology."
"How is it?" Robin gestured to Much's side. "Is it festering?"
"No, Tuck seems to have the same skills as Djaq in healing. It still stings when I turn wrong, or breath. He stifled a yawn and grimaced, "Or yawn. But he says I'm on the mend and will be right as rain in no time."
Robin raised Much's tunic gingerly and examined the mark. "Vaisey has a new toy obviously. God knows what new horrors he picked up in Acre." He gently bent down and brushed his lips against the ravaged skin, eliciting pleasure/pain from his friend. “I really am so sorry I caused this.”
Much smiled a touch evilly as he closed his eyes and leaned back, “I am sure you will make it up to me.”
Robin grinned as he looked up and went to move his lips lower, but Much's hands stopped him. The voices of the other outlaws returning to camp drifted in from the distance.
Much sighed as he pulled away from the archer, “Time to go.”
Robin rose in alarm as the other man pulled away, “I thought we agreed you weren't leaving?”
Much answered with a funny sideways nod as he walked back to his bedroll, “I do no think the latest member of our gang would understand if he returned to camp and found his leader giving a former servant a 'special apology'.” He smiled, “I'm not leaving you, Master. I am just giving you up for Lent.”
Robin grinned as he lay back with his arms behind his head and looked at the stars. “In that case my friend, I can’t wait till Easter is over.”