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Calling Your Name

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Siuan Sanche had never, in all her life, been as happy to see a man as she was to see Lan Mandragoran ducking through the doorway and shrugging down his hood. His eyes swept around the small home where he had instructed her to go, where she had been fussed over by the people there who had taken one look at her haggard face and decided she needed soup immediately.

There had been something comforting in that, as she knew it was exactly what her father would have done in their position. The only difference would have been instead of chunks of unidentifiable meat in the bowl, there would have been chunks of unidentifiable fish. It had also amused her to think of the reaction some of the Sitters might have had at the idea of the Amyrlin Seat being presented with peasant broth. It had amused her more to imagine eating it in front of them while making deliberate and uncomfortable eye contact, daring them to make so much as a peep about the ‘propriety’ of it all.

In spite of the down-to-earth food and pleasant atmosphere, she had still worn through both the neat rugs and her thinly stretched patience in the hours since arriving. Jumping every time there was movement outside, unable to hold a conversation for fear she would miss the sound of Lan’s arrival. Now that he was finally here, she felt her heart lurch with gratitude at the sight of the man now forcing a smile for the sake of his family.

Standing up, she unceremoniously brushed Zahir out of the way as he tried to greet his adopted son, and yanked Lan down into a powerful hug. He pulled her in close, and they took a long moment just holding each other. Siuan felt Lan sag against her with a mix of relief and exhaustion she was as familiar with as the ocean was familiar with salt and water.

Bracing herself, she drew away first and held him at arm’s length, whereupon she studied him with a critical eye. She’d known this man for twenty years now, and though their encounters had generally been in snatched moments through the years, she felt that she knew him well. The initial mutual respect between them, an acknowledgement that they shared a love for Moiraine, and a desire to keep her safe, had evolved and blossomed into a genuine trust and fondness for one another. They’d found they had more in common than being united in the near impossible task of keeping Moiraine safe. Now, she trusted him with her secrets, things that could utterly ruin her. More than that, though, she trusted him to keep Moiraine safe when she could not, and to take care of her.

The first thing she noted in him was that he looked tired. That was a bad sign. Siuan had been sure that the mountains and shores would display fatigue before Lan would. Yet she could feel it in him now, a tide that was still doing its duty and meeting the shore, but slowly, and painfully, as though the light waters had been replaced with thick corrupted blood.

“Thank you for coming,” Lan murmured quietly, as though Siuan could have done any differently when she’d received his letter.

After cursing and ranting at thin air for half an hour about Moiraine’s stupid stubborn refusal to ever ask for help, no matter how dire the situation, she had packed a bag, arranged her excuses, and left for Fal Dara. She had spared a moment amidst all of that furious chaos to bless Lan for thinking of her and doing whatever it took to see that his foolish little snapper of an Aes Sedai was taken care of.

Her nerves felt as frayed as old rope, right on the edge of snapping and sending her drifting out to sea without a tether left to sanity. Siuan Sanche was not an impatient woman, if she was any judge. In her youth she had been. She’d been as tempestuous and impulsive as a summer storm at times, and hadn’t wanted to stop for longer than it took to glance at the horizon she was forever chasing. The Wheel had taught her to wait. Perhaps too well. She felt like she spent her whole damned life waiting these days. Waiting for change. Waiting for calamity. Waiting for the tension she felt in the world to finally snap. Waiting for Moiraine to bring news of their quest. Waiting for the woman she loved to return to her arms where she belonged. Right now, she was certain that if Lan made her wait for even a moment longer than was absolutely fucking necessary, she’d skin and gut him for sport.

"How is she?" she demanded, just cutting right to the meat of the matter, nevermind batting back pleasantries for the several unbearable minutes that would have consumed.

A flash of pain marred Lan’s usually controlled expression and he turned away, teeth gritted against words he couldn’t say. 

Oh Light blind and burn me , she thought, feeling her heart twist in her chest. 

It had been a stupid fucking question to ask, anyway, no wonder he couldn’t bloody answer it. Moiraine had confronted the fucking Dark One at the fucking Eye of the World and he’d- She couldn’t even think it. Her mind split around the word like a river around a rock, unable to ignore it, but equally unable to directly confront it. Still, what had she expected when she asked Lan that question? What else could Moiraine be except a fucking mess? Twenty years. Twenty years of danger, and trauma, and near-death experiences every other day, just for fun, and Lan had never needed to send for her. Not once. Not until now.

