Tally Craven watches over the dying embers of their last fire of the evening feeling drained, lost, and a little lonely. Searching for the first song with Sarah Alder was not the storybook adventure she had fleetingly hoped it might be.
Even though she kept hearing ‘trust the mother’ in those soothing, dulcet tones that she had come to cling to every word from, it was beginning to feel like they were running out of time. Sitting out here in the middle of a forest in goddess-knows-where because Alder hadn’t even let her in on where they were going this time (for her own safety, she was assured), she was beginning to get a little frustrated. How many times was she going to follow Sarah Alder into the thicket only to be torn up alongside her? When was she going to start choosing herself?
The cold night air did not do much to assuage the pangs of hurt that ruminating on her choices caused to sir in her chest. Yes, they were her choices, but they always had a singular root cause and focus.
That woman could get her to do just about anything. She supposed it wasn’t entirely her fault- she was an adult who could make her own decisions about who to follow, but she did keep asking.
“Your thoughts are entirely too loud tonight, cadet.”
Tally jumps a little, startled, and shoots her a look. This is one time she definitely is not appreciative of Alder’s aptitude for stealth.
“You can’t do that. Not out here. Not when it’s so… quiet.”
She scoffs after a beat when the older woman doesn’t respond, kicking dirt into the fire as it crackles out.
“Back to cadet, are we?”
Sarah shakes her head, her long hair already swept up in her nighttime braids, much to Tally’s disappointment- not that she would ever let her know she had a preference. She kept those feelings very much to herself, try as they might to bubble up throughout their days together.
She was still beautiful, of course, like this. It’s just that she had grown so used to seeing her with her hair knotted so tightly, so uniformly that seeing her with it down was like being with a completely different person. Logically, she knew that wasn’t true- but it was hard not to feel it even so.
“Tally, I apologize. I know it matters to you that I say your name. I will try to do a better job of remembering. Please know it’s just a habit.”
“A habit. Huh.” Her voice gets quieter. “I’m beginning to think you’re just a habit.”
Hurt flashes in Alder’s eyes, but it is immediately gone and replaced with something much softer, and much closer to understanding.
“I wish you didn’t feel that way.”
That surprises her. She is used to the Sarah Alder that responds with justifications, and defensiveness. This new one that listens to her frustrations, and holds space for her without judgment? This one is new. Tally’s still getting used to her.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.”
Sarah smiles, an offering, before finally moving to sit beside her next to the fire. They have both long forgotten their chairs, realizing they could get closer to the fire if they just sat down on the ground. There is something rather humbling and primal about it. Tally feels much more connected to nature here than she has since she left the Matrifocal compound.
Salem is lovely, but it is an old city by American standards. She grew up out West, where the cities are still relatively new, and there are still plenty of places you can find off the beaten path. She very much enjoys a place that seems untouched by humanity, like it does out here on the side of a forested mountain with someone that, like it or not, she has to admit is still the most incredible person she has ever met.
Even though she is frustrated with a lack of answers, which she is beginning to see as a tiring pattern, she is enjoying herself in some respects. Yes, it is cold, and yes, she has no idea where they are, but if shes ‘telling the truth she has to admit that she feels alive for the first time in years.
“How did you mean it, then? If you do not mind me asking.”
Tally is a little overwhelmed by her, leaning so close- their environment practically forcing them to rely on one another to maintain heat. It is far from the first time in their journey that her head has heavied as her senses have filled up, and damn near been conquered by the sheer intensity of Sarah Alder.
She trusts herself to answer honestly, but only just. She isn’t sure when this woman took hold of her the way that she has, but now it is like every fiber of her being is thrumming, waiting for her command.
“I mean that you’re hard to put down.”
Sarah laughs now. It confuses her, but she’s distracted by how it lights up her face. It is a full, brilliant laugh that shows her teeth, and crinkles the very slight (and very adorable, if Tally may say so) wrinkles in the corner of her eyes.
With that, she is taken under even further. The woman is hard enough to resist when she’s sulking around sullen and mysterious like- the Sarah Alder that is laughing because of something she said? That Sarah Alder is damn near irresistible. Angelic.
At that moment, she knows she’s done for.
“You mean you just can’t quit me, eh?”
