Actions

Work Header

that which lives in silence

Work Text:

The world is already beginning to look less strange through one eye. Flatter, everything not quite what it’s supposed to be, but Mat is adjusting quickly, too quickly.

There is a campfire crackling in the middle of a small clearing, illuminating everything with an unnatural flicker, but it’s more light than the thin star cover and the waning moon bring, the night disconcertingly dark. But it isn’t the unreality of hallways folding in on themselves, so it doesn’t matter; Mat turns to his right, and sees the same trees that were there the last time he looked, senses a tower that is hidden from sight, but which still looms in his mind. He turns to his left, and sees two women, pressed so close as to be one figure, conjoined in the half-dark.

Siuan has her back against a fallen log, close to the fire; Moiraine is leaning against her side, her limbs curled in on themselves, hidden by the cloak of a dead man. They’re both silent, as silent as they have been since they settled by the fire, but Mat can’t keep his mind away from the Aelfinn and the Eelfinn, and he doubts that he’s the only one caught up in those thoughts. Of course, even if the memories weren’t so horrifyingly fresh, the entire left side of his face is throbbing.

They’d both offered to do what they could for him – but he’s seen the way that Siuan’s power is still limping back into some semblance of dexterity. He could see the effort it took Moiraine to light a campfire she’d insisted on lighting, as though reminding herself that she could do it at all, when he has seen her, long ago, shoot fireballs from nowhere. It’s not bleeding, and they don’t need to know how much it bloody hurts; it’s not as though either of them can Heal an eyeball back into his face, so what does it matter?

Instead, he sits in silence, and they sit, silent save for the occasional soft murmur from Siuan. The trees surrounding them mute the sounds of the night, enough that he can hear every murmur – though not quite the words – and every sigh, every rustle of some witless creature rushing through the grass.

And then, from nowhere, Moiraine says, clearly directed at him: “I must find Rand. He will need my help.”

Mat startles at her words – the first she’s said truly aloud since taking her place against Siuan, with an edge of wariness still in them, and he glances over to see her gaze boring into him.

He sees images swirling, Light-blasted images telling him of some façade of sanity Rand has managed to stick up, and feels himself wince.

Moiraine’s tone edges towards cautiousness. “I trust he has done well in my absence?”

Mat doesn’t let the wince fall from his face. “He’s half mad and the whole bloody world is at one another’s throats. So. I don’t know about that. But he has most of the world pointed towards the Last Battle, and Verin says he managed to clean the taint from saidin.”

Siuan gives the slightest nod, and only at that does Moiraine seem to believe it, murmuring half to herself, “This could change everything.”

She bites her lip, and Siuan rubs her hand along Moiraine’s side, the patches of a dead man’s cloak catching against her fingers, as the thought hangs in the air.

It's strange to see them so close, so human. He’d been another man, the first time he saw Moiraine, and the same could almost be said for the last time he saw her; he’s spent far longer at Siuan’s side than he’d ever have expected or wanted, and can no longer fathom what the months would have been like without her. He’d be dead by now, were it not for her, that he’s sure of. Knowing Siuan too well, and Moiraine barely at all any more: neither could have prepared him to see the ease with which they move together, with which they sit in silence.

He wonders, briefly, what it is to be at the side of someone with whom his breath, his heartbeat would synchronise; he tries to push away the thought, the face that comes with it.

“I still think we should mark it, somehow. Men aren’t going mad. It’s something, at least, given, well, everything.” He’s not sure what pushes him to say it – anything to erase a face from his mind, or the haunted expression from Moiraine’s eyes, or to fill the interminable minutes until Grady bothers to show up.

Siuan smirks. “Matrim seems to think that badgering everyone for a festival for the cleansing is coming across as finding good reason to celebrate, rather than just convincing everyone that he wants to get drunk.” She says it airily, but he can tell that the tone is for show.

Light, when did he get to know Siuan Sanche so bloody well that he can tell that?

“It’s that, or we follow all the bloody monarchs to that meeting Elayne’s kept on going on about, and anything’s better than that. Trying to keep leashes on Forsaken is better than that.” Mat wishes he had a drink in hand at the mere thought.