"Take me to her,” she commanded, with the voice of the Amyrlin Seat, so forcefully that Lan’s family paused, staring at her with something close to shock. 

No doubt they were wondering, likely for the first time since she’d entered their home, dressed in casual clothes only a bit better than she might have worn on the boats as a youth, who exactly they had taken in and given soup to. Taking a breath, she drew on the calm she’d been forced to find when the Wheel had rewarded her ambition with the power and responsibility to reshape this world. Softening her voice, she reached out and gripped Lan’s hand, squeezing urgently.  

With the voice of a woman who loved her she said, “Please take me to her now."

***

Siuan braced herself as Lan opened the door to Moiraine’s chambers for her and stepped back to allow her to step inside first. Heart constricting her throat, lungs feeling made of iron in her chest, she immediately swept the room for her. She wasn’t sure what she had expected, but somehow the room being perfectly neat and ordinary felt wrong . Something terrible had happened, and a part of her felt that the world should show that. There should be some sign that it recognised what it had done to this woman that she loved. It should be darker, and colder, chaos and destruction reflecting what had been done to its occupant. But no. The only thing wrong with the room was that Moiraine was nowhere to be found within it.  

Ascertaining this with a soft growl, Siuan rounded on Lan, fear bursting up in her like a flaring pufferfish, “Where is she?” she demanded, the words sharp as shark’s teeth, even if she knew it was undeserved. 

The flash of worry she saw in Lan’s eyes did nothing to help her own. It was replaced immediately by a look of pain. Belatedly she realised that, if the bond had still been present, he would have been able to feel her, would have known exactly where she was without even trying. He’d likely forgotten that in a panicked moment, the absence of her registering on his instincts as a sign that she was in some sort of danger, causing his initial concern. Remembering that she was gone because their bond had been taken along with Moiraine’s power was responsible for the pain she still saw in his eyes.

“I left her on the balcony,” Lan replied quietly, recovering himself enough to answer, though his jaw remained locked in a tight grimace. 

Nodding, Siuan paused just long enough to give his shoulder a soft, apologetic squeeze for her part in aggravating the still fresh wound that was the hole where his bond should have been. Then she marched towards the doors at the far end of the chamber which led to the balcony beyond. Lan trailed behind her, keeping close, but giving her as much space as he could. Any at all was near miraculous, at the moment, and she spared a thought to be thankful in his direction at the effort. After what Moiraine had done, Siuan was impressed he hadn’t sewn himself to her side the second he’d found her again to stop anything else from happening to her. Lan could be described as ‘somewhat overprotective’, in the way that the ocean could be described as ‘somewhat wet’. Siuan had always blessed him for it, because the Light knew Moiraine needed it. In fact, for her, he was probably entirely too lenient, he-

Siuan froze at the sight of her, her mind going utterly blank, all of her thoughts snuffed out like a candle in the face of a tsunami.

The balcony before her was a narrow thing, but it spanned the entire length of the chambers that had been given to the visiting Aes Sedai at Fal Dara. It stretched from her bedroom to the sitting quarters, and even on to the accompanying rooms that Lan kept, a second connection point between the two rooms.

Moiraine was huddled on the opposite end, furthest from her chambers. Her feet were tucked up under her, and she was somehow being drowned by the open, skeletal rocking chair she had curled herself onto.

The figure in the chair that was supposed to be the woman Siuan loved did not stir when she stepped outside. Though there was a good distance between them, old instincts should still have alerted her to the presence of someone near her, someone who might have been a threat. It seemed that she no longer cared. The near paranoid guard she always kept around herself which had caused her to draw a blade on Siuan on a memorable stormy night when she’d managed to steal away from her duties to join her in a smoky tavern room in Tar Valon was now gone.

Her name choked from Siuan’s lips in a hoarse whisper before she could stop it. She needed Moiraine to look at her. She needed her to know that she was there, that she had come for her, that she was not alone. And she needed her to know that she was so achingly, endlessly, unforgivably sorry for doing this to her, for hollowing her out into this fragile husk of what she’d once been.

" Moiraine ,” she breathed, her voice reduced to a strangled rasp of mingled love and longing.

Moiraine’s whole body went rigid at the sound. Her back straightened unnaturally, every muscle of her drawn taut, like a line snaring a catch. One of her hands began to twist in familiar patterns, trying to draw the Power to her, weaves of Air designed to capture and hold whatever had intruded upon her. Both hands clenched on the arms of her chair as she found herself unable to draw saidar to herself. She sat for an agonising heartbeat, shaking with the stress of the tension now held in her body. Slowly, every pounding heartbeat it took for her to do so grinding down more and more of Siuan’s patience, she turned her head.