Tally goes bright red, but she’s grinning. She finally gets the joke, and she can’t help but revel in the first real camaraderie they’ve had for days. Sarah’s shoulder is bumping into hers playfully, and then they are both laughing like schoolgirls. When she finally looks up, she’s struck with those startling blue eyes, and it’s like lightning shoots through her. She stops.
“No, I don’t think I can.”
Alder’s gaze darkens, flitting to Tally’s lips.
“Be careful, sweet girl. I know it seems like I’ve gone soft, but I’m not sure how much longer I can resist my more basic instincts around you. You bring out something in me that is… very old indeed.”
Sweet girl. She practically growls, and it sends a thrill in places that before tonight Tally was beginning to forget existed.
This turn from playful banter into overt innuendo throws her a bit. They have been playing this game since Alder returned from the Mother, but it hasn’t gone this far before.
“As old as you?”
She chuckles, trying (and failing) to alleviate the now thrumming tension threatening to boil over between them.
“Older. But I think you knew that.”
“Hmm,” she hums, suddenly fascinated with the ground. “Sounds serious.”
Alder doesn’t take that. Tally feels hand under her chin, pulling her head upward, and forcing her eyes back to the other woman. The control she has taken in this moment is threatening to upend her.
She’s always belonged to Sarah Alder, from before she even walked into Fort Salem. Starry-eyed young little Tally had dreamed of that face since she was a small child, though she would never have ever admitted it to her unit mates. Alder knew though. She knew that. She knew as soon as she became a biddy, and maybe that’s why they were here now, wrapped up in each other. She couldn’t blame her- it would be difficult to turn away from that kind of adoration, especially considering how far she had followed her now into the fire. She had more than proved her devotion, and that could be blinding.
“It is very serious, Tally Craven.”
That long finger strokes her jawline as she says this, and she leans into the touch.
“If it’s serious you’re going to have to stop touching me, because I’m not going to be able to think.”
She leans back, but only slightly. They need each other’s warmth, afterall.
Tally sighs, trying to clear her head, but she can still smell the leather from Alder’s coat, and the underlying feminine beneath it all, and it’s addling her senses still.
“Can you please stop alluding to important things, and actually spell them out for me? At least when it comes to, you know, this?”
She gestures between them, hoping she doesn’t have to spell it out for her. She is very tired of explaining herself, and would like Alder to do some explaining for a change.
Sarah nods, surprising her again.
“Do you remember when you barged into my office demanding answers about our connection?”
She inhales sharply, tightness building in her chest. It is not her most pleasant memory, despite the numerous times she has replayed it in her mind. She could not help herself, though. The vision of Alder towering over her, hair down, belt exposed, smelling of whiskey? She was very grateful she was no longer a biddy, because she isn’t sure she could survive Alder knowing the hours she had wasted touching herself furiously to completion thinking about that moment.
“Come on, Tally.”
“Yes, I remember,” she admits, blushing.
Alder studies her for a second, a glint of something suspicious in her eye, and Tally is suddenly worried that perhaps she can read minds.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but the connection that you and I have was strengthened through, not created by, the bond shared during your time as a biddy. Tally- you and I were woven into the plans of the Mother herself.”
The tightness in her chest is replaced with a sudden, but not unexpected warmth. The words Sarah speaks are salve for her wounds. It is like everything is coming to a penultimate head at this moment, ready to satiate the deep need she has had for answers. She doesn’t want to hope too much, but hearing that she and Alder are connected at the very roots of not just their, but everyone’s beings, is quite a lot.
“Wow, that sounds… important. That sounds like we’re important.”
Alder hums, knocking their knees together.
“We don’t have to be.”
Tally shoots her another look then.
“You, questioning the mother? You really expect me to believe disobeying orders is an option for you?”
“It’s not for me. It is for you. It always has been. I would never take that choice away from you. Or any choice.”
She shakes her head.
“Hey, I’m sorry,” Tally reaches out for the first time that evening, touching the hand that rests on her knee. “I didn’t think about it that way.”
“I know you didn’t,” she replies. “You’re not malicious. You’ve never been malicious.”
The ‘ not like me’ is left unsaid, but the girl responds anyway.
“You’re not malicious, Sarah. You may do the wrong things for the right reasons, but I don’t think you do things to purposefully hurt people for the joy of it. There’s a difference. I’ve never thought you were a bad person.”