“Not that you’ve been keeping yourself scarce from royalty.” That, Mat knows, Siuan meant for him to hear.

Don’t—

Siuan does, at least, leave that comment be; Mat swears he hears her whisper something to Moiraine, but for all he’s heard about other senses compensating for a lost one, he has yet to see the evidence. Probably for the best that he didn’t hear that one.

But Moiraine just nods slightly, and her gaze returns to the fire, her eyes glowing golden in its light as she seems to stare through it. She’d almost look content, if it weren’t for that look, as though she’s fighting through the memories of a thousand lives to keep herself in this one.

He wonders, briefly, if he’s had that same look on his face; he shakes his head at the thought, trying to force it away, but he can’t bear to sit in the weight of the silence.

And so he says as he rises, “I’m going to see if there’s any sign of Grady yet. Light knows when he’ll show his face, or where for that matter, but—”

“Mat—”

He pauses as Siuan interrupts, watching her as she watches him, watching Moiraine as she stares into the fire, stares beyond it. He’s half expecting a lecture, a jab.

All she says is, “Be careful.”

He nods wordlessly, and wanders into the dark.

---

Moiraine can’t keep warm.

Siuan waits for Mat’s footsteps to retreat, but they seem to echo for far too long in the stillness of the night.

It feels almost as though she should follow him – it would be a cruel trick of fate, to make it this far, and to find themselves dead before the Last Battle because of a mutual need for a brief moment of privacy. They can’t see the Tower of Ghenjei, not where they’re sat, but it lingers in her mind, and the thought of one of those creatures following them here makes her blood run cold.

But then, she doubts he’s going far enough away for it to matter.

She hopes not.

She doesn’t want to move, anyway, not when Moiraine is sat curled into her side, shivering despite the fire and the cloak, her gaze fixed on something that isn’t there every time the conversation lapses into silence.

They’re close enough to the fire that they’re as warm as they can get without burning themselves, but it really doesn’t seem to be enough.

Siuan straightens slightly, and eases Moiraine upright with a hand at the small of her back. “You’re freezing. Let me just—” She pauses, and reaches for the lapel of the cloak, where Moiraine is clinging to it, holding it tightly closed against the night.

Moiraine doesn’t let it go, not immediately; she only lets the cloak fall open when Siuan moves her hand away.

They’d found her floating in a prison made of mist in nothing but a shift so unnaturally white it still seems to glow blue, even in the light of a fire that leaves sparks of gold threaded through her hair. Bare arms, bare legs, bare feet, cold even with the fire and the cloak she’d been wrapped in.

All she wants to do, all she can do right now, is whatever she can for Moiraine, and so, that is what she does. Weaves of Air, wrapped around them both, warding the cold away, seeping the chill from Moiraine’s skin.

Moiraine doesn’t say a word as Siuan looks her over – just watches the path of her touch, almost unblinking. The cuts on her feet are gone, as though they never were, blood and dirt intermingled on smooth skin; she’d stumbled, more than once, in the Tower, as though her legs had forgotten how to walk, and the stones had left their marks, even as she had stayed silent, leaving blood with every footstep as she refused to let them carry her. With their first lungfuls of fresh air, Siuan had wordlessly Healed the cuts away, before she’d even caught her breath.

For a while, the Air around them were all Siuan could have woven; it’s something, she supposes, that this doesn’t take the effort it once did. Something, that the only thing left of the cuts on Moiraine’s feet are ghosts, without her even having to try. Something she should be grateful for.

Right now, she wants nothing more than to pull a Gateway out of the air, to not be bound to whenever Grady feels it’s worth turning up, but while that isn’t as far off a hope as it once was, it’s nowhere near in sight. She doesn’t dwell on dreams, but when she’s inches from a woman she had thought dead, had mourned, it’s hard not to wish it were a little easier to do anything more than Heal cuts and keep her warm.

As Siuan weaves, Moiraine keeps watching her – watches her hands, watches the Air swirling around them both, the chill of the night still dissipating.

“You should have said you were cold,” Siuan murmurs as she ties the weaves off, but Moiraine shakes her head.