"Siuan?" she whispered hoarsely, as though this was the first word that she had managed to speak in days.

Hearing her name in this woman’s mouth had frequently taught her what love was meant to sound like. So it was that the contrast struck her like a smack to the face in how wrong it sounded now. This was no gentle wrapping of her tongue around the syllables with the care and power a master bard might sing his greatest epic. It trembled from her. It quaked with uncertainty, and rippled with what was unmistakably fear. She was not stunned and pleased, but shocked and somehow horrified. Even as Siuan watched her face creased into lines of worry and suspicion, and she drew back in her chair as a frightened animal might if confronted by a stalking nightmare. 

It broke her fucking heart to do it, but she forced herself to remain in place. She would have given up her title, her power, her life, and the bloody Wheel itself to be allowed to hold this woman in her arms for a single moment. But Moiraine did not want it, not right now, not with such unguarded terror in her eyes. Siuan knew that she would not be able to stand it if she flinched away from her touch. It would break her like a wave against a cliff, spraying the fragments of her out into the world, never to be made whole again. 

Unable to speak past the tight lump in her throat, she just desperately held her ground, and held her gaze, trying to tell her without words that it was her, just her, her Siuan. Eyes locked with hers, she nodded to her, trying to smile reassuringly, but knowing her emotions twisted it into a grimace of pain and awful frustration. 

Moiraine’s gaze suddenly shifted, and she looked past her, to the doorway at her back. Siuan sensed movement behind her, though she could not bear to take her eyes away from Moiraine, she knew that Lan must have stepped out onto the balcony behind her. He seemed to understand what was happening at once, and put a hand on Siuan’s shoulder, squeezing gently in comfort. She turned over her shoulder in time to watch him steadily incline his head towards his Aes Sedai, giving her the confirmation that she needed. This was not a figment of her imagination, not a hallucination born of stress or trauma, nor was it some foul trick of the Dark One. It was okay. She was real, and she was her, and she was here.

Moiraine’s mouth wobbled as she turned more in her chair to face her, eyes going wide, body suddenly slack with shock.

“Siuan?” she whispered, voice still hoarse, but with a little more life and strength to it now. 

Her lips remained slightly parted around the word, frozen with surprise, her features soft and open, none of her energy spent trying to control the reveal of her emotions. There still lingered a note of disbelief and question in the way she said her name, but there was no fear this time. Instead there was a desperate, broken need for her in every aching, trembling inch of her body.

Siuan didn’t think. At the sound of her name, spoken like that , from this woman’s lips, she ran. Ran like she had as a child on the long, rickety piers her feet had flown across before she launched herself from the edge, shrieking with laughter, and plunged into the deep, welcoming sea that had been a second home to her. This time she launched herself towards the woman she loved more than anything else in this world. 

As Siuan approached her, Moiraine slid from her chair, staring and weak with shock, not even seeming to notice that she was falling for her. Siuan darted in and caught her before her knees hit the hard stone. Then she pulled her into her arms, engulfing her like that first all-consuming embrace of the water swallowing her form and pulling her home. Choking off a sob as it threatened to burst free of her chest, she cradled Moiraine against her with a fierce strength, keeping her close, keeping her safe . If sheer will could have given back what had been taken she would have had it returned to her, and more, from the force of this embrace.

In the comfort of her arms, Moiraine trembled. She ctually trembled , in a way she had barely even done after Elaida had ‘helped’ her with her channeling. Siuan had not thought she’d been capable of feeling any more rage than she’d felt at that vile fucking woman on that day without erupting. What she felt now, as Moiraine’s nails dug into her back with how desperately she clung to her, as though still unable to believe she was real, would have made that child’s anger look like a gentle summer rain shower before a pair of clashing hurricanes. 

Coaxing her back, just a little, just enough, Siuan stroked her hair back behind her ears so she could her face. Siuan looked into her eyes, those beautiful deep, dark eyes that had always seemed too old, and too haunted, for her face. Even when they’d been youths in the Tower, Siuan had always found such sorrow and wisdom in those eyes; of a kind that only came from being forced to endure too much, too young. The years had only darkened them, with all that she had seen, but even now, the hollowness in them shook her. The glint of defiance and stubborn light of life that had lived within them in the days before the Eye, when Siuan had last held her, had since died. Siuan herself had killed it.

