Words: 999 (damn - that was hard!)
Disclaimer: BBC/Tiger Aspect are the lucky ones, not me.
Notes: I've never done a challenge before. This turned out to be tremendous fun. I thought half way through I'd struggle to make 1000 words and then suddenly I had 1025 and had to go wield the skinning knife myself!
It was the silence Much couldn't stand.
None of them had the breath for talking as they ran for day after day towards the French coast and home. But when Robin stopped and they caught up to him, he would refuse to even acknowledge their presence save for accepting any food that was passed to him and that he would eat with no sign of enjoyment and then either fall asleep immediately or stare out into the night with cold fury in his eyes.
John too hardly spoke a word. They were used to his silence but this was different. John and Marian had grown much closer since Edward's death and John had taken Marian's loss as another personal failure on his part. Where before he'd been content to run alongside them, now he ran slightly ahead and apart, lost in his own thoughts as he followed Robin's trail when their leader ran out of sight.
Which left Allan.
Much thought back to the countless times he had been the butt of Allan’s teasing and jokes. He’d never imagined he would miss that but now he would give anything for even the most stinging comment delivered with that cheeky grin. Allan ran by his side like a shadow, dark and silent and when they found where Robin had chosen for the night’s rest he would barely stop to catch his breath before disappearing to find them food. Much desperately wanted to talk to Allan but still did not like to ask where the food came from.
Tonight he was still waiting for Allan’s return. Robin lay with his back to the fire and Much could not see if he was awake or not. John’s deep breathing left him in no doubt.
He started as a rabbit landed on the ground in front of him. Allan dropped heavily to the ground next to him and sat with his head between his knees.
“No villages near by – was all I could find.”
“It’s – it’s fine. Thank you.” Much cleared his throat, surprised how hoarse his voice sounded and realised he hadn’t actually spoken for days.
Allan turned his head and looked past Much at Robin. Much followed his gaze then looked back at Allan and was surprised to see tears starting from his eyes. Much, embarrassed, quickly turned his attention back to the rabbit and started to skin it.
Though Allan made no sound, Much sensed that he was still crying. He had to say something – anything! The silence was crushing and suffocating them all. He began hacking at the rabbit far more viciously than he had to. He winced as the skinning knife caught on a bone and sliced across his hand and he suddenly realised he too was crying, hot angry tears of frustration and loss - loss not just of Marian and Carter, but of Will and Djaq, of John’s reassuring hand on his shoulder, of Allan’s teasing and laughing and most of all the complete loss of his Master’s soul into the depths of despair where Much could not follow him.
He looked down at the blood as it started to well from the thin deep cut. Then Allan’s hand appeared, closed over his and quietly removed the knife from his grasp. He looked up into Allan’s piercing blue eyes as he took the rabbit from Much as well and laid it on the ground.
“Oh, Allan…” he paused, feeling the weight of the words within him as if they were trying to explode out of his chest. He had so many things he wanted to say, so many conflicting thoughts that he hardly knew where to start. He didn’t get the chance.
“Much… Much, mate, I’m sorry. It’s all my fault. Marian would never have been in the Holy Land if it wasn’t for me. I’ve killed her and I’ve as good as killed Robin and I don’t blame you if you hate me for it. I betrayed you all and now I can’t even get us anything to eat!”
Much felt something within him break, like a dam collapsing under a spring tide.
“No, no, you mustn’t say that. If you hadn’t come to the barn we’d have all died there, the King would be dead and Marian would still be dead or worse, Gisborne would have taken her.”
Allan looked across at Robin again. “He’ll never forgive me. If he kills Gisborne, he’ll kill me next.”
“I won’t let him.”
“I won’t let him. I don’t think John would either.”
Allan laughed bitterly. “John would hold me for Robin to slit my throat.”
“No, he wouldn’t and if he did, I would stop him too. There’s been enough blood shed already. Gisborne and the Sheriff should be an end to it. I’ve seen… too much blood. Too much. I just want it to stop!” Much clenched his fists and dragged his sleeve across his eyes, wiping away his tears.
“Then let’s start with this then, eh?” Allan took Much’s hand in his and wiped the blood from the cut with his thumb.
Much nodded dumbly, still choking back tears as Allan tore a strip from his shirt to bandage the cut. “Allan…”
“Say something nasty about me.”
“Anything, please! About my cooking, my moaning, anything…”
“Uhh… well, for someone who doesn’t like shedding blood you’ve done a great job on my boots. And that rabbit looks like you prepared it by trampling it with a horse.”
Much sniffed. “And you’re not being funny, right?”
Allan genuinely laughed at that. “No mate - I’m not bein’ funny.”
He finished tying off the bandage around Much’s hand and then they both looked at each other’s tired and tear-stained faces.
“You’ll have to finish the rabbit. I can’t be expected to do everything around here with a cut hand.”
Allan grinned and nodded. “Shut up, Much.”
Much shut up, but this time the silence was shared and not separating. That silence he could stand.