“I keep thinking they’re just going to—that it’s—” Moiraine whispers it, and her voice only grows softer as she stumbles on her words. She reaches, then, for Siuan’s hand; it’s only when their fingers are intertwined, cradled against her lap, that she continues. “I can barely tell myself that this is real, even when I know it’s you.”

Siuan almost can’t bring herself to say anything – no words dying on her tongue, because there is nothing she can say that can make it go away, that can wash away whatever unfathomable nightmares were planted in Moiraine’s head in that tower. She doesn’t want to know what Moiraine means – wants to know, because she can’t bear Moiraine living with it alone – wishes there was nothing for her to know at all.

The words feel empty even as she says them, but she can’t take the silence. “We’ll go home.” She lifts Moiraine’s hand to her lips, and presses a feather-soft kiss to her knuckles as she looks her in the eye, before whispering against Moiraine’s skin, “I don’t know when, but I promise you, we’ll go home.” She doesn’t even know what that home is, not any more.

Moiraine sighs, her shoulders slumping, her eyes flickering shut, and her other hand drifts to where their joined hands still lay; there’s something almost resembling warmth starting to come through her skin, and it’s a relief for Siuan to feel it. There’s no wind breaking through the Air woven around them, no cold seeping in from the ground.

All Siuan wants to do is hold Moiraine close, and never let her go, but there’s something in the way she’s holding herself, in the look in her eyes, that makes her take pause. Instead, she reaches forward with her free hand, and lightly caresses Moiraine’s cheek; she hates that she’s surprised when Moiraine leans into the touch, her eyes fluttering open again, shining in the near-dark, wide and warm and full of something that, despite everything, chills Siuan to her core.

“You said that in there,” Moiraine whispers. “You said we’d go home. You said that, and I knew it wasn’t one of their games.”

Siuan had said it thinking Moiraine was still unconscious, hoping she wasn’t talking to a body that would never wake, in a blur of words as unfelt burns blistered on her arms, as her pulse thundered in her ears.

It feels hollow to say, even as she says it, but Siuan says anyway, “It’s me, I promise you.”

Moiraine’s fingers dig into Siuan’s hand, still cradled in her lap. “I know that it’s you. All I know is that it’s you, not some—some perversion they’ve planted in my head. I barely even know if that’s Mat.” Moiraine pauses, words dying in her mouth, her grip slackening. “You called me home, and I felt it.”

Siuan can feel the weight of her heart in her chest, as she softly says, “Come here.”

She’s expecting Moiraine to lean in closer again, her touch still hesitant, but instead, Moiraine crawls into her lap, settling herself firmly against Siuan’s chest, her forehead cradled against Siuan’s neck.

Siuan adjusts herself slightly, enough that she can reach out and tuck the cloak around Moiraine’s feet – months without the Source, months more where it was little more use than a headless oar, and she’s still in the habit of not reaching for it, as though it’ll slip through her fingers like water. As she sits still again, Moiraine snuggles even closer against her, warm and alive.

She’s spent twenty years with an intimate, concrete knowledge of every flex of the lines of Moiraine’s tendons, the strength of every muscle; it feels wrong, how light she is, how it feels as though there is no strength left in her body, but the way she sighs deeply, the way their bodies fit together, is as familiar as it ever was.

Siuan twists her neck, enough to kiss Moiraine’s temple softly, and settles her cheek there. She has one arm cradling Moiraine’s back, the other resting in her lap, and she knows that Moiraine isn’t trying to sleep, because her fingertips are dancing across Siuan’s forearm, where she knows the burn marks mottle her skin.

“I wish I could do more.” Moiraine’s voice is low, gravelly, but she doesn’t move beyond the patterns traced by her fingers, doesn’t say a word beyond that. Siuan knows achingly well why it’s bothering her – the Source cannot bring back the dead, it cannot unpluck an eye, but she could have wielded it, once, to make the marks vanish as though they never were.

Siuan can’t feel them. She knows that they look as though they’ve been there for a week, maybe two, but hidden by the cover of darkness, they may as well have never been there at all; all she’s aware of is the feather-light, still-unfathomable touch of Moiraine’s fingers. She’d suffer those burns a thousand times over, if it meant feeling that feather-light touch just once.