Yet she was here . Still here, in spite of it all, Siuan reminded herself firmly. The foolish, stubborn, reckless pincushion disguised as a woman had strode into the Blight to confront the Dark One without Lan, without anything, except a boy greener than fresh picked seaweed she thought might be the Dragon. Somehow she had walked out again. As Siuan held her in her arms she felt as miraculous and precious to her as the tiny pearl she had found when her family was on the brink of starvation.

"Moiraine,” she whispered, just needing to say her name while looking into her eyes.

Taking a deep breath, Siuan tried to ground herself on the familiar comfort of having her close. The scent of her, that soap she used when travelling, faintly perfumed with pine and mint. The softness of her skin beneath her fingers. The way her face softened and relaxed, becoming as open and free with her expression as she ever was when they were together. 

Brushing the straggling strands of hair back from her face so she could see her better, she felt her lips trembling, tears in her eyes again, “My Moiraine,” she said quietly, unnecessarily smoothing her hair down over and over, just needing to keep touching her, keep holding on to her, keep reminding herself that she was still here.

"Siuan,” Moiraine murmured, still looking a little in shock at the sight of her, hands trembling as they cautiously touched her, clearly expecting her fingers to pass through at the first brush against her skin, “You’re here,” she breathed, blinking as though she had seawater in her eyes she was trying to flush out, “You’re here ,” she repeated, somehow with even more disbelief than the first.

"Of course I am,” Siuan growled, cradling her face in both hands, thumbs caressing her cheeks. 

Pressing her mouth tight to try and stop the torrent of suddenly overwhelming grief and guilt that was roiling within her like a dinghy in a storm, wrecked and ruined by the lashing waves and winds. Light what had she done? What had she done in sending her to that awful place alone? Oh Light forgive her, for she would never forgive herself.

Emotions overcoming her at last, Siuan pulled Moiraine’s face down to hers and kissed her forehead, holding her against her mouth and shaking, forcing back her sobs. She had no right to cry in front of her. She had no fucking right to put her own struggles with this onto her. By rights Moiraine should have thrown her over the other side of that balcony and banished her from her sight, with no promise to ever call her home. Mastering herself, she swallowed down her own feelings with a deep, tight breath, reasserting control with difficulty.

“I am,” Siuan murmured softly, “I’m with you now, love,” she breathed, soothingly stroking her face.

“You came here?” Moiraine whispered, and her brows creased into a tight frown, eyebrows almost meeting like two tiny stormclouds of confusion, “Why?” she said, shaking her head a little. Eyes suddenly widening with a flash of horror, she gripped Siuan’s shoulders and said urgently, “What else has happened?”

“I came here for you, you idiot,” Siuan choked, with a kind of exasperated fondness only she ever brought out of her.

Finally feeling hot tears spill from her eyes and slip down her cheeks because of course, of course, the damned woman would assume she was here for any other reason. Of course she couldn’t even comprehend the idea of someone doing something just for her. Even after all these years, the damage bloody fucking Daes Dae’mar had done to her had never healed. There always had to be some deeper reason, some secret, hidden motive. It could never be simple. It could never just be love, not even with her and Lan.

“I came here because I love you,” Siuan whispered, forcing herself to remain patient. Gently kissing her mouth, needing that point of contact, pressing as much into that kiss as she could, she drew back, fingers still stroking through her hair she murmured, “Something awful happened to you, and I want to support you through it. I don’t need any other bloody reason,” she hissed, unable to keep a ripple of anger and frustration from those last words.

"How did you know?" Moiraine whispered softly, a slight frown darkening her face, “Your eyes and ears network?” 

“Lan wrote to me,” Siuan said gently, anticipating, correctly, that Moiraine would not approve of that. Indeed, she managed a little scowl that made Siuan smile before she could help herself. Pressing a gentle finger to her lips, she said quietly, “Don’t go all pufferfish on me,” she chided lightly, stroking her finger down her lips. Gentling her touch against her cheek she murmured, “He did it because he loves you.”

Moiraine shook her head, still looking concerned, somehow more so than she had been before that reassurance. She opened her mouth to say something, but Siuan kissed her, then kissed her again, and kept kissing her until the thought of whatever she’d been about to say was gone, and there was something that might once have been a smile on her lips instead. 

“So stubborn,” Moiraine murmured with fondness, shaking her head and absently touching Siuan’s lips with her thumb while she held her face.