Those eyes are staring into her soul again.
“You see me pretty clearly, Tally Craven. Better than anyone I have known in my more than three hundred years on this earth.”
She blushes, her temperature rising from the inside out.
“They say I’m a pretty good knower.”
“The best I’ve seen, if a little cocky,” she winks at her, and the warmth rises higher in Tally’s belly.
“I learned from the best.”
Their banter is stirring strange, and awesome new emotions inside of her. She is beginning to feel more on foot with Sarah Alder, if such a thing is possible, and she is eager to explore where this new dynamic takes them.
“Care to let me teach you a bit more?”
The glint in Alder’s eye is enough to make her clit throb, but she knows innuendo or not, they have a bit more to discuss before things go any further in that direction.
“Maybe you can start with how I could ever possibly be that important to the plans of our mycelial goddess that transcends time and space?”
“You underestimate your own potential, and overestimate mine.”
“I don’t think that’s true. Look at who you are, what you’ve done. You’re incredible.”
The last part comes out a little quieter than the rest, like she’s admitting a truth she still cannot really bear to come to terms with. Despite everything, she still thinks Sarah Alder is the most incredible thing she’s ever seen.
“Tally, you are incredible. And the mother thinks so, too.”
She flips the hand Tally is holding over, interlacing their fingers.
“Before I go any further, I want to reiterate that everything I am about to say is entirely your choice. Just because she has a plan for you, does not mean you have to go through with it. Think of it as a gift from her- a possible future that you can choose, if you wish. Certain things are written in stone, but this kind of thing is dependent on choice. That is the mother’s will. She wants us to have free will, as it has so often been stripped from our kind.”
Tally’s mind reels, but Alder doesn’t give her time to interject.
“You should know, also, that her plan is something that I am comfortable with. I do not seek to sway your opinion one way or the other, however. This choice should be yours alone, and so I will not elaborate further until you understand the gravity of what is being offered to you.”
After a beat, she continues.
“Everyone has a destiny, Tally. Not a destiny that is not written in stone, but more like what the Mother sees as their penultimate potential. Her hopes, her dreams for them. Throughout one’s life, she makes sure that there are moments that offer you the opportunity to find this destiny. There are signs, and if you learn to look, you will see them, and you will know what she wants you to do. But, it is never expected. She wants you to be happy, and if your happiness lies elsewhere, you are free to choose another option. However, it is sure that anyone who does fulfill one’s destiny will be happy, but will also contribute to the good of all, rather than just the good of one’s self, because the Mother has planned it that way.”
Alder squeezes her hand.
“Your destiny, Tally, and mine, are intertwined. Though I am much older than you, the Mother is not bound by time, and she has planned for us since the beginning.”
“The beginning? Like- the beginning, beginning??”
Tally’s eyes grow wide, the implications of that setting in. Sarah strokes the hand in hers, soothing her.
“The beginning of our universe, at least, yes.”
“Wow,” she says after a moment. “I know this isn’t very romantic, and it’s really bad timing, but I’m scared I’m going to throw up.”
The other witch laughs.
“Sweet, sweet Tally. We are not alone. Everyone has been planned for since the beginning. Don’t fret.”
“So we’re not special then?”
“Oh, you are very special, Tally Craven. And not just to me. We are just not the only ones with a destiny as old as time itself. Everything has a plan, a reason. We just happen to have a uniquely important one, should we choose to accept it.”
Tally’s eyebrow raises, her heartbeat starting to slow a bit, but her curiosity still piqued.
“You know what was stripped from me when I sung my song in Salem all those years ago, Tally, do you not?”
She nods, realization beginning to dawn at the fringes of her mind.
“Your ability to have children.”
There’s buzzing under her skin, like she feels the importance of this moment.
“Not quite.” There is a hesitation in Alder’s voice, and Tally suddenly realizes that she must be worried about her reaction to whatever is coming next. She steadies herself. “My ability to bear children. As a mother. Not everyone with a child is a mother.”
“No, but every child has a mother.”
She already knows what this must mean. Her sight is useless here, because it’s plain as day.
“You’re right, Tally. Somebody would have to be my child’s mother,” Sarah angles her head, really looking at her. “And The Mother would like for that person to be you, if you so choose.”