She doesn’t want to bring it up now, doesn’t want to make the night harder than it already is, but it feels as though it might be the only thing to ease the moment. “It comes back. It takes time. But it does.”

Moiraine’s spine stiffens, and she inclines her head awkwardly, sits up slightly, just enough that Siuan can look her in the eye.

Siuan takes a deep breath. “They did still me. When they deposed me. I don’t know what you heard, what you knew before you—they did. But, well, your Nynaeve has made some fascinating discoveries.”

In any other moment, on any other night, she knows Moiraine would have made a comment about her phrasing, because they both know full well Nynaeve would hate it. But all she can do is hold Moiraine a little tighter, even as Moiraine sits a little straighter, a little less relaxed.

“It takes time. I’m not sure it’ll ever come back to what it once was. But it won’t be like this forever.”

And Light, all she wants to do is keep staring into Moiraine’s eyes, to hold her and to never let go again; she’ll have to, she knows, but not now, not yet.

“We’ll see the other side of the Last Battle, I promise you that. And whenever, if ever, you want to talk about what they did to you – tell me. I’m here. I’m not losing you again.” As she says it, she rubs circles on Moiraine’s back with her thumb; the not-quite-right fabric feels, somehow, too soft under her touch.

Moiraine seems to be trying to decide what to say – her lips slightly parted, a thousand things seeming to pass through her mind without a word spoken. And then, she reaches up to touch Siuan’s cheek, her hand finally, blessedly warm.

“I missed you.”

And she leans close, her forehead resting against Siuan’s, her breath warm on Siuan’s lips as they hold each other close.

Siuan leans into the touch, and brushes her nose against Moiraine’s. “You can rest now, my love. I’m here. I’m not leaving you.” She rubs her hand along Moiraine’s back, and at that, Moiraine settles back against her shoulder, sighing deeply as Siuan holds her close, kisses the top of her head.

Siuan can feel the way Moiraine’s jaw relaxes, and knows that her lips have parted slightly, the same expression she’s seen on her face a thousand times. It’s mere moments before she slips into sleep, her breath evening, her body relaxing entirely in Siuan’s arms.

For more than a few moments, there is no sound besides the fire and Moiraine’s slow, steady breaths, but eventually, Siuan can hear footsteps – a cautious approach from a man, a boy, suddenly learning again how to see.

He’d given his eye without hesitating, as though he’d known what would happen. She can’t help but wonder why – she knows that she’d have done it without question, but not why he would, too. But she’d been on the floor, with Moiraine in her arms and nothing existing outside of her, and she’d glanced back up to a boy with his face half covered in blood.

Somehow, despite it, he comes back looking as though nothing is wrong, as though there isn’t a hole in his face, as though he hadn’t left his friend to walk almost joyously to a quick, cruel fate within the Tower.

And despite them being in a forest, he’s found a cooking pot.

“There’ll be tea in the pockets. He always has tea in the pockets,” Mat says, voice dropping low, quiet, gesturing with a nod towards Moiraine, towards the cloak she’s ensconced in. “Always tea, and tabac.”

Moiraine doesn’t flinch, doesn’t stir at all, as Siuan eases an arm out, and carefully finds a small brick of tea leaves, mercifully in a pocket she could reach. Mat sits nearby, not quite so close to the fire, and takes the brick, pouring water from a skin into the pot.

Siuan stokes weaves of Fire with the hand she has already pulled back into the cloak, willing the water to a faster simmer; she’d pull Mat into the weaves of Air, but she knows it isn’t worth trying, even as he leans closer to the fire, trying to ward off the chill of the night.

He’s staring at her, at the two of them, with something she can’t quite place, but she doesn’t want to say anything about it, not right now.

“Nothing of Grady?” she says instead.

Mat shakes his head, and begins to break leaves into the water as it simmers. He glances back, and Siuan shakes her head. If Moiraine wakes before they leave, well, she can have tea then; Siuan isn’t waking her for it, and she isn’t moving from the warmth of the embrace.

The tea simmers in the peace of the night. Siuan listens to Moiraine’s soft, steady breathing, in sleep that she can only hope is dreamless.

And in the silence of the night, they wait.