“Me?” Siuan choked incredulously, taking Moiraine by the shoulders and fighting the urge to shake her by them, “What about you?” she demanded, caught between anger, and love, and grief, and guilt, and endless frustration as she looked at her. 

Then something broke in her, and all that was left was fear, and the enormity of what she might have lost. 

“What did you do?” she whispered, shaking her head, breath huffing out of her, brows drawn tightly together as she fought to control herself, “What did you go and get yourself into this time, hm?” she demanded, one hand rising up and stroking her cheek again, “I can't even leave you alone for five minutes, can I?" she said, her voice cracking at the vain attempt of humour.

“I did what I had to do, Siuan,” Moiraine said, though the well-worn phrase sounded distinctly tired in her mouth this time, “As I always do.”

“You shouldn’t have,” Siuan hissed fervently, all of her emotions boiling over like an unwatched kettle, “You should have found another way,” she said, shaking her head, knowing damn well that Moiriane had probably considered alternative options for all of three minutes, if at all, before she tossed herself right into the heart of the fire. “And you should never have left Lan here,” she found herself saying, words tumbling over each other like fish in a barrel, “He’s supposed to protect, damn you all to bloody ashes,” she ground out, her temper getting the better of her as her tongue completely ran away with her, not a semblance of restraint left, “Knowing that man exists and is keeping both eyes on you as often as he can spare them is the only reason I get any sleep at night for worrying about you.”

“I know,” Moiraine mumbled, glancing back towards the door, to where Lan no doubt waited for her inside. A flash of guilt actually marred her features, which was a first in Siuan’s memory, and she hung her head, her voice small and obviously ashamed as she repeated softly, “I know.” 

She sounded so damn tired that Siuan found she couldn’t be angry with her. Not right this second, anyway. That could come later, in a few months, when she was feeling more like herself and did something utterly idiotic again. For now she just wanted to hold her, and kiss her, and bring her what comfort she could. It was the least that she could give her, after all she had been responsible for taking away. 

“I’m sorry,” she murmured, gently kissing her cheek to punctuate the apology, “I shouldn’t have said that to you now,” she told her, kissing her again to take the sting out of her earlier reprimands. 

“You were right,” Moiraine admitted in a low voice, though she still sounded as weary as Siuan had ever seen her. 

“Oh I know I was right,” Siuan said with a slight smile, trying to lighten her darkness even a little. Forcing levity she continued with a wry smile, “I just said I shouldn’t have said it to you now ,” she clarified with a falsely lofty voice, “I should have waited for a more appropriate time, when you wouldn’t just have lain down at my feet like a sad old dog and taken it from me. Making me feel like right shit for it,” she chided, clucking her tongue.

Moiraine huffed a little at that, but there was a tug at her lips that saidit was out of amusement rather than frustration. She shook her head with fondness, and though she lowered her head, she raised her eyes and met Siuan’s, peering up at her in a way she’d done a thousand times before after being caught red-handed doing something else she shouldn’t have. Light but she loved this woman. 

As she let this quiet moment of love and tenderness linger between them, Siuan carded her fingers gently through Moiraine’s hair. A bird’s nest would have been more orderly. 

“This is a disaster,” she tutted, shaking her head in apparent disapproval, “What in the name of the Light has Lan been doing to let it get into this state?” she demanded, “I’ll have to have words with that man.” 

She could have sworn she heard a slight cough come from the chambers behind them at that comment. That, perhaps more than her terrible attempt at a joke, was what coaxed another little smile from Moiraine, each one feeling like a minor miracle in and of itself.

Then she suddenly sobered, brows contracting and forming that line between them, which had gotten deeper and deeper over the years, and always meant she was concerned about something.

"You can't be here, Siuan,” she murmured, actually trying to ease her away, though she swayed on the spot without support. Light, when had she last slept? Last eaten anything? Shaking her head, Moiraine drew her back to the current moment as she said, “If anyone sees you here-” she began, then broke off, worry obviously deepening, “If they find out that you’ve seen me without cause, they-"

"Burn them,” Siuan snarled, with no hint of levity or humour in her, all of it reduced to ash at the mere implication that she should leave her alone right now, “Burn them all,” she breathed, like the Amyrlin Seat giving a command to destroy those who had harmed her daughters. There was no gentleness in her, no restraint, and no mercy. Not for this. “Every last one,” she said flatly.” Moiraine opened her mouth to say something, but froze at the look on Siuan’s face. “I don't care,” she growled, seeing the hesitation and worry in Moiraine’s eyes. She cupped her cheek, still defiantly shaking her head, “I don’t care, Moiraine,” she repeated coldly, from words that could not lie, and never would to this woman.

"Siuan-" she began, with a long-suffering tone it was frankly impressive she could adopt with sincerity, after some of the shit she’d pulled over the years.

"Ask me to give a fuck,” Siuan hissed, in a voice as likely to burn ad roar as an angrily spitting fire, raging against the darkness and the cold that threatened to consume them. “Ask me to give a single bloody fuck about anything else right now, Moiraine. I dare you,” she said, in a way that told her she meant it, meant every damned word.

The world could burn tomorrow, and as long as it left her behind, she wouldn’t lift a single fucking finger to stop it. Not after what it had done to her. 

“Siuan-” Moiraine murmured, but placatingly this time, finally reading the guilt in her eyes and in the slump of her shoulders.

Siuan shook her head, lips pressed together against the sudden lump that tightened in her throat, threatening to burst free in a sob. Eyes squeezed shut to hold in her tears, it was a long moment before she was able to control herself enough to speak. Moiraine gave her that time, though she took her hands in both of her own and held tightly, somehow trying to give her comfort, after all that she’d been through and lost. 

Bloody woman. Siuan loved her. She loved her so much it should have burned her up years ago. Like the feeling she had from trying to hold too much saidar at once, the threat was always there that this thing was so powerful, so beyond human hands that it could consume her. Yet she held to it anyway, for without it, what was the point of living at all? 

“I should never have let you come here alone,” she managed to get out, throat constricted and words choked off, forcing her to take a breath and a moment to gather herself.

Tears escaping from her at last, but she wiped them away angrily, because she didn’t deserve to cry over what she’d done, shouldn’t have had the fucking audaciy to attempt to grieve for a thing she hadn’t lost, but had taken away. 

“I should never have told you about those damned dreams,” she whispered, smacking her clenched fist against her thigh in anger, “I should never have been so stupid to believe them myself. I should have known it was a trap, should have known, after all we’d been through all those years, that it was too bloody good to be true. It couldn’t be that easy,” she murmured harshly.

Meeting Moiraine’s eyes, she shared a look with her that only they could. For only they knew exactly what they each had given. All of the sweat, and blood, and tears, and time that they had to sacrificed to see this done. 

“I shouldn’t have sent you away from me,” she said, and her voice cracked, tears spilling from her eyes before she could hold them back, “I should have kept you in that Tower at my side where you would have been safe, where you belong . I should never-"

"Shh,” Moiraine interrupted softly, taking Siuan’s face between her hands, such a gentle expression on her face that it would break the heart of the Dark One himself to see it. 

Placing a gentle finger on her lips to silence her, Moiraine smiled for her. She replaced the finger with her mouth a moment later, kissing her over and over again, as she had done for her before, kissing away her sadness and her sins. 

“This is not your fault,” she assured her, kissing away her tears.

Pressing their foreheads together, Moiraine placed her hands on the side of her head to hold her in place, knowing that she wanted to draw away, disgusted with herself and what she’d allowed to happen. 

Somehow those words hurt more than the condemnation she deserved. It would have been better if she’d screamed. It would have been better if she had ranted and raved at her. It would have been better if she had been pacing up and down right now, beside herself with rage. She’d rather have heard that she despised her, that she never wanted to see her face again, that exile was the best thing that had ever fucking happened to her, because it meant she wouldn’t have to be within a hundred miles of her again as long as they both lived. 

That was what she deserved . Anger, and blame, and judgment. Not forgiveness. Not gentleness. Not from this woman. This woman who had lost everything, and now wanted to give up the last remaining shreds of her tattered heart so that she might repair the scars on her own.

“Moiraine-” she began, but  Moiraine, looking for a moment like her old self, suddenly shook her head, glaring in a way that could silence kings on their thrones and generals on their own battlefields, a look that neither expected nor tolerated interruption or dissent. 

“Enough, Siuan,” she said, her voice sounding more brittle than it would usually have done, but still with a core of iron in it that had stiffened her spine and kept her standing all these years. “It is done,” she continued harshly, “You trying to convince me that you are to blame, and that I should hate you, or scream at you, or demand that you put it right when you can do no such thing will not help me. It will not help anything.”

All at once her shoulders slumped, that iron will seeming to bleed from her, a momentary spark that could not catch to burn as she might usually have done. Siuan instinctively pulled her in close, giving her that support, keeping her upright when she could not manage it on her own any longer. 

“I do not have the strength to argue with you about this right now,” she confessed tiredly, so tiredly, “So please, please ,” she repeated, a thread of desperation binding that word to her, “Do not make me,” she breathed, her body all but caving in on itself with exhaustion. 

“Alright,” Siuan murmured to her, unable to stand being responsible for her carrying any more of burden than she had already been asked to bear, “Alright, love, alright.”

“Besides,” Moiraine said, in that tone that meant she was shifting into her role as Moiraine Sedai, business-like and more formal, “There are other things that happened at the Eye we must discuss.”

"That doesn't matter now,” Siuan hissed with a kind of furious disbelief that she would try and do this now. Cradling Moiraine’s face in her hands again, tilting it up so that she met her eyes. Chin held high, Siuan nodded firmly and said, “You are what matters.” 

They were words that Moiraine had likely never believed in her life, no matter how many times they had been spoken to her over the years. But she would know them in her very blood and bones before the night was out, Siuan would see to that. Light help her she would

“You are all that matters,” she added fiercely, in a tone that meant no arguments, a voice she had perfected as the Amyrlin, which had been known to send centuries old Aes Sedai scurrying for cover at the sound of it. 

Moiraine, being Moiraine, tried to push her luck anyway.

"The Dark One-" she started, sounding insistent, a slight stubborn jut to her jaw, which was good to see, even as it threatened to frustrate the tits off of her. It meant there was still a spark of life in her yet, hiding behind those dark, fathomless eyes. 

"Hush,” Siuan growled at her,  “I don't want to hear this from you,” she said firmly. "Lan can tell me," she snapped tersely, before Moiraine could try and protest further, "Anyone can tell me. Or no one," she added flatly, an edge of desperation to have this done so she could focus on her properly, "It's not important to me at the moment."

"I am the thing here that is not important," Moiraine said with a bitter little laugh. 

She shuddered in her embrace, drawing away, arms wrapping around herself. When she next spoke, her voice was so terrifyingly small and faint, as though she was a girl again, speaking to her from so far away, out of reach, beyond her ability to help even though she was right here with her. 

"I failed, Siuan," she whispered, sounding so cold, and so fragile when confronted with this thing, this awful thing she feared and hated more than even losing her connection to the Source. "I failed you. I failed Lan. I failed this world," she muttered, despair in every quivering, anguished line of her face, "The Dragon is gone. I fear that we released something at the Eye, something that should not have been let loose. And I- I can no longer channel,” she choked on that truth, her next words strangled and taut, “I am not worth-"

"You finish that sentence, Moiraine, and I will never forgive you,” Siuan cut in sharply, her voice shuddering with rage and emotion, “ Never ,” she added in a violent hiss of warning.

Moiraine froze, swallowing hard. Siuan gently caressed her face, taking the sting out of her words and trying to soothe her.  

“You are everything to me,” Siuan murmured quietly, leaning in and holding her close. This time she kept Moiraine in place, stopping her from pulling away in her despair. “All this time we’ve been apart, hunting for the Dragon, preparing this world for what we know is coming,” she whispered, “All this time we’ve been fighting this war together. What the fuck do you think I have been fighting it for if not you?" she breathed, gripping her face between her hands and pulling her in, touching their foreheads together and gently stroking her fingers through her hair as she leaned in and kissed her through the tears that now fell from both of them.

"I don't think that I can fight anymore, Siuan,” Moiraine rasped, looking up at her and shaking, silent tears streaming down her cheeks. 

A moment later her body slumped against hers, forehead against her shoulder, her eyes closed, all of the strength suddenly bleeding from her body, leaving her trembling in her arms.

"Don't you say that,” Siuan whispered, feeling tears choking up her throat, “Don't you dare look me in the eye and say those words to me,” she said, unable to stand hearing that. 

She could not stand the thought that she had done this to her. She had done with the Sun Palace, and the White Tower, and the Black Ajah, and countless darkfriends, and shadowspawn, and the bloody Dark One himself had never managed. She had broken Moiraine. If she said this, if she felt it, if she truly believed it, in her heart, then Siuan would have broken her, and that was utterly unbearable to her.

“Don’t tell me that. Not when I know that you wouldn’t let a single fucking thing stop you from doing what you thought was right if it was for anyone or anything else,” she said, forcing herself to be strong, and firm, when all she wanted to do was crumple beside her, and weep, and beg for her forgiveness, “You never have. You never will,” she said quietly, “I know you, I know you ,” she said again. 

Taking her chin between her hands, she gently tilted her face up so she looked up at her again.

“I still need you to fight for the world, Moiraine. My world,” she breathed emphatically, “Because that is you,” she choked quietly, voice breaking on that last word. Swallowing, she ducked in and pressed a soft kiss to her lips, needing her, needing to show her, to make her believe in that more than she believed in her own destruction. “You are all I have, and all that I care about, and all that is worth protecting in this world to me,” she breathed quietly. “So you are not doing this to me, Moiraine. Not now. Not like this. Not after everything we’ve been through together,” she told her fiercely, drawing herself up and shaking her head in stubborn defiance of the very idea of it.

Moiraine’s mouth trembled, head resting against her neck, shaking with emotion she was struggling to hold in.

“You can fight,” Siuan growled, “You will. Not for yourself, damn you, because you never do,” she sucked in a shuddering gasp of breath, forcing down her own feelings as she said that. Impatiently, she brushed away her tears, and made herself go on, “I know better than to ask you now, when you’re like this. But for me,” she whispered, and hated herself to ask for this now, when she so scarcely deserved it, “For Lan. You will keep fighting for us, won't you?" she begged, in a way she did not think she’d begged for anything at all since she’d been a child.

"Yes,” Moiraine said hoarsely, doing her best to straighten herself again, though it seemed to cost her more than it ever should have to say that for her.

"You promise me that, Moiraine,” Siuan murmured quietly, tucking her hair back behind her ears, stroking her cheeks with the pad of her thumb, loathe to push her, but needing to hear it, needing her to be safe, “You promise me."

"I promise,” Moiraine whispered softly, nodding to her, “I promise.”

"Thank you,” Siuan murmured, leaning in and gently kissing her forehead, "Thank you, my love.”  Moiraine shuddered, and trembled, and pressed in against her, clinging to her, “It was awful, Siuan,” she gasped suddenly, shaking and finally letting that emotion spill out now, utterly incapable of holding it back any longer, she knew. “It was awful ,” she choked, nails biting into Siuan’s arms as she pressed her face against her neck, tears hot against her skin, “I see it every time I close my eyes. I feel it over and over again. His power ripping out of me and leaving me with nothing . I have never felt anything like it before, I-”

"Shh, shh,” Siuan whispered, tucking her head against her with a gentle hand, “You're alright,” she swore to her, “You’re alright, Moiraine. You're alright now,” she whispered, and knew that she would do anything she had to do, and give anything she had to give, in order to make that true for her.

"I am not, Siuan,” she choked, voice strangled, breath heaving in and out of her as she tried to control herself, “I am not at all,” she gasped, tears flowing from her once more, “And I do not know how to be,” she said, words tumbling over each other in their haste to escape the tormented prison she had become, “I do not even know how to try."

"I know,” Siuan breathed hoarsely, tears stinging her own eyes again, “Oh boil and char me, I know,” she whispered, feeling her own emotions sweeping over her with the force of a tsunami, at such odds with the tender way she still stroked her fingers through her hair. “If I could give you mine I would,” she told her, and meant it, because it was all her fucking fault that it was gone in the first place. And she couldn’t stand seeing her this way, couldn’t stand knowing that she was responsible for it, couldn’t stand being with her now when she was in such pain, “I would give you all of it. Every last bit, to stop you feeling this way."

"But I don't feel, Siuan,” Moiraine whispered, with a twisted little irony in her words,  “I don't feel anything at all."

“You will,” Siuan breathed, rubbing her back and kissing her forehead, “You will, I promise you, I promise you,” she said, kissing her forehead and struggling to hold herself together, “I’m here. I’m here and I am not leaving you this time.”

“I don’t- Siuan- I- I-” Moiraine stammered, fully breaking down at last, sobbing against her chest and clutching onto her as though she was the only real thing in the world.

"Come here," she breathed, tilting her face up and pressing a soft kiss to her mouth. "Come home," she told her, cradling her face between her hands again as she ducked down and kissed her once more, trying to bring her back to her. "Come home to me,” she pled quietly, tears streaming silently down her face as she leaned in and pressed their mouths together, “Please come home to me,” she whispered, sinking down and kissing her deeply again, letting it linger this time, begging her with everything she had to just come back to her